Miss Xiaoyu Pu

Research project: Female digital diaspora on Xiaohongshu: A digital ethnography of lifestyle branding and self-expression


The continued prevalence of "she economy" in China has resulted in the reductionist misrepresentation of female self-expression through conspicuous consumption and lifestyle branding. Drawing on a mixed method of in-depth interviews, digital ethnography, and auto-ethnography, this research is a study of Millennials and Gen Z Chinese female residents abroad, along with some viral phenomena trending in China, combined with the content created on social media and e-commerce platforms, as well as the biggest lifestyle community, Xiaohongshu. By applying the theory that any media or technology is an extension of man put forward by McLuhan (2013), this paper argues that technology has never been just a simple tool; it contains a certain cultural value that is embedded in the technology itself. In recent years, globally speaking, media or technology has become the geopolitical battlefield where various ideologies combat each other. As a unique social media platform, Xiaohongshu is deeply connected with Chinese values.  This female-led platform portrays the lifestyles of urban young women in tier 1 and tier 2 cities, with a focus on fashion, beauty, and food, as well as fitness, study, pets, parenting, and various aspects of life. With the continuous development of Xiaohongshu and its powerful influence on customer purchasing behaviours, there is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored: the traditional word-of-mouth communication method is gradually being replaced by the emerging way of word-of-web. As such, to many users of the platform abroad, Xiaohongshu not only acts as a consumption decision-making platform but also provides a home away from home and a feminine safe space for self-expression. My goal is to investigate the complex psychology and sociology of micro-communities that are linked together through lifestyle branding and this post-modern communication method of word-of-web along with word-of-mouth recommendations as forms of self-expression, as well as to discuss the clash between the Western concept of the self and the discipline of women represented by Confucianism in China's traditional culture. This research is focused on the impact of the platform on the users' perceptions of self-care and self-cultivation practices. On the one hand, this paper will study the impact of the cultural heritage of media or technology on users' cultural identity. On the other hand, focusing on a broader dimension, this paper will study whether their cultural identities will conflict with their cosmopolitan identity when they use Xiaohongshu. The study seeks to produce a more detailed and regionalised result to enhance our understanding of the ecology of female social networking on Xiaohongshu and strive to provide a reference for global media environment studies. As the platform is now attracting more male users, the research will monitor its evolution within the study timeframe.  

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Female digital diaspora on Xiaohongshu: A digital ethnography of lifestyle branding and self-expression
  • Research supervisor: Dr Hager Weslati
  • Other research supervisor: Dr Colette Balmain


I am originally from Southwest China and am currently pursuing a PhD at Kingston University School of Arts. Since my undergraduate studies, I have been interested in media and feminist studies. My primary research focus is on the representation of women in popular culture, such as film, art, and other forms of mass media.

In my 2015 undergraduate thesis, I examined the female characters in the Chinese film Painted Skin from two perspectives: the original short story and the film adaptation. In my 2017 master's thesis, I discussed the portrayal of female consciousness in the work of Japanese director Satoshi Kon. In my second master's thesis, which was completed in 2019, I investigated the performance of digitalised objects, using female virtual influencers in social media and female fictional individuals in art works as examples.

Areas of research interest

  • Body Image
  • Postfeminism
  • She Economy
  • Female Gaze
  • Identity Performance
  • New Media Studies
  • Critical Discourse Analysis
  • Women's Representation in Media
  • Public Opinion
  • Psychology of Social Media


  • MA in Digital Media: Technology & Cultural Form, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK, 2018
  • MA in Communication and Media, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK, 2016
  • BA in Radio and Television Journalism, Yunnan Normal University, Kunming, China, 2011

Funding or awards received

  • BA graduation thesis A brief analysis of the female image and female consciousness in the film Painted Skin (2015) was awarded the outstanding graduation thesis of the 2015 undergraduate students of Yunnan Normal University.