Accepted Paper:

Little Treasures: a 'wealth' of baby photos on social media in rural China  


Tom McDonald (The University of Hong Kong)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the prevalence of baby-related photos on Chinese social media, arguing that the images possess a 'magical efficacy' where parents intentionally seek to place their child within an illusory world, experimenting with different imaginations of what their offspring may become.

Paper long abstract:

This paper emerges from research into the use of social media in a small rural town in north China. As part of this research, a visual analysis of research participants' QZone posts showed the most popular genre to be issues surrounding childbearing and the first few months of a child's life.

Firstly, the most prolific producers of posts relating to a new baby come from the child's mother, particularly during the traditional month-long period of mother-and-baby confinement at home immediately following the birth. QZone appears to have become a particularly important way in which housebound new mothers maintain contact with their friends, helping to mitigate the effects of this isolation.

Secondly, QZone also becomes an important means by which parents in the town share the growth of their child with others. The most notable example of this is the 'baby 100-day photograph', where the baby attends a photo-session at a local photo studio. The tradition of the 'baby 100-day photograph' has always been aimed at producing an album of edited photographs kept in the home. In recent years, QZone has also become an important secondary destination for these images. Furthermore, these photos have become ever more fantastical in nature, employing increasingly fanciful and psychedelic effects. These decorations contribute to potential for Chinese baby photos produced in photo studios to have a 'magical efficacy', in which parents intentionally seek to place their child within an illusory world and experiment with different imaginations of what the child may become.

Panel P04
Comparative studies in social media photography