Exploring local meaning-making resources
A case study of a popular Chinese internet meme (biaoqingbao)
This study examines various combinations of visual and textual meaning-making resources in a popular Chinese meme. The meme features an exogenous image – the grinning facial expression of a U.S. wrestler, D’Angelo Dinero – that has been recontextualized into numerous other visual texts, to create semiotic ensembles with local meanings, which are then distributed across Chinese social media platforms. We analyzed 60 of these image macros, and our findings show that local meanings are created when Dinero’s facial expression is blended with visual references to Chinese digital culture, Chinese popular culture, Chinese social class issues, Chinese politics, and Chinese institutions. The majority of textual elements in the image macros are Chinese; however, the handful of examples that also include other languages typically involve multilingual wordplay and carnivalesque themes. We argue that although the multivalency of the wrestlers’ facial expression invites interpretations of a wide range of affective meanings, an overarching rebellious or transgressive stance is consistent across individual texts.