The Art of the QR Code



This post is devoted to exploring a digital phenomenon that seems to have largely eluded audiences in Europe and America despite its pervasive presence within the art world in China: the QR (Quick Response) code 二维码.

QR codes are a ubiquitous feature of daily life in China. Plastered on newspaper adverts, restaurant flyers, giant billboards, subway posters, supermarket counters, buses and even business cards, the omnipresence of this seemingly mundane digital marker speaks volumes about the dominance of mobile networks, social media and communication technologies in contemporary China.


The functionality of QR codes within China has been significantly bolstered as a result of the majority of the country’s inhabitants accessing the internet via their mobile phones rather than through personal computers. According to recent statistics, 89% of China’s 700 million internet users go online using a mobile. Mobile online networks have therefore dovetailed with the convenience of QR codes, enabling a range of activities which might seem unthinkable to users outside of China. As this recently released video demonstrates, the simple scanning of a code can be used to make online payments, join social networks, access consumer discounts, attain online information, send digital money to friends and family, as well as countless other activities and services. In short, QR codes in China go far beyond the capabilities of their QR cousins in Europe or elsewhere, where they predominantly function as a means of digital ticketing including online boarding passes etc. Continue reading

UCL Press launches a series of free ebooks that explore the uses and consequences of social media around the world


UCL Press has just launched a great series of eleven free open access volumes of ethnographic research based on the ‘Why we Post’ project, a global anthropological research project on the uses and consequences of social media. Most of the books are available for download in pdf format, on epub or as paperback or hardback options.

For more information on the project, visit For an overview, take a look at the comparative book ‘How the World Changed Social Media’. For those with a particular interest in social media and China, Xinyuan Wang’s ‘Social Media in Industrial China’ shown below, contains fascinating chapters on ‘Visual Material on Social Media’ and ‘The Social Media Landscape in China’. Tom McDonald’s ‘Social Media in Rural China’ also has a great section on ‘Visual postings: Idealising family- love, marriage and ‘little treasures’. A full list of the titles in the series is shown below.

Why We Post

Why do we post on social media? Is it true that we are replacing face-to-face relationships with on-screen life? Are we becoming more narcissistic with the rise of selfies? Does social media create or suppress political action, destroy privacy or become the only way to sell something? And are these claims equally true for a factory worker in China and an IT professional in India? With these questions in mind, nine anthropologists each spent 15 months living in communities in China, Brazil, Turkey, Chile, India, England, Italy and Trinidad. They studied not only platforms but the content of social media to understand both why we post and the consequences of social media on our lives. Their findings indicate that social media is more than communication – it is also a place where we now live.

This series explores and compares the results in a collection of ground-breaking and accessible ethnographic studies. As with all UCL Press titles, they will be available as free PDF downloads, and a in low-cost print.

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How the World Changed Social Media

How the World Changed Social Media

 A summary of the findings of ethnographic research undertaken in eight countries around the world.

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Social Media in Industrial China

Groundbreaking ethnographic study that examines social media usage in a factory town in southeast China.

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Social Media in Rural China

Absorbing ethnographic study by Tom McDonald that examines social media use in a small rural Chinese community.

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Titles in the Why We Post series include:

A Wall: art and the online public sphere in China

'A Wall' is a web-based platform curated by Zheng Bo for The Space.

‘A Wall’ is a web-based platform curated by Zheng Bo for The Space.

On the 30th January I attended the launch of A Wall, a web based platform which aims to exhibit and archive a selection of socially engaged art produced within mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan over the last twenty years. The project is curated by Zheng Bo 郑波, a practicing artist and assistant professor at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, and will be hosted by The Space, an online gallery for contemporary digital arts.

Artworks featured in A Wall include:

Keepers of the Waters, organised by Betsy Damon, with works by Yin Xiuzhen, Dai Guangyu and others, Sichuan and Tibet, 1995-96

Moving Rainbow, Xiong Wenyun, Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways, 1998-2001

Everyone’s East Lake, Li Juchuan, Li Yu and others, Wuhan, 2010

Breakfast at the Plum Tree Creek, Wu Mali, Taiwan, 2010-11

Style of the Northeastern New Territories, Tai Ngai Lung and others, Hong Kong, since 2009

Two Square Metres, Xu Tan, Guangzhou, 2014

Xiong Wenyun, Moving Rainbow, Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways, 1998-2001

Xiong Wenyun, Moving Rainbow, Sichuan-Tibet and Qinghai-Tibet Highways, 1998-2001

As the press release states: “The issues explored in A Wall are diverse. Each project is an individual investigation into one aspect of China’s social fabric,  from Li Juchuan’s consideration of the rise of the individual and decline of the collective subconscious, to Xiong Wenyun, Wu Mali and Tai Ngai Lung’s investigations into the impact of globalisation, over-development and urbanisation.” Continue reading