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Tactic as Art:
Everyday Digital Resistance and Covid-19 in China

While capitalism prioritizes digital platforms’ marketing values, online platforms are also venues for activism across borders. Like other overseas Chinese, during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak I had been anxiously following its development through online communities while witnessing many organizing and actions of resistance. I started capturing these actions and theorizing and framing the engagement of design in activism.

Designers traditionally have been producing communicative and persuasive aesthetic content for activism. Shifting from regarding the end products as the contribution of design, the responsibilities expanded to include the organizational and strategic level of community activism. Design as a process contributes in generative ways. In addition to the persuasive and mobilization function of activism—coordinating actions and materials—resistance during COVID-19 also functions at the informative and emotional levels as a form of everyday digital resistance. We witnessed many bottom-up efforts of building community archives and crowd-sourced translation to preserve the collective memory of the outbreak as counter-narrative to the scrutinized official version. When carving out digital public space under strict control of the authorities for commemorating whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang, and translating the journalistic interview article with doctor Ai Fen into various coded versions to creatively evade censorship, participation becomes performative actions of expression and brings solace.

Everyday digital resistance is characterized as tactics of micro-interventions integrated into life, standing opposite from radical confrontations on the continuum of activism. Often spontaneous and unorganized, the actions collectively create impact and the potential to undermine power, while individuals can remain relatively disguised and unnoticed, which is especially valuable for actors in high-risk contexts. My project frames the concept of everyday digital resistance, unpacking the factors that contributed to its domination.

Reflecting on the changing landscape of resistance completes my own grieving and prompts reflexivity in the practice of teaching visual communication design.


performance in a desktop environment

presented at The CAA Annual Conference 2021