PhD Dissertation Project

Ph.D. Dissertation 

Title: The Engineering of Sentiment and Desire: Unraveling the Aestheticized Politics of Ideotainment in China

Committee: Theodore L. Glasser (Chair/Advisor), James T. Hamilton (Co-advisor), Angèle Christin, Ban Wang

University Chair for the Dissertation Defense: Haiyan Lee

Funding support: Dissertation Prize Fellowship from Stanford Humanities Center


This project investigates a rising trend of propaganda in China—“ideotainment,” namely an assemblage of entertaining media content and ideological constructs. Ideotainment reflects the aesthetic, discursive, and stylistic changes in the Party-state's public communication and governmentality in the digital age. Through close analysis of viral ideotainment campaigns and in-depth interviews with their producers in China's state-run media, this dissertation reveals how the aesthetic of play is incorporated into the project of ideological subjectification, which taps into the prevalent emotion and desire of consumer-citizens via a heterogeneous “thought work” network. It illuminates how politics is aestheticized and how propaganda is entwined with idioms and currents of popular culture. Moving beyond the dichotomy of politics and entertainment, it shifts the emphasis from the effect of propaganda as a political instrument to the aesthetic and affective experience it entails as an ambient process of subject formation. 

SHC Poster Showcasing My Dissertation Work

Sheng Zou 2.pdf