> Opinion

Online knowledge influencers signal an increasing need for cultural life

LONG QILIN | 2019-03-14
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

As daily life becomes increasingly correlated with the internet, online celebrities have also continuously sprouting from every walk of life. At the same time, as online needs and engagement transition from information retrieval, chatting and entertainment in the past to the pursuit of professional knowledge instruction today, the group of online knowledge influencers is also rising. Fostered by some websites represented by Zhihu (a Chinese website where netizens share information, experience and opinions on various fields), knowledge influencers, together with doctors online who diagnose diseases and online training schools, are gaining popularity by means of constant professional knowledge output.

The rise of online knowledge influencers is due to their unique style and identity credited to knowledge and experience accumulation. They satisfy the audience’s needs for professional knowledge about emotion, jobs, etc and are thus sought after by the public. Furthermore, with the help of the publicity conducted by internet marketers and the media effects that come with it, the group of online knowledge influencers keeps growing. Their popularity reflects the current trend of deepening cooperation between different social sectors and the increasingly intensified division of labor between different specializations, which has a positive significance.

The phenomenon of online celebrities has existed for many years, most of whom have become topics that arise casually over dinner or drinks; these celebrities haven’t positively affected cyberspace or social reality. Most viewers hold a curious and amused attitude toward these celebrities, but the emergence of online knowledge influencers has altered this single value orientation. More and more netizens’ values and concepts are changing: They no longer are merely interested in pop stars, sports events, film and television works, but consciously take the internet as a place to learn something and solve problems.

However, it is obviously too early to infer that China has entered a learning society only because of these influencers who can be seen on websites where knowledge can turn into cash. According to the Reading Report of China 2018, released by a survey agency at the beginning of this year, Chinese people read 5.5 printed books on average last year, an increase of one book compared with the number in 2017. In 2011, the book reading number for people from South Korea, France, Japan and Israel was respectively 11, 20, 40 and 64. Therefore, although the reading quantity of Chinese people has slightly increased in recent years, it is still far behind that of many countries in the world.

Perhaps, online knowledge influencers are a signal that after satisfying demands for the material life, people begin to place a higher premium on the quality of their intellectual and cultural life. Knowledge is the core element through which humans improve their thought, cognition and wisdom. It is also an important element that maintains a country and a nation’s motivation for development and inheritance of culture. In terms of the online knowledge influencer phenomenon, we shouldn’t just be onlookers, or even just consumers. It is more important to take this as an opportunity to cultivate the consciousness of lifelong learning. The aim is to improve one’s self-learning ability and to combine one’s needs for knowledge, self-improvement and national development. There is a famous saying from George Bernard Shaw: “Where knowledge does not exist, ignorance pretends to be science.” This quote is not only a summary of the lessons and experience of history, but also a warning.


This article was edited and translated from Guangming Daily. Long Qilin is deputy director and research fellow of the Cantonese Culture Research Center at Guangzhou University.

edited by BAI LE