I am a PhD candidate at HKIHSS. Before coming here, I completed an MPhil degree in Anthropology at CUHK and worked at Mars Catalyst, a corporate thinktank, for 3 years. My MPhil project on the treatment camps of “Internet Addiction” for Chinese adolescents reveals the shifting landscape of China’s social control under digitalization, marketization and the one-child policy. For my PhD project, I am moving on to study people’s lives under the rise and fall of China’s Peer-to-Peer (P2P) lending platforms. My past research on addiction leads me to reflect upon the implicit connections between addiction and the P2P lending fever in China, where people’s senses of connection, reward, desire and anxiety are also conditioned by technology and the socio-cultural dynamics. In fact, media reports have described the “financial refugees” who lost their life savings on P2P platforms as “middle-aged internet addict” with a blind trust in financial technology.
Institutions (of finance, of psychology, of medicine); Trust and risks; Credit and debt; Digital platforms; Online gaming; Addictions; Social Control; Regulation; Wellbeing.
Project Title: Surviving the Ruins of Hope: Life under China’s P2P Lending Crisis
Peer to Peer (P2P) lending is a method of debt financing that connects borrowers with lenders through online platforms. In recent years, under the banners of “inclusive finance” and “financial innovation”, approximately 6100 P2P platforms (Lingyi Finance 2019) emerged in China, distinct from the situation in developed markets like the U.S. and U.K. where only several players dominate the market. Yet, since 2013 nearly 5000 platforms went bankrupt, causing the evaporation of over 100 billion Yuan, the life savings of millions of Chinese. The affected investors identify themselves as “financial refugees”.
This study views the P2P platforms in China as not merely digital mediums of financial inclusion, but institutions that channel the anxiety, dream, risk and trust of many different social groups and strata of Chinese people. Based on online and offline ethnography, it seeks to answer why millions of Chinese lend money to strangers through online platforms, why the industry has seen its rise and fall, how the “risks”, responsibilities and trusts are mediated by technology and produced and perceived by institutions and people, and how do people manage their hope after the massive collapses took place. It converses with theories and empirical studies in anthropology, sociology and STS to understand the larger implications of these P2P platforms and the human behaviors involved.
[Proposal Accepted] Rao Yichen. TPD. “Deep Play” in a Total Institution: How China’s Young “Game Addicts” Gamify the Disciplinary Treatment Camp In Douglas Eyman, Li Guo and Hongmei Sun eds. Games and Gaming in Contemporary China.
[Under Contract] Rao, Yichen. Forthcoming. 麵包，可樂與心理學：軍訓與電擊之外的網癮治療 [Bread, Coke and Psychology: Internet Addiction Treatment Beyond Military Training and Electric Shock]. In Huang Xiuwei ed. (Collection title to be confirmed). Hong Kong: Humming Publishing.
2019. “From Confucianism to Psychology: Rebooting Internet Addicts in China”, History of Psychology (Special Issue: history of psychology and psychiatry in the global world).
(2015 Internet Addicts and the Transformation of Social Control Mode in China, Beijing Cultural Review, BCR, no.5, pp. 64-71)
2015 Coming of Age with Internet Addiction: An Ethnography of Institutional Encounter and Subject Formation. M.Phil Dissertation. The Chinese University of Hong Kong.