Virtual gifting on China’s live streaming platforms: hijacking the online gift economy

Xiaoxing Zhang, Yu Xiang, Lei Hao

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents an exploratory case study on the nascent “virtual gifting” feature of China’s live streaming platforms. At the nexus of technological infrastructure, social organization, and interpersonal relations, the authors aim to explicate the complex dynamics between the gift economy and the commodity economy in the context of the increasingly platformized Chinese society. This paper will first discuss how the platform infrastructure is geared toward maximizing content monetization through virtual gifting. The paper then examines how corporatized streamer guilds foreground the moneymaking capacity of virtual gifting at the expense of its potential for building communitarian and reciprocal relationships. Based on these structural dynamics, the commodification of virtual relations is further analyzed to demonstrate how the hegemonic construct of virtual gifting is perceived and reproduced at the individual level. The paper concludes by offering a reconsideration of the role of critical communication studies in turning the tide of China’s live streaming industry.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1583260
Pages (from-to)340-355
Number of pages16
JournalChinese Journal of Communication
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • gift economy
  • commodity economy
  • Internet
  • virtual gifting
  • live streaming
  • China


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