Sara Liao

Media Studies

Sara Liao

Assistant Professor

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Feminist Media Studies

Digital Media

Critical Cultural Studies

East Asian Popular Culture

Gender and Labor Studies

Global Media


2017 Ph.D. in Media Studies, University of Texas at Austin

2013 M.Phil. in Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong

2011 B.A. in Advertising, Renmin University of China



I am a media scholar and feminist, focusing on examining how media technologies, the state, commercialism, and gender dynamics are imbricated in the production of culture and the various forms of identities in a transnational setting, with a particular focus on broader Chinese societies. This body of work is interdisciplinary and transnational, with not only my commitment to gender equality and social justice, but also my efforts to collaborate with academics, activists, and students across disciplinary and geographical borders.

My first book Fashioning China: Precarious Creativity of Women Designers in Shanzhai Culture (Pluto, 2020) focuses on the creativity and precarity of a group of women fashion designers, whose experience encapsulates the shifting cultural terrain in China. She also has various publications in highly regarded peer-reviewed journals, including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, International Journal of Communication, Communication, Culture & Critique, and Chinese Journal of Communication.

My current research interests are represented in two major areas, one is the study of gender politics and feminist activism, and the other social movements and digital culture. For the former, I analyze the Chinese #MeToo movement and anti-sexual harassment campaigns, critically examining the witch-hunting public discourse and feminist efforts to counter it, investigating the intersection of digital media activism, higher-ed sexual scandals, and administrative solutions, and exploring storytelling as an empowering technique and coping mechanism of sexual wounds. I have also discussed how popular media culture is shaping and shaped by gender politics in the state-market complex of China regarding women’s representations in TV. For the latter, I illustrate the productive forces of emotions and affect in social movements and explore how nationalism tapped into a digital mentality to react to geopolitics. These two areas of studies mutually reinforce each other, offering both valuable insights in feminism and media activism, and policy/practical implications in combating toxic digital cultures and building and enhancing solidarity. For example, I explore how digital platforms, complicit with the official agenda on gender politics, manufacture misogynistic culture and its subsequent political and cultural impacts on feminist activism and Chinese digital culture, a phenomenon I called the “platformization of misogyny.”

I am a 2023 recipient of the Helen Award for Emerging Feminist Scholarship at the International Communication Association, and the Dean’s Excellence Award in Research and Creative Accomplishments at Penn State. I am currently writing my next book on techculture of feminism.



Liao, S. (2020). Fashioning China: Precarious creativity of women designers in Shanzhai culture. London: Pluto Press.

Refereed Journal Article

Liao, S., (2023). The platformization of misogyny: Popular media, gender politics, and misogyny in China’s state-market nexus. Media, Culture & Society, online first, 1-13.

Guo, J., Zhang, Z., Song, J., Jin, L., Yu, D., & Liao, S. (2022). Femvertising and postfeminist discourse: Advertising to break menstrual taboos in China. Women’s Journal of Media and Communication, 45(3), 378-398.

Liao, S., & Grace, Xia. (2022). Consumer nationalism in digital space: A case study of the 2017 anti-Lotte boycott in China. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, online first, 1-20. DOI: 10.1177/13548565221090198

Liao, S., & Ling, Q. (2022). The “little third:” Changing images of women characters involved in extramarital affairs on Chinese TV. Communication, Culture, and Critique, 15(3), 355-371.

Liao, S., & Luqiu, R. L. (2022). #MeToo in China: The dynamic of digital activism against sexual assault and harassment in higher education. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 47(3), 741-764.

Liao, S. (2021). Feeling the 2019 Hong Kong Anti-ELAB movement: Emotion and affect in the Lennon Walls. Chinese Journal of Communication, 15(3), 355-377.

Luqiu, R. L., & Liao, S. (2021). Rethinking “the personal is political”: Telling the story of sexual harassment in China. Discourse and Society, 32(6), 708-727.

Ling, Q., & Liao, S. (2020). Intellectuals debate #MeToo in China: Legitimizing feminist activism, challenging gendered myths, and reclaiming feminism. Journal of Communication, 70(6), 895-916.


Sara Liao
118 Carnegie Building