This paper takes a particular angle that begins with the drastic decline of internet cafés in China and their receding yet still evolving presence. This project aims at delineating the history of internet cafés as urban spaces in relation to the different roles they played in various stages of Chinese modernity. The particularities of local development, as directed by trajectories of Chinese modernization, has led to a contempt for the ‘low quality’ of internet cafés, on the one hand, and a nostalgic sentimentalization of its ruination, on the other. Internet cafés are situated in the present moment of transition as a reflection of larger transformations of urban renewals and ideals of modernity. Drawn from both ethnographic research and existing literature on internet cafés, this paper theorizes the space that Chinese internet cafés have produced in the past 25 years.
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