Hierarchy within female ACG fandom in China

Xianwei Wu

University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, United States

[0.1] Abstract—This case study focuses on a Chinese female-oriented ACG fan community, 3n5b, with an eye to studying how this community creates a sense of exclusivity and hierarchy through the discourses of copyright infringement, fan labor, and quality membership. Through controlling the distribution of rare resources, 3n5b creates high demand for their manga scanlation, and this demand is translated to a highly restricted membership. Membership is valuable because it is closely related to individual member's social and cultural capital, as well as their access to forum resources. Well-behaved members can slowly gain entry into more restricted forums, while members who violate forum rules are punished with loss of forum status or even membership revocation. This hierarchy seeks to raise the forum's overall quality and to wall off unwanted members, but it also replicates offline power relations that inevitably place people of lower social status at a disadvantage.

[0.2] Keywords—Copyright; Cultural capital; Fan community; Scanlation

Wu, Xianwei. 2019. "Hierarchy within Female ACG Fandom in China." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 30.

1. Introduction

[1.1] On April 14, 2018, China's largest social media platform, Sina Weibo, announced that it would be deleting posts containing "manga and videos with pornographic implications, promoting violence or (related to) homosexuality" (Kwong 2018). This and other alarming news, such as the film Call Me by Your Name (2017) being pulled from the 2018 Beijing Film Festival (Keslassy 2018), are widely believed to signal a tougher stance from the government toward homosexual groups and related content. Weibo's announcement received massive backlash not only from the homosexual community but also from the female fan community that avidly consumes homosexual stories, called danmei (Yang and Xu 2016a), and eventually Weibo reversed their decision. This series of events demonstrated that female danmei fandom in China is becoming an increasingly formidable force online; yet the fandom is also under constant threats from governmental persecution. Many LGBT-related fandoms therefore choose to maintain a semi-underground status in order to avoid governmental crackdowns. However, this is not always an easy task in the age of social media and rapid information flow. Instead of resisting censorship, oftentimes communities choose to adopt a series of compromises and control measures to ensure their survival. This article focuses on the efforts of one such community.

[1.2] Danmei is a genre of literature and art that depicts male-male romantic and sexual relationships. It is primarily produced for and by women. While there are a large number of danmei stories produced by Chinese writers, danmei culture originated in Japan, where the genre is commonly referred to as boys' love or BL (Levi 2008). As scholars have noted, Chinese danmei culture mainly focuses on novels, while Japanese BL culture thrives through manga (Yang and Xu, 2016b). As this article focuses on the fan community of Japanese BL manga translation, as such, the genre is referred to as BL instead of danmei for clarity.

[1.3] Many scholars see the BL community as a queer space that has the potential to subvert existing expectations about gender or sexuality (Stanley 2008; Wood 2006) and the capitalist system itself (Donovan 2008). In the case of China, the BL fan community can also provide a public sphere for female participants to discuss social issues such as governmental policies and writers' ethics (Yang and Xu 2016a). However, due to the sensitive nature of their subject matter and its sexual content, BL and danmei communities in China can be quite secretive and restricting: registration is often difficult and requires prior approval, and certain materials are only accessible to high-level members who have spent a lot of time and effort obtaining their status in the forum. This article is a case study that explores the limiting side of a BL fan community 3n5b in China and how the community creates a hierarchical system of membership. It is important to note that many of 3n5b's practices are widespread in China's BL and danmei communities and that these practices have mostly been introduced to ensure self-preservation (Yang and Xu 2016c). However, the consequences of the practices remain unexplored, and this article aims to fill this gap in the literature.

[1.4] The specific fan community being studied in this article is one of the oldest and largest Japanese BL fan communities in China: 3n5b. As of December 2014, the community had over 295,000 registered members, and it was celebrating its ninth anniversary. 3n5b's website focuses on the translation, distribution, and discussion of female-oriented manga/comics, fiction, drama CDs, and anime, and it is also the largest scanlation group of Japanese BL manga in China. Scanlation groups buy manga magazines from Japan, scan them into digital formats, translate the dialogue into local dialects, photoshop the dialogue onto the digitalized manga, and then distribute the translated manga through various online channels. It is an extremely time- and resource-consuming task, and this partially explains why 3n5b is protective of their manga scanlations. Due to its niche focus and the selectivity of its membership, 3n5b's member base almost exclusively consists of young female fans of Japanese anime, comics, and game (ACG) culture. The large size of this community and its well-established rules make it a prime example of how hierarchies are realized and maintained online.

[1.5] The central question being addressed in this article is: How does 3n5b maintain control over its members? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the relationship between 3n5b and its members as well as how 3n5b creates its system of hierarchy. By exploring the inner workings of this hierarchical system, I also hope to explain why such practices have taken shape and thrived in this community. Although I have had personal knowledge of 3n5b's production processes since 2009 as an avid BL manga reader, the following analysis will be based solely on my observations of 3n5b's official forum ( and their public social media page ( from January to March 2014 (note 1). During this period, I reregistered as a new member and went through all of the "new members' missions," or a detailed check-in process, in order to understand the process of obtaining a new membership. Furthermore, I only analyzed posts that were available to new members. In the following sections, I lay out the contextual background of copyright and fandom as well as the theoretical foundations for this project, including Bourdieu's (1984, 1986) theory of distinction and the concept of gamification. I believe these theories will provide a good foundation for understanding how 3n5b is able to create a hierarchical community while still keeping its members engaged and supportive of the system.

2. Copyright and fan activism in China

[2.1] To understand why issues of copyright and piracy are related to the idea of fandom hierarchy, we must first understand how copyright is viewed in the context of Chinese online communities: the relationship of piracy to copyright is not as straightforward as one might think. The issue of piracy is one of the most actively debated topics within fandom studies, particularly within Japanese manga/anime fandom, mainly due to Japan's rigorous copyright laws. However, since most of the current discussions center on US ACG fandoms, the difference between the US and Chinese markets is discussed.

[2.2] While fansub groups that translate and distribute Japanese anime in the US emerged as early as the 1980s (Leonard 2005), their activities were largely ignored by the industry, both in Japan and in the US. The relationship between the industry and the fans began to change after the proliferation of the internet and new technologies, which allowed fans to easily produce and distribute subtitled anime episodes months or even years before their official release in the US (Denison 2011a, 2011b; Hatcher 2005; Koulikov 2010; Lee 2011; Leonard 2005). The central arguments from both sides are mainly economic, with the industry claiming a decline in DVD sales (Koulikov 2010) and the fans defending their actions as a form of free advertisement for the work (Leonard 2005; Jenkins 2006). The same argument can be applied to manga scanlations (Lee 2009, 2012; Anderson-Terpstra 2012). But since US fans are quite respectful of domestic copyright laws, most fansub groups maintain that they will stop translating the anime once it is officially licensed in their region (Ito 2012; Koulikov 2010; Leonard 2005).

[2.3] However, when we shift our focus to China, the landscape becomes very different. It is well-known that China is one of the largest offenders of copyright laws worldwide. Almost all of the content enjoyed by Chinese netizens infringes on copyrights, resulting in over $107 billion in economic loss to the US alone (International Intellectual Property Association 2011). Some scholars have attributed the overflow of pirated materials to the inaction of the bureaucratic Chinese government (Mertha 2005). Others even suspect that the government encourages piracy due to its economic benefits (Li 2013). More importantly, piracy is praised by scholars as a form of resistance, both against government censorship (Li 2013; Meng 2013) and against the hegemony of the global market (Wang 2003). The practice of piracy has already become an integral part of China's grassroots popular culture; not only is it taken for granted but it is also usually appreciated. Therefore criticism toward fansubbers and scanlators in China is minimal, if it exists at all. However, copyright infringement remains a convenient reason for the government to control and censor online content, and crackdowns on fansub and scanlation communities are common occurrences. This is why most communities adamantly maintain a low profile in order to survive. 3n5b itself has experienced server troubles throughout its existence, presumably the result of government interference; thus, it is quite vigilant about overpublicizing.

[2.4] Unlike in the US, little Japanese manga content is available through official channels in China, mostly due to governmental control. This is especially true for most female-oriented Japanese ACG products, including BL manga, games, and drama CDs that are not available outside of Japan or in any other languages. However, demand for such products remains high due to the rapid flow of information online. Thus, fansub and scanlation groups have become the de facto distributors of Japanese ACG products in China, and their translations are often recognized as the definitive versions. For instance, some fans recently demanded that the official Taiwanese publisher of the BL manga Kashikomarimashita, Destiny (2016–17) adapt the scanlation group's translated title, because they felt it was a better translation than the official Taiwanese version. Therefore, many fansub and scanlator groups occupy a semiofficial space between the Japanese ACG industry and fans, and they hold an oligopoly over the kinds of resources available to Chinese audiences.

[2.5] The prestigious status of fansubbers/scanlators in China is mainly due to the voluntary nature of their labor. Their selfless actions ensure that their status within the fan community is above that of the average audience member (Ito 2012). Scanlation groups also tend to reinforce this impression. On the front page of 3n5b's manga scanlation, there is a warning that reads, "This manga is produced and distributed by 3n5b's forum. It is only meant to be used for discussions within the forum, and its appearance any other place is considered stealing! Translating female-oriented content is not easy; please respect the hard work of the 3n5b staff and boycott stealing" (figure 1). There are several important points made here. First, "stealing manga" (or redistributing it without permission) is viewed as undermining the hard work of the "staff" (note 2). Ironically, this warning makes no mention of the original authors, instead positioning 3n5b as the actual producer of the work. By claiming producers' rights over the product, 3n5b is able to assert moral legitimacy over the distribution process. Even though the group does not have legal rights, they are, in fact, the copyright holders in the eyes of the community. Due to the semiofficial status of this scanlation group in China, there is a clear power disparity between the fan producers and the fan audience. Therefore, the audience is more likely to adopt the values and rules that the scanlation group places on the community without hesitation, either because they do not want to anger the scanlation group or because they truly respect the group. This is the reason why "leechers" (fans who do not actively contribute to the community) often feel an ethical obligation to the community and usually do not question the actions of the contributors (Ito 2012).

Black-and-white image of a scholarly bespectacled man with a moustache wearing a tweed three-piece suit and a mortarboard, pointing a small stick to a blackboard with Chinese characters written in white. Two sections of Chinese characters are circled. Text includes: warning about consequences of manga stealing; title of manga; and names of staff members working on the translation, indicating source, translator, editor, and four people who Photoshopped the translation onto the manga.

Figure 1. Typical cover of a 3n5b translated manga. This is from chapter 4 of the manga Pray in Abyss, the latest installment of the Viewfinder series (2001–) by Yamane Ayano.

[2.6] As demonstrated in this section, copyright disputes in China are not only understood in terms of the relationship between publishers and fans but also in terms of the relationships between fan producers and inactive fans. Because there is no official import or copyright to protect, the fans see fan producers and distributors of the copyrighted material as the rightful owners of the translated versions and will often vehemently defend their rights to outsiders. In addition to their intangible status within fandoms, fan producers also receive actual benefits within a scanlation community, such as access to restricted materials. This paper now considers how these benefits are controlled and assigned as a way to demonstrate how hierarchy is created within a fandom.

3. Gamification, hierarchy, and control within fandoms

[3.1] In order to study hierarchy, we need to understand where hierarchy comes from. According to Bourdieu (1986), there are three main types of capital that determine one's standing in society: economic capital, or money; social capital, or connections; and cultural capital, which can be determined by a person's level of education and their understanding of cultural artifacts. Accumulation of one type of capital can often lead to an increase in the other types of capital. Bourdieu (1984) argues that a society's taste is determined by people who hold the most cultural capital, and those with less cultural capital will adopt this taste as the standard. The same process can happen in a fan community, where the values and tastes of higher-level members can be instilled into lower-level members. However, John Fiske (1992) criticizes Bourdieu for focusing on only class distinctions in his discussion of cultural capital and for ignoring the roles that race, gender, and age play in determining social status. He also believes Bourdieu's ideas lack complexity when describing the culture of the subordinate class. Therefore, Fiske coined the term "popular cultural capital" to account for the capital people gain when engaging with popular culture, particularly fandoms. He saw popular cultural capital as empowering and as allowing those without access to the more prestigious types of cultural capital to gain status within a fan community. Although Fiske believes popular cultural capital rarely transforms into other types of capital, later studies have shown that this is not the case.

[3.2] Later fandom scholars also started to study hierarchy within fandoms more closely. For example, MacDonald (1998) theorized that there are five types of hierarchies present within fandoms: the hierarchy of knowledge; fandom level/quality, which is defined as a fan's amount of participation; access to industry insiders; leaders; and venue, or those who can control where fans meet. All fans at the top of these different types of hierarchy are called "executive" fans. Hills (2002) later proposed to add fans' social capital to the list of hierarchies. McCudden (2011) proposed a similar model, in which official authority, investment, social capital, and cultural capital all determine hierarchy within a fandom. Although the hierarchies are theorized on the individual level, 3n5b is a community that can be viewed as an executive fan organization—it is a high-level community due to its producer status, it offers a venue where others fans interact and gather knowledge, and it acts as a community leader that defines the rules within China's BL fan community.

[3.3] While fandom hierarchy is often viewed critically, hierarchical systems can also be an important motivator for members. The process of gamification provides a good explanation for why members continue to engage in a hierarchical community. Gamification suggests that game mechanics can be used in various application designs to enhance users' experiences (Deterding et. al 2011; Zicherman and Cunningham 2011). Game mechanics can include everything from leveling, ranking, and gaining rewards to information seeking and social engagement (Hulsey 2016). These gamelike mechanics significantly increase the enjoyment of participating in activities that would otherwise be considered mundane, such as exercise (Hulsey 2015) or even managing welfare systems (Bista et. al 2012). Therefore, the use of leveling and point systems in designing forums such 3n5b can be very rewarding for its members: it motivates them to keep coming back to the forum and to keep participating in its activities.

[3.4] While gamified systems use gaming elements to keep their users engaged, they are essentially different from actual games in several respects. First, a game usually has a clearly defined endpoint, whereas the goal of gamified applications is to keep users engaged for as long as possible with no clear end goal (Hulsey 2016). In addition, a central component of any game is rules, but rules in a game can be considered both as a restraint and as a way for players to gain agency (Tulloch 2014). As Foucault (1990) theorized, power simultaneously controls the subject and needs the subject to manifest itself. Without the players, the games and the rules have no meaning; the players are the ones that create meaning through gameplay. Gameplay is a process of negotiation between the players and the rules, and rules are the basis for players' activities and a source of pleasure. When the rules become too restricting, players can choose to leave or to bend the rules by cheating or "modding" the game (Hulsey 2015; Raessens 2014). But this type of behavior is not viable in gamified applications because their end goal is not to create pleasure but to keep users engaged in productive activities; thus, activities that circumvent rules are highly regulated (Hulsey 2015). Fundamentally, gameplay is a freeing activity, but gamification is not. Gamified systems attempt to control their users by keeping them from reaching an endpoint or changing the rules because the rules are the main form of control within a gamified environment.

[3.5] A gamified environment is quite in keeping with Foucault's idea of governmentality and surveillance (Schrape 2014; Ruffino 2014). In such environments, each user is constantly monitored and controlled by a carefully designed system of engagement. The omnipresence of gamification is evident in the idea of big data. For example, fitness wearables collect users' biodata and compare it with previous data and/or with other users' data in order to motivate users to work harder. Additionally, this data is simultaneously sent to data centers in order to better understand the users' consumption behaviors and health conditions not only to improve the design of future applications but also to market products to consumers more effectively (Schrape). In other words, mechanisms used to motivate engagement are also used to control behavior.

[3.6] As we will see, 3n5b uses various gamified mechanisms to maintain its membership, and these mechanisms in turn create a hierarchical structure that directly relates to a member's level of fandom capital. Through controlling the distribution of their manga, 3n5b effectively disciplines its members and their behaviors. While most gamified systems present their rules more stealthily, 3n5b relies heavily on members' internalizing its rules from the onset and on their strictly policing these rules. Various types of fandom capital can be used as gamified mechanisms to control member activities. While many gamified systems fail to control their users because they cannot continue the process of seduction, or the effort to keep users in the system is too demanding (Hulsey 2015), I believe 3n5b's success lies mainly in the types of content it provides, and the next section briefly outlines the way they maintain new members through that content.

4. Gamifying a community

[4.1] Simply understanding 3n5b's role as a producer and the way it asserts control over its products is not enough to make sense of how it exerts control over its members. In order to get a clearer sense of how power and control influence the individual members, I critically examine discourses used in the posts that all new members are required to read as a part of the new member's mission to show that 3n5b's system of control permeates every aspect of the community.

[4.2] 3n5b's registration is a two-step process; the website manually verifies each email with IP filters to make sure that an applicant is not a sockpuppet, a person with multiple avatars. After email authentication, the website asks a few more questions that are submitted to the website administrators for final approval. These questions include "Where did you learn about the website?"; "What are your interests and favorite works within ACG fandom?"; "What are your reasons for registering?". All answers must be thirty characters or more. Numerous people have been rejected because they failed to provide a proper description of their motivations. This problem is so pervasive that there are a number of guides available to help people write acceptable reasons for registration specifically for such websites (e.g., According to the website's own FAQ (, the applicant's reason for registration has to be expressed in a sincere tone. This means that responses should use formal language and avoid meaningless words such as abbreviations, nicknames for a character, or emoticons. The FAQ likens these registration questions to a job interview, which underscores the formalized nature of the process (note 3). These questions are the beginning of a training sequence that turns uninitiated users into proper members not only of the specific community but of society at large, since it assumes everyone understands the right way to conduct a job interview. Paradoxically, informal language use is extremely common among young adults, who are the primary audience of the website. For people who are already fans of ACG culture, using nicknames to refer to one's favorite character is a common behavior. The rule prohibiting it suggests that the first step to becoming a member is to perform the role of a nonfan or, more precisely, a nonfanatical fan. Potential members must be able to follow instructions and respect the rules set out by the forum from the very beginning. Moreover, the registration also requires applicants to formally check a box and agree to never steal or reupload any unauthorized products acquired from the website, reinforcing the importance of the forum's own copyright laws. It takes three to five days for the registration to be approved (or rejected) by the site administrator. This registration process is a clear example of how the system is gamified: users who wish to register can use a walkthrough, much like they would in playing a game, to help them answer the questions in a way that follows the rules. Furthermore, there is the possibility of being rejected, which adds to the sense of accomplishment if registration is successful. The hard work required to gain access to the forum adds to its prestige, which is one reason why members find it so difficult to abandon it.

[4.3] After registration, new members begin an internal check-in process, or the new member's mission, by completing their first post. The check-in is mandatory for all newcomers since the check-in forum is the only place they are allowed to access until they have completed it appropriately. All the posts in this forum are restricted to one format with eight questions. Any poster who does not follow the format is penalized twenty forum currency (they start with zero), while those who post correctly will be rewarded ten forum currency. Here new users are asked basic questions such as whether or not they will follow forum rules. The first three questions function as an initiation declaration, where users must formally swear to be respectful and obedient. Next is a set of four questions that ask about four of the most popular subforums' rules regulating spamming or flooding. While the rules are similar, the details in each subforum vary slightly, so new members must go to each section and read the rules carefully before answering the questions in their own words. In this way, the website can ensure that every new member has at least read the forum rules and reiterated them once. This not only results in an internalization of the rules through memorization but also emphasizes how important these rules are to the community. This type of activity is very typical of gameplay, where a player needs to gather information in order to complete a quest. The final question in the check-in process asks for users' opinions about "re-uploading forum resources without permission" or "stealing." If the importance of this issue is not clear during registration, it is made abundantly clear in the check-in process. Again, answers cannot be copied or pasted and must be thirty characters or more.

[4.4] The phrase "new members' mission" is itself borrowed from games. In games, such missions are designed to teach new players the rules and basic operations of the game. The most important aspects of how to play the game are taught at this stage. The fact that copyright is once again emphasized here shows that it is one of the most essential rules for this forum. New members who do not follow this basic rule cannot be allowed to proceed to the rest of the forum. But unlike in a game, where the new member's mission is more like a guide, the forum's new members' mission is a public statement: breaking the rules means public shaming. Whether or not the statement is sincere is not in question. Rather, by making such a public claim, the new user's identity with regards to the community has already changed. Now the user is either an ethical new member who respects the community or a liar who provided a false answer for personal gain. Either way, membership is defined in conjunction with 3n5b's translation products whether the user likes it or not.

[4.5] Both the registration and the check-in can also be considered an entrance exam, a test of knowledge regarding ACG fandom and proper conduct. There is even a system of pass/fail. As Foucault (1995) notes, the examination is a combination of an "observing hierarchy," or the implementation of a surveillance system, and a normalizing judgment, carried out with the goal of correcting behaviors. The technique of the examination is "the subjection of those who are perceived as objects and the objectification of those who are subjected" (184). Indoctrinating individuals as a part of the group thus subjects them to the group's norms and values, but the individuals—guided by their own interests—are also acting out of their own free will to become members.

[4.6] The mission functions through the use of open-ended questions, though it is clear to most that there is a correct answer. Ostensibly, the questions themselves do not force the group's value judgments onto individual members and are only asking about individuals' personal opinions. The instructions even specifically forbid copying and pasting and ask members to use their own words in a manner that is suggestive of what Foucault calls "the power of writing" (1995, 189). Each individual has the option of providing a deviant answer, at which time the group casts judgment and denies him or her access. If the individual chooses to answer in accordance with the group's values, then he or she voluntarily becomes an object of the group. The group is then free to document, categorize, and monitor each individual under its own system of social rewards and discipline. The next section focuses on the system of rewards and discipline that 3n5b utilizes to regulate quality and access, their two main concerns. By maintaining a high standard for quality and access, 3n5b remains at the top of both of these hierarchies within the fan community.

5. Access and capital

[5.1] As Hulsey (2015) points out, the key to gamification is seduction, or the notion of unfulfillable desires. But for 3n5b, the desires of its members are not unfulfillable. Instead, members are constantly being seduced by newly-created desires, namely by the large amount of BL manga content produced by Japan and translated by 3n5b. 3n5b carefully controls its distribution channels because if these resources were readily available everywhere, the group would lose its exclusive status and members would not be likely to join or to stay in the group for a prolonged period of time.

[5.2] 3n5b primarily controls its resources through restricted access; only higher-level members have access to restricted resources, and such resources must be purchased using forum currency. Moreover, the list of purchases is only available to forum administrators. In addition, 3n5b also controls the websites that the resources can be (re)uploaded to. As stated on their forum, 3n5b resources can only be reuploaded onto approved websites, the reupload links must be temporary, and the reuploaders must hide the downloadable links from the public by selling the links using virtual currencies available on the approved websites. These rules for requesting permission to reupload resources demonstrate that the focus of 3n5b's control hinges on three things: maintaining the 3n5b brand, protecting the exclusivity of their products, and clearly listing redistribution channels that can be traced back to specific members. All rules are put into place not to promote an open platform for file sharing but to increase the sense of scarcity that adds to 3n5b's prestige. Even though people can access the resources from other sites, they are by no means public. Membership to an established website (recognized by 3n5b) is a prerequisite for acquiring any of 3n5b's resources, and even then, outside members are not granted permanent access. The hierarchy between 3n5b and other websites is made abundantly clear, which in turn increases the attractiveness of a 3n5b membership and drives more traffic toward the website.

[5.3] Since resources are the group's most important asset, members' efforts to gain access to resources go hand in hand with the group's efforts to limit this access. Access to resources in the forum is dependent on two systems: first a point system that is equal to the level of access a member has and second a currency system that can be used to purchase resources once a user has been granted access to them. In the forum, points are associated with social and cultural capital, and currency with economic capital (Bourdieu 1984). While both types of capital can be accumulated through writing posts and replies, only the amount of currency will decrease as a result of consumption. Although there are other kinds of honorary points systems attached to badges and levels (such as ones for long-term membership or services), used as a display of status within the forum, these points have no actual impact on a user's access to forum resources (figure 2). More importantly the points and the currency are the only two things available for purchase using real world currencies, and the price ranges from $10 to $100 ( 3n5b collected around $20,000 in 2013, which shows that there is a large group of people willing to pay for the resources. Paying members will receive a special VIP badge indicating their status to other members, but some of the paid levels are not permanent, and members either have to continue paying to keep their status or spend more money up front. Moreover, since forum currencies decrease with purchases, some paid members still need to find other ways to earn the currencies to keep up with their purchases. For the people who are not willing to pay, posting is the primary way to gain points and currency. Therefore, posting in the forums is more or less equated with the production of actual currency: one can save money by writing posts or spend money and save the effort. Once again, this type of leveling system is similar to that of a game, where a player's ranking slowly increases after defeating various enemies and real-world currency can be used to purchase powerful items that quickly increase a players' power and status. On its own, this system can be an effective motivator for continued engagement, but when levels are attached to access, members have an even greater incentive to continue participating.

Thin vertical color image on white with black and dark green Chinese-language characters and values. A green, yellow, and red decorative bar separates this from four cute, colorful characters representing badges at the bottom. Points at top right corner indicate access; currency called 'moe points' is used by forum members to purchase resources. Other points mainly indicate status. After the 2018 server update, the forum simplified its system and retained only access levels.

Figure 2. Levels and badge system of 3n5b in 2014.

[5.4] Within 3n5b, posting behavior is a demonstration of one's cultural capital because of its emphasis on quality. Discussions of quality in fan studies often refer to the quality of the object of fandom; for instance, fans of the Twilight (2005–8) series are looked down upon due to the series’ perceived poor literary quality (Pinkowitz 2011). It is assumed that fans of poorer works will automatically be low-quality fans, especially in terms of taste and cultural capital; some examples of these assumptions include fans of the Twilight (2005–8) and the Fifty Shades (2011–17) series (Harman and Jones 2013; Pinkowitz). But in 3n5b's case, the belief is reversed—the quality of the community dictates the quality of the fandom. As a female-oriented community within the male-dominated field of ACG, 3n5b stands out as one of the more disciplined communities, ironically a stereotypically male-oriented quality. But this demand for quality is possibly one of the ways 3n5b protects itself from unwanted attention and criticism. Such a demand is made clear from the moment of registration: one of the statements in the user agreement reads, "Our forum has strict requirements for replies, and is not suitable for those who are accustomed to leeching or those who come from Baidu to register" (3n5b 2013). Baidu is the largest search engine company in China, and it hosts a forum service called "tieba," similar to Reddit. Any user can create a tieba forum and post with few to no restrictions. Tieba's ease of use also makes it a place of rampant manga stealing. This statement clearly establishes a hierarchy between 3n5b and "those who come from Baidu" because of Baidu's low requirements for participation. 3n5b positions itself as the elite of the fan community from the moment a new user enters. Moreover, when new users are accepted as part of the group, they also become elite, implying that they are essentially distinct from the rest of the fandom through their possession of the cultural capital that enabled them to write the appropriate formal responses to the registration questions.

[5.5] Once new users are in the group, they must prove that they are in fact worthy of their elite status, and the primary way to demonstrate this is by writing quality posts. The superficial definition of a quality post provided by 3n5b states that it must be "30 words or more" and that it must be a "meaningful response" to the topic under discussion. More specific rules list a number of offenses, including posting statements not directly related to the particular manga, direct quotations from other people's replies, purely appreciative statements, vague complaints, a long list of emoticons, or copying things previously written in other posts. As with the registration and check-in, all posts are manually monitored, and violators of forum rules are punished through point and/or currency deductions; on the other hand, excellent posts are rewarded with currency or points. Casual comments like, "This looks great," or, "He is so cute," are not considered high quality; users must write detailed descriptions or analyses to back up their statements. Because of these rules, rewarded posts are usually long and thoughtful responses that show strong emotional or intellectual engagement.

[5.6] However, while this system of rewards is seemingly gamelike and suggests that the person who displays the most ability should be the most rewarded, the actual outcome is much more arbitrary. Unlike in a game, where rewards are determined by rules and computer algorithms, in the forum, rewards are solely based on the decisions of the administrators, who have their own biases and preferences. In addition, they must read hundreds of posts every day, which is undoubtedly a daunting task. This is why the rewards given for posts are not always consistent. Sometimes lengthy though superficial replies are rewarded, but short and thoughtful posts or ironic posts are ignored or even punished. Users might be able to gain many more points by writing a large number of superficial posts than by writing shorter, more thoughtful posts. Therefore, it may be more appropriate to say that the most valued quality on the forum is active participation, not thoughtful participation.

[5.7] Another way to earn currency on the forum is to upload private resources that can be sold. Such individual posts can accommodate the more specialized interests of certain fans. These can include scans of Japanese magazines, copies of event/concert DVDs, or rips of drama CDs. All of these resources are predicated upon the poster's buying the products offline in order to share them online. In this way, real world economic capital is directly translated into online economic and cultural capital. Since the main reason most people join the community is to gain access to resources that they cannot otherwise afford, the distinction between those who have means and those who do not is publicly displayed through the relationship between posters and repliers.

[5.8] Additionally, members can join 3n5b's workgroup to help with translation, scanning, and photoshopping. These tasks require far more cultural capital than writing posts and are beyond the reach of most members, who lack the linguistic or technical competency to join the workgroup. Once again, real-world distinctions between those who have the economic or social capital to acquire cultural capital like Japanese language skills and those who do not are replicated online. Several types of fandom hierarchy are at play here: a user's level (or quality) of cultural capital and social capital (if they are a member of the workgroup) is directly translated into access to knowledge and resources. But the difficulty that most members have in contributing to the forum in this manner in essence negates the very reason that they chose to join the community in the first place: to gain access to resources they could not afford or understand.

[5.9] The difference in access for higher-level members and lower-level members is similar to the difference in the relationship between contributors and leechers that I alluded to previously. The leechers understand that they lack the necessary capital to become contributors, and thus recognize the contributors' legitimacy and control, granting them symbolic capital. As Bourdieu (1989) states, "symbolic capital is a credit, it is the power granted to those who have sufficient recognition to be in a position to impose recognition" (23). The untouchable status of the contributors makes it possible for them to impose rules over and to discipline the leechers, partly because the leechers grant them higher status. The power dynamic is already implied in the names "contributor" and "leecher" (Ito 2012). The former carries a positive connotation of giving something to the community, whereas the latter connotes a parasite that only thrives off of the hard work of the contributors. In China, leechers are given an even more degrading name: baipiao, which literally translates to "whoring without pay." This term clearly shows the disdain that some contributors have for leechers, but it also implies that the act of production is a type of prostitution, which contradicts the spirit of volunteerism that many scanlation groups put forth (note 4). This term originated in Japanese male idol fan communities in 2013 and has since been widely used in various female-oriented fandoms, which shows the hatred that some female fans have internalized toward their own gender. This subtle self-hatred that some female fan producers have for their work could also explain the emphasis on rules and disciplines across the community. Since they feel their community does not automatically deserve respect from the outside, they work extra hard to make sure they can earn respect through their actions.

[5.10] Although most leechers abide by the forum's rules and work hard to earn access, there are always those who are irreverent to the tight control exerted by the group. No matter how strictly 3n5b attempts to control access and distribution, once the resources leave their server, they have no actual control over who will read them. This is why 3n5b implemented a disciplinary system that almost certainly guarantees their dominant status as distributors.

6. Community discipline

[6.1] As Foucault (1990) famously stated, "Where there is power, there is resistance," but at the same time, "[power's] existence depends on a multiplicity of points of resistance: these play the role of adversary, target, support, or handle in power relations" (95). The place where 3n5b can exert the most power is at the site of resistance, that is, the unauthorized redistribution of their resources or the threat to their hierarchy of access. In a gamified environment, this is also the point where the system begins to break down and the players attempt to bend the rules in their favor. Since gamified systems need to avoid rule breaking to continue operating, punishment for rule breakers is quite severe. As noted above, 3n5b requires all manga resources to be purchased using forum currency so that a complete list of purchasers is available to the administrators. The use of virtual currency to purchase rare items is typical of game designs, and players are often motivated to earn currency because of this design element. But in this context, the use of currency has become a surveillance tool that is used to track the history of each forum member. This is why 3n5b is able to react swiftly and harshly when an instance of manga stealing occurs.

[6.2] On August 10, 2013, 3n5b released a statement that called the act of "stealing resources" "rampant" and pointed to "many problems within [their] members" (3n5b 2013). In the statement, 3n5b expresses a concern over the quality of its members, with "quality" here meaning how well members abide by the rules, which is the fundamental problem that threatens the group's control over its members and resources. The proposition that 3n5b makes in terms of maintaining membership quality is as follows: "We are forced to take collective action against problematic members in our manga resource forums…Your first entry into a problematic area will result in the revocation of your access badge into the manga forums for 30 days, your second, 60 days, and so on" (figure 3). Collective action here means that anyone who downloaded the resources that were stolen will be disciplined under this rule, a punishment that usually affects hundreds of people. Because the forum cannot identify specific offenders, everyone is treated as an offender. This shows that surveillance can only occur within the forum, and actions outside the forum are harder to track. The statement goes on to say that "this collective action is only a warning; please refrain from your habit of being a 'saint' and readily redistributing the resources to everyone. The benefits may be enjoyed by everyone, but the consequences of the collective action are only yours to bear" (figure 3). Once again, the issue of quality membership is brought up as 3n5b sarcastically calls those that redistribute their resources "saints," a term that carries a negative connotation of hypocrisy in Chinese online culture. Ironically, receiving punishment does not necessarily mean that a member has actually violated any rules. As analyzed above, quality for 3n5b primarily means being a rule-abiding member: when you abide by the rules of the forums and participate in the discussions, you will eventually receive enough points/currency to access valuable resources. This is why those punished in the collective action are more likely to be rule-abiding or high-level/quality members. If they were not, they would not have been given access to the stolen resources in the first place. However, due to 3n5b's cleverly constructed discourse regarding manga stealing, most punished members are likely to blame the few that stole rather than the forum itself.

[6.3] This statement is in line with the modern conception of the penalty, or "the concern with a punishment that is a correction, a therapy, a normalization, the division of the act of judgment" (Foucault 1995, 227). In other words, these disciplinary actions are not designed to seek retribution against the violators who actually stole the resources but rather to instill the norms of the group into all members and prevent future deviancies. The actions seek to restore the overall rule abidingness of the community, not that of individual members. This is the primary way gamified systems deviate from actual games, where players are often encouraged to break rules: in gamification, users are severely punished for rule breaking.

[6.4] With collective actions, many innocent individuals who received wrongful punishment are allowed to argue their cases and have their access reinstated, which means they are guilty until proven innocent. To allow members to argue their cases, 3n5b sends a private message through the forum asking individuals to appeal. At that time, the individual can answer a list of questions for 3n5b's consideration. The instructions are framed as a voluntary confession of innocence: "It is not mandatory to answer all the questions; it is up to your sincerity to determine how much to answer and how truthful your answers are" (figure 3). The list of questions includes what a user's ID is on other manga websites, whether or not the user has shared the manga with other people, a list of the user's various social media accounts, the user's favorite manga genres, and a personal statement that discusses why the user wouldn't steal manga and that lists possible witnesses.

Dense Chinese-language post on white background in mostly black with emphasized red and blue characters, and left light blue sidebar (with a cute cartoon character atop) indicating values. Title reads: Updated on August 10, 2013: Everyone who has purchased the 3rd and 4th level version of Mujihi Na Karada Chapter 2 by Sakuraga Mei before August 9th will be a part of the collective action. Full text reads: August 8, 2013, all members' privileges restored up to post #100. (Paragraph) All members, this will take some time, but please finish reading until the end. (Paragraph) Due to the rampant manga stealing of online manga sites and forums such as Yili, and many of them only steals from 3n5b, this means that there are serious problems with our member base. Unfortunately we are forced to take collective action punishment with our fully scanned manga books and translated serials. Because many people are working in groups, and this adds more barriers to our discipline committee's work. Therefore, we can only perform collective action on all members in the problematic area. First timers in the problematic area, your entrance privileges will be rescinded for 30 days; second timers will be rescinded for 60 days and so forth. (Paragraph) According to the disciplinary committee, many places did not directly steal from the forum, instead they come from some chat groups or blogs. So everyone that likes to share in their private blogs or chat groups, be especially warned, if what you shared in your personal blog or chat groups are disseminated outside, you will receive collective action, and you will not receive a chance to appeal! Collective action is only a warning, please stop your habit of being a 'saint,' and share the resources with other people. Good things should be shared, but the consequences of collective action are only yours to bear. Also, you can't be 100% sure that all of your friends have your good morals, right? The consequences of such massive manga stealing acts should be clear to everyone. You spent your heart and money to support 3n5b, and this has helped us become what we are today. Can you bear to see all your hard works be slowly destroyed? Please stop your private sharing activities, they will only bring more damage to the forum! You will not be happy after receiving several months of collective actions right? So why do it? Please cherish your entrance privileges, and cherish your fate with 3n5b, thank you! (Paragraph) Then we need to apologize to everyone, because we really have no better way than something as extreme as collective action to punish those who steal manga. Many innocent dears are harmed, we are very sorry. (Paragraph) *If you are innocent and are affected, you must feel helpless and in a hurry to prove your innocence. This post is the chance for you to proof your innocence. It is used as an appeal, and a way to reapply for your entrance privilege. This means that once you have received collective action, you need to reapply in this post.* (Paragraph) *Appeal posts should clarify items below, you don't have to answer all of them, it depends on your honesty and openness to determine how much to write and how honest you are (this post is set to only readable by the author): only people that has received our short message needs to appeal, all others do not reply this post.* (Paragraph) (1) Besides 3n5b, where do you read manga? What is your ID in other manga sites? (2) Have you ever shared 3n5b's resources with your friends or other fans? Upload them onto places such as chat groups or your personal blog? (3) What is your weibo and blog's address? (4) What is your real QQ number (Chinese chat software), and your primary email address? (5) What types of manga do you usually read? Which authors' manga do you usually purchase? Which manga did you purchase in 3n5b for the past 10 days? (6) If you are a VIP member, when did you join? (7) Free appeal, please discuss why you will not steal manga, and who can provide proof etc. (Paragraph) After you answer the questions, I will check everything, and will send you a private message informing you of our final decision no sooner than a week. If you did not receive a PM, please check if you have blocked forum messages. (Paragraph) *****bold ******very very important point (Six arrows pointing down) (Paragraph) If you can provide information about people that are spreading manga in personal blogs or chat groups, or any tips that can help us find manga stealers. You can not only be proven innocent and receive your privileges back immediately, you will also receive other rewards, as high as a VIP status. As such, *if you value righteousness above kinship and want to report people you know that are sharing manga in their personal blog or chat groups, you will be exonerated, and greatly rewarded.* This not just helps those under the discipline of collective action, it is also contributing to the forum. We hope any one with the means will lend a helping hand. bow~. (Paragraph) *This post is restricted to appealing members.*

Figure 3. Screen capture of forum notice regarding manga stealers.

[6.5] The members are asked to prove their own worth as quality members of the forum by demonstrating that their social connections, interests, and attitudes are in line with the group's agenda. Their answers are not the only thing being judged; their level of sincerity and truthfulness are also important factors. Moreover, these questions show that 3n5b is not only trying to determine the quality of the individuals but also their knowledge/cultural capital (favorite genre), access (manga purchases in the past ten days), venues (where else they go), and social capital (weibo and blog addresses, VIP status). Almost all aspects of an individual's fandom participation are questioned and investigated in order to determine the final status of that individual. Individuals that score high enough on all fronts are granted reentry into the group. But if by any chance the individual is identified as a thief, she is not on par with the overall quality of 3n5b and therefore her membership is permanently revoked. Innocent members are motivated to surrender their personal information and to be surveilled because they are initially framed as unworthy and guilty. It is only through their self-confessions that their innocence can be restored. As Hulsey (2015) argued, gamified systems do not coerce individuals to be surveilled; these systems only seduce individuals into it. This guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality did not force members to submit their personal information; rather, it only suggested that they do so. Members who feel they are innocent also feel they have nothing to hide, and therefore voluntarily submit their information as a gesture of good faith.

7. Conclusion: Sharing, but only with the right people

[7.1] I would like to share the final paragraph in 3n5b's statement against "resource stealing": "If you value righteousness above kinship and want to report people you know that are sharing manga in their personal blog or chat groups, you will be exonerated, and greatly rewarded. This helps not just those under the discipline of collective action, it is also contributing to the forum. We hope anyone with the means will lend a helping hand" (3n5b 2013; figure 3).

[7.2] China is the birthplace of the famous "human flash search engine" (Wang et. al 2010), or crowdsource vigilante justice. Thus, it is no surprise that 3n5b learned to utilize a similar technique to catch resource stealers. But what is unique about 3n5b's discourse is that it simultaneously affirms the values of a community based on sharing and condemns other similar activities (i.e., stealing manga). The primary distinction between what makes one act of sharing destructive and another constructive is based on the act of production. As Wang and Zhang (2017) argued, gamification of a fan production community has the effect of democratizing content production, which allows ordinary audience members to engage in the process of creation. However, in the case of 3n5b, the gamification of a production community only serves to increase the power difference between the producers and the audience. What caused this discrepancy? Most other scanlation communities in China and overseas have very loose rules about resource sharing, and many scanlations are even uploaded onto open platforms. Therefore, the real reason behind 3n5b's strict rules, I would suggest, is found in the way female-oriented fandom is viewed in China.

[7.3] There is no shortage of academic studies on the female fan. In fact, some of the most influential texts in fandom studies center on the female fans of romance (Radway 1984), soap operas (Ang 1985), or slash (Jenkins 1992). But despite the efforts of scholars, female fans continue to be ridiculed and stigmatized both inside and outside of fandom (McCudden 2011). For instance, there are a number of studies focusing on fans and anti-fans of the Twilight series (2005–8) that reveal the internal hierarchy of fandom as based on gender and the texts fans are associated with, with female-oriented romance works such as Twilight at the bottom. (Busse 2013; McCudden; Pinkowitz 2011). While there are only a few academic studies on antifans in China, it is clear that the fandoms that attract the most anti-fans are those that consist primarily of female fans, such as Korean pop (Yue 2011). Therefore, I would like to suggest that 3n5b could be considered as consisting of a special type of female fan: fans who are antifans. I do not mean to suggest that this is the fan/antifan relationship proposed by Theodoropoulou's (2007) theorization about sports fans, which argues that the rivalries between sports teams necessarily create rivalries between their fans, thus making them antifans of each other. I am proposing that 3n5b has antifans within their own community in the sense that they are opposed to those within their fandom whom they perceive as less sophisticated, less rational, less analytical, and less rule abiding than themselves. It is a sentiment that is simultaneously elitist and defensive.

[7.4] Pinkowitz's (2011) study on the Anti-Twilight Movement (ATM) provides an illuminating example of my theorization. She suggests that ATM's hatred toward Twilight is not directed against the text itself; members are really against the rabid fans of Twilight. They believe that Twilight fans are "excessive, emotional, irrational, overly invested, out of control, and often young and female" (Pinkowitz 2011, ¶ 5.1), which is the stereotypical construction of the female fan. Members of ATM see themselves as everything opposed to the negative stereotypes of rabid Twilight fans, that is, rational, analytical, and in control. Even though ATM affirms patriarchal ideals that view masculine qualities as superior to feminine ones, they are nonetheless trying to construct a new, positive image of the female fan.

[7.5] By setting tight restrictions on their resources as well as on their membership, 3n5b is also trying to construct an image of itself as a group with high-caliber, well-behaved members. Instead of rabid fans, it is the people from Baidu that they reject. However, the difference is that unlike ATMs, they are a part of the same fandom as the people from Baidu; they read the same genre of manga and watch similar anime. Therefore, the privileges attached to a 3n5b membership—extra and earlier access to resources—become the key distinguishing factor between 3n5b and outsiders. By restricting access to valuable resources, they are restricting opportunities for outsiders to obtain the same level of cultural capital as themselves, thus maintaining the existing hierarchy. This is why stealing resources is considered such an inexcusable offense, because it is not only the resources that are being stolen but the privileges. If the barrier between themselves and the less sophisticated Baidu users breaks down, the group's status within the hierarchy of fandom may be downgraded. Even though they might not become crazy, emotional teenage fan girls themselves, the community as a whole will certainly become associated with that image and face ridicule from the general public. Thus it is a defensive strategy to protect the integrity of their community against both outside stigmas and inside threats. The members of 3n5b are taught that they are better than other fans because they belong to a better-quality community that handpicks the most elite people from the community and gives only its members privileged resources. Anyone that undermines the superiority of this community is also undermining the quality of its members. Therefore, the more important hierarchy being addressed in this article is actually between 3n5b and other similar communities.

[7.6] As the Chinese government tightens its censorship of LGBT content, there seems to be increasing support for 3n5b's practice of restricting access. More and more BL scanlation communities are setting up forums that resemble 3n5b's system and are adopting its rules, because they believe doing so will protect them from too much outside attention, especially from the government. Ironically, in the effort to evade control and surveillance, the communities themselves inevitably become the mechanisms of control and surveillance.

8. Notes

1. 3n5b's forum underwent a major upgrade at the end of 2017 due to a security breach resulting in member IDs being sold online. While this breach demonstrates the value of 3n5b membership, as a result, many posts discussed here are no longer available. Some web addresses listed here have been updated to reflect the changes; other pages are no longer available.

2. The idea of respecting creator/producer rights over redistribution has a long tradition in Chinese danmei community. As Yang and Xu (2016c) point out, Chinese danmei communities started to develop a system for permission requests in 1998 because Taiwanese romance authors start to notice many of their works were illegally distributed in mainland China and felt disrespected. Systematic rules were gradually developed after danmei communities introduced paid VIP systems. For more historical discussions about copyright traditions in Chinese danmei communities, see Yang and Xu (2016c).

3. The forum's rules and FAQs have changed since the upgrade, but the basic ideas remain the same. Registration is still restricted, and new members still cannot gain access to valuable resources unless they donate money. Some rules, such as more specific membership levels, have been removed, but others, such as badges, remain. Nonetheless, the argument made in this paper is still relevant, as similar procedures and rules also exist in many other forums.

4. The derogatory term baipiao has several possible implications that are beyond the scope of this article, but they are nonetheless worth exploring. The term is closely related to Japan's idol fan culture and consumerism. Since many translation groups consider their work as a sort of advertisement, purchasing is considered a necessary form of support, and thus those who don't are shamed by this term. Yet in this analogy, the idols/creators themselves can also be considered prostitutes. The paradoxical nature of the term is lost on many who use it, particularly female fans, and it is a phenomenon deserving of further research.

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