Bullet chats in China: Bilibili, language, and interaction

Feixue Mei

Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Bullet chats have grown in popularity in East Asia since 2006, when the Japanese animation website Niconico originated overlaying flying texts on video displays and synchronizing them to the video timeline. This bullet chat function has now gained popularity on Bilibili, a popular Chinese video-sharing social media site with a focus on East Asian pop culture. Bilibili users mix Chinese with foreign languages to create a cyberpidgin vocabulary, adding visual language to express their feelings in a mode that reflects the social norms learned from other East Asian fandoms. Analysis of Bilibili bullet chats provides insight into how social media and online platforms influence user interactions from both linguistic and visual perspectives.

[0.2] Keywords—Adaptation; Fans; Pop culture; Prosumer

Mei, Feixue. 2021. "Bullet Chats in China: Bilibili, Language, and Interaction." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36.

1. Introduction

[1.1] This study employs textual analysis and visual analysis to examine in-depth how popular social media platforms in China affect the interaction between Chinese urban youth and their language. As the cyberpidgin used in bullet chats is a language and the bullet chats themselves are a visual element, textual analysis and visual analysis are used to better understand the nature of bullet chats on Bilibili.

[1.2] Beginning with a brief history of bullet chat technology, I use the website Bilibili to discuss various reasons behind the emergence of bullet chats. Globalization, other East Asian popular cultures, prosumption activities, and the backgrounds of users all affect the development of bullet chats on this website.

[1.3] In the second section, textual analysis is used to understand the meaning-making of popular culture texts in bullet chats. Analysis of bullet chats makes it clear that the cyberpidgin is a mixture of Chinese and other foreign languages, which also involves a blending of the specific cultural markers from each culture. This section discusses the need for textual analysis to address how cyberpidgin in bullet chats influences the interactions between Chinese youth on Bilibili and the vocabulary that they produce to communicate with each other. Specific examples of invented terms in bullet chats are provided to further explore different ways of mixing foreign languages with Chinese to create an exclusive language.

[1.4] The third section adopts a designer's perspective to visually analyze how Bilibili users learn social norms from other East Asian fandoms and use the bullet chat function to visually express their emotions. Visual analysis is a method of understanding an artwork or a visual design that focuses on its visual elements (van Leeuwen and Jewitt 2013). It is an appropriate method for this project as the advanced bullet chat function on Bilibili allows users to change the color, the typeface, the size, and other visual styles of bullet chats to express their feelings. Bilibili users work collectively to add bullet chats to videos and show their emotion through their behaviors.

2. History of the bullet chat function, inter-Asian referencing, and prosumer theory

[2.1] The bullet chat function on Bilibili is an adaptation from a Japanese anime video website, Niconico, which was created in 2006. With bullet chats, viewers simply pause and post comments during any part of the video that they like; the comments usually move from right to left (Liu, Suh, and Wagner 2016, 284). The bullet chat function enables audiences to "shoot" their comments immediately onto the video that they are watching. Bullet chats interrupt the video's content and reflect users' immediate responses since the bullet chats and video timeline are synchronized. This function creates the sense of a shared viewing experience between the uploaders and the viewers as well as between viewers (figure 1).

a screenshot of Bilibili with comments in red and white text overlayed on an animated video

Figure 1. A screenshot of Bilibili with bullet chats

[2.2] The last two decades have witnessed drastic changes in the production and consumption of media cultures and their transnational diffusion in various parts of the world. Such cultural dynamics have generated new kinds of cultural connection and creativity and have developed them beyond national borders (Iwabuchi 2017). The internet provides access for Generation Z Chinese youth to foreign popular cultures. With this access comes a desire to learn about other cultures, including their languages. Users mix foreign languages with Chinese to create their own exclusive cyberpidgin and use it in bullet chats on Bilibili. The cyberpidgin incorporates vernacular expressions including signs, emojis, and typos with a mixture of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and English. Local and transnational languages and practices are blended through social media, and this adaptation process fosters a cultural phenomenon called prosumption (Jenkins 1992).

[2.3] Prosumption is a term that refers to activities involving both production and consumption practices. Prosumers are consumers who are actively engaged and produce their own cultural texts. Generation Z Chinese youth, who are global pop culture fans, are usually not only consumers but also cocreators, coproducers, and prosumers (Humphreys and Grayson 2008). Bilibili is a typical online space for language adaptation and cultural prosumption practices. To better understand how other East Asian pop cultures influence the nature of bullet chats on Bilibili, it is necessary to examine the development of interest in other East Asian pop cultures in China.

3. ACGN and idol cultures and their development in China on Bililbili

[3.1] ACGN refers to anime, comics, games, and novels based on imported Japanese titles. The ACGN market in China reached 250 billion yuan ($38 billion) in 2016 and currently China has more than two hundred million consumers of ACGN culture (Wang 2016). I argue that Bilibili users show their subjectivity and agency through their prosumption practices; they engage with ACGN culture by making fan comics, fan videos, fan novels, and so on. Tapscott states that prosumers are a product of pop culture. They are consumers and producers simultaneously, both creating and circulating their own cultural texts which are shared with other fandoms (2009). Through these prosumption practices, Bilibili users learn both the Japanese language and the cultural markers behind it. Then, they blend Japanese with Chinese to create an exclusive ACGN culture–related cyberpidgin to communicate with each other in bullet chats.

[3.2] The widespread introduction of South Korean variety shows has made a significant contribution to the emergence of a new Korean Wave in China. These shows include both the original South Korean ones and new Chinese adapted versions, which have become important vehicles for transporting South Korean culture to China. For example, Produce 101 (2016–), an idol competition variety show in South Korea based around the formation of a K-pop girl group or boy group, had more than ten million people participate in the voting process during the season 2 finale in 2017 (Herman 2017). In 2018, the Chinese spin-off version Produce 101 China also gained a lot of attention, attracting 4.3 billion views with 90 million mentions on the microblogging platform Sina Weibo (Caijing 2018).

[3.3] Many Bilibili users make mash-up videos of Produce 101 (both Chinese and South Korean versions) to promote their favorite idols and generate more votes, since the only way to help their idols to win the competition is to obtain a large number of votes. Bilibili users learn both Korean and the cultural markers behind Korean through prosumption practices. They also mix Korean and Chinese to generate an exclusive K-pop-related cyberpidgin and communicate with each other in bullet chats.

[3.4] Japanese idol groups and J-pop are very popular among Bilibili users as well. Because Japanese singers and J-pop idols sell both their songs and their images, Chinese youth not only enjoy their music but also mimic their fashion and way of talking. Moreover, the popularity of Japanese television dramas in China also helps with the promotion of J-pop. Many J-pop singers or members of Japanese idol groups have roles in Japanese television dramas or sing their theme songs (Louie 2012). Therefore, terms related to Japanese idol culture are also learned by Chinese youth who are Bilibili users as well. They mix these Japanese terms with their mother tongue and generate an exclusive language.

4. Background of Bilibili users

[4.1] "According to QuestMobile, the majority of our user base are Generation Z, individuals born from 1990 to 2009 in China. They typically receive quality education and are technology savvy, with strong demand for culture products and avenues for self-expression and social interaction" (Bilibili, n.d.). From this statement, we can glean information about Bilibili users. Not all users have a high education background, a college degree; 15 percent of Bilibili users only have a low education background, a middle school degree. (CIW Team 2019). In this article, the analysis only focuses on users with high educational backgrounds because they are the majority of contributors to the development of cyberpidgin in bullet chats.

[4.2] Even though Bilibili does have some famous foreign uploaders such as Jerry Kowal from the United States, Ichinose ASUKA from Japan, Afu Thomas from Germany, and so on, most of the users are Generation Z Chinese youth. Many of them live in urban areas, like Shanghai and Beijing, and some of them have experience traveling and studying abroad, where it is easy for them to learn foreign languages and absorb other cultures.

[4.3] In 2010, China's National Plan for Education Reform and Development states that the Chinese government supports a "study abroad, come and go freely" policy, which allows for the free movement of its citizens (Y. Chen and Mao 2020, 12). The country's one-child policy also influences the lives of Generation Z (Whyte 2019). These Chinese policies that allow free movement lead students who are only children to study abroad where they are influenced by foreign cultures and also seek out online communications. They feel lonely when studying abroad because it is difficult for them to become part of the new group, even if they can speak a second language. Therefore, media consumption becomes central in their lives and their pursuit of happiness. The consumption of East Asian pop culture–influenced Chinese cultural products helps them to feel connected to home. Bilibili is a great online social media platform with a variety of engaging cultural products, which satisfies their strong demand for cultural products.

[4.4] Because of the Great Firewall of China, most Chinese people have no access to YouTube and other foreign websites. The Great Firewall of China (GFW) is a combination of legislative actions and technologies enforced by the Chinese government to domestically regulate the internet. The effect of the GFW includes limiting access to foreign information sources and the blocking of foreign internet tools (Kolton 2017, 120). Many Bilibili users have experienced studying or traveling abroad where they can bypass the Great Firewall and have access to foreign popular culture, which they think is more progressive. To communicate with foreigners and access foreign cultural products, many users in China learn to use Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to bypass the Great Firewall (Ma 2016, 48). Uploaders are motivated to do this by their desire to share their favorite videos and to resist the Great Firewall of China. Some Bilibili users show their critical and even transgressive attitudes toward this policy through their lack of satisfaction with local cultural products and desire to prosume better foreign products. The reason for this perception is that foreign cultural products conduct more in-depth discussions of sensitive topics like LGBTQ rights and political issues.

[4.5] For example, Xingshou Gurdian is an uploader on Bilibili whose videos mainly focus on the genre boys' love animation, also known as yaoi. This term is similar to slash culture in the West and has captured scholars' attention and market significance (Zhang 2016). Fu is another term related to this idea, derived from fujoshi (rotten girls), meaning female audiences who love the genre boys' love. On Bilibili, the term fu has expanded its meaning to cover other related genres, including nonheterosexual and homoerotic relationships between characters. (Z. T. Chen 2021, 259). These works explore alternative lifestyles that challenge the mainstream social attitudes, such as heterosexual hegemony (Sugawa-Shimada 2011). Xingshou Gurdian mentions many times in his videos that the quality of Japanese and South Korean fu animations are better because of the depth of discussion on this sensitive topic. Same-sex marriage in China is illegal and, therefore, Chinese fu animations usually avoid addressing the true relationship between the two main characters; rather, the characters are always described as really good friends. The issue of censorship in China is irritating. If the animation version does not avoid this topic, the Chinese government will not allow it to be produced. As a result, these types of Chinese animations always seems more superficial than the Japanese and South Korean fu animations.

[4.6] Providing access to progressive foreign products for new users is a good way to promote old users' favorite videos and create more companions. Chinese urban youth find support and companionship on Bilibili, which alleviates their pressure at home, at school, and in the wider society. Since most are the only children in their families, their parents have high expectations of them (Z. T. Chen 2021, 259). Hence, these youth have a strong desire to find a place to release their pressure. Bilibili is a friendly and eclectic space for this purpose.

[4.7] In addition, Bilibili users treat bullet chats as a way to show their passion for their favorite videos, characters, and uploaders. They love to use passionate language in bullet chats to cover the video. When they see a video completely covered by bullet chats, they are satisfied with the popularity of it. They use bullet chats to show their feelings both linguistically and visually. Bilibili is a small and exclusive community, and its bullet chat function also encourages users to create their own exclusive language in an effort to seek like-minded people. Having an exclusive language helps to create a sense of group belonging through mutual exposure and vulnerability.

5. Textual analysis of bullet chats

[5.1] Textual analysis is an important method for understanding how people make sense of the world in which they live through their languages and symbols (McKee 2003). In youth studies, researchers collect information about how youth communicate with each other and thereby increase their understanding of themselves and their ideas and opinions (Cavanagh 1999). McKee states that researchers interpret text as a form of meaning-making to analyze youth identities and subculture (2003). Therefore, when investigating the meaning of cultural texts produced in online platforms, like cyberpidgin in bullet chats on Bilibili, researchers treat online youth fandoms of pop culture as active producers of cultural texts (Fairclough 2003).

[5.2] Content Analysis is used to examine the purposes and effects of communication content. It is an approach of systematically collecting and analyzing textual or visual data (Krippendorff 2012). In this study, the youth fandoms on Bilibili were chosen because the website is one of the leading youth entertainment platforms in China. The majority of the users are Generation Z, who like to prosume cultural texts. After the website Bilibili had been identified, I obtained data of different kinds of cyberpidgin in bullet chats. In the participant observation method, researchers actually become members of the community they are studying to collect data and understand a social phenomenon (DeWalt and DeWalt 2011). As a ten-year user of this website and also a pop culture fan, it was easy for me to get involved in the activities of cultural text meaning-making—to create and use cyberpidgin in bullet chats. I think the vocabulary sent in bullet chats on Bilibili can be roughly divided into two categories: ACGN terms and idol industry terms. I provide specific examples of these terms in bullet chats to further address various approaches to blending foreign languages with Chinese to develop a coded language.

[5.3] Alienation is the dominant feature of cyberpidgin in bullet chats, and Bilibili users employ these invented vocabularies to intentionally create distance from nonusers. People are more likely to build social ties with those who share aspects of their identity, such as gender, race, and educational background; this tendency is called homophily. "The tendency to form homophilous ties means that we have close ties with people who think and act a lot like we do" (Humphreys 2016, 156). This study only focuses on users with high educational backgrounds because they are the majority of contributors who help with the development of cyberpidgin in bullet chats. They share a similar educational background and have a desire to build connections to users who are similar to them. Loanword adaptation, the employment of alphabetic words, and abbreviations are typical approaches in this language adaptation process.

[5.4] Loanword adaptation is the process of how foreign sounds and phonological structures are adapted by the recipient language (de Jong and M. H. Cho 2012, 341). Many terms in bullet chats come from foreign languages, such as English, Japanese, and Korean. Bilibili users mix these foreign terms with Chinese to create their own dialect of cyberpidgin, which is used to create an exclusive social space by weakening the decoding ability of nonusers. Without a shared cultural background, it is difficult for a nonuser to understand cyberpidgin in bullet chats.

[5.5] The employment of alphabetic words and abbreviations also contributes to the alienation of Bilibili cyberpidgin. They represent the pursuit of high-speed transmission and avoid automatic text recognition and censorship problems on big data social platforms. Bilibili users use bullet chats not only to mix Chinese and foreign languages but also to manipulate the cultural references behind them.

[5.6] ACGN terms typically originated from specific Japanese animations, usually the most popular ones, since "Japanese cultural hegemony in East Asia was a result of both its economic prowess and the growing involvement of Asian countries in the global capitalist economy" (Y. Cho 2017, 16). Japanese ACGN culture has a strong influence on Bilibili bullet chats. Gundam is a typical example. It is a series of Japanese military science fiction animation created by Yoshiyuki Tomino and Sunrise (Gilson 1998, 368). This animated series is very popular on Bilibili and one of the most commonly used bullet chats is from this animation. 前方高能 (zenpou ni kouenerugi, high energy alert) originated from this animation and is now used when a climax is about to happen. It is similar to a spoiler alert or trigger warning on YouTube, and sometimes is also used before a scary scene to give viewers advance notice.

[5.7] Another example is Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–96), a popular animated television series on Japanese television in the mid-1990s during the midst of Japan's economic collapse and one of the most important and groundbreaking anime series ever created (Napier 2002). This animation is well-known among Bilibili users, especially old users, since it is a classic animation, and many users consider it part of the must-see list. The score of this animation on Bilibili is 9.7, further demonstrating its popularity. Many terms from this animation are commonly observed in bullet chats, for example, 同步率 (shinkuro-ritsu, synchronous rate). In the animation, it is used to describe the human battle weapon EVA's nerve link synchronization with the driver. The higher this is, the greater shooting accuracy (in combination with intelligence) and greater defense (in combination with physical strength and sensitivity) an EVA will have. However, in bullet chats, it is often used to describe how a mash-up video matches its background music, which is specifically used for AMVs (Anime Music Video).

[5.8] Such examples are shared knowledge for Bilibili users, thanks to the bullet chat function. Many old users like to send informational bullet chats to help new users learn the terms and the loaded cultural references behind a specific term. New users can acquire knowledge by seeing old users' informational bullet chats and imitating the social norms as demonstrated on social media. New users hear about this animation from old users, and many of them also watch it by themselves because they want to join the old users' conversations. When people get together to communicate with each other, they form something larger than themselves, which can build a sense of group belonging and unity (Anderson 1991). Since there are a large number of viewers who watch the same animation video on Bilibili, and they are familiar with terms or sentences in that video, a term or a sentence becomes common knowledge in the community. Without that shared background information, such as an animation reference behind the term, it is hard for a nonuser to understand an ACGN term.

[5.9] It is noteworthy that the meaning of "synchronous rate" is changed in the process of transferring to cyberpidgin. In bullet chats, it is always used to describe how a mash-up video matches its background music. From this example, it is easy to see that both the knowledge of the animation and the meaning change process behind a certain cyberpidgin from the animation are equally important. Without the understanding of the meaning change process on Bilibili, a cyberpidgin term will not be fully understood, which shows the importance of being a member of the website and spending time there. Appendix 1 provides a more complete summary of these examples of ACGN-related cyberpidgin.

[5.10] Idol industry–related cyberpidgin is also very popular in bullet chats on Bilibili. Most originated from Korean, Japanese, or English. As previously discussed, idols from Japan and South Korea have a large number of Chinese fans on Bilibili; hence, these users take terms from the J-pop and K-pop industry and mix them with Chinese to invent Korean- and Japanese-related cyberpidgin.

[5.11] Loanword adaptation is a typical approach in this morphological process. For instance, in Korean, 막내 means the youngest member in a family and the pronunciation of this term is maknae, which is similar to mangnei in pinyin. Pinyin is the romanization of the Chinese characters based on their pronunciation. In Mandarin Chinese, the phrase Pin Yin literally translates into "spell sound," in other words, spelling out Chinese phrases with letters from the English alphabet. Then Chinese youth transfer pinyin to Chinese characters 忙内 and finish this language adaptation process. The meaning of this term also changes in the transferring process. Because it is often used in bullet chats in the K-pop-related videos, the meaning of it now refers to the youngest member in an idol group. Appendix 2 provides more detail on examples of idol industry–related cyberpidgin derived from Korean.

[5.12] A cyberpidgin term only used in a specific circle is often observed in bullet chats in the J-pop-related videos. For instance, AKB48, a well-known Japanese idol group founded in 2005 with over 130 young female singers (Kiuchi 2017, 30), has a lot of Chinese fans on Bilibili. Therefore, some terms used to describe AKB48's activities are also learned by their Chinese fans. These fans take terms from the J-pop industry and mix them with Chinese to invent Japanese-related cyberpidgin. The employment of abbreviations is a typical approach to create this kind of cyberpidgin to prevent people outside of this circle from joining the conversation and to make a strong connection between people in the small circle. 总选举 (General Election) is a term often seen in the bullet chats of AKB48-related videos. It is an abbreviation of "AKB48 Selection General Election," which refers to AKB48's voting events for fans to support their favorite members in this idol group. For people who are not familiar with AKB48, it is hard to understand this kind of cyberpidgin in bullet chats. Appendix 3 provides more details of examples of idol industry–related cyberpidgin derived from Japanese.

[5.13] Most of the English terms related to the idol industry are actually widely used in the Japanese and Korean entertainment industry. Nowadays, Chinese pop culture is strongly affected by Japanese and Korean pop cultures. It is also influenced by Western pop culture, since Japanese and Korean pop cultures are first affected by Western pop culture and subsequently influence Chinese urban youth and their culture. Alphabetic words are often employed in English-related cyberpidgin, for instance cp, which is the alphabetic words of coupling. This term originated from Japanese pop culture and in most cases, it refers to homoerotic relationships. It is commonly used in the Japanese idol industry.

[5.14] Discussion of sensitive topics is a vital reason behind the creation of Bilibili cyberpidgin, a coded language only understood by a certain group of people. Users want to have taboo discussions that are kept in their own groups with people who hold similar attitudes. It is worth mentioning that some cyberpidgin is produced particularly for the discussion of sensitive topics that they do not want nonusers to understand. For example, cp for coupling, which is related to English and Japanese pop culture; line also for coupling, which is related to Korean pop culture. In most cases, the cyberpidgin refers to homoerotic relationships. Appendix 4 provides more detail on these examples of idol industry–related cyberpidgin derived from English.

[5.15] The various methods used by Bilibili users to create cyberpidgin and keep the discussion in their own small circles allow these users not only to learn and mix foreign languages with Chinese but also to gain an understanding of the cultural references in the foreign fandoms. The unique nature of bullet chats is that it is not only a carrier of cyberpidgin but also has a visual element with strong connections to typography, layout design, and motion graphics. The typeface, the movement, the repetition, and the use of color also relate to social norms in other East Asian fandoms. It is worth engaging in an in-depth visual analysis of bullet chats from a designer's perspective.

6. Visual analysis of bullet chats

[6.1] Visual analysis is an approach that focuses on an artwork's visual elements, including color, line, texture, scale, and so on. The purpose of visual analysis is to understand the choices that an artist made when creating the artwork, as well as to better understand how the formal properties of an artwork communicate ideas, messages, and/or meanings (van Leeuwen and Jewitt 2013). In the context of bullet chats on Bilibili, the artwork is a video with bullet chats and the artists are Bilibili users, including the uploaders and people who send bullet chats to the videos. The advanced bullet chat function enables users to send comments on videos and customize the visual design of their comments. In this way, many users work collectively to create one artwork.

[6.2] On Niconico, the first bullet chatting site, the comments only fly from right to left. Bilibili builds on this original style with advanced bullet chats. Advanced bullet chats allow for changes of color, size, typeface, perspective, and animation style. In order to add advanced bullet chats to a specific video, however, each user must be granted permission from the uploader of that video and they need to pay two coins, the currency on Bilibili, to the uploader. Users are more active when sending bullet chats since they feel like they are watching a video with many people at the same time. Even though these people are not physically present, they can still feel an intimate relationship with them.

[6.3] It is not only the language that is influenced by other East Asian popular cultures; the visual style of bullet chats is also influenced by them. Bilibili users like to type bullet chats repetitively and in different colors to cover the video (figure 2). This is their own way to show strong feelings and express their love of the videos, characters, and/or idols. These repetitive bullet chats typically appear on popular Japanese animation videos, AMVs, and performance videos of J-pop and K-pop stars. Since most of the audiences have already watched the videos, they know the content pretty well. Because of this, they care less about the content and more about showing their passion.

A screenshot of a video covered by advanced bullet chats of mainly red and yellow characters. The orignal video is no longer visible beneath the many layers of bullet chats.

Figure 2. A screenshot of a video covered by advanced bullet chats on Bilibili

[6.4] Biliibili users also express their feeling through bullet chats in a particular way, usually through the use of a unique color for a character or a specific video. For example, 病名は愛だった (The Disease Called Love) is a music video moved from Niconico to Bilibili with repetitive and fragmented bullet chats of 爱 (love) in red covering the video. Because the main idea of the lyrics is the relationship between love and pain, blood is a powerful element in it. Therefore, users send this bullet chat to cover the video to show their passion (figure 3). Such activities become platform rituals and work as a shared register to enhance the feeling generated from a certain character and/or video in a collective way. The engagement between Bilibili users is gradually ritualized through interaction and collective learning. "The situation created on Bilibili is a memetic one since fans use such tropes and devices in a performative way to trigger further response from the imagined audience who are watching the show asynchronously" (Z. T. Chen 2020, 328). These kind of interactions become rituals to trigger more engagement, hence further strengthening these rituals on Bilibili.

a screenshot of red characters, specifically the character for love, covering a video of the song

Figure 3. A screenshot of "The Disease Called Love"

[6.5] The idea of relating a video or a character to a specific color originated from the Japanese entertainment industry. It is called "image color" or "support color," which is part of 応援 (ouen) culture or support culture in the Japanese idol industry. The term in Japanese was used to describe cheerleading activities in sports games, which was learned from cheerleading culture in America. Now this term is often used to describe fans' various activities to support their idols. In the 1990s, the president of South Korea proposed strategies for "Culture Orientated National Development" to develop the cultural industry in South Korea, and K-pop idols gained a lot of fans all over the world, especially in East Asia. The term was learned by South Korea and used to support K-pop idols as well (Qiang and Qiang 2019, 113). J-pop and K-pop idols are very popular in China and many of their fans are Bilibili users. There are various ways of expressing the term in the J-pop and K-pop industries, including color support, live support, food and supplies support, outdoor support, and online support (Shi 2015, 257). Of all these support approaches, color support and live support have strong connections to the visual style of bullet chats on Bilibili.

[6.6] For instance, Arashi is a well-known Japanese idol group with various image colors for its members. In a performance video of Arashi on Bilibili, when different members appear in the video, their fans send bullet chats in different colors to show love to each member. Specifically, Masaki Aiba, whose image color is green, has gained plenty of bullet chats. This kind of bullet chat intentionally covers the video because his fans want to show his popularity in this way (figure 4). Fans of different members in this idol group also use bullet chats as a way to compete with each other, since they think the number of bullet chats for a member proves his popularity.

a screenshot showing a scene in a video covered in green characters

Figure 4. A screenshot from "Bittersweet," a performance video of Arashi

[6.7] Live support refers to shouting out slogans for idols in a live performance. These slogans usually relate to idols' names and/or songs' names (Shi 2015, 257).半道英雄 (Halfway Hero) is another Bilibili video that shows how users take the idea of color support and live support to the extreme. It is a song created by fans of a well-known Chinese novel about esports, The King's Avatar. It received the title for Best Work in 2013 and is the first and only 1000 Pledged Work on Qidian, the largest Chinese internet novel-hosting website (Xu 2019). Many teams in this story compete with each other to become the champion of a competition. Among the fans of this novel, each main character has an image color and a slogan to summarize the personalities, features, and/or the stories about them. Many fans of The King's Avatar are also Bilibili users and they often type these slogans by using characters' image colors to show their love to the novel and favorite characters. For instance, 喻文州 (Yu Wenzhou) is a popular character with the image color blue in the novel (figure 5). As an esports player, he does not have a quick APM, like other characters in the novel. (APM is the abbreviation of actions per minute, a term used in esports referring to the total number of actions that a player can perform in a minute.) However, he is good at making plans for his team to find the best way to win.

a screenshot from Halfway Hero covered with many blue and some green characters

Figure 5. A screenshot from Halfway Hero with Yu Wenzhou appearing in the video

[6.8] 周泽楷 (Zhou Zekai) is another main character in the novel with the image color purple (figure 6). His slogan means "in the path of the bullet, Zhou Zekai is the only law," because in the novel, his game character uses two guns to lead the team to win a lot of game battles.

a screenshot from Halfway Hero covered with many purple and some red characters

Figure 6. A screenshot from Halfway Hero with Zhou Zekai appearing in the video

[6.9] The two screenshots above also show the video covered by repetitive bullet chats with the result that we cannot even see the video. These bullet chats are multiple layers on top of each other to show fans' passion about favorite characters and the novel. The presence of bullet chats also shows that users' emotions, desires, and sociality are being commodified with rising consumerism in China (Z. T. Chen 2021, 258).

7. Conclusion

[7.1] In the context of globalization, language adaptation, and cultural manipulation, I have used bullet chats on Bilibili as a window to observe how social media and online platforms influence youth languages and interactions in China. Some Chinese policies, such as the one-child policy and the study abroad policy, make Bilibili users want to seek friends and create more companions online. The Great Firewall increases users' desire to prosume progressive cultural products.

[7.2] Users produce and use their own cyberpidgin to seek novelty, difference, intimacy, and group belonging, and to distinguish themselves from nonusers. Because nonusers cannot understand what they are saying in bullet chats, users feel they have deep connections with people who share the same interests. Bullet chats are a vehicle for cyberpidgin, which also reflects the influence of foreign pop cultures since cyberpidgin is a mixture of local and transnational languages and the cultural markers behind these languages. Users use bullet chats to express themselves, discuss sensitive topics in a coded vernacular language—cyberpidgin—and express their critical or even transgressive attitudes toward social and political issues. Foreign popular cultures, especially social norms in other East Asian fandoms, also influence the visual style of bullet chats. Users often set up their own rules for sending bullet chats, like sending them in a specific color and in a particular way.

[7.3] Using textual analysis and visual analysis together in this study yields important insights into the significance of bullet chats and the role they play in the lives of their users. Unlike the typical comment box feature, bullet chats enable users to interact both with the videos and with other users in a more expressive and dynamic manner that is deeply connected to their identities and personal values. Without visual analysis, it would be hard to understand how bullet chats reflect the social norms that users learn from other East Asian fandoms. The development of cyberpidgin is affected both by technological innovation and cultural mixing. The technology of bullet chats provides a new means of communication that allows people to use text and visual design to express themselves both linguistically and visually. Bilibili bullet chats is a reflection of language adaptation and cultural blending, and ultimately exists as a result of globalization.

8. Acknowledgments

[8.1] I would like to thank Professor Roy McKelvey and Dr. Joshua M Eckhardt at Virginia Commonwealth University and Dr. Karen Britt at Northwest Missouri State University for their thoughtful feedback and time editing this essay.

9. References

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