Special issue on Chinese fandoms: Prosumers, communities, and identities

Zhen Troy Chen

City, University of London, London, United Kingdom

Celia Lam

University of Nottingham Ningbo China, Ningbo, China

[0.1] Abstract— Editorial for "Chinese Fandoms," edited by Zhen Troy Chen and Celia Lam, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 41 (December 15, 2023).

[0.2] Keywords— Big name fans; Dangai; Fan activism; Fan identity; Feminism; Nisu

Chen, Zhen Troy, and Celia Lam. 2023. "Special Issue on Chinese Fandoms: Prosumers, Communities, and Identities" [editorial]. In "Chinese Fandoms," edited by Zhen Troy Chen and Celia Lam, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 41. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2023.2627.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Chinese fandom is a growing area of interest, attracting attention from groups as diverse as academia, industry, and even government. Although the foci of these groups vary, at the core are questions related to the function, organization, interests, and activities of fan groups. As Chinese media and entertainment industries mature and transnational collaborations increase, content and celebrity figures both inside and outside the Chinese context are increasingly distributed, consumed, and implicated in the formation (or extension) of fan communities.

[1.2] A common perception of Chinese fandom is its focus on celebrities and idols, as opposed to the media text fandom of broadly Western contexts. This misconception is due in part to the relatively higher visibility and activity of fans of celebrities and in part to industry practice which leverages the popularity of celebrities to sustain audiences of media texts. Fans of media texts undoubtedly exist in the Chinese context, with interests ranging from international series and films to online novels and games. Indeed, the platform Bilibili was first created as a haven for anime, cosplay, and gamer (ACG) cultures, expanding to include entrepreneurs, celebrities, and influencers, leading to a diversification of content, cultures, and uses that in turn often results in conflict between subcultural groups of new and old users. Thus, media discourse about fans in China tend to view them in different camps—book fans, game fans, idol fans, couple (CP) fans and so on, while scholars present a more nuanced view of Chinese fan creativity (Zhao 2017; Guo 2023), fan organization (Wu 2021), and interactions with online platforms (Mei 2021; Huang 2022).

[1.3] Building on this growing body of work, this special issue seeks to dispel both the celebrity/media text dichotomy view of Chinese fandom as well as the factional perspective favored by media. Instead, it seeks to locate fandom within the evolving Chinese media landscape by articulating the role of fans as they take an increasingly central position, especially when driving a datafied celebrity economy (Zhao 2021). It also maps the flow of Chinese media texts in global popular culture through the work of transnational fans, reflecting on the role of fandom in service of Chinese producers' desire to increase the international appeal of their products. The articles in this special issue emphasize the operational and discursive labour of Chinese fans within both Chinese and global media systems, highlighting the central role of fan activity in the evolution of local and transnational media industries. They also accentuate the thematic concerns of fandoms when creating fan productions in response to mainstream media texts, with a focus on the exploration of gender issues.

2. Articles

[2.1] The first four articles explore fan responses to dangai (耽改), which are mainstream adaptations of online boys' love narratives that sanitize homoerotic themes. In the first article, "Dangai Fandoms under Crossfire: The Making of Queer Love in a Permeable and Convergent Media Ecology," Yidong Wang and Yilan Wang adopt an inclusive term "queer" to define nonheteronormative relationships depicted in Chinese media in the 2010s. They conduct an ecological analysis of recent dangai production in China by focusing on four processes: online literature creation, entertainment production, censorship and regulation, and fan participation. They argue that while fans could provide the infrastructure for queer content production in China, with works gaining limited legitimacy, such production is coshaped through mechanisms such as state control and fans' pleasure-driven participation instead of through the ideological claims of identity politics. The article provides a broad and ecological overview of the dangai genre and its turbulent development trajectories.

[2.2] In "The Politicization of Chinese Celebrity Fandoms: A Case Study of Discursive Practices in the 227 Movement," Kexin Sun provides a different interpretation of dangai fandom compared to Wang and Wang's queer yet apolitical assessment. Sun applies an associative analysis of human relationships to fandom studies. Using the differential mode of association Chaxugeju (差序格局) proposed by Chinese anthropologist and sociologist Xiaotong Fei, Sun presents a serious attempt to break the myth about Gen Z as apolitical using the case of the 227 incident, where flame wars around dangai resulted in the banning of Archive of Our Own in China.

[2.3] Agata Ewa Wrochna's article "Best TV Show You Have Never Seen: Maintaining Collective Identity among the Twitter Fandom of Chinese Dangai Drama Immortality" embarks on a detailed examination of the popularity of Chinese dangai television series in online fandoms on Twitter (X). Using the case of a dangai fandom of Immortality, Wrochna critically analyses the affective, creative, and participatory activities of fans, explaining how a collective loyal fan identity is maintained online.

[2.4] In the final article on dangai, "Reimagining Queer Asias: Performativity, Censorship, and Queer Kinship in the Fandoms of Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation and The Untamed," Dania Shaikh undertakes an exploration of the reception of Chinese dangai series by fans outside China. Shaikh argues that dangai works as a mediated space and a counterpublic to hegemonic representations of same-sex relationships in Western media, calling for a reimagining of the terms "queer" and "Asia" by focusing on the practice of queer kinship in online fan spaces.

[2.5] The next three articles explore the potential of fan activity to serve a discussion of gender issues in the Chinese context. In the first article, "A Male Idol Becoming a Girl? Nisu Fans' Sexual Fantasy About Male Stars," Tingting Hu, Chenchen Zou, and Erika Ningxin Wang examine an emergent fandom practice of "reverse Sue" (Nisu), a gender swap genre whereby fans imagine themselves in a strong male role juxtaposed against their idols' weak female. They investigate different practices of Nisu fans and how they negotiate their own gender identities within a heteronormative context, arguing that female Nisu fan practices possess subversive potential but that this potential is weakened through internal divergence and contradictions.

[2.6] Following this exploration of gender swapping Nisu fandom, Yijia Du's article "Doing Feminism through Chinese Online Fiction Fandom" explores Chinese fans' quest for feminist solidarity through online fiction production and consumption. Du conducts thirty-two in-depth interviews with fans who "do feminism." Informed by concepts such as counterpublic and intimate public, Du explains how fans are connected by their common interest in online fiction and how they construct their feminist identities, create educational and supportive spaces, and form a new breed of Chinese digital feminism.

[2.7] In "From Cinderella to I-Woman: Web Novels, Fandom, and Feminist Politics in China," Meihua Lu looks at fandom contraflows through a case of a global production template and its transgressive localization in China. The i-woman genre and its feminist fans deliberately reverse the Cinderella story as a new form of feminist writing that challenges patriarchal discourses. Lu argues that the new female literature of fan writers is also a form of mobilization and activism, through which fan writers perform "fantagonism" but with an aim to create and maintain feminist solidarities.

[2.8] The final two articles in the special issue focus on the role of the fan in the entertainment ecology of Chinese media. In "'Play with Me!': Zhan Jie as Productive Fans in the Chinese Idol Industry," Yuhang Zheng and Qing Xiao explore how female fans and content producers take the lead in coshaping the idol-fan relationship in Chinese entertainment industries. The article focuses on an emergent node of importance, zhan jie (站姐, site sisters), who contribute to the cultural and economic value of idols in the entertainment ecology. Using participatory observation, the authors examine how zhan jie as professional and productive fans in the making work as mediators between idols and their hierarchical fandoms.

[2.9] In "Cultural Porters and Banyun in Chinese Fandoms on Bilibili," Leiyuan Tian and Fan Liang also focus on productive and creative fans as prosumers who perform banyun (搬运, to move, port, or deliver). Defined as "cultural porters," banyun fans work as cultural intermediaries who initiate transnational content curation and exchange practices across different social media platforms. Using a case study of Bilibili, China's YouTube equivalent, the authors examine how banyun fandom in China shapes fan identities.

3. Symposium

[3.1] The first symposium piece in the issue focuses on the relationships between fans of Chinese idols in online and off-line environments. Qing Xiao and Yuhang Zheng explore the impact of imagined relationships with other fans on the identity construction and fan activities in both online and off-line spaces, offering cooperation in support of and competition for attention from the idol as motivating factors.

[3.2] Zhuwen Zhang explores the impact of Chinese popular culture outside of China with a focus on how Chinese Americans engage in cultural exchanges through reception of Chinese media and the creation of fan works in response to the Chinese texts.

[3.3] Off-line fandom becomes the focus of the symposium piece from Roland Wang and Peilin Li, who examine the factors affecting the development of Chinese fan cultures of the UK tabletop war game Warhammer.

[3.4] Finally, Dongni Huang examines shipper communities with a distinct focus on fan activities that foster creativity with an aim to produce fan pleasure rather than the collective promotion of an idol that services the economic imperatives of the idol industry.

4. Book review

[4.1] The book review in this section focuses on a book by Milena Popova: her 2021 monograph Dubcon: Fanfiction, Power, and Sexual Consent, published by MIT Press and reviewed by Kelsey Morgan Entrikin.

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] The following people worked on TWC No. 41 in an editorial capacity: Kristina Busse, Karen Hellekson, Poe Johnson, and Mel Stanfill (editors); Hanna Hacker and Bridget Kies (Symposium); and Melanie E. S. Kohnen, Katherine E. Morrissey, and Regina Yung Lee (Review).

[5.2] The following people worked on TWC No. 41 in a production capacity: Christine Mains (production editor); Jennifer Duggan, Robin F., Beth Friedman, Jillian Kovich, M. Lisa, Christine Mains, A. Smith, and Vickie West (copyeditors); Claire Baker, Kristina Busse, Christine Mains, Sarah New, Rebecca Sentance, and Latina Vidolova (layout); and Emily Cohen, Karen Hellekson, Christine Mains, Aileen Sheedy, Cheng Shon, and Latina Vidolova (proofreaders). TWC also thanks Cassie, Elbereth, LB, and Sveritas, who provided additional proofreading services.

[5.3] TWC thanks the board of the Organization for Transformative Works. OTW provides financial support to TWC but is not involved in any way in the content of the journal, which is editorially independent.

[5.4] TWC thanks all its board members, whose names appear on TWC's masthead, as well as the additional peer reviewers who provided service for TWC No. 41: Meijiadai Bai, Hongwei Bao, Xiaoyi Cheng, Liang Ge, Yucong Hao, Boyuan Huangfu, Jinyi Li, Meihua Lu, Keith Negus, Altman Yuzhu Peng, Leiyuan Tian, Yue Wang, Fang Wu, Xueyin Wu, Xiao, Zhuoxiao Xie, Deya Xu, Ling Yang, Yijia, Yiyi Yin, and Qian Zhang.

6. References

Guo, Qiuyan. 2023. "Fiction and Reality Entangled: Chinese 'Coupling' (CP) Fans Pairing Male Celebrities for Pleasure, Comfort, and Responsibility." Celebrity Studies Journal 14 (4): 485–503. https://doi.org/10.1080/19392397.2022.2105165.

Huang, Ting. 2022. "BuBu Fandom and Authentic Online Spaces for Chinese Fangirls." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 38. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2022.2315.

Mei, Feixue. 2021. "Bullet Chats in China: Bilibili, Language, and Interaction." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2021.1939.

Wu, Xueyin. 2021. "Fan Leaders' Control on Xiao Zhan's Chinese Fan Community." Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 36. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2021.2053.

Zhao, Elaine Jing. 2021. "Reconfiguring Audience Measurement in Platform Ecologies of Video Streaming: iQiyi's Pivot Toward Data-Driven Fandom and Algorithmic Metrics." International Journal of Communication 15 (2021): 3671–91. https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/17830/3523.

Zhao, Jing (Jamie). 2017. "Queerly Imagining Super Girl in an Alternate World: The Fannish Worlding in FSCN Femslash Romance." In "Queer Female Fandom," edited by Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 24. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.870.