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Fandom threat

The attempt to control fandom culture is part of the matrix of supressing youth entertainment in China, including severe restrictions on online gaming. Some like David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project partnered by the University of Hong Kong, say all this talk of rescuing Chinese youth from their own appetites is in fact a smokescreen for a far more serious purpose.

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

An aspect of the domestic crackdown in China which has largely been ignored in mainstream discourse has been the targeting of the country’s fandom-obsessed youth by the Xi Jinping regime.

The Chinese Communist Party’s desire for dominance over all aspects of citizens’ lives has led it to try and control the “fandom culture” narrative which refers to online youth communities that coalesce around shared obsessions with celebrity idols.

The Cyberspace Administration of China last year officially declared that “toxic idol worship threatens to poison the minds of future generations” while senior government functionaries have been using state-owned media to push the line that internet addiction among teenagers “results in health risks that cannot be ignored”.

The attempt to control fandom culture is part of the matrix of supressing youth entertainment in China, including severe restrictions on online gaming. Some like David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project partnered by the University of Hong Kong, say all this talk of rescuing Chinese youth from their own appetites is in fact a smokescreen for a far more serious purpose.

Reasserting the CCP’s control over the internet is, according to this school of thought, the key for the regime’s political and ideological security as it impacts the future of the communist state. The country’s buzzing internet and entertainment sector has been the stealth-focus of harsh measures over the past year though it is the curbs imposed on China’s technology companies that have hogged headlines.

For many born after the 1990s, fandom culture has provided a rare opportunity for identity formation and community building in a society where associations of all kinds are subject to government control. “As networked and often highly organised communities of fans rallying around their beloved idols, ‘fandoms’ have enabled close para-social interactions in which fans feel a kind of intimacy with the object of their shared interest, as well as a sense of active participation that can be empowering and identity forming,” says Bandurski.

So, the Party has decided to ensure young people in China get the message that there is only one kingdom in town, as it were, and it’s not fandom. There are many who dismiss fandoms as shallow and celebrity-obsessed, but the highly organised online communities forming around China’s fandoms have already demonstrated their potential for both social activism and political organisation ~ an early illustration of online fandom communities’ political expression came in 2016 when thousands of cybernationalists, mostly “fangirls,” trolled Taiwan’s newly elected President Tsai Ing-wen on Facebook.

Fandoms also showcased their prowess as powerful non-state actors during the Covid-19 pandemic. From helping marshal resources such as protective gear when news of the pandemic first broke but government machinery was slow to respond, to the 20-odd fandoms from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan known collectively as the “666 Alliance” which successfully sourced medical supplies for use in Wuhan, their role as independent change-agents is evident. That can cut both ways. Which is precisely what is worrying the Party