BCM320 Digital Autoethnography: Reading Translated Chinese Netizens’ Top Comments: A Non-Canonical Way to Chinese Media Studies

Live-tweeting an episode of Guardian (2018; aka Zhen Hun) has inspired me to explore my recent media consumption on my digital milieu – Facebook.

After South Korea and Japan, China is the final destination in my screening experience with the Digital Asia (BCM320) class. Compared to previous screenings, Guardian is a difficult text to examine. Since Guardian has recently been released, the literature on the film is scant. Chinese gay-themed adaptation films seemingly remain as the unexplored waters. Furthermore, Guardian is a web drama. Watching only an episode barely helps me capture the message of the film, let alone that it is the first episode.

I made this comparison between lesbian- and gay-themed films as I remembered that there was a hot topic/ thread on the Golden Horse Award that year with some top comments pointing out the Chinese authority’s different treatments towards these films.

Reflection to Challenge Common Sense(s)

Instead of the usual content-unpacking approach, I analysed the surrounding information and employed broader media concepts and to examine cultural elements and meanings the film delivers. Knowing that the film is adapted from the same name homoerotic novel, I dug into China’s censorship on “harmful and vulgar” content (Zhang 2018) and resistance to such state’s control. As the findings aligned with my prior knowledge about Guardian in particular and Chinese films in general, I became more confident in tweeting my heart out.

Prior to the screening, I had already had some exposure to Guardian. As I am interested in Chinese entertainment industry, I read online Chinese-translated-into-Vietnamese entertainment news on Facebook to get updates on their cultural products. The C-biz news I read ranges from blog posts, rumours, gossips, film reviews to top comments on different Chinese social media platforms, such as Weibo and Douban. Reading such news indeed helps me gain insights into the Chinese media as well as the culture, yet I hesitated to share those insights in the Guardian screening session.

Live-tweeting has been my autoethnography in studying Digital Asia. While I enjoy writing impromptu tweets, I was concerned that my comments barely hold any academic values. Despite the justification for an evocative approach (Ellis et al. 2010), I believe in the generalisation, reliability and validity the “moderate” form of evocative-to-analytic autoethnography offers (Wall 2016). Thus, I did some secondary research before tweeting to guarantee my dual role as both a researcher and a participant.

Although this post translates top comments of a different gay-themed film (Chén Qíng Lìng aka The Untamed), it serves as an example of my China cultural studies based on examining hot topics’ top comments, treating these comments as the public sentiment

The Periphery in Understanding the Sinophone World

The Guardian live-tweeting experience makes me realise that I have been adopting an indirect approach to understand the Sinophone sphere. Rather than examining media texts, I indeed study their paratexts through reading translated Chinese netixens’ comments on Facebook. A paratext is defined as “any written, audiovisual, or mediated content which enables the reading of a focal text” (Cruz et al. 2019). My film consumption is shaped by numerous paratexts/ online comments, including disclaimers, threads, and reviews. These paratexts must explain for my self-education of Chinese culture since I hardly watch any Chinese films now.

An Unofficial Proposal?

Reading translated netizens’ top comments is not a new phenomenon. However, such a practice is often associated with international K-pop fan culture (Cruz et al. 2019) rather than Chinese media culture because of the glocal reach of the Hallyu wave (Ryoo 2009). As a K-pop lover, I follow Facebook pages that translate K-pop news and K-netz comments to have updates on my idols and trends in South Korea. I notice that I apply the same practice with C-biz news, despite my disinterest in consuming contemporary Chinese films and music. Considering China’s media control, as well as its cultural influence in comparison with South Korea, the extent to which paratexts like translated Chinese netizens’ top comments can broaden outsiders’ horizons on Chinese media texts is questionable.

My field site

As research about Chinese media is scarce and mostly focuses on the state’s censorship (Leibold 2011), it is worthwhile to look into the translated popular Chinese threads on Facebook. Thus, I plan to conduct a digital autoethnography examining my habit of reading translated Chinese netizens’ comments. Although I follow many pages on Facebook, I decide to have the V-translated Weibo top comments page as my field site. I will take field notes through tweeting about the translated threads and top comments I read. This way of data collection helps me to later speculate on the cultural insights I gain from them. Regarding my final presentation of the research project, I am considering to have a website or a photographic essay to report my findings and analysis.


References

Ellis, C, Adams, TE, Bochner, AP 2010, “Autoethnography: An Overview”, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 1-13.

Cruz, AGB, Seo, Y & Binay, I 2019, “Cultural globalisation from the periphery: Translation practices of English-speaking K-pop fans”, Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 0, no. 0, pp. 1-22.

Lebold, J 2011, “Blogging Alone: China, the Internet, and the Democratic Illusion?”, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 1023-1041.

Ryoo, W 2009, “Globalization, or the logic of cultural hybridization: the case of the Korean wave”, Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 137-151.

Wall, SS 2016, “Toward a Moderate Autoethnography”, International Journal of Qualitative Methods, pp. 1-9.

Zhang, P 2018, “Gay-themed drama is latest victim of China’s drive to purge ‘harmful and obscene’ content from web”, South China Morning Post, 4 August, viewed 28 August 2019, <https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2158196/gay-themed-drama-latest-victim-chinas-drive-purge-harmful-and&gt;.

Featured image: https://www.transperfect.com/blog/raising-the-bar-for-neural-machine-translation

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Trang Bùi

BCM-BINTs | Class of 2021 | UOW

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