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 main social media platform – 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 (English) literature on the film, as well as on Chinese gay-themed adaptation films, is scant. 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.

Reflection to Challenge Common Sense(s)

Fortunately, Guardian was the summer sensation in not only China but also Vietnam last year. The popularity of the film is evident in the proliferation of many fan pages of the film and characters/ actors, and online threads discussing the film and translating Chinese netizens reaction on Facebook – the digital milieu of most Vietnameses – including myself. These sources had helped me to gain prior exposure to Guardian to confidently share my thoughts via Twitter during the screening. Indeed, as I knew 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. I further compared Guardian with SoulMate and The Untamed to highlight different levels of censorship the State of Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) applies to LQBT+ content.

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.

I believe that my early exposure to the film via social media was an active rather than passive one. As I am interested in Chinese entertainment industry, I read online translated Chinese top comments, as well as entertainment news, from Zhihu and Weibo on Facebook to gain insights into the Sinophone sphere. In Asia, reading translated netizens’ top comments of a particular country is not a new phenomenon. Such a practice is often associated with the transnational K-pop culture (Cruz et al. 2019) rather than Chinese media culture because of the “glocal” reach of the Hallyu wave (Ryoo 2009). Translating South Koreans’ reactions helps international fans learn about the Korean culture and support (if not even protect) K-pop idols and their activities in South Korea – the main market of K-pop groups, considering the cyber-vigilantism, fanaticism and hysteria of K-netizens (Cho 2017). There have been many blogs, fan pages and websites dedicated to the translation of domestic K-pop news, as well as Korea entertainment news, which can be found in many languages, including English and Vietnamese.

Although this post translates top comments of a different gay-themed film (Chén Qíng Lìng aka The Untamed [2019]), it serves as an example of my China cultural studies based on examining hot topics’ top comments, treating these comments as the public sentiment.

As a K-pop lover, I am highly engaged in reading translated K-pop news and K-netz comments, treating it as a daily social media ritual. It was not until the screening of Guardian I noticed that I have been adopting the same media practice to C-biz news, despite my disinterest in consuming contemporary Chinese films and music. As China has influential cultural power to Vietnam with its developing film industry, it is understandable that the cultural translation associated within K-pop has now expanded its boundary to the Chinese market. Reading translated top comments of C-netizens augments my knowledge about the media products of China in particular and the Sinophone culture, especially the cybersphere, in general.

These pages translate K-pop news from many Korean social media platforms, such as Naver, Nate, Instiz,…etc

From discussions about Guardian and The Untamed, I realise that fan wars between leading actors/ actress acting in a same film often occur after the film ends. The “only fans” (often female fans as fan girls are loyal to their idols) appear as they fear their idols would be “used” for the marketing-for-fame of others, which might adversely influence their actors’/ actresses’ careers as marketing strategies include defamation, fake news, “coupling” or comparisons (beauty, acting skills, singing….etc). These strategies can shape and further fixate the public’s impression about the actors/ actresses, leading to widespread boycotts caused by the interplay of conservativeness, “shame” tradition and collectivism of Chinese society.

Such marketing reveals the creative efforts of fans in protecting their idols and their socio-political resistance to state’s oppression of homogeneity, considering the overplaying of the media card of “coupling” as a way to humiliate gay-themed films and the LGBT community. This is evident in the linguistic de-stigmatisation of fans of The Untamed (2019) to avoid SARFT’s strict regulations on the film as well as on social media threads. Fans use the term “socialist brotherhood” or “communist comradeship” to implicitly refer to the homosexual relationship between the two main characters in the film.

While The Untamed was allowed to be on air, which means that it was successfully approved by SARFT with acceptable alteration to its original content, Guardian was screened on a web-based platform, facing less distortion of content.

Those metaphorical allusions had previous been brought up amongst fans of Guardian, (although not as often as amongst fans of The Untamed), yet the film still got removed by the Chinese authority due to its phenomenal web traffic and widespread threads discussing homosexuality. Streaming websites often face less censorship from the Chinese authority. The more “liberal atmosphere” of the Internet has allowed websites to offer “more open to non-conventional” content than broadcasted films for niche markets (Wu et al. 2018, p. 25). Despite such leniency, SARFT would tighten its control when web dramas with “harmful and vulgar” content starts receiving increasing attention and welcoming in society. Learning from Guardian, fans of The Untamed put enormous efforts in unitarily adopting the metaphorical allusions of the gay relationship to avoid censorship.

The Periphery in Understanding the Sinophone World

This is my (main) field site where I consume most news

Live-tweeting Guardian probably is my data collection stage of my on-going digital autoethnography in studying cultural translation practices of C-biz Vietnamese fans, considering my tweets about epiphanies. The live-tweeting experience makes me realise that my knowledge of C-biz as well as the Sinophone cybersphere have been shaped mostly by indirect factors. Rather than examining media texts (films), I indeed study their paratexts through reading translated Chinese netizens’ 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 media consumption, including film, music and shows, is shaped by numerous paratexts/ online comments, including disclaimers, threads, and reviews. These paratexts must explain for my self-education of Guardian since I hardly watch any Chinese films now. Although a periphery, reading translated comments seemingly augments my knowledge of the film and the Chinese culture as much as, or even beyond, direct consumption of the main media text. During the live-tweeting session, I noticed that my thoughts (mainly deriving from reading comments) aligned greatly with many of my peers’ tweets, which drew on scholarly sources (Hannah’s tweet) and cultural insiders’ data (LiLeah’s tweet).

According to Tavares (2015), paratexts, to an extent, gain the relevance of broadening outsiders’ horizons as focal texts. In my case of reading translated Chinese netizens’ top comments to tweet about Guardian, fans translation practices are not simply pure consumption (Tse & Tsang 2018), but indeed prosumption, which involves both “production” and “consumption” processes (Ritzer & Jurgenson 2010, p. 13). Prosumption of fans enables transcultural intelligibility through a reciprocal and reflexive process of cultural learning fostered by the ideological tension between cultural homogenisation and cultural hybridity (Dong & Tian 2009). The process indeed has allowed me to understand and interpret the “netiquette” of the Sinophone cybersphere as well as the Chinese media industry.

“…consumers not only play an active role in appropriating cultural meanings but also emerge as significant content producers and cultural intermediaries in their own right”

Tse & Tsang 2018


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.

Dong, L & Tian, K 2009, “The use of Western brands in asserting Chinese national identity”, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 504-523.

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

Ritzer, G & Jurgenson, N 2010, “Production, Consumption, Prosumption: The nature of capitalism in the age of the digital ‘prosumer’”, Journal of Consumer Culture, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 13-36.

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.

Tavares, S 2015, “Paratextual Prometheus, Digital Paratexts on Youtube, Vimeo and Prometheus Transmedia Campaign”, International Journal of Transmedia Literacy, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 175-195.

Tse, T & Tsang, LT 2018, “Reconceptualising prosumption beyond the ‘cultural turn’: Passive fashion prosumption in Korea and China”, Journal of Consumer Culture.

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

Wu, Y, Mou, Y, Wang, Y & Atkin, D 2018, “Exploring the destigmatizing effect of social media on homosexuality in China: an interpersonal-mediated contact versus parasocial-mediated contact perspective”, Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 28, no.1, pp. 20-37.

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

Published by

Trang Bùi

BCM-BINTs | Class of 2021 | UOW

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