From Idol to State: The Rise of Fandom Nationalism in Chinese Cyberspace

All Abstracts > From Idol to State: The Rise of Fandom Nationalism in Chinese Cyberspace

From Idol to State: The Rise of Fandom Nationalism in Chinese Cyberspace

Authors | Affiliation:
Yingdan Lu | Stanford University; Leo Yang | Stanford University

Presenting at:
2B | China’s digital communication industry and its discontent



Large-scale collective actions frequently occur in Chinese cyberspace (Yang 2012). While digital technologies afford to articulate dissidents and boost online protests (Lee et al. 2015, Yang 2009, Zheng and Wu 2005), pro-regime online practices, namely cyber-nationalism, also manifest in Chinese cyberspace (Fang and Repnikova 2018, Weiss 2014). From anti-Japanese online petitions in 2003 to anti-THAAD Weibo boycotts in 2017, the evolution of media technologies promotes more active engagement of nationalist activities online (Zhang 2017). Meanwhile, social media also facilitate more consumption of local and international cultural products, which further accelerates the formation of fandom in diverse genres ranging from animation-comics-games (ACGs) to commercialized pop idols (Yin and Xie 2018, Zhang 2016). Fandom, the imagined community growing from the enduring appreciation of certain cultural products from fans, brings new power struggle and political participation in Chinese online public sphere (Booth 2010, Jenkins 2012; 2014). Empirical evidence portrays fandom as a new vehicle of nationalist activities. In 2016, thousands of book fans pioneered the cross-strait “meme war” to protest the pro-independence trend in Taiwan. In 2019, one year after “the first year of the idols’ reign in China,” millions of supportive posts with hashtags like #Fandom crusade# flooded Weibo, Facebook and Twitter to combat against Hong Kong protesters (Gang et al. 2018). Thus, by bridging the theory of online activism and manifestations of fandom nationalism in China, this research aims to investigate the engagement of fans in social-media-based nationalism activities, their characteristics, as well as the implications of that on domestic and international political issues like domestic information-control strategies and cross-strait political conflict.

Data and Method

This study applies a massive social media dataset derived from Weibo on two particular nationalist campaigns: Diba crusade in 2016 and Fandom crusade in 2019. With more than three billion Weibo posts collected from twenty million users from 2015 to 2019, we analyze social media users’ behaviors and interactions by computational methods. Through social network analysis, we identify the fandom community and investigate the network structure within and between communities by comments, forwards, and likes on certain posts. By topic modeling, we capture the features of pro-regime posts and compare fans versus non-fan users in language patterns. Besides post data, we identify user features of fans by demographic profile information like gender, age, and education, as well as their geographical self-disclosure. More importantly, we will use both text data and user data to disclose the motivations and behavioral changes of fan groups in nationalist activities through natural experiment and causal inference. In addition, by conducting interviews with fan group leaders who took part in the crusades, we collect insider experiences to validate our statistical analysis.”


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About the authors

Yingdan Lu


Yingdan Lu is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Communication at Stanford University. Her research focuses on new media, political communication, and information manipulation in authoritarian regimes. Methodologically, she examines massive textual data from social media and millions of moment-by-moment screenshots collected from mobile users. Prior to her doctoral study, she received her M.A. degree from Center for East Asian Studies, Stanford University, and B.A. degree from School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University.

Leo Y. Yang

Email: –

Leo Y. Yang is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science at University of California, San Diego (UCSD). He is also a current Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Stanford University. His research interests include computational social science, political economy, and development economics. His works focus on how does the media (like newspaper and Weibo) influences economic, social, and political issues. Prior to his doctoral study, he received his M.A. degree in Finance from Wang Yanan Institute for Studies in Economics (WISE), Xiamen University, and M.Phil degree in Social Science from Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

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