Chinese Communist Youth League Joins Bilibili – Where Official Discourse Meets Online Subculture
By: Diandian Guo Source: What’s on Weibo Date: 3/1/2017
The Central Communist Youth League of China (共青团中央) recently announced its official presence on Chinese video-sharing site Bilibili – a digital platform focused on anime, comics, games, and subcultures popular among Chinese youth. What’s on Weibo’s Diandian Guo takes a look at what happens when China’s official discourse mixes with online pop culture. “Did you think the Youth League did not use ‘B-station’? 2017, here we are!” On January 1st 2017, the Central Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL or CYL) published this headline. It announced the opening of the Party’s youth movement’s official account on Bilibili (哔哩哔哩) or B-Station (B站), a video sharing website for Chinese fans of anime, comics, games and other popular youth subcultures.
“Bilibili has become the headquarters for online alternative youth subcultures of China.” This is not the first time the Chinese Communist Youth League enters popular channels of communication. As early as 2009, a central secretary meeting highlighted the important role popular culture could play in propagating its ideology. In 2013, the CCYL opened a Sina Weibo account (@共青团中央), followed by an official WeChat account. But within the realm of online platforms, Bilibili is a whole new ballgame.
Starting as a fandom community in 2009, bilibili.com has become the new headquarters for online alternative youth subcultures of China. Its ACG focus (anime, comics, and games) is often referred to as the “second-dimensional space” (二次元), marking its distinction from the real world or the “three-dimensional space.” Although its initial users were mostly fans of Japanese manga and anime, Bilibili has now grown into a colorful and culturally diverse space, with the gradual emergence of more cultural products from China, America, or Thailand, among others. “Wherever the good youth of China are, the League will go there to meet you.” Despite the diversity, however, Bilibili forms a tight-knit and vibrant cultural community. All users can submit, view and add commentary on videos called “screen bullets” (弹幕), which appear on the video screen for everyone to see. By sending these ‘screen bullets’, all users are participating in watching and “making” cultural products together.
Through time, Bilibili users have developed their own language and social norms. With its unique online environment, Bilibili is a platform where neither reality nor politics are likely to appeal to its young audience – it seems to be worlds apart from an organization like the Communist Youth League, that always conveys the “main melody” of official policies and guidelines. Yet despite their alternative pop cultural interests, the Central Communist Youth League still identifies this online subculture as the “good youth of China,” and states that “however high the mountains and however deep the waters, wherever the good youth of China are, the League will go there to meet you.” So what exactly is the type of content that the CCYL publishes on Bilibili? Here is an overview:
◙ Online Open Course for Youth (青年网络公开课): this series of open courses have been published in 2016 by the CCYL on another video platform (Youku.com), and has now been listed under CCYL’s new Bilibili account. The goal of this series of courses is to “invite great minds to teach, inspire and answer questions for young people, so that they can choose the right path in life.” The themes mainly concern China in world politics, including titles such as “How to Resist the Western Colonisation of the Mind” (如何抵御西方精神殖民), “Why China Wins” (中国为什么能赢) and “Challenges and Visions of the Sino-American game” (中美博弈的挑战与前景).
◙ Representing and Redefining China’s ‘Youth’: CCYL targets post-90s, who are entering society today, and who constitute the majority of Bilibili users. While the younger generations on Bilibili may define and represent themselves as geeky and individualistic as possible, CCYL endeavors to also bring them a more political and national perspective. In “Redefining the post-90s” (重新定义90后), young athletes, technical workers, and volunteers are portrayed as perfect representatives of their generation; conveying the message that young people should have the dream to contribute to the world. Two other short documentaries of a railway worker and a welder convey the idea of the ideal national “model worker.”
◙ Historical Themes: although the previous themes dominate CCYL’s new Bilibili account at the time of writing, more historical themes undoubtedly will pop up later. Among the three newly published videos this year, two are about history. A video titled “The Japanese Invasion of China: Not Just About Killing” (日本侵华，不只是杀戮), convinces viewers that the main goal of Japanese militarism was never about “abolishing the body,” but about “abolishing the soul.” Another video refers to a historical cartoon Year Hare Affair (那年那兔那些事), a patriotic and sentimental narrative of contemporary history, which is also broadcasted on Bilibili. “So could we say that China’s official discourse perfectly mixes with online pop culture? Perhaps not entirely.” For now, it looks like Bilibili users have whole-heartedly welcomed the Chinese Communist Youth League to their digital platform. One of the most recurring comments is: “Good job, my League!” (厉害了，我的团).
Many users state that they have immediately become a fan of the CCYL, and will follow all of its future updates. Overall, CCYL’s reasoning also seems to have the wide public support of Bilibili users. Under the Japanese invasion video – despite the fact that Bilibili users generally are great fans of Japanese manga – one user wrote: “Japanese manga are not brainwashing in essence, but there are people in those circles who will lead you the wrong way. When you are young and your values are not yet formed, you can be easily misled and it would be difficult to fix that.” So could we say that China’s official discourse perfectly mixes with online pop culture? Perhaps not entirely. The overwhelming support for CCYL on Bilibili is not completely indisputable. Some users point out that commenters “cannot just write any reaction,” and that “it happens so often that what you wrote appears as ***.” There are more negative voices. One user wrote that the CCYL “should first deal with corruption, instead of being occupied with ‘image projects.’” Another user spoke against the blunt promotion of the so-called “Chinese dream” (中国梦), and said that “promoting the Chinese dream to the world without actually solving social problems will end up with people living in a hollow national dream, incapable to fulfill their own personal dreams.”