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'Protecting our best brother China': fangirls, youth political participation and nationalism in contemporary China

Chen, Ronggang (2023) 'Protecting our best brother China': fangirls, youth political participation and nationalism in contemporary China. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004518


The ongoing concern with the intersection of fandom and nationalism has sparked discussions of civic and political participation in different social contexts. This research investigates ‘fangirls’, a young female-led fan community of Chinese pop idols that gained attention from a high-profile event in 2019, the ‘Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement’. Participants from Hong Kong and mainland China engaged in dramatic clashes on social media. The clashes stemmed from the Hong Kong protesters’ condemnation of local celebrities for their silence on sensitive political issues out of the fear of damaging commercial interest on the mainland. In response, the fan communities from the mainland mobilised under the slogan ‘Protect Our Best Brother A’Zhong (China’s nickname)’, flooding to Twitter and Instagram to ‘occupy’ the protesters’ threads. This action turned from a fan-based campaign in defence of the idols into a nationalist movement in defence of China. By doing an ethnographic study with both online and offline components, I investigate the cultural practice, political subject, and historical significance of fangirls. After providing a historical overview of youth political participation in modern China, I lay out the theoretical framework and explain the research design of this study. The first empirical chapter examines the development of China’s idol culture and emphasise the idea of ‘persona’ in fangirls’ activities in a data-driven media context. Fangirls developed distinct principles of action in quasi-political activities that have been appropriated for political participation. Chapter Five then explores how fangirls became nationalists. China was ‘idolised’ as ‘Brother A’Zhong’ and the notion of ‘brotherland’ emerged, while the principles derived from fandom reshaped fangirls’ perceptions of ‘civility’ and ‘rationality’ in the cultural and political realms. The last empirical chapter focuses on the historical significance of fangirls, which has received little attention. I situate fangirls within the history of China’s modernisation and explore how they reimagined their relationship with the nation-state. By a historically informed sociological approach and an interdisciplinary analytical framework, my efforts of revisiting the nationalist expressions of fangirls advance the understanding of both fandom culture and youth political participation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2023 Ronggang Chen
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Meng, Bingchun and Banaji, Shakuntala

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