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China’s Online ‘Baoman’ Community Shut Down: Behind Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua)

Why have China’s most popular Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua) channels been shut down?

Manya Koetse

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Rage Comics, known as Baozou Manhua in Chinese, have become a widespread phenomenon on Chinese social media over the past decade. Online censors are now targeting channels spreading these popular webcomics, which serve as a humorous weapon to China’s younger generations. What’s on Weibo explains.

Sixteen Weibo accounts relating to Rage Comics (暴走漫画) were shut down by Sina Weibo administrators this week for allegedly “insulting” and “slandering” the names of Chinese heroes and martyrs.

The official Weibo administrator account (@微博管理员) issued a statement in the evening of May 17, writing:

“In accordance with the Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs (英雄烈士保护法), the Cybersecurity Law (网络安全法), and other legal guidelines, Weibo has fulfilled its corporate responsibility (..) and has focused on disposing of harmful information that insults, slanders, or in any other way infringes on the name, portrayal, or reputation of heroes.”

Among the banned Weibo accounts are @Baozoumanhua (@暴走漫画), @Baozoudashijian (@暴走大事件), @HuangJiguang (@黄继光砸缸) and @DongCunRuiattheoffice (@办公室的董存瑞) – all very popular channels through which China’s so-called ‘Rage Comics’ are created and spread.

The ban also goes beyond Weibo, affecting Rage Comics accounts on Q&A platform Zhihu.com, video-streaming sites Youku and iQIYI, and official Baozou Manhua websites.

 
China’s Online ‘Baoman’ Community
 

What are Rage Comics? Many internet users will be familiar with the online crude and simple online comics featuring various characters, often created with simple drawing software such as MS Paint, telling stories about everyday annoyances or personal embarrassments, and ending with a punchline. The jokes are often straightforward and politically incorrect (MacDonald 2016).

Random example of ‘rage comics’ genre.

Another random example of Rage Comics by ragebuilder.com

This genre of webcomics first surfaced in North America on the English-language website 4chan, after which it became more widespread in online communities such as Tumblr, Reddit, and beyond.

The Chinese translation of ‘Rage Comics’ is Bàozǒu Mànhuà (暴走漫画), with ‘baozou’ literally meaning ‘out of control’, and ‘manhua’ meaning ‘sketches’, popularized through the Japanese manga term. The term baozou manhua is also abbreviated as Baoman (暴漫).

Baoman became more popular in mainland China when ‘Wang Nima’ (@王尼玛 on Weibo) launched the website baozoumanhua.com (now offline) in 2008, inspired by the success of the webcomics on English-language online communities (Chen 2014, 690).

Screenshot of the baozou manhua website’s front page in 2018 (What’s on Weibo).

The website baozoumanhua.com became a thriving online community and media platform – allowing users to create their own Baoman through the creator’s tool (制作器), and to browse the popular comics of the day through its many channels, the ‘Baozou Daily’, an online forum, videos, and gif collection.

Various Baoman apps (source: https://36kr.com/p/5041049.html)

In 2012, the website officially registered the copyright of their Baoman products, as baozoumanhua.com started receiving 5000 to 8000 daily submissions of new comics (Chen 2014, 692-695); Chinese ‘rage comics’ then also became more widespread on platforms such as Weibo or Wechat, where these ‘rage faces’ are commonly sent as emoticon-like stickers during chat conversations.

Some of the popular Baoman characters are the same in China as in the US, such as ‘rage guy’ or ‘troll face’, or the ‘B*tch please’ meme – which is actually the face of Chinese retired professional basketball player Yao Ming responding to a journalist’s question during a post-game press conference.

The Yao Ming image is typically used as a ‘reaction face’ to convey a dismissive attitude towards comments in online discussions (Knowyourmeme 2018).

But there are also typically Chinese characters or biaoqing (表情 ‘expressions’), for example, those based on Chinese celebrities or referencing to Chinese pop culture (Chen 2014, 695; Xu 2016).

Chinese ‘biaoqing’ (via Motherboard).

As described by Christina Xu in the Field Guide to China’s Most Indispensible Meme; although Chinese ‘Baoman’ and/or ‘biaoqing’ all started as a Chinese response to the American Rage Comics, and still use some original characters, an “entirely separate pantheon has emerged” in the PRC (Xu 2016), in which Chinese netizens have collectively built a uniquely Chinese online ‘subculture’ and Baoman community.

A Baoman making fun of the challenges and ‘mindf*cks’ during multiple choice exams.

Baoman have been especially functional in China for urban Chinese youth to “vent their frustration about the inequalities they face on a daily basis,” as Chen (2014) points out in “Baozou Manhua, Internet Humour and Everyday Life.”

These issues go from rising unemployment to the high cost of living, or the difficulty of entering Chinese universities through the gaokao (national entrance exam) system.

Self-mockery and self-satire is an important part of China’s so-called “diaosi tribe”: a huge group of Chinese youths who’ve labeled themselves ‘diaosi’ (屌丝), basically meaning “losers”, as they struggle with the hardships of everyday life and growing social inequality. The ugly, amateuristic graphics of the Baozou manhua suit this youth culture, meeting their need for expression in a culture that focuses on ‘keeping face’ (Ma 2016, 20).

According to baozoumanhua.com founder Wang Nima, the Baoman genre provides Chinese gao gen (grassroots) netizens “a ‘lance’ to express themselves” (Chen 20154, 693); meaning this kind of humour can also serve as a frivolous way of resistance, using humor as a weapon to talk about daily frustrations.

 
No Disrepect for Chinese Heroes: A ‘Ban’ on Baoman
 

The recent ban on Baoman directly relates to a 2015 image and a 2014 short Baozou manhua video clip, which was reposted to online news app Jinri Toutiao earlier this month. Both the image and the clip joked about some of China’s renowned heroes, including Chinese civil war figures Ye Ting (叶挺, military leader) and Dong Cunrui (董存瑞, PLA soldier who destroyed an enemy bunker in a suicide bombing) (Lin 2018).


(The clip in question; some commenters say the words have been taken out of context.)

In the clip, Sixth Tone reports, video host Wang Nima – wearing a ‘rage face’ mask as always – narrates: “Dong Cunrui stared at the enemy’s bunker, his eyes bursting with rays of hate. He said resolutely, ‘Commander, let me blow up the bunker. I am an eight-point youth, and this is my eight-point bunker.’” The script, Qiqing Lin writes, was meant as a pun on a KFC sandwich that was broadcasted in 2014.

Although sarcasm and crudeness are very much inherent in the Baoman humor, this does not mix well with the new law that has recently been implemented in mainland China to ‘protect’ its national heroes.

The Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs (yīngxióng lièshì bǎohùfǎ, 英雄烈士保护法), has been introduced in March of 2018, as China Daily writes, “so that the country and the people forever remember the sacrifices made by the nation’s heroes and martyrs for the good of the country.”

It has thus become illegal to make fun of Chinese heroes, and people who “defame” them can now face criminal punishment.

But is this law really the only reason for the shutdown of Baoman channels? Or is it the fact that the all too popular Rage Comics are a representation of an online subculture that goes against the government’s view of “healthy developments” of Chinese youth and cultural industries?

Baozoumahua.com founder ‘Wang Nima’, who now has over 16.6 million followers on Weibo, responded to the ban on the Baoman channels on Thursday, saying he offered his “profound apologies” for bringing an “unhealthy influence” into society. The 40,000 comments to his post were not available to view at time of writing.

 
The Future of China’s Baozou Comics
 

Over the past few days, the ban on Baozou Manhua has been a huge topic of discussion on Chinese social media, although most comment threads have become publicly unavailable.

Current bans on China’s most important online webcomics channels do not necessarily predict their existence and survival in the future. Over the past few months, various online (announced) bans were overturned or denied after triggering controversy (e.g. the ban on gay content or the alleged Douyin targeting of Peppa Pig).

Although channels and hashtags are easy to take offline for censors, the actual creation and spread of new and existing Baoman is virtually impossible to combat. No sources thus far have pointed towards a current ban on the actual comics themselves (just their channels).

Besides the shutdown of the various social media channels, the closure of the baozoumanhua.com media empire is a huge blow to its fans and creators. The website’s founder Wang Nima’s net worth is estimated to be around 4 billion yuan (±US$628 million), according to Daily Economic News (每日经济新闻).

Netflix recently paid $30 million for the Chinese animated film ‘Next Gen’, which is also based on the original webcomic ‘7723’ by Wang Nima. Baozou financed and produced the film, which Chinese majors Alibaba and Wanda will reportedly release in China this summer (Amidi 2018).

Whether or not that will happen, and whether or not baozoumanhua.com will be allowed to go online again, is something to be seen.

For many netizens on Weibo, the fact that Baozuo Manhua has been punished for things in the past with a new law that has just been introduced, is something they find unjust. But there are also those who say it serves them right and that the names of Chinese heroes can not be slandered.

“Why Baozuo Manhua?”, one netizen says: “Why not other programs with vulgar content? (..) It’s unfair!”

Another Weibo commenter says: “China is a big country with many people, and since their education levels are unequal we need a level of control, but it doesn’t mean we should control absolutely everything. If there’s a problem it gets blocked and deleted, but problems do not get solved at their root.”

“Wang Nima I love you, I wait for your return,” one fan writes.

By Manya Koetse

References

Amidi, Amid. 2018. “Why Did Netflix Pay $30 Million At Cannes For The Chinese Animated Film ‘Next Gen’?” Cartoon Brew, May 13. https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/why-did-netflix-pay-30-million-at-cannes-for-the-chinese-animated-film-next-gen-158348.html [20.5.18].

Chen, Shih-Wen. 2014. “Baozou manhua (rage comics), Internet humour and everyday life.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 28(5): 690-708.

China Daily. 2018. “英雄烈士保护法(yīngxióng lièshì bǎohùfǎ): Law on the protection of heroes and martyrs.” China Daily, May 3. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201805/03/WS5aea50e6a3105cdcf651ba95.html [20.5.18]

Know Your Meme. 2018. “Yao Ming Face / Bitch Please.” Know your Meme. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/yao-ming-face-bitch-please [20.5.18].

Lin, Qiqing. 2018. “Popular ‘Rage Comics’ Brand Gagged for Making Fun of Martyrs.” Sixth Tone, May 18. https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002298/popular-rage-comics-brand-gagged-for-making-fun-of-martyrs [19.5.18].

Ma, Xiaojun. 2016. “From Internet Memes to Emoticon Engineering: Insights from the Baozou Comic Phenomenon in China.” HCI (3) 9733, Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Springer): 15-27.

Xu, Christina. 2016. “A Field Guide to China’s Most Indispensible Meme.” Motherboard, August 1. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/bmvd74/china-meme-face-a-biaoqing-field-guide [20.5.18].

MacDonalds, Sean. 2016. Animation in China: History, Aesthetics, Media. London: Routledge.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    execute all online nerd geek meme losers by firing squad

    May 20, 2018 at 11:21 pm

    this is nerd geek childish online culture which should be banned. nothing is more repulsive than these childish online nerd geeks. the Chinese govt should execute all nerd n geek that create this childish online rubbish. even in the west, there is nothing positive to come out of 4chan or pepe, just pedophilia n Nazism. just execute them all by firing squad, problem solved.

  2. Avatar

    Frankie

    June 28, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Hey, just want to let you know that ‘manhua’ doesn’t really translate to ‘sketches’, a closer translation is ‘cartoon’ (like political cartoon) and it generally refers to the exaggerated/stylized manner of drawing

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China Arts & Entertainment

The Yico Zeng Controversy: Chinese Singer Falls from Grace after Beijing Airport Misconduct

Chinese celebrity Yico Zeng triggered major controversy on Weibo over the past week for failing to comply with security regulations at Beijing airport.

Wendy Huang

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Chinese singer Yico Zeng seems to have fallen out of favor with Chinese netizens after refusing to comply with Beijing airport security rules and exposing the personal details of an officer on her Weibo account.

Just a month ago, Weibo blew up when the inluential Chinese entertainer Roy Wang, a participant of the popular reality show I’m CZR (我是唱作人), was caught smoking inside a Beijing restaurant.

Now, another participant of the I’m CZR entertainment show has triggered major controversy for breaking the rules in multiple ways. Yico Zeng (曾轶可) was occupying the hot charts of Weibo earlier this week for causing a scene at Beijing Airport and for posting personal details of airport security staff.

 

The Weibo Post that Backfired

 

Noteworthy enough, it was Yico Zeng herself who brought the issue to the public’s attention. On June 17, the 29-year-old celebrity published a post on her social media account account (1.4 million followers) in which she criticized the way she had been handled at the Immigration Inspection at Beijing Airport.

The former talent show singer described her unpleasant run-in with an airport officer who had ordered her to take off her cap at the passport checkpoint. In that post and in a later one, Zeng accused the officer of wrongfully detaining her in a separate room, and posted a series of pictures of the officer’s badge, exposing his personal information for all of her followers to see.

Zeng’s posts – which have since been deleted – drew major criticism on Weibo, followed by an official statement issued by the Beijing Immigration Inspection (@北京边检) on June 19. According to that statement, soon receiving over 20,000 shares, Zeng had refused to take off her cap for identification when using the inspection E-channel and thus failed to pass the tunnel.

Beijing Immigration Inspection also condemned the Chinese singer for refusing a manual check, using offensive language, and exposing the officer’s personal information on social media.

The Weibo account of China’s Communist Youth League also reposted the statement, expressing their “strong support” for law-enforcement and for law-abiding citizens.

Zeng soon posted an apology on Weibo over her “inappropriate words and behavior.” She wrote: “I cannot believe that I was so emotional at that moment. I apologize to all, and I’d like to personally apologize to the officer if I have the chance.”

The post received more than 100,000 comments within a day after it was posted, but many commenters rejected Zeng’s apologies, suggesting the celebrity only said sorry because of public pressure.

 

Fallen out of Favor

 

The airport incident has not been without consequence for Yico Zeng. Since the controversy, the popular Strawberry Festival has canceled Zeng’s upcoming show, and it is reported that more of her work for the upcoming time, including her participation in the reality show I’m CZR, will be postponed or called off indefinitely.

Shanghaiist reports that Zeng could face up to ten days of detention and a fine of up to 500 yuan if she is convicted of resisting the officer.

An article published by Sina News on June 24 argued that Zeng had not just done one thing wrong, but had actually committed three wrongdoings: she ignored laws and regulations, she breached the privacy of others, and used her celebrity status to demand certain privileges.

Zeng is not the first celebrity to fall from grace after breaking the law. One of the most noteworthy years regarding Chinese celebrity scandals is probably 2014 when various singers and actors triggered controversy and received legal punishment for possession of drugs, illegal gambling, or visiting prostitutes.

Although Zeng is condemned by the majority of commenters on social media, there are still some loyal fans who are actively participating in the Yico Zeng ‘supertopic’ Weibo community, hoping for a quick comeback of the singer.

Other commenters, however, are hoping that the star will receive legal punishment instead.

“We’re all equal before the law,” various people write on Weibo.

By Wendy Huang, Manya Koetse

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Chinese TV Dramas

No ‘Novoland’: This Really Is a Tough Year for Chinese Costume Dramas

After the sudden cancellation of the much-anticipated ‘Novoland’ premiere, Chinese fantasy costume dramas are facing grim prospects.

Manya Koetse

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First published

With 1,4 billion views on its Weibo page, the Chinese fantasy drama Novoland: Eagle Flag was one of the most-anticipated series of the year. This week, the show was suddenly canceled twenty minutes ahead of its premiere. The incident is indicative of recent tensions within China’s TV drama industry, where some costume dramas have apparently failed to win the support of official regulators.

Just a week ago, What’s on Weibo reported about the Chinese fantasy drama Novoland: Eagle Flag (九州缥缈录, Jiǔzhōu piāomiǎo lù) being one of the most anticipated TV dramas in China this summer. On June 3rd at 21:40 CST, however, just twenty minutes before the drama’s much-awaited premiere on Tencent, Youku, and Zhejiang TV, the show was suddenly canceled.

Novoland: Eagle Flag, which has been called China’s answer to Game of Thrones, is a costume drama that tells a story of war, conspiracy, love, and corruption in a fantasy universe called Novoland. It is based on a popular web fantasy novel series by Jiang Nan (江南), and produced by Linmon Pictures. Production costs reportedly were as high as RMB 500 million ($72 million).

Why was the show’s premiere suddenly canceled? The only reason given for it on June 3rd was that there was a ‘medium problem’ (“介质原因”).

China’s English-language state tabloid Global Times reported on June 4th that their official sources also did not know the reason for the withdrawal, although they did admit to having received an order from “higher level,” which would come from China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA,国家广播电视总局).

In March of 2018, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), the former top regulatory body overseeing television productions, was officially abolished and replaced by three different state administrations in the ideological sector.

The NRTA is responsible for media control on radio and TV, and falls directly under the State Council. It is led by Nie Chenxi (聂辰席), who is also the deputy director of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. This appears indicative that the Party now has more direct influence over this industry, as also recently suggested by Global Policy Watch, SupChina, and Variety. Under the NRTA, the regulation and censorship of Chinese TV dramas are as strict, and arguably stricter, than under the SAPPRFT.

 

Costume dramas: not enough “spiritual guidance”?

 

The strict control of the NRTA over China’s TV industry is especially visible this year. As reported by CCTV News, China’s regulatory body started to severely crack down on the rising popularity of Chinese costume dramas (古装剧) in March of 2019.

Regulatory rules were supposedly issued for costume dramas with ‘themes’ (题材) such as martial arts, fantasy, history, mythology, or palace, stating that they should not air or were to be taken down from online video homepages. The strictest crackdown would allegedly last until July.

From early on in 2019, it was already rumored that Chinese costume dramas would face a tough year.

On January 28 of 2019, Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, published a critical post on its social media account listing negative influences of court-themed TV dramas (宫廷剧).

The critique included arguments such as that the imperial lifestyle was being hyped in these dramas, that the social situation of the dynastic era was being negatively dramatized, and that these productions are just aimed at commercial interests while weakening China’s “positive spiritual guidance.”

In February of this year, two weeks after the Beijing News post, Eduardo Baptista at CNN.com reported on the abrupt cancelation of the planned rebroadcasting of two costume dramas that were also targeted by Beijing News, namely the super TV drama hit Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略) and period drama Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿传).

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace

Other costume dramas such as iQiyi’s The Legend of White Snake (新白娘子传奇) or The Longest Day in Chang’an (长安十二时辰) were also withdrawn (or postponed) in March. Investiture of the Gods (封神) was replaced by another drama on Hunan TV this month.

“Historical dramas in many cases twisted the narrative of the country’s past and the image of historical figures,” TV critic Shi Wenxue was quoted by Global Times recently: “[they are] having an adverse effect on teenagers who may regard such fictional stories as real history.”

 

A state and marketplace collusion

 

With China being the world’s largest consumer of TV dramas in the world, the drama industry is a powerful channel for spreading Party ideology.

The political and cultural agenda is especially apparent in those TV dramas that are official propaganda productions. But since the TV drama industry has become increasingly commercialized and TV dramas became more market-oriented in the 1990s, their programming is no longer a mirror reflection of ‘Party narratives.’

The number of profit-driven productions has grown over the past 25 years and has skyrocketed with the arrival of video streaming sites such as iQiyi or Tencent Video.

Although non-official productions are ultimately still regulated and overseen by the relevant state departments, they also have to compete for viewer ratings in a highly competitive (online) media environment.

There are many visible trends in China’s TV drama industry. There have been peaks of popularity in those TV dramas depicting rural struggles or urban family life, for example, but historical costume dramas (especially dynasty dramas) have consistently been popular and rising since the mid-90s.

One reason for the growing popularity of these historical or fantasy costume dramas is that official censors initially had different standards for them than for more contemporary storylines, resulting in more creative freedom for scriptwriters (see Zhu et al 2008, 7).

Yongzheng’s Dynasty (1999)

There also have been many popular Chinese dynasty dramas that were commercial successes while also serving as propaganda tools.

As pointed out by Shenshen Cai in her work Television Drama in Contemporary China (2017), for example, TV drama serials such as Yongzheng Dynasty (雍正王朝) or The Great Han Emperor Wu (汉武大帝) promoted the ideal of strong central government, harmonious relations between the fatherly ruler and his devoted people, or the exemplary ruler cracking down on corruption – these narratives contributed to the leadership agenda in “stabilizing and re-energizing the dominant moral order” (Cai 3-4; also see Schneider 2012).

But more recent historical dramas have taken a fantasy route that, apparently, resonates with viewers but does not successfully appropriate the official propaganda apparatus.

The sudden withdrawal of new costume dramas is actually not about costume dramas at all. It just shows that although China’s TV drama industry is no longer the propaganda machine it once used to be, it still needs to adhere to those narratives that are in line with Party ideology.

‘Novoland: Eagle Flag’ (2019)

Even if their scripts and productions were apparently given the green light in earlier stages, the official supervision bodies still have the power to intervene until the last moment before airing – even if that, apparently, means that moment is twenty minutes ahead of the grand premiere.

 

“Things don’t look too optimistic”

 

For Chinese drama fans, the recent cancellations have been a real slap in the face. The Novoland: Eagle Flag TV serial was super popular before it even aired: its hashtag page has a staggering 1.4 billion views on Weibo.

“I cried,” one ‘Novoland’ fan comments: “Why such a sudden and abrupt withdrawal?”

“When can we finally see this show?” others wonder.

For now, the show’s premiere has officially been “postponed” and is “waiting for specific broadcasting time.” Whether or not the 55-episode series will be allowed to broadcast after June is still to be seen.

On Twitter, the fan account of Liu Haoran (刘昊然), one of the show’s main stars, writes: “You’re going to see rumors of tentative dates flying around this week, but note that it’s more of a deadline to get things sorted, not an air date. As of right now, things don’t look too optimistic. We’ll just have to be patient!

More: For an overview of all of our articles on Chinese TV Dramas, please check this list.

By Manya Koetse

References

Cai, Shenshen. 2017. Television Drama in Contemporary China: Political, social and cultural phenomena. London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Schneider, Florian. 2012. Visual Political Communication in Popular Chinese Television Series. Leiden and Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Zhu, Ying, Michael Keane, Ruoyun Bai (eds). 2008. TV Drama in China. Hong Kong University Press.

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