Like many Chinese teenagers, Shan Bingxin turns to Bilibili to alleviate his pandemic ennui. For about three hours a day, the 15-year-old scours the online entertainment hub for anime clips, gaming tutorials, and news. But increasingly, the site that began as a forum for gaming- and animation- obsessed geeks is emerging as an unlikely hotbed for current affairs— with an ever more nationalistic bent.
Alongside typical posts about Grand Theft Auto or the Japanese manga series, Naruto are clips generated by government-sanctioned influencers and hawkish news outlets. Shan recently watched a live stream showing Wuhan rapidly erecting temporary hospitals for virus patients, which filled him with pride in his country. Another clip showing U.S. President Trump calling Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” infuriated him.
Beijing is using popular culture to appeal to young people by plastering Communist Party slogans onto video games and enlisting boy bands as role models. One anime series from last year depicts the life of German socialist philosopher Karl Marx, whose theories are taught widely in Chinese schools. The show, co-produced exclusively for Bilibili by several state institutions, including a provincial propaganda department, depicts the young Marx as a typical Japanese manga-style protagonist.
The Communist Youth League and other groups have been flooding Bilibili with virus-related conspiracy theories and fanning anti-American sentiment. The Youth League, the party’s branch for younger members, is among the site’s top seven creators, with about 6 million followers; it gets the most likes of any contributor, according to data tracker BiliOB. Part of the platform’s allure to state-sponsored programs is the credibility it has, being backed by some of China’s biggest public companies, such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Electronics maker Sony Corp. of America said this April it will invest about $400 million in it.
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