Sinful Talk

Feb 20, 2024 7:17 AM

Xiaoyun Huang

Keywords database
Publication year
February 20, 2024


Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

Sinful Talk

by Xiaoyun Huang

Gossip Blog Series 1: Gossip as Alternative Narrative: A Case Study on Chinese Female Online Community

Expanding scopes and horizons

In 2010, several fans of the Taiwanese Talk show Kangsi Coming (康熙來了) formed a group on China’s Douban App to discuss the marriage of show host Dee Hsu. This group was named Gossip Coming (八卦來了), which was later renamed Douban Goose Group (豆瓣鵝組).

After its establishment, the community soon attracted more and more people to join, with the topic extending to a variety of entertainment content and celebrities. Especially after 2014, as the entertainment industry flourished on the Chinese internet, the group grew into one of the biggest celebrity gossip communities. Membership is required to comment and post, and membership management is strict. However, besides its 680,000 members, it is believed that there is also a massive number of active yet unregistered viewers.

Fandom culture and the entertainment industry attract fans, haters, trolls, bots, and influencers to join and contribute to the community's activities. In addition, many community members are neither fans nor anti-fans, refusing to idolize celebrities. Instead, they may be passionate about exposing celebrity scandals and discussing them in a playful manner.

The discussions also accommodate other facets. While the community doesn’t allow members to share their personal lives in posts according to the house rules, the discussions about celebrity gossip often veer into everyday life issues. Women’s daily experiences have become a significant aspect of the community discourse. Additionally, politics and social issues have also emerged as important streams within the community.

Feminine and silly

With various actors and topics, the community has been subjected to many labels from other forums, media reports, and beyond. These labels, often gendered and derogatory, vary depending on the intention of those assigning them. When they are meant to attack the group as crazy fans, the community members are described as “Fanquan Nvhai” (Fandom Girls, 飯圈女孩), and characterized as silly and obsessed with idols. Ironically, they are also targeted as “Heizi Jujidi” (Anti-fans Collective, 職黑聚集地). Simultaneously, despite media entities frequently replicating posts, such as celebrity scandals, that had originated within the community, the community also  faces criticisms for being overly discerning, resulting in their users being labeled “Bapo” (Gossip bitches, 八婆).

These gendered labels extend beyond fandom into other realms. The community is sometimes referred to as “Xiaofenhong” (Little Pink, 小粉紅), portraying them as politically uninformed yet reverent of the Chinese government and treating political discussions as gossip.

Despite a spectrum of political ideologies within the community, they are often simplistically dismissed as naive nationalists. When the feminist agitations flourished in the community, the term “Little Pink” was further transferred to “Fenhong Nvquan” (Pink feminist, 粉紅女拳), portraying them  as both politically uninformed and irrational, while overlooking the diversity of the feminist perspectives in the community as well as the political awareness along with the feminist awareness.

These various labels are often employed while overlooking the diverse range of actors and perspectives involved, and instead portray the community as feminine, silly, and emotional. The degradation of women and their talk are intertwined and perpetuated (See the first blog in this project, which discussed the degradation of women’s talk as goosip).

Sinful and powerful

The backlash towards the community not only from other cultural spaces, but also from the state. Since 2018, the group has been successively shut down. This happened in the context of an ongoing crackdown on celebrity culture by the government “to rectify twelve types of negative and harmful information such as bad popular culture… promoting a cleaner online ecological environment” (對...不良流行文化等12類負面有害信息進行政治...促進網絡生態空間更加清朗) (See the official statement in 2019). As one of the biggest celebrity gossip forums seen as a source of “negative and harmful information”, the community was targeted and shut down from time to time.

It was believed that the “negative and harmful information” referred to the politically subversive discussions happening in the community. However, I argue that a shutdown is fundamentally not about its content, also not about its topic, timing, or intention, but about gossip itself. The closure of the community near the 70th anniversary of the PRC in 2019 exemplifies this. “Xiaofenhong” (小粉红) was perceived as reverent of the Chinese government, so it's not due to their possible subversion, but because their discussions about politicians are personalized and idolized.

They often talked about the state officials’ personal stories, such as their hobbies, love stories, or family life. Although it’s in a positive tone, it may delve too deeply and have the potential to expose something unwanted. They are encouraged by the government in some situations, but they become undesirable during critical times, since they are not disciplined and organized enough to be controlled by the institutions.

As such, I suggest that gossip, as women’s talk, is unwanted due to its inherent femininity: women do not talk in the way men want them to. Gossip is declined to delve into private and personal topics, which are excluded from the public sphere. But gossip, being organic, has the potential to extend across various facets. Its chaotic nature can challenge and break the limits imposed by institutions.

The concern from the government is also in response to emerging developments. Gradually, the feminist awakening has expanded. Women start to question the state as the institution of patriarchy and question the patriarchy as the overarching root of inequality. This questioning ultimately leads to its permanent shutdown.

Gossip is sinful since it wields power, a power that women possess.

Further Readings

  • Wu, A. X., & Dong, Y. (2019). What is made-in-China feminism (s)? Gender discontent and class friction in post-socialist China. Critical Asian Studies, 51(4), 471-492.
  • Stevenson, A., & Chien, A. C., & Li, C. (2021, August 27), China’s Celebrity Culture Is Raucous. The Authorities Want to Change That. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/27/business/media/china-celebrity-culture.html