Ask China Anything: A peek inside China’s ACG culture

By Shi Jiayi
2 min read

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More than 364,000 people descended on Shanghai last week to attend the four-day ChinaJoy event, one of Asia’s largest annual digital entertainment and gaming expos. Visitor numbers have grown eightfold since it started in 2004.

Despite the record-high visitor figures, ChinaJoy saw a fall in gaming companies on show at the convention this year. The country’s gaming sector is still in recovery mode after a year-long freeze on new licenses that only ended earlier in 2019.

For a lot of ACG fans, however, ChinaJoy represents one of the few reasons to leave the house this summer. One attendee dressed as Roadhog from Overwatch told TechNode reporters that he was here just to see check out what Blizzard, the game’s developer, was going to display.

“I’ve been playing Overwatch since it first came out in 2015,” he said. “I’m here to see if Blizzard’s booth has a Roadhog figure so I can buy one.”

ACG, short for “Anime, Comic, and Games,” is being embraced by more and more young people in China. For one female interviewee, it was her seventh time visiting ChinaJoy, and she still gets excited walking through the different halls.

“It’s like entering a 2D world in a 3D space,” she said. “I feel relaxed and far from the pressure of work and life.”

For those not so familiar with ACG culture, ChinaJoy is most famous for two things—showgirls and “zhainan.” The expo garnered a negative reputation over the years for using scantily clad girls to bring in more male attendees. Things changed in 2015 when the convention organizers rolled out strict regulations on their attire, and those dressed inappropriately faced fines.

The term “zhainan” derives from the Japanese phrase “otaku” (御宅男), literally meaning “house male.” It refers to a guy whose favorite thing to do is to stay at home and watch or play ACG content. They are usually often seen as lacking in social skills, and they choose to immerse themselves in the world of ACG. However, as one eventgoer quipped, they can be the ”backbone of the country“ as long as there’s such a massive market for them.

“It used to be a niche group, but I think that with the presence of more and more exhibitors, you can see that the audience is growing,” she said.

Not all of this year’s visitors came away impressed. One World of Tanks fan spent a whole year creating a huge paperboard tank like the ones from the game to wear on his head at the event. He arrived at the expo only to be told by organizers that he couldn’t wear it inside because there were too many people.

“We wanted to see the World of Tanks booth but the game publisher Kongzhong didn’t attend,” he said. “We have to just let it go.”