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Your Ultimate Guide to Bullet Screen

Your Ultimate Guide to Bullet Screen

For those of you too busy to check in on the RADII website every day, we’ve got you every Tuesday with a summary of all we got on China’s youth culture from the last week. In this edition:

  • Online video platforms with ‘bullet screen’ commenting are super popular in China, thanks in large part to the function’s ability to connect viewers in real time. But what exactly is bullet screen and why is it so popular?
  • From fashion to art and hip-hop, Offgod has turned heads internationally with his unique creations, establishing himself as one of the youngest creative talents to watch.
  • 白纸革命 “White Sheet Revolution” describes the series of protests that have cropped up across multiple Chinese cities in recent days.
  • Avid soccer fans or not, Chinese people are turning their pets, family members, and other household objects into the keffiyeh-inspired World Cup mascot La’eeb.

Intrigued? Keep scrolling, my friend.

What Is Bullet Screen and Why Is It so Popular?

When you open a video on one of China’s video streaming platforms nowadays, whether on your phone or computer, chances are that you will see lines of Chinese characters rapidly firing across the screen.

Commonly referred to as danmu(弹幕) or ‘bullet screen’ in English, the function is offered by some video-streaming websites and allows users to superimpose their comments over the video that’s playing. The viewers’ thoughts and opinions, usually in the form of ‘text + emoticons,’ will shift across the video or hover in a particular position on the screen.

It has become so popular that some people won’t watch videos without the bullet screen function turned on, and some even spend more time reading bullet comments than watching the videos themselves.

A popular 10-minute video can receive more than half a million bullet screen comments, a much higher volume of commentary than one would find in the traditional comments section below most videos.

While the function is not particularly new, RADII is here to explain the phenomenon to the blissfully unaware, exploring its origins and importance in Chinese internet culture.

How Do You Capture the ‘Soul’ of a Chinese City?

What would you depict if you only had one canvas with which to capture the essence of your city?

For some, the obvious answer might be to capture facsimiles of a city’s iconic buildings. Take Shanghai’s somewhat cartoonish Oriental Pearl Tower, for instance, or Beijing’s Citic Tower, designed to resemble a ceremonial wine vessel.

While these behemoth buildings appear between the covers of artbooks The Shanghairen and The Beijingren, several Millennial contributors chose to bring the viewer’s attention to street level.

For full-time freelance illustrator Peter Zhao, the trick to capturing a city’s soul is “walking into the streets [...] and observing the local people.” The artist’s depiction of hungry customers milling about street food vendors after dusk offers “a gentler version of Shanghai, one that’s on the other side of the hustle and bustle of the city.”

Likewise, Chilean architect, photographer, and illustrator Sebastian Correa was less preoccupied with skyscrapers and more interested in the citizens that make a city.

“A real part of [the citizens] are the migrant workers doing hard work — they are the real force that moves Shanghai. So I wanted to pay tribute to the real ‘Shanghairen,’ the ones who, with hard work, keep helping Shanghai to move forward,” says the artist, hence his all-too-accurate rendition of a delivery driver sneaking in a quick nap on his scooter in between assignments.

When asked to create a homage to Beijing, a city she called home for eight long years, graphic designer, curator, and freelance illustrator Wai Kwok Choi also allowed her fascination for human stories to guide her hand. But unlike Zhao and Correa, who based their artwork on personal observations, she tapped into the power of imagination.

After hearing a fascinating tale about the Fahai Temple on the outskirts of Beijing in an art class, Choi delved into further research.

In 1933, a German photographer named Hedda Morrison discovered the temple’s famed frescoes from the Ming Dynasty. In an attempt to document them while also preserving their integrity, she and a fellow photographer experimented with a DIY form of lighting — involving chemicals such as magnesium powder and paraldehyde — in the dark room. Things went awry, and Morrison ended up with burns, but her photographs exist as some of the earliest forms of documentation of the murals.

“As I viewed and created this painting, I imagined how the photographer felt back then. So I repeated and created this little story,” shares Choi.

Albeit taking very different routes with their artwork, the aforementioned illustrators aced their assignments for The Shanghairen and The Beijingren. Respectively published in 2019 and 2022, the artbooks, which are the brainchild of Benoit Petrus and Vicki Jiang, take a page from the iconic publication The New Yorker.

Since ren (人) is Mandarin for ‘person,’ The Shanghairen and The Beijingren respectively translate to ‘the Shanghainese’ and ‘the Beijinger,’ Unlike their muse, however, both books chiefly contain cover art.

In order to realize their artbooks, Petrus and Jiang contracted some 80 artists to create visual love letters to two of China’s first-tier cities. In doing so, they have successfully demonstrated the need for more similar projects.

Besides showcasing urban Chinese life, The Shanghairen and The Beijingren support both fledgling and seasoned artists born or based in China.

  • 白纸革命 “White Sheet Revolution” describes the series of protests that have cropped up across multiple Chinese cities in recent days. The term arises from the act of holding up a blank sheet of paper in public, a symbolic opposition to censorship and restriction of movement under China’s ‘Dynamic Zero-Covid Policy.’
  • What were you doing when you were 17 years old? Watching anime, obsessing over your crush, or picking up new hobbies that defined your whole personality? Hong Kong native Andrew Mok, who goes by the alias Offgod, directed his energies in a more productive way, which is paying off now.

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