Almighty My Rabbit: A Semiotic Analysis of Nationalist Live-Commentary Participation of the Chinese Animation Year, Hare, Affair

Author: Jiarui Sun (Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago)
Speaker: Jiarui Sun
Topic: Language in Real and Virtual Spaces
The CALA 2021 General Session


In the age of digitalization and globalization, feelings of national pride and belonging are yet to recede. In China, such feelings are widely generated, shared, and developed on digital platforms, extending profound impact upon the world offline. In this paper, I examine the semiotic activities involved in the rise of such sentimentalities, ones that are at times glossed as “nationalist” by critics abroad or “patriotic” by domestic media. The object of my paper is the live-commentary provided by viewers of the online animation series Year, Hare, Affair (2015­–2019). Using cartoon animals to illustrate a narrative of modern Chinese history endorsed by the party-state, this animation series has been metapragmatically framed by mass media as a “pioneer for cute patriotism” popular among young viewers. These viewers are motivated, largely by signs within the animation and the design of the webpage, to type in real-time comments, which float over and across the animation image and accumulate through time, forming a part of the viewing experience for future audience.

On the whole, my paper shows how semiotic interactions between the animation and its live-commentaries achieve a sense of national pride and belonging, which is affectively impactful to private viewers and socially influential as a renewal of the traditional nationalist ideology. Drawing upon a cyber-ethnography, I first set out to delineate the patterns of language use in live-commentaries that are associated with stereotypical notions of nationalism. I identify two common types of utterances: (1) references to emotionally charged actions (e.g. crying); (2) segmental, poetic phrases (e.g. rhymed parallel couplets). Then, I study non-linguistic signs such as font colors and the visual arrangement of entries for their semiotic capacity to intensify the affective impacts the animation-commentary combination has upon private viewers. Next, I provide a close analysis of the different interaction roles assumed by live-commentaries in relation to the animation and other live-comments. My paper concludes that it is in the process of stance-shifting within live-commentaries that private feelings of sentimental belonging and pride become the constitutive component of the metapragmatic ideology known as nationalism.

Keywords: China, nationalism, live-commentary, online video, cyber-ethnography