“A tickle fight with Chinese culture”
Chinese pop culture magazine 1413 begins with a story about a girl called Ms Yang, who was so desperately in love with the actor Andy Lau that her father tried to sell his house and his kidney so she could travel to Hong Kong to meet her idol. Yang’s father ended up killing himself because he couldn’t cope with her constant requests for money. Entitled ‘Fandom 101’ — in reference to the talent show Produce 101, which attracted 4.3 billion views in China in 2018 — this issue, 1413’s sixth, is a tribute to the intensity of Chinese fandom.
In a lovely twist, founders Zeng Lishan and Wu Yijing (who call themselves “Lisa & Echo” in their editors’ letter) want to trouble the stereotype of fans as “brainless and manic”. Instead, the focus here is on the unprecedented economic power the fan has over her love-object in the digital age. Just one example of that power in action: in 2018, devotees of the Chinese singer Wang Junkai bought 18 stars that thread together in the night sky to shape the abbreviation of his name, ‘WJK’.
The insanity of fandom is on display here, but so, touchingly, is its sincerity. A booklet of fan mail is tucked into the middle of the magazine, like a secret, and the letters are wild (“I hate you. You are a thief. You have stolen my heart…”). But there’s also something about the care taken over the printing, and the quality of the paper — which is pink, and delicate — that gives these letters dignity. Later, in a neat reversal of usual dynamic, fans are interviewed and photographed like stars. There’s also a strangely beautiful photography series of merch, lovingly arranged to look like still lives.
Taglined “a Tickle Fight With Chinese Culture”, there are recipes and quizzes dotted throughout, and the whole issue feels hand-made, and oddly tender — one of my favourite quizzes begins by asking the reader to imagine themselves attracted to a pop star called Alen Su: “His skin is silky as milk, and his lip moist like a wet muffin”. The issue is a celebration, above all, of the imagination it takes to truly love someone you do not know. 1413 is fan mail, written to fans.