In 2009, the Chinese government decided it was time to protect its netizens from the dangers of the internet, by bundling a new piece of software with all new PCs. Green Dam Youth Escort was designed to keep life harmonious (and “green”) by filtering out any images with too many pink pixels, and blocking a list of proscribed sites. It was notoriously buggy, and, well, annoying.
The Chinese internet community was swift to protest in an oddly creative way, knocking up images of a manga-style heroine called Lu Ba Niang (the Green Dam Girl). Clad in a quasi-military uniform with an ironically short skirt, Lu Ba Niang patrolled the interwebs with a paintbrush for censoring, and a red armband that read “Discipline.” Her perky little hat was sometimes depicted with a little crab insignia, since a “river crab” in Chinese is hexie, a homonym for “harmonisation”.
What’s interesting about the Lu Ba Niang protests is what they reveal about Japanese pop culture among the Chinese. The amateur artists and satirists co-opted the modes of Japanese artwork with apparent ease. It’s not just the moe look of Lu Ba Niang, but a dozen little touches, including Vocaloid censorship anthems and hentai spin-offs in which she inspects the bottoms of embarrassed anime girls. The tone and content of much of the protests seemed very much informed by hentai fandom, with some images even in imitation of erotic visual novels, with text that includes Japanese characters. One even calls the character Lubako, as if she were a Japanese girl.
Download statistics and piracy complaints suggest that Japanese works have an “informal” following in China. The size and scope of the Green Dam protests suggest that there is a sizeable community of Chinese “otaku”, even today when Japanese material has supposedly fallen out of favour in the wake of ongoing territorial spats over the Senkaku Islands. Meanwhile, Green Dam never really took off; it became “voluntary”, and then lost its government funding when it was found to contain programming code plagiarised from an American software company. Oops.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #107, 2013.