2021-02-05 13:19:20  + video 

Can love be quantified? Most people would probably say no, but China’s celebrity super fans disagree. They measure their devotion to their favorite stars by the hours they spend obsessively promoting them on social media. 

The phenomenon has turned China’s top internet platforms into a battle zone in which warring fan groups compete to get their idols to the top of the trending charts.

These campaigns have become so intense, fan groups have set up dedicated “data fan” divisions. Group leaders operate special social media accounts to coordinate their troops of data fans — and exhort them to prove their loyalty by raising their “data contributions.”

Why are China’s fans so obsessed with getting their idols trending on social media? Sixth Tone joins a fan group to find out. By Tang Xiaolan and Fu Xiaofan/Sixth Tone

Though the groups have existed for a few years, they suddenly gained mainstream attention this past November, when a book editor angrily called out fans of the pop star Wang Yibo on Chinese review site Douban.

The editor had received hundreds of fake reviews for her book within days of its publication. The fans, it turned out, had done so simply to keep their accounts active, so they would be ready to like and comment on Wang’s next project.

But why have China’s fan wars become so intense, and what motivates so many people to invest enormous chunks of their time in boosting celebrities’ social media stats?

The cynical business strategies of China’s tech giants play a part. But so do the nature of the fan groups themselves — and the dreams of the people carrying out their orders.

Video producer: Tang Xiaolan; reporters: Tang Xiaolan and Liu Chang; designer: Fu Xiaofan; story editor: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: Fu Xiaofan/Sixth Tone)