Affection for young actors takes root, who says you have to be a teen to be a fan?

By Li Lin Source:Global Times Published: 2016-4-25 19:23:01

An ayi fan smiles at a photo of her idol, Chinese actor-singer Lu Han. Photo: Li Hao/GT


Zhang Meng (pseudonym), a freelance Japanese language translator, turns 50 this year. While most people in her age group would choose a quiet life, playing with their grandchildren and walking their pets, Zhang's life appears quite busy, bustling even. On March 14, she flew from Beijing to Shanghai just to meet Yang Yang, a 25-year-old male actor.

Zhang is one of the members of Yang's official fan organization and carried a whole set of professional cameras to attend the event. She was one of only 1,000 fans who gained access to the exclusive event, and she took lots of pictures of her idol to commemorate it.

"It was crazy but exciting to be an older fan of a young idol," said Zhang. "We (fans and Yang) need each other."

Middle-aged Chinese women like Zhang, often dubbed as Chinese dama by Net users and journalists alike, first gained public attention in 2013, when their appetite for gold was covered in international media. Chinese dama are also good dancers. Their group performances on famous squares around the world, including the Red Square in Moscow and outside the Louvre Museum in Paris, have been reported on from time to time. The demographic also consists of self-taught designers of items such as the trendy facekini, anti-terrorism pioneers and unofficial neighborhood watch groups. Now, they are making headlines again by becoming loyal fans of the youngest idols in the country.

One such instance was published in a Beijing Morning Post report on April 21. According to the report, a retired woman surnamed Li removed over 5,000 illegal fliers that were pasted on bus stations near her home because they covered the face of her idol, Zhang Yixing, a member of the pop group EXO, on the commercials underneath. It took her three whole days to accomplish her task.

"I thank Zhang for the motivation to fight against people who put up illegal fliers," Li told the Beijing Morning Post. "Putting up fliers in public places is a nuisance, and it's unbearable that so handsome and pretty a face is covered by ugly fliers."

Ayi fans are increasingly active in activities and events that help boost the careers of their idols. Photo: IC


Idols cast as the ideal son/son-in-law

The biggest difference between ayi fans and younger fans, said Zhang, is how they view their idol. The younger generation pictures themselves as girlfriends of their idols, and the older generation has a more maternal outlook.

The first time Zhang noticed Yang, he was on the reality show Flower and Youth in July 2015. She was planning to visit the UK, and the show was filmed there.

"At first, I just watched it as something to pass the time during my tour, but I later found the boy [Yang] rather excellent and gentle," said Zhang. "I wish I had such a son or a son-in-law."

Zhang has a 20-year-old daughter, and, according to her, Yang meets all the requirements of a perfect son. "I like his style. He is kind of old school, honest and upright, which is not common in many young people nowadays," said Zhang. "Maybe it is related to the training he received at military school."

Zhang said she likes young people to be positive and hardworking, and Yang meets both. She said his character as "an excellent young boy" triggered her maternal instinct to "protect and support" him.

According to Li Jianzhong, a Beijing-based psychologist who specializes in family and teenager issues, middle-aged women's attraction to young actors is not by accident.

"Young male idols are popular among middle-aged even old women because they can transfer their identities as a devoting mother, aunt, and sister [onto their idol]," said Li.

He said in traditional Chinese culture, the typical female family members are always devoted and supportive, and the typical excellent young male is hardworking, honest, upright and modest, which is the image that most of young [male] Chinese actors try to convey. It is, therefore, quite easy for ayi fans to have maternal or familial feelings toward them.

Actor Yang Yang Photo: Li Hao/GT


Interpreting the trend

Young male stars have mostly gotten used to having an increasing fan base among the older female generation. During a 2015 interview with Tencent Entertainment, Wang Junkai, the leader of the popular teen group TFBoys, said he was OK with the increasing number of "ayi fans." "It's OK, 10 years from now everyone becomes an ayi," he joked.

According to another entertainment insider surnamed Shi, who asked that his full name not be used, many young idols focus on middle-aged and old women because they are more financially stable, and the idols can get more tangible benefits if they lean to this group.

"Many young stars recently began to do public relations to build their image, doing things like showing respect for the elderly and showing filial obedience on stage, in commercials and public welfare events," said Shi, who has been in this industry for more than five years. "It is a tactic to win the hearts and money of more dama (middle-aged Chinese women)."

Ai Yuan (pseudonym), 19, the leader of a Beijing-based TFBoys fan club told Metropolitan that in fan groups, "ayi fans" are important people.

Ai has organized several airport pickups for TFBoys, and each time she calls about 20 ayi fans and let them stand in the most prominent places. "With them I feel that order is easier to maintain because most young people take care of seniors and do not want to hurt them," said Ai. "And they are quite eye-catching; the idols notice them every time."

According to Ai, ayi fans are not that active on the Internet and social media like Sina Weibo and WeChat, but they are quite enthusiastic about off-line events and are very supportive.

"Having more ayi fans is helpful in winning over people who are not fans of our idols," said Ai. "A group of adults like moms and aunts are obviously more convincing of our idols' charm and good characteristics. After all, the seniors love good kids."

A new communication channel

The gap between ayi fans and the younger generation is shrinking, said Zhang.

"We have a Yang Yang Mama Group, an organization formed by mostly middle-aged and old fans, and also many young fans," said Zhang. "There are old women like me in their 50s, and also young mothers in their 20s, and we chat a lot about many topics, including shopping, traveling, parenting, and the most important - Yang."

According to Hu Shensheng, a professor in Shanghai University's school of social sciences, tremendous changes have taken place among China's dama group.

"Their social status is increasing, and they have become more extroverted and active. In the 1960s and up until fairly recently, the concept of the Chinese dama confined to neighborhood trifles and family-related issues," Hu told the Jiefang Daily in July 2014. "But the modern dama tend to be better educated. They care about their appearance more and invest more in clothing and health; they have more disposable income, too."

The characteristics makes them more eager to participate in various social and cultural activities, said Hu. "They have more energy, so they have to find a way to burn the excess energy."

Zhang said after she became a fan of Yang, she started to spend more time online and got to know a lot of young people.

She said it opened a window into her world and allowed her to learn new things, which were not open to her before.

"I think being a fan is a channel to communicate with the younger generation," said Zhang. "Old people cannot stop making progress with the excuse that we are aging. We should make an effort to improve ourselves together with the kids. I am very proud that the era of domestic young stars and their ayi fans is coming."

Newspaper headline: China’s dama go star crazy

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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