Society and Identity
Dominant visions of Chinese-ness and modernity within the People’s Republic of China increasingly rely on rituals and images of strength, continuity and hypermasculinity. While these tropes represent hegemonic popular cultural forms, in practice they are often less serious than we might think. This paper reflects on the way young Chinese people working and studying in Japan play with tropes that at first appear nationalistic. I focus on a group of 60 bb-gun enthusiasts (45 men, 15 women) who play the competitive sport known internationally as ‘airsoft’. Called ‘Survival Game’ (Saba Gē) in Japanese, players use life-like firearms that shoot small plastic bullets while engaging in various competitive combat scenarios. The group of Chinese players I followed call themselves the Langqun (Pack of Wolves), engaging in combat scenarios and performances that play with images of military strength popular in China today. Yet, the ludic tone of this context affords new combinations of these presumably nationalistic themes, allowing for playfully recombinant visions of Chinese regional and ethnic competitions, as well as reimagining of international alliances and animosities. Deeply intertextual, they also allude to the increasingly mediatised nature of ritual in transnational East Asia. Rituals and games such as this suggest that, as Allen Chun notes, Chinese-ness is geopolitical and contested. Yet, the recombinant and playful affordances of these rituals also suggest that we need to rethink how we interpret the relationship between culture and the geopolitical.