E’gao as a networked digital leisure practice in China
Introduction E’gao is a Chinese term for online spoofing. It literally means ‘evil (e) doings (gao)’. The word is often linked to the Japanese kuso, which is translated into Chinese as kewu (repulsive, horrible). It is also compared to the Cantonese technique of ‘wu li tou’ (‘mo lei tau’ in Cantonese, meaning silly talk), made popular in China through Hong Kong comedy films such as those of Stephen Chow. The character 恶 (pronounced ‘er’) means evil and wicked. The character 搞 (pronounced ‘gao’) means to do/make/manage/get/organise and fuck (slang). It carries a sense of playfulness, tricks, mischief, deviance, double-dealing, unsettling, messing up and maliciousness. To Chinese speakers, the word e’gao invokes the spirit of humour, irony, satire and wicked fun. E’gao is an online phenomenon that started in the early 2000s. It can be a clever wordplay or skilful multimedia manipulation of texts, audio and visual elements. It often uses techniques such as punning, pastiche, burlesque, lipsynching and remixing of digital footage. E’gao products are highly intertextual; that is, they are designed for insiders, people who are already familiar with Chinese language, prototypical works or formats of e’gao, and Chinese political culture. This explains the popularity of e’gao on the Chinese internet, and yet very few can be translated into English for global consumption. A 20-minute online spoof of a 2005 blockbuster film directed by China’s renowned filmmaker Chen Kaige, The Promise (Wuji), set the scene for the craze for the e’gao cultural phenomenon by the average Chinese netizens, researchers, observers and journalists with a focus on China. This e’gao video, called A Bloody Case Caused by a Steamed Bun, has been central to almost all discussions about e’gao and Chinese internet culture in the twenty-first century (Gong and Yang, 2010; Li, 2011; Meng, 2011; Yu, 2007, 2015). These discussions have unpacked the techniques in e’gao, their political significance and cultural implications. It is argued that e’gao is a networked practice of online political satire (Yang and Jiang, 2015); an alternative means of social engagement with, political critique of and cultural intervention in mainstream culture (Voci, 2010; Meng, 2011); and a digital reproduction of a rich repertoire of satire, humour and parody in oral and written forms in Chinese popular culture, and a product of Chinese post-socialist techno-political conditions (Yu, 2015).