How an indie social network conquered China’s entertainment market

Director-screenwriter Bi Zhifei’s debut feature Pure Hearts: Into Chinese Showbiz hit cinema screens on September 22. Four days later, the film was already beating a miserable retreat from the box office, having raked in a wretched 2.25 million RMB in revenues.

The lousy returns apparently weren’t Bi’s fault, though; instead, the director pinned the fiasco on social networking site On Douban’s popular, IMDB-like movie-rating section, earned Pure Hearts a record low score of one out of five stars. On January 22, Bi announced that he was suing Douban for a public apology—and one RMB in compensation—for misleading audiences to “truly believe this is a bad film.”

The lawsuit is ongoing, but Bi certainly had reason to be concerned. “Usually, if a movie gets an extremely low grade on Douban, I will tend to believe it’s really a bad one,” Liu Yu, a Beijing-based editor and Douban user of six years, tells TWOC. “In my personal experience, there are far fewer shills on Douban than other sites.” User Zhao Shengnan, on the other hand, believes, “Publicity officers have penetrated Douban, but I think most reviews are still real, and advisable.

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Killer App is a story from our issue, “Vital Signs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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