Taylor Swift - 2023年11月 独自去香港看大电影
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Huang Weijie

Wildest Dream: What Taylor Swift Means To Her Chinese Fans

Five Chinese “Swifties” explain how they fell in love with the American popstar, and what she taught them about life

Taylor Swift didn’t come to China during her world tour this year, but that didn’t dampen the spirit of the country’s legions of “Swifties.” From February to March, hundreds of Chinese TayTay fans donned their Swift-themed outfits, exchanged friendship bracelets, and took trips to Japan and Singapore for her concerts. Some paid tens of thousands of yuan for re-sold tickets, flights, and accommodation.

Despite having only performed in China a handful of times, the most recent in Guangzhou in 2019, 34-year-old Swift is a major star here. According to Dengta Data, her live concert film, The Eras Tour, drew over 1.3 million moviegoers and raked in over 68 million yuan at the box office in just over a week of its release in the Chinese mainland last December. There are over 840 million views for posts tagged “Taylor Swift” on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, and many more for tags referencing the singer by her many nicknames.

Swift has attracted and influenced her Chinese fans for diverse reasons. TWOC talked to five Chinese Swifties to understand what Taylor Swift means to them. They explained how Swift inspired in them the confidence to travel alone, explore the world beyond their small hometowns, and reevaluate the meaning of feminism.

Zhang Ling (pseudonym), 45, a kindergarten teacher in Shanghai

My 19-year-old daughter got me into Taylor Swift after she took me to The Eras Tour movie in January. She usually boards at her university, so we don’t get many chances to spend time together. I went to accompany her, but I soon became a fan of Taylor. The atmosphere at the screening and some of her lyrics made me cry.

My daughter told me a lot about her: the phone call scandal with Kanye West, her three-year break between albums after 1989, re-recording songs to regain ownership rights, and advocating for women’s rights. All of these things made me like her.

Taylor Swift, Chinese Swifties, friendship bracelets, Singapore

The friendship bracelets Zhang Ling exchanged with other Taylor Swift fans in Singapore (Zhang Ling)

It’s a bit embarrassing to say I became a fan at 45 years old, but I really like her. After the movie, I began to search for videos of Taylor online. Her past speeches at New York University and the Grammy Awards moved me deeply. She embodies health, talent, progressiveness, and female empowerment. She is also beautiful.

I think she makes me more positive. Happiness can be scarce for adults; she brings me at least 80 percent of mine. I’ve also started using [language learning app] Duolingguo to learn English and memorize her lyrics.

“It’s a bit embarrassing to say I became a fan at 45 years old, but I really like her...She embodies health, talent, progressiveness, and female empowerment.”

I sprained my ankle at the end of February and couldn’t go out much. It gave me more time to chat with my daughter, which is when I mentioned Taylor’s Singapore concert. My daughter immediately bought scalped tickets for 2,700 yuan each (originally about 500 yuan).

The trip was surreal. I couldn’t believe we were queuing to enter the Singapore National Stadium. I was worried my ticket wouldn’t get me in, after all, it was from scalpers. Once I entered, I wanted to shout in the stadium but worried the staff would kick me out. We were so high up that I couldn’t see Taylor clearly, but the atmosphere was amazing.

When everyone’s entrance wristbands turned into a sea of purple, it was like a dream. The songs in my earphones and the Taylor I had seen in the movies were suddenly all right in front of me. It was something you could only feel watching her live. Even now, over a month later, the concert is still vivid in my memory. I’ve completed one of the items on my bucket list.

At my age, it’s a bit crazy to travel abroad just to attend a concert. I didn’t want to ask for leave from work and didn’t want my colleagues to know, so we went as “special forces tourists.” We stayed only one day and then rushed to the airport after the concert.

Taylor Swift, Chinese Swifties, friendship bracelets, Singapore

Zhang Ling saw Taylor Swift live at Singapore’s National Stadium in March (Zhang Ling)

Since the show, I realized some things in my life weren’t as difficult as I imagined. I want to live more for myself in the second half of my life. I’ll strive to complete the remaining items on my bucket list, like running a marathon and seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland. Taylor not only brings me joy but also strength.

Huang Shiyao, 25, postgraduate student in Guangdong province

My admiration for Taylor Swift began when I was 14, my first year of junior high school. Initially, her songs resonated with me because they represented my aspiration for romantic love and big city life, much like how Taylor moved from a small town [in Pennsylvania] to larger cities.

When I was young, I felt like my family didn’t have many expectations for me because I was a girl. While I felt my parents’ love, I could sense that they didn’t have much ambition for my future, just hoping I would have a stable job, get married, and have children. They didn’t expect me to excel or pursue a career and my own ambitions.

Taylor’s songs helped encourage me to strive for more opportunities. For example, in college, I eventually changed my major from nursing to public health for my postgraduate studies—a field I truly enjoy.

“When I was young, I felt like my family didn’t have many expectations for me because I was a girl...Taylor’s songs helped encourage me to strive for more opportunities.”

Her songs also gave me a glimpse into ideas like female empowerment and gender disparity, especially through her 2022 album Midnights. In 2017, she won a sexual assault case against former DJ David Mueller, whom she accused of groping her. This, alongside the rising prominence of campaigns against sexual harassment, helped me recognize similar phenomena in my life. I realized that women face lots of inequalities.

It wasn’t until my final year in college that I properly became aware of these challenges. As a female student majoring in nursing, I found that the criteria for employment weren’t just academic. Instead, hospitals base recruitment on factors like being at least 1.6 meters tall, pretty, or having a good family background. Sometimes in our class, teachers praised male students and expressed their preferences for them because only they could do certain tasks. But then I would think, are there really so many things that men can do but women can’t?

Many of Taylor’s songs addressing gender bias resonated with me. “The Man,” reflects the idea that women must often meet specific standards (always set by men) to be considered equally valuable. It reminds me of a female teacher at my university who excels in programming and statistics. I felt she was breaking traditional gender stereotypes that suggest men are better at STEM subjects.

Having spent 1,250 yuan on a ticket from a scalper, I finally made my journey to Taylor’s concert in Singapore this March. I wore a sparkly skirt inspired by Taylor’s Fearless album (2008). On the subway to the concert, I swapped friendship bracelets [a tradition among Swift fans] with a little girl wearing the same outfit. Even though we didn’t know each other, everyone attending the concert acted like best friends.

My growing fondness for Taylor has gradually transformed into an inspiration to explore a broader world.

Huang Weijie, 20, a male college student in Guangdong province

It has been seven years since I first clicked on Taylor Swift’s music video “Look What You Made Me Do.” First, I was captivated by her talent and beauty. On February 7 this year, I traveled 2,800 kilometers from Dongguan, Guangdong province, to Tokyo to fulfill my dream of attending her concert.

Before the show, I attended 12 screenings of The Eras Tour movie over just two months. Watching the film provided a brief respite from my academic worries. During the movies, I danced to her song “22” with a group of English-speaking teenagers in Hong Kong, witnessed a heartwarming proposal during “Love Story,” and joined hands in a circle with other viewers around a couple during “Lover.”

Through Taylor some people gain friendship, some improve their English, some find romantic love—I gained confidence and courage. In 2018, the middle school student watching Taylor’s Reputation tour online probably never imagined that he could, in 2024, travel abroad alone, overcome language barriers, and plan a trip to Tokyo to see her. If it wasn’t for Taylor, I might not have done it.

Taylor Swift, Chinese Swifties

Huang Weijie has decorated the desk in his university dormitory with Taylor Swift posters and memorabilia (Huang Weijie)

I appreciate that Taylor reveals her emotions and life through her lyrics. Thanks to Taylor, I became accustomed to documenting my life and feelings and learned to be confident and love myself.

I used to feel insecure because I was a bit overweight and was called fat by my classmates in middle school. I remember a time before I knew Taylor when I would spend all my time dieting, eating very little, and just drinking water. I remember always feeling sleepy and lacking the energy to study and do other activities. Although I did lose a lot of weight, I quickly put it back on.

“Taylor made me realize that I deserve more. Thanks to her, I realized that I need to prioritize health, love myself, and accept my body.”

In her 2020 documentary Miss Americana, Taylor shared her struggles with body image. She confessed that she stopped eating to improve her looks, but later found it was harmful to her body. One quote from the movie left a deep impression on me: “There’s always some standard of beauty that you’re not meeting. Because if you’re thin enough, then you don’t have that ass that everybody wants. But if you have enough weight on you to have an ass, then your stomach isn’t flat enough. It’s all just…fucking impossible.”

Taylor made me realize that I deserve more. Thanks to her, I realized that I need to prioritize health, love myself, accept my body, and embrace my current situation. I came to understand there is no universal standard, there is no correct way to be beautiful.

I also really like another quote from her in the documentary: “I want to wear pink and tell you how I feel about politics.” This reflects her strong stance on female empowerment and helps us male fans uphold respect for women and acknowledge their struggles with things like sexual harassment.

Wu Yi (pseudonym), 28, a civil servant in Shanghai

I became a fan around 2010 when I was in middle school. My favorite album is Red (2012), which was released when I was in high school. That was the first Taylor Swift album I bought.

This year, I took four days of annual leave from work to attend two of her concerts in Singapore on March 7 and 8. I spent over 11,000 yuan on the tickets, but I don’t think it’s a big burden, especially now I work and have a salary. I feel it was totally worthwhile. The live experience was incredible. I could feel this strong energy and pure joy in the air. Her simple yet beautiful lyrics resonate deeply with me, unlike the clichés in some rap or pop music. Taylor’s music also connects with the memories of my generation.

For me, it’s all about Taylor’s catchy melodies paired with beautiful and meaningful lyrics. She is full of positive energy and can face up to her pain, write about it, and tell everyone. She seems to say to me: “I truly empathize.” Facing all those emotions, accepting them, and then growing takes courage. It’s inspiring.

Taylor Swift, Chinese Swifties, Guangzhou

Last October, Huang Weijie attended a fan party in Guangzhou to celebrate Taylor Swift re-recording her album 1989 (courtesy of Huang Weijie)

I wouldn’t have liked her as much if she only made her early albums. However, her later works, like 1989 (2014), Reputation (2017), and folk-style albums [Folklore (2020) and Evermore (2020)], showed her seemingly endless creative potential and truly won me over. Her production, songs, and management also help make her a perfect artist. But of course, it’s mainly her passion for creation and positive life attitude that makes her stand out.

Taylor sings very well, but in real life, I can only rely on myself for support. I don’t rely on her or other idols to support me through life. That’s unrealistic. But I appreciate her stance on women’s empowerment and her down-to-earth approach to songwriting. Her songs mirror many moments in my life: from breakups to being misunderstood, and fantasizing that my life is a fairytale. I find solace and cool vibes in her work.

Xiao Danyun, 25, a postgraduate student in Hong Kong

Before delving into gender studies around 2022, I didn’t have strong feelings toward Taylor Swift. I found it annoying when my friends sang her songs incessantly. I thought she only sang about romance and breakups and seemed too focused on love as if she were a character in a silly TV drama. It wasn’t about feminism. I felt bitterness toward her. I thought, “Can’t a woman sing about something other than love, and have bigger pursuits besides love?”

Around two years ago, my understanding of feminism was based on grand ideals: striving for power, success, wealth, and political pursuits just like men. However, perhaps daring to sing about “girlish” feelings, and reaping enormous commercial, economic, and cultural value, is also a successful feminist narrative.

When I first came across Taylor in middle school, I thought she seemed to have no flaws. Everyone was attracted to her image, which represented a certain beauty standard in the US. At that time, I thought her songs only revolved around which boy she liked, breaking up, and wanting to get back together with them.

Later, her image underwent a significant change online. She endured controversies (positive and negative) that resonated with women. I think the emotions and sentiments behind her songs have become deeper and more mature. She doesn’t just document her love life.

She is different from other celebrities because she has more opinions, not just about love and life, but also on current events and issues related to female development.

My view on feminism has also changed. It doesn’t have a specific form. If you care about politics, then sing about politics; if love is exciting, sing about love. Singing love songs doesn’t make one brainless or unworthy of admiration. Feminism encourages every woman to pursue her way of life. When I listen to Taylor’s early works now, I don’t feel the same narrow-mindedness as before. Instead, I feel she conveys trust in me as a woman and transforms it into commercial value.

“As a woman at the gym, I felt quite out of place and often lonely. I would play ‘The Man’ and envision freely displaying my muscular strength like a man.”

Taylor has also helped me become more self-aware and independent. I often listen to her song “The Man,” especially during a period when I went to the gym every day, and it was all men using the equipment and chatting there. As a woman at the gym, I often felt out of place and lonely. I would play the song and envision freely displaying my muscular strength like those men.

That song empowers me to do what I want, even in male-dominated places. Gender shouldn’t shackle me.

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author Yang Tingting (杨婷婷)

Yang Tingting is a Chinese editor at The World of Chinese. Interested in telling Chinese stories, she writes mainly about culture, language, and society.

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