China’s largest sports forum, Hupu, is heaven for straight young men

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Digital existence is a series where we explore the impact of technology and the internet on people’s daily lives in China and beyond. This month, we explore China’s most popular sports forum, Hupu, and its community culture.

In most parts of the world, sports fans rely on ESPN, Reddit Sports, CNN or BBC sports pages, or Yahoo for the latest scores and game updates. But in China, the sports news and commentary platform Hupu is the favorite place for many young sports fans, especially the male population.

According to Qianfan Analysis94% of Hupu users identify as male and 67% are under the age of 29. Moreover, Hupu had the most active users among all Chinese sports apps in November 2020.

The platform was established in 2004 and has grown into a comprehensive online sports forum covering most sports including basketball, football, Formula 1, esports, and more.

Basketball and football have been the main pillars of Hupu and the reason for its popularity for decades. However, the forum has also become a community for straight men to discuss issues beyond sports, such as relationships, gossip, and lifestyle topics.

Basketball blog turned sports forum

Many may not know that Hupu started out as a basketball blog. Die-hard Chicago Bulls fan, founder Cheng Hang, who was pursuing a doctorate. in mechanics in Chicago at the time, created hoopCHINA to share NBA news with other Chinese basketball fans in the United States

In 2007, Cheng founded Hupu as most know it today, expanding its business scope to cover other types of sports, conduct gaming cooperation, operate sports equipment e-commerce, and organize offline events. It is now the largest sports forum in China, with over 70 million registered users since April 2020.

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Roy Li, a Shanghai-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer success manager, started following Hupu in 2015 just for NBA news. He remembers having to pass a test of 20 sports-related questions to open an account. (New users are no longer required to take a test; just provide your credentials.)

“I like it because there are a lot of professional fans on the site, and their comments are objective and neutral. Most of the messages are from real users and not advertising or phishing,” says Li, who spends an hour or two on the forum every day for game results and commentary on NBA, football and even stocks.

Yang Hao, a 26-year-old investment banking associate who scours the site for the latest company news, also praises Hupu’s timely updates: “The platform does a good job of collecting and to update its data.”

A sense of community

According to Sohu, most Hupu users are city dwellers with similar needs and interests, such as sports, electronics, games, and sneakers. A sense of shared pleasure contributes to the community culture of the platform.

Hupu users even have a nickname for themselves – JR, an acronym for Family Members (家人们) in Chinese. This familiar nickname is also encouraged by the platform.

According to a Analysis report On the Hupu app, the mobile app’s placement of its community navigation tab – next to the homepage – speaks to the importance of the community section.

A screenshot of Hupu’s community page

The app also features community subgroups that zoom into sports, movies, TV, cars, and many other areas of interest. Arguably the most popular band, ‘Pedestrian street,’ is where users discuss all kinds of life topics. In short, Hupu has created not only a sports forum but also a lifestyle community for its JRs.

“For me, Hupu is a rare place where pure slash nerd fans congregate in a less commercial atmosphere,” Li said.

He remembers the passing of Kobe Bryant and the fans, including himself, who communicated and comforted each other on the site.

“I was so touched to see so many long-time Kobe fans sharing stories and photos of their sports gear collections.”

Fan Yuqi, a Beijing-based quantitative analyst, is another basketball fan who became a Hupu regular in 2014. Community sections, including Pedestrian Street, interest him, but he particularly likes posts with observations. quirky life stories such as “If I throw a rock in the river today, I’ll be the last human to see it before the apocalypse. (An interesting philosophical thought, though we assume its accuracy depends on the depth of the river and water clarity.)

Fan tells RADII that he thinks most Hupu users are sports enthusiasts and the shared identity naturally binds them together.

For Yang, Hupu is one of the many apps he spends the most time on each day, and he identifies as a JR.

“I think Hupu users are rational and have values ​​consistent with mine,” he says. “People are authentic when they share their experiences and opinions.”

A hub for straight men

Hupu is known as a “hub for straight men”, not only because of its main audience, but also because of its general atmosphere.

“Many of the male users on the site can be simple and funny, but also one-sided and extreme,” says Fan.

He adds that sometimes people get competitive and bicker about stupid things.

hupu walking street

A tag cloud showing keywords about Hupu “Walking Street” on a random day. Some of the most frequently used keywords include “confession of love”, “girlfriend”, and “teenage”. Picture via GitHub

“A lot of relationship articles talk about their experience of simping or being cheated on,” Fan complains. “Those make me cringe.”

On the Chinese Internet, the term “straight men” (直男, zhi no) is somewhat detached from its traditional definition – relating to gender and sexual orientation – and has become a slang term referring to a subset of misogynistic internet users. The term paints an image of conceited male chauvinists who value video games and sports over their partners (if they are even in the dating pool) and are nonchalant towards the psychological needs of women.

Li echoes what Fan describes, saying that zhi nan (in the context of internet culture) tend to create extreme, exclusive, even sexist content or comments on the site. However, he also points out that they contribute to Hupu’s “honest, direct and frank” language.

The founder of the platform explained to the Chinese 36Kr technical media in 2020, Hupu aims to provide a dedicated platform for men, as their voices are relatively low on other traditional social media platforms such as Weibo and Douban.

“We chose the male market for the simple reason that we don’t know much about women. I don’t even understand the women in my own family,” Cheng said. mentioned in another interview. “But we know exactly what men like.”

Since 2016, Hupu has held an annual goddess contest where users vote for the most popular and prettiest female celebrity, who is crowned the “goddess”. The last six champions include Disney’s Mulan Liu Yifei and retired Hong Kong actress Chingmy Yau.

“Maybe all straight men have a competitive streak in their bones. They like to compare and express their aesthetics and tastes,” said Shen Ruien, former user growth manager for the Hupu community, in an article from 2021. “You can think of Hupu as a barbecue pit or a college dorm where guys hang out after watching football.”

But Hupu users aren’t always looking to work their muscles; some also share their vulnerable sides, especially after being cheated on by their partners. Even though Fan doesn’t like the subject, he makes it one of Hupu’s most popular.

“Outwardly, the Hupu community is tough and aggressive, but internally many share their cuckolding experiences and express their weaknesses and anxieties,” Liang Chenglin, a graduate student in cultural studies at Shanghai University, wrote in an article. of 2020. Liang also visits Hupu regularly and has written an article analyzing masculinity within the online Hupu community.

He added: “The former reflects traditional masculinity, while the latter explains new changes in chinese masculinity over the years.”

Speaking of masculinity, although small male idols are popular in China, there are evil blood between Hupu and ‘little fresh meat pop stars.

In 2018, an online battle happened between Hupu JR and fans of the now-disgraced Chinese-Canadian pop idol Kris Wu. It all started with a Hupu user making fun of Wu’s singing voice. The predominantly female Wu fans quickly stormed the site and argued with the predominantly male Hupu users. Additionally, Wu himself and the official Hupu account also weighed in on the confrontation.

Yang recalls another incident between Wu and Hupu: the platform updated its upvote sign in its entertainment section in response to Wu’s arrest (Kris Wu is officially cancelled, if you didn’t know) to poke fun at the idol’s musical talent. A feature has been added that upvoting a post on the platform will cause prison bars to “lock up” a “skr electric eel” representing Wu.

“I appreciate the humor reflected on the app, because people always make fun of things,” Yang says. “It’s fun being a Hupu JR.”

Cover photo designed by Haedi Yue



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