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The Bizarre Adventure of Twitter Artists Entering into Chinese Social Media

By Isabella Jiangcheng
Jul. 26, 2023 updated 01:56

During early July, there was an influx of highly skilled Japanese artists moving their social media presence to Weibo, a Chinese platform, to seek refuge from Twitter. For the past decade, Twitter has been one of the most popular platforms for indie illustration and comic artists to showcase their work and reach out to their audience, but amid recent changes in Twitter management and content policy, the platform is losing its charm, and artists are seeking an alternative, chief among which is Twitter’s direct Chinese competitor, Weibo.

There is even a ‘new foreign artists’ section for these accountsThere is even a ‘new foreign artists’ section for these accounts

Relying on machine translation, these artists have managed to engage with enthusiastic Chinese fans, expanding their international reach even further. The pioneers enjoyed overwhelming success, quickly gaining traction with new fans and fellow Chinese artists.

However, the initial craze has faded, and the transition is not as easy as it seems.  Experienced Weibo users fear that Weibo's general dynamic and censorship policies may be difficult for international creators to understand and handle since many Chinese artists are finding ways to open up their Twitter accounts to “enjoy a bit more creative freedom”. 

As artists inside seek to break out, and artists outside seek to break in, the dilemma proved to be another showcase of how social media is shaping the entertainment industry in this crazy world we’re living in.


Ever since Elon Musk's acquisition of Twitter, the social media giant has seen no shortage of setbacks and controversies, from last year's high-profile layoffs to paid verification, and the series of bold claims by Elon Musk himself. These issues have eroded the confidence of both shareholders and users, sparking concerns about the future of Twitter.

On July 2nd, Musk made another unexpected move, instituting a daily tweet viewing limit of 600 for non-verified users, and 6,000 for verified paid users, stirring up yet another heated debate, while the announcement became one of the most viewed tweets on the platform.

Soon after, Twitter’s daily view allowance for free and paid users was changed to 1,000 and 10,000 tweets, respectively, but this has still failed to fully appease the anger and dissatisfaction of users who feel their social media experience is being unfairly restricted, and became the final straw to force some artists who have seen severely reduced exposure of their works and plummeting traffic revenue, especially those from Japan, to begin posting on Weibo.

Japan is a Twitter powerhouse, with the platform's influence permeating all aspects of Japanese society. For artists, Twitter can be a crucial source of income. Many can attract a large number of commercial orders simply by having a large number of followers.

However, as Twitter continues making frequent changes, many artists feel there is now little room for them on these platforms. As a result, it is urgent for them to explore new and alternative platforms to showcase their talents.


It's not a coincidence that Weibo has attracted such a large influx of Japanese content creators, as the platform's strong sense of recognition of East Asian culture and its dense concentration of anime culture have been accumulating for years. Weibo also has a close tie with Pixiv, a dominant anime content library platform, making the transition from Twitter to Weibo much easier.

"I need to draw today but Genshin is calling me." 853 likes!"I need to draw today but Genshin is calling me." 853 likes!

Most of the artists who participated in the large migration to Weibo already had a certain degree of visibility, and Weibo itself is supporting the transition. With Weibo's giant user base and official promotion, Japanese artists quickly gained popularity. In fact, some top artists even accumulated more Weibo fans in a few days than their Twitter accounts had in years.

‘One day on Weibo, followers surpassed the number of Twitter fans I have worked so hard to accumulate in the past four years.’‘One day on Weibo, followers surpassed the number of Twitter fans I have worked so hard to accumulate in the past four years.’

These artists are working hard to catch up with the Weibo artists, going into it full of passion and hoping to become an "officially certified creator" by Weibo.

The transition process is as chaotic as it is hilarious. Despite the initial success, Artists still have to learn how to communicate with fans that speak a different language. They experience a deluge of Chinese internet slang such as “niubi”(awesome) and ‘grain production’ (art creation), all while basking in the enthusiastic welcome of their Chinese fans, who use Chinese, Japanese, and English to vividly describe the wonderful meanings of words that don't exist in Chinese dictionaries or cannot be translated easily by google translate.

Some artists also resort to using “Pseudo-Chinese”, a type of meme Japanese language, to imitate Chinese by only using Kanji (adopted Chinese characters) in writing. It looks like Chinese without all the kanas, but still uses Japanese grammar and phrases. Thanks to the lingual connections between Chinese and Japanese, this method actually works surprisingly well.

30 thousand likes for a post in pseudo-Chinese, the product of sophisticated cultural exchange30 thousand likes for a post in pseudo-Chinese, the product of sophisticated cultural exchange

Shanghai CP Exhibition and Weibo officials jointly launched the "Chinese SNS Guide for Japanese Creators," with the first issue being a detailed guide to using Weibo.

At this point, the artists are optimistic; fans are welcoming, and even officials and authorities are supportive. But the experience is still far from smooth sailing.At this point, the artists are optimistic; fans are welcoming, and even officials and authorities are supportive. But the experience is still far from smooth sailing.


The first wave of Japanese artists who settled on Weibo were mostly top-level mainstream illustrators who were better at creating wholesome works for all ages rather than borderline content that is more popular among hardcore fans. These artists are skilled at captivating audiences and fans, and for most artists, their levels of success are difficult to emulate.

On the other side, despite Weibo's official support, overseas accounts run by artists themselves still face many obstacles. For example, NANASE_Miri, a certified artist with 400,000 fans, encountered many difficulties when creating an account and couldn't even execute a basic operation like "following", because of some weird anti-bot and scam rules. It's clear that Weibo still has a long way to go in terms of accommodating overseas artists and making their experience more seamless.

Chinese media regulations and censorship are still the elephant in the room. Creating content that can actually be published on the Chinese internet will be a very real problem for many artists, and in a small-scale vote, only 20% of the artists were willing to try the Chinese social platforms due to such concerns.

It's important to note that "Weibo" has always been just one of many choices. In the past year, various R18 artists have also entered Bilibili, a video content platform that is heavily associated with anime culture. But thus far, Weibo remains the best choice for Japanese artists.

On July 6th, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, officially launched the long-awaited social media platform Threads. The Japanese Twitter hot search was immediately filled with hot words such as "INS" and "new SNS", and many artists were also gearing up to open up a brand new battlefield.

It’s clear that the influx of Japanese illustration artists into China is not going to last very long. Facing competition and other real-world problems (i.e. content policy and monetization), the stream is already slowing down. However, it’s always interesting to see different cultures clash and merge, different groups of people trying to understand each other out of goodwill, for a little while.