Sharing Media and Making Friends on Douban

With its influence reaching everywhere around the world on a growing number of devices, it sure seems like Facebook is taking over the world. But it’s safe to say that since it’s blocked and inaccessible without a proxy, Facebook isn’t in a position to take over the most populous internet nation on earth. Since Facebook is out of commission in China, which social networking sites have filled the void?

Among the group are Myspace.cn and Renrenwang, but Douban has emerged a leader of the middle kingdom’s social networking pack. I’ve found it to be a great way to check out new Chinese music and movies that otherwise I would have a hard time finding.

About Douban

Douban (pronounced “Doe Ban”) has been online since September 2004, has hundreds of millions of users which share and discuss their favorite movies, music, and books. After selecting a user name and inputting personal information to complete your profile, you start browsing through an almost endless listing of films, albums, and novels. As you add friends to your network they see which albums, books, and movies you want to see, have already seen, and are currently enjoying. It’s like a Chinese Last.fm that isn’t dedicated solely to music, but from the perspective of a foreigner, it’s a window into what media is currently popular with Chinese people.

To test the breadth of the Douban media catalog, I searched for a little-known album produced by a friend of mine, DJ I-Dee. His debut album, titled Solitude, was released on an independent label and has been available on the US iTunes store for over a year. Not only did it come right up on Douban with the album art, but eight users had already indicated that they had listened to the album and had awarded it a cumulative four-star rating. After passing my test with flying colors, I’m impressed not only with Douban awareness of independent music but also of the musical savvy that many Chinese listeners on Douban have. Even books “banned” in the mainland like Wild Swans appear on the site and are reviewed and rated by users.

In addition to music are movies and book sections on the site, which similarly feature everything you can imagine. Once you’ve added some of your favorite albums and movies, you can find users who’ve enjoyed the same ones, and then crawl the rest of their favorites. By doing this you’ll expose yourself to a lot of new music that otherwise you might have a hard time finding. If you want to check out more Chinese movies or music to practice your listening comprehension or otherwise, you might already know that it’s often difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for because there’s so much mediocrity. Finding friends on Douban with similar tastes is a great way to discover new movies and music based on the films and albums that you have in common.

Artist Pages & Groups

In addition to exchanging media, the other major components of Douban are it’s Artist pages (音乐人) where bands and musicians upload and share their own music, and Groups (小组) which allow administrators to broadcast messages to members.

Anyone can register an artist page and the cast of participants is broken into genre’s like Rock, Reggae, Hip Hop, and so on. Unfortunately you can’t download MP3 files hosted on Douban but you can stream them using the audio player built into each Artists page, which features a handful of songs and looks like this:

All eight songs on this artist’s page can be streamed instantly and recommended to friends. Most well known domestic bands, rappers, and other musicians have a presence on Douban and you can check out their music there. Since most Chinese musicians don’t use US sites like SoundCloud or Bandcampfor distributing their music, Douban is a heavily trafficked site that gives you a good picture of what’s going on musically in China right now.

Groups are networks of fans that rally around a brand, venue, or activity. There are groups for Chengdu itself, local bands like The Trouble, and popular watering-holes like Jia Bar and Hemp House. Once you join a group you can participate in discussions (as seen below, in the Hemp House group) and receive bulletins and invitations to events coordinated by the group administrator. It’s a good way to stay up-do-date on what’s going on at your favorite venues.


iPhone Version

Douban appears to be under steady development, touting a new mobile version formatted for the iPhone on their official blog that’s formatted to for easy media searching. I tested it out in Safari on an iPhone Touch and it worked, although an official Douban app would be a big step up. Currently, there’s a third-party Douban browser available in App Store which is custom tailored to stream music from Artist pages. You can browse the most popular artists in genre’s from indie rock to experimental electronic and everything streams quickly and sounds good!

You can sign up for free and check it out on the Douban website. There’s even a Douban group on Facebook with thousands of members spanning the globe.

Have you tried Douban? What are your thoughts?

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Charlie

About Charlie

Having lived in Chengdu for ten years, Charlie has traveled to every corner of China and back again, calling the Yulin neighborhood of Chengdu his adopted home.

10 Responses to “Sharing Media and Making Friends on Douban”

  1. A lot of people I know, both Chinese and foreign, use Douban to advertise to their local community. I gotta get on that.

  2. Forming a Douban group has been an excellent marketing tool for my girlfriend’s serviced apartment business, maybe half of her guests find her apartments on Douban. I also find it to be a simple site with tasteful design.

  3. my lady spends many an evening selling/buying all of her stuff through Douban groups she is associated with and/or commenting on the latest 帖子

  4. I can still remember my first year on Douban, lots of really intellectual people post their book/movie reviews there. You can find people like the most popular Chinese literature professor in Fudan University, and talk about his new book review via the Dou-mail, or comment after his opinion about some movie. And! You would never know who he is if you didn’t ask him. You would just find that maybe there’s some opinions in common between you two. Then you two could be real spiritual friends cuz your title or social position didn’t matter.

    Pity that net-friends like this are rare now! Since the addition of groups, too many acquantances can easily figure out who you are, which means it is not that safe any more, in China.

    And even if you don’t talk about politics, it’s not as comfortable anymore for many old Doubaners.

    As an old Doubaner, I don’t feel very comfortable either, and I refused bunch of friends requests everyday, the biggest reason that I can’t leave Douban is the LISTS of the books/movies/music I’ve made on Douban, I’m still depending on Douban to find books/movies of my taste.

  5. Hi I am just wondering if you could do a guide to creating a Douban Label, Artist or DJ Page. I have been looking around the web and can not find any guides to go about doing this. I can get to the label creation page. However, keep getting turned down because my Chinese is not good enough in order to find where to insert my website URL. I am sure their is many other indie Artists, Labels, and websites who want to publicize in China and have the same problems.

    • Sure thing, I will get on this and if it’s worthy of a post, then publish this week. If not, I will either comment here or post in forum. Cheers,

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  2. Looking at Chinese Social Media (Part 3 of 3) « Censorship in America - June 4, 2011

    […] A useful overview to Douban can be found here, though instructions for English-speaking users are still lacking. As with Weibo, Google translate can help immensely, and hovering your mouse over links will generally reveal an English-language URL. And  be sure to visit douban.fm, which functions similarly to last.fm, for an amazing selection of contemporary Chinese music, from poppity pop to hipster rock. […]

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