Chinese fans love their idols unconditionally. They are united like a cult, ready at any time and any place to defend and fight for their heroes. Any "slander" or criticism of their darlings can cause ugly fights and online "holy wars." They swear to die for their idols.
One pop star's obsessed fan recently burned copies of a Shanghai newspaper on the street, all because of one sentence: "She has many supporters and also some antis." The fans argued their idol has no "antis." Everyone loves her.
They are the nao can fen (literally the "disabled brain fans" 脑残粉), the latest buzzword to describe the fanatics who adore, worship, pursue and ferociously defend their celebrity idols - and often stop at nothing to express their loyalty.
They are overwhelmingly emotional young girls and women who want dream lovers.
Using their savings or their parents' money, they send gifts - from flowers, homemade jams, watermelons, CDs, arts and crafts to tailor-made suits, electronic gadgets, jewelry, even an occasional racing car or apartment.
In mid-July, a 15-year-old girl posted a photo of a new apartment in Beijing on her blog and claimed she was going to present it as a gift to Fu Xinbo, second runner-up at 2007 "My Hero" talent show, at a fans meeting.
In March, a teenage girl in Beijing vowed online that she would send a 100,000-yuan (US$16,290) car as a gift to Taiwanese pop singer and actor Show Lo. "It's just a big toy. If he refuses, I will smash the car," she said in an interview.
The star once thanked his female fans by taking a bath together with them; their pictures were taken in the bath. Stars' up-close interactions with fans are known as providing fans' "benefits" and reciprocating fans' signs of affection and spending. This can include handshakes, personalized autographs, dinner together, an hour in the star's presence.
"People, not only crazed fans, need an ideal and flawless object to follow and to look up to," says Cheng Jie from Zhen He Psychological Consultation Center in Shanghai. "At the same time, some are trying to keep a tight and close relationship with their idol, through which they hope they too can become perfect."
In early life, children tend to regard their parents as ideals and models. By obtaining parents' approval, they gradually develop their own sense of identity and values, Cheng says. As a person matures and learns more about reality, he or she goes through a process of de-idealizing.
Idealizing - unrealistically admiring someone or some thing - goes on for a lifetime. If someone is satisfied with a "realistic ideal" at a relatively early age, he or she might not get carried away in the future. If not, the pursuit of an ideal goes on. For "brainless fans," the ideals tend to be film, TV drama and pop music stars.
"It's psychological projection," says sociologist Gu Xiaoming from Fudan University, who agrees with Cheng. "Put simply, they think, 'I'm not good enough, I'm inadequate but my idol is perfect and has all the qualities that I lack. By worshipping him, I can obtain self-satisfaction and acknowledgement."
Fiona Feng, 28, flew all the way from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to Shanghai a week ago to join the fans' meeting of a 25-year-old Japanese actor. Feng only spoke to Shanghai Daily on condition that the star was not identified.
She arrived two days in advance, just to be on the safe side. "We didn't know which flight he would take, so we waited from 6am to late afternoon at the airport," she says.
Feng was among 300 fans who created chaos.
"I never thought I was so successful in China until I saw lots of fans at the airport. I wanted to meet with my fans, but I couldn't manage and the police came. I thank all my fans at the airport," the actor told Shanghai Daily.
In Japan, Chinese fans spotted and pursued the actor.
"I don't feel annoyed or scared when I'm spotted. Nothing negative. I'm more thankful to the people who notice me. It's a good thing," he said.
But for Andy Lau, a Hong Kong superstar, being chased by obsessed fans is sometimes a sad, heartbreaking story.
Yang Lijuan, 36, from Gansu Province, is a Lau fan. She quit school at the age of 16 to follow her star wherever he went. She has no job and no friends. Her father Yang Qinji, 68, even planned to sell one of his kidneys to support his daughter, but he was refused by a hospital.
Yang once told media, "I've been dreaming that he (Lau) wearing a hat and a black suit holds my hands. I ask him if he loves me. He says 'yes.' Which is more important - to live or to see him? For me, it is to see him."
In 2007, Yang and her parents finally reached Hong Kong using 11,000 yuan they had borrowed. They even rushed to the Hong Kong government building and tried to send a message to the governor, begging for help and access to the star.
Finally, she was admitted to the fans meeting and had her picture taken with Lau. The next day, the father drowned himself in the sea, leaving a 12-page suicide note that read, "You (Andy Lau) treat my daughter the same as other fans. It's not fair. You should have talked to her. Save her, please. Her world has nothing but you."
After the accident, Lau responded, saying, "I'm so sorry. If a girl hurt her family so badly just because she loves me, I'm sad. No one can understand how sad I am."
"A fanatic's passion for one person or one thing is usually unstable, irrational and blind," says Shen Yongqiang, psychology professor from Shanghai Normal University. "Yang exhibited symptoms of paranoid-type mental illness."
Professor Gu, however, expresses understanding of the "brainless fans."
"I once watched a video of a Hong Kong singer's concert. At the end of the show, he took off his shirt and kind of flirted with the female fans. How can a young girl resist this? It's no wonder she would imagine to be his lover," Gu says.
The professor says his daughter was once an adoring fan of Hong Kong singer Alan Tam, who was in his heyday in the mid-1980s.
The professor gave her 1,000 yuan, quite a large sum of money at that time, to enable her to go to Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, to attend Tam's concert. Earlier she went to a fans meeting in Shanghai where she presented Tam with a picture of him that she had painted, but she had to climb over a wall to bypass security.
Unconditional love is pure and precious, Gu says. "It could be the best thing happening to teenage children. Why stop it? What the parents should do is to cherish this love and guide him or her to transfer the passion from one person to art itself," he says.
However, it's not easy to control and guide a fan.
In 2010 during the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, hundreds of fans crowded in front of the performance venue of South Korean boy group Super Junior, fighting for free tickets. It turned into a stampede in which some people were pushed to the ground, trampled and injured.
Armed police and soldiers quickly restored order and blocked the entrance. Some girls, who wanted to break through the blockade, created a disturbance by ripping off their own shirts and crying rape.
Online wars frequently break out between fans of different stars. They frequently malign each other's idols. Some idols even join in. Taiwanese pop singer Selina Jen once singled out and highlighted a critical comment about her on her weibo microblog. The "offensive" remark said she was spoiled and pampered.
Indignant fans immediately deployed what's called a "human flesh search engine" and ferreted out the young woman's full name, address and phone number and harassed her relentlessly. The poor woman deleted her critical comment and apologized.
Last year a Korean star Nichkhun was detained for drunk driving. His fans supported him and made comments on his fan site such as "No big deal" and "Whatever you do, you are always right!"
Jenny Xu, 28, is a Shanghai fan of a Japanese singer, and after eight years she has reached a senior level in the fan club. She didn't want to name her hero.
"We call those young fans, usually students, 'sakura'," she says. "To put it mildly, they are brainless and irrational."
She says that once two young girls, both fans of a Japanese boy band, knelt down on the street in front of a poster of their idols. "It's too much," Xu says.
She says one Japanese girl group is so popular that their fans are all required to kneel down to welcome them.
"The benefits for fans are often decided by how much money they spend on their idol," Xu says. "They also have a very complicated scoring system to record every fan's spending."
A senior fan is kind of a club leader because she (it's mostly women) has spent more money on the idol and has received special attention.
"At the airport, I saw a senior fan slapping and scolding two sakuras who might violate regulations and disrupt the event," Xu says. "The girls were just crying, not daring to fight back."
A ticket to a fans meeting or a concert by their idol is usually 500 yuan. Tickets are limited and fans are required to join a lucky draw to win the right to buy a ticket. The 500 yuan is for a seat. It could be in the front or the back, it depends on luck, Xu says.
"Some lucky fans who get tickets will sell them - clearly they're not real fans. Prices can soar to 15,000 yuan and they are hot."
Xu has bought many products related to her idol, including CDs, shirts, key rings, bags, hats and other items. She flew to Japan for a concert.
"It's been part of my life and it hasn't had any negative impact on my life or work," she says. "I might love him for my whole life, or I might stop loving him tomorrow. Who knows?"