Beijing targets megastars and their fan clubs
After a string of scandals involving megawatt stars, China is undergoing state-backed media bills as “much needed” reform – a crackdown on the entertainment industry that some analysts are hearing echoes of. the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.
An article posted on the Chinese super app WeChat in late August signaled what was to come. Quickly republished by major state media such as the People’s Daily and the Xinhua News Agency, the article was titled “Anyone Can Feel This Reform Coming.”
“China’s entertainment industry stinks,” he said. “Without reform, not only the entertainment industry, but also the performing arts, film and television cultural industries will be ruined. “
On September 2, the National Administration of Radio and Television of China issued a new set of guidelines banning artists with incorrect policies, allegedly to protect young people from “bad influence” and “social atmosphere”. “serious pollution”. The directive also called for “professional and authoritative critiques” of performers and putting “political correctness and socialist values above all art forms”.
Akio Yaita, former Beijing correspondent and Taipei bureau chief for a conservative Japanese newspaper, told VOA Mandarin that the crackdown reflects the power struggles between President Xi Jinping and his opponents.
“Xi creates an atmosphere of terror to suppress those who defend capitalism and economic reform,” Yaita said in a telephone interview with VOA Mandarin. “It encourages blind patriotism online. Its efforts to stoke hatred of the rich, xenophobia, envy, jealousy and hatred of celebrities increasingly resemble a Cultural Revolution 2.0.
The Cultural Revolution was a decade of political and social upheaval that began in 1966 with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Mao Zedong seeking to consolidate power. Millions of professionals, artists and intellectuals have been imprisoned, forced into agricultural work or worse.
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The current crackdown on the entertainment industry has been sparked by a string of three celebrity superstar scandals that include allegations of baby abandonment, rape and tax irregularities.
In January, producer Zhang Heng, the former husband of megastar actress Zheng Shuang, announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, that he was in California looking after two newborn babies. of a pair of surrogates that the couple had hired.
The couple reportedly separated while the surrogates were pregnant, and Zhang’s claim that his wife had abandoned the babies rocked China, which has long banned surrogacy.
On August 27, authorities fined Zheng $ 46 million for tax evasion. According to the Shanghai Tax Office, the actress evaded taxes by signing fake contracts and submitting false documents related to her payment for the TV series “A Chinese Ghost Story,” according to the Global Times, affiliated with the State.
That same day, all online references to Zhao Wei, another highly paid actress, disappeared. His work has disappeared from video streaming platforms and social networks. His fan clubs have closed, and movies and TV shows have erased his name from the credits.
Zhao had invested his acting and sponsorship fees with luxury brands such as Fendi so profitably that Chinese media began to call him “China’s Buffett show business,” according to Forbes magazine, doing so. reference to Warren Buffett, the American investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. .
Zhao, a former kindergarten teacher, is said to have been close to Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, founder of multinational tech giant Alibaba Group, which has been the target of Beijing’s crackdown on tech companies.
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On August 16, police arrested Kris Wu Yifan, a 30-year-old Chinese-Canadian actor, singer and model, on suspicion of rape after a woman accused him of drugging his drinks and raping her at home. him when she was 17.
According to CNN and BBC, Wu has firmly denied the allegations.
“The CCP is afraid of an independent and authentic human experience that offers different ways of understanding and being in the world compared to its own. They challenge its power, ”Didi Kirsten Tatlow, senior researcher in the Asia program of the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, told VOA Mandarin via email. “The entertainment industry offers many ways to challenge this cultural or ideological control, and when people get too popular they are seen as a threat. “
Tatlow added that “to maintain full authority, (the CCP) believes it must eliminate stories that deviate from its own ‘history’ about China. Basically, the “story” of the CCP is about claiming power. … Ultimately, it’s about silencing alternative stories to those of the party.
Some experts say they are not surprised by the crackdown on the entertainment industry in Beijing.
“There are a lot of things that need to be cleaned up in the entertainment industry, so the idea that it needs to be reformed is not out of place,” Jonathan Sullivan, professor of political science and director of Chinese programs at the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute, VOA Mandarin said.
“It’s been like this for a long time, and the progressive movements haven’t made a big enough dent, and so now we have a more definitive answer,” he told VOA via email. “This probably seems excessive, as it comes at the same time as political crackdowns in other sectors amid the general and seemingly monotonous tightening of society under Xi.”
Sullivan added, “I think the description of this as ‘turning on celebrities’ or any reference to the (cultural revolution) is totally inappropriate. The point is, celebrities have long been identified as possessing societal influence, and because of this, they have a social and moral responsibility assigned to them. Adding additional political levers to make this happen, using campaign methods to intensify the exhortation to behave this way, is an unsurprising step. “
Yet when it comes to celebrity culture and fan clubs, there is a slightly different calculation, according to Sullivan, who describes them as more diffuse and decentralized, therefore more difficult to control than the entertainment industry, which is ultimately controlled. by the state.
“Fan and celebrity culture has flourished in China in recent years, and this poses a real challenge to the party’s ambition to dominate the public sphere,” Sullivan said. “Whenever you have individuals who command large-scale attention and affection, they will come in the crosshairs.”
Quiet fan clubs
Fan clubs have been popular in China for the past two decades, and the country’s idol economy is booming. A report released by Beijing-based big data firm Endata showed that in 2020 China’s idol economy grossed $ 20 billion, while celebrity advertising sponsorship grew to $ 2.77 billion . The report also indicates that fan clubs mainly attract young women born after 1995 in large cities, half of whom are students.
China’s Cyberspace Administration has repeatedly criticized fan clubs, accusing them of “luring minors into massive spending, voting on celebrity ranking lists and inciting young people to cyberbully.”
On May 8, the internet watchdog announced the “qing lang” or “bright and clear campaign” to eliminate “harmful online issues that affect the mental health of young people.” The campaign focuses on online fan clubs.
Almost all of China’s most popular social media companies, including Sina Weibo, Tik Tok and Tencent, have publicly stated that they will cooperate with the government’s campaign to align fan clubs with the state’s official narrative.
Douban, the Chinese equivalent of IMDB and Reddit combined, began posting weekly censorship announcements in June. On August 20, Douban said “in the past 7 days 30,834 malicious messages have been deleted, 196 rule-breaking accounts have been disabled, 7 problematic groups have been taken offline.”
“The atmosphere has changed now. As fans, we have to be careful what we say online, ”Fan club member Tracy Zhang from Zhejiang Province, east China, told VOA. She asked VOA Mandarin to use a pseudonym for fear of attracting attention.
According to Chinese state media, the campaign to “rectify” fan clubs has been successful. China’s state-controlled Xinhua News Agency said on Aug. 2 that in two months more than 150,000 harmful messages were deleted, 4,000 malicious accounts deleted and 1,300 “problematic” fan groups deleted. .
A Chengdu resident who spoke to VOA Mandarin on condition of anonymity said she was joking with friends to see “which fan club will set up the first branch of the Communist Party.” … Obviously, this is a very clear signal, at least for now: Be docile. To obey. To behave. Do not create problems, because it will not be tolerated.