Monday, October 18, 2021

China Clamps Down on Its Celebrity Culture

Chinese president Xi Jinping has imposed unprecedented restrictions on China’s celebrity culture. He now deems these supremely popular, wealthy celebrities as products of Western culture and ideologies and is determined to restrict the celebrity culture worshipping that is manifesting in China.

Zhao Wei, the popular billionaire actress, has been cut from Chinese social media platforms. Tech billionaire Jack Ma is also on the target list. There are other instances of celebs facing the wrath of the Chinese government. Television actress and celebrity Zheng Shuang faced a fine of US$62 million for allegedly hiding her income details. The broadcasting of her events and shows has been halted as well, shocking her huge fan base. 

Xi sees the huge wealth of these Chinese celebrities and tycoons as a source of potential power and a threat to his autonomy. At the 100th anniversary celebrating the CCP’s foundation this year, he said: “The Party has no special interests of its own — it has never represented any individual interest group, power group, or privileged stratum. As we have fought to establish and consolidate our leadership over the country, we have in fact been fighting to earn and keep the people’s support.” 

Chinese president Xi Jinping has imposed unprecedented restrictions on its celebrity culture.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has imposed unprecedented restrictions on China’s celebrity culture. (Image: Damianidis via Dreamstime)

Xi Jinping trying to eradicate celebrity culture

While individual Chinese celebrities have been targeted by the government before, the latest crackdown is wider in scope and harsher in severity, with their presence mostly wiped clean from the country’s Internet. So complete is their erasure, it has been likened by fans online to the formation of a black hole following the collapse of a star. Authorities also took aim at celebrity fan culture popular among China’s youth.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced 10 measures to “clean up” what it called the “chaos” of celebrity fan clubs, including banning any attempt to rank celebrities based on popularity and tightening regulations around talent agencies and fan club accounts.

Chinese video sites have been quick to react to the newly declared government mandate. The video platform iQiyi called off its idol talent show soon after the government move. The government has also lashed out at instances of “crazed” fandom. The fans of Kris Wu, a singer of Canadian origin, are being targeted. The singer has been detained and accused of rape. 

The steps were taken by the CCP clearly show its assertive and authoritarian stance — think the opponents. The recent crackdown on celebrities comes after a set of regulatory actions against the large tech companies in China.

Jack Ma giving a speech on stage.
Tech billionaire Jack Ma is also on the target list. (Image: Minipig via Dreamstime)

Hung Huang, a magazine publisher and popular blogger, said China’s online fan culture is being reined in by the CCP, much like other industries. She said: “I think the problems facing China and abroad are the same — that is, the progress of its technology has surpassed it. Law enforcement procedures cannot keep up with the changes in new technologies. So the fan clubs are indeed a new technology and a little monster created by social media.”

On Chinese social media, some comments said the crackdown was reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, a decade of political and social turmoil between 1966 and 1976 during which arts and culture were restricted to promoting Party propaganda.

The CCP, which views popular culture as a key ideological battleground, has long kept the entertainment sector on a tight leash with stringent censorship. But under Xi, the Party has grown even more obsessed with ideological and cultural control. The dazzle of stardom and the frenzy of fandom are increasingly viewed as a dangerous, pernicious influence, especially on the country’s youth.

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Max Lu
Max Lu is an author who specializes in Asian geopolitics.
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