Clampdown on Celebrity Culture and Fandom Reaches New Heights in China

By Darren Maung | November 24, 2021
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
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BEIJING, CHINA - SEPT. 20: Chinese actress and Chairman of the Jury of the 11th International Beijing Film Festival Gong Li (center), opens the red carpet together with the other judges on Sept. 20, 2021 in Beijing, China. (Image: Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) lashed out at the entertainment industry yet again by intensifying its crackdown on celebrity culture and fandom in China. The government wishes to promote “a positive and healthy environment”, using strict moral and cultural standards to crack down on celebrity-related content.

New rules

According to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), it will intensify its watch on the flow of information related to celebrity content online, including the publishing of their personal information and where their advertising is available on the internet. 

The regulator also criticized “the supremacy of [internet] traffic” and behavior like gossip and stalking, for its role in “impacting mainstream values” in Chinese society. The new regulations would allow the CAC to “tackle” the problems of “fandom”, targeting millions of ardent fans of Asian celebrities that later form large “fan armies.”

Fan-made pages or groups that have tens of millions of followers could be banned due to claims that they “clash” with Beijing’s drive to reform youth culture and undermine equality and “common prosperity.” 

The CAC previously launched a campaign to discourage online fan clubs over claims of rivalries between fan groups engaged in doxxing and verbal assaults. They also removed 150,000 pieces of harmful online content, cracking down on more than 4,000 accounts connected to fan clubs in August, state-run news outlet Xinhua reported.

The CAC also ordered local branches to develop a watchlist to stop celebrity content from “promoting distorted values,” similarly to how Beijing called a stop to what it claimed to be effeminate portrayals of men.

The China Film Administration also released guidelines to “improve the quality” of the country’s films. The goals of the new guidelines are to boost viewership and to focus on topics including the history of China, socialism and reform.

Online platforms, as well as the celebrities and their known works and projects, are also to be restricted, especially if the celebrities are seen performing “illegal and unethical behaviour.”

Prompted by an article by state-owned newspaper People’s Daily about the negative impact of fandom support for idols, Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, also announced its removal of the “Star Power Ranking List”, which gave fans the opportunity to raise their idol’s place on said list.

Cultural meltdown

In recent months, Chinese authorities have been moving in on what they call the country’s “chaotic” celebrity fan culture, calling for broadcasters, platforms and artists to support the effort to soften the culture in the midst of celebrity scandals. 

These fan clubs have spread virally across China, with the country’s “idol economy” potentially worth 140 billion yuan (US$22 Billion) by 2022, according to local newspaper The Paper. 

“Although there was clearly ‘idol culture’ in the days of Chairman Mao, capitalism is certainly driving the latest wave of the fan economy,” said Mark Tanner, managing director at China Skinny. “In many ways, the fan culture is a real outlier in China… consumers really open their wallets to their idols,” he said.

China has recently been rocked with numerous celebrity scandals.

In one instance, Canadian-Chinese pop star Kris Wu was arrested by authorities in July following suspicions of sexual assault, prompting his fan groups to lend their support for his defense online. However, most of their accounts were later terminated, along with Wu’s other accounts.

Chinese celebrities were also warned by authorities to “oppose decadent ideas of money worship and hedonism,” to ensure they “act with morality in both public and private.” The disappearance of actor Zhao Wei further spawned controversy over the CCP’s crackdown on fandom and celebrity culture.

Since Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s drive for “common prosperity” began in August, the CCP has put several stars in their sights, and has discouraged South Korean entertainment companies from operating in China, which has been their primary market.

The Chinese government previously implemented a ban on effeminate men on TV, forcing broadcasters to promote “revolutionary culture” to tighten their control over business and society, as well as to enforce official morality, the Associated Press (AP) reported.