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Explained: China’s curbs on its entertainment industry

Researchers say this move is the latest in a series of steps taken by the Chinese government to regulate and control the entertainment industry and its offshoots like fan culture, excessive spending, online abuse and targeted harassment, etc.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: September 9, 2021 8:02:27 am
Earlier this year in March, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, the national legislature, had said that fan circles required regulation with curbs on “celebrity-chasing”.

Some two weeks ago, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is the country’s internet watchdog, announced an eight-point plan to stop what it termed “chaotic” fan culture and celebrity misbehaviour targeted at controlling the country’s entertainment industry.

Researchers say this move is the latest in a series of steps taken by the Chinese government to regulate and control the entertainment industry and its offshoots like fan culture, excessive spending, online abuse and targeted harassment, etc.

Why now?

On July 31, Kris Wu, one of China’s biggest celebrities, was arrested after several women, including some minors, accused him of rape and inappropriate behaviour. Wu denied the allegations and sued the woman who had first reported abuse for defamation.

After news first broke about the reports against Wu, the country’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) held an “ethical training session” that was attended by some of China’s biggest stars, including Zhang Yishan of ‘The Deer and the Cauldron’ and Lei Jiayin who starred in ‘The First Half of My Life’. At that time, observers had said that the session was an attempt to encourage “responsible” behaviour by celebrities, especially when interacting with fans.

The incident involving Wu seems to have only put the issue into sharper focus, but there were indications that the government was harbouring concerns about the entertainment industry and fans. Earlier this year in March, a deputy to the National People’s Congress, the national legislature, had said that fan circles required regulation with curbs on “celebrity-chasing”.

What is the latest development?

Last week, the National Radio and Television Administration released an eight-point plan calling for “further regulation of arts and entertainment shows and related personnel”, the South China Morning Post reported. The regulatory body banned some reality talent shows and ordered broadcasters to not promote “sissy” men. It also ordered broadcasters to avoid “abnormal aesthetics” such as “sissy” men, “vulgar influencers”, inflated pay of celebrities and performers with “lapsed morals”.

Local news publication Sixth Tone pointed to the case of Chinese influencer Feng Xiaoyi to explain this controversy surrounding “sissy men”: “Eat peach, peach. So, so cold,” he said, speaking to thousands of followers on Douyin — China’s version of TikTok. Feng’s signature porcelain skin, pearl-like eyes, and pink lips enunciating every character softly as he speaks are unmistakable.”

Sixth Tone reports that social media users were unimpressed by Feng’s “appearance and the tone of his voice, calling him a “sissy” and reported his video to the platform, following which Douyin suspended his 600,000-follower account for “grandstanding through gaudy content”.

The publication pointed to one specific comment after the Douyin suspension: “Finally, his account got blocked! After watching his video of eating peaches, I want to change to another pair of eyes,” one user commented on microblogging platform Weibo. “What happened to boys nowadays?”

The crackdown is just the latest on what China believes is the “feminization” of young men, influenced by influencers and celebrities. In the past month, local Chinese news outlets have mentioned the evils of its entertainment industry, complaining about aesthetics and values that it imparts.

In August, China’s Financial and Economic Affairs Commission implemented the new “common prosperity” policy that says the country’s rich should focus “on hard work and legally compliant operations”. One of the first targets was high-earning actress Zheng Shuang.

Government mouthpiece Global Times said that Zheng was ordered to pay $46 million in fines, taxes and penalties for tax evasion with the publication adding that “the action was interpreted as part of actions to enhance regulation of the high-earning entertainment industry and several entertainers who have violated the law or have moral taints were not allowed spotlight and got their works removed from online platforms”.

Television dramas that Zheng acted in were removed from major video platforms and broadcasters and video service platforms were prohibited from inviting Zheng to shows, among other penalties.

The publication also mentioned the crackdowns on billionaire actress Zhao Wei, actor Zhang Zhehan, who was criticised for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan, and TV host Qian Feng under investigation for rape.

What is the context?

In their paper, ‘Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China’, Jonathan Sullivan and Séagh Kehoe write that Chinese celebrities are used as “a vehicle for promoting socialist values and patriotism” and for obtaining “orderly progress towards a modern society under the leadership of the Communist Party”. This indicates the government’s approach towards dealing with its entertainment industry, particularly its plans aimed at regulating what it considers detrimental to its larger goals.

“Economic problems are just one area that celebrities will be put under scrutiny. Since words and deeds of public figures not only reflect their own values, but also subtly influence others’ thoughts and behaviors, especially their young fans, celebrities’ improper or lawbreaking deeds even have a negative effect on social atmosphere,” The Global Times had written.

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