The latest in China’s major banning crackdown—you can already say goodbye to late night gaming and femininity in men—is the suspension of 22 K-pop accounts on its social media site Weibo. Could this be farewell to celebrity culture in China? The fan accounts were suspended on the grounds of exhibiting “irrational star-chasing behaviour.” One of the accounts that fell to these suspensions was, of course, a BTS fan page.
Weibo banned the fan club—which had over 1.1 million followers and was dedicated to BTS group member Jimin (Park Ji-Min)—for a period of sixty days because of allegedly “illegally raised” funds. The funds in question? A crowdfunded customisation of an aeroplane for his 26th birthday. The suspension came days after photographs of the customisation started circulating online.
This was just the beginning, as swift 30-day bans were given to 21 other fan accounts. This included more K-pop bands like Blackpink alongside GOT7 and even EXO (a group with Chinese members). Although there doesn’t seem to be any major ‘crime’ these fan pages have committed, the crackdown is part of a wider-scale attack on celebrity culture in China.
There are concerns from officials that “chaotic” fan culture is poisoning the youth and the influence of K-pop in China is breeding pop stars in the country to be “sleek,” feminine and removed from masculinity. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) pledged in June 2021 to suppress this ‘chaos’ through a number of measures, including dissolving fan groups online that are a “bad influence” and prohibiting young people from funding or giving money (in any way) to a celebrity. It seems fundraising for Jimin’s birthday was enough for Weibo to warrant this ban on its site.
Weibo, China’s censored equivalent to US Twitter, said in its statement that the strict observation and monitoring of such fan pages would “purify” the environment online thereby executing its responsibility as a social media platform to Chinese society. The social media giant “firmly opposes such irrational celebrity-chasing behaviour and will deal with it seriously” and so, it will not hesitate to remove posts violating its latest regulations.
The response to these bannings is largely split, with many Chinese users both criticising and celebrating the banning of such fan accounts. Those that celebrated saw the ban as a win against celebrity worship and dubbed BTS an “anti-China group” that is part of a wider cultural invasion of China.
The extent to how much this will impact the entertainment industry in China is yet to be seen, but fear not. K-pop fans are not to be messed with. When they have a goal in mind, you better get out of their way. Remember that time they sold out a Donald Trump rally with no intention of going?
The Chinese government is increasingly cracking down on culture and business following President Xi Jinping’s call for a “national rejuvenation.” Joining “electronic drugs” (popularly known as video games), gambling, cryptocurrency and sports is now a ban on who the country has labelled ‘Niang Pao’—which literally translates to “female weapons.”
On 2 September 2021, China ordered broadcasters to shun artists with “incorrect political positions” and “effeminate” styles—stating the need for ‘patriotism’, thereby widening a crackdown on its booming entertainment industry. Broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” the country’s National Radio and TV Administration wrote in a notice, using the insulting slang term ‘Niang Pao’ while referring to these effeminate men.
The notice went on to state how programmes portraying or promoting effeminate behaviour and other content deemed “warped”—including shows built around scandals, wealth and “vulgar internet celebrities”—should be stopped. Broadcasters should instead feature programmes that “vigorously promote excellent Chinese traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture.”
The controversial move follows a nation-wide crackdown on South Korean boy bands and “chaotic” fan culture as a whole. It also voices official concerns at how Chinese pop stars, influenced by the “sleek, modern appearance” of some South Korean and Japanese singers and actors, are not encouraging young Chinese citizens to be “masculine enough.”
“Some effeminate stars are immoral and can damage adolescents’ values,” read an opinion piece in the state-run Guangming Daily published on 27 August, as obtained by Reuters. Written by a former official at a military newspaper, the article outlined how such stars, when acting as soldiers fighting in a war against the Japanese—a popular setting for Chinese movies and TV shows—make the “righteous” and “heroic” characters appear childish. Reuters also noted how a popular video-maker on Douyin, China’s TikTok-like short video platform, had his account suspended in late August over complaints of being too ‘effeminate’.
“Unhealthy fan culture should be deterred and strict controls placed on programmes with voting segments,” the administration said, adding how programmes that encourage fans to spend money to vote should be forbidden. Broadcasters should also avoid artists who “violate public order” or those who “have lost their morals.” Reality shows featuring the children of celebrities are also banned.
Authorities have thereby pledged to promote what they call a “more masculine image” of men and criticised male celebrities who wear a lot of makeup. On 4 August, microblogging platform Weibo Corporation suspended thousands of accounts which doubled as fan clubs and entertainment news hubs, including a BTS fan account for “illegal fundraising.” Popular actress Zheng Shuang was also fined 299 million yuan (£33 million) last week on tax evasion charges as a ‘warning’ against her influence on her audience as a positive role model.
Actress Zhao Wei, on the other hand, has disappeared entirely from Chinese streaming platforms without explanation. Her name has also been removed from credits of movies and TV programmes in the country.
“This is part of Xi’s latest efforts to ‘cleanse’ what he or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sees as undesirable social culture, such as excessive video gaming by teenagers,” said Lynette Ong, professor of political science at the University of Toronto’s Asian Institute. In an interview with the BBC, Ong explained how the latest announcements are “evidence of the party’s ever encroaching role into the lives of ordinary people.”
Chinese ‘cultural cleansing’ is not a recent set of decisions either. Among the wave of new censorship laws in 2019, China allegedly smudged the earlobes of some of its young male pop stars, both on television and the internet, as an attempt to hide their piercings. Male tattoos and ponytails were also blurred before they made it to media screens across the country.
Increasingly pressured to align with President Xi Jinping’s vision of a ‘healthier’ society—and thereby a more powerful China—it’ll only be a matter of time before the country starts compiling more controversial bans, just like the shutdown of Little Kyoto after complaints of a Japanese cultural “invasion.”