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China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism

China’s most capitalized industry exemplifies how country and its people live without freedom of expression

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China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism

(CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Chinese government has recently taken a series of actions to crack down on its entertainment industry and to control extreme fan behavior; yet by doing so, both the government and fandom have demonstrated how deeply freedom of speech is suppressed within China.

Within the last month alone, a number of celebrities, including Kris Wu (吳亦凡), Zhang Zhehan (張哲瀚), and Zhao Wei (趙薇) have been boycotted in China for various reasons, while the government has issued several orders to curb “chaotic” fan behavior. The string of events shows the Chinese government’s increasing need to control not only the entertainment industry but also fans’ voices.

China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism
Fans of mobile game "Mr Love: Queen's Choice" celebrate birthday of game protagonist on skyscraper. (Weibo screenshot)

The entertainment industry in China has grown at a dramatic rate in recent years as money pours in from all sources, and the momentum has yet to die down. As a result, celebrities have wielded increasing power within Chinese society, backed by fans who go to great lengths to demonstrate their love.

In China, when a celebrity endorses a brand or becomes a brand’s ambassador, fans often shop to support their “idol” (愛豆), making a celebrity's endorsement deals an important indicator of his or her popularity.

Any new deals are announced as an event celebrated by the brand and fans alike. However, when a celebrity is canceled or boycotted in China, the number of deals lost is the first thing the media counts.

China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism
Following Chinese actor Wang Kai's endorsement of Alkaqua, fans have bought the bottled water in bulk. (Weibo screenshot)

When Zhang Zhehan (張哲瀚) shot to fame in February after starring in the highly popular drama “Word of Honor” (山河令), he made deals with over two dozen brands, including some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Nivea, Maybelline, and Coca Cola. However, within two days of old photos of him visiting Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine emerging online, he reportedly lost 27 endorsement deals on top of having all his past and future works removed or canceled.

As celebrities make fortunes in China, they also endure unruly fan behavior, which makes the news from time to time. Chinese singer and actor Wang Yibo (王一博) is an example of a celebrity who has long suffered from intrusive fans and has dealt with several incidents, such as his personal number getting leaked, fans installing trackers on his car, and fans knocking on his hotel room door in the middle of the night.

China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism
Wang Yibo asks fans who obtained his personal number to stop calling and using it online. (Weibo screenshot)

In China, there was an unwritten rule that celebrities must be responsible for “managing” fans and keeping them in check, which has now been spelled out in government policies, as announced on the People’s Daily.

According to the newest policies, celebrities’ agencies must certify any online accounts of fan clubs and may face punishment for not “leading” fans to behave correctly. This involves discouraging the fans from engaging in online disputes, not “tempting” them to buy products, and discouraging minors from spending money.

Following the announcement of these policies, the company Weibo account of actress Zhao Liying (趙麗穎) was banned from posting for 15 days, as the management company had been ineffective at curbing fans’ attacks on her rumored co-star Wang Yibo and his fans.

China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism
Actress Zhao Liying's company Weibo account was banned from posting for 15 days. (Weibo screenshot)

Such behavior is far from uncommon in China, where fans draw very clear domain boundaries according to what they love and hate. The phrase “fawn in your own territory” (圈地自萌) is used regularly to scold those who stumble into the wrong hashtag or share a crossover idea.

The phenomenon was highlighted by the “Xiao Zhan Incident,” in which Chinese singer and actor Sean Xiao (肖戰) faced national boycotts after his fans reported the fanfiction website “Archive of Our Own” (AO3) over a story that depicted him as being “offensive” and “pornographic.”

The report led to China’s Great Firewall blocking access to AO3, infuriating many online readers and writers who enjoyed what little freedom of expression they had on the foreign website and who then boycotted Xiao and all media, brands, and people related to him.

Increasingly, the Chinese entertainment industry has become a mixture of capitalism and totalitarianism in which the government tries hard to stifle the passion fans so eagerly express. In light of recent actions the Chinese authorities have taken, it's hard to predict what will become of the industry and the “fan circle.”

China’s ‘fan circle’ highlights suppressed freedom in entertainment consumerism
Sean Xiao. (Wikipedia photo)


Updated : 2021-09-27 09:56 GMT+08:00