Celebrity culture poses a risk to ‘Xi’s Thought’

The crackdown comes as China showcases President Xi Jinping’s political doctrine

Online celebrity culture in China poses a “political and ideological security” threat.

In the latest cyberspace crackdown, the ruling Communist Party’s top anti-corruption watchdog has warned it will use a “heavy fist” to squash “distorted values.”

Beijing has launched a major campaign in the past month to root out “irrational idol-worshipping” and “fraud.”

“State-run news agency Xinhua published two major reports on China’s ‘unhealthy’ fan culture’ on August 2,” Wang Shuaishuai, a lecturer in new media and digital culture at the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, wrote in a commentary for Sixth Tone.

“The first detailed the Cyberspace Administration of China’s crackdown on unruly fan groups, [resulting] in the removal or closure of 814 hashtags and more than 1,300 groups engaged in channeling traffic to celebrities. The second covered guidelines meant to push content platforms away from a reliance on online traffic and toward the public good,” he said.

Since then, the clampdown has escalated after the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection waded into the row.

The facts:

  • President Xi Jinping’s government has described celebrity culture as “chaotic.”
  • On Friday, online platforms were banned from publishing popularity lists or “rankings.”
  • Fan merchandise sales will also be regulated.
  • “Harmful information” will be blocked and discussion channels that spread celebrity scandals will be closed down.
  • Mainstream celebrities, such as actress Zheng Shuang, have also been targeted.
  • Last week, she was fined 299 million yuan (US$46 million) for alleged tax evasion after previously being embroiled in a surrogacy controversy.

What was said: “We need to increase the sense of responsibility, mission, and urgency to maintain online political and ideological security,” the Cyberspace Administration of China or CAC said in a statement.

Rotten rankings: “The CAC on Friday also published a draft set of rules on algorithm services, urging transparency and authenticity of statistics. Observers believed the draft also serves to cleanse the entertainment industry and idol agencies colluding to manipulate rankings,” state-run Global Times reported.

Big Picture: The decision to curb celebrity culture comes at a time when the Communist Party has rolled out new educational laws. That will mean the catchy titled “Xi Thought,” the president’s political doctrine, will be compulsory in schools and universities in China.

Sinister or smart: “The Chinese Communist Party wants to be at the centre of its citizens’ lives, including playing the role of top social media influencer. Celebrity culture potentially poses a threat to that. Banning rankings doesn’t seem either silly or smart in that context. There’s another ‘s’ word to describe it: sinister,” James Moore wrote in The Independent, a London-based media group.

China Factor comment: In the corridors of power in Beijing, there is only one “celebrity” and that is General-Secretary Xi Jinping.