On November 23rd, the China Association of Performing Arts issued a so-called “warning list” of 88 names of internet personalities who have been reported and registered for their bad behavior. The people on the list have either violated the law or their actions have allegedly negatively impacted society and public order.
The moral responsibility of Chinese idols became a much-discussed topic earlier this year when various celebrities came under fire for sexual misconduct, tax evasion, or other controversies.
Chinese celebrities Wu Yifan (吴亦凡, aka Kris Wu), Zheng Shuang (郑爽), and Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚) are also on the current version of the list. They previously made headlines in China; Chinese-Canadian pop star Wu Yifan was detained over rape allegations, actress Zheng Shuang was caught up in a surrogacy scandal and was fined $46 million for tax evasion, and actor Zhang Zhehan caused controversy over photos of him posing at historically sensitive places in Japan.
This is the ninth list issued by the live streaming branch of the China Association of Performing Arts, which first started its “blacklist management system” (“黑名单”管理制度) in February of 2018.
According to an interview by People’s Daily with a spokesperson of the association, they further revised the management system in 2020 and then formed the so-called “Management Measures for the Warning and Return of Online Hosts” (网络主播警示与复出管理办法).
This year, Chinese (online) entertainers have faced tighter scrutiny since China’s Propaganda Department and other authorities have placed more importance on their societal influence as role models.
Although the list issued by the Association’s livestreaming branch focuses on online presenters and bloggers, it also includes other performers who already had a bad record. Chinese celebrities who have faced controversy will sometimes switch from acting or singing to the live streaming industry in order to generate an income. The new measures make it more difficult for ‘canceled celebrities‘ to make a comeback as a live streamer.
This also means we won’t be seeing Zhang Zhehan, Kris Wu, or Zheng Shuang on live streaming channels any time soon, as their inclusion on the list has basically banned them from the industry.
The China Association of Performing Arts issued this blacklist with 88 names of Chinese online celebrities, among them are also Kris Wu, Zheng Shuang, and Zhang Zhehan, whose return to the entertainment circles has now become highly unlikely: https://t.co/jhz6ajiglk pic.twitter.com/mB9ABG95D1
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) November 23, 2021
Since 2018, a total of 446 online celebrities/streamers have been put on one of these blacklists.
The topic became top-trending on Sina Weibo on Tuesday, where one hashtag page about the list received over 180 million views, and another one – specifically referring to Wu, Zheng, and Zhang being shut out from the industry – receiving over 630 million clicks (#吴亦凡郑爽张哲瀚被封禁#).
Many commenters wondered about why some names weren’t on the list, such as Chen Lingtao (@Cloud_陈令韬), who recently came under fire for cheating. “Of all the 88 people on the list, there are 85 I don’t know,” one commenter said.
Besides the three biggest celebrities, there are also names on the current list such as Tik Tok (Douyin) celebrity Tie Shankao (铁山靠) or online streamer ‘Teacher Guo’ (郭老师). Guo was popular on Tik Tok (Douyin) for rejecting standard beauty norms.
Guo was removed from Chinese social media in September of this year during the major crackdown on Chinese celebrity circles. Now that she is included on the list together with 87 others, her return to the livestreaming industry is very unlikely.
By Manya Koetse
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Rock ‘n’ Troll Chaos: The Controversy Surrounding Thefts at China’s Central Midi Festival
A theft scandal rocked China’s Midi Festival, which took place in Nanyang this week. Midi, however, blames online trolls for hyping the case.
The city of Nanyang in Henan has been all the talk on Chinese social media over the past few days due to large amounts of personal belongings getting stolen during the Central Midi Festival (中原迷笛音乐节).
The Midi Festival, founded by the Beijing Midi School of Music, is among China’s largest and most influential rock music festivals. Midi has been around for some thirty years, with variations in themes and taking place in different locations.
The most recent edition was held in Nanyang from September 29 to October 2nd. It drew approximately 150,000 visitors who flocked to Henan to have a good time, enjoy the music, dance in the mud, and stay at the camp site throughout the multi-day festival.
The local government had hoped that hosting the festival would help promote the city and make it more popular among young people. To create a positive impression, the entire city, including a remarkable 40,000 volunteers, local authorities, hotels, and transportation companies, dedicated their efforts to ensure the success of the Midi Festival. The mayor even personally welcomed festival-goers at the train station.
However, it seems that some locals had different intentions. They watched the festivities from behind the fences, and then started coming in and entering the camp sites. When they found unattended tents, as the owners were enjoying the music, they started stealing items from inside.
What began as isolated incidents soon escalated. More people joined in, more items were stolen, and the thieves grew bolder, sometimes even stealing from tents while their owners were present and trying to stop them.
There’s a video circulating showing an older lady rummaging through a festivalgoer’s tent while he filmed the scene. The lady casually stated, “I’ll take your camp light, dear,” and informed him of her theft.
Even sponsors and official vendors at the festival site fell victim to theft, as people entered their areas and stole their products and merchandise to resell later. There were reports of chairs and cables being stolen – essential items for a smooth-running festival.
Although security guards and police did intervene when the looting began, they allegedly just sent the thieves away at first without apprehending them. Some festivalgoers claimed to have lost personal items valued at over 10,000 RMB ($1,388).
By now, as the incident has gained national attention via social media, the case is being thorougly researched. The local police have received a total of 73 reports and they have confirmed 65 cases of theft. Some of the thieves have been arrested, and some of the stolen items have been recovered.
It Started with a Rumor
How could the festival looting get so out of control? According to local authorities in Nanyang, the incident began when a short video platform user known as “Wuyu” (无语) posted a video on October 2nd, falsely claiming that all the tents at the festival were available for taking as the event had ended and the premises needed to be cleared.
This rumor soon widely circulated, and prompted nearby villagers to come to the site to see what they could get.
The person behind the “Wuyu” account, identified as Chen Feng (陈峰), has since been identified and was taken into custody by the police.
On October 5, the Midi Festival released a statement on Weibo, reassuring the public that the festival and the local government are working together to try their best and recover all stolen items.
Midi also lashed out against online ‘trolls’ who were hyping up the situation at Midi to smear the festival and the city’s reputation. The festival condemned both the small group of thieves and the larger group of online trolls.
The controversy has generated a lot of anger, not just among visitors and the festival organization staff, but also among local Nanyang authorities who had invested considerable effort into making the festival a success.
The incident has cast a shadow over Midi. In an online poll conducted by Fengmian Redian (@封面热点), a majority of respondents indicated that they would not want to attend the festival after this happened, expressing their disappointment over the looting.
The controversy also reflects badly on Henan, where people already face provincial prejudice. Henan is often characterized as a poor and unrefined province, associated with phone scammers or people who would even steal manhole covers to sell them for scrap metal, causing dangerous situations.
The Midi Festival controversy has perpetuated these stereotypes about the people of Henan, much to the dismay of local residents who have been actively working to challenge and dispel public biases against the province.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Chaos
While many Weibo users come to Nanyang’s defense, there are also those who stress that the local authorities should have taken more steps to improve security around the festival site.
Others, however, do not agree. They argue that the Midi Festival, in Woodstock style, is about chaos, rock ‘n’ roll, and freedom. They think that the festival should not be overly controlled and that people should not blame the organization or local governments for not looking after their stuff.
Festival attendees and dedicated rock music enthusiasts argue that Midi, Nanyang, and the Chinese fans and musicians turned the festival into a great success.
They suggest that the theft incident should not be attributed to them nor reflect badly on China’s thriving music scene; it was simply the result of immoral behavior from a few individuals who failed to grasp the spirit of the event.
Meanwhile, the entire incident has not just triggered anger; it has also become a source of banter and online jokes.
Some Henan natives are not exactly helping to promote their home province. One widely-shared comment referred to the Henan bank protests, stating: “If even the money we deposit in the bank can disappear, it’s no surprise that things can go missing at a music festival.”
with contributions by Miranda Barnes
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Three Reasons Why Lipstick King’s ‘Eyebrow Pencil Gate’ Has Blown Up
From beauty guru to betrayal: why one livestream moment is shaking China’s internet.
Li Jiaqi, also known as Austin Li the ‘Lipstick King,’ has become the focus of intense media attention in China over the past days.
The controversy began when the popular beauty influencer responded with apparent annoyance to a viewer’s comment about the high price of an eyebrow pencil. As a result, his fans began unfollowing him, netizens started scolding him, Chinese state criticized him, and the memes started flooding in.
Li Jiaqi’s tearful apology did not fix anything.
China's famous make-up influencer #LiJiaqi is in hot water due to an e-commerce livestream he did on Sunday. When viewers complained about an eyebrow pencil being too expensive (79 RMB/$10.9), he got annoyed, insisting that the product was not expensive at all. Translated video: pic.twitter.com/JDKGMKovDX
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) September 11, 2023
The incident may seem minor at first glance. Li was merely promoting Florasis brand (花西子) eyebrow pencils, and some viewers expressed their opinion that the pencils, priced at 79 yuan ($11), had become more expensive.
In response, Li displayed irritation, questioning, “Expensive how?” He went on to suggest that viewers should also reflect on their own efforts and whether they were working hard enough to get a salary increase.
But there is more to this incident than just an $11 pencil and an unsympathetic response.
#1 The King Who Forgot the People Who Crowned Him
The initial reaction of netizens to Li Jiaqi’s remarks during the September 10th livestream was characterized by a strong sense of anger and disappointment.
Although celebrities often face scrutiny when displaying signs of arrogance after their rise to fame, the position of Li Jiaqi in the wanghong (internet celebrity) scene has been especially unique. He initially worked as a beauty consultant for L’Oreal within a shopping mall before embarking on his livestreaming career through Alibaba’s Taobao platform.
In a time when consumers have access to thousands of makeup products across various price ranges, Li Jiaqi established himself as a trusted cosmetics expert. People relied on his expertise to recommend the right products at the right prices, and his practice of personally applying and showcasing various lipstick colors made him all the more popular. He soon garnered millions of online fans who started calling him the Lipstick King.
By 2018, he had already amassed a significant fortune of 10 million yuan ($1.53 million). Fast forward three years, and his wealth had ballooned to an astonishing 18.5 billion yuan ($2.5 billion).
Despite his growing wealth, Li continued to enjoy the support of his fans, who appreciated his honest assessments of products during live testing sessions. He was known for candidly informing viewers when a product wasn’t worth buying, and the story of his humble beginnings as a shop assistant played a major role in why people trusted him and wanted him to succeed.
However, his recent change in tone, where he no longer seemed considerate of viewers who might find an $11 brow pencil to be expensive, suggests that he may have lost touch with his own customer base. Some individuals perceive this shift as a form of actual “betrayal” (背叛), as if a close friend has turned their back on them.
One cartoon shared on social media shows Li Jiaqi, with mouse ears, as he initially begs his online viewers for money. However, as he becomes more prosperous, the cartoon portrays him gradually growing arrogant and eventually scolding those who helped him rise to fame.
Many people accuse Li of being insincere, suggesting that he revealed his true colors during that short livestream moment. This is also one of the reasons why most commenters say they do not believe his tears during his apology video.
“He betrayed China’s working class,” one popular vlog suggested.
#2 Internet Celebrity Crossing the Lines
Another reason why the incident involving Li Jiaqi is causing such a storm is related to the media context in which Chinese (internet) celebrities operate and what is expected of them.
Whether you are an actor, singer, comedian, or a famous livestreamer/e-commerce influencer, Chinese celebrities and performers are seen as fulfilling an exemplary role in society, serving the people and the nation (Jeffrey & Xu 2023). This is why, as explained in the 2019 research report by Jonathan Sullivan and Séagh Kehoe, moral components play such a significant role in Chinese celebrity culture.
In today’s age of social media, the role of celebrities in society has evolved to become even more significant as they have a vast reach and profound influence that extends to countless people and industries.
Their powerful influence makes celebrities important tools for authorities to convey messages that align with their goals – and definitely not contradict them. Through the media and cultural industries, the state can exert a certain level of control within the symbolic economy in which celebrities operate, as discussed by Sullivan and Kehoe in their 2019 work (p. 242).
This control over celebrities’ actions became particularly evident in the case of Li Jiaqi in 2022, following the ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件). This incident unfolded during one of his livestreams when Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced a chocolate cake in the shape of a tank, with an assistant in the back mentioning something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”). This livestream took place on June 3rd, on the night before the 33rd anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen protests.
While Li Jiaqi did not directly touch upon a politically sensitive issue with his controversial livestream, his actions were perceived as a disregard for customer loyalty and displayed an arrogance inconsistent with socialist core values. This behavior garnered criticism in a recent post by the state media outlet CCTV.
Other state media outlets and official channels have joined in responding to the issue, amplifying the narrative of a conflict between the ‘common people’ and the ‘arrogant influencer.’
#3 Striking a Wrong Chord in Challenging Times
Lastly, Li Jiaqi’s controversial livestream moment also became especially big due to the specific words he said about people needing to reflect on their own work efforts if they cannot afford a $11 eyebrow pencil.
Various online discussions and some media, including CNN, are tying the backlash to young unemployment, tepid consumer spending, and the ongoing economic challenges faced by workers in China.
Since recent years, the term nèijuǎn (‘involution’, 内卷) has gained prominence when discussing the frustrations experienced by many young people in China. It serves as a concept to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class who often find themselves stuck in a “rat race”; a highly competitive education and work environment, where everyone is continually intensifying their efforts to outperform one another, leading to this catch 22 situation where everyone appears to be caught in an unending cycle of exertion without substantial progress (read more here).
Weibo commenters note that, given China’s current employment situation and wage levels, hard work is not necessarily awarded with higher income. This context makes Li Jiaqi’s comments seem even more unnecessary and disconnected from the realities faced by his customers. One Shanghai surgeon responded to Li’s comments, saying that the fact that his salary has not increased over the last few year certainly is not because he is not working hard enough (#上海胸外科医生回应李佳琦言论#).
Some observers also recognize that Li, as an e-commerce professional, is, in a way, trapped in the same cycle of “inversion” where brands are continuously driving prices down to such low levels that consumers perceive it as the new normal. However, this pricing strategy may not be sustainable in the long run. (Ironically, some brands currently profiting from the controversy by promoting their own 79 yuan deals, suggesting their deal is much better than Li’s. Among them is the domestic brand Bee & Flower 蜂花, which is offering special skin care products sets for 79 yuan in light of the controversy.)
Many discussions therefore also revolve around the question of whether 79 yuan or $11 can be considered expensive for an eyebrow pencil, and opinions are divided. Some argue that people pay much more for skincare products, while others point out that if you were to weigh the actual quantity of pencil color, its price would surpass that of gold.
The incident has sparked discussions about the significance of 79 yuan in today’s times, under the hashtag “What is 79 yuan to normal people” (#79元对于普通人来说意味着什么#).
People have shared their perspectives, highlighting what this amount means in their daily lives. For some, it represents an entire day’s worth of home-cooked meals for a family. It exceeds the daily wages of certain workers, like street cleaners. Others equate it to the cost of 15 office lunches.
Amid all these discussions, it also becomes clear that many people are trying to live a frugal live in a time when their wages are not increasing, and that Li’s comments are just one reason to vent their frustrations about the situation they are in, In those regards, Li’s remarks really come at a wrong time, especially coming from a billionaire.
Will Li be able to continue his career after this?
Some are suggesting that it is time for Li to take some rest, speculating that Li’s behavior might stem from burn-out and mental issues. Others think that Li’s hardcore fans will remain loyal to their e-commerce idol.
For now, Li Jiaqi must tread carefully. He has already lost 1.3 million followers on his Weibo account. What’s even more challenging than regaining those one million followers is rebuilding the trust of his viewers.
Update: On September 19, the Florasis/Huaxizi brand finally apologized for its late response to the controversy, and the brand stated that the controversy provided an opportunity for them to listen to “the voice of their consumers.” Their decision to release a statement seemed fruitful: they gained 20,000 new followers in a night.
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes
Jeffreys, Elaine, and Jian Xu. 2023. “Governing China’s Celebrities.” Australian Institute of International Affairs, 18 May https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/governing-chinas-celebrities/ [12 Sep 2023].
Sullivan, Jonathan, and Séagh Kehoe. 2019. “Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China.” The China Quarterly 237 (March): 241–256.
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