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Hong Kong Stars Shine in Call Me By Fire: ‘Greater Bay Area Brothers’ Go Viral on Chinese Social Media

The popularity of the ‘Greater Bay Area Brothers’ is part of a bigger trend of Hong Kong entertainers finding renewed success in mainland China.

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The Cantonese-speaking celebrities in the hit show Call Me By Fire have contributed to an increased social media interest in the Greater Bay Area, with some saying a ‘Hong Kong Music Revival’ is blossoming in the Chinese entertainment industry. Entertainers from Hong Kong are finding renewed success in mainland China.

Produced by Mango TV, the Chinese all-male variety show Call Me By Fire (披荆斩棘的哥哥) has concluded its super successful first season. With the last episode airing on October 29 of 2021, the show, starring 33 male celebrities, has brought some well-known Hong Kong actors and singers back into the spotlight in mainland China. On social media, they’ve been nicknamed “The Greater Bay Area Brothers” (“大湾区哥哥”) or “The Group of Greater Bay Area” (“大湾区组”).

The Greater Bay Area, also known as ‘Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area’ (粤港澳大湾区) refers to the Chinese government’s scheme to link the cities of Hong Kong, Macau, and some cities in Guangdong Province including Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen, and Zhaoqing, into one major integrated economic and business hub.

In the Call Me By Fire variety show, male celebrities who’ve since long been active in the entertainment industry are competing to form a performance group. The five actors/singers from Hong Kong, including Chen Xiaochun (陈小春/Chan Siu Chun), Zhang Zhilin (张智霖/Cheung Chi-lam), Xie Tianhua (谢天华/Tse Tin-wah), Lin Xiaofeng (林晓峰/Lamb Hiu-fung) and Liang Hanwen (梁汉文/Leung Hon-man), have been in one group together ever since the first episode of the popular reality show.

(Zhang Zhilin, Lin Xiaofeng, Xie Tianhua, Chen Xiaochun, Liang Hanwen)

When group member Xie joked about their ‘too relaxed’ attitude in the first episode – while other people were busy practicing, – he referred to their group as “The Greater Bay Guys” (“大湾仔”). This seeded the concept to the audience, who adopted the term to refer to the team.

Illustration of The Greater Bay Guys, source http://dianyingfengyun.com/

On Chinese social media, the five Cantonese-speaking artists of the group then started to go viral as “The Greater Bay Area Brothers” (大湾区哥哥). Other Cantonese-speaking artists in the show including Huang Guanzhong (黄贯中/Wong Koon-chung) and Ouyang Jin (欧阳靖/Jin Au-Yeung aka MC Jin) also came to be regarded as ‘extra’ members of the group.

Various social media users call the success of the Greater Bay Brothers a sign of a greater “Hong Kong Music Revival” (“港乐复兴”). But the trend goes beyond music alone, as actors and comedians from Hong Kong are also increasingly moving to the mainland industry.

“The Greater Bay” Goes Trending

Recently. the the “Greater Bay Area” (大湾区) term was added to numerous Weibo hashtags relating to the show, garnering many views. Some examples:

The official data analysis tool of Sina Weibo, the Weibo Index (@微指数), shows that from August 12, when the first episode of the show aired, the trend volume for the “Greater Bay Area” (大湾区) started to peak.

Besides the Call Me By Fire show, other news about the Greater Bay area also contributed to this peak.

On August 26, the General Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China announced that Guangdong Province, Hong Kong, and Macau would host the 2025 National Games of China together.

Following the announcement on the closing ceremony of the 14th National Games of China in Xi’an, netizens made the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, go to the top trending lists with the hashtag “Carrie Lam Accepts the Flag of National Games of China” (#林郑月娥接过全运会会旗#) which received more than 100 million views.

Along with the hashtag created for Lam, another hashtag about the announcement using the ‘Greater Bay Area’ term also went trending that day and received more than 170 million views (“2025 National Games to Be Held in the Greater Bay Area” #2025全运会将在大湾区举办#).

The recent social media trend peak for ‘Greater Bay Area’ occurred on September 21, the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when a concert was simultaneously held in Shenzhen (main venue) and Hong Kong (sub-venue). The concert was live-streamed on national platforms and shown in Hong Kong by public broadcasters. The hashtag of the concert, “The Full Moon Rises in the Great Bay Area” (#湾区升明月#), received over 1.38 billion (!) views.

The ‘Greater Bay Brothers’ were also invited to perform at the concert, along with many other singers from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. More than one-third of the songs performed at the concert were in Cantonese. A Hong Kong movies montage of clips also quickly went viral on Weibo, leading Chinese netizens to share memories of watching these movies again and again.

All of these recent trending topics show how much Cantonese songs and movies resonate with netizens in mainland China. Especially for those born in the 1970-1990 era, Hong Kong popular culture has become a part of their childhood memories.

Finding Renewed Success in the Mainland 

The five members of the Greater Bay Group in Call Me By Fire and its extra Cantonese-speaking members are mostly known by the mainland audience because of their songs or for the drama series or films they starred in.

For example, Huang Guanzhong is known as a member of the legendary band Beyond, while Chen Xiaochun became popular because of his role as Wei Xiaobao (韦小宝) in the TV drama The Deer and the Cauldron (鹿鼎记), and for playing “Chicken” Chiu (山鸡哥) in the Young and Dangerous film series (古惑仔系列电影). His songs, Heartless You (算你恨) and Exclusive Memory (独家记忆) were also very popular in mainland China in the early 2000s.

Zhang Zhilin is widely known by audiences in mainland China due to his role in The Legend of the Condor Heroes (射雕英雄传) produced by TVB in 1994. Other TV dramas such as Return of the Cuckoo (十月初五的月光) and Triumph in the Skies II (冲上云霄2) further boosted his popularity in the mainland.

The legendary band Beyond, the first one on the right is Huang Guanzhong.

Chen Xiaochun in “The Deer and the Cauldron” as Wei Xiaobao, and in the “Young and Dangerous” Film Series as “Chicken” Chiu.

Zhang Zhilin in “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” as Guo Jing (郭靖), and in the “Triumph in the Skies II” as Captain Cool.

There was a time when singers or actors in mainland China, including the two other Greater Bay Area Brothers Zhao Wenzhuo (赵文卓) and Zhang Jin (张晋), would move to Hong Kong for better career development. Along with the fast developments of the entertainment industry in mainland China, things have changed. Some Hong Kong artists have now begun to shift their career focus to mainland China.

One example is the Hong Kong actress Sheh Shiman (佘诗曼, also known as Charmaine Sheh), who started her career by winning second runner-up in the 1997 Miss Hong Kong pageant. She stood out for her roles in Return of the Cuckoo in 2000 (partnering with Zhang Zhilin) and War and Beauty (金枝欲孽) in 2004.

Sheh Shiman and Zhang Zhilin in Return of the Cuckoo.

In 2011, Sheh decided not to renew her long-term contract with TVB, and started to focus more on acting in TV dramas in mainland China. In 2018, she starred in the hugely popular The Story of Yanxi Palace and gained many fans in the mainland for her acting skills. She was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 24th Huading Awards – China’s equivalent to the American People’s Choice Awards.

Sheh Shiman in the Story of Yanxi Palace.

Another example of a Hong Kong entertainer achieving new career success in mainland China is Wang Zulan (王祖蓝/Wong Cho-lam). As a comedian, Wang has been participating in various variety shows. He is well known by the mainland audience for impersonating different celebrities or story characters.

In March 2018, a group of senior Hong Kong artists set up the Association for Betterment of Hong Kong’s Entertainment Industry in Mainland China (HKEIMC) in Hong Kong in the hope of becoming a bridge between the mainland and Hong Kong, Macau, and promoting more exchanges and cooperation within the entertainment industry.

The HKEIMC also aims to help the development of Hong Kong and Macao artists in mainland China, with Jacky Chan (成龙) as the chairman and Zeng Zhiwei (曾志伟/Tsang Chi Wai) as the executive chairman.

Talking about the founding of HKEIMC, Vice President Wang Mingquan (汪明荃/Wang Ming-chun) said that most of the local residents in the Greater Bay Area already communicate in Cantonese and watch Hong Kong TV programs, suggesting that the cultural differences are relatively small and that there is more room for cooperation.

The entertainment industry in Hong Kong has recently shown more signs of moving to the mainland. Earlier in 2021, for example, Emperor Entertainment Group (EEG), one of the largest entertainment groups in Hong Kong, announced the opening of its Greater Bay Area headquarter office in Guangzhou.

More Greater Bay Coming to China’s Mainstream Entertainment

As Call Me By Fire has geared up the audience’s huge interest in the Greater Bay Area, it is reported that a new variety show featuring the five brothers of the Greater Bay Area named Nights of the Greater Bay Guys (大湾仔的夜) has already started filming.

In addition, audiences interested in Cantonese songs can also expect a new singing show which will be co-produced by Mango TV and TVB. The producer of the show, Wang Zulan, said in a recent interview that he will bring his ten years of experience in the mainland back to Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area at large.

All of these recent developments are signs of a more flourishing future for the entertainment industry in mainland China, presenting more job opportunities for artists from Hong Kong.

“As Hong Kong singers are gathering in mainland variety shows and the Greater Bay Brothers are now going viral across the country, is this the 2021 beginning of the great ‘Cantopop’ revival?”, some Weibo users wonder. It may very well be.

 

By Wendy Huang

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Wendy Huang is a China-based Beijing Language and Culture University graduate who currently works for a Public Relations & Media software company. She believes that, despite the many obstacles, Chinese social media sites such as Weibo can help Chinese internet users to become more informed and open-minded regarding various social issues in present-day China.

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China Arts & Entertainment

CAPA Controversy Continued: Li Xuezheng Won’t Be Silenced

Despite being censored and threatened, Li Xuezheng believes the force of law is with him.

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It has been a stormy week on Weibo following the ‘warning list’ issued by China’s Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) on Tuesday, November 23rd.

It was the ninth time since 2018 for CAPA’s livestreaming branch to issue a list of names of people with a ‘bad record.’ Different from previous lists, its most recent list also included the names of Chinese celebrities who are not necessarily active within the livestreaming industry but should be barred from entering the industry based on their track records.

One of these names is that of Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚), whose online photos from him visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Japan in 2018 were one of the major reasons for him to get into trouble in the summer of 2021.

This is one of the photos that Zhang Zhehan posted of himself, posing at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, that got him into trouble.

Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine is a particularly sensitive location when it comes to memories of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). The shrine is dedicated to the Japanese soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the emperor, including those who committed war crimes in China. It is generally seen as a symbol of Japanese military aggression and as a painful reminder of the numerous atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China and other Asian countries.

Despite apologizing for his supposed lack of historical understanding of the places where he took photos, Zhang saw his career shattered when his social media account was suspended and his brand partnerships were canceled.

Following the inclusion of Zhang’s name on the recent CAPA blacklist, famous producer/distributor/actor Li Xuezheng (李学政), director of the Golden Shield Film and Television Center, started posting about the issue on his Weibo account, where he now has over 1.1 million followers.

On November 25th, What’s on Weibo reported how Li criticized the blacklist of CAPA, questioning the criteria of the names that are included and how an association or business entity such as CAPA would have the legal power to enforce disciplinary measures over Chinese celebrities beyond the realm of their own association membership circles.

When Li Xuezheng stated he would be willing to help Zhang Zhehan file a lawsuit against CAPA, he received nearly 100,000 likes on his post within 24 hours.

Li Xuezheng in one of his videos posted on Weibo.

Since Li Xuezheng first posted about the ‘warning list’ of China’s Association of Performing Arts, he published at least twenty posts from November 23 to November 26, including a few videos. His posts have been gaining more traction, and some have received over 140,000 likes within a day.

Li’s main stance is that, although he says he supports the general initiative of making blacklists, he wants to know how, why, and if CAPA has the legal authority to ban Chinese celebrities from the industry. Li stresses that China is a law-based society and that these kinds of punitive measures should have a legal basis.

Since Li has worked in anti-corruption-related positions before, he says it is very important to know who oversees the process of compiling celebrity blacklists and which methods are used. Since China’s livestreaming industry and the commercial activities of celebrities are of great economic value, people would do anything they can to be removed from such a list. When these kinds of power dynamics play a role, Li argues, the risk of corruption is always there – which is why it is all the more important to know who compiles these kinds of lists and which legal authority they have.

Li argues that China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism have the authority to ‘blacklist’ people in the industry. But when people such as Zhang Zhehan are not listed anywhere according to these authorities, it should be questioned why they are still included in lists such as the one issued by CAPA. Going by law is one of the main principles Li stands by.

Although there are also people criticizing Li, saying he is “saving bad performers” to gain clout, there are many who praise him for his courage and perseverance, reiterating the necessity for Chinese organizations to abide by the law. Others are just following the trend for entertainment, writing: “I’m enjoying the spectacle of this, there’s the CAPA, there’s capital, money laundering, platforms, hiding the truth from the masses…”

Zhang Zhehan still has a loyal group of fans, who support Li in raising awareness for what they believe is the wrongful punishment of their idol.

What is also noteworthy about Li’s posts, is how he refuses to be silenced by outside forces. When Weibo censors his posts, he makes it public by posting screenshots. When he is told by people claiming to have authority to delete his Weibo accounts, he reports back to his readers about what has happened to him.

Although there are many Weibo users who worry about Li’s safety for speaking out about these matters, Li himself does not seem to be anxious at all. “I am legally responsible for every word I publish,” Li writes on November 25th, arguing that nothing he posts is illegal and that he only tries to adhere to the ruling standards and to keep China’s online (entertainment) industry healthy by questioning those claiming to have authority.

One of the points raised by Li is that Zhang Zhehan has never really done anything illegal. By visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, he surely caused a social media storm and was criticized, but he did not do anything illegal and did not spread rumors. If visiting Yasukuni Shrine in itself would be a crime, Li argues, many Chinese media reporters would surely need to be punished as well.

By now, Li has started a storm that does not seem to be lying down any time soon. On November 26, the official site of the China Association of Performing Arts removed its list of leaders from its official site. As of now, it is unclear why this has been done.

At the same time, Li writes that there are more people trying to threaten and smear him. Li still says he will not be silenced: “The great power of justice is surrounding us.”

To read more on this issue, check out our other related articles here.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Li Xuezheng Defies Online Celebrity ‘Blacklist,’ Says He’ll Help Zhang Zhehan File Lawsuit

China’s Association of Performing Arts has issued a blacklist, but Li Xuezheng questions their legal authority to do so.

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As an important voice within the industry, Li Xuezheng has spoken out against the recent blacklist of Chinese (online) performers issued by the China Association of Performing Arts. Li is willing to help one of the prominent names on the list, Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan, to file a lawsuit against the Association.

Li Xuezheng (李学政), Vice Chairman of the China TV Artists Association and Director of the Golden Shield Television Center, has published a video that has caught the attention of many on Weibo. In his video, Li questions the authority of China’s Association of Performing Arts (CAPA/中国演出行业协会), which released a black list of online celebrities earlier this week.

The list went trending on Weibo and contains 88 names of internet personalities who have been reported and registered for their supposedly bad behavior. The people on the list have either violated the law or their actions have allegedly negatively impacted society and public order (more about the list here).

The consequences for the people included in the list are potentially huge, since it not only bans livestreamers from continuing their work but also prohibits performers who were previously ‘canceled’ from entering China’s livestreaming industry to generate an income there. Through the list, CAPA gives an overview of people that should be boycotted and disciplined in the industry.

One of the people on the list is Zhang Zhehan, an actor who got caught up in a Chinese social media storm in August of 2021 over attending a wedding at a controversial Japanese shrine and taking pictures at Yasukuni, a shrine that is seen as representing Japanese militarism and aggression.

Zhang Zhehan got into trouble for posting photos of himself at Japanese shrines deemed historically controversial.

Although Zhang apologized, Zhang’s account and an affiliated work account were suspended by Weibo and the brand partnerships he was involved in were canceled.

Chinese celebrities who have fallen out of favor with authorities or audiences will sometimes turn to livestreaming. Singer Li Daimo (李代沫), for example, became a livestreamer after his successful singing career ended due to a drugs scandal. But now, even such an alternative career would no longer be possible for someone like Zhang, although he was never legally convicted for anything.

News of CAPA’s blacklist was widely published, also by People’s Daily, and the measures were presented as a way to tidy up the chaotic online entertainment industry and to create a “healthy and positive” internet environment.

In his video and other recent posts, Li Xuezheng wonders how the so-called ‘warning list’ was compiled, according to which criteria, by whom it was created, and whether or not the CAPA actually has the legal power to shut people out of China’s live streaming industry.

He also raises the issue that CAPA’s live streaming branch, that issued the blacklist, is actually a business entity; so how does it have the legal disciplinary powers to impose sanctions against Chinese online influencers and performers?

Li Xuezheng in his video.

Li’s video, posted on his Weibo account on November 24, has received over 90,000 likes and was shared over 8500 times at the time of writing.

“What I don’t understand,” one popular comment says: “- are these online influencers [on the list] all members of the Association? Can the Association also punish non-members? Does the authority of the Association cover all media? On what legal basis is their regulatory conduct based?”

The China Association of Performing Arts, founded in 1988, is a national-level organization that falls under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of China. It is a non-profit organization formed by performance operators and performers, according to its official website, which also states that members of the association include performance groups, performance venues and companies, ticketing companies, and more.

Since Li’s video was posted on November 24th, he received a lot of support from Chinese netizens but also faced some online censorship. Li himself posted screenshots showing that not all of his posts could be published.

It is noteworthy for someone like Li to speak out against CAPA’s blacklist. Li Xuezheng is a familiar face within the industry. Born in Shandong Province in 1965, Li has worked in China’s film and TV industry for a long time and has since built an impressive resume as a producer, supervisor, actor, and distributor. He has over a million followers on his Weibo account (@李学政).

On November 25th, Li added another post to his series of posts on the CAPA issue, saying that although his initial goal was just to make sure that CAPA sticks to the rules, he is now also prepared to help Zhang Zhehan in filing a lawsuit against the Association, since Zhang did not violate any laws in order for him to be ‘canceled’ like this. “I believe in the justice of the law,” Li writes.

Although Li received a lot of support on social media, there are also those who worry about Li himself: “You first take care of yourself,” some say, with others warning him: “Teacher Li, if you go on like this, you will lose your [Weibo] account tomorrow.”

Others are moved by Li’s courage: “I almost feel like crying reading your words.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone with this kind of overwhelming righteousness.”

For now, Li seems to be unstoppable in his goal to get to the bottom of this case; he seems to be determined to raise awareness within the industry on who is legally allowed to set the rules and who is not.

One popular comment says: “Looking at Teacher Li, I see he is fighting corruption and advocating honesty. Besides listening to the public’s opinion, I just hope law-based society will rule according to law.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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