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The 8/26 and 8/27 Blow to Chinese Entertainment Circles: Is the Storm Still Coming?

China’s ‘socially responsible’ celebrity culture will lead to the downfall of various stars.

Manya Koetse

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This month, various Chinese celebrities were investigated, blacklisted, or banned, with an “entertainment circles earthquake” occurring on August 26 and 27, when one of China’s most renowned actresses saw her name and work taken off of online channels. Will this blow lead to a greater storm?

Many things were going on in Chinese entertainment circles on Thursday and Friday, August 26-27.

The name of Chinese top actress Zhao Wei (赵薇) was removed from various online channels, and her fan clubs were shut down (read here).

The actress Zheng Shuang (郑爽) was slapped with a US$46.1 million tax evasion fine (her name was also wiped off various platforms & online fan groups were closed), while her ex-partner Zhang Heng (张恒) also became a target of an investigation. The online fan group of Chinese singer-songwriter Henry Huo (霍尊) was removed. The work of the famous musician (and co-founder of Alibaba Music Group) Gao Xiaosong (高晓松) was also taken offline.

Searching for Zhao Wei or Zheng Shuang gives zero results on streaming site Youku. Screenshot by Whatsonweibo, August 27 2021.

The August 26 and 27 “entertainment circle earthquake” comes after a month in which various celebrity scandals were already dominating the top trending lists on social media.

Chinese-Canadian superstar Wu Yifan (吴亦凡), also known as Kris Wu, was detained over rape allegations. Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚) was canceled for attending a wedding at a controversial Japanese shrine and also taking pictures at Yasukuni. Popular Hunan TV host Qian Feng (钱枫) was suspended after being accused of rape.

 
A ‘Socially Responsible’ Celebrity Culture
 

One thing that is certain, is that Chinese authorities are targeting celebrities in the entertainment industry and are giving off a strong signal that these influential people cannot get away with immoral or illegal acts.

The idea that celebrities should “set the right example” is not new, and has been emphasized by Chinese state media over the past months.

Earlier in 2021, the China Association of Performing Arts (中国演出行业协会), which is run by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, officially released new guidelines for Chinese performers in order to promote the idea that they should abide by rules of ‘social morality,’ stating they could face a permanent ban from their profession if they fail to comply.

In order to further push this idea of a celebrity culture that is ‘socially responsible,’ China’s Cyberspace Administration also issued new guidelines on August 27 to “resolve the problems of chaos” in online fan circles. These measures include banning online popularity rankings of celebrities and regulating companies that work with them.

But there seems to be more to the story.

Zheng Shuang and her ex-partner Zhang Heng made the news earlier this year when they had a nasty breakup and the ‘surrogacy gate’ they were involved in went trending (more here), and Henry Huo got caught up in a recent scandal when his ex-girlfriend accused him of being a serial cheater.

But what about Gao Xiaosong and Zhao Wei? Many people on Weibo are still trying to figure out what these celebrities did that would have put them in this pretty dark ‘naughty corner’ of China’s internet.

 
Connecting the Dots
 

Especially the fact that Zhao Wei – as one of the most famous actresses in China – is under scrutiny has led to dozens of different online rumors as to what might have caused this.

Zhao Wei, also known as Vicky Zhao, has consistently been among the top celebrities on Weibo (85+ million followers). Not only is she one of the most renowned actresses in the country, she is also a major influencer, brand ambassador, and businesswoman.

At this point, there has been no official announcement yet on Zhao Wei’s disappearance from many online video channels.

One recurring rumor is that Wu Yifan, aka Kris Wu, who is currently in custody over rape allegations, might have leaked information to the police. Some sources say he passed on the names of 47 celebrities involved in illegal activities to the police, who are rumored to be in danger of being investigated, blacklisted, or banned. There is no official source to back this up.

Zhao’s connections to e-commerce giant Alibaba keep surfacing in online discussions; people link the current developments to the fallen Hangzhou Party chief Zhou Jiangyong (周江勇), who is currently being investigated by China’s top anti-graft agency. In May of 2018, Zhou Jianyong became party chief in Hangzhou, the home city of Jack Ma’s Ant Group and Alibaba Group Holding.

China Economic Weekly reported that friends and family of Zhou Jiangyong had won in project bidding processes within the areas that Zhou administered.

Zhou previously also set up a company that became a strategic partner of Alibaba Group, Tencent, and Unionpay, and which is partly held by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ant Financial (蚂蚁金服). As stated by Global Times, the investigation of Zhou has led Chinese media to also look into “the business dealings and questionable economic activities” of Zhou’s family and social circle.

Both Zhao Wei and Gao Xiaosong are linked to the Alibaba Group, and they share a social circle with fallen party chief Zhou. Jack Ma is an ally of Zhou Jiangyong, and is also a (close) friend of Gao Xiaosong and Zhao Wei and her husband.

Zhou Jiangyong and Jack Ma.

Zhao Wei and Jack Ma.

In 2014, Zhao Wei and her husband Huang Youlong became the second-largest shareholder of Alibaba Pictures. It has also been reported that Zhao allegedly used her mother Wei Qiying as a legal representative in 2015 in holding shares in the Ant Group.

Chinese renowned music producer and show host Gao Xiaosong, whose work was also removed from various online channels on the same day as Zhao, is a longtime friend of Jack Ma. He is the co-founder of Alibaba Music Group and previously was the Alibaba Music director.

Gao Xiaosong

While netizens are glued to their social media screens awaiting an official announcement of what is going on with Zhao Wei (and Gao Xiaosong), many are trying to connect the dots and are tying the recent crackdown on Chinese entertainment circles to an ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

There are many Chinese celebrities who are investors and are engaged in many other businesses than show-business alone.

After it became clear during this social media storm that actress Zhao Wei had left a number of the companies she was involved in, a ‘business map‘ compiled by a data firm (眼查APP资料) of some Chinese celebrities and their business connections started trending online. The hashtag related to the image (#一张图看懂娱乐圈的资本局#) had received over 780 million views by August 29.

A map showing Chinese celebrities and their business involvements went trending on Weibo.

Although the map was unhelpful to many (“too many lines!”), it did clarify just how China’s entertainment celebrities have become tangled up with the country’s largest companies. One Weibo user commented: “They all start companies and then become each other’s shareholders.”

Meanwhile, baseless rumors are circulating on Chinese social media that in the middle of this storm, Zhao Wei has already left China for France.

Most commenters think that the latest developments in China’s entertainment social circles show that these influential people caught up in controversy can run, but they can no longer hide. This may just be the beginning of what is yet to come.

Read more: 25 ‘Tainted Celebrities’: What Happens When Chinese Entertainers Get Canceled?

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Brands & Marketing

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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China Brands & Marketing

Chinese Actor and State Security Ambassador Li Yifeng Detained for Soliciting Prostitutes

Li Yifeng is not exactly living up to his role as spokesperson for the Ministry of State Security.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng (李易峰) went top trending on Chinese social media today. The actor, who previously starred as brand ambassador for the Ministry of State Security and played Mao Zedong in The Pioneer, has been detained for visiting prostitutes.

On January 10 of 2021, China celebrated its very first National Police Day to give full recognition to the police and national security staff for their efforts. For this special day, the Ministry of State Security launched a promo video starring Chinese actor Li Yifeng as the National Police Ambassador (#李易峰国安形象传片#). But today, it turned out that Li might not have been the best man for the job.

Chinese official media reported on September 11 that the 35-year-old actor has been detained for soliciting prostitutes. The hashtag “Li Yifeng Detained for Visiting Prostitutes” (#李易峰多次嫖娼被行政拘留#) received nearly two billion views on Weibo on Sunday; the hashtag “Beijing Police Informs that Li Yifeng Solicited Prostitutes” (#北京警方通报李易峰多次嫖娼#) received a staggering three billion views.

Shortly after the news was announced, various brands for which Li served as a brand ambassador announced that they were no longer working with the actor. Lukfook Jewellery, Mengniu Dairy, Honma Golf, Panerai, Prada, Sensodyne, King To Nin Jiom, and other brands declared that they had terminated their contract with Li (#多个品牌终止与李易峰合作#).

Li rose to fame in 2007 when he participated in the Chinese My Hero talent show. He later debuted as a singer and became a successful actor, starring in various Chinese TV dramas and films. Li became especially popular after starring in Swords of Legends and won an award for his role in the 2015 Chinese crime film Mr. Six (老炮儿). He would go on to win many more awards. One of his biggest roles was starring as Mao Zedong in the 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer (革命者).

According to Global Times, Li was previously announced as one of the celebrities attending the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on CCTV on Saturday night, but his name was later deleted from the program.

“I had never expected my idol to collapse like this,” some disappointed fans wrote on Weibo.

In a ‘super topic’ community dedicated to the star, some fans would not give up on their idol yet: “Where is the proof? Besides the Beijing police statement, where is the actual proof?”

On Li Yifeng’s Weibo page, where the actor has over 60 million fans, nothing has been posted since September 5.

The Huading Awards, a famous entertainment award in China, announced that they cancelled Li Yifeng’s title of “Best Actor in China” (#华鼎奖取消李易峰中国最佳男主角等称号#).

“He lost all he had overnight,” some commenters wrote. “Celebrities generally get cancelled for two things: one is evading taxes, the other is sleeping around,” one popular comment said: “So in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.*”

“Why do you even need to see a prostitute when you’re so good-looking?” others wondered.

One Weibo user (@大漠叔叔) wrote: “Have a good head on your shoulders and just remember one thing. It does not matter how good your reputation is, or how many titles you have, how much the audience loves you, how much the fans embrace you, how many awards you get, it won’t protect you. Stay clear-headed, merit does not outweigh faults! You can’t cross the moral bottomline nor cross the boundaries of the law. You can be canceled just like that.”

By Manya Koetse 

* This comment is loosely translated here, but the Chinese is quite funny because the words ‘taxes’ and ‘sleeping’ sound similar. “明星塌房的两个主要原因:一个睡,一个税。 简而言之:该税的税,不该睡的别睡.”

 

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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