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Top 25 Best Fiction Books on China: Understanding Contemporary China through Modern Literary Fiction

A selection of the best modern literary fiction works that provide deeper insights into China.

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Literature or modern fiction can be a great way to understand more about a country’s culture, history, or society, as it describes events, feelings, atmospheres, and personal stories in a way that history books or more scholarly accounts could never do. This is a top 25 modern fiction works on China compiled by What’s on Weibo as recommended reading to get a better understanding of present-day China.

After doing a Top 30 on Best (Non-Fiction) Books to Better Understand China, we felt it was high time to give you a list of recommendations of modern literary fiction works focusing on the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that also help to better understand the past and present of this rapidly changing society.

There are hundreds of novels and literary works out there on modern China, and a lot of them are written in Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Dutch, and many other languages – but for the scope of this particular list, we have chosen just to focus on the modern fiction books that have come out in the English language. We leave out fictional works focused on specifically Hong Kong and/or Taiwan here, because a top 25 just would not be enough.

Also, due to the scope of this list, we have selected those works that have come out after 1978, the year of the ‘Reform and Opening Up’ of China, mainly because this period marks a new era in Chinese literature and literature on China. Note that this list does not necessarily focus on ‘Chinese literature’ but on ‘literary works on China’ in general.

The earlier years of modern China have seen so many great literary works that are absolutely pivotal for anyone studying China, Chinese literature, or wanting to understand its past century, from the works of Lu Xun to gems such as Miss Sophie’s Diary (1928) by Ding Ling, a Fortress Besieged (1947) by Qian Zhongshu, the works by Eileen Chang or Louis Cha (Jin Yong), that they deserve a list of their own.

These are the 25 books we have selected based on your recommendations and our own. The list is numbered based on the original year of publication. Note that we have provided Amazon links with these books, and most will be available for sale in the US/Europe and elsewhere, but we would also recommend checking out your local thrift stores, Oxfam stores, garage sales etc. because you might unexpectedly find some of these gems there (we sure did!).

 
● #1 Red Sorghum: A Novel of China (Mo Yan) 

Year first published: 1986/1987 (红高粱家族), English translation 1992 by Howard Goldblatt

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan (莫言, real name Guan Moye, 1955) is a novel that has become very famous both in- and outside of China, one of the reasons being that the renowned director Zhang Yimou turned the novel into a movie in 1988. The novel tells the story of a family’s struggles spanning three generations in Shandong from the 1920s to the 1970s, through the Japanese occupation and the Cultural Revolution. The sorghum fields are constantly present throughout the book – it is the heart of the home, the provider of food and wine, and the battleground of war.

When Mo Yan became the winner of the 2012 Nobel prize in literature, some controversy erupted: Mo Yan is one of China’s most famous writers, but he is not a “social activist” or dissident, as many other internationally acclaimed Chinese artists and writers are. “Do cultural figures in China have a responsibility to be dissidents?” the Atlantic wrote in 2013. Perhaps the criticism was somewhat unfounded; after all, Mo Yan never asked to win the Nobel Prize. He said: “I hate partisan politics and how people gang up on opponents based on ideology. I like to come and go on my own, which allows me to look on from the sidelines with a clear mind and gain insight about the world and the human condition. I don’t have the capability or interest of becoming a politician. I just want to write, quietly, and do some charity work in secret. “ Mo Yan is also active on Weibo, where he sporadically shares his calligraphy.

Get on Amazon: Red Sorghum

Also worth reading by the same author:

 
● #2 Stick Out Your Tongue (Ma Jian)

First published in 1987 (亮出你的舌苔或空空荡荡), English translation by Flora Drew

This book by the exiled author Ma Jian (马建, 1953) definitely deserves a place on this list, even if it was just for the controversy it triggered once it was published. The publication of Stick Out Your Tongue sparked off the notorious “Ma Jian Affair,” which has since been called one of the biggest scandals in modern Chinese literature; it led to an immediate ban on the book within mainland China. Stick Out Your Tongue was targeted as an anti-nationalistic book for being “vulgar, obscene,” and for “defaming the image of [our] Tibetan compatriots” (Koetse 2009).

Stick Out Your Tongue (SOYT) resumes where Red Dust, Ma Jian’s first book, left off, for which the author traveled to Tibet and wrote a book about his experiences. SOYT is almost a dream-like novel. Short stories sketch a dark image of remote grasslands and dilapidated temples; a secretive, haunted place. The book tells about how an aging pilgrim reveals why he gave everything away in a Buddhist penance before walking into the mountains to die. Other stories tell about incest and rape. Although SOYT enraged both Han Chinese and Tibetans, Ma Jian said about the book: “The need to believe in an earthly paradise, a hidden utopia where men live in peace and harmony, seems to run deep in among those who are discontented with the modern world. Westerners idealize Tibetans as gentle, godly people untainted by base desires and greed. But in my experience, Tibetans can be as corrupt and brutal as the rest of us. To idealize them is to deny them their humanity” (89).

Get on Amazon: Stick Out Your Tongue

 
● #3 Please Don’t Call me Human (Wang Shuo)

First published 1989 (千万别把我当人), English translation 2000 by Howard Goldblatt 

Wang Shuo (王朔, 1958) is one of China’s most popular and controversial authors, and is known as “the idol of rebellion for the youth” and a ‘celebrity writer’: most of his works have been turned into movies or TV series (Yao 2004, 432). Because of his cynism and bashing of literature elite, he became known as a “hooligan” writer who is quoted as saying things as: “The key is to make sure you f*ck literature and don’t let literature f*ck you.”

Please Don’t Call Me Human is a satirical and surreal novel on “the worthlessness of the individual in the eyes of the totalitarian state” (Abrahamsen 2011) as the author writes about an Olympic-like Wrestling Competition where China is determined to win at any cost and where the so-called National Mobilization Committee strives to find a man to reclaim China’s honour and defeat the big western wrestler.

Get on Amazon here

Also recommended by this author:

 

 
● #4 Soul Mountain (Gao Xingjian)

First published: 1990 (灵山), English translation 2001 by Mabel Lee

Gao Xingjian (高行健, 1940), who is best known for his Soul Mountain, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2000. Unlike his fellow Nobel Laureate Mo Yan, Gao already left China in 1987, and later became a French citizen (He 2016).

Soul Mountain is largely autobiographical, based on the author’s 1983 remote travels to remote areas along the Yangtze river.  The protagonist of the narrative is on a journey to find the fabled mountain Lingshan (Soul Mountain), and along the way, he collects stories, lovers, and spiritual wisdom. The characters in the book are unnamed; instead, they go by pronouns such as “I”, “you” or “she,” detaching them from their personal names, harboring bigger stories about the origins of humankind and Chinese culture.

Get on Amazon: Soul Mountain

Also recommended by the same author:

 

 
● #5 Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Jung Chang)

Year first published: 1991

Practically every garage sale or thrift shop nowadays has a copy of Wild Swans lying around since its immense success in the 1990s. The book is often categorized as non-fiction, but reads like a literary novel, and cannot not be on this list; it is an account of the tumultuous Chinese 20th century from the perspective of three generations of women.

Wild Swans is sometimes called an example of ‘scar literature’ (伤痕文学), a genre that came up after the end of the Cultural Revolution in which authors shared the pain suffered by people during the 1960s, and which basically started with the publication of Lu Xinhua’s 1978 story “Scar.” Whether or not Wild Swans belongs in this category is up to debate, but what is undeniable is that this book offers a glimpse into an incredible time in the history of China in a personal and captivating way that formal history books could never do. An absolute recommendation for anyone who wants to know more about how the Cultural Revolution and the period before and after affected Chinese women, families, and society at large.

Get on Amazon: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

 
● #6 To Live (Yu Hua)

Year first published: 1993 (活着), English translation 2003 by Michael Berry  

To Live by Yu Hua (余华, 1960) is the novel that was most recommended to What’s on Weibo by readers upon asking for people’s favorite China books. The book has become an absolute classic, and follows the life of Fugui, a spoiled son of a wealthy landlord, who is changed forever after witnessing and experiencing the hardships of the Civil War and Cultural Revolution.

In 1994, this novel was used for the screenplay of the film by Zhang Yimou, starring Gong Li, which was later denied a theatrical release in mainland China due to its critical portrayal of various policies and campaigns of the Communist government.

Buy via Amazon: To Live 

Other recommend works by the same author:

 
● #7 Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai (Wang Anyi)

First published in 1995 (长恨歌), English translation 2008 by Michael Berry & Susan Chan Egan

Wang Anyi (王安忆, 1954) is one of China’s most popular female authors, and The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is among her most famous works. The book traces the life story of the young Shanghainese girl Wang Qiyao from the 1940s, when Gone with the Wind played in Shanghai theatresuntil her tragic death after the Cultural Revolution, in the 1980s.

The city of Shanghai is at the heart of this book – its rooftops, its skyline, its birds, moonlight, sunsets its girls, and its gossip.

Get on Amazon here

 
● #8 A Dictionary of Maqiao (Han Shaogong)

Year first published 1996 (马桥词典), English translation 2003 by Julia Lovell 

Han Shaogong (韓少功, 1953) is a celebrated Chinese author who is also known as the leading figure within the 1980s ‘Xungen movement’ (寻根文学: literally ‘Finding Roots Literature’), a cultural and literary movement in mainland China in which writers started to focus on local and minority cultures as a new source of inspiration.

The narrative of A Dictionary of Maqiao takes places in an imaginary village in Southern China called ‘Maqiao.’ It is written as a dictionary, in which the author explains the words of the local language, and in doing so, tells the stories of rural China during the Cultural Revolution.

Get on Amazon here

 
● #9 Ocean of Words (Ha Jin)

First published in 1996 

This collection by Ha Jin (哈金, 1956, real name Jin Xuefei) won the 1997 PEN/Hemingway Award for best first work of fiction. Ha Jin was born in Liaoning, China, but emigrated to the US after studying in Massachusetts during the 1989 Tiananmen protests. Ha Jin is now an American national who writes in English.

Ocean of Words is a collection of short stories that all take place at the border between China and Russia during the early 1970s, after a series of border clashes, and focus on the soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Not coincidentally, Ha Jin also served the PLA himself from the age of 14, and spent a year at the Russian border.

Get on Amazon: Ocean of Words 

Also recommended by the same author:

 
● #10 Falling Leaves (Adeline Yen Mah) and Once Upon a Time in the East (Xiaolu Guo)

Years published: Falling Leaves in 1997 and Once Upon a Time in the East 2017

These are two books under one number, since we did not want to choose one over the other; these female authors have a lot in common despite their different ages and backgrounds, and this also shows in their books.

Adeline Yen Mah (马严君玲, 1937) and Xiaolu Guo (郭小橹, 1973) are two female authors of a very different generation, but in these works, they both very much focus on their family stories and their struggle to find their own independence and voice. Although these works do give a peek into some parts of Chinese history, they are more about Chinese family dynamics and culture.

Adeline Yen Mah is a Chinese-American author who was born in Tianjin. Her mother died of childbed fever soon after giving birth to her, which was to be the start of a difficult and abusive childhood for Yen Mah, who grew up with her sisters, her fathers, and her cruel Eurasian stepmother. It is Yen Mah’s own story that is the focus of Falling Leaves

Xiaolu Guo is a British-Chinese author who was born in 1973 and then handed over to a childless peasant couple in the mountains by her parents. Aged two, and suffering from malnutrition, Xiaolu is left with her illiterate grandparents in a fishing village on the East China Sea, and does not meet her own parents until she is almost seven years old. Once Upon a Time in the East is written from the perspective of a forty-year-old Xiaolu, who lives in London and is now becoming a mother herself, and has the urge to revisit her past memories and roots of the past, that now seems like a “foreign country” to her.

Get: Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Daughter
Get: Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing up

 
● #11 Shanghai Baby (Wei Hui)

Year first published: 1999 (上海宝贝), English translation 2001 by Bruce Humes

This is arguably one of the more controversial novels on this list, since it has sparked many discussions since its publication in the early years of the millennium, with many deeming it a “disgrace to Chinese culture” and a “shame to Chinese men.”

One of the reasons this book by Wei Hui (周卫慧, 1973) deserves attention is because it represents a genre of literature written by young female authors, known as ‘Beauty Writers’ (美女作家) who focused on topics generally deemed taboo in China around 2000. This book touches upon topics such as female orgasm, menstruation, oral sex, and other things that were somewhat rare to read about in modern Chinese novels before this time.

The novel revolves around the everyday life of the 25-year-old aspiring writer Coco, who works as a waitress in downtown Shanghai. The book, that is written as if it were the protagonist’s own diary, focuses on Coco’s life, her ambitions, (foreign) boyfriends, erotic encounters, and most importantly, on the city itself and the sexual awakening of a young Chinese writer on her way to success.

Buy via Amazon: Shanghai Baby a Novel 

 
● #12 Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie)

Originally published in 2000 (Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise), English translation by Ina Rilke

Dai Sijie (戴思杰, 1954) is a Chinese–French author and filmmaker who, as several authors on this list, was sent down to a ‘re-education camp’ in rural Sichuan during the Cultural Revolution. Much of his experience there was used in his book.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a captivating account that tells the story of two young men who become good friends with a local seamstress while spending time in a countryside village where they have been sent for “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution. Instead of a passion for Mao, they discover their love for (western) literature.

Get on Amazon here

Recommended by the same author:

 
● #13 Candy (Mian Mian)

Year first published: 2000 (糖), English translation 2003 by Andrea Lingenfelter

Just as the author of Shanghai Baby, Mian Mian (棉棉, 1970) is also one of China’s so-called ‘Beauty Writers’ (美女作家), whose works are characterized by its focus on the stories of a young urban female generation, leading a wild and extravagant lifestyle. For Shanghai Baby, Candy, but also for works such as Beijing Doll (2002, Chun Sue), it meant that their boldness soon also resulted in banishment within the PRC.

Candy tells the story of a young female high-school dropout who runs away to Shenzhen, where her new life is clouded by alcohol and drugs. About the book, the author writes: “This book exists because one morning as the sun was coming up I told myself that I had to swallow up all of the fear and garbage around me, and once it was inside me I had to transform it all into candy.”

Although it has been somewhat quiet around the author since her smashing debut and her lawsuit against Google, Mian Mian is still active on Weibo.

Buy: Candy by Mian Mian

 
● #14 Becoming Madame Mao (Anchee Min)


Year first published 2000

Anchee Min (閔安琪, 1957) is a Chinese-American author who is known for her works in which she focuses on strong female characters.  Becoming Madame Mao is a historical novel, that uses letters, poems, and quotations from original documents, detailing the life of Jiang Qing.

Jiang Qing, who is known as one of China’s most ‘evil women’, became ‘Madame Mao’ after her marriage to Mao Zedong. In this novel, Min shows another side of one of the most controversial political figures in the People’s Republic of China.

Get online: Becoming Madame Mao

Recommended by the same author:

 
● #15 Mao’s Last Dancer (Li Cunxin)

First published 2003

Just as a few other books on this list, such as Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, this book officially is not ‘fiction,’ since it is an autobiography – but it still reads like a novel. Li Cunxin (李存信, 1961) is a Chinese-Australian former ballet dancer whose intriguing life story is what this book is about. Li is selected to be trained as a ballet dancer at Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy when he is just a young boy, and later gets the chance to travel to America as a visiting student, where he begins to question the Chinese Communist doctrines which he has been raised with.

Many people might know this book because of the film based on this work, directed by Bruce Beresford, that came out in 2009.

Buy online: Mao’s Last Dancer

 
● #16 Northern Girls (Sheng Keyi)

First published in: 2004 (北妹), English translation 2012 by Shelly Bryant

Sheng Keyi (盛可以, 1973) is among one of China’s newer generations of writers who focus on modern China. Like protagonist Qian Xiaohong in her book, Sheng was also born in a village in Hunan province and then worked and lived in Shenzhen. Staying close to her own experiences, this coming-of-age novel is about a community of fellow rural ‘northern girls’ in a search of a better life in the bustling city. 

Amazon has it here

 
● #17 Wolf Totem (Jiang Rong)

First published in 2004 (狼图腾), English translation 2008 by Howard Goldblatt

Wolf Totem is an award-winning semi-autobiographical novel about the experiences of a young student from Beijing who is sent to the countryside of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. He lives with nomadic Mongols and learns from them, but also finds himself fascinated with the wolfs of the grasslands; their survival is threatened when are attacked by the government as ‘class enemies.’ The book became highly popular in China shortly after it was published, and more than a decade later, it still is very popular, especially since a film based on the novel came out in 2015.

Author Jiang Rong (姜戎 1946, real name Lü Jiamin) is very familiar with Inner Mongolia, as he went there at the age of 21 as “sent down youth,” and stayed there for eleven years. Wolf Totem is not just partly based on his experiences there, it is also a social commentary on the dangers of China’s economic growth and the destruction of culture, spirituality, and ecology.

To buy: Wolf Totem – a Novel

 
● #18 Dream of Ding Village (Yan Lianke)

First published in 2005 (丁庄梦), English translation 2009 by Cindy Carter

Yan Lianke (阎连科, 1958) is a leading author of modern Chinese literature; he is also called the Chinese author (inside of China) who has come closest to winning the Nobel Prize after Mo Yan. Dream of Ding Village was originally published in China, but then got banned. The narrative is about a place where poverty-stricken villagers are coerced into selling their blood and are subsequently infected with HIV by contaminated plasma injections. Although the book is fiction, these kinds of scandals, unfortunately, have taken place. Noteworthy enough, a Chinese film based on Yan’s (banned) book was made in 2011, called Love for Life (最爱).

About his work, Yan said in 2018: “China’s reality is complex and irrational. The people are always under the nation, their existence burdened by its great weight (..) I have been writing about people living under these circumstances, and believe my overseas readers can learn something universal from my stories about China.”

Buy: Dream of Ding Village

 
● #19 Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu (Murong Xuecun) 

First published in 2006 (成都,今夜请将我遗忘), English translation 2013 by Harvey Thomlinson

Murong Xuecun (慕容雪村, 1974, real name Hao Qun) is one of the younger authors in this list, whose debut Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu instantly made him famous and was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008. The contemporary novel is focused on the lives of three young men who struggle to make their way in the dynamic city of Chengdu where gambling, womanizing, corruption, and cheating have become part of their everyday lives.

Murong Xuecun is known as an anti-censorship activist who reportedly had 8.5 million followers on his Weibo microblog accounts before they were forcibly closed. For an excerpt of the book see The New York Times here.

Buy online: Leave Me Alone

 
● #20 The Flowers of War (Yan Geling)

Year published: 2006 (金陵十三钗), English translation 2012 by Nicky Harman

Many people might have heard of The Flowers of War because of the film by Zhang Yimou, who has often made films based on Chinese literary works by authors such as Mo Yan, Yu Hua, or Su Tong. This novella by Geling Yan (严歌苓, 1958), inspired by the diaries of Minnie Vautrin, is set in Nanjing during the gruesome history of the 1937 Japanese invasion, also known as the ‘Rape of Nanjing.’  This story focuses on an American church compound in the ‘safety zone’ where a group of escapees tries to survive the violent invasion of the city.

The Nanjing massacre is deeply engraved into China’s collective memory, and stills plays a major role in Chinese art, literature, popular culture, and politics.

Geling Yan is one of the few authors in this list that is also active on Weibo.

Buy via Amazon: here

Other recommended works by the same author:

 
● #21 Happy Dreams (Jia Pingwa)

First published in 2007 (高兴), English translation 2017 by Nicky Harman

Jia Pingwa (贾平凹, 1952) is one of China’s most prominent authors, and this imaginative work, that came out in English in 2017, focuses on the tough lives of China’s migrant workers. The story is set in Xi’an and focuses on trash picker Hawa “Happy” Liu, a rural laborer who has arrived in the city in search of work, and his friend and fellow villager Wufu.

To buy: Happy Dreams

Also recommended by the same author:

 
● #22 Beijing Coma (Ma Jian)

Year Published: 2008, translated by Flora Drew

Beijing Coma tells the compelling story of Dai Wei, who lies in a coma in his mother’s flat in Beijing, whose memories “flash by like the lighted windows of a passing train” as we as readers are sucked into the pages – going back to those dorms days and discussions that eventually led to the massive Tiananmen student protests of 1989.

Buy via Amazon here: Beijing Coma 

Also must-read by the same author (who also just released his new book China Dream (2018)!):

 
● #23 The Vagrants (Yiyun Li)

First published 2009

This is the debut of the award-winning Chinese American author Yiyun Li (李翊雲, 1972), which takes place the late 1970s China in an impoverished rural town named Muddy River, where two parents wake up the day their daughter Gu Shan gets executed as a ‘counterrevolutionary.’ The book is dark and gripping, focusing on a world of oppression and pain, as it tells the stories of a group of very different characters who are all connected to each other.

About her writing style, Li told an interviewer: “People would say I portray the world in a bleak way. It’s not bleak to me. I think what is bleak is when you create a veil to make the world feel better. Literature is one place we should be able to experience bleakness and brightness and anything in between. Literature should not make people feel comfortable, it should challenge the readers.”

Get on Amazon: The Vagrants: A Novel

 
● #24 The Fat Years (Chan Koonchung)

First published in: 2009 (盛世——中国,2013年), English translation 2011 by Michael S. Duke

The Fat Years is a science fiction book that tells of a dystopian future of China and its political landscape by Chinese author Chan Koonchung (陈冠中, 1952), and for many people, it’s one of the more important China fiction books that have come out the past decade. “After the world’s second financial crisis in 2013, the government clings to power only after it sends troops into the streets for a month of bloody killing. Finally, the government laces the water with a chemical that makes people feel happy and eager to spend money” (Johnson 2011). The book has never come out in mainland China.

China columnist Didi Kirsten Tatlow said about The Fat Years: “Rarely does a novel tell the truth about a society in a way that has the power to shift our perceptions about that place in a certain way, but ‘The Fat Years’ does exactly that.” 

Get via Amazon: The Fat Years

 
● #25 Lotus (Lijia Zhang)

First published in 2017

Lijia Zhang (张丽佳, 1964) is an internationally acclaimed author and public speaker. Inspired by the secret life of the author’s grandmother, who was sold to a brothel at age 14, Lotus follows the life of a young prostitute in an urban China that is rapidly changing.

Zhang has called the subject of prostitution “an interesting window to observe/explore social tensions” in China. Recommended by the same author is her memoir Socialism Is Great!: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China. Also check out this interview with Lijia Zhang on the WAGIC website.

Get on Amazon: Lotus

 

Some bonus recommendations:

Running Through Beijing by Xu Zechen (徐则臣, 1978)

(First published 2008, 跑步穿过中关村, 2014 transl. Eric Abrahamsen)

Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation

(By Ken Liu 2016)

A Private Life by Chen Ran (陈染, 1962)

(First published 1996, 2004 transl. John Howard-Gibbon)

Raise the Red Lantern / Wives and Concubines by Su Tong (苏童, 1963) 

(First published 1990 妻妾成群, 2004 transl. Michael S. Duke)

Beijing Doll – A Novel by Chun Sue (春树)

(First published 2002 北京娃娃, 2004 transl. Howard Goldblatt)

 

Don’t forget to check out our top 30 of best non-fiction books on China.

 

By Manya Koetse

Note that due to the scope of this list we’ve applied several criteria. Books selected in this list are:

  • ..translated into English or written in English.
  • ..literary fiction works that take place in the People’s Republic of China, or in which Chinese modern history and/or society is an important theme, and that are relevant for people in getting a better grasp of Chinese history, society, urbanization, gender, literature, family relations etc.
  • ..not necessarily written by mainland Chinese authors, not necessarily originally written in Chinese.
  • ..published after 1978.

This list was compiled based on own preferences and that of many readers whom we asked about their favorite books within this category. If you think certain books are not here that should be here, please let us know and we might compile a second list in the future.

References

Abrahamsen, Eric. 2011. “Irony Is Good! – How Mao killed Chinese humor … and how the Internet is slowly bringing it back again.” Foreign Policy, January 12  https://foreignpolicy.com/2011/01/12/irony-is-good/ [24.12.18].

He Chengzhou. 2016. “Gao Xingjian’s Individualistic Revolt: Fiction, Biography, and Event.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 62, no. 4: 627-643. https://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed December 23, 2018).

Johnson, Ian. 2011. “On the Party Circuit, and Upsetting the Party.” New York Times, July 29 https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/30/world/asia/30chan.html [27.12.18].

Koetse, Manya. 2009. “‘Stick Out Your Tongue’: A Banned Book on the Health of a Nation.” Essay [Universiteit Leiden], published online December 2012: https://www.manyakoetse.com/stick-out-your-tongue-a-banned-book-on-the-health-of-a-nation/.

Yang, Lan. 1998. Chinese Fiction of the Cultural Revolution. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Yao, Yusheng. 2004. “The Elite Class Background of Wang Shuo and His Hooligan Characters.” Modern China 30, no. 4 (2004): 431-69.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. run 3

    March 22, 2019 at 8:33 am

    You have posted a trust worthy blog keep sharing.

  2. jeny

    May 4, 2019 at 11:25 am

    This is good

  3. Anne Teoh

    June 14, 2019 at 10:16 am

    Protest books, mostly mostly hubris, negating experiences and life in China. I can’t believe these are the only books written in China . As such, one might just be surface- reading for , as I’m well aware, life in China ‘s not just candy and pop corn all the way, but, as a massive country with a century of humiliation, poverty, wars and revolution, it’s also profoundly rich in literary matters with soul wrenching realisations (like everywhere) yet, they will have elements of transcendence and beauty that’s deeply moving – as I’d read of many ‘other’ books written in from China. There is yet one or two great Chinese writing to come… let it be worth our waiting.

  4. bubble shoot

    August 8, 2019 at 10:07 am

    The information you provide about the books is very good, thank you.

  5. Raze Unblocked

    October 3, 2019 at 10:56 am

    top 25 just would not be enough but thank for sharing

  6. basketball legends

    March 25, 2020 at 11:56 am

    Thank you very much for the information you provide about these works.

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China Arts & Entertainment

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

What happens after Chinese celebrities become tainted by scandal? A list of 25 ‘tainted celebrities’ in China.

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What happens when Chinese celebrities get tainted by scandal? This is a list of 25 notable Chinese celebrities who got caught up in controversy. What did they do, and where are they now? An overview by What’s on Weibo.

This year seems to be a peak year to see China’s entertainment stars falling from the sky. After various celebrity scandals occurred earlier in 2021, a major ‘entertainment circles earthquake’ took place in late August.

Famous actresses Zhao Wei (赵薇) and Zheng Shuang (郑爽), along with Chinese music producer and TV host Gao Xiaosong (高晓松), saw their names and work wiped from various online channels. Online fan groups and ‘super topics’ dedicated to these celebrities, as well as others, were taken offline.

China’s entertainment circles have not seen so many scandals and investigations since 2014, when there were so many Chinese celebrities in prison that netizens spoofed the famous 1987 action movie Prison on Fire (监狱风云) and jokingly made it feature imprisoned stars with the main lead for actor Huang Haibo (黄海波).

A 2014 meme featuring Chinese celebrities in prison.

The recent blow to Chinese entertainment culture is partly related to a larger “clean up” campaign (清朗专项行动) targeting celebrities and online fan communities.

Many Chinese celebrities from the entertainment industry were ‘canceled’ over the past years over their illegal behavior and activities. But not all celebrity scandals are related to top-down measures; sometimes there are those whose reputation becomes irreversibly damaged over cheating, sex scandals, inappropriate (leaked) online messages, or by them getting caught up in controversial and sensitive historical or political issues.

Sometimes the ‘trial’ is by the public, other times it’s by authorities, but it always ends up being a trial by media.

We have compiled a top 25 list of Chinese celebrities in the show business who suffered a public fall from grace with updates on where they are now, perhaps giving an idea of what the future might look like for those Chinese stars who have recently been ‘blacklisted.’

This list only includes those celebrities whose scandals played out online in the age of social media. It is a top 25 of ‘tainted celebrities’ within mainland China’s entertainment industry, listed in chronological order of when their reputation suffered a blow.

 
 

#1 Edison Chen 陈冠希

 

Edison Chen is a Canadian-born Hong Kong actor, singer, and entrepreneur whose 2008 sex photo scandal (“艳照门”) shook Chinese entertainment circles. Although this scandal mostly relates to the Hong Kong entertainment industry, we’ve still added it to this list since it is also widely known in mainland China.

The scandal erupted when intimate and private photos started circulating on the internet, showing the actor with various women, including actresses Gillian Chung, Bobo Chan, Rachel Ngan, and Cecilia Cheung. The photos were, among others, disseminated on the Chinese internet forum Tianya, where they received over twenty million views.

The photos were stolen from Chen’s computer and illegally uploaded online. Over eight people were arrested in relation to this case (see wiki page here). In February of 2008, Chen announced that he would step away from the Hong Kong entertainment industry.

Where is he now?

By now, Edison Chen has become a family man. In 2017, he married Chinese supermodel Qin Shupei and they have a kid together.

Chen is a brand ambassador for Ralph Lauren, and together with his family he also participated in the brand’s “Family is who you love” campaign.

Chen has been successful in business – he is the founder of the streetwear label CLOT. He also has a large following on Weibo of over 29,5 million fans (@edc陳冠希).

Nevertheless, the actor can’t seem to shake off scandal. In June of 2021, he was caught in scandal again when older posts of a Chinese woman surfaced on Weibo in which she accused the actor of trying to seduce her twice between November 2016 and January 2017.

 
 

#2 Man Wenjun 满文军

 

The drugs scandal involving famous pop star Man Wenjun (满文军, 1969) became major news in China in May of 2009 when the celebrity was busted with heroin during a raid in the Beijing Coco Banana nightclub, where he was celebrating his wife’s 40th birthday in a VIP room.

Ma is most famous for songs such as I Understand You (懂你) and Longing for My Hometown (望乡). He was also one of the singers who sang the theme song Beijing Welcomes You (北京欢迎你) for the 2008 Olympics.

The singer and his wife were detained, along with more than ten other people who all tested positive for drug use. At the time, China.org reported that an unnamed drug dealer told media that the celebrity couple were frequent drug users and bought 2.5 grams of heroin from him.

Man eventually only served twenty days in prison. His wife, however, got a much longer sentence. Li Li (李俐) – Man’s second wife after a previous divorce – later confessed to giving ecstasy tablets to two people that evening. She received a one-year prison sentence and a 2,000 yuan penalty.

The singer was criticized for testifying against his own wife. When she heard her husband’s testimony against her (alleging that she was the one doing drugs), she allegedly called her husband ‘inhumane.’

The incident sparked online discussion about the moral standards of celebrities, and China.org published a list of celebrities who previously also got caught up in drug-related scandals.

Man’s arrest would just be the beginning of an even longer list of celebrities getting caught with drugs in the years after.

Where is he now?

Unsurprisingly, Man Wenjun and Li Li are now divorced.

The drugs scandal meant a major blow to Man’s reputation, and despite still releasing new music and occasional performances, he would never again regain the success he once had. It is rumored that Man now runs his own music training institution, where he is a music teacher.

 
 

#3 Li Daimo 李代沫

 

Li Daimo (李代沫, 1988), is a Chinese singer who rose to fame in 2012 during the first season of The Voice of China (中国好声音).

In July 2013, Li came out as being gay. Many netizens applauded Li for coming out, and he gained overwhelming support from fans and followers.

In March of 2014, however, Li’s reputation suffered when he was arrested by Beijing police due to drug possession. Li was found guilty and was sentenced to a fine and nine months in prison.

Where is he now?

After spending seven months behind bars, Li was released from prison in December of 2014. His early release was because of good behavior.

After being released from prison, Li resumed his music career. In 2015, he launched a single titled “Thank You” (谢谢你). Li is still active on Weibo (@李代沫Demon), where he has over a million followers.

Although Li’s tainted past is still often mentioned on Weibo, he is one of the few artists who seems to have made some sort of a comeback to the entertainment industry after such a major controversy, although he will probably never go back to the success he once had. During some live streams Li has done, the singer is often scolded by netizens.

 
 

#4 Huang Haibo 黄海波

 

Huang Haibo (黄海波, 1976) is a renowned award-winning Chinese actor who suffered a public fall from grace in 2014 when he was caught soliciting a prostitute in a Beijing hotel. The then-39-year-old was previously known as China’s national “son-in-law” for often playing the nice guy and ideal husband in Chinese productions.

In May of 2014, Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced that Huang was arrested on suspicion of hiring prostitutes, and then he was sentenced to 15 days in prison, followed by a six months sentence of “custody and reeducation.”

After the scandal made headlines, Huang was no longer offered new roles and his TV and film career in mainland China came to an abrupt end.

Although Huang definitely was shut out from the entertainment industry due to this affair, he was not necessarily ‘canceled’ by the public. Many people sided with him since they felt he was trapped or even purposely framed – someone must have tipped off the police in order for them to catch him in the act at the Beijing hotel.

Where is he now?

In 2015, just a year after the scandal made headlines, Huang announced he and his partner were expecting a baby. The actor has since moved to the United States.

His partner is Chinese actress Qu Shanshan (曲栅栅), who is still working.

Huang still has over six million followers on his Weibo account. He has not appeared in any Chinese productions since his scandal.

 
 

#5 Zhang Mo 张默

 

Zhang Mo (张默, 1982) was a famous actor in Chinese TV dramas and films who is especially well-known for his leading role in Let the Bullets Fly. He is also the son of famous actor and producer Zhang Guoli (张国立).

In July of 2014, the actor was arrested in Beijing for illegal drug use. He was sentenced to six months in prison and was fined 5,000 yuan ($800) for drug use and providing others with a venue for drug use. The scandal went viral on Chinese social media, with many feeling sorry for father Zhang Guoli having to deal with such a troubled son.

It was not the first time for the actor to be caught up in controversy, and he became known as a rebel. He was involved in another drug-related incident in 2012. Years before, his ex-girlfriend Tong Yao accused Zhang Mo of assaulting her.

Where is he now?

Since his past controversies, Zhang Mo has moved on to work behind the screens. Zhang was photographed on a set together with his father Zhang Guoli in March of 2021.

It is reported that besides working behind the scenes (he allegedly is a senior executive), Zhang Mo is also a major shareholder of at least two film and television companies.

 
 

#6 Kai Ko / Ke Zhendong 柯震东

 

Although the actor and singer Ko Chentung (柯震东 Ke Zhendong, 1991) – also known as ‘Kai Ko’ – is from Taiwan, he was also very popular in mainland China, which is also where his career-changing scandal took place.

The actor and singer was arrested for possession of drugs in Beijing on August 14 of 2014 together with Jaycee Chan, who is also on this list. Shortly after his arrest, Kai Ko’s manager confirmed the actor would be released on August 28th after a detainment of 14 days. He also stated that Kai Ko felt “very ashamed” of himself.

Although the actor was denounced on social media, there were also many fans who showed their support and even some who vowed to use drugs in support of Ko if he would disappear from the entertainment industry.

The arrest of Ko Chentung over drugs abuse was especially controversial because Ko previously appeared in an anti-drug advertisement in 2012, in which he clearly stated: “I don’t do drugs!”

Where is he now?

After his detainment, Ko delivered a tearful apology on state broadcaster CCTV before returning to Taiwan. The actor was cut from two movies and brand partnerships and upcoming show engagements were all canceled.

Although Ko has barely done any large projects as an actor or singer over the past eight years, he returned to the big screen in 2021 in the film Moneyboys.

 
 

#7 Fang Zuming (Jaycee Chan) 房祖名

 

Actor and singer Jaycee Chan (房祖名, 1982), the son of the super famous Jackie Chan, was among several people who were arrested during an August 2014 drug bust at his apartment in Beijing.

Investigators found 100 grams of marijuana in his home, and the actor also tested positive for marijuana use. He was sentenced to six months in prison for the possession and distribution of marijuana, and for accommodating drug users at his home.

Before his arrest, Jaycee worked on the film Monk Comes Down the Mountain (道士下山), but his role was not credited due to the drugs scandal. He was also dropped by the brand he previously worked with, including Adidas, Nivea, KFC, and Chevrolet.

Jaycee’s drug use and prison sentence were already bad enough, but what made matters worse is that his father Jackie was previously appointed as goodwill Ambassador for the China National Anti-Drug Committee.

Where is he now?

Although Jaycee hinted at a comeback to China’s entertainment industry in a public speech he gave after his release from prison, he has never been able to get back the success he had before his arrest. He is now mostly working behind the scenes, and has also become a producer.

With a dad like Jackie Chan, Jaycee hardly has to worry about his financial situation though. Earlier this year, the fallen celebrity was spotted smoking cigars and driving a Mercedes Benz car.

Although he has a Weibo account with 7,4 million followers, Jaycee’s account page is empty.

 
 

#8 Yin Xiangjie 尹相杰

 

Yin Xiangjie (尹相杰, 1969) is a Chinese singer, host, and actor, who rose to fame after his performance at the Beijing TV Lantern Festival in 1994. He became very popular afterward and was a regular guest at the Spring Festival Gala.

In December of 2015, the singer was arrested at his home for possessing and consuming illegal drugs. Authorities found over 10 grams of drugs at his residence, including crystal methamphetamine. Yin Xiangjie was sentenced to seven months in prison.

With China having a zero-tolerance attitude to drugs, any drug-related scandal would already be a major blow to the reputation of Chinese celebrities. In the case of Yin, the scandal had an ever deeper effect because the singer was previously appointed as an ambassador in an anti-drug campaign of 2007.

Where is he now?

Yin’s first arrest, unfortunately, was not his last. The singer was arrested again in November of 2015, also in relation to drugs, just shortly after he was released from prison.

According to the latest reports, Yun still appears in some obscure advertisements in order to generate an income. But Yin’s once so successful career in China’s entertainment industry seems to be definitely over.

 
 

#9 Le Jia (Tim Le) 乐嘉

 

Le Jia (乐嘉, 1975) is a Chinese psychology expert and a published author, who became a famous TV host and entertainer in mainland China, especially after he started participating in the popular TV dating show If You Are The One (非诚勿扰) in 2010.

Le Jia is the founder of the Four-colors Personality Analysis (FPA) and the China Personality Colors Research Center, labeling himself as the first person in China to use colors to identify personality types – a topic about which he published multiple best-selling books.

Le’s 2015 participation in the TV show Super Speaker (超级演说家) caused controversy when Le drank baijiu (liquor) during the recording on stage and then got wildly drunk, causing him to act improperly and scold the other hosts on the show (videos of the show are still lingering online). Guests of the show left the stage, and the recording was halted.

The incident was a major blow to Le Jia’s reputation and his TV career came to an abrupt stop.

Where is he now?

Because Le Jia career did not fully revolve around China’s entertainment business, the controversy did not necessarily end his professional career; it was just the end of a period in which he became a very popular TV host.

As a psychology expert, Le is still selling books and giving trainings. The 46-year-old is also still involved in the Personality Colors Research Center.

Le Jia is also active on Weibo, where he has a following of 43 million (!) fans (@乐嘉).

 
 

#10 Fu Yiwei 傅艺伟

 

Fu Yiwei (傅艺伟, 1964) is an award-winning Chinese actress known for, among others, her role as Su Daiji in the TV series The Investiture of the Gods (封神榜). She was married (and divorced) two times, and has a son.

Fu made headlines in February of 2016 when Beijing police reported the actress was arrested for using drugs and allowing two others to use drugs in her apartment in Liangmahe, Beijing.

It was previously already rumored the actress was using drugs due to her behavior and facial expression when she appeared in talk shows years before.

The actress was sentenced to prison was released in April of 2016, after which she issued a public apology on Weibo.

Where is she now?

Fu has not gone back to the entertainment industry as a major actress after her drugs scandal. According to 2021 reports, Fu Yiwei lives in a luxurious house located in the center of Beijing.

She is still active on Weibo (@演员傅艺伟), where she occasionally posts an update.

 
 

#11 Ma Rong 马蓉

 

The marriage crisis between Chinese film star Wang Baoqiang (王宝强) and Chinese actress Ma Rong (马蓉) became the number one trending topic on Weibo on August 14 in 2016 when Wang published a message on his official Weibo account that he was divorcing his wife Ma Rong and firing his agent Song Zhe (宋喆), accusing the two of having secret affair.

Wang Baoqiang vs Ma Rong became the divorce of the decade, mainly because the story unfolded itself on Weibo. Online debates were fuelled by the public posts and comments published online by both Wang Baoqiang and Ma Rong.

Ma Rong became the main target of online vitriol, as the majority of Weibo’s netizens sided with the popular actor Wang Baoqiang, saying that Ma Rong was a cheater who only married Wang for his money.

In December of 2018, Ma Rong accused her ex-husband of attacking her, and dramatic photos of a seemingly injured Ma Rong soon spread on social media. Ma Rong spoke to reporters while lying in her (hospital) bed, tearfully speaking about Wang abusing her. Later on, however, security footage from surveillance cameras at Wang’s house leaked online and showed how it was Ma who came to Wang’s house, carrying scissors with her to intimidate Wang’s family. The actress was then accused of staging the entire incident.

In the midst of all controversy, Ma Rong became one of China’s “most-hated” celebrities.

Where is she now?

Ma Rong is still often being scolded on Chinese social media, and her name will probably be tarnished for a long time. Nevertheless, the actress is occasionally still posting on her Weibo account and Xiaohongshu, and whenever she is spotted out in public, she looks well-dressed and always wears expensive clothing and jewelry.

 
 

#12 Li Xiaolu 李小璐

 

Li Xiaolu (李小璐, 1982), also known as Jacqueline Li, is a Chinese actress and singer who was once the youngest actress to win the Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actress in Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (天浴). In 2012, Li married the famous Chinese actor Jia Nailiang (贾乃亮), with whom she had a baby shortly after.

In late 2017, Li got into a huge scandal when she was photographed spending the night at the home of The Rap of China rapper PG One. Since Li was still married at the time, social media blew up over this ‘cheating gate’ (出轨门), especially because Jia Nailiang was asked on live-stream where his wife was and he allegedly replied: “Getting her hair done!”

In October of 2019, older videos leaked online that showed Li and PG One kissing and behaving like a couple. A month later, Jia and Li announced they were getting divorced.

The extramarital affair meant a major blow to Li’s reputation as she was now being ‘canceled’ by the public and labeled as a “bad record performer” (劣迹艺人).

Where is she now?

Li Xiaolu still has her Weibo account with over 44 million followers. She often posts content related to her 8-year-old daughter, and she also does sponsored content and livestreams.

Although Li still has her fans and is probably doing well with selling products online, her name still often comes up in a negative way, and controversy seems to follow her to this day – many netizens think the actress is unethical for her past affair and for the way she dresses and raises her daughter.

 
 

#13 Chen Yufan 陈羽凡

 

Chen Yufan (陈羽凡, 1975) is a Chinese actor and singer-songwriter and half of the popular pop duo Yu Quan (羽泉). In 2018, Chen became a ‘tainted celebrity’ when Beijing authorities announced on Weibo that the artist had been arrested for drug possession after they had received tips from the public.

As reported by SupChina at the time, the singer at home joined by another person when the police caught him with 7.96 grams of crystal meth and 2.14 grams of marijuana. Both Chen and the 25-year-old female he was with tested positive for illegal drugs.

Chen was detained, labeled a “drug addict,” and was ordered to pay regular visits to a local rehab center for three years.

Later, Chen’s musical partner and friend of twenty years, Hu Haiquan (胡海泉) posted on Weibo that he was hurt by Chen’s actions, which also affected their fans. Their upcoming concert was canceled and the duo band, which was established in 1998, was dissolved.

Where is he now?

Although Chen still has his Weibo account, he barely uses it. The singer has withdrawn from the public eye.

Chen divorced his ex-wife Bai Baihe (白百何) in 2015, but the two are still spotted together since they have a child together. Chen now has a new girlfriend, the much younger He Shizhen (何时珍). Prior to his drugs scandal, Chen’s love life was also a trending topic on Chinese social media, as Chen and Bai only disclosed their divorce in 2017 after rumors of cheating surfaced online.

Whenever Chen is seen in public somewhere, netizens comment on his appearance; Chen seems to have gained weight and often looks a bit sloppy.

Chen is a shareholder in various companies and is now working behind the scenes in the music industry. According to the latest articles, Chen has also opened his own recording studio.

 
 

#14 Fan Bingbing 范冰冰

 

Fan Bingbing, one of the most renowned and highest-paid actresses in China, found herself at the center of a social media storm in late May of 2018.

The actress allegedly received a total payment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million) for just four days of work on the film Cell Phone 2, of which she supposedly only declared 10 million ($1.56 million) to authorities.

The tax scandal first came to light when Chinese TV host Cui Yongyuan (崔永元) leaked two different contracts on social media; the one that allegedly showed that the actress was paid a total of 10 million RMB for her work, with another showing payment of 50 million RMB for the exact same work. These types of contracts are called yin-yang contracts (阴阳合同), an illegal practice to avoid paying taxes.

What followed after the scandal was months of silence and rumors. The actress was last seen in public on July 1st, and social media rumors alleged the actress might have left the country and that she was banned from acting for three years. At one point it was even rumored that the actress had been arrested.

Where is she now?

In October of 2018, Chinese state media reported that Fan Bingbing had been ordered to pay taxes and fines worth hundreds of millions of yuan over tax evasion and that the actress would not be held criminally liable if she would pay the penalty in time.

That same day, Fan came out with a public apology. Her Weibo account stayed up.

The actress launched her own beauty brand, Fan Beauty Secret (Weibo), in 2019. She has not completely won back the favor of Chinese netizens, who recently slammed her for posting “staged” photos of herself ‘working’ on her beauty product formulas in a lab.

Despite all controversy, Fan has done remarkably well in staying in the spotlight, unlike most others in this list. She still has over 64 million fans on her Weibo account and she is active as a brand ambassador for various companies, including the Be Strong formula (花冠贝智康) and the Swedish Daniel Wellington.

 
 

#15 Wu Xiubo 吴秀波

 

Beijing-born actor and musician Wu Xiubo (吴秀波, 1968) is famous for his role in many TV dramas and movies, including the television series Before the Dawn and the hit film Finding Mr. Right (北京遇上西雅图). His reputation suffered a serious blow when the actor, who has been married since 2002 and is the father of two children, was rumored to have been involved in various extra-marital affairs.

The scandal started in September 2018, when Chinese actress Chen Yulin (陈昱霖), also known as Ruby Chen, posted the history of her alleged seven-year relationship with the married actor on social media. She described the relationship as being one where Wu was very controlling of her. She also alleged that she received messages from other women, in 2013 and in 2017, who were also sexually involved with Wu.

In January of 2019, Chen’s parents published a statement on social media in which they claimed their daughter was asked to deny the allegations she had made against Wu in return for money. After Wu’s legal team and Chen had made an arrangement, Chen returned to mainland China to settle the matter. The moment she landed at Beijing airport in November of 2018, she was arrested by local Beijing police for blackmailing Wu.

Chen, who was detained since November of 2018, was eventually sentenced to three years in prison and she was released in 2021.

Although Chen was found guilty, Wu Xiubo’s reputation was ruined. Many people felt that how he dealt with Chen was wrong and that he was evil for having extramarital affairs in the first place.

Following the controversies, Wu Xiubo was blocked by major Chinese television stations and some of the programs he appeared in were no longer aired. Wu would originally host the 2019 Spring Gala, but his role was canceled. The romantic drama film Someone Like It Hot 2., that was scheduled to release in 2019, was also canceled and many variety shows that featured Wu were taken down or reshot.

Where is he now?

Since the scandal made headlines, Wu rarely makes public appearances. In late 2019, Wu did post a video message to support arts students preparing for the national college entrance exam. According to Global Times, many did not appreciate his temporary ‘comeback,’ with some bloggers calling him ‘pathetic.’

He is still on Weibo (@吴秀波), where he has 8,5 million followers, but he barely posts updates. On a ‘super topic’ fan page that is dedicated to the actor, fans still post photos of him every day.

There are ongoing rumors about the financial difficulties the actor is facing. In 2020, he sold his mansion in San Marino, California, at a loss. The actor is a shareholder in multiple companies and he is still married to his wife. A comeback to China’s entertainment industry seems unlikely for now.

 
 

#16 Zhai Tianlin 翟天临

 

Zhai Tianlin (翟天临, 1987)- also known as Ronald Zhai – is a well-known actor in China for his work in various films and TV dramas. He starred in, among others, the acclaimed series White Deer Plain (白鹿原).

In 2019, the actor got caught up in controversy over alleged academic misconduct. The actor had been admitted to the Beijing Film Academy in 2014 as a doctoral candidate in Film Science and received his PhD in June 2018. In 2019, the actor shared his joy over being accepted into Peking University for postdoctoral research.

Zhai’s new journey, however, led to online investigations into his previous academic works. As reported by BBC at the time, the South China Morning Post spotted discrepancies in Zhai’s submissions and widespread doubts over Zhai’s academic achievements began to circulate online.

One of Zhai’s essays did not contain any citations, and another showed many similarities with an article previously published in 2006. Some netizens started comparing the essays and found that 40% of Zhai’s essay was copied.

Doubts about Zhai’s academic performance were already raised when, during a live video session, Zhai showed ignorance of the CNKI (China National Knowledge Infrastructure), a digital library that most scholars are usually using, or at least are aware of.

In light of the online controversy, Beijing Film Academy set up an investigation process, which eventually led to Zhai’s PhD being revoked in February of 2019 due to plagiarism. The incident meant the end of Zhai’s academic career and tarnished his reputation.

Where is he now?

Zhai has not made headlines since his academic plagiarism controversy, which also ended his flourishing career in the entertainment industry. He still has over 10 million followers on his Weibo account (@翟天临), but hasn’t participated in any major works since the incident.

According to some reports from 2021, Zhai has started his own acting training classes, suggesting his future career will mainly take place behind the scenes.

 
 

#17 Zhao Lixin 赵立新

 

The 2019 case of Zhao Lixin (赵立新, 1968) is probably the most similar in context to that of Zhang Zhehan, who got caught up in controversy in August of 2021 and is also on this list.

The Weibo account of Zhao Lixin was closed after the Chinese-Swedish actor made controversial comments on the Second Sino-Japanese War. Zhao Lixin was mainly known for his roles in TV dramas such as The Legend of Mi Yue, Memoirs In China, and In the Silence.

On April 2nd of 2019, the actor, who had more than 7 million followers, posted a message on his social media account that questioned why the Japanese military did not pillage and destroy the Beijing Palace Museum during the Second Sino-Japanese War:

The Japanese occupied Beijing for eight years. Why didn’t they steal relics from the Palace Museum and burn it down [during that time]? Is this in line with the nature of an invader?

The actor also commented on the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, suggesting that it was a consequence of Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion.

His comments caused a social media storm with people accusing the actor of defending the Japanese. A lengthy apology by Zhao did not help. Besides being blocked from Weibo, he was also criticized and boycotted by state media and his most recent TV production was canceled.

Where is he now?

It has been over two years since Zhao was basically banned and lost the opportunity to do movies and TV dramas. Although it was initially rumored that the actor had been deported (he has Swedish nationality), he actually kept a low profile and made new plans.

The actor actually performs at a ‘live theater bar’ in Beijing, where people can have drinks and food while enjoying drama performances by professional actors. According to the latest reviews, the bar is always fully booked and there are raving reviews.

Other sources claim the artist also gives theater workshops for aspiring actors. The workshops, that are not cheap, are apparently a success.

Although Zhao has not returned to Weibo, there is a ‘super topic’ fan club dedicated to him on the platform.

 
 

#18 Tong Zhuo 仝卓

 

Tong Zhuo (仝卓, 1994) is a Chinese singer, actor, and TV host from Shanxi who became a trending topic in June of 2020 when it was discovered he had committed fraud during the gaokao, the national college entrance exam.

The scandal first broke when Tong was chatting with fans during a live stream. While giggling, he admitted that he had forged his identity for the gaokao: “We used a lot of so-called guanxi (connections) and then I became a fresh high school graduate,” said Tong, 26, laughing with one hand over his mouth.

Tong Zhuo said he had initially failed his college entrance exam in 2012. In order to be able to get into a top art school that only accepts recent high school graduates, he changed his personal information when he participated in the gaokao the next year in 2013 and faked being a fresh graduate.

Tong’s own confession led to an investigation by the Shanxi provincial education department. Another investigation also looked into the role of his stepfather Tong Tianfeng, a deputy secretary-general in Linfen city.

Tong Zhuo was eventually stripped of his graduation certificate by the Central Academy of Drama. His stepfather Tong Tianfeng was removed from office, and three education officials were put under police custody for allegedly forging documents.

Where is he now?

Tong Zhuo is still very active on his social media, posting selfies and vlogs. He also still performs, although he has not participated in any big media performances since the scandal.

 
 

#19 Zheng Shuang 郑爽

 

Zheng Shuang (郑爽, 1991) became one of the biggest trending topics of 2021 when the Chinese actress got caught up in a surrogacy scandal. Zheng rose to fame when she starred in a popular TV series in 2009 (Meteor Shower 一起来看流星雨). She became an award-winning actress and was chosen as one of the most bankable young actresses of the post-90s generation. On her Weibo account, she had over 12.4 million followers.

The scandal came to light when it appeared that Zheng’s had separated from her partner Zhang Heng (张恒). The former couple had two children in the US through a surrogacy arrangement, but Zheng Shuang allegedly refused to have them because she and Zhang had broken up – even though her name was on their birth certificate.

The situation, which was soon dubbed ‘Surrogacy Gate’ (‘代孕门’), left Zhang Heng stranded in the United States with the two babies. He claimed he was unable to bring them back to China with him since Zheng did not cooperate with the necessary legal procedures.

In light of the controversy, Italian fashion brand PRADA fired Zheng as their brand ambassador, and other companies, including Lola Rose and Chioture, also ended their partnership contracts with the actress.

Zheng’s professional career suffered a major blow when Huading Awards announced it would revoke Zheng’s honorary titles, including former awards for best actress and favorite TV star. The celebrity was also boycotted by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television.

Where is she now?

Zheng Shuang is still very much caught up in this scandal, and she might not leave it behind her any time soon.

In late July of 2021, her ex-partner posted a lengthy and angry blog on his Weibo where he aired the dirty laundry regarding their legal struggles and personal conflicts. This post came after Zheng herself broke her six-month social media silence to apologize for her surrogacy scandal.

Another apology followed in August of 2021, on the same day when it became known the actress had to pay a $46 million fine for tax fraud. This all happened during the “August 26/27 Chinese celebrity earthquake.” Zheng Shuang also saw her online fan circles removed, and several TV dramas Zheng acted in were removed from major video platforms.

Zheng currently has court-ordered visits with her children in the US (her ex-partner has custody). According to Today Online, Zheng has officially moved to America and is not doing well financially.

In social media posts that seem to have been removed later on, Zheng claims that her family’s bank accounts have been blocked and that she has no income since she is not allowed to work in the US. She wrote:

“If it makes you feel any better, I can tell you that I drink tap water every day to survive, I own a total of five T-shirts and two pairs of jeans, and I have never ordered delivery,” she wrote. “I even need to be frugal when buying sanitary napkins, and toilet paper has to be used sparingly.”

What sets Zheng Shuang apart from some of the other ‘canceled’ celebrities in this list, is that she still has her social media accounts and a loyal fan following. She might lack toilet paper, but she still has 12,3 million followers on her Weibo account.

 
 

#20 Zhang Zhehan 张哲瀚

 

Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚, 1991) got caught up in controversy in August 2021 when photos of him visiting Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine and attending a wedding at Nogi Shrine went viral on social media. The fact that some of these photos were three years old did not seem to matter: Zhang received serious backlash for being ‘unpatriotic’ and was even accused of being a traitor to his country.

While Nogi Shrine was established to honor General Nogi Maresuke, who led Japan’s military during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), Yasukuni 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.

Although Zhang Zhehan rushed to apologize for his “ignorance” regarding these historically sensitive places and expressed his love for China, it did not settle the social media storm. All the companies that previously worked with the Chinese celebrity, including Coca-Cola, Taobao, and Clinique, soon announced the termination of their partnership.

Zhang was also a brand ambassador for Yanjing’s Xuelu beer. Thousands of beer cans with his face became virtually useless after the controversy. Photos showing the abandoned beer cans were shared online by people at the warehouse, who claimed the beer would be destroyed since companies allegedly had even refused to get them for free.

On August 15, within 48 hours after the controversy erupted, Sina Weibo announced that it would shut down Zhang Zhehan’s personal account, his studio account, and the ‘super topic’ fan page dedicated to him. The Weibo Administration (@微博管理员) wrote: “As a public figure with a large following and many fans, establishing correct historical views and values is the most basic level of professional ethic and the bottom line that must be adhered to – ignorance can never be an excuse.”

That same day, the China Association of Performing Arts also released a notice in which they called on members to boycott the actor for “negatively influencing the mass audience of youths.” The actor was also criticized by the official media.

Where is he now?

As the dust has not settled yet, it is still too early to draw any conclusions on how this controversy has affected Zhang, but it is safe to say that Zhang’s life radically changed within a matter of just a few days. The photos he took at two historically sensitive Japanese shrines meant a potential end to his career – no social media, no brand partnerships, and an industry boycott. Just a year prior, the actor had been given an award for Rising Artist of the Year.

Despite all controversy, Zhang still has a loyal fanbase. Although Zhang no longer has his own social media accounts, some of his fans on Weibo are posting messages wishing him well.

 
 

#21 Kris Wu 吴亦凡

 

The Chinese-Canadian superstar Kris Wu, better known as Wu Yifan (吴亦凡) in China, became a trending topic on Chinese social media in the summer of 2021 after he was accused of grooming underage girls and pressuring women into sex.

The 19-year-old student Meizhu Du (都美竹) was the first to accuse Wu of predatory behavior, with at least 24 more women coming forward claiming the celebrity showed inappropriate behavior and luring young women into sexual relationships.

Although Wu denied all allegations, the superstar was detained on suspicions of rape on July 31st. Weibo’s servers barely seemed to be able to handle the spike in traffic after the news came out, and comments came pouring in.

Shortly after Wu’s detainment, his Weibo account got shut down and more than a dozen firms either cut ties or terminated contracts with him. As the scandal unfolded, various hashtags related to the story received billions of views on Weibo.

Wu was later further erased from Chinese social media; various accounts showing support to the singer were taken offline, and his music was removed from the major Chinese music streaming platforms.

On August 16, Kris Wu was officially arrested.

Where is he now?

At this point, it is still unknown what sentence Kris Wu will face, and whether or not the singer will enter a guilty plea which might speed up the legal procedures.

If the Chinese-Canadian celebrity is convicted, it is probable that he will serve his sentence in China and then be deported to Canada (he holds a Canadian passport). Chinese state media reported that Wu may be sentenced to 10 years to life if all allegations turn out to be true.

Although Kris Wu might face a grim future, it is noteworthy that the star, despite being virtually wiped from social media, still has many loyal fans who would gladly welcome him back.

 
 

#22 Zhao Wei 赵薇

 

On August 26 of 2021, the name and works of one of the country’s most notable actresses, Zhao Wei (赵薇 aka Vicky Zhao, 1976) were removed from Chinese online channels. Searching for Zhao Wei’s name on Chinese video platforms Tencent Video, iQiyi, and Youku suddenly came up with zero results, and her name had vanished from the cast lists of the many films and dramas she featured in.

Zhao Wei’s sudden disappearance from the top entertainment websites sent shockwaves over social media. Zhao Wei was clearly ‘canceled’ by higher authorities, but the exact reason why was still unknown by September 2021 – although there was much speculation on what the reason could be.

By early September, celebrity friends of Zhao had removed photos taken together with the actress, and Baidu Baike, also known as the Chinese Wikipedia, had even erased the name of the actress from the pages of the TV dramas and films she featured in (although she still had her own wiki page at this time).

This was not the first time that Zhao got caught up in controversy, although it was never this bad before. In 2001, the actress wore a mini-dress printed with the old Japanese naval flag during a fashion shoot, triggering major backlash over her perceived lack of sensitivity to historical matters.

Where is she now?

At the time of writing, Chinese netizens are still waiting for answers on what has caused Zhao Wei being erased on Chinese online channels. Some rumors say the actress has fled to France, where she has property, but nothing is confirmed at this time.

Zhao Wei does still have her Weibo account, where she has over 85.6 million followers.

 
 

#23 Qian Feng 钱枫

 

Just a week after Kris Wu was arrested, the popular Chinese television host Qian Feng was accused of rape in August of 2021. Qian is primarily known as the host of “Day Day Up” (天天问上), a popular Chinese talk show broadcast on Hunan Television.

As reported by Sixth Tone, a woman by the name of Xiao wrote on Weibo that the 37-year-old TV host raped her while she was drunk and unconscious. The incident allegedly happened in 2019.

Although Xiao had reported the incident to the police, it did not lead to an arrest due to a lack of evidence. After Xiao’s post went viral, Shanghai authorities issued a statement to explain why the investigations came to an end and that they welcome Xiao to provide new evidence.

Pending investigations, Hunan TV suspended Qian Feng. One Weibo hashtag related to the accusations against Qian received over two billion views (#钱枫被曝性侵#).

Where is he now?

On August 27 of 2021, Qian Feng came out with a statement on his Weibo account (@钱枫oscarqian) in which he indicated that the investigations into the case were already rightfully concluded in 2019 and that he placed his trust in the Chinese legal system.

At the same time, he shared that he had terminated his contract with Hunan TV.

 
 

#24 Henry Huo 霍尊 (Huo Zun)

 

Henry Huo (霍尊, 1990) is a Chinese singer-songwriter and actor who gained nationwide fame after winning the first season of Sing My Song (中国好歌曲). Henry was asked to perform in the CCTV Chinese New Year Eve Gala and was awarded the title ‘2014 Drama King.’

In the summer of 2021, Huo announced his withdrawal from the popular TV show Call Me By Fire after his ex-girlfriend Chen Lu (陈露) publicly accused him of being a serial cheater and leaking WeChat conversation screenshots to prove that he actually disliked the show.

On August 14, Huo issued an online apology for the recent controversy, saying sorry for his misbehavior and the “bad social influence” he had caused.

Besides Huo’s exit from Call Me By Fire, the controversy also led to Huo’s first performance on the show being removed.

During China’s “entertainment circles earthquake” of August 26 and 27 (more here) online fan groups to Huo were shut down, and his Weibo account was temporarily disabled.

Where is he now?

Henry Huo is still on Weibo (@霍尊), where he has over 8.7 million fans, but his account is still disabled.

Huo’s entry in the mainstream online encyclopedia Baike has been altered and now includes the recent controversy. It is not clear at this point if Huo’s withdrawal from China’s entertainment industry is a temporary or a permanent one.

 
 

#25 Gao Xiaosong 高晓松

 

In late August of 2021, the work of the famous musician, TV host and co-founder of Alibaba Music Group Gao Xiaosong (高晓松) was taken offline. Among the erased works are his TV show (Xiaosong Pedia 晓松奇谈, removed from video platforms such as iQiyi) and the books he wrote (no longer available on various e-commerce platforms). There was no official reason given for Gao being canceled like this.

However, the Chinese Historial Research Institute (中国历史研究) published a post on Weibo about Gao, criticizing him for historical nihilism and for “openly attacking and slandering our people’s army” during his talks on his TV show.

Throughout his shows, Gao made various remarks about the Sino-Japanese War, sometimes mentioning views or perspectives that go against the official Chinese narrative. Gao also visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine and allegedly expressed his sympthathy with those Japanese people visiting the shrine to commemorate their loved ones who died in the war.

Yasukuni 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. In the article by the Chinese Historical Research Insititute, Gao is accused of “defending Japanese militarism.”

Where is he now?

Just like other celebrities caught up in the recent ‘entertainment circles cleanup’, much is still unclear about why Gao was canceled and what his future will look like. Some rumor that the online erasure of both Gao and Zhao Wei might be connected to their links to the Alibaba Group.

At the time of writing, no official statement was given yet by authorities nor by Gao himself.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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China Arts & Entertainment

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.

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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.

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