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Why Weibo and Chinese Celebrities Are Put into the Naughty Corner by China’s Cyberspace Administration

Weibo and online celebrities are punished by Internet regulators for spreading ‘vulgar content’, but netizens bear the brunt.

Manya Koetse

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Image by Sohu.com

China’s central Internet regulator has summoned Sina Weibo to keep its information flows under control, punishing the platform by closing down its hot search lists and trending topic lists for the time to come. Sina Weibo has reacted with self-criticism and has exposed Chinese celebrities allegedly buying their way to the top.

There is an empty space on the right sidebar of the Sina Weibo platform this week. Where users of China’s biggest microblogging website usually see a ‘top trending’ list of the most popular topics or the most searched hashtags on the right sidebar, they now see an advertisement with nothing below it.

The change is the result of the reprimands Sina Weibo received this week from the Cyberspace Administration, China’s central Internet regulator, over the company’s “failure to censor illegal information posted by its users” and spreading of “vulgar content,” according to state media outlet Xinhua News.

 
Weibo Gets Punished
 

As punishment for Weibo’s ‘incapability’ to keep its information flows under control, the Cyberspace Administration issued a weeklong ban on the site’s “most searched hashtags” and “hottest topics” lists, until Saturday, February 3.

Another penalty was also announced: Sina Weibo’s hot lists cannot contain dozens of names and topics specified on an issued list for a period of at least three months.

On January 28, Weibo’s Administrator (@微博管理员) announced the recent measures and published a list of celebrity names that can no longer hit the ‘most popular’ charts on Weibo for the time to come.

One of the reasons mentioned for the ban is that these celebrities would allegedly buy their way to the top trending lists on Weibo. Weibo’s Administrator writes:

As the largest social media platform in China, we know that Weibo should have higher standards and greater responsibility. Based on our deep understanding for the notification of the concerning departments, we will carry out a thorough self-examination and self-correction, and will strictly carry out reforming measures to ensure we meet the goal. We will increase the cooperation with the formal media, and upgrade the Quality of Service of our content. With more technology and manpower, we will improve our management of illegal and harmful information, and maintain the order within the online informaton and preserve a good [online] environment.

In August 2016, Chinese authorities already announced that they would strictly guard against hyping private affairs and family conflicts of internet celebrities and the rich and famous. The announcement followed after the divorce of Chinese actor Wang Baoqian became one of the most discussed topics of all time on Weibo and Wechat.

 
Battling Flawed Algorithms?
 

On January 28, Weibo’s Administrator issued another statement that said that Weibo’s hot trending lists should be a reflection of the actual topics gaining most attention amongst netizens, but that companies and entertainment enterprises have found ways to influence these lists.

On Monday, Financial Times also reiterated that Chinese digital agencies are selling fake rankings on Weibo’s “hot topics” list.

Besides buying targeted marketing space on Weibo, which is actually clearly marked as third-party advertising, companies and celebrities can get a hashtag of choice into the top trending lists for as little as 8000 yuan (±$1260) by which digital agencies create fake Weibo accounts pushing a topic up the charts.

Other big social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are allegedly facing similar problems that falsely affect the top trending lists and platform algorithms.

Weibo administrators promised they would “effectively crackdown on the illicit competition that is harming the [online] community.”

 
Naughty Corner for Celebrities
 

Based on online data of the past month, Weibo administrators issued a list of 38 celebrity names, topics, and hashtags that were allegedly illegally bought up the trending charts by companies.

These names and topics will not be allowed to appear in the top trending lists for the months to come. Here are eight examples of names provided by Weibo.

1. One of these banned topics is the actress Li Xiaolu (李小璐), who recently made it to the top trending lists for her extramarital affair with hip-hop artist PG One.

Li Xiaolu is banned from the top trending lists on Weibo for the next 3 months.

2. Another name that won’t go ‘trending’ for the coming months is that of Chinese singer, songwriter, and actress Zhou Bichang aka Bibi Zhou (周笔畅). Bibi Zhou is also accused of paying money to get herself to the top trending lists on Weibo.

However, Bibi Zhou responded to the accusations on January 28, saying that “all the money I have I put into my music videos – I cannot afford [to spend money on] hot search lists.”

3. Chinese comedian Song Xiaobao (宋小宝)

The comedian Song Xiaobo, who stars in the TV show Joyful Comedians (欢乐喜剧人), will not be able to promote himself nor the show in the top lists on Weibo for the time to come.

Chinese comedian Song Xiaobao (宋小宝).

4. Taiwanese singer Lai Guanlin (赖冠霖)

Lai Guanlin, who is part of the popular South Korean boy band Wanna One, was reported to participate in upcoming TV programme “Idol Star Athletics Championships.” Further promotions for this appearance are unlikely to come through on the trending lists now.

Lai Guanlin (赖冠霖)

5. Chinese actress Zhang Xueying (张雪迎) aka Sophie Zhang

Actress Zhang Xueying reached the hot lists earlier this month for her pretty bald head look for her role in Go Away Mr. Tumor, a play that revolves around a woman who copes with cancer.

Zhang Xueying (张雪迎).

6. Wang Lele (王乐乐)

Internet celebrity Wang LeLe is a grassroots celebrity from live-streaming app Kuaishou who has attracted much (negative) attention over recent times for the rocky and drama-filled relationship with Yang Qingning (杨清柠).

7. ‘Brother Martial Arts’ (散打哥)

‘Brother Martial Arts’ aka Chen Weijie (陈伟杰) is an internet celebrity that emerged from the live-streaming platform Kuaishou.

Kuaishou star ‘Brother Martial Arts’.

8. Shawn Wei (魏千翔)

Shawn Wei (Wei Qianxiang) is a Chinese post-80s actor who is currently starring in the popular urban drama ‘My Youth Meets You’ (我的青春遇见你).

Shawn Wei

Although he is not a significantly big influential on Weibo, rumors of his company ‘buying his popularity’ on Weibo are long-standing.

 
Weibo Responses
 

The topic of the recent ban on Weibo hot lists itself became a much-discussed issue on Chinese social media. Many netizens dislike the fact that so many celebrities buy their way into the top trending lists, but also express their dissatisfaction with the list of names exposed by Sina Weibo: “There are so many people who frequently buy themselves into the hot lists, yet why are they not on this list?”, many said.

Others jumped in to defend their idols: “Why would Lai Guanlin be on this list?!” They say that people such as Lai Guanlin and Zhang Xueyin have been unjustly targeted by Chinese censors.

There are also people who wonder why they can no longer access the hot search and trending lists, because it is not so much the Sina Weibo company and the celebrities who are now punished, but the Weibo-loving netizens.

“How boring life is without the hot lists,” some say.

By Manya Koetse

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 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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    thedramacool

    February 3, 2018 at 4:31 pm

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China Arts & Entertainment

Wandering Earth 2 Production Costs: Why Director Frant Gwo is Nicknamed ‘Master in Begging for Alms’

Contributing to the Wandering Earth 2 production without getting paid? It’s “powering up Chinese sci-fi with love.”

Wendy Huang

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Wandering Earth director Frant Gwo (Guo Fan) is also nicknamed the ‘Master in Begging for Alms’ (化缘大师) on social media. His efforts to convince actors and companies to contribute to the movie has kept production costs relatively low.

With the sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth II, directed by Guo Fan (郭帆 aka Frant Gwo) taking center stage during this Spring Festival movie season, there have been many social media discussions about the film and how it has been reviewed (read here), as well as about the production of the film, or more particularly, about the total production costs for this film.

Based on a story written by Liu Cixin, author of the award-winning sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, The Wandering Earth II is the prequel to the 2019 blockbuster hit The Wandering Earth, China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi film and the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

It is reported that the production investment costs for The Wandering Earth II reached approximately 600 million yuan ($88.5 million). Compared to the production budget of American sci-fi hit films such as Interstellar ($165 million) or Inception ($160 million), Chinese audiences had expected The Wandering Earth II to have much higher production costs than the reported budget, especially considering the spectacular scenes featured in the film.

The relatively lower production costs sparked discussions on Chinese social media, where the hashtag “Guo Fan – the Master in Begging for Alms” (#郭帆 化缘大师#) went trending, gaining in popularity as multiple insiders shared more stories about the production of the movie.

The hashtag, which suggests that Director Guo is a ‘Fundraising Master’ for keeping production costs low, has received over 70 million views at the time of writing. The Chinese 化缘 huàyuán means to raise funds for something or to ‘beg alms’ (like Buddhist monks or Taoist priests do).

Guo’s strict budget control already became a hot topic after the 2019 release of The Wandering Earth. One of the most famous stories is that of the movie’s main star Wu Jing (吴京), as he allegedly began as a guest celebrity and ended up as the leading actor without getting paid, while investing approximately 60 million yuan ($8.85 million) in the film’s production.

A female presenter recently also shared her story on Weibo about her free participation in the production of The Wandering Earth in 2019, which apparently showed the film’s tight production budget. In her post, she wrote: “They didn’t fool me, instead, they just told me directly that I wouldn’t get paid.” Considering the rare opportunity to act in a Chinese sci-fi production, she went to the set at her own expense and filmed scenes, including outdoor scenes in the snow and freezing cold, only to end up being featured less than a second in the finished film. Nonetheless, she said she was still proud to be a part of the landmark Chinese sci-fi film.

Perhaps the idea of taking part in a groundbreaking Chinese science fiction film has made many individuals, companies, and organizations willing to work with Guo’s team, even if no additional compensation or payment was provided.

XCMG Machinery (Xuzhou Construction Machinery Group Co, Ltd), China’s premier company in industrial design, is also one of these companies. The company set up a team of a total of 319 XCMG staff members to support the project and provided a wide range of operational and transformable machinery equipment for the UEG (United Earth Government) in the film. They called this “powering up Chinese Sci-fi with love.”

Chinese netizens already nicknamed Wandering Earth (流浪地球) “Little Broken Ball” (小破球) back in 2019. The “Ball” refers to the Earth – the second character (球) of Earth in Chinese (地球) literally means ball. It was the director himself who initially referred to his film this way, and this nickname was then popularized among netizens to describe how the Earth is in crisis in the film, but it also refers to how difficult it was for Guo to produce the film.

The fact that Guo managed to produce Wandering Earth II with a relatively limited budget compared to other big international sci-fi movies has instilled some pride among netizens. One popular blogger (@秦祎墨) suggested the actual production value of the movie went far beyond the quoted $88.5 million thanks to the collective spirit of Chinese companies who did all they could to turn this film into a mega hit.

Others praised Guo for being able to get so many people and companies involved, claiming that if it wasn’t for him, the movie would have ended up costing at least twice as much.

Some are already looking forward to a potential Wandering Earth III, saying that the ‘Little Broken Ball’ series has already managed to gather such a strong team of companies, technical support, post-production innovation and experts, that the ‘Wandering Earth universe’ should not stop after two films.

Reflecting on being nicknamed the ‘Master of Begging for Alms,’ director Guo himself reportedly expressed his gratitude toward everyone who worked on the film who was “tricked” by him, saying it is their generosity that eventually made the production of The Wandering Earth II possible.

By Wendy Huang, with contributions by Manya Koetse

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

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This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On Zhihu.com, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

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