China’s crackdown on pop idols and sissy men forgets that harmony is a socialist value too
- It is doubtful whether the move against internet celebrities and their fan clubs is necessary or even workable. Just ask ‘fans’ of the humble glass noodle
- The diversity genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Chinese regulators are out of touch with the young and demonising celebrities only widens the gap
According to an eight-point plan issued by the National Radio and Television Administration last Thursday, vulgar internet celebrities, “sissy men” and pop idols who wear make-up or whose speech and behaviour have gone against “public order and morals” should be phased out.
“Idol audition shows” and the encouragement of malicious “fandom culture” should also be boycotted, according to the plan aimed at “regulating arts and entertainment shows and related personnel” and emphasising “traditional Chinese culture, revolution culture and socialist culture”.
Acknowledging that some fan groups had turned “irrational” and “unhealthy”, Chinese microblogging website Weibo took down its influential Star Power List, a billboard chart for trending celebrities.
Video-streaming platform iQiyi said it would stop airing its popular idol talent shows, and pledged to be “responsible as a platform, resist bad influences, and maintain a healthy and clean internet for users”.
In a yi dao qie approach, internet regulators removed thousands of fan groups and hashtags from social media, by targeting all groups with the word fensi [“fans”] in them.
China calls for boycott of ‘sissy idols’ and ‘overly entertaining’ stars
But fensi can also mean “glass noodles”, which implies that administrators of fan groups for such dishes as “beef with glass noodles”, “coagulated duck’s blood with glass noodles”, “seafood with glass noodles” – all dishes loved by the Chinese – also received stern warnings that they were being purged to create a “sanitised internet environment”.
Chinese netizens asked in jest what the humble glass noodle had done to incur the wrath of the regulators.
Others expressed relief that favourites such as Guangxi snail noodles and Guilin rice noodles had escaped a similar fate, as their names thankfully bore only the “fen” of fensi.
Musings aside, it is doubtful whether the crackdown is necessary or even workable, given that the culture of idol-worshipping has existed for so long and is arguably a rite of passage for some young people.
One could even argue that some of the bureaucrats who implemented the policy are likely to have at one time idolised entertainers and performers.
Regulators have failed to keep pace with the mindsets and demands of a younger generation, and their efforts to bring back “socialist values” by targeting teen idols have been greeted with anger and contempt.
A video produced by Hubei Television this week criticised efforts by young Chinese fans in pursuing Park Ji-min, a member of BTS, Korea’s most popular boy band, and contrasted it with attempts made by China to assist North Korea during the Korean war.
Comments from angry youths ranged from “what does liking a performer have to do with helping North Korea fight a war seven decades ago?” to “let’s use the money spent on Park and send it to Pyongyang instead so that their leader can continue to live in luxury. That’d certainly be money well-spent!”
Regulators cannot turn back the clock or put the genie back in the bottle, as Chinese society has become more diverse. In a recent study by City University of Hong Kong, almost half of the interviewees from the Chinese mainland agreed that diversity was to be encouraged as it led to greater innovation.
In any case, fans will find new ways to reconnect with their idols, such as by not calling themselves fensi but using other new terms which will inevitably crop up to get past both regulators and censors alike.
As for bringing back “socialist values”, this could still be done the traditional way, through schools, communities and the media, and even through the idols that authorities are now cracking down upon.
A better approach might have been to use the entertainers to teach such socialist values as civility and harmony.