crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry

Why Beijing’s crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry matters to global brands

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The recent crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry is just one in a series of restructured regulations China has enforced in 2021. Other industries affected by such changing policies under General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping’s ‘common prosperity’ campaign include gaming, private online education, and real estate. The recent crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry follows on from a series of Chinese celebrity scandals this year which have received huge public criticism and backlash.

The perils of entering into partnerships with Chinese celebrities  

2021 is home to several huge celebrity scandals in China which have resulted in endorsement cancellations, production bans, and censorship of celebrity names on various media and award platforms. This has affected many brands which have had to scramble and conduct damage control by rescinding partnerships with Chinese celebrities.

The first notable huge celebrity scandal in 2021 started off in January with Chinese actress Zheng Shuang, who is alleged to have abandoned her two children born to surrogates in America after divorcing her then-husband. Not only people judged her moral ethics when the story came to light, the scandal also sparked questions on the legality of her behaviour (surrogacy is illegal in China). Within days after the emergence of the scandal, Prada terminated Zheng Shuang’s ambassadorship.

Shuang officially resigns from the entertainment industry after all fierce public criticism on her child abandonment scandal  crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry
Image: Imaginechina via AP images, Zheng Shuang officially resigns from the entertainment industry after all fierce public criticism on her child abandonment scandal

The summer also saw a new wave of even more severance of brand partnerships with Chinese celebrities due to multiple scandals. There were also accusations against Canadian-Chinese idol Kris Wu of multiple cases of drugging and raping underage females. At least 10 brands including Porsche and Louis Vuitton have cancelled his endorsement contracts. Another celebrity who was excluded not on the brands’ good celebrity list is actor Zhang Zhe Han, who was one of the rising IT boys in the industry thanks to his popular boy love drama Word of Honor, before the Chinese public turned against him for supposed pro-Japanese behaviour

The Chinese showbiz world faces stricter regulations via Beijing’s eight-point decree

Beijing unveiled its formalized crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry via its eight-point plan at the start of September.

Firstly, Chinese stars are to pay attention to their literacy, ethics, and moral conduct. Illegal acts such as drug abuse, rape, and tax evasions are unacceptable.

Secondly, celebrity traffic theory is to be resolutely rejected. Curtailing fan activity to promote stars online via hashtags, comments and posts is part of this process.

The remaining rules include a boycott on Chinese ‘sissy’ men, a ban on inflated salaries and ‘yin yang contracts’, a stricter certification requirement on variety show hosts, developing professional literature reviews, monitoring bad phenomena occurring within industry, and stricter radio and TV management.

This is all in the name of re-correcting the showbiz industry which ‘pollutes’ the society and youth. Attendees of a Chinese entertainment industry symposium in September have been told to modify industry status quo under the theme of ‘Love the party, love the country, advocate morality and art’. The crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry enforces a clampdown on immoral behaviours, a curb on ‘abnormal aesthetics’ such as feminine men, and a suppression on celebrity influence.

China’s resistance against abnormal aesthetics and Chinese ‘sissy’ men

In contrast to China’s historical ‘wen and wu’ view of what it means to be masculine, the Chinese entertainment industry has become increasingly inundated with ‘little fresh meat’ and male beauty bloggers. However, this trend has received much condemnation from critics who prefer more traditional means to be masculine. An article by Guangming Daily newspaper critisized the Chinese showbiz industry for ‘creating social problems’. The supporting argument was that Chinese ‘sissy’ men ‘wear heavy makeup’ and ‘sexy clothes’, such that it was ‘difficult to tell whether they were men or women’.

Moreover, there have been incidents of Chinese media platforms suppressing the supposed Chinese ‘sissy’ men phenomenon. Douyin deleted the account of social media influencer Feng Xiaoyi following multiple complaints from netizens on his too ‘feminine’ appearance and child-like tone of voice. Chinese actors such as Wang Linkai and Jing Boran have also had the earrings they wore onscreen censored through post-production edits.

Douyin suspends Feng Xiaoyi’s account following  complaints regarding his excessive ‘feminine’ style  crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry
Image: Baidu Baike, Douyin suspends Feng Xiaoyi’s account following  complaints regarding his excessive ‘feminine’ style

China’s resistance against celebrity influence and excessive fan culture

Excessive fan culture is pervasive in China and range from super-stalkers running after celebrities at airports to rampant online fan-wars defaming other celebrities in defense of their own idol. Earlier this year, idol show Youth With You got into a scandal whereby fans were wasting piles of milk in an effort to retrieve a QR code inside the milk carton to cast votes for their favorite contestants. The crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry reduces celebrity influence and the unhealthy and excessive nature of Chinese fan culture. Beijing has decreed a ban on Chinese celebrity ranking lists, a ban on voting for Chinese youth idol shows, and stars will also be responsible for their (mis)conducts. 

What can global brands do to stay afloat during the crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry

Foreign firms should be careful of their marketing strategy and reconsider partnerships with certain celebrities. There is the risk of public backlash if scandals surrounding questionable moral ethics and anti-China sentiments keep happening. Firms should consider strengthening their content and digital marketing strategy, such as riding the Guochao trend, and utilizing virtual influencers, metahumans and NFTs which don’t have the risky human-personality aspect that can cause controversy.

Learn more about how to succeed in the KOL marketing in China

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