The Chinese government’s crackdown on the tech and entertainment sectors has now turned to “sissy idols,” “effeminate men” and all things “overly entertaining.”
The measures were sketched out in an eight-point plan on Thursday by the National Radio and Television Administration. It called for “further regulation of arts and entertainment shows and related personnel.”
Announcing the measures, the Communist Party of China’s propaganda department accused some in the entertainment industry of bad influence on the young and of “severely polluting the social atmosphere.”
One of the eight sections to one one “boycotting being overly entertaining” explained a need to put more emphasis on “traditional Chinese culture, revolution culture and socialist culture.” It said that authorities will establish a “correct beauty standard,” and boycott vulgar internet celebrities.
It also called for Chinese media to spread more positive values, and for trade associations in the television and internet entertainment sectors to provide more training and self-discipline.
The guidelines also called for the marginalization of people who have broken laws or whose past behavior has gone against “public order and morals” and for bans on “idol audition shows.”
In a repetition and strengthening of past edicts, the guidelines also called for a ban on huge celebrity pay packages, fake contracts which enable earnings to be disguised, and tax evasion.
The new regulations suggest that Chinese leadership in some ways wishes to turn back the clock to a simpler and purer Socialist era, perhaps a more self-reliant one that is more driven by command economy concerns and is less capitalistic.
President Xi Jinping has called for a “national rejuvenation,” with tighter Communist Party control of business, education, culture and religion
That has implications for, among other things, the import of foreign entertainment content. Hollywood films are this year struggling to get release in China. And after a more than three-year ban, restrictions on Korean entertainment products had been seen to ease. But commentators now suggest that easing may go no further.
China’s LGBTQ community may also feel deeply uneasy. While homosexuality is no longer classified as a mental illness in China and was decriminalized in 1997, same sex relations remain mostly taboo.
Gay entertainment content has remained in a gray zone, and foreign films with gay themes such as “Call Me By Your Name,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” have been heavily censored or removed from screens.
Earlier this year the dominant messaging app Weixin / WeChat erased all past content of the accounts for the campus LGBTQ groups of China’s top universities.
Chinese authorities have had a long tradition of punishing high profile figures in the entertainment industry, with temporary bans being handed out to figures including Zhang Yimou, Jia Zhangke and actor Tang Wei.
Authorities have chosen to make examples of other celebrities for their drug habits (Jaycee Chan) or use of prostitutes (Wang Quan’an). In 2018, the country’s leading actress Fan Bingbing disappeared for more than two months before reappearing, contrite and ready to pay a fine of over $100 million for her tax and contractual indiscretions.
The last couple of years, additionally, have seen a change of administrator for the film and TV sector, which has led to a growing emphasis on Socialist values and loyalty to the Communist Party. This has caused the production slates of private sector studios to be increasingly taken over by patriotic content.
Since late 2020, there has been a regulatory squeeze on China’s tech companies. These are now considered to have grown too big and too fast, and to have taken up such an important place in people’s daily lives that they threaten the power of the Party.
The two trends – the moralistic stance against non-Socialist behavior and the crackdown on the tech sector – are now coalescing and having a deep impact on companies such as Alibaba and Tencent that are not only China’s top entertainment and tech players, but are also some of the largest gaming and streaming companies in the world.
Only last week, regulators in another department, the Cyberspace Administration of China, called for an end to chaotic celebrity culture, while also seeking a technological solution to fandom. It proposes limits on recommendation engines and referral algorithms used by games, streaming and social media companies.
High profile and wealthy individuals too are at risk. In recent days, top actor and billionaire investor Vicki Zhao Wei was scrubbed from the Chinese internet without explanation. She has had minor run-ins with authorities in the past and may now have been caught out over her past association with Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba who has spectacularly fallen from grace.