China Axes Idol Survival Shows to Combat Celeb Culture, Toxic Fans

Regulators will also take further action to restrict celebrities’ high payouts and stifle tax evasion

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3:12 AM HKT, Tue September 7, 2021 2 mins read

After a slew of celebrity scandals, it appears China’s entertainment industry has entered a new phase: The National Radio and Television Administration — the country’s entertainment watchdog — issued a notice on September 2 to further rein in the idol entertainment sector.

According to the announcement, idol survival shows are getting the axe, and no more will be made in the future. The administration also said that it would continue to crack down on celebrity culture and toxic fandom and strive to cultivate a patriotic atmosphere in the entertainment industry.

The Chinese term fanquan refers to highly organized fan groups loyal to their chosen idols. Most of the members of these fan groups — 81.6% — are born after 1995, according to state-backed media Jiemian. Among them, nearly half are students with no stable income.

Celebrity fans do many things to support their idols, including buying giant billboards to celebrate their idols’ birthdays and purchasing products endorsed by their heroes.

The super-intense fan culture currently in the spotlight in China first emerged in South Korea, a nation that has exported idol groups such as BTS and Blackpink worldwide. In Korea, celebrity stalkers are called sasaeng fans, while in China, they are dubbed sisheng fans, meaning ‘private life fans.’

So-called private life fans have been behind several cringe-worthy incidents in recent years. In 2016, Jackson Wang, a member of popular Korean idol group GOT7, was injured in a car crash in Xiamen caused by fans chasing his car.

In 2017, an 18-year-old woman was thrust into the spotlight for being a celebrity stalker. Gong Yuwen, also known as the ‘Hongqiao Diva,’ spent countless hours stalking and photographing celebrities at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport.

Gong was singled out as a bad example of China’s fan culture, with her poor academic performance highlighted by the media.

Earlier this summer, two obsessed fans of Chinese singer-actor Wang Yibo were arrested by Beijing police for illegally installing a tracking device on his car.


In May, the Chinese streaming site iQIYI was criticized for its idol survival show Youth With You after the popular program pushed a voting promotion that resulted in overzealous fans buying vast quantities of milk products. The promo reportedly resulted in a colossal waste of milk, and the show was suspended before its finale as a result.

But still, China’s fan culture is tremendously lucrative: China’s idol industry was worth 130 billion RMB in 2020, according to a data monitoring agency.

The last season of Youth With You was a huge hit, with nearly 2 billion views on the platform. Also, the top three most-watched programs from 2018-2020 on Tencent Video, another major streaming site in China, were all idol survival shows.

In addition to clamping down on idol survival shows, regulators will take further action to restrict celebrities’ high payouts and stifle tax evasion. This component of the crackdown is already well underway: Renowned actress Zheng Shuang, who was involved in a surrogacy scandal earlier this year, was banned from social media and fined 299 million RMB (46 million USD) for tax evasion last month.

Zheng is the latest in a growing list of celebrities to be targeted for failing to pay their fair share of taxes — a crackdown that goes back several years and has seen several high-profile celebrities fall from grace (here’s looking at you, Fan Bingbing).

Cover image via Weibo

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