The affect of new reforms in the Chinese entertainment industry
“The entertainment industry is vast and is a reflection of the society we live in”
The entertainment industry is a common occupation found in almost every part of the world. From democracy to dictatorship, it exerts its dominion throughout all class, race, age or gender. China though known to be a mechanical nation has huge importance given to entertainment industry inferable from the business it brings to the public authority. Howbeit, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) recently brought in certain guidelines regulating the entertainment industry. The existent issues of the industry essentially can be broken down in three matter of contentions; the rights available with the general public, dejectedly regulated media industries and the rights available and obligations levied on the media professionals.
The sectors covered by China’s entertainment and media law encompass films, television, printing, publishing, music, sports, gaming and any new forms of media. CCP has for years used this industry to proliferate the governmental ideologies and political agendas. Just like the famous speech of Mao Zedong at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942 accentuated the supremacy of socialist state and socialism to dominate the entertainment industry, the recent 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision released on 9th August 2021 is though titled ‘A New Journey Towards a Modern Socialist Country’ nonetheless reiterates the supreme socialist ideologies with no ‘Modern’ element. Further the ratification of entertainment industry began from two governmental ministries, a party agency; The Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China; and an industry association; National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA); on September 2, 2021 issuing notice and guidelines for the alleged ‘clean-up’.
The ‘Modern’ Reforms
The 14th Five year plan begins with introducing the plan as “China’s new journey towards socialist modern country”, on the contrary the Chapter 2 of the same plan sets some guidelines to follow whilst holding the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics high. It also sets to modernise the system by including the overseas market and domestic market reinforcing each other however no notices or guidelines came out to allow foreign investors to distribute their films and TV programmes in China. As China’s media and entertainment industry stands heavily regulated, apart for music, no other sector is allowed to welcome foreign investors. The Special Management Measures for the Market Entry of Foreign Investment (Negative List-2020 Version) prohibits foreign investments in film productions, distributions and cinema circuit companies, additionally it also prohibits the foreign film import business. Thus the only means to enter the industry is to co-produce with Chinese productions, tagging it as ‘Made in China’. Further as foreign production is not allowed in Chinese market therefore China adopts a specific 54% quota system for imported films where revenue sharing films (only from major Hollywood studios and productions) hold a 34% quota and the flat-fee films (films sold to Chinese companies for a consideration) hold a 20% quota. This import also stands specifically allowed to only China Film Group and Huaxia Film, who are licensed to import and distribute foreign films. These strict provisions are contrary to the “long-term and stable economic development and social stability and harmony”.
The ‘principles to follow’ obligates to promote social equity and safeguard the fundamental interests of the people and creativity. NRTA per contra released an eight point plan to ‘clean-up the entertainment industry’ as “further regulation of arts and entertainment shows and related personnel” howbeit the directions are quite contrary to the principles of promoting creativity and equality in ‘modern china’. The directions demand prohibit the entertainment professionals with incorrect political stance, break the laws or act against the public moral behaviour. It also restricted the shows starring the children of entertainers and promote merchandise the entertainers for votes. It is required for the entertainment content to promote China’s traditional culture and correct beauty standards. It blatantly restricts the portrayal of men in non-conventional, ‘not-masculine enough’ forms on the television. Further the pay-scale was heavily regulated and irrespective of the quality of work, the plan denies the entertainers high salaries though on the other hand it also ruled to encourage celebrities to take part in charity and punish under the table contracts and tax evaders. With stringent oversight of social media activity, it is necessary that moral and professional training be provided. It fostered professional criticism in the sector and even required television hosts to hold licences. The entertainment sector should, in general, adopt a positive attitude and approach with regard to show storylines, publicity, and public events.
Bad celebrity regulations
“My Fair Princess,” aired in 1990s, the most popular Chinese television series starred Zhao Wei. She later advanced from A-list actress to director, pop singer, and businesswoman, yielding from Chairman Deng Xiaoping’s “opening up” policy and embracing the benefits of private enterprise. In 2016, when Xi Jingping was in power, she was accused of being unpatriotic for casting a Taiwanese actor as the lead role in a movie and therefore Beijing had that choice overturned. On the other hand, communist party hosted an entertainment industry symposium where they opposed the idea of ‘money worship, hedonism and extreme individualism’. In August, a list of “misbehaving celebrities” made the rounds on social media, and those alleged entertainers were blacklisted from Beijing. On account of same the producers were instructed not to hire famous entertainers such as Zheng Shuang after she was fined 299 million yuan for tax evasion whilst she starred numerous popular Chinese shows.
There should be a fairly defined just means of deciding one’s guilt, where social media ratings shall not be the source of it, in cases when such restrictions are necessary to prevent frauds that widen the gap in the distribution of wealth and income and make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Such rigid methods of doing what is “proper” severely harm innocent people. It is also against the natural justice principle of ‘innocent till proven guilty’.
Country was in the middle of ‘clean up the entertainment industry’ campaign when these new reforms were released. As a result, variety shows alongside the entertainers were also ordered to be heavily censored and monitored in light of recent regulations in lines with the country’s agendas. They forbid “screening idol development programmes, variety shows, and reality shows starring the children of stars” by broadcasters and online media outlets. The new guidelines are intended to “create an atmosphere of loving the Party and the nation and respecting morals and art,” the regulator claims. They are also intended to address the dysfunctional “fan circles.”
The circular ordered producers of cultural and entertainment programmes to “fight vulgar behaviour and substance, and more good works should be generated to suit the spiritual and cultural requirements of the people.” Accordingly, on August 16, Beijing police detained Kris Wu, a well-known singer and actor, on rape suspicion. The actor Zhang Zhehan was also recently blacklisted after published pictures of him at Tokyo’s infamous Yasukuni Shrine, which celebrates Japanese war criminals. The alleged shrine is a shrine for worshippers who visit to know the thoughts of those who gave their lives for the love of their nation Japan. Though it stands a controversial place as the 14 leaders of WWII, ’class-A’ criminals, took shelter there and were raised as deities later, however still many Japanese pay respect to their relatives there. The mere visit to such a place which is subjective to perspective and has caused no inconvenience to anyone stained the career of a successful entertainer. Where arresting rapists and people who use power to escape law should be brought under strict criticism of law, visitations to rather controversial places is unnecessarily strict interoperation and implementation.
Further to curb the toxic fan culture CAC (Cyberspace Administration of China) released an eight point plan. Communist party has banned some reality talent shows and ordered broadcasters not to promote “sissy” men, in the latest attempt to reshape the culture of the country’s huge entertainment industry that authorities believe is leading young Chinese people astray, explained further.
Sissy men- Feminazation of men
The men shown on television as less “masculine” in accordance with the values of men chauvinist society are meant to be understood by the term “latest reforms.” Feng Xiaoyi, a Chinese influencer on said, “Eat peach, peach. So, so cold”. His distinctive porcelain skin, pearl-like eyes, and pink lips, combined with his soft speech, give him a feminine appearance. His 600,000-follower account was suspended by Douyin after social media users accused him of being a sissy and “grandstanding through gaudy content.” After Douyin’s suspension, the publication cited one particular comment in particular: “Finally, his account got blocked! I want to switch to another pair of eyes after seeing his video of eating peaches”, a person wrote on the microblogging site Weibo.
Along with the general consensus among citizens, the government likewise supports the archaic notion of ideal gender characteristics. The new laws explicitly encourage such “deviant” behaviour as a flaw in the entertainment sector and criticise the aesthetics and values it promotes. The plans are quite radical and tightly controlled since China has always exploited the entertainment sector and prominent celebrities to spread communist beliefs. The authors of “Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China,” Jonathan Sullivan and Séagh Kehoe, argued that the Communist Party was guiding “orderly growth toward a modern society.”
According to a CAC assessment from June 2021, online skirmishes and arguments over men’s sissy behaviour have “disrupted the pure and healthy online ecology.” In a statement released on 2nd September 2021, the NRTA instructed television networks and internet platforms to “strictly oversee the selection of programme actors and guests, by ensuring they have a correct political stance, excellent behaviour, high creative level, and strong social credit”.
“A person’s gender expression has no connection to their talent, character, whether or not they are patriotic, or whether or not they contribute to society,” a Guangzhou-based NGO named Ah Qiang, which has worked with sexual minority groups over the years, said. This is sexist behaviour that targets those who identify as neutral or more feminine. The tension is between [individualism] in contemporary culture and an antiquated beauty ideal. Other than the binary genders that are recognised, there are no other genders in China. In addition to discouraging and being inhumane to the sexual minority, it is also onerous on the industry because movies and television programmes have long been a reliable means of raising awareness. The country’s and its residents’ social development is also hampered by it.
Toxic fan culture
The toxic fandom is another evil that the industry has addressed. Multiple fan pages are frequently created in China. According to iResearch Consulting Group, the fan economy in China earned close to 4 trillion yuan in 2020 and is expected to reach 6 trillion in 2023. In response, CAC published a ten-point policy that called for the removal of Weibo’s “Star Power Ranking List,” which allowed fans to donate time and money to boost their favourite celebrities. According to the statement, the list was taken down “to promote the community’s orderly growth and control fans’ reasonable star-chasing.” Additionally, Douyin was instructed to eliminate the celebrity and variety shows’ idol talent competitions and online voting components.
Where the ‘toxic’ fandom is need of hour to be addressed however the definition of ‘toxic’ for the China seems entirely different from the general definition known to mankind. Where authorities have previously issued orders to stop broadcasting of tattooed music artists and require more patriotic focused programming, removing the hashtags and contents by fan pages is an overreach. A number of stories about the unwholesome phenomenon of fan organisations that support celebrities and the goods they advertise have been published by the government-run press agency Xinhua News Agency. Asking celebrities to promote a product is a common approach in the strategy-driven industry of marketing, and it carries no negative connotations. It appears to be an effort to stop any individual or group other than the communist party from having an excessively strong influence over the broader populace. It also serves as a huge financial loss of the companies dependent of ambassadors along with the incomes of entertainers.
The plan has spread beyond showbiz and has hit the e-sports market as well. The idea limits minors’ gaming time to just one hour on Fridays and weekends due to what China refers to as “minors’ addiction to e-sports.” Although investors in Tencent Holdings and NetEase, the two biggest game developers in the nation, noted that the contribution of young gamers to the companies’ revenues is still relatively small, it appears that the government believes that e-sports addiction in contemporary China is greater than that of hard drugs. Mio Kato, asian equities analyst at LightStream Research is of the opinion that this time restriction will develop a habit that the child will carry till adulthood and thus impactful.
Whereas I agree that children should be given limited access to and time for what society deems to be unproductive pursuits, parenting should at least be exempt from such invasive governmental observation. Because gaming corporations are too huge and unregulated, it appears that the party is using the improvement of the community as a cover to put these businesses under surveillance.
Korean and expression invasion
BTS, a South Korean boy band, was temporarily suspended by Weibo for fundraising violations. The information that Weibo would restrict 21 other Chinese fan club pages for 30 days was later made public. According to the party, such toxic fan pages and outsiders are influencing young people to break the law, abuse, defame, and engage in deceptive marketing, as well as to force fans—including minors—to gather money to support such crimes. There have been calls for an online protest after several social media accounts belonging to LGBTQ+ rights organisations at significant colleges in China were blocked from WeChat, raising concerns about targeted censorship.
A notice stating that “all content has been blocked and the use of the account has been stopped” has been placed on the WeChat pages of several organisations, including Huazhong University of Science and Technology Gay Pride and Peking University’s ColorsWorld, in place of their previous posts, in name of ‘violations of unspecified social media regulations’. According to the succinct notices, WeChat had received “related complaints” over the pages, and on Tuesday, the group accounts were renamed to “Unnamed Account” based on account records that were available to the public.
Profession! Despite wanting to close the economic gap and encouraging citizens’ professional development, the communist party is also robbing many people of their means of income. In order to reinforce the Communist ideology and present the nation as the model of perfection in the world, the actors, entertainers, musicians, influencers, and e-sport MNCs are being drudged. According to my understanding of this, it appears that the authorities do not regard the aforementioned as professionals. The entertainment industry works on incentives, including the new creations, when the incentives are completely cut off, what and how can high quality, original shows or movies be made? Limitations like those imposed by the new reforms poison people’s creativity slowly.
The ability to react to the constantly shifting market dynamics is the key to almost every successful brand in China, thus China Skinny’s Tanner predicted that the majority of them will swiftly change their marketing strategy. “There may be a corrective period, and marketing expenditures for less visible touch points will climb, meaning ROI will dive more,” he said, referring to the fact that many firms spend more than half of their marketing spending on celebrity endorsements.
With respect to armouring the already thick iron walls by restricting the business from other countries, The CCP has always had a complex connection with popular culture, according to Michel Hockx, director of the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. He further added, “On the one hand, the party desires popular culture and claims to speak for the people. On the other hand, they genuinely disapprove of what the populace appears to find appealing. They view a large portion of popular culture as being “vulgar.” The popular culture sector contributes significantly to the economy, generates jobs, etc. It is not a matter of simply outlawing everything and substituting it with what the party deems fit”.
It is a well established fact that the government disregards human rights, regardless of that fact, it is oppressive, sexist, and discriminating in every way. In addition, it is strongly opposed to the nation’s economic well-being, along with various other fundamental standards of human rights and global trade. This reform is more than just a strategy to assert control over the unusually free and open industry.
- The official new reforms of entertainment industry released by the communist party, https://www.fujian.gov.cn/english/news/202108/t20210809_5665713.htm
- Xu, Jian & Yang, Ling. (2021). Governing entertainment celebrities in China: practices, policies and politics (2005-2020). Celebrity Studies. 12. 10.1080/19392397.2021.1912109.
- Zhu, Steven. “10 Questions for China’s Media and Entertainment Industry | China Business Law.” Law.Asia, law.asia, 14 Dec. 2021, https://law.asia/10-questions-for-chinas-media-and-entertainment-industry/.
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- Ni, Vincent. “China Bans Reality Talent Shows to Curb Behaviours of ‘Idol’ Fandoms | China | The Guardian.” The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com, 2 Sept. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/sep/02/china-bans-reality-talent-shows-to-curb-behaviours-of-idol-fandoms.
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- Press, Associated. “China Bans Men It Sees as Not Masculine Enough From TV | Entertainment News | US News.” US News & World Report, http://www.usnews.com, 2 Sept. 2021, https://www.usnews.com/news/entertainment/articles/2021-09-02/china-bans-sissy-men-from-tv-in-new-crackdown.
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