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Authorities Vow to Protect Chinese Teens from Talent Shows and the “Fan Economy”

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Days before the second season of Rap of China began airing on Saturday, rumors circulated on social messaging app WeChat to the effect that the show’s main sponsor had withdrawn funding and that the show would be postponed (link in Chinese) for a couple of months. Around the same time, a similar rumor that the forthcoming second season of another hit talent show, Tencent Video’s Coming One, would also be suspended (link in Chinese).

Both rumors turned out to be fake news, as both shows aired on schedule over the weekend. But the timing of these false stories coincided with the issuance of a very real “notice” from SART (the State Administration of Radio and Television, the central government body responsible for administering and supervising TV and radio in the country). On July 10, SART posted the following to their official website (link in Chinese)

Summer vacation is coming. In order to enrich teenagers and young adults’ cultural lives, to let them spend summer vacation in the internet space with clear sky and clean air, and to guide their mindset, cultivate their taste, guide their interest, and educate them with knowledge as excellent entertainment programs should function, and at the same time to promote audio and video websites that carry out their social responsibility actively, and to protect a healthy environment for teenagers to grow up in…

Two key lines seem particularly relevant here: “Produce programs that spread positive energy for teenagers,” and “Protect teenagers’ physical and mental health.”

To make the latter point clearer, the notice continues:

Idol-raising programs, singing talent shows, and competitions in which people from the society widely take part and select contestants should be strictly assessed by experts in terms of theme and concepts, value orientation, ideological connotation, segment setting, etc., to ensure all aired programs have correct value orientations and healthy content. In the mean time, excessive entertainment and advocating wrong inclinations — such as money worship, hedonism, quick success, and instant benefits — will be firmly prohibited to build a healthy and clean entertainment environment of summer vocation.

As usual, the notice does not spell out any clear operational standards, but we suspect that something “improper” might have happened behind the scenes of one of these reality shows recently.

Related:

Chinese Authorities Take Aim at “Money Worship” Following Fan Bingbing Contract Scandal

After we reported on singing idol show Produce 101 last month, small-town contestant Yang Chaoyue made it to the finals, despite many viewers commenting on her lack of singing ability. In the show’s finale, Yang was selected as one of the 11 members of Rocket Girls, which the show’s producer, Tencent Video, billed as “China’s #1 girl group.” This fabricated singing group was the end-game of the show’s three-month competition.

Some of the other winners on the show, however, were already affiliated with another group — Cosmic Girls, managed by competing company YUEHUA Entertainment. As a result, the official “coming out” conference for Rocket Girls, which was scheduled to be held on July 11, never happened, with two members of Cosmic Girls reportedly (link in Chinese) being taken away by their original agent.

This drama has transpired despite massive fan interest in Produce 101, as witnessed by fans showing support for their favorite idols by renting ads on massive LED screens throughout China:

But in some cases this support has led to fans being taken advantage of.

China’s so-called “fan economy” has been developing since pop idol Chris Lee went on hit singing show Super Girl in 2005. It’s exploded in recent years, and there are signs that it’s now being exploited by fraudulent fans looking for a “quick success”, to use SART’s term.

Today, fans of reality shows build company-like organizations with different departments specializing in various behaviors of online fandom, such as “anti-hater group”, “voting group”, “data group”, “advertisement group”, “copywriter group”, and “frontier group”. Each “company” includes fan leaders, who are closer to the idols the group supports and the agencies behind them, and who typically manage the funds raised by their groups.

During Produce 101‘s last episode for example, the winning finalists were decided by the total number of public votes they received. Dedicated fan groups collected money from fans in order to set up extra accounts on the online voting platforms in the hopes of propelling their favorite idol to victory. Viewers of the finale reportedly raised over 40 million RMB (about 6 million USD) during the episode — fans of Wu Yixuan, one of the Cosmic Girls, apparently raised 1 million RMB in just one hour.

Members of idol group SNH48 react during 2017’s “General Election” event, which uses a similar fan voting system to Produce 101

According to Nanfang Metropolis Daily, it has become increasingly common for fan group leaders to run off with these funds and make extravagant purchases, like this sea-view house” reportedly bought by the leader of a Rocket Girls fan group. The system — in which many fans trust the group leaders, and never see the financial details of the overall fundraising effort — has proven highly susceptible to fraud. Once group leaders abscond with money raised in the “fan economy”, there is little that fans can do to get it back.

On average, Chinese teenagers and young adults (and their parents) nowadays are a lot richer than when I was their age — but they’re also probably just as passionate and naive. There must be other ways, wiser ways, to use their summer vacation than watching TV and giving their money to so-called idols. It seems that the highest levels of government agree, and are urging Chinese teens to think twice before spending the rest of their summer on reality television.

Cover image: TFBoys fan mob (via Elephant Room)

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Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van