China’s ruling Communist Party is taking extreme action against the dissemination of “harmful information”, completely erasing the history of some of the nation’s biggest stars and fan clubs.
The crackdown saw one of China’s most prominent actors Zhao Wei, and her two decades of work wiped from the country’s internet on Tuesday.
But while individual celebrities have been targeted by President Xi Jinping’s government before, authorities are aiming at a wider celebrity fan culture popular among China’s youth.
“For some time now, artists’ moral failures and legal violations, the cultivation of younger idols, and ‘chaotic’ fandoms have attracted widespread attention in society,” China’s state broadcaster CCTV said on Tuesday.
Dr Feng Chongyi, a China studies associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney, told The New Daily the crackdown is the latest step in President Jinping’s goal of returning China to a totalitarian state.
“Xi Jinping is now almost 10 years in power. He’s the guy who wants to reverse China back to totalitarian rule. Totalitarian rule means that the party and the current leader will have absolute control over the entire society, including economics, culture, politics, everything,” Dr Feng said.
“The reason to crack down on celebrities is because if you follow Chinese politics it’s a long sequence. Originally the crackdown was on political dissidents, human rights lawyers, civil rights and non-government organisations, and any provision of people that are there to criticise the government.
“But now they want to control the digital technology capitalists, as well as these celebrities because they are the ones who attract the resentment from society.
“It’s because they attract too many followers.”
Zhao is just the latest in a string of public figures targeted by Beijing in its clampdown on those speaking ill of the Communist Party or its core socialist values.
On Tuesday, the award-winning actor, filmmaker and billionaire businesswoman had her online presence scrubbed with no explanation.
Her fan page on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, was shut down, CNN reports, while films and TV shows she starred in or directed were removed from many video platforms, and her name was wiped from online casting lists.
The South China Morning Post reported that a hashtag used by fans to share information about Zhao was also censored.
The day Zhao was erased, The Global Times, a tabloid newspaper controlled by the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper, called her a “scandals-hit actress”.
The newspaper reported that phrases including “What’s happening with Zhao Wei” and “Zhao Wei was removed from many of her works” were the top trending topics on Weibo, the day her online presence was erased.
Zhao’s removal comes two weeks after broadcasters and websites wiped Zheng Shuang, another prominent actor, and all of her accounts and works from various platforms.
Zheng was fined $46 million for tax fraud on Friday.
The erasures come after reports of a list of “misbehaving celebrities” blacklisted by Chinese broadcasters circulated on its social media platform on Thursday.
Both Zhao and Zheng were listed, according to CNN.
Popular culture is a key ideological battleground for the Communist Party, and many high-paid actors, singers and entertainers are expected to promote the CCP’s values.
Dr Feng said celebrities were the perfect scapegoats for the Communist Party to shift blame and resentment onto.
On Saturday, the Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog urged immediate changes to China’s entertainment culture, calling it “toxic” and accusing it of “advocating wrong values” to young people.
“If not guided and changed, it’ll have a huge destructive impact on the future life of young people and social morality,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) announced 10 measures to “clean up” the “chaos” of celebrity fan clubs online.
It recommended banning any attempts online of ranking celebrities based on popularity and tightening regulations on fan clubs.
CNN reported on comments on Chinese social media comparing the crackdown to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
The Cultural Revolution was a decade-long period of political and social chaos that spanned from 1966 to 1976, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the purging of remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, erasing arts and culture, not in line with party propaganda.
Dr Feng agreed with the comparison, calling the current events the “Cultural Revolution version 2”.
“This has been going on for 10 years. Now they want to assume absolute control again,” he said.
“Because of the vast force of military and paramilitary and police force, they can crack down any visible, open resistance, so the society can not do anything in the current situation.
“The only thing they can do is soft dissidence by lying flat, and not follow and actively participate in this cultural revolution like the Red Guards before. But they will in a sense classically accept whatever the fake message is by the government leader.”