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Celebrities Disappear From Internet As China Moves Against Fan Culture

China announced further steps to control celebrity fan culture, which has become “chaotic” according to regulators. The steps came when one of China’s most prominent stars, Vicki Zhao Wei, was removed from the internet and another star, actress Zheng Shuang, was fined for a tax scandal.

The Cyberspace Administration of China issued two interrelated notices on Friday. One said punitive measures would be taken against the dissemination of harmful information among prominent fan groups. Discussion channels can be closed.

In a second step, the CAC announced draft regulations for Internet recommendation algorithms. It seeks to stop algorithms that encourage users to spend large sums of money or to spend money in ways that “could disrupt public order”. Internet companies must make it harder to create fake user accounts and make it easier for users to switch off recommendation systems.

Recommendation algorithms are used by home shopping services, news sites, social media and streaming platforms. The draft is up for discussion until mid-September.

Chinese regulators in a variety of ministries and departments are in the middle of a month-long campaign to run the country’s tech giants. They consider them to have grown too big, have violated user privacy, and encouraged vulgarity, individualism, and pop culture.

Celebrities were particularly targeted by the raid. The superstar singer and actor Kris Wu was arrested after allegations of rape and his website was largely deleted.

Another star, Zhang Zhehan, who is accused of hurting Chinese feelings after recently posing for photos in Tokyo’s infamous Yasukuni Shrine, recently saw his films and TV series being wiped off broadcasters and streaming platforms. The state daily Global Times reported that Zhang had been “pushed out of the entertainment industry.”

Now Variety’s sister publication WWD reports that Zhao, a film and television star who appeared in “Shaolin Soccer” and “Red Cliff”, is also being banned. Video platforms such as Tencent Video, iQiyi and Youku cut your name from the TV series “My Fair Princess”, which was produced in the 1990s and is still very popular.

WWD says it’s unclear why Zhao, the face of Italian fashion brand Fendi in China, is currently being canceled. It is speculated that her fate may be linked to the ongoing investigation into Zhou Jiangyong, a senior official in Hangzhou, Alibaba’s hometown. Zhao is also close to Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba, who endured state-orchestrated attacks for nearly a year after publicly criticizing China’s financial oversight system.

Zheng, who was the focus of a surrogacy storm earlier this year, has now been fined 299 million RMB ($ 46 million) for unpaid income tax liabilities and excessive income. Though little known abroad, 29-year-old Zeng is one of the highest paid actresses in the world. She reportedly received $ 24.6 million (RMB 160 million) for 77 days of shooting – $ 320,000 a day – for her role on the upcoming 50-episode series, A Chinese Ghost Story.

The fact that she was tamed for paying taxes bears a strong echo of the 2017 demise of Fan Bingbing, China’s biggest female star.

Fan’s $ 100 million fines disrupted film and television production as companies rushed to clean up their tax affairs, rewrite contracts with artists, and stop using domestic tax havens. China’s authorities have also previously attempted to cap celebrities’ pay packages for television series, exemplarily punish celebrities who have used prostitutes or drugs, and threatened others with lifelong bans.

Streaming platform iQiyi announced this week that it has canceled plans for talent contest shows that bring out celebrities. The company’s CEO Gong Yu said the shows were “unhealthy”.

The latest crackdowns on technology and celebrities also seem to have a political context. The Chinese Communist Party may eliminate all sources of power and influence in civil society – wealth, technology, media and fame – except its own.

Zhao has flirted with anger in the past. In 2018, she and her husband were banned from the securities markets for five years after providing false information on a company takeover. She has also been criticized for amassing over $ 1 billion in net worth, in part from her early purchase of Alibaba Pictures stock on Ma’s personal recommendation. In 2016 she was accused of supporting Taiwanese separatism by appearing in a film with Leon Dai (and in which Alibaba Pictures was a minority investor), while in 2001 she was heavily criticized for wearing a dress that appeared to be made by a japanese military stemmed flag.

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