In recent days, a number of major state and Party media outlets have simultaneously republished a relatively obscure essayist’s screed on sissy-boy celebrities, get-rich-quick capitalists, and lessons that the collapse of the Soviet Union might hold for China.
Li Guangman, a Guangcha columnist and former editor of the trade publication Central China Electric Power, first published his opinion piece, “Everyone Can Sense That a Profound Transformation is Underway!,” to his public WeChat account @李光满冰点时评. People’s Daily, Xinhua, Guangming Daily, and other prominent state media platforms promptly picked up the piece. While it is unclear whether the move was coordinated with Li beforehand, it is not unprecedented for state media to elevate nationalistic bloggers who echo, or even foreshadow, national policy. In 2014, Xi Jinping promoted Zhou Xiaoping, an ultra-nationalist blogger with a particular distaste for the U.S., as a model for other writers at the Beijing Forum on Literature and Art, in a speech evocative of Mao Zedong’s 1942 “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art.”
Li’s sweeping, impassioned essay used an ongoing celebrity culture “clean up” campaign as a launching point to argue that the United States “is waging biological warfare, cyberwarfare, space warfare and public opinion battles against China, and is ramping up efforts to foment a ‘color revolution’ by mobilizing a fifth column within China.” In his vigorous conclusion, Li dismisses recent reforms as superficial, arguing that it is time for a more radical transformation.
China’s entertainment industry has never lacked for scandals that stink to high heaven. Taken together, the recent back-to-back scandals involving Kris Wu and Henry Huo, Zhang Zhehan’s “devil worship” at Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine, and now the rape allegation against Hunan TV host Qian Feng have made people feel that the Chinese entertainment industry is rotten to the core. Without a swift crackdown, entertainment will not be the only thing that rots—the arts, literature, culture, performance, film and television spheres will all follow suit.
In the past few days, yet another storm has struck the beleaguered world of entertainment: the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) launched a heavy crackdown on celebrity “fan clubs,” the State Taxation Administration (STA) fined actress Zheng Shuang 299 million yuan [$46 million] for tax evasion, and Zhao Wei and Gao Xiaosong were banned and deplatformed. What does this heavy blow against the entertainment world portend?
On August 25, the CAC issued ten guidelines aimed at cleaning up chaotic celebrity fan clubs: first, cancel celebrity and artist rankings; second, optimize and adjust ranking rules; third, strictly regulate entertainment agencies; fourth, standardize fan group accounts; fifth, ban doxxing; sixth, clean up groups that violate regulations; seventh, ban enticing fans into making purchases; eighth, tighten programming regulations; ninth, strictly control participation by minors; and tenth, standardize fan fundraising. The guidelines specifically call for [all localities] to improve their political stance while ensuring political and ideological security online, creating a “clean” cyberspace, and advancing the work of cleaning up chaotic fan clubs. As this is obviously a political action, all localities must view this rectification campaign from a larger political perspective.
Not coincidentally, on August 27, the STA announced their decision in actress Zheng Shuang’s tax evasion case. Their investigation found that Zheng Shuang signed a 160 million yuan contract to star in the 2019 television series “A Chinese Ghost Story.” She was subsequently paid 156 million yuan in two installments. She falsely reported the first installment of 48 million yuan as corporate income rather than personal income, thus evading taxation. For the second installment of 108 million, the producers signed a fake contract with a company controlled by Zheng Shuang and made payments structured as “capital injections,” enabling her to avoid industry regulators’ oversight, receive “sky-high remuneration,” conceal her income by filing false reports, and evade taxation. Over the course of “A Chinese Ghost Story,” Zheng Shuang evaded 43.027 million yuan in taxes, and underpaid another 16.1778 million yuan in owed taxes. The investigation also found that, after the film and TV industry revised its income and taxation structures in 2018, Zheng Shang again disguised 35.07 million yuan in performance fees by falsely reporting them as corporate income rather than personal income. The facts are that Zheng Shuang evaded 2.2426 million yuan in taxes, and underpaid another 10.3429 million yuan in taxes. In total, from 2019 to 2020, Zheng Shuang failed to report 191 million yuan in personal income, evaded 45.27 million yuan in taxes, and underpaid another 26.52 million yuan in taxes.
In accordance with the relevant laws and regulations, Zheng Shuang has been ordered to pay 299 million yuan in combined taxes, late fees, and penalties: 71.7903 million of this is unpaid taxes and 8.8898 million is late fees. For the portion of her income that she misrepresented in order to evade taxes, she was fined 30.6857 million yuan, or four times the misrepresented amount; for the portion of her income that she attempted to conceal by falsely reporting it as a “capital injection,” she was fined 188 million yuan, the maximum penalty of five times the falsely reported amount. According to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, the tax agency will hand her case to the police should she fail to pay in time. The National Radio and Television Administration subsequently issued a notice requiring TV broadcasters at all levels to stop airing any programmes in which Zheng Shuang appeared, and to ban her from participating in future productions. Lately, Zhao Wei [Vicky Zhao], no stranger to the headlines, is in trouble again. On August 26, Zhao Wei’s “super topic” page disappeared from Weibo and her name was deleted from the credits for “My Fair Princess,” “Romance in the Rain,” and various other films and television series on Tencent and iQiyi.
By rights, Zhao Wei should have disappeared from the Chinese public eye twenty years ago, but instead, she has thrived. Twenty years ago, she became the target of an internet-wide crusade for wearing a dress emblazoned with the “rising sun” flag of the invading Imperial Japanese Army. But rather than being banned, she somehow became a mover and shaker in China’s capital markets, hailed as China’s “female Warren Buffet.” Back when she was rubbing shoulders with Jack Ma, Wang Lin, and other titans, she was able to control public opinion and routinely had unflattering news stories about her scrapped before publication. Later, when she directed “No Other Love,” she cast the die-hard Taiwan independence advocate Dai Liren [Leon Dai] as the male lead and the anti-Chinese actress Kiko Mizuhara—who supports praying at Yasukuni Shrine—as the female lead, thus incurring the public’s wrath. What strikes one as odd is that the whole thing blew over so quickly. Recently, Zhang Zhehan, an actor signed to Zhao Wei’s production company, appeared at Yasukuni Shrine multiple times, performed a Nazi salute, and cozied up to Japanese right-wingers, triggering a national uproar in China. The question remains how Zhao, despite so much negative publicity, was not toppled sooner. It was puzzling, but now we can look back and see: retribution had to bide its time.
Gao Xiaosong, another American whose works were deplatformed at the same time as Zhao Wei’s, has long been broadcasting programs such as “Xiao Speaks” and “Xiaosong Pedia” on Chinese television and the internet. He spouts utter nonsense about history, bends the knee to worship America, and has hoodwinked a certain group of Chinese into becoming his fans.
What sort of feeling do we get, just by looking at the events of the last two days—the crackdown on fan groups, Zheng Shuang being fined, and works by Zhao Wei and Gao Xiaosong being banned and deplatformed? If we take a broader political perspective on this series of events, we can discern a historical and developmental trend.
Consider the suspension of Ant Group’s IPO, the central government’s antitrust policies and reorganization of the economic order, the 18.2 billion yuan fine levied on Alibaba and the investigation of Didi Global, the grand commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, the proposed path to common prosperity, and the recent series of actions to clean up the mess in the entertainment industry. What these events tell us is that a monumental change is taking place in China, and that the economic, financial, cultural, and political spheres are undergoing a profound transformation—or, one could say, a profound revolution. It marks a return from “capitalist cliques” to the People, a shift from “capital-centered” to “people-centered.” It is, therefore, a political transformation in which the People will once again be front and center, and all those who obstruct this people-centered transformation will be left behind. This profound transformation also marks a return to the original intent of the Chinese Communist Party, a return to a people-centered approach, and a return to the essence of socialism.
This transformation will wash away all the dust: capital markets will no longer be paradise for get-rich-quick capitalists, cultural markets will no longer be heaven for sissy-boy stars, and news and public opinion will no longer be in the position of worshipping western culture. It is a return to the revolutionary spirit, a return to heroism, a return to courage and righteousness. We need to bring all forms of cultural chaos under control and build a vibrant, healthy, virile, intrepid, and people-oriented culture. We need to combat the manipulation of capital markets by big capital, fight platform-based monopolies, prevent bad money from driving out the good, and ensure the flow of capital to high-tech companies, manufacturers and companies operating in the real economy. The ongoing restructuring of private tutoring organizations and school districts will clean up the chaos in the educational system, bring about a true return to accessibility and fairness, and give ordinary people room for upward mobility. In the future, we must also bring high housing prices and exorbitant medical expenses under control, and completely level the “three great mountains” of education, medical care, and housing. Although we are not trying to “kill the rich to aid the poor,” we need to find a practical solution to a worsening income gap that allows the rich to keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer. Common prosperity means allowing ordinary workers to enjoy a larger share of the social distribution of wealth. This transformation will bring a breath of fresh air to our society. Current efforts to crack down on the arts, entertainment, film and television spheres are not nearly robust enough. We must use all the means at our disposal to strike down various forms of celebrity worship and fan culture, stamp out “pretty-boy” and “sissy-boy” tendencies in our national character, and ensure that our arts, entertainment, film and television spheres are truly upright and upstanding. Those working in the arts, entertainment, film and television must go down to the grassroots, and allow ordinary workers and citizens to become the protagonists, to play the leading roles in our literature and art.
China faces an increasingly fraught and complex international landscape as the United States menaces China with worsening military threats, economic and technological blockades, attacks on our financial system, and attempts at political and diplomatic isolation. The U.S. is waging biological warfare, cyber warfare, space warfare and public opinion battles against China, and is ramping up efforts to foment a “color revolution” by mobilizing a fifth column within China. If we rely on the barons of capitalism to battle the forces of imperialism and hegemony, if we continue our obeisance to American “tittytainment” tactics, if we allow this generation of young people to lose their mettle and masculinity, then who needs an enemy—we will have brought destruction upon ourselves, much like the Soviet Union back in the day, when it allowed the nation to disintegrate, its wealth to be looted, and its population to sink into calamity. The profound transformations now taking place in China are a direct response to an increasingly fraught and complex international landscape, and a direct response to the savage and violent attacks that the U.S. has already begun to launch against China.
Every one of us can sense that a profound social transformation is underway, and it is not limited to the realm of capital or entertainment. It is not enough to make superficial changes, to tear down what is already rotten; we must go deeper, and scrape the poison from the bone. We must clean the house and clear the air to make our society a healthier one, and to make all members of our society happy in body and mind. [Chinese]
Introduction by Joseph Brouwer; translation by Alex Yu and Cindy Carter.
Correction: Li Guangman was not a columnist for Guancha [观察者网, guancha.cn], but rather for the now-defunct nationalistic website Chawang [察网, cwzg.cn]. Chawang’s Weibo account appears to be inactive as well, and has not been updated since 2020.