The 8/26 and 8/27 Blow to Chinese Entertainment Circles: Is the Storm Still Coming? – What's on Weibo

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China’s ‘socially responsible’ celebrity culture will lead to the downfall of various stars.
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This month, various Chinese celebrities were investigated, blacklisted, or banned, with an “entertainment circles earthquake” occurring on August 26 and 27, when one of China’s most renowned actresses saw her name and work taken off of online channels. Will this blow lead to a greater storm?
Many things were going on in Chinese entertainment circles on Thursday and Friday, August 26-27.
The name of Chinese top actress Zhao Wei (赵薇) was removed from various online channels, and her fan clubs were shut down (read here).
The actress Zheng Shuang (郑爽) was slapped with a US$46.1 million tax evasion fine (her name was also wiped off various platforms & online fan groups were closed), while her ex-partner Zhang Heng (张恒) also became a target of an investigation. The online fan group of Chinese singer-songwriter Henry Huo (霍尊) was removed. The work of the famous musician (and co-founder of Alibaba Music Group) Gao Xiaosong (高晓松) was also taken offline.
Searching for Zhao Wei or Zheng Shuang gives zero results on streaming site Youku. Screenshot by Whatsonweibo, August 27 2021.
The August 26 and 27 “entertainment circle earthquake” comes after a month in which various celebrity scandals were already dominating the top trending lists on social media.
Chinese-Canadian superstar Wu Yifan (吴亦凡), also known as Kris Wu, was detained over rape allegations. Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚) was canceled for attending a wedding at a controversial Japanese shrine and also taking pictures at Yasukuni. Popular Hunan TV host Qian Feng (钱枫) was suspended after being accused of rape.
 
A ‘Socially Responsible’ Celebrity Culture
 
One thing that is certain, is that Chinese authorities are targeting celebrities in the entertainment industry and are giving off a strong signal that these influential people cannot get away with immoral or illegal acts.
The idea that celebrities should “set the right example” is not new, and has been emphasized by Chinese state media over the past months.
Earlier in 2021, the China Association of Performing Arts (中国演出行业协会), which is run by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, officially released new guidelines for Chinese performers in order to promote the idea that they should abide by rules of ‘social morality,’ stating they could face a permanent ban from their profession if they fail to comply.

In order to further push this idea of a celebrity culture that is ‘socially responsible,’ China’s Cyberspace Administration also issued new guidelines on August 27 to “resolve the problems of chaos” in online fan circles. These measures include banning online popularity rankings of celebrities and regulating companies that work with them.
But there seems to be more to the story.
Zheng Shuang and her ex-partner Zhang Heng made the news earlier this year when they had a nasty breakup and the ‘surrogacy gate’ they were involved in went trending (more here), and Henry Huo got caught up in a recent scandal when his ex-girlfriend accused him of being a serial cheater.
But what about Gao Xiaosong and Zhao Wei? Many people on Weibo are still trying to figure out what these celebrities did that would have put them in this pretty dark ‘naughty corner’ of China’s internet.
 
Connecting the Dots
 
Especially the fact that Zhao Wei – as one of the most famous actresses in China – is under scrutiny has led to dozens of different online rumors as to what might have caused this.
Zhao Wei, also known as Vicky Zhao, has consistently been among the top celebrities on Weibo (85+ million followers). Not only is she one of the most renowned actresses in the country, she is also a major influencer, brand ambassador, and businesswoman.
At this point, there has been no official announcement yet on Zhao Wei’s disappearance from many online video channels.
One recurring rumor is that Wu Yifan, aka Kris Wu, who is currently in custody over rape allegations, might have leaked information to the police. Some sources say he passed on the names of 47 celebrities involved in illegal activities to the police, who are rumored to be in danger of being investigated, blacklisted, or banned. There is no official source to back this up.
Zhao’s connections to e-commerce giant Alibaba keep surfacing in online discussions; people link the current developments to the fallen Hangzhou Party chief Zhou Jiangyong (周江勇), who is currently being investigated by China’s top anti-graft agency. In May of 2018, Zhou Jianyong became party chief in Hangzhou, the home city of Jack Ma’s Ant Group and Alibaba Group Holding.
China Economic Weekly reported that friends and family of Zhou Jiangyong had won in project bidding processes within the areas that Zhou administered.
Zhou previously also set up a company that became a strategic partner of Alibaba Group, Tencent, and Unionpay, and which is partly held by a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ant Financial (蚂蚁金服). As stated by Global Times, the investigation of Zhou has led Chinese media to also look into “the business dealings and questionable economic activities” of Zhou’s family and social circle.
Both Zhao Wei and Gao Xiaosong are linked to the Alibaba Group, and they share a social circle with fallen party chief Zhou. Jack Ma is an ally of Zhou Jiangyong, and is also a (close) friend of Gao Xiaosong and Zhao Wei and her husband.
Zhou Jiangyong and Jack Ma.
Zhao Wei and Jack Ma.
In 2014, Zhao Wei and her husband Huang Youlong became the second-largest shareholder of Alibaba Pictures. It has also been reported that Zhao allegedly used her mother Wei Qiying as a legal representative in 2015 in holding shares in the Ant Group.
Chinese renowned music producer and show host Gao Xiaosong, whose work was also removed from various online channels on the same day as Zhao, is a longtime friend of Jack Ma. He is the co-founder of Alibaba Music Group and previously was the Alibaba Music director.
Gao Xiaosong
While netizens are glued to their social media screens awaiting an official announcement of what is going on with Zhao Wei (and Gao Xiaosong), many are trying to connect the dots and are tying the recent crackdown on Chinese entertainment circles to an ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
There are many Chinese celebrities who are investors and are engaged in many other businesses than show-business alone.
After it became clear during this social media storm that actress Zhao Wei had left a number of the companies she was involved in, a ‘business map‘ compiled by a data firm (眼查APP资料) of some Chinese celebrities and their business connections started trending online. The hashtag related to the image (#一张图看懂娱乐圈的资本局#) had received over 780 million views by August 29.
A map showing Chinese celebrities and their business involvements went trending on Weibo.
Although the map was unhelpful to many (“too many lines!”), it did clarify just how China’s entertainment celebrities have become tangled up with the country’s largest companies. One Weibo user commented: “They all start companies and then become each other’s shareholders.”
Meanwhile, baseless rumors are circulating on Chinese social media that in the middle of this storm, Zhao Wei has already left China for France.
Most commenters think that the latest developments in China’s entertainment social circles show that these influential people caught up in controversy can run, but they can no longer hide. This may just be the beginning of what is yet to come.
By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Why Zhao Wei? Vicky Zhao’s Name Removed from China’s Online Channels
Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at [email protected], or follow on Twitter.
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Recent developments involving Chinese top actress Vicky Zhao (Zhao Wei) are part of a bigger crackdown on China’s entertainment industry.
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Another earthquake in China’s entertainment circles! This time, the name and works of one of the country’s most notable actresses, Zhao Wei (赵薇, aka Vicky Zhao) are removed from Chinese online channels.
“Sorry, no related videos found.” Searching for Zhao Wei’s name (赵薇/Vicky Zhao) on Chinese video platforms Tencent Video, iQiyi, and Youku comes up with zero results as of August 26 of 2021.
Zhao Wei’s sudden disappearance from the top websites to watch Chinese TV dramas has sent shockwaves over social media, where Zhao is among the top Chinese celebrities. On Weibo alone, the actress has over 85.6 million followers.
No more Vicky Zhao on Youku.
Zhao Wei (1976) is a Chinese film star, singer, entrepreneur, and director. Together with actresses Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), Zhou Xun (周迅) and Xu Jinglei (徐静蕾), she belongs to China’s ‘Four Dan Actresses’ (四大花旦, the four greatest actresses of mainland China) from the early 2000s.
She starred in the highly successful Chinese costume television show My Fair Princess (还珠格格) which first aired in 1998, after which she went on to star in many TV series and big films, including Painted Skin (2008) and Lost in Hong Kong (2015).
Besides being a known ambassador for good causes, Zhao is also known for her work as a brand ambassador for various international companies, which has added to her wealth. She was named the world’s wealthiest working actress by Forbes in 2015. Zhao is married to the Chinese businessman Huang Youlong (黄有龙), with whom she has a daughter. The couple made it to a list of the world’s wealthiest young billionaires in 2016.

This week, Zhao’s name was deleted from the cast lists of various films and dramas she starred in or directed. A super-topic (fan group) dedicated to her was removed from Weibo, and now various productions involving Zhao have seemingly been removed altogether.
Zhao Wei is no longer listed as a member of the cast.
Zhao Wei reportedly also withdrew as a shareholder from several companies she was involved in.
On Weibo, the hashtag “Zhao Wei Withdraws from Companies” (#赵薇接连退出多家公司#) received over 240 million views on Friday. Another related topic, namely “Zhao Wei’s Super Topic Shut Down” (#赵薇超话被封#) received over 970 million views. Many people want to know why the actress has become the target of official scrutiny.
Chinese state media platform Global Times also wrote about how Zhao Wei’s name and works were removed from several video platforms. These online companies reportedly confirmed the removal of Zhao’s works, saying they received the request at a short notice and without a clear reason.
Among the potential reasons mentioned for Zhao’s name being censored is that it is somehow linked to the scandal involving the fallen Hangzhou Party chief Zhou Jiangyong (周江勇), who is currently being investigated by China’s top anti-graft agency. Zhao and Zhou share a social circle, including Jack Ma, an ally of Zhou and a friend of Zhao and her husband, who are major shareholders of Alibaba Pictures.
Another issue mentioned is that of Chinese actor Zhang Zhehan (张哲瀚) who recently came under fire for attending a wedding at a controversial Japanese shrine and taking pictures at Yasukuni, a shrine that is seen as representing Japanese militarism and aggression. Zhang – who is now basically banned from China’s entertainment industry – was signed under Zhao Wei’s company. Zhao herself also got caught up in history-related controversy as early as 2001, when she posed for a photo shoot wearing a dress printed with the old Japanese naval flag.
Throughout the years, Zhao has been caught up in various controversies. Back in 2016, it was rumored that the actress had financially backed Hillary Clinton when she was still running for president of the United States.
Vicky Zhao and Hilary Clinton.
But the actual reasons why Zhao is being banned from China’s online channels are still unclear. As of Friday night, Beijing time, Zhao’s Weibo page was still up. Her last social media post is from August 15, when the actress commemorated the 76th anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

Meanwhile, some of Zhao’s celebrity friends, including Huang Xiaoming and Yang Zi, have deleted photos they took together with Zhao Wei from their social media channels.
The developments involving Zhao come at a time when various Chinese celebrities are under scrutiny. What’s on Weibo recently reported the scandal involving Kris Wu and the calls for ‘raising the bar’ for celebrities in China. Online fan clubs (or fan circles 饭圈) have also become a target of online censors, with thousands of posts and accounts removed from Chinese social media earlier in August of 2021.
Chinese actress Zheng Shuang (郑爽), whose ‘surrogacy scandal’ caused a social media storm in January of this year, also became a trending topic once again. On Friday, authorities stated that she would be fined 299 million yuan ($46.1 million) for tax evasion and undeclared income between 2019 and 2020. The actress published a public apology in which she stated she would pay for all taxes and fines.
Meanwhile, many people are glued to their social media screens. Around seven o’clock at Friday night, Beijing time, the Weibo topic “What’s up with Zhao Wei?” (#赵薇怎么了#) had already been viewed over a billion times.
Some commenters think that Zhao Wei is simply caught up in this storm because she was involved in so many controversies throughout the years and that the recent crackdown on China’s celebrity and fan circles is just the right timing for authorities to take finally take measures.
“This goes beyond being canceled,” others wrote: “There is something bigger going on, we will just have to wait for an announcement to come out.”
By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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‘Call Me By Fire’ is the male version of ‘Sister Who Make Waves’ and it’s an instant hit.
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A Chinese reality show starring 33 male celebrities titled Call Me By Fire (披荆斩棘的哥哥) has become an instant hit after its premiere on Mango TV last week.
The show is considered the male version of the hit variety show Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐, read more here) but with different rules. The contestants, ranging from age 27 to 57, are all in the entertainment industry; the group includes pianists, singers, dancers, actors, hosts, and rappers.
List of contestants, Mango TV.
They are required to perform individually and in a team for the first episode’s performances. Chinese viewers were surprised to see some of the high-quality performances, which then went viral on social media.
Li Chengxuan (@李承铉 a.k.a. Nathan Lee), who was previously mostly known for being the husband of Chinese actress Qi Wei (戚薇), rapped in a low voice and wowed the audience. The hashtag about his first stage performance on the show garnered more than 120 million views ( #李承铉天上飞舞台#). A video of his performance can be found here.
Li is a former member of the South Korean boy band TAKE. In 2014, the Korean-American pop star married Qi, who later gave birth to their first daughter Lucky. When Qi went back to focusing on her career, Li decided to be a stay-at-home dad.
Just like some of the other show contestants, Li also appeared on the talk show Definition (定义), where he spoke to the female journalist Yi Lijing about his life as a full-time father. In that show, he expressed how he used to think being a full-time parent would be easy. “It takes a lot of time and energy to take care of the baby and the family, but as a result, it always looks like you haven’t done anything all day.”

He describes how he experienced a time of depression during which he tried his best to be a good parent but sometimes just could not control his temper. Li explains how he would regret these moments of anger and then would cry at night when his daughter was asleep.  (Interview video here.)
Li’s experiences as a full-time parent struck a chord among Chinese netizens, especially among stay-at-home moms. The hashtag “Li Chengxuan Was Depressed for Over a Year As a Full-Time Dad” (#李承铉当全职爸爸抑郁了一年多#) received more than 600 million views on Weibo. Under the hashtag, commenters shared their experiences and struggles in being full-time parents.
One netizen wrote: “This is so true. We do so much when taking care of our children, but other people often feel like it’s nothing. When you lose your temper in front of the kid, you feel terrible inside and start to question yourself about why you failed to control yourself, and then you make another promise not to lose your temper anymore.”


Another Weibo user wrote: “See, when a mom looking after her kids feels depressed, it is not because she is weak and sensitive! It is because the job itself will make any human being depressed.”
Li later responded on his Weibo account, saying he just did his part as a parent, and this is what any new mom or new dad will face. That post also received thousands of comments and over 285,000 likes.
So far, the hashtag of the Call me By Fire TV show has received a staggering 4.4 billion views on Weibo (#披荆斩棘的哥哥#).
Image via Sina News.
The show’s performances and Li sharing his struggles as a stay-at-home dad are not the only reasons for the show’s massive success on Chinese social media. Some other related issues also made the show gain more attention.
Even before Call Me By Fire aired, the show already made headlines when the 55-year-old Taiwanese singer Terry Lin Zhixuan (林志炫) reportedly fell off the stage while filming.
Later, one of the contestants left the show after some social media drama. Chinese singer Huo Zun (霍尊) announced his withdrawal from the show after his ex-girlfriend accused him of being a cheater and leaking some WeChat conversation screenshots to prove that he actually disliked the show.
The remaining 32 contestants will enter the real ‘elimination stages’ in the following episodes. The show and highlight clips can be viewed on the Mango TV official site here.
 
By Wendy Huang

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