China cracks down on ‘chaotic fan culture’

BEIJING • Top Chinese actress Zheng Shuang was hit with a tax evasion fine yesterday, while references to film star Vicki Zhao were wiped from video-streaming sites as China steps up its campaign against celebrity culture.

Beijing is on a mission to rein in what it calls “chaotic fan culture” and celebrity excess, after a spate of scandals in recent months that have taken down China’s biggest entertainers including singer Kris Wu, who was arrested on suspicion of rape earlier this month.

The Shanghai tax authorities yesterday fined Zheng 299 million yuan (S$62 million) for tax evasion and undeclared income between 2019 and last year while filming a television series, according to an online statement.

Zheng, 30, became a household name in China after starring in the hit 2009 remake of Taiwanese drama Meteor Shower, and a string of successful series and movies afterwards.

She was embroiled in a surrogacy scandal earlier this year after her former partner accused her of abandoning their two surrogate babies in the United States.

China’s state broadcasting regulator also pulled Zheng’s offending television drama and ordered producers not to hire her for future shows.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television added it had “zero tolerance” for tax evasion, “sky-high pay” and “yin-yang contracts”, referring to the shady contracts commonly used in Chinese show business to obscure actors’ real pay.

State media has gone into overdrive urging changes to China’s entertainment culture.

“For some time now, artistes’ moral failures and legal violations, the cultivation of younger idols, and ‘chaotic’ fandoms have attracted widespread attention in society,” state broadcaster CCTV said on Tuesday.

“We must restore a clean and upright literary and artistic environment to the public.”

On Thursday evening, search results for Zhao, an enormously popular actress also known as Zhao Wei in Chinese, were censored from major Chinese video-streaming sites.

Her name was suddenly removed from the credits of major television series, while a forum dedicated to the actress on social media platform Weibo was also mysteriously shut down, as the hashtag “Zhao Wei super-topic closed” gained 960 million views.

No official reason was given.

But Zhao, 45, and her husband were banned from trading on the Shanghai Stock Exchange earlier this year, owing to a failed 2016 takeover bid that the authorities ruled had “disrupted market order”.

China’s cyber regulator released new regulations yesterday that ban celebrity ranking lists and tighten control over “chaotic” celebrity fan clubs and management agencies.

Video streaming site iQiyi said it halted all idol talent programmes on Thursday, while a Chinese boy band made up of primary school children disbanded earlier this week after the performers’ ages sparked a public backlash.