Asia Techonomics: The Communist Party wants Chinese influencers on the collar
Peking There is a new “Wanghong” spot just a few minutes’ walk from my apartment in Beijing. The Chinese word creation freely translated means something like Internet celebrities and can designate people, i.e. influencers, but also places. Those who photograph themselves in front of the scenes have a better chance of winning the battle for likes and attention in social networks.
The brightly flashing canal promenade near where I live in Beijing is even the top Wanghong spot in the city, according to the local tourism authority.
The Wanghong spots can be found everywhere in China, even outside the largest metropolises. Influencer hotspots can even be found on lonely islands in southern China and in the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao – some of them self-explained.
There you suddenly meet dozens of young people who, for no apparent reason, are taking selfies with the same bouquets of flowers in front of an unspectacular red wall – of course, a Wanghong spot.
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The influencer pilgrimage locations are very popular and attract tourists. A library in Beijing’s neighboring city of Tianjin has therefore built spectacularly curved bookshelves around ten meters high in its foyer – but the books that are supposedly on display in the hundreds are only imprinted dummies. Most of the young people don’t care. The main thing is that they look real in the selfies they post on social networks.
China’s e-commerce giants have also long known how to use the Wanghong trend. Influencers have become billionaires in just a few years – like Li Jiaqi, who is also known as the “lipstick king” in the People’s Republic because of his success in selling cosmetics, and China’s livestream queen Huang Wei, who is famous in China under the name “Viya” is.
The Communist Party wants to control the influencer culture
But it is getting too colorful for the Communist Party (KP). In the past few months, the government has launched a sweeping attack on the Wanghong culture. If possible, the influencers should only act in the interests of the party. They should be role models for their followers of what the CP imagines as the ideal Chinese: nationalistic, modest, party-loving, uncritical.
In the last few months there have been official bans on everything that may not be shown in the previously heavily censored social networks. The state has recently banned the so-called “Buddhist beauties”. These are women who pose in photos in Buddhist-inspired robes and advertise bags or groceries.
The photos are supposed to represent a calm, meditative lifestyle and have almost nothing to do with the religion that is suppressed in China. But they are still a thorn in the side of the CP. The platform operator has already deleted hundreds of videos.
A selection of recently also banned content on the Chinese Internet: display of exhaustion, men who look too feminine in the eyes of the CP, display of wealth, insulting martyrs and (war) heroes.
The conviction of the influencer Viya recently caused a stir. She was fined a record 1.3 billion yuan for tax evasion. Her colleague, the “lipstick king”, is also under pressure. Consumer advocates accuse him of incorrectly labeling products. The KP wants to send a signal: that even the most important influencers are not safe from access by the authorities and that everyone else should also be very careful about what they post.
Observers believe that the trend towards restricting the “Wanghong” culture will continue. Many are now apparently very unsure of what is still allowed. In July, a well-known Chinese travel blogger took photos of himself in gangster pose with gravestones of fallen Chinese soldiers in a cemetery and wrote the words for “respect”.
In November he was sentenced to seven months in prison for this. A court ruled that the photos were “disrespectful”.
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