The Chinese government has a new ally when it comes to pushing its official line on Taiwan: celebrities.
Tensions over the status of the island claimed by Beijing as part of “One China principlewhich has been exacerbated by a series of recent incidents, including a high-profile visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden’s Comments This indicates that the United States will be prepared to defend Taiwan “militarily.”
It has led to An angry response from officials in Beijing, who accused the United States of violating its long-standing commitment to the one-China policy. But she also saw a file Renewed advertising batch It aims to convey the message of unification to the Chinese and Taiwanese peoples.
as such Chinese language experts cultural policyIn this article, we have observed how the controversial series of events has not only reshaped the regional dynamics around Taiwan, but has also permeated popular culture in China – with celebrities using one-China messages to distribute to fans and social media followers.
It forms part of a broader trend we’ve researched and forms the basis of an upcoming China Quarterly article on political references to Chinese celebrities. Through our analysis, 85% of the 218 top celebrities in China re-posted official government messages on their social media accounts at least once during the six-month period that we observed in the second half of 2021.
Weibo . power
This phenomenon continued until 2022 and was seen during and after Pelosi’s visit. On August 2, the day he appeared The Speaker of the House of Representatives landed in Taiwanthe state media outlet of China Central Television, or CCTV, Submit a post On Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform owned by China, carries the message “There is only one China in the world”.
Within hours, Chinese celebrities began relaying this message to their vast networks of followers. Those who do it Xie Na . includeda 41-year-old famous TV presenter and actress with 128 million followers on Weibo, and Jackson Yeethe 22-year-old singer, dancer and actor ranked #1 in celebrity Chinese Celebrity List 2021 Forbes. Similarly, Taiwanese celebrities like Chen Xiaowen And the Wu Zhilong He also retweeted this message, although about a day had passed.
Chinese media and fans praised Taiwanese celebrities who retweeted the message for taking a clear political stance. that Article in the Chinese tabloid Global Times He quoted an online fan’s praise of Taiwanese celebrities who retweeted one China message: “Well done! Daring to show support at this moment must be sincere.”
A celebrity news outlet went so far as to publish an article Included more than 20 famous Taiwanese who republished “One China” and praised them for “taking responsibility for expressing political support.”
The article also cited 11 Taiwanese celebrities who did not retweet the one China message, suggesting fans will judge them accordingly.
Indeed, celebrities who did not retweet the message were called to express their silence, with fans asked to show support for the government. Hebei Tian, a popular Taiwanese singer with 13 million followers on Weibo, was among those targeted by angry Chinese fans and media for not reposting the One China message.
Posts become political
Chinese celebrities have not always been politically active on social media when it comes to issues like Taiwan.
Actors, singers, and TV personalities use Weibo, which appeared in 2009 and has existed Nearly 600 million monthly active users, to share quotes about their personal lives, promote work, endorse commercial products and connect with fans. But until the middle of 2010, they rarely participated in politics.
but since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s second term begins In 2017, more and more celebrities used their accounts to repost official state letters.
This is especially true for important political occasions, such as the founding of the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic of China. For example, on July 1, 2021, Yang Mi, an actress who has 112 million followers on Weibo, retweeted a CCTV quote from Xi marking the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party: “When the people have ideals, their country will have strength and their nation will have a bright future.” “.
These celebrity retweets often receive hundreds of thousands of user interactions, including retweets, comments, and likes.
This effectively promotes official messaging to a much larger social media network. The CCTV Weibo account, which sent the One China message in conjunction with Pelosi’s visit, has 130 million followers. Xie Na, a high-profile pro-Beijing celebrity, alone has 128 million followers – one of many who retweeted the message.
As we argue in our upcoming article “Political mentions of Chinese celebrities on Weibo,” Chinese celebrities began retweeting official messages when it became important to their career prospects to do so.
as the entertainment industry Grown fast in the 2000sthe Chinese government started Develop clear policies To organize and monitor celebrities, their cultural products, media platforms, fan groups and professional associations.
Calling “polluted artists”
In 2014, State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued Notice Require all streaming platforms to ban “polluted artists” – celebrities who engage in illegal behavior or actions the government considers problematic, such as drug use, prostitution, tax evasion, extramarital affairs, and political wrongdoing. This last category includes support for the independence of Hong Kong or Taiwan.
Since then, the phrase “polluted artists” has entered public discourse and is used by people online to criticize celebrities.
With the tightening of political control, Chinese celebrities have promoted what scholars Jian Shu and Ling Yang have described as “Neoliberal subjectivity with Chinese characteristicsIn other words, Chinese celebrities see pleasing the state as an effective way to gain access to the market.
State-sanctioned celebrities are given rare opportunities to perform on state television, and state-sponsored stars Movies And the TV dramaserve The roles of ambassadors for government agencies And the Attend important national conferences.
As such, celebrities have strong incentives to meet the demands of the state in the pursuit of career, fame, and fortune. It is also important to acknowledge that some celebrities may genuinely support the government and want to promote its policies.
Either way, the majority of celebrities on Weibo are chanting government positions like the one China message. Our analysis found that only 15% of the 218 top celebrities—a list we compiled by reviewing both the annual Forbes China Celebrity List from 2004 to 2020 and the size of online followers—failed to republish any official government letter in the six months we analyzed from June to November 2021.
Among those who reposted, the number of reposts varied from one to 33 times during the six months.
Our analysis found that younger celebrities with more followers tend to retweet formal messages more. This finding challenges the conventional wisdom that young people tend to be more politically critical and rebellious. It also chime with a file recent study Chinese public opinion has found that Xi’s generation – those who have come of age in the past decade – are more oriented toward authoritarianism than previous generations.
Legitimizing the positions of the state
The republishing of official state letters by celebrities could have far-reaching repercussions.
When politically sensitive events happen, Chinese citizens often go to celebrity accounts on Weibo to mark their position. Regarding the Taiwan issue, it appears that growing nationalist sentiment has prompted users to monitor celebrities and expect them to express their support for the Chinese government.
Moreover, the republishing of official messages by celebrities turns popular culture into a major tool with which the Chinese government can legitimize its stance on sensitive issues.