On the centenary of its foundation, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its chairman Xi Jinping defined a new path for Chinese society. The recent regulatory actions represent the surface of a deep transition, the so-called “Red New Deal”, that captures a socialist rationale with a financial and cultural soul. According to analysts, it reunites the new norms that are regulating the ongoing Chinese transition towards a more socialist country with a major ideological conformity. The aim appears to be to reduce inequality, to improve ordinary people’s living conditions and to promote “common prosperity”. The limitations imposed since November 2020, with the first suspension of the IPO of Jack Ma’s Ant Financial, are intended to reduce the concentration of money, social power and data in a small group of big companies and their billionaire’s owners. Overall, Xi’s aim is to achieve a more balanced society carrying out the “rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation”, which will imply new directions also for civil society.
After 40 years of growth that led China to become the second world’s economy heading towards the world economic leadership, the Party promised to spread prosperity by enhancing security and antitrust crackdowns to better control monopolistic practices. The goal is to rebalance the wealth that big companies earned thanks to the opening of the Chinese market, to reduce the enormous gap that divides them from the majority of people. The first answer came right along when the Internet giant Tencent announced the donation of 50 billion yuan to the “Common Prosperity” project launched by the President of the CCP. After Tencent, many other large holdings announced conspicuous donations to nonprofit and philanthropic organisations. Besides these immediate developments from Chinese companies, a number of further crackdowns have been disposed of by the party (some pushed by popular demand), but not all of them are related to the economic and financial sphere. For example, to limit the dependence from video-games that affects a large number of young generations, the National Press and the Public Administration imposed the limit of three hours a week of video games for players under 18. The restrictive measures taken in the field of entertainment represent a further effort on the part of the Chinese authorities to define clear boundaries also for civil society.
According to Chinese reports, in the last decade young generations are experiencing an “increasingly lack of masculine temperament”. This is apparently reflected by the inclination of young men to disrespect those values typical of a conservative and man-centred conception of society. The authorities seem to address the root causes of this phenomenon in the entertainment industry and the relative deviant role models that the idols, worshipped by thousands of young people, represent. They have been defined by the Party as a “bad example for teenagers with their law-breaking acts and misconducts, thereby poisoning the social environment”.
In order to better understand this strong statement, it is important to acknowledge who an idol is and what role it has in younger people’s lives. The Asian idol industry is something that goes far beyond the worship towards Hollywood celebrities, which is usually one-sided, common in Western countries. Fandom culture, especially with the rise of social media, is a more co-dependent relationship that binds together fans and their stars, where their relationship can move enormous amounts of money and people. Social media platforms like Weibo help these popular icons to stay in contact with their fanbases, however this huge success also has its own dangerous downside. A clear example is the incident that involved Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo last year.
In the Chinese entertainment industry, the idol trend of the last decade set beauty standards for men that are really different from the ones considered more “traditional”. Feminine, young and handsome men (usually also called “little fresh meat”) represent the ideal standard and became more and more popular. Behind this new trend, it is important to point out the enormous influence that came from Japan and South Korea. The incredible popularity growth of K-Pop music (Korean Pop) and its feminine stars that kicked aside every standard of a “masculine man”. These influences helped to completely reshape the stereotype of men’s beauty, opening up to a more modern and less conservative vision, and social media did the rest by spreading these major changes all over the world, reaching out even to the US entertainment market. The growing influence of foreign models was considered dangerous to Chinese society and already criticised by the party’s media in the past.
Although, the possibility for boys and men to be comfortable in expressing themselves while challenging the masculine ideal is stepping away from the vision of the more conservative ones. In fact, a counter-narrative that addresses these boys as “sissy men” is opposing strongly to the little fresh meat rhetoric. What happened to Feng Xiaoyi on the Douyin platform is a clear example of this sort of criticism aimed at bringing back a more masculine perception of men: his videos were reported by many users and then removed because they promoted “unhealthy values”. State media as well started addressing movies, television programmes and some online platforms as indecent and inacceptable. The next step has been the ban made by the Chinese government of reality shows and programmes that involved “vulgar and lapsed moral standards”. Already in the past, it happened that some productions coming from the Western entertainment industries were blocked and censured by the Chinese industry, like the gay blockbuster “Call me by your name”. This huge campaign of discouragement going on in China is meant to guarantee a safer and cleaner entertainment industry that does not accept any irregularities and unhealthy standards, as the CCP stated already.
The new path taken by Xi and the Communist Party forecasts a huge wave of changes for the Chinese entertainment industry in the future. The outcomes of the limitations will affect a whole generation of young people. By doing this, there is also the political aim to reduce the influence of Japanese and South Korea’s cultures, especially on new generations. The soft power of the two countries has been so far one of the major challenges to Chinese supremacy in the Asia-Pacific, retracing in some way what happened after the Second World War with the American influence. Although, it is not clear yet how far Xi will push this change of the industry and whether it will stop there or it will also affect other aspects of Chinese society.