Idol Worship Culture in China

Celebrities usually hold a significant amount of influence over their fans in the Philippines. It’s not uncommon to see brands try to boost their sales by appointing celebrities to endorse their products. During the pre-pandemic era, fans would wait in long lines to buy tickets to their favorite love team’s new movie or take part in events like fanmeetings or the MMFF parade. The same support extends outside of local celebrities as well, judging by how fast the concert tickets of foreign artists would sell out or how widespread Korean culture has become thanks to the influence of K-idols. But how far are you willing to go to support your favorite celebrity?


In China, fan culture is on another level. It gets so intense and out of hand sometimes that it has become known as idol worship culture. ‘Idol’ is a term that originated from the South Korean entertainment industry, and it refers to celebrities who are singers, dancers, actors, or a combination of the three. While most fans would support their idols by going to their concerts and watching their shows, there are some superfans who think it is their duty to support all aspects of their idol’s career, and that includes buying every single product they endorse, utilizing marketing strategies to help their idol obtain more endorsements, or spending hours on social media to like, share, comment on their idol’s posts to boost their popularity. 


Many big brands in China have taken advantage of this, appointing so called ‘traffic stars’ or idols with legions of superfans to be their brand ambassadors because it’s the quickest way to turn their products into a cash cow. One example is the brand Guerlain, which collaborated with the actor Yang Yang (杨洋) and named a lipstick shade after him. The said lipstick sold out almost overnight. Similarly, U.S. cosmetics brand Origins experienced a massive spike in sales after announcing its collaboration with Wang Yibo (王一博), and most recently, Xiao Zhan (肖战) spurred a luxury brand shopping spree after being named as Gucci’s brand ambassador.


Idol worship culture has become one of the driving forces of the economy, with its market value estimated to be around 4 trillion yuan, and is projected to surpass 6 trillion yuan in 2023. Due to this, the relationship between idols and fans is not exactly one-sided. Censorship laws make the Chinese entertainment industry unpredictable. Projects may get delayed or concealed, so idols have to rely on the consumerism of their fans for a steady stream of income. This often results in a parasocial relationship, where fans feel like they have a personal connection with their idols and start to exhibit irrational behavior such as engaging in ‘fan wars’, following their idols everywhere they go, or getting too invested in their idol’s personal lives. There are fans who do not attend school or go to work just so they could stalk celebrities at the airport. Some fans even installed tracking devices on their idol’s car, leaked their personal address, and followed them into their hotel room.


More specific examples would be what has been dubbed the ‘227 Incident’, in which fans of Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan engaged in an online war that resulted in a boycott against Xiao Zhan and nearly cost the actor his whole career. Another incident involves Kris Wu, who made headlines this year after being arrested for multiple rape allegations. Wu’s fans are notorious for doing crazy things to support him, and after news of his arrest broke out, there were fans who were seriously considering organizing a prison break or expressing their desire to trade places with him. And perhaps to top it all off is the ‘milk waste’ scandal that happened earlier this year, where fans of a hit talent show called Youth With You bought large quantities of milk for the purpose of scanning the QR code found inside the bottle caps to vote for their favorite idols. Many of these fans couldn’t possibly drink all the milk that they bought, so they poured it directly down the drain, wasting an estimated 270,000 bottles of dairy products.


These recent displays of irrational idol worship behavior has led the Chinese government to crackdown on the entertainment industry, stating that intense fan culture has “harmed the mental and physical health of young people.” Since the crackdown began in June, the Cyberspace Administration of China removed 150,000 pieces of ‘harmful online content’ and deleted 4000 fan accounts. It also banned celebrity ranking lists and imposed stricter regulations on celebrity agencies regarding content release, product promotion, and fan management.


It’s perfectly normal to admire celebrities because it gives you someone to look up to and provides you with a much needed dose of serotonin. However, you should know your limits as a fan. As long as your support is not done to the detriment of your own health, well-being, and personal finances, then feel free to support whoever celebrity you want, but try not to get too emotionally invested in them. Idols might be public figures, but they are not all-powerful gods and deities that need to be worshipped. They are human beings who have personal lives behind the camera. 

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