China’s ongoing crackdown on the country’s entertainment industry stepped up a notch Thursday after the state media regulator called for the boycott of “sissy” boy bands and effeminate men on television, the end of reality talent shows and a ban on vulgar social media influencers among a raft of other measures.

The National Radio and Television Administration, China’s broadcast regulator, released an eight-point regulation plan for the entertainment industry that calls for a wholesale cleanup of the sector, both in front of and behind the camera, as Beijing continues to reshape cultural life.

Among the key points that were published in the South China Morning Post, the media regulator says that media companies should boycott “immoral” and “overly entertaining” stars as well as “sissy idols” who go against ”correct beauty standards.”

“Sissy idols” is a direct reference to boy bands that enjoy massive popularity in China. Acts such as TFBoys, Uniq, Super Junior-M and Exo-M have been the long-running target of criticism for wearing makeup and being focused on high fashion as opposed to what the state considers traditional masculine interests. The new regulations have now codified existing criticism.

The regulator is also calling for a boycott of stars who flaunt their wealth online or on social media, a ban on people who trade in entertainment gossip as well as “vulgar” social media influencers.

For media companies, perhaps the most commercially problematic regulation is that “idol selection shows cannot be shown, as well as shows starring the children of celebrities,” which would include phenomenally popular talent reality shows, known locally as “idol survival shows,” such as Idol Producer, Youth With You and Produce 101 China. 

Along with garnering tens of millions of viewers, these idol survival shows regularly “break the internet” in China, with billions of clips, posts and content posted to social media when they air.

As well as banning onscreen idols and talent shows it deems unacceptable, the regulator is looking for professional entertainment industry commentators to call out stars and “insist on correct political direction and values, criticize the fake, ugly and evil values.”

Further regulations include banning excessively high payments, encouraging celebrities to do charity work, and further punishments for fake contracts and tax evasion.

It is still too early to know the commercial ramifications of the regulations, but as with the government’s scrutiny of the tech and gaming sectors, the bottom line of media companies is sure to be affected and there are hundreds of billions at stake. Global accountancy firm PwC estimated that “the total revenue of China’s entertainment and media industry in 2021 will be approximately US$358.6bn and reach roughly US$436.8bn by 2025.”

Beijing’s purge of the entertainment industry has intensified in recent months following a number of celebrity-led scandals. In August, Canadian Chinese rapper Kris Wu, arguably one of the most famous and ubiquitous performers in the country until recently, was arrested on suspicion of rape that followed an accusation the singer had sex with a 17-year-old while she was drunk and lured young women into sexual relationships.

The actress Zheng Shuang was recently fined $46 million for tax evasion and the actor Zhang Zhehan was banned and scrubbed from the internet after pictures surfaced of him at Japan’s controversial Yasukuni Shrine to war dead.

Most notably, billionaire actress Zhao Wei was abruptly deleted from the internet in China. All mentions of Zhao on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo were removed, her name was scrubbed from the credits of films and TV shows, and all content featuring her — including film, TV, chat show appearances and more — was removed from major streaming sites like Tencent Video and iQiyi.

All discussion of Zhao on social media was also censored. No official explanation for Zhao’s blacklisting was given and last week the star denied she had fled to France.

The National Radio and Television Administration’s eight-point plan, as posted in the SCMP:

1. Boycott illegal or immoral personnel. When selecting entertainers and guests, radio, television and internet platforms should not employ people who have an incorrect political stance, break laws and regulations, or speak or behave against public order and morals

2. Boycott “traffic only” standards. Idol selection shows cannot be shown, as well as shows starring the children of celebrities. Shows should strictly control voting, cannot induce and encourage fans to shop or buy membership in order to vote for their idols.

3. Boycott an overly entertaining trend, promote traditional culture, establish correct beauty standards, boycott “sissy idols”, boycotting daunting wealth, gossip or vulgar internet celebrities.

4. Boycott high pay in the entertainment industry. Strictly regulate payment for guests, encourage celebrities to participate in charity shows, punish fake contracts and tax evasion.

5. Regulate showbiz staff. Enforce licensing television hosts, provide professional and moral training. Entertainers should not use their profession and fame to gain profit.

6. Promote professional commentary in the entertainment industry, insist on correct political direction and values, criticize the fake, ugly and evil values.

7. Entertainment associations should provide more training and establish mechanisms for industry regulation, as well as criticize bad examples.

8. Regulators need to be more accountable, listen to the people and respond to their concerns, fill public space with positive and mainstream shows.

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