China Trying to Eradicate “Sissy Boys” and “Overly Entertaining” TV and Media Programs

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An official notice recently issued by the China National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA) has called a boycott on actors or other art personnel they consider to be unethical. (click here to see the original regulation notice (in Chinese) 《关于进一步加强文艺节目及其人员管理的通知 (“Notice on Emphasizing the Management and Regulation of Entertainment Programs and Related Personnel”) (the “Notice”).This is causing a heated debate among people working in the entertainment industries both in China and abroad.

On September 2, 2021, the NRTA issued the above Notice requiring that programs deemed as “idol cultivation” (偶像养成 (ǒu xiàng yǎng chéng)) (an example of the program that would be deemed as idol cultivation is “偶像练习生”) should not be broadcast, and the children of celebrities shall not be allowed to participate in a variety of entertainment programs and reality shows. The Notice also attempts to limit “Fandom”  (饭圈 fàn quān) in both the media and the viewers of these programs, specifically prohibiting policies and practices of programming that encourage fans to spend money to support the celebrities they like (for instance, the practice of providing a viewer extra votes for reality-based program when an item is purchased by the viewer).

The Notice also calls for a ban on excessively high salaries (高价片酬 gāo jià piàn chou) for celebrities and encourages celebrities, artists, and entertainers to partake in charity programs and activities. (Several translated paragraphs from the Notice appended, below.) The Notice also directly used the word “低俗dī sú” (which usually means violent, obscene, direct or indirectly sexual, abusive, defamation or libel by the Chinese press). The word “娘炮 niáng pào” is also directly used in the Notice, which was a heavily criticized word by several major press in China, including the cnwomen.com.cn, as being gender discriminative or sexist.

While most news outlets in the West have focused on the statement from the Notice, “resolutely banning any effeminate males and abnormal esthetics,” Chinese media reports have generally focused on the aspects of the Notice targeting recent illegal activities and scandals surrounding some celebrities.

For example, soon after the arrest of pop star Kris Wu on rape charges (see news “北京市朝阳区人民检察院依法对犯罪嫌疑人吴某凡批准逮捕”), the NRTA issued new regulations to rectify the booming culture of what they’re calling “Fandolism.” Additionally, actress Zheng Shuang was fined over RMB 2.9 million ($45million) for tax evasion and was also removed from any television or film productions that were currently in production. See the statement (《严肃处理违法违规演艺人员和相关机构》) dated August 27, 2021 indicating NRTA’s support of the decision to fine the actress Zheng Shuang. Many popular actors are effectively erased from the internet in China due to conduct considered illegal or immoral by the Chinese government.

The attempt to curb excessive “fandom” culture has been an ongoing program under the lead of China’s President, Xi Jinping. On July 17, 2018, NRTA issued a notice with title “NRTA Notice About Broadcasting Internet Audio Programs During This Summer” (国家广播电视总局办公厅关于做好暑期网络视听节目播出工作的通知)  (the “Summer Notice”) to require media outlets across the country to strictly organize the program during the summer vacation to ensure that kids would watch programs with “positive and healthy content (as shown in the Clause 2 of the Summer Notice ).”  Then, in September 2018, China Education Ministry and CCTV requested that all elementary and middle school students across the country to watch a program named “The First Lesson of School” (《开学第一课》), but it has received much criticism because several singers appearing in the show have been called the derogatory term “Fresh Meat” (小鲜肉)(xiǎo xiān ròu, meaning young and fresh, effeminate and innocent boys. ) Thereafter, NRTA started to issue instructive notice regulations to restrict using “Fresh Meat” actors or performers in reality shows and talent shows because of their use of makeup style that breaks traditional gender norms.

As the Summer Notice issued on July 17, 2018 stated, “it is necessary to strictly organize programs for idol development shows and singing talent shows that are widely participated in the selection by internet audition. TV and audiovisual experts must conduct rigorous assessments from the perspective of themes, moral value, etc., to ensure that the program includes positive and healthy content. It should be resolutely restrained of the excessive entertaining programs and those that promotes an abnormal tendency of materialism, money worship. It is advocated that people should work together to create a healthy and clear network in audiovisual environment.” It is difficult to define what exactly is meant by “strictly organize” or “rigorous assessments”, not to mention the vague meaning of “excessive entertaining programs,” “abnormal tendency of materialism” and “healthy and clear network.” This probably could be part of the reasons that the Xi government had to keep issuing updated notices to regarding the management of entertainment programs as well as the related actors. The actual management process and regulations was not straight forward, and has been changing and evolving as needed as China market is always rapidly changing.

To address the “excessive high salaries for actors” issue, in October 2018, NRTA issued a notice titled “Notice on Strengthening The Management of Broadcast, Television, and Internet Audio Visual Program” (国家广播电视总局关于进一步加强广播电视和网络视听文艺节目管理的通知) (the “Management Notice”) directly requiring that the total payment to actors in any web series production or web films should not exceed 40% of the production expense of the particular program. And that overall, payment to the major cast members should not exceed 70% of the total payments to all actors in the particular production. Also, the production team must provide advance notice to the associations including the China Federation of Radio and Television Associations (the “CFRTA”) (中广联制片委员会), the China Television Drama Production Industry Association (the “CTPIA”)(中广制协会)及the China Netcasting Services Association (the “CNSA”) (中网试听协会) it belongs to the budgets and payment schedules of the production project.   The three associations related to China’s entertainment industry mentioned here are not necessarily counterparts to those, such as Screen Actors Guild and DGA, as found in the US — the introduction of these Chinese associations will be discussed in future posts.

According to official news from Chinanews.com, on September 7, 2021, the NRTA held a symposium in Beijing for radio, television and online audiovisual artists. With the theme of “Love the Party and the Country, Advocate for Virtue and Art”, the conference further strengthened Xi’s management of these programs and personnel.

The main goal of all the restrictions is to remove all media which is deemed by the Chinese government as “fake, ugly and containing evil values,” as one commentator as noted.  The instructions from the NRTA will likely cause a noticeable shift on talent shows, which are widely popular in China. It is possible that the regulated actors’ popularity in these shows would be affected, if they don’t reform their identity to meet the norm of having an “air of manliness” (“阳刚之气” yáng gāng zhī qì), which is a Chinese idiom usually used in the Chinese language to describe men with inner spirit of positive, generous, open-minded, strong, and masculinity and manhood attitude.

This Notice issued by the NRTA, like all notices issued by the agency directly under the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, is considered official instruction and policy direction. While no formal legislation has been put in place as yet, the entertainment industry connected to China should prepare for major changes soon.

Some of the more important sections of the Notice (in full) emphasizing that Beijing is attempting to manage the entertainment market in a more rigorous manner, as follows:

“二、坚决反对唯流量论。广播电视机构和网络视听平台不得播出偶像养成类节目,不得播出明星子女参加的综艺娱乐及真人秀节目。选秀类节目要严格控制投票环节设置,不得设置场外投票、打榜、助力等环节和通道,严禁引导、鼓励粉丝以购物、充会员等物质化手段变相花钱投票,坚决抵制不良“饭圈”文化。”

2. Resolutely Oppose the Media Materialism [i.e., resist and oppose the fan mania]. Broadcasting and television organizations and online audio-visual platforms shall not broadcast idol-development programs, and shall not broadcast variety entertainment and reality shows attended by celebrities’ children. Audition programs must strictly control the selection voting system, there shall be no off-site voting, ranking, assistance and other mechanisms allowed. It is strictly prohibited to lead and encourage fans to use monetary means, such as voting through purchasing star-related brand commodities and obtaining memberships in disguise, and unhealthy “Fandolism” culture shall be resisted.

“三、坚决抵制泛娱乐化。坚定文化自信,大力弘扬中华优秀传统文化、革命文化、社会主义先进文化。树立节目正确审美导向,严格把握演员和嘉宾选用、表演风格、服饰妆容等,坚决杜绝“娘炮”等畸形审美。坚决抵制炒作炫富享乐、绯闻隐私、负面热点、低俗“网红”、无底线审丑等泛娱乐化倾向。

3. Resolutely resist pan-entertainment. For reinforcement of cultural self-confidence, and widely promotion of Chinese excellent traditional culture, revolutionary culture, and advanced socialist culture. Establishing the correct aesthetic orientation of the program, strictly control the selection of actors and guests, performance style, costume makeup, etc., and resolutely prohibiting “effeminate” and other abnormal aesthetics. Resolutely resist the pan-entertainment tendencies such as hype of materialism and hedonism, craving for gossip, privacy, controversial and emotional topics, vulgar and ostentatious but lack of bottom-line types of entertainment.

This post about Entertainment and Media Law is provided as part of a free educational service by YK Law LLP, is for reference only. If you have particular legal questions or issues that need to be addressed, please feel free to schedule a consultation with one of our lawyers specializing in media and entertainment matters.

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