China wants to ban ‘tainted’ celebrities, for good

The wide-reaching document also includes a set of moral guidelines that cover various parts of artists’ lives, both onstage and in private. Aside from commonly known offenses like “harming national interests” and “disrupting China’s ethnic unity,” entertainers could face career restrictions for using physical defects to attract attention, endorsing products in advertisements that contain misleading information, or deceiving audiences in lip-synching performances. They must not promote religious groups deemed illegal by the Chinese government, endanger social morality, or criticize revolutionary heroes and martyrs, the notice stipulates. 

When offstage, artists will find themselves in trouble if they take drugs, drive drunk, or engage in illegal activities that involve violence or obscenity. 

The new policies will take effect on March 1 and apply to artists from various fields, including music, theater, dance, and opera. As China’s largest performing arts body, CAPA has offices in 31 provinces and nearly 10,000 members across the country, including performing venues, ticketing companies, and artist agencies, according to its website (in Chinese). 

While it’s unclear how strictly the rules will be enforced, CAPA’s power to deter irresponsible behavior by artists is unquestionable. Soon after the notice was made public, a string of prominent state-run media outlets voiced strong support for the initiative. 

“Every country has its own laws and every industry has its own regulations. When public figures lose their moral compass and neglect rules, they need to be called out and held accountable,” the People’s Daily wrote in a post (in Chinese) on Weibo. In another Weibo post, China Central Television, the country’s top state broadcaster, urged “high-profile celebrities” to be extra cautious about their behavior while commenting positively on CAPA’s policies. “One should educate themselves on morality before studying arts. One should learn how to be a decent human being before acting,” it wrote.

The initiative is hardly a surprise given that so-called “tainted stars” (劣迹艺人 lièjìyìrén) have long been a target of China’s broadcast regulators. Back in 2004, after a slew of Chinese celebrities were arrested on sex- and drug-related charges, media authorities ordered TV networks to ban troubled stars who have used drugs or visited prostitutes from TV and other media outlets.

But that ban was short-lived. In the following years, many entertainers have bounced back into the spotlight after getting bad press. They include Jackie Chan’s son Jaycee Chan (房祖名 Fáng Zǔmíng), who stepped back into his acting career in 2015 after being caught smoking marijuana in Beijing, and famed actress Fàn Bīngbīng 范冰冰, who disappeared for four months in 2018 amid a bombshell tax scandal that has rocked China’s entire film industry.

Many of these comebacks, however, were given the cold shoulder by critics, with many calling for industry insiders to stop giving a second chance to celebrities who committed something they thought was too terrible to forgive. Recently, in response to public anger over the phenomenon of scandal-stricken stars making low-key comebacks on livestreaming platforms, the National Radio and Television Administration proposed a ban against “illegal and immoral artists,” which was met with an outpouring of support on Chinese social media. 

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