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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 8)

07:13 September 08, 2021

Crackdown on fan clubs
China should not tighten grip on culture industries

Chinese social media platform Weibo has triggered controversy by banning 21 fan club accounts of South Korean celebrities from posting for 30 days to crack down on "irrational star-chasing behavior." The move came Sunday right after Weibo banned a fan club of K-pop sensation BTS from posting for 60 days.

The move is apparently in line with Beijing's policy of tightening its control on the entertainment and culture industries. In August, the Cyberspace Administration of China posted a notice calling for rectifying the chaos of fan clubs to ward off irrational idol worship. Since then Weibo, Tencent and other Chinese social media platforms have joined its campaign.

The move appears to be part of Chinese President Xi Jinping's efforts for "national rejuvenation" with the Communist Party solidifying its control on culture, religion, education and business. Critics point out that such a campaign has much to do with Xi's attempt to tighten his grip on power in order to extend his rule.

Yet, Weibo faces criticism for going too far in imposing the posting ban on the fan club accounts. It imposed a 60-day ban on the fan club account for BTS member Jimin, after his fans circulated photos of a customized airplane from Jeju Air emblazoned with images of the singer last week to celebrate his 26th birthday in October. Weibo accused the account of raising funds illegally and engaging in "irrational star-chasing behavior."

The 21 fan club accounts slapped with a 30-day suspension involve K-pop groups such as EXO, NCT, BLACKPINK, Red Velvet and Girls' Generation. The ban is raising concern because it is clearly targeting South Korean pop groups and entertainers. BTS had already suffered a setback due to attacks by Chinese netizens for its remarks about the 1950-53 Korean War during which China fought against South Korea and its allies.

The Chinese authorities have refused to lift restrictions on performances by Korean singers and entertainers in China as well as K-pop culture products, after taking retaliatory action against Seoul's decision to allow the U.S. to deploy a missile defense system here in 2017. The fan club account posting ban could be seen as another step against the Korean entertainment industry.

An industry expert said the ban is reminiscent of the specter of China's Cultural Revolution. Such a move is out of touch with the rapidly changing world in the 21st century. China, which is seeking to become a cultural power, should not try to limit its people's right to enjoy diverse culture and engage in fan club activities. Chinese policymakers must keep in mind that guaranteeing individuals' freedom of choice is a basic human right.


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