China’s runaway summer hit, “Super Girl,” ended last weekend with a television viewership that eclipsed the combined populations of the United States and Canada. State news media reported that more than 400 million people had watched the finale of the show, an “American Idol” knockoff, and saw a frizzy-haired music student from Sichuan Province selected as the winner.
But it was how that winner, Li Yuchun, was selected that has transformed “Super Girl” from just another evanescent offering on China’s pop culture menu into a potentially lasting political marker.
Unlike China’s leader, Hu Jintao, Li was popularly elected. Fans voted via text message, and the three finalists drew more than 8 million votes, a figure that would have been far higher except that people had to pay to vote.
The enormous public fascination with the independently produced show has stimulated a nationwide online discussion on issues ranging from democracy to standards of beauty to whether Li is a lesbian. In a country where it is illegal to organize many types of public meetings, fans formed booster clubs and canvassed malls to court prospective voters. There were even accusations of voter fraud, as rabid fans circumvented the rule limiting each person to 15 votes.
“It’s like a gigantic game that has swept so many people into a euphoria of voting, which is a testament to a society opening up,” a social commentator, Zhu Dake, told state media.