Since the beginning of this year, popular short-video social media app Douyin has been reportedly punishing users for “flaunting wealth” in their videos on the platform. That crackdown came to a head this week after several Chinese celebrities put out public apologies for producing extravagant videos that allegedly flaunted their wealth and promoted conspicuous consumption.
One of those social media “influencers” caught up in the crackdown was Big LOGO, a “food influencer” with more than 27 million followers on Douyin. South China Morning Post’s Mandy Zuo reported that he was forced to apologize for “thoughtless” videos featuring opulent presidential suites:
Big Logo, a food influencer famous for videos of him dining in expensive restaurants, said on Sunday that he was sorry for his “thoughtless” videos about lavish presidential suites at some hotels after he was denounced by Xinhua news agency last week.
[…] Since Saturday Douyin started sending a reminder saying “Please consume rationally. Keep a healthy consuming attitude” to people searching the two men’s accounts.
Last week Xinhua warned against the growing popularity of short videos showing off wealth on live-streaming platforms, arguing the influencers making the clips were “blindly pursuing clicks and benefits, and ignoring social responsibility”.
Other examples cited by Xinhua included a 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) haircut, a 350,000 yuan (US$53,000) bed and a 400,000 yuan (US$61,000) suit. [Source]
News of the crackdown on wealth flaunting videos was not received well by Chinese netizens. Users took the opportunity to vent their anger about China’s wealth gap, while criticizing the latest measure as nothing more than a band-aid solution imposed by the government to hide deeper problems. CDT Chinese editors collected a selection of netizens’ comments and translated them:
我被草莓味重拳袭击了：They’re afraid if we watch too much, we’ll figure out we’re at the bottom.
Aries427: “Poverty is not socialism” – a leader once said.
超级老x：Is this not “plugging one’s ears while stealing a bell“?
岂曰冇衣：It’s okay to have money, living a luxurious life is also no problem. But could you make your fortune quietly and not babble while you eat your meat? What would all those smartphone-owning people who can barely afford soup think? So ignorant! Educate yourself. It is virtuous to shut up when you have money. It’s not like if you stop showing off, you’d be stopped from spending altogether, right?
赵老宽：Be more low-key, learn from others and put your Moutai in a water bottle.
Ti–Ri：By livestreaming this lifestyle to common people, the problem is not that they’re showing off their wealth. The problem is that this wealth has always existed, but we didn’t know about it before. Now that this way of life is public and it’s moved someone’s cheese, the livestreamers must be punished.
醉清风963258：It’s not made up, so why do they need to apologize?
我改名就是不让你找到：ahahaha, the 2688 RMB and 6 RMB noodle bowls both fill a stomach equally. All those people drunk on luxury don’t really matter to me. They can’t affect me, I don’t even have any money.
念桐L：So frustrating, is even the right to knowledge something we can’t have now?
哆啦A梦的大口袋y：How to alleviate class contradictions? Just blindfold the poor’s eyes.
阿兹大猫咪：In the name of preventing instability, even the tiniest things become prohibited.
许了个仙2109：You can have lavish consumption, but you can’t promote it, that’s how I understand this whole business.
望金陵：If something is allowed to happen in the real world but it cannot be recorded, then this is just distorting history.
不吃丸子的莉香：How could ordinary people possibly be allowed to witness the lives of the heavenly dragon class?
寒山柔水2012：We’re gradually reverting to how things were decades ago. Back then, our parents thought the top leaders were just like us, eating chaff and wild vegetables, while not knowing that they were actually eating chicken, duck, fish, and meat and drinking Maotai. We just don’t know.
For better or for worse, “wealth flaunting” has long been a feature of Chinese social media, attracting the attention and outrage of social media users over the years. In 2019, Sixth Tone’s Kenrick Davis wrote about the phenomenon, and its growing popularity on short video platforms like Douyin and Kuaishou:
Extravagant displays of wealth have long been a content staple in China’s cyberspace. In 2011, Guo Meimei, a woman who claimed to be a Red Cross Society volunteer, famously tarnished the humanitarian organization’s image by posting pictures of luxury handbags and a Maserati sports car on her social media account. More recently, billionaire playboy Wang Sicong has cultivated a reputation for showing off his wealth by posting photos of $400,000 karaoke club bills and the seven iPhones he purchased for his pet dog.
Since the rise of short-video platforms like TikTok and particularly Kuaishou, Chinese people from all walks of life have embraced flaunting their wealth — or laughable lack thereof — on social media. Last summer, the “falling stars” challenge — or the “flaunt wealth” challenge, as it was known in China — became an online sensation: Netizens posted countless photos of themselves splatted face-down on the ground and surrounded by expensive possessions that supposedly fell out of their purses and pockets.
However, it’s more common still for the country’s self-deprecating netizens to poke fun at how poor they are — by saying they have resorted to eating dirt, for example, or can’t afford the small luxury of imported cherries. [Source]
The crackdown on wealth flaunting is also not the only move by Chinese authorities in recent months to police morality on social media. At the end of 2020, the National Radio and Television Administration began to scrutinize “immoral” behavior in the livestream industry. Radii China’s Jocelyn Yang reported on that campaign:
China’s livestreaming ecommerce industry has recently come under the microscope, in response to mounting reports over “immoral” conduct.
[…] “It’s necessary not to provide illegal and immoral artists with public appearances and opportunities, in order to prevent the spread of bad habits in the livestreaming field,” said the National Radio and Television Administration in a statement.
[…] “Those [celebrities] who are using drugs, cheating on their spouses, engaging in domestic violence, gambling, evading taxes, committing fraud, and selling fake masks, should be banned,” one user wrote.
[…] While the new regulations have been criticized as obscure, state media outlets have said that concrete standards around what exactly constitutes “immoral” will be published at a later date. [Source]
As the latest campaign to clamp down on content on Douyin and Kuaishou attracts attention, the types of content that are being condoned if not actively promoted on the platforms is also of interest. In recent weeks, an angry nationalistic campaign led by some Chinese netizens has targeted multinational brands as well as researchers who have published work on the ongoing genocide in Xinjiang. The harassment of Vicky Xu, an Australia-based researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has been particularly rabid. And as Protocol’s Zeyi Yang reported, one particularly extreme voice found a pedestal on Douyin and Kuaishou:
Things worsened on Oct. 4, 2020, when an account named 凡尘君 (Fanchen Jun) posted a video simultaneously to Douyin and Kuaishou, China’s two most popular short-video platforms, titled “The Degenerate Who Betrayed Her Motherland.” In the two-minute video, Fanchen Jun characterized Xu’s discoveries as “completely made up” and castigated Australian media for giving her findings attention. It ended with what sounded like a threat to Xu: “A shameful life awaits her.”
At first glance, Fanchen Jun’s account doesn’t directly link to the Chinese state. It’s labeled as independent media and its name sounds erudite, translating to “a gentleman in the mortal world.”
In fact, according to an October 2020 post by a local court in the southwest city of Chongqing, the account of “Fanchen Jun” is operated by Lu Yang, a low-level propaganda official working at a prison in the municipality.
With 10 million followers combined on Douyin and Kuaishou, Fanchen Jun’s social media influence has far exceeded its hyperlocal background. According to the latest official ranking of government-operated Kuaishou accounts, in February 2021 alone, Fanchen Jun posted 292 videos on Kuaishou and garnered 391 million views, making it the sixth most influential Kuaishou account operated by the legal affairs system and surpassing national institutions like the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and China Police Daily. Today, Fanchen Jun’s video about Xu has 19 million views on Kuaishou. [Source]