Professional fans feeling the heat amid crackdown

Finance | Staff reporter 18 Oct 2021

As China cracks down on the entertainment industry, professional fans are feeling the pain as their favorite stars get embroiled in scandals.

And a clamp on celebrity fan culture is not going to make things any easier for these operators.

Professional fans or fan-site masters are people who make a living out of following celebrities wherever they go, taking photos of them and sharing them online.

To cover their expenses such as flights and entrance tickets, they usually sell merchandise with the photos they take or raise cash through crowdfunding to organize special events for these fans.

Fan-site masters have a symbiotic relationship with the celebrities they admire -- they depend on the stars to make money while the stars are able to enhance their charisma through their sites and win more admirers.

But as China enforces its entertainers to raise the bar on ethics and morals, celebrities are finding their reputations can be destroyed at the slightest hint of any impropriety - and this is hurting the pockets of professional fans.

It's ridiculous that stars can be blacklisted and lose their stature overnight, says Gu Jie, who has been an administrator for a decade and whose sites are followed by hundreds of thousands of fans.

In early August, she sold event photos of Zhang Zhehan for several thousand yuan just before photos of the Chinese actor posing at Japan's Yasukuni Shrine - a controversial shrine that commemorates over 1,000 Japanese war criminals in World War Two - spread online and sparked public outrage.

One of China's top fan-site administrators, Gu has several sites dedicated to the most popular celebrities and has earned a small fortune from posting exclusive photos of these stars.

However, her income has now become unstable this year with several stars caught up in controversies.

Gu says that running a fan site can cost hundreds of thousands of yuan.

Detailing the expenses incurred for attending a single event, Gu says a ticket usually costs 20,000 yuan (HK$24,182), round-trip fares run into the thousands, while hotel rooms average 200 yuan a night.

China's fan culture has also given rise to fan-paid photography and fan-site masters are also commissioned to follow or even stalk celebrities and take photographs.

They can earn considerable profits from desperate fans, although the cost for entering a show can be prohibitive, according to a marketing influencer.

For instance, a photographer who sells photos of a celebrity for 20,000 yuan could earn a profit of 5,000 yuan, if they bought the entrance ticket for 15,000 yuan, he says, adding that sourcing and selling a star's itinerary is also a lucrative business.

But things will only get harder for professional fans, as China is also cracking down on "chaotic" fan culture.

In August, the Cyberspace Administration of China warned these sites against enticing netizens to buy celebrity merchandise.

The regulator also said it would take action against the dissemination of "harmful information" in celebrity fan groups, and close down discussion channels that spread celebrity scandals or "provoke trouble."

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