China's internet regulator is cracking down on online celebrity and fan club culture, as a popular actress had all of her work removed from public view after being designated an "inferior artist."
"Cancel all star artist lists along with all ranking lists involving celebrities," the Cyberspace Administration said in a directive posted to its official website on Friday.
"The addition of new or disguised lists of personalities, or their related products or functions is forbidden."
Only rankings of movies and TV shows may remain, but with no stars mentioned, while the rankings should give less weight to online likes and comments and more to "professional evaluation," it said, adding that fans should not be provided with buttons to boost the rankings of their favorite celebrities.
Celebrity agents should also better moderate the behavior of fan club social media groups and accounts, and shut them down fan club if flame wars, rumor-mongering and personal abuse persist, the administration said.
Fans shouldn't be ranked according to how much merchandise they have bought, and any other activities designed to stimulate fan consumption should be stopped, it said.
The directive came as actresses Vicki Zhao and Zheng Shuang were barred from social media sites, which deleted any content linked to the pair.
Zheng was fined nearly 300 million yuan (U.S.$ 46 million) for tax evasion and barred from appearing on entertainment shows.
Meanwhile, Zhao, who is a brand ambassador for Fendi, has had her name removed from major entertainment platforms, and her account on Weibo shut down.
Zhao, who has courted controversy by wearing a wartime Japanese flag as a dress, has been designated an "inferior artist" by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
Actress Fan Bingbing, who disappeared from public view for nearly three months, only to resurface with a public apology and a U.S.$130 million fine for tax evasion, was also among them, as was Canadian rapper and K-pop artist Kris Wu, who was recently arrested on suspicion of rape.
Link to Alibaba
An entertainment industry insider who gave only a surname, Yao, said the ban on Zhao could be linked to the ongoing official probe into Alibaba.
"This is the third day that they have removed all of her work from public view," Yao said. "If it was just to do with lack of patriotism, her public affinity for Japan, or tax evasion, the authorities would have said that publicly."
"But there are now reports that it's something to do with Jack Ma and Alibaba, as well as huge political upheavals going down in [the eastern province of] Zhejiang," she said. "Personally, I think it's something to do with Alibaba's operations down in Zhejiang."
"[Zhao] has shown that she considers herself spiritually Japanese before, for example, when she wore the Japanese military flag," Yao said. "But I think this probably has more to do with her ties to Alibaba."
China's internet regulators are continuing to crack down on the country's top tech companies, pulling the plug on a planned U.S.$35 billion initial public offering (IPO) of shares in Alibaba founder Jack Ma's financial affiliate Ant Group.
Zhao and her businessman husband Huang Youlong were fined and barred from trading on the stockmarket in 2017 for financial activities linked to anime producer Zhejiang Wanjia, a company sources said has ties to the Zhejiang government.
The market reacted to the company's announcement on Dec. 27 that year that Zhao, a billionaire known for her investing prowess, had purchased a stake. Zhao's apparent ties to Alibaba Group Holding Executive Chairman Jack Ma also fueled speculative buying.
Current affairs commentator Bi Xin said Zhao could have run afoul of someone powerful within the CCP establishment.
"She could be entwined in the vested interests of certain people, as she has close ties with some government officials," Bi said. "They are using state power to suppress an individual, so as to maintain stability within the party."
"But they haven't explained it how it fits in with the law."
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.