China ordered broadcasters on Thursday to shun artists with "incorrect political positions" and "effeminate" styles, and said a patriotic atmosphere needed to be cultivated, widening a crackdown on its booming entertainment industry.
After years of runaway growth in the world's second largest economy, regulators have been to trying to strengthen control over Chinese society by tightening oversight over a broad swathe of industries ranging from technology to education and culture.
Communist Party authorities can censor anything they believe violates core socialist values and already have stringent rules on content ranging from video games to movies and music.
The latest moves reining in the entertainment industry come in the wake of a series of celebrity scandals involving tax evasion and sexual assault. Two government ministries, a party agency and an industry association published fresh guidelines on Thursday, with the Party's publicity department blasting some in the entertainment industry for their alleged bad influence on the young and for "severely polluting the social atmosphere".
Penalties should be increased for actors who have engaged in illegal or unethical behaviour, and agencies which condone such behaviours promptly punished, said the Party notice. The ideological and moral education of children should be ramped up and they should be forbidden from joining activities of "idol" groups, the notice added, while party cadres at all levels should "deeply recognise" the importance of "moulding" future generations.
The National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), a ministry level body, said it will bolster regulation of stars' salaries and punish tax evaders. It also said it would weed out any content in cultural programmes that it deems unhealthy.
Last week, China's internet regulator said it was taking action against what it described as a "chaotic" celebrity fan culture.
The selection of actors and guests should be carefully controlled, with political literacy and moral conduct included as criteria, NRTA said, adding that performers should be encouraged to participate in public welfare programmes and assume social responsibilities.
The notice further said that programmes portraying "effeminate" behaviour and other content deemed "warped" should be stopped, along with shows built around scandals, ostentatious wealth and "vulgar" internet celebrities. Unhealthy fan culture should be deterred and strict controls placed on programmes with voting segments, it said, and any that encourage fans to spend money to vote should be forbidden.
Separate notices also published on Thursday by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the China Association of Performing Arts said that performers, like livestreaming stars, should undergo periodic training in professional ethics while agencies should terminate contracts with performers who "lack moral discipline."
Besides bemoaning the culture of celebrity worship, authorities and state media have criticised male stars who favour heavy make-up and carefully styled hair and project a feminine image, saying Chinese boys should become more manly.
Some "effeminate" stars are immoral and can damage adolescents' values, according to an opinion piece in the state-run Guangming Daily on Aug 27, written by a former official at a military newspaper. When such stars act as soldiers fighting in the war against the Japanese - a popular setting for Chinese movies and TV shows - they also make the "righteous" and "heroic" characters appear childish, said the piece. One popular video-maker on Douyin, a short video platform, had his account suspended in late August after complaints that he was too "effeminate".
Some comments on the social media site Weibo were more critical of the new guidelines for broadcasters. "Actually aesthetics should be diverse," said one, with over 20,000 likes.
"Isn't this a kind of discrimination?" said another highly rated comment. Chinese celebrities have attended state-arranged courses to learn about Communist Party history and have carried out "self-criticism" in the past two months in response to the crackdown.
At an event in Beijing in late August, movie stars Zhou Dongyu and Du Jiang read aloud a statement criticising stars who had "crossed the bottom line" and calling on entertainers to never become "slaves of the market" and to be responsible to society, according to a video in local media.
Entertainers should "bravely scale artistic heights under the leadership of the (Communist) Party!" they said, to applause.