Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-x24gv Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-19T09:48:35.628Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Truth, Good and Beauty: The Politics of Celebrity in China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 December 2018

Jonathan Sullivan*
China Policy Institute, School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham.
Séagh Kehoe
School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham. Email:
Email: (corresponding author).


A visit to a Chinese city of any size – looking up at downtown billboards, riding public transport, shopping at a mall – is to be in the presence of a Chinese celebrity endorsing a product, lifestyle or other symbols of “the good life.” Celebrity in China is big business, feeding off and nourishing the advertising-led business model that underpins the commercialized media system and internet. It is also a powerful instrument in the party-state's discursive and symbolic repertoire, used to promote regime goals and solidify new governmentalities through signalling accepted modes of behaviour for mass emulation. The multi-dimensional celebrity persona, and the public interest it stimulates in off-stage lives, requires an academic focus on the workings of celebrity separate to the products that celebrities create in their professional roles. The potential to connect with large numbers of ordinary people, and the emergence of an informal celebrity-making scene in cyberspace symptomatic of changing attitudes towards fame among Chinese people, marks the special status of celebrity within China's constrained socio-political ecology. The motivation for this article is to further scholarly understanding of how celebrity operates in China and to bring this expression of popular culture into the broader conversation about contemporary Chinese politics and society.


身处中国任何大中小城市, 无论是市中心广告牌、公共交通工具还是购物中心, 随处可见中国名人明星所代言的产品、生活方式及其他象征 “美好生活” 的事物。商业媒体体制和网络主要依赖于广告为中心的商业模式, 而中国名人明星作为一项巨型产业, 则与该模式相辅相成。同时, 名人产业也是党和国家话语及象征的强有力工具,通过名人发出可接受的行为信号, 鼓励大众效仿, 从而起到推动政体目标、巩固新治理术的目的。多方位的名人形象以及名人在舞台下的生活所激发的公众兴趣, 要求学术界对其运作方式做出分析, 并与名人在职业角色中塑造的作品分开。名人在互联网上与普罗大众进行互动的潜力, 以及新兴的互联网络名人现象, 都象征了民众对名望观念的蜕变, 同时也反映出名人在中国有限的社会政治生态中的特殊地位。本文旨在对中国的名人运作进行深入的学术探讨, 并在当代中国政治与社会的宏观背景下分析流行文化。

Research Report
Copyright © SOAS University of London 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Baidu. 2017. “Jinri yule mingren paihangbang” (Today's celebrity ranking), 10 June, Accessed 10 June 2017.Google Scholar
Bell, Daniel. 2010. China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Berry, Chris and Farquhar, Mary. 2006. China on Screen, Cinema and Nation. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Boorstin, Daniel J. 1961. The Image, or, What Happened to the American Dream. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.Google Scholar
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. “The forms of capital.” In Richardson, John G. (ed.), Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood, 241258.Google Scholar
Brownell, Susan. 2001. “Making dream bodies in Beijing: athletes, fashion models and urban mystique in China.” In Chen, Nancy N., Clark, Constance D., Gottschang, Suzanne Z. and Jeffery, Lyn (eds.), China Urban: Ethnographies of Contemporary Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 123142.Google Scholar
Canaves, Sky. 2015. “China's stars promise to behave, or else.” China Film Insider, 13 November, Accessed 10 June 2017.Google Scholar
Chang, Leslie T. 2010. Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China. London: Pan Macmillan.Google Scholar
Chau, Adam Yuet. 2008. Miraculous Response: Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Cheek, Timothy. 1997. Propaganda and Culture in Mao's China: Deng Tuo and the Intelligentsia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
China Internet Network Information Center. 2016. “Youxian wutai gai liugei you de zhi ren” (Limited stage should be reserved for people with virtue), 25 December, Accessed 18 September 2018.Google Scholar
China Internet Network Information Center. 2017. “Di 39 ci Zhongguo hulianwang fazhan qingkuang tongji baogao” (The 39th statistical report on internet development in China), 22 January, Accessed 10 June 2017.Google Scholar
Donald, Stephanie H., Hong, Yin and Keane, Michael. 2002. Media in China: Consumption, Content and Crisis. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Dyer, Richard. 1986. Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Edwards, Louise, and Jeffreys, Elaine. 2010. Celebrity in China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.Google Scholar
Evans, Harriet. 2006. “Fashions and feminine consumption.” In Latham, Kevin, Klein, Jakob and Thompson, Stuart (eds.), Consuming China: Approaches to Cultural Change in Contemporary China. Abingdon: Routledge, 173189.Google Scholar
Farquhar, Mary, and Zhang, Yingjin. 2010. Chinese Film Stars. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Flannery, Russell. 2015. “2015 Forbes China celebrity list.” Forbes, 13 May, Accessed 17 March 2016.Google Scholar
Fung, Anthony. 2008. “Western style, Chinese pop: Jay Chou's rap and hip-hop in China.” Asian Music 39(1), 6980.Google Scholar
Gold, Thomas B. 1993. “Go with your feelings: Hong Kong and Taiwan popular culture in Greater China.” The China Quarterly 136, 907925.Google Scholar
Gong, Haomin, and Yang, Xin. 2010. “Digitized parody: the politics of egao in contemporary China.” China Information 24(1), 326.Google Scholar
Guo, Yingjie. 2010. “China's celebrity mothers: female virtues, patriotism and social harmony.” In Edwards, Louise and Jeffreys, Elaine (eds.), Celebrity in China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 4566.Google Scholar
Herold, David K., and Marolt, Peter. 2011. Online Society in China: Creating, Celebrating, and Instrumentalising the Online Carnival. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Hood, Johanna. 2015. “Peng Liyuan's humanitarianism: morality, politics and eyeing the present and past.” Celebrity Studies 6(4), 414429.Google Scholar
Horkheimer, Max, and Adorno, Theodor. 2002[1944]. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
Huang, Zheping. 2017. “China is scrubbing outspoken Taiwan and Hong Kong celebrities from its streaming services.” Quartz, 11 Jan, Accessed 21 January. 2017.Google Scholar
Hung, Kineta, Chan, Kimmy W. and Tse, Caleb H.. 2011. “Assessing celebrity endorsement effects in China.” Journal of Advertising Research 51(4), 608623.Google Scholar
Jeffreys, Elaine. 2009. China's Governmentalities: Governing Change, Changing Government. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Jeffreys, Elaine. 2015a. “Celebrity philanthropy in mainland China.” Asian Studies Review 39(4), 571588.Google Scholar
Jeffreys, Elaine. 2015b. “Political celebrities and elite politics in contemporary China.” China Information 30(1), 123.Google Scholar
Keane, Michael. 2013. Creative Industries in China: Art, Design and Media. London: Polity.Google Scholar
Keane, Michael, and Zhang, Joy Danjing. 2017. “Where are we going? Parent–child television reality programmes in China.” Media, Culture & Society 39(5), 630643.Google Scholar
Kim, Youna. 2013. The Korean Wave: Korean Media Go Global. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Kipnis, Andrew B. 2001. “The flourishing of religion in Post-Mao China and the anthropological category of religion.” The Australian Journal of Anthropology 12(1), 3246.Google Scholar
Kourelou, Olga. 2010. “‘Put the Blame on… Mei’: Zhang Ziyi and the Politics of Global Stardom.” In Hanson, Helen and O'Rawe, Catherine (eds.), The Femme Fatale: Images, Histories, Contexts. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 113126.Google Scholar
Latham, Kevin, Thompson, Stuart and Klein, Jakob. 2006. Consuming China: Approaches to Cultural Change in Contemporary China. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
Li, Mingqian. 2011. “On regulation of celebrity endorsement in China.” Journal of Politics and Law 4(1), 153–58.Google Scholar
Li, Siling. 2009. “The turn to the self: From ‘big character posters’ to YouTube videos.” Chinese Journal of Communication 2(1), 5060.Google Scholar
Liao, Danlin. 2014. “China's No.1 paparazzo.” Global Times, 3 April, Accessed 11 June 2017.Google Scholar
Marshal, David. 1997. Celebrity and Power: Fame in Contemporary Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
McDermott, Joseph P. 2006. A Social History of the Chinese Book: Books and Literati Culture in Late Imperial China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.Google Scholar
Miao, Di. 2011. “Between propaganda and commercials: Chinese television today.” In Shirk, Susan L. (ed.) Changing Media, Changing China. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91114.Google Scholar
Pye, Lucian W. 1992. The Spirit of Chinese Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Qin, Amy. 2017. “Chinese censors have new target: celebrity news.” New York Times, 9 June, Accessed 11 June 2017.Google Scholar
Qiu, Jack L. 2009. Working-Class Network Society: Communication Technology and the Information Have-Less in Urban China. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Rojek, Chris. 2001. Celebrity. London: Reaktion Books.Google Scholar
Rosen, Stanley. 2009. “Contemporary Chinese youth and the state.” Journal of Asian Studies 68(2), 359369.Google Scholar
Schimmelpfennig, Christian, and Hollensen, Svend. 2016. “Significant decline in celebrity usage in advertising: a review.” IUP Journal of Marketing Management 15(1), 114.Google Scholar
Senft, Theresa M. 2008. Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.Google Scholar
Shingler, Martin. 2012. Star Studies: A Critical Guide. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
Sima, Yangzi, and Pugsley, Peter C.. 2010. “The rise of a ‘me culture’ in postsocialist China: youth, individualism and identity creation in the blogosphere.” International Communication Gazette 72(3), 287306.Google Scholar
Stockmann, Daniela. 2013. Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Stockmann, Daniela, and Gallagher, Mary E.. 2011. “Remote control: how the media sustain authoritarian rule in China.” Comparative Political Studies 44(4), 436467.Google Scholar
Strafella, Giorgio, and Berg, Daria. 2015a. “‘Twitter bodhisattva’: Ai Weiwei's media politics.” Asian Studies Review 39(1), 138157.Google Scholar
Strafella, Giorgio, and Berg, Daria. 2015b. “The making of an online celebrity: a critical analysis of Han Han's blog.” China Information 29, 125.Google Scholar
Sullivan, Jonathan. 2014. “China's Weibo: Is faster different?New Media & Society 16(1), 2437.Google Scholar
Sun, Zhen. 2013. “Cultural values conveyed through celebrity endorsers: A content analysis of Chinese television commercials.” International Journal of Communication 7, 2631–52.Google Scholar
Tomba, Luigi. 2009. “Of quality, harmony, and community: Civilization and the middle class in urban China.” Positions 17(3), 591616.Google Scholar
Tsai, Lily L. 2007. Accountability Without Democracy: Solidary Groups and Public Goods Provision in Rural China. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Turner, Graeme. 2006. “The mass production of celebrity: ‘celetoids’, reality TV and the ‘demotic turn’.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 9(2), 153165.Google Scholar
Turner, Graeme. 2013. Understanding Celebrity. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
Wallis, Cara. 2015. Technomobility in China: Young Migrant Women and Mobile Phones. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
Wang, Jing. 2008. Brand New China: Advertising, Media, and Commercial Culture.Google Scholar
Wang, Ruiqi. 2014. “Actor Huang Haibo released after six-month detention.” SINA English, 1 December, Accessed 10 June 2017. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Wen, Huike. 2013. Television and the Modernization Ideal in 1980s China: Dazzling the Eyes. Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
Wu, Xu. 2002. “Doing PR in China: A 2001 version – concepts, practices and some misperceptions.” Public Relations Quarterly 47(2), 1020.Google Scholar
Yan, Jin. 2010. “Public relations.” In Scotton, James F. and Hachten, William A. (eds.), New Media for a New China. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 141–62.Google Scholar
Yang, Ling. 2009. “All for love: the Corn fandom, prosumers, and the Chinese way of creating a superstar.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 12(5), 527543.Google Scholar
Yu, Li-Anne. 2014. Consumption in China: How China's New Consumer Ideology is Shaping the Nation. London: Polity.Google Scholar
Zhang, Liping. 2017. “Authorities aim to stem the tide of immoral live-streaming.” Sixth Tone, 24 May, Accessed 10 June 2017.Google Scholar
Zhang, Weiyu. 2016. The Internet and New Social Formation in China: Fandom Publics in the Making. London: RoutledgeGoogle Scholar
Zhao, Yuezhi. 2008. Communication in China: Political Economy, Power, and Conflict. Lanham MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
Zhou, Lianxi, and Whitla, Paul. 2013. “How negative celebrity publicity influences consumer attitudes: the mediating role of moral reputation.” Journal of Business Research 66(8), 1013–20.Google Scholar
Zhu, Ying and Berry, Chris (eds). 2009. TV China. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar