A major Chinese social media platform has suspended the accounts of major K-pop fan clubs after fans of BTS member Jimin were criticized for paying to customize an airplane to celebrate their idol’s birthday—a move that reflects China’s tightening clampdown on what it perceives to be the entertainment industry’s excesses.
On Sunday, the microblogging site Weibo said it had banned JiminBarChina, which has 1.2 million followers, from posting for 60 days as a penalty for launching the aircraft initiative. Later that day, the social platform also suspended accounts belonging to fan groups of other top K-pop bands and stars, including BTS, EXO, IU, BLACKPINK’s Lisa, NCT’s Jaehyun, and Girls’ Generation’s Taeyeon, citing content promoting “irrational star worshipping.”
Jimin fan club, JiminBarChina, triggered nationalistic backlash in China after state media reported that the group had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to make over a Jeju Air plane with a Jimin theme.
The aircraft initiative was to mark Jimin’s birthday on October 13, according to JiminBarChina Twitter posts in June. The group said the plane would operate in domestic flights in South Korea for up to three months, during which passengers would get tickets and paper cups printed with Jimin’s photos.
Last month, the fan club also announced it would place advertisements on The New York Times and British newspaper The Times on Jimin’s upcoming birthday.
“You are the only treasure we will ever have in our lives,” a mock-up of the advert said. “Love from Chinese fans and JiminBarChina.”
JiminBarChina did not respond to a request for comment sent through Weibo on Monday. It’s unclear how much the group has paid for the advertisements. Weibo posts about the crowdfunding drive in April have mostly been deleted, although posts shared by fans claim that some 10,000 people raised more than 2 million Chinese yuan ($309,000) in less than an hour.
Several Jimin fans told VICE they donated money to the plane project.
“I wanted them to see the Chinese ARMY,” said a 13-year-old BTS fan in the southeastern province of Fujian about BTS supporters known as “ARMY.” She said fans she knew each put in about $1. “Many a little makes a mickle.”
It’s common for fan groups around the world to raise massive funds in support of their idols. In China, the money has been used to buy votes in idol contests, put the stars’ photo on billboards, and have their names spelled out in the sky by drones. Fan groups also regularly donate to charitable causes endorsed by Chinese authorities, such as rural education and environmental protection, to boost their idols’ profile and also demonstrate their political loyalty.
But such crowdfunding campaigns are now under fire as authorities accused fan clubs of causing waste and misleading underage people. The Chinese government has launched a sweeping crackdown on what it deems as “chaos” in the entertainment industry, such as fans’ excessive spending, the moral decadence among celebrities, and the effeminate styles of male stars.
The worship of K-pop stars is especially controversial due to the tense relationship between China and South Korea. BTS has been censored from shows in China after band member RM last year hailed the alliance between the United States and South Korea during the Korean War.
“Isn’t it a fucking anti-China group?” said one of the top-voted comments under the news about the Jimin-themed plane on the microblogging site Weibo.
The tightening control on celebrity fandoms is felt by the younger generation, especially women, who have sought refuge from daily stress in the entertainment world.
A Chinese Jimin fan in the United Kingdom told VICE that she donated about $30 to the Jimin fan club this year to celebrate his birthday, and was delighted to see the customized plane. The 26-year-old, who prefers to only be identified as Nat since she was commenting on a politically sensitive subject, said the clampdown on celebrity worship is a form of suppression of women.
“The right of women spending their own salaries on celebrities is being taken away,” she said. “But we dare not resist.”
A 17-year-old BTS fan in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said she donated to Jimin’s birthday project, and was frustrated that ARMY were criticized as unpatriotic.
“We just wanted to give him a birthday gift. I have no idea why it’s being associated with politics,” she told VICE. “But now that the country wants to correct these, I support our country’s decision.”
Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly said that Taeyeon is a member of SHINee. She is a member of Girls’ Generation. We regret the error.
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