Half of This Boy Band’s Singers Are 7 Years Old. Is It Child Labor?

Chinese state media have called for stronger measures to crack down on underage entertainment stars.
August 25, 2021, 9:56am
China boy group idol children
Children practice at a street dance studio in Beijing. A boy band featuring 7-year-olds has come under criticism in China. Photo: WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images

A boy band made up of children has disbanded three days after its debut, after Chinese state media attacked its producers for trying to make money with “child labor.”

The boy group, Panda Boys, consisted of 13 members, six of whom were 7 years old and the rest aged between 8 and 11, according to their online profiles posted by the band earlier this year. The seven members in its “A Team” debuted last Friday with a new music video titled Starting Out, in which the children sang about their determination to chase dreams during their youth and not leave any regrets. 

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The debut has triggered criticism from internet users and official media outlets. “Without completing their 9-year mandatory education, they have started doing business under capital operations,” state broadcaster CCTV said in an online post on Monday. “Isn’t that child labor for sure?”

The Chinese entertainment industry has embraced a type of idols known as “cultivation-themed,” which has attracted a lot of women viewers eager to follow the path of young, little-known artists to stardom.

The most prominent example of the trend was hit boy band TFBoys. Its three members were between 12 and 13 when they debuted in 2013, and have since grown into A-list celebrities who act in blockbusters, speak at United Nations conferences, and represent global luxury brands. 

Fans who see themselves as cultivating future stars are willing to spend much time and money in voting for their idols in competitions and flooding their social media pages with flattering comments, which could further the idols’ entertainment careers.  

Panda Boys has branded itself as a “cultivation group.” In previous videos posted online, its members showed off skills ranging from street dancing and modeling to basson, skateboarding and ice hockey. They were also filmed congratulating the Chinese Communist Party on its 100th anniversary last month. 

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Following the state media criticism, the company that ran Panda Boys, Asia Starry Sky Group, said it was merely trying to “do a meaningful thing” with children who enjoyed singing and dancing. It also changed the Chinese name of the band from “Tianfu Youth Group” to “Panda Children’s Arts Group.”

Later on Tuesday, it announced the group was disbanded with immediate effect, and thanked internet users for their “supervision and criticism.” The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Several official outlets have cited Panda Boys in calling for stronger measures against underage idols. The Chinese government is currently clamping down on what it deems toxic, harmful behaviors of entertainment fans, such as fundraising and extravagant spending. 

The broadcasting watchdog in Beijing, for example, this year banned minors from joining online idol contests and ordered entertainment platforms not to “hype up” celebrities’ children. 

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.