China's Weibo Bans BTS Fan Account For Illegal Fundraising

Associated Press

Monday September 6, 2021

In this May 21, 2021, file photo members of South Korean K-pop band BTS pose for photographers ahead of a press conference to introduce their new single "Butter" in Seoul, South Korea.
In this May 21, 2021, file photo members of South Korean K-pop band BTS pose for photographers ahead of a press conference to introduce their new single "Butter" in Seoul, South Korea.   (Source:Associated Press)

Chinese social media platform Weibo banned a fan club of popular South Korean K-pop band BTS from posting for 60 days, saying it had raised funds illegally, days after photographs of a customized airplane funded by the fan club were posted online.

The fan club account, which had over 1.1 million followers on Weibo, was centered around BTS member Jimin. The restrictions imposed on the account came amid China's campaign to clean up the entertainment industry and clamp down on "irrational behavior" exhibited by fans.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for a "national rejuvenation" with tighter Communist Party control of business, education, culture and religion.

The party has since reduced children's access to online games and is trying to discourage what it sees as unhealthy attention toward celebrities. Last week, the government banned effeminate men on TV and banned idol development shows for their "low moral values" that could be a bad influence on the youth.

The BTS fan account was banned from posting on Weibo after images circulated online last week of a customized airplane from Jeju Air with images of Jimin on it. The customized airplane was part of the club's plans to celebrate his 26th birthday in October.

The stunt drew swift criticism online for its excess. Following the backlash, the account issued a statement last week on its feed urging fans to be "rational" when chasing celebrities for a "harmonious and healthy internet environment."

Weibo said in a statement Sunday that the group has been banned from posting for 60 days after it was found to have raised funds illegally.

"Weibo firmly opposes such irrational star-chasing behavior and will deal with it seriously," the statement said.

The fan club began raising money in April to prepare for the birthday celebrations, according to state-owned media Global Times, with over 1 million yuan ($150,000) raised in the first three minutes of the fundraising activity and 2.3 million yuan ($360,000) in the first hour.

The club also planned to run advertisements celebrating Jimin's birthday in newspapers like The New York Times.

It is not uncommon for K-pop fans worldwide to celebrate the birthdays of their favorite celebrities by taking out advertisements in newspapers and billboards or customizing public transport vehicles with images of their idols.

Many fans also fundraise to donate to charitable causes such as funding education for the underprivileged or sponsoring wild animals in stars' names as part of such celebrations.

Weibo also said in a separate statement on Sunday that it banned 21 other fan accounts for 30 days for posting "irrational star-chasing" content. The banned fan accounts were mostly centered around K-pop celebrities, such as members of South Korean boy bands NCT and EXO, and girl group Blackpink.

Celebrities in China are often pressured to conform to values espoused by the Chinese government or face the repercussions. Celebrities such as Fan Bingbing and Zheng Shuang have been fined heavily for evading taxes, and popular actress Zhao Wei last week had her name removed from credits of films and TV shows she had starred in without explanation.

Chinese singer and actor Lu Han, a former member of popular K-pop group EXO, said Sunday that he would cut ties with Swiss luxury watch brand Audemars Piguet after a video circulated online last week showing its CEO refer to Taiwan as an "ultra-modern, high-tech country."

China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, objects to any reference to the self-governing island as a country. Under the one-country policy, other countries have diplomatic relations with either China or Taiwan, but not both.

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