China Bans Lip-Syncs and Mandates Patriotism in Celebrity Morality Guidelines

Rebecca Davis
·7-min read

China has issued a list of ten requirements and 15 prohibited acts that performing artists should use to “self-regulate” their own wayward behavior or else face punishments that include a lifetime ban from the entertainment industry.

The regulations, issued by the government-backed China Association of Performing Arts (CAPA), are set to begin a trial phase on March 1. They mark the first attempt to codify some of the long-unspoken rules of the country’s entertainment sphere that for years have pushed both local and foreign artists who ran foul of the ruling Communist Party line out of opportunities in China’s enormous market — one of the fastest growing in the music space and now the world’s largest in film.

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“In recent years, the performing arts industry hasn’t relaxed its efforts to manage [attempts to get] artists to discipline themselves, but there hasn’t been a written management method to accurately measure and implement disciplinary action and punishment, or to determine whether you should be allowed to work again,” a CAPA spokesperson explained to local outlet China News.

Among the most eye-catching of the 25 vaguely-worded and thus broadly interpretable stipulations are numerous injunctions to obey and love the Communist Party, a ban on making unauthorized changes to performance content already pre-vetted by censors, an order to adhere to contracts in accordance with law (no doubt both inspired by and a jab at tax fraudster Fan Bingbing), and an unexpected veto of the common practice of lip-syncing in commercial performances.

“I can’t tell if these new rules are supposed to punish the artists or their audiences,” quipped one commenter on the Weibo social media platform in response to the last, which has sparked the most discussion online.

Though not a binding legal document or official policy pronouncement, CAPA’s “Administrative Measures for the Self-Regulation of Performing Arts Industry Entertainers,” issued last Friday, can be taken to represent the current stance of the Chinese authorities, particularly since it was widely and glowingly promoted by all the major state media outlets that act as Party mouthpieces.

Its emergence highlights the extent to which perceived “moral character” and Party-aligned political correctness have increasingly become deciding career factors. As such, it indicates an even rockier road ahead than expected for disgraced celebs like ex-superstar Fan, who has still not been allowed a comeback more than two years after she was found guilty of the frequent industry practice of faking contracts.

Established in 1988, the previously low-profile, non-profit CAPA is a national-level organization under the purview of China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It has 31 province-level branches across the country and some 10,000 members, its website states.

It is in the process of setting up an “ethics building committee” to handle the implementation of its new guidelines and determine whether violators should face a one-year, three-year, five-year or permanent ban from the entertainment world. It is unclear exactly what authority CAPA has to enforce such pronouncements, however.

The guidelines are directed at all entertainers working in music, theater, folk art, acrobatics, dance and other types of live performance. They were created to “improve the professional quality of performers, standardize their professional behavior… and promote the healthy development of the performing arts industry.” They seek to do so by pushing artists to be better at “self-regulation” — that is, to hold themselves to higher behavioral and political standards so that they can be positive role models more capable of “guiding societal trends via the right kind of artistic ethics.”

“Our goal is to establish a better image of the industry,” the CAPA spokesperson said. “We also hope that entertainers in the industry will become more vigilant, more reverent, and better at controlling their words and deeds.”

‘Ardently Love the Motherland’ And Refrain From ‘Deceiving Audiences’

The top two out of ten new requirements for professional entertainers are political ones. Performers must above all possess the abilities to “ardently love the motherland, support the Party’s line, principle and policies… and consciously accept [government] and societal supervision.” They must also feel a sense of responsibility to become an “art worker for the new era” of President Xi Jinping’s rule by “using literature and art to serve the people and socialism.”

The third requirement is that artists must “maintain a Chinese cultural standpoint and promote the spirit of Chinese aesthetics.”

The fourth focused on personal ethics, entreating performers to “speak in a civilized fashion, treat others politely, stand upright, lead by example, focus on cultivating moral character and strengthen that cultivation in society… and actively establish a positive image.” Similarly, celebs should “guide minors to establish the right kind of values and actively resist uncivilized behavior, like disturbing the social order” — a charge frequently levelled by the state at activists and rights organizers.

Two requirements are about legal issues: one stated the need to “adhere to the spirit of contracts and execute them… in accordance with law,” while another calls for strengthening awareness of copyright laws.

The guidelines then offer a list of don’ts.

First and foremost, artists will be punished for violating China’s constitution, “endangering national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” endangering national security, or “harming national honor and interests.” The second ban is on “inciting ethnic hatred.. or undermining ethnic unity.” The cocktail of above terms are charges frequently levelled at those speaking up about human rights violations, particularly related to the fraught regions of Xinjiang or Tibet.

The third prohibited act is the violation of religious policies or the “promotion of cults and superstitions,” coming at a time when Xi is engaged in a nationwide crackdown on religion.

“Making unauthorized changes to the content of a performance that has already been reviewed and approved” could spark an inquiry for an artists, as could publishing anything that “distorts historical facts, insults national heroes and martyrs… or affects social stability.”

Other bans include ones on “illegal activities” involving obscenity, pornography, gambling, drugs, violence, or terrorism, drunk driving, and the vague charge of “endangering social morality or harming the nation’s excellent cultural traditions” — perhaps unsurprising in a country where disrespecting the national anthem is punishable by up to three years in prison.

The guidelines also came down hard on lip-syncing, stating that it should no longer be allowed to “deceive audiences through measures like fake singing or performances in commercial shows.”

“Anything related to the listed prohibitions may trigger an evaluation from the ethics building committee,” which will submit reports to the Ministry of Culture for review, the CAPA spokesperson said. It remains unclear, however, exactly how violations will be investigated or bans properly enforced.

The committee will made up of artists, agents, venue managers, representatives from the media and live broadcast firms, journalists, lawyers, and, crucially, representatives from political groups such as the central committee of the Communist Youth League.

Less than a third of members hail from the entertainment industry, as part of the body’s attempt to remain “as objective and fair as possible,” said the CAPA spokesperson, stating: “We believe that the review process should not only be for the industry itself, but must involve all sectors of society.”

Beyond issuing performance bans, the committee will try to “implement cross-industry joint punishment,” working with players in other fields to bar violators from financial or cultural success via other channels like endorsement deals. Violators may also have their awards and other honors revoked, and will be subject to a measure of critical “re-education.”

Offenders will only be allowed a comeback if the committee assesses and approves their case three months in advance. Even then, they must allow the committee to “guide them in… public welfare projects and other activities to improve their social image.”

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