President Barack Obama talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao following their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Canada, June 26, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning
One day in August 2021, Zhao Wei disappeared. For one of Chinaâ€™s best-known actresses to physically vanish from public view would have been enough to cause a stir on its own. But Zhaoâ€™s disappearing act was far more thorough: overnight, she was erased from the internet. Her Weibo social media page, with its 86 million followers, went offline, as did fan sites dedicated to her. Searches for her many films and television shows returned no results on streaming sites. Zhaoâ€™s name was scrubbed from the credits of projects she had appeared in or directed, replaced with a blank space. Online discussions uttering her name were censored. Suddenly, little trace remained that the 45-year-old celebrity had ever existed.
She wasnâ€™t alone. Other Chinese entertainers also began to vanish as Chinese government regulatorsannounceda â€œheightened crackdownâ€ intended to dispense with â€œvulgar internet celebritiesâ€ promoting lascivious lifestyles and to â€œresolve the problem of chaosâ€ created by online fandom culture. Those imitating the effeminate or androgynous aesthetics of Korean boyband starsâ€”colorfully referred to as â€œxiao xian rou,â€ or â€œlittle fresh meatâ€â€”were next to go, with the government vowing to â€œresolutely put an end to sissy menâ€ appearing on the screens of Chinaâ€™s impressionable youth.