Working Paper No. 91
Social Media Celebrities and Neoliberal Body Politics in China
Since 2015, a new category of media stars came to public awareness and sparked a controversial discussion in China: Internet Celebrities (Wanghong). “Wanghongs” build their fame and fandom mostly on their eyecatching and hyperfeminine appearance which they are presenting extensively on Social Media platforms to gain public attention and acquire followers and fans. The stereotypical so-called “Internet Celebrity face” (Wanghong lian) became the most discussed buzz word of the year 2016 and led to a society-wide discussion about new beauty ideals and the growing popularity of cosmetic surgery, the objectification and commercialization of the body, as well as the increasing importance of an appropriate appearance for the individual’s social and economic success since the 2000s. For tracing these questions, the article analyses the development and characteristics of this new group of celebrities and locates them in the booming “Beauty Economy”. By literally selling their beautiful face, Wanghongs convert symbolic capital through e-commerce and online advertising into real economic advantages. The utilitarization of “body capital” heats up the public discourse about yanzhi (value of a pretty face) in China’s status-conscious society. With an analysis of the so called “Internet Celebrities” phenomenon this paper looks behind the sparkling Social Media façade and reveals the social and economic conditions that led to this new ideology of beauty as capital in China.