China’s Idol Groups: How to Organize Fans and Adulate People

Why young women are pouring cash and time into worshipping movie and music stars.

Wang Junkai in his fans’ eyes.

SHANGHAI-At a bustling cinema, a crowd of excited young women — and one passionate man — is buzzing about a pale boy with a bowl cut.

He’s 18-year-old Wang Junkai, the lead singer from China’s squeaky-clean, three-person boy band TFBoys. Wang’s nowhere to be seen, but the women in their teens and 20s make do by posing next to a cardboard cutout and scrawling messages of their devotion on a banner. “From the beginning to the future, just for Wang Junkai,” they scream into a camera, repeating a widely used fan catchphrase.

The crowds are Wang’s super fans, some of a growing number of young people who’ve joined clubs to support their favorite stars. China is home to hundreds of such fan clubs, which put on events, buy products, or even donate to charity in the name of their idols. In China, the fan industry is now worth billions of yuan — and is expected to reach 100 billion yuan ($15.8 billion) by 2020.

Wang alone has over 39 million followers on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, where a post he made thanking his fans on his 15th birthday gained so much traction that he holds the Guinness World Record for most reposts of a Weibo message. His fans are known as “little crabs” — the pronunciation of the crustacean in Wang’s native southwestern Chongqing dialect sounds like the latter half of his first name, “kai.” Across China, they’ve formed highly organized groups, devoting hours of their lives and plenty of cash to worshiping him and helping to boost his star power. Shanghai-based Carrie Hu, 20, and 25-year-old Zheng Tangtang head one such club, and at an event in December, they’re so busy packing gift bags and handing out pre-ordered tickets that they’ve had to forego dinner.


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This is original content by Sixth Tone and has been republished with permission.