Li Yifeng
When police detained Li Yifeng, his fans took to social media to vent

On September 11, yet another household name bit the dust. Police had detained Li Yifeng, a 35-year-old actor who once had 60 million followers on Weibo, for “visiting prostitutes” according to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau’s Weibo account.

His army of followers, or “粉圈 (fěnquān, fan community),” were quick to lament that his “house collapsed,” or “(塌房 tāfáng).” In fact, on September 10, Li had attempted to refute the allegations via a Weibo post, or “发文辟谣 (fāwén pìyáo).” That denial had many “sitting and waiting for more big melons (坐等大瓜 zuòděng dàguā),” using “melon” as a slang term for gossip.

Some fans refused to believe the accusations. “I’ve been following Fengfeng for eight years, and I will always unswervingly trust and support him. We are always here (粉了峰峰八年了,我永远坚定不移的信任和支持他,我们一直都在 Fěnle Fēngfēng bā nián le, wǒ yǒngyuǎn jiāndìng bùyí de xìnrèn hé zhīchí tā, wǒmen yìzhí dōu zài),” ran one comment on Weibo. Others insisted on seeing “实锤 (shíchuí, solid hammer)” evidence before they condemned Li.

With Li detained soon after, some quipped that those fans initially defending their idol “wanted hammer, and got hammer (求锤得锤 qiú chuí dé chuí),” and got an “instant slap in the face (秒被打脸 miǎo bèi dǎliǎn).”

They quipped that their “brother (哥哥 gēge)” was finally “进局子 (jìn júzi, sent to jail),” using a slang term short for “关进警察局 (guānjìn jǐngchájú, be detained in a police station).”

Following Li’s fall from grace, countless fans were heartbroken, and vowed to “shed my fan identity (脱粉了 tuōfěn le).” Fans following him for years, or “老粉 (lǎofěn)” sighed online: “Turns out I’ve spent eight years of my youth just feeding a dog (八年的青春喂了狗 Bā nián de qīngchūn wèile gǒu),” lamenting the time wasted following the now-fallen star. Their stories reiterated an old saying often used in fan communities: “Never be too sincere in chasing stars (追星不要真情实感 Zhuīxīng búyào zhēnqíng shígǎn).”

This was not the first time many fans had been burned. People could not help but draw parallels between Li Yifeng and now infamous former popstar and actor Kris Wu (吴亦凡): both were accused of soliciting prostitution, tried to make excuses, and were ultimately detained in prison. Many also found humor in the fact the two appeared to have been good friends: “Birds of a feather flock together (物以类聚,人以群分 Wù yǐ lèi jù, rén yǐ qún fēn),” after all. Netizens even rendered them a CP (couple) name “易吴所有 (Yì Wú suǒyǒu),” a homophone of the idiom “一无所有 (yìwú suǒyǒu),” which means to have no possessions to one’s name.

Kris Wu at the Paris Men’s Fashion Week in 2020

Police detained Wu on suspicion of rape in July 2021 (VCG)

They even borrowed the name of the popular reality TV show Call Me by Fire (《披荆斩棘的哥哥》 Pījīng Zhǎnjí de Gēge), which can be literally translated as “brothers who cut through thorns together.” The 2021 show featuring 33 male celebrities competing to form a boy band was a huge hit. As Li joined Wu in detention, netizens commented: “Someone please produce a prison reality show, called Brothers Released from Prison Together (以后出个监综吧,叫刑满释放的哥哥 Yǐhòu chū ge jiānzōng ba, jiào Xíngmǎn Shìfàng de Gēge).”

Following a celebrity’s fall from grace, aftershocks continue to reverberate (明星塌房,余震不断 Míngxīng tāfáng, yúzhèn búduàn). Brands terminate their partnerships with tainted names, while TV shows that featured them remove their scenes. If they were the main characters, the shows might be removed altogether from streaming platforms.

Worried netizens have been praying that their favorite shows don’t get canceled: “I beg of you, Empresses in the Palace (拜托了《甄嬛传》 Bàituō le Zhēnhuán Zhuàn),” one netizen wrote recently, pleading the popular period drama to avoid death by tainted celebrities. Another called on “All the leading creators [of the show], please abide by the law and be good people (全体主创拜托了,请遵纪守法,好好做人 Quántǐ zhǔchuàng bàituō le, qǐng zūnjì shǒufǎ, hǎohǎo zuòrén)!”

The 2011 TV series directed by Zheng Xiaolong is today regarded as a classic, with thousands still regularly binge-watching the show. Its addictiveness and the ease with which viewers consume it has even gained the show the moniker “legendary TV series that works up an appetite (下饭神剧 xiàfàn shénjù),” or “digital pickled mustard (电子榨菜 diànzǐ zhàcài)” after the addictive snack.

As celebrities’ houses have been “collapsing” at an alarming rate recently, netizens have used renowned lines from The Peach Blossom Fan (《桃花扇 》), a famous musical play and historical drama completed in 1699 by playwright Kong Shangren (孔尚任), to describe the current state of the entertainment industry:

I saw them build the splendid mansion,
Saw them feast and make merry,
But I saw, too, how the building collapsed.
眼看他起朱楼 (Yǎnkàn tā qǐ zhūlóu)
眼看他宴宾客 (Yǎnkàn tā yàn bīnkè)
眼看他楼塌了 (Yǎnkàn tā lóu tā le)

Others have complained, less poetically, that “the mainland entertainment industry is dead (内娱完了 nèiyú wán le),” while also wondering, “Who is next (下一个是谁 Xià yí gè shì shéi)?” on the list of celebrities to fall from grace.

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Zhang Wenjie is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese. She loves to share the lifestyles, voices, and concerns of China’s Gen Z. She is also fond of collecting and displaying the flourishing slang expressions in the Chinese language.

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