Forget fanmail – young Chinese are finding a new way of paying tribute to their favorite stars: charity

By Li Ying Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-6 17:03:01

Chinese actor Wang Kai, who plays the role of Ming Cheng in the TV drama The Disguiser. A fan of his recently sponsored the construction of a road in Sichuan Province in Ming Cheng's name. Photo: CFP

Ming Cheng is best known as the handsome and diligent butler of the well-connected Ming family in 1940s Shanghai. He also happens to work for the KMT intelligence agency - and as an undercover operative for the Communist Party of China.

The fictional star of TV drama The Disguiser, a hugely popular spy drama that aired in China last year, Ming Cheng quickly became beloved by viewers as a brave and resourceful patriot. He was a character whose very appeal seemed to spring from the dramatic period in which he resided - until, that is, this spring, when Ming walked out from the screen into the real world.

In May, news began to spread online about the construction of a 1.5-kilometer dirt road in an impoverished, mountainous area of Sichuan Province that was to be a boon for the village, allowing for students to attend school and the local economy to develop. The project in and of itself wasn't so unusual - what was, was the plaque naming its benefactor. It read, "Donator: Ming Cheng."

Fans of the show were abuzz - who really donated that road on behalf of Ming Cheng?

Fans await the appearance of their idol. An increasing number of fans have begun to channel their adoration into charity efforts in their idols' names. Photo: CFP

Unmasking the individual donor

On Weibo, a social networking site known as China's equivalent to Twitter, the "Ming Cheng Road" sparked hot discussion and a hunt for the mysterious patron.

They wouldn't have to wait long for their answer - days later, Frederica (pseudonym), a white-collar worker in Shanghai, unmasked herself as the project's donator by uploading an album of photos featuring the "Ming Cheng Road."

The post has been forwarded over 6,000 times, and gained almost 10,000 likes. The money was given to a private charity dedicated to building roads, schools and bridges in rural areas across China.

"Initially, I had the idea of donating under the name 'Fans of Wang Kai,'" Frederica told Metropolitan. "However, I changed my mind because I wanted to remind people of Wang's performance in this role rather than the actor himself."

Frederica counts herself not only as a fan of Wang, but as one of his "friends among the audience" - Wang's preferred name for his most active devotees.

Frederica said through the donation, she hoped to express her great appreciation for Wang's vivid portrayal of Ming Cheng. "To me, Ming Cheng was the beginning that led me to admire Wang Kai. Moreover, Ming Cheng is a patriot who, I'm guessing, would not mind having a road built in poverty-stricken areas under his name."

Frederica is not alone in using charity to pay tribute to her idol. While many die-hard fans in China have spent small fortunes on buying billboards or newspaper pages to express their love publically for their pop-culture idols, a growing number have begun channeling their adoration into charity - a trend that has proven a welcome change.

A search on Weibo yields a variety of charity programs involving fans and their idols. They are especially popular among fans of rising young stars, such as singer and actor Lu Han, Kris Wu and the band TFBOYS.

Even fans overseas are starting to join in. Twenty-two-year-old Tulip lives in Yangon, Myanmar. The idol who won her heart is Chinese-born Canadian singer and actor Kris Wu. Tulip first noticed Wu after watching the music video for the song "Mama" when Wu was still a member of the South Korean boy band EXO. 

Since then, Wu has become something of an obsession for Tulip. "I've looked up everything about him and started stalking him [online] whenever I have free time," said Tulip.

In 2015, when an especially heavy rainy season in Myanmar led to flooding in the country, Tulip, along with 14 other meigeni [the nickname for Wu's fans], jointly made a donation consisting of 17 bags of rice, each weighing 48 kilograms, and 90 bottles of purified drinking water under Kris Wu's Chinese name, Wu Yifan, to the Htoo Foundation for flood victims in Myanmar. 

"People in disaster zones were dying every day due to a lack of food, clean water and basic necessities," recalled Tulip. "I posted about my donation plan on Facebook and told Myanmar meigeni that they could join me if interested. And they agreed with my idea of donating under Wu's name.

"I think donating to charities is good, because this kind of almsgiving is valued by every religion," she added. "We just wanted Wu to know there are also Myanmar meigeni standing by his side."

Singer and actor Kris Wu, one of the celebrities whose fans often help out at charity events. Photo: CFP

Organizations dedicated to charity

While some like Frederica and Tulip choose to donate individually, others fund organizations that regularly launch projects specifically targeted at collecting donations from fans of a particular celebrity.

Supported by the fans of Chinese singer and trendsetter Li Yuchun, winner of the 2005 season of Super Girls, a nationwide singing competition show, the Chinese Red Cross Foundation launched the Yumi's Loving Care Foundation in 2006. It is considered China's first fan-driven charity fund. More than 12 million yuan ($1.8 million) has been raised for charity over the past decade, according to Lee Weekly, an online publication about Li compiled by her fans.

Fans are not just giving money to those in need, many are also volunteering themselves to help out at charity organizations.

For example, according to the Weibo account of Jackson Yi Micro Public Welfare, a fan's charity organization dedicated to TFBOYS member Yi Yangqianxi, a number of his fans recently visited a "hospital classroom" for children suffering from leukemia in Yunnan Province, one of the events that the group organized for this year's International Children's Day in many cities in China. 

Not just crazy fans

According to a recent article on tracking fans' charity efforts, the major force driving this trend is young fans (mostly those born between 1990 and 1995) responding to their idols' devotion to charity as well as their desire to build up the public image of their idols.

Duan Xinxing, a psychology professor at China University of Mining and Technology whose work focuses on youth development, suggests that society should view this fan-driven charity in a positive light. "Idol worship is a cultural phenomenon and a stage of life that most people around the world experience as part of their development."

She added that young people learn to form their personalities based on their understanding of their idols. Influenced by these idols, they also want to do something beneficial for society.

It's a positive form of interaction between fans and their idols, she said. "The active participation of fans makes the means of celebrity charity efforts more diversified." 

Prior to donating her annual bonus to construct the "Ming Cheng Road," Frederica used to make donations to support economically disadvantaged students.

"As the saying goes, the fragrance always remains in the hand of he who gives a rose to others," said Frederica. "Wang Kai rejects gifts from fans, instead encouraging them to donate to charities. And I believe that it is better to show our love for him by engaging in charity rather than sending luxury gifts."

While some view the fans' enthusiasm for their idols as crazy or fanatical, Tulip pointed out that everyone is crazy in his or her own way, in the same way that people are crazy for flowers or music or books.

"The most important thing is that our craziness is not something bad for others. At least we are not drug addicts or doing something bad," she said.

"Our idol-fan relationship is motivating and relies on one another. Their words give us motivation. We give them strength and they make us happy."

"Things that the older generations thought were crazy and unreasonable, have ended up being drivers of social development," said Duan.

"When fan charity becomes a fashion, it will quietly lead to real change."

Frederica said Wang Kai noticed her Weibo post about the "Ming Cheng Road," because she got one like from him.

"It's unbelievable. Actually I took a screenshot of it in case he regrets it," she said.

Newspaper headline: Pop philanthropy

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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