Viya, China’s queen of live streaming, has been fined RMB1.34 billion ($210 million) and had her social media account suspended as punishment for tax evasion. The penalties make her the latest celebrity target in 15-month crackdown on the country’s entertainment and cultural industries.
Tax authorities said on Monday that the 36-year-old Viya (real name: Huang Wei), has underpaid her tax despite repeated reminders, “severely threatening national security of tax income,” and earning her a heavy penalty. However, she would not face legal charges if she pays up her fines on time, the authorities added.
State media The People’s Daily commented that the law will not be lenient in regulating the development of the new economy. Other celebrities have been told that they have just ten days to get their tax affairs in order.
Viya apologized on her Weibo microblogging account, saying that she accepted the penalty completely and will raise money to pay off the fines in time. Her husband Dong Kaifeng also made a public apology.
Viya is one of China’s biggest social media influencers and has sold vast quantities of dollars of goods through her live streaming activities. She was named the country’s number one in 2021 by website Zhihu, with more than 17 million fans on the Alibaba-owned e-commerce site Taobao, delivering an estimated sales turnover of more than RMB300 million ($46.5 million).
Viya is not the first social media influencer to be fined recently. Last month, two other live streamers were fined and had their online shops and social media accounts suspended. But the scale of Viya’s fine is staggering. It is almost double that of China’s top female movie star Fan Bingbing who was ordered to pay RMB883 million ($129 million) in 2018.
Chinese authorities have been waging war on what they see as unhealthy or immoral elements within the entertainment and cultural industries and have described the sector as “chaotic.” Celebrities and prominent business leaders are also being used as high-profile examples.
In addition to Fan, actor Zheng Shuang was this year embroiled in a surrogate controversy earlier. She was fined $5 million for tax evasion in August. Idol Kris Wu was arrested over alleged rape charges and detained by the police in August. Beloved actress-director Zhao Wei was scrubbed from the internet and has vanished from public sight in September. Beijing last year also abruptly halted the blockbuster IPO of Ant Group, controlled by Zhao’s close friend Jack Ma.
The crackdown also appears motivated by the government’s plans to have the media and entertainment sector serve Communist Party ideals. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently told 3,000 members of the industry that they are “culture workers.” He explained that celebrities, entertainers, creatives and artists, must possess moral character. Art and culture should not be the slaves of the market, Xi said.