, ,

The Jackson Yee Incident and Income Inequality in China

In July 2022, Jackson Yee, a well-known young Chinese actor and a member of the idol group TFBOYS, fell into the whirlpool of online public opinion because he obtained a permanent position in the National Theatre of China. Many netizens questioned the admission results and eligibility of Yee and two other actors. They felt celebrity privilege led to their acceptance. Despite Yee’s insistence on his innocence, he chose to give up the position he received. This incident underlines the social ramifications of income inequality in China.

Jackson Yee and The National Theatre of China

Yee, 22,  rose to fame as a TFBOYS singer, but since then has acted in a number of films including Better Days, nominated for an Oscar in 2019.  He has over 90 million followers on Sina Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.

There are two key doubts about Yee’s acceptance to the National Theatre. First, Chinese netizens questioned Yee’s eligibility to apply for the National Theatre of China. First, to be eligible one had to be unemployed, but Yee obviously wasn’t. In addition, when doubts escalated, the National Theatre of China refused to release interview videos and application details that the government required. Yee’s hire angered so many Chinese people not only because of celebrity privilege in the job market but also because of the overarching issue of huge income inequality in China that has long been a source of concern among netizens.

The Huge Income Gap Between Celebrities and Ordinaries in China

In China, the income of celebrities is unimaginable for ordinary people. For instance, Zhang Yixing, one of the most famous rap stars in China, paid $2.8 million in taxes in 2018.

And the income inequality in China goes beyond the most popular celebrities. Even tepid and unknown stars appearing in a single commercial performance earn tens of thousands of yuan. On the other hand, office workers in big cities may earn between 7,000 yuan and 10,000 yuan a month (equivalent to $1037 and $1482) while in remote counties, wages average no more than 3,000 yuan (equivalent to $44) a month.  In particular, this income inequality has caused outrage on social media.

Efforts To Cap Celebrity Salaries

In response to that netizen outrage, the Chinese government has embarked on a series of measures to correct disparities.  In 2018, China introduced a new mandatory policy that in television production, the salary of the leading actor cannot exceed 70% of the sum of the salary of all artists and 40% of the total production cost. This means that extremely high salaries for actors will be a thing of the past.

Moreover, China is enforcing this rule. For example, Zheng Shuang, a well-known Chinese actress, earned $25 million for appearing in just 77 days of a TV show. After public outcry, an investigation found that the production company did not follow the protocols and that Shuang had evaded taxes between 2019 and 2020. The government ordered the production to not hire Shuang again, and fined Shuang $45 million in back taxes.

Efforts to Raise Income Level of Rural Chinese

In addition to making the income of celebrities more reasonable, the Chinese government is also committed to improving the income level of the general public. This is the key to reducing income inequality in China. The Chinese government plans that by 2035, the rural population with lower incomes today will experience a 157% increase in income. Further, in order to achieve this goal, China will build digital infrastructures in rural areas to make the production and life of rural people more efficient, thereby creating greater economic benefits. If this plan can be carried out smoothly, by 2035 the income inequality in China between celebrities and ordinary people should be significantly reduced.

-Ella Li
Photo: Wikipedia Commons