Nowadays, Chinese celebrities have faced endless issues due to privacy violations. Netizens can’t help but be shocked at the scene of hundreds of people renting trucks, hiding in the woods, climbing walls, etc. just for photo hunting.
Who are the people stalking your idols? And what are the purposes behind their actions?
Fansite masters – Zhanzi/ Zhanjie (站子/ 站姐)
Fansite masters are particularly well known amongst fandoms and even familiar to the celebrities themselves. They’re dedicated fans who follow their idols to take stunning photos and share them online. They’re also the organizers of many fan support projects.
There is a fine line between fansite masters and stalker fans. Both having the celebrities’ itineraries through various sources, but fansite masters only follow public work schedules which allow fans or the general public to attend including public airport schedules.
Fansite masters also have to make sure that their photos are only released after the programs/ films/ events/ etc. which they take pictures of are officially broadcasted. Otherwise, their photos could be considered as spoilers which potentially cause their idols to get cut from the final version of the programs/ films/ events/ etc.
In short, despite following and taking photos of celebrities, fansite masters must have their limits and must protect their idols’ benefits.
There are some cases that well-known fansite masters could even be considered as business partners to celebrity studios. These fansite masters help maintain the celebrities’ exposures and dynamics online through their photos. Since fans are always in a thirst for their idols’ latest materials, fansite masters’ photos are a good resource for them instead of buying pictures from illegitimate sources.
The fansite masters usually sell photobooks or goods using their photos to support their star-chasing expenses including flight tickets, entrance tickets, etc. Many of them can even make a profit from being fansite masters.
Stalker fans – Sisheng (私生)
Similar to Korean sasaeng fans, sisheng are obsessive fans with extreme and crazy manners. In order to satisfy their selfish desires, they follow, peek and secretly photograph idols’ personal lives as well as non-public schedules.
These stalker fans buy celebrities’ private information including their flight information, ID numbers, mobile phone numbers, home addresses, passport numbers, etc. through their relationships or illegitimate sources on the Internet.
Those illegitimate behaviors cause serious troubles and distress to celebrities’ works and lives. At the same time, by disrupting public order and bringing hidden dangers to public safety, these stalker fans often cause damage to their idols’ reputations.
Moreover, these stalker fans are easy to turn into anti-fans as they don’t receive friendly looks from their own idols. A stalker fan of Song Yaxuan turned in anti-fan, requested him to apologize, and gave away his phone number after the TNT member posted a picture of her on Weibo.
Paparazzi – Gouzai (狗仔)
Paparazzi are groups of photographers who secretly follow celebrities to take photos or sneak shots in hopes of discovering hot gossip and breaking news.
Paparazzi is a lucrative industry. By catching and selling controversial moments of celebrities such as engaging in extramarital affairs, taking drugs, entering and leaving inappropriate places, etc., paparazzi are able to line their own pockets with a large amount of money.
Paparazzi cause a lot of trouble to the target celebrities, violate their privacy, and make them live under public surveillance 24 hours a day. However, the paparazzi are generally believed to bring public attention to celebrities to a certain extent.
The paparazzi are generally carried out by teams. The celebrities still have opportunities to save their careers by negotiating with paparazzi teams to buy their scandalous pictures. If there is any laws and regulations violation, the celebrities could at least sue the company behind the paparazzi. Thus, there is possibly a certain relationship between the paparazzi and the celebrities.
Fan-paid photographers – Daipai (代拍)
Different from paparazzi, fan-paid photographing is usually done in small groups or by individuals, which is more difficult for celebrities to protect their rights through legal litigation. Thus, fan-paid photographers almost have no limit in their behaviors.
If paparazzi seek gossip-able pictures, fan-paid photographers don’t care whether the photos are newsworthy as long as they are clear enough. Fan-paid photographers are neither professional journalists nor fans of anyone. These people stay all year round at locations most likely to encounter celebrities such airports or film studios and take photos of celebrities as their daily work. They then sell the photos to fans on online platforms at high prices.
As a product of the fan economy, fan-paid photographing have now formed a complete gray market. The illegitimate business has grown significantly due to fans’ real-time demand for celebrity dynamics. Searching for topics such as “buying photos”, “selling photos” and “fan-paid photographing” on Weibo, it’s easy to find marketing accounts publishing photo transactions, celebrity lineups of certain events, or pick-up schedules at particular airports, etc.
The prices of the photos determined depending on how hot the celebrities are and how much the demands are. Celebrities who have become famous in recent years are more likely to have a higher number of new and enthusiastic fans. These fans have the highest demand for celebrities’ real-time exposures.
In 2020, a package of 300 pictures of THE9’s popular member Esther Yu, for instance, is sold at 600 yuan, while Xiao Zhan’s price is higher than the average with 2,000 yuan for 50 pictures.
Fan-paid photographers who camped “The Untamed” filming did not expect that the drama would become popular. As a result, the price of the photos shot up unexpectedly high. Thus, a large number of fan-paid photographers are betting on upcoming dramas with the similar bromance theme such as “Immortality” (Chen Feiyu, Luo Yunxi), “Faraway Wanderers/ Word Of Honor” (Zhang Zhehan, Gong Jun), “Winner is King” (Tan Jianci, Chen Zheyuan), etc.
Many government institutions have shown their awareness of privacy infringement and public disorder issues related to celebrities. For instance, the People’s Daily published an article criticizing the chaos caused by fan-paid photographing in December 2019.
In July 2018, the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued the “Notice on Strengthening the Management of Fan Pick-up and Follow-up Phenomenon” which mentioned the need to strengthen internal personnel management to prevent leakage of well-known passengers’ itinerary information and reinforce airport security to ensure the safety of flight operations.
In recent years, as legal awareness has gradually increased, celebrities and producers have filed lawsuits for reputation rights and image usage rights. However, it is difficult to find legal precedents regarding the infringement issues involved in “fan-paid photographing.” Even a serious issue like what the “Immortality” film crew encountered was only kept at the state of “calling for a boycott.”
The cost of bringing a right protection lawsuit is relatively high while the number of illegitimate acts is as high. It’s almost impossible to sue them one by one. In the meantime, the situation is difficult to change unless the demand diminishes.