Sean Xiao Embroiled in a Censorship Controversy Because of His Diehard Fans

Chinese actor Sean Xiao (also known as Xiao Zhan 肖战) reached new popularity heights after starring in historical drama The Untamed <陈情令>. As one of the hottest rising stars, Sean is highly sought after for endorsement deals and drama roles. However, Sean’s popularity temporarily took a hit after his diedhard fan’s behavior resulted in a boycott of the actor’s works.

Boy-Love Fanfiction

On February 24, a Boys Love (BL) fanfiction author promoted the release of her latest chapter starring Sean and his The Untamed co-star, Wang Yibo (王一博). In this particular fanfiction, Sean is a written as male who cross-dresses as a salon girl while Wang Yibo is a young student who falls in love with Sean.

The  fanfiction was released on Lofter and an international site AO3 (Archive of our own), and attracted many CP fans who fantasize the pairing of Sean and Wang Yibo. The fans created a digital picture for the fanfiction where Sean is made to look like a woman.

War Between the Two Fandom

The diehard Sean fans felt that the digital picture is an insult to their idol and issued their statement, “Your literary freedom cannot insult other people’s image. What you have done is wrong and it is right to put a stop to this.” The diehard fans rallied and started a movement to report illegal indecent and perverse literary works. As a result AO3 and Lofter were both reported to the Chinese government.

Many CP fans defended their right for creative freedom and argued that gays and transgender are natural and should not have to suffer from society’s prejudice. They pointed out that although not everyone can accept works with gay/transgender theme, the diehard fans can choose not to read the works and should not deny others of their creative freedom.

On February 27, the fans’ war escalated when the Chinese government banned a large number of fanfiction works on Lofter and eventually blocked China’s access tp AO3. The government’s swift action was condemned by the international community in South Korea, Japan, Europe and United States. The international communities spoke out to criticize Sean’s dieshard fans for reporting the sites to the government and China’s censorship.

Sean’s Image as Collateral Damage

With no signs of resolving the censorship controversy, Sean’s image took a hard hit as many netizens began a boycott of the actor’s endorsement and demanded an apology from Sean’s diehard fans. Even though Sean’s studio issued a statement to apologize for the controversy, many netizens refuse to support anything associated with the actor and forced two brands to replace Sean as the spokesperson.

Adding to Sean’s commercial crisis, his dramas such The Untamed and Joy of Life (慶餘年) experienced a decline in review ratings on , as netizens took revenge by voting down his works.

Source: HK01

This article is written by Sammi for

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  1. I think that it’s so unfair that people are angry at Xiao Zhan and hurting him. He can’t control the crazy fans. These fan fictions or MVs have gone too far also. It took him years to get where he is today. Some people never think about how their actions can hurt or destroy someone. He is so talented and lovable. I hope the normal fans will support him and he will survive this.

    Here is a YouTube video that explains the situation in details:

    1. @dramas4me Agree completely!
      I think people who hate Xiao Zhan are pretending to say they hate his fan thus hate him to have an excuse. He is too popular. Whatever he endorses, others won’t be able to endorse anymore. Yes it is crazy fans behind it, but not him. They should be angry at his fans ofc. But being angry at him when he has no control is wrong. But it’s also easy that he gains competitors and rivals everywhere so I won’t quite believe people are that blind to hate him for things he didn’t do too.

      No matter how far the fan fiction gone, they are only fanfic. Will they get the chance to become monetized and turned into real TV shows? The fans should ignore, maybe they are right that the author is bad but it’s not true that the story will have any affect Xiao Zhan at all.
      If the author’s story is truly good, he will not need to depend on Xiao Zhan’s popularity. He’s just using Xiao Zhan’s image for his character so people will read his story. He couldn’t rely completely on the story itself. Fans didn’t have to care about such person.

      1. @yoyo The author is his fan so she wrote the fanfiction for her favourite artists. It is very different to using Xiao Zhan’s popularity. And she wrote it for non-business purpose.

        Fanfiction always exist hand in hand with real artists/real movies/real shows. It is a common sense that everyone know. Nobody want to touch that field because it is a way to promote the artists and keep the fame of the artists continues after the movies/drama/shows ends. So this time, Xiao Zhan’s fans are stupid enough to touch the barrier and it was why all other fandoms get mad of them.

        Btw, it isn’t right that “Whatever he endorses, others won’t be able to endorse anymore”. To say, he actually can’t sell as many as the other young famous artists such as Kris Wu or TFBoys or even Wang Yi Bo who was in same series with him. In fact, he doesn’t have big brands on his hand, too. The best he can have as an ambassador was Tide and some small brands. He only does endorsement for a line of products (not all the products) for Estee Lauder or Olay. If you check for the amount, his fans are not able to afford big brands at all. Perhaps most of them are kids hence they are childish enough to report AO3.

      2. @alluka I agree. I do not see how fanfiction is ever going too far. Fanfiction has existed for the longest time. It brings out people’s fantasies. And that’s what they are — fans’ fantasies of celebrities or existing works. I think it’s a major disrespect for writers to say that they are just using a celebrity’s fame to bring attention to their work. It is in fact the opposite. It is because they are fans to begin with, it brings out a passion in them to pen fantasies out from their own minds about that particular person/subject in wish they’d wish to share with people that have the same curiosity or interests as them. If people are not into it, simply skip and move on. If anyone were to get offended by fanworks, then it should be the person being written about themselves. Real life celebrities, fictional characters, heck, even internet personalities/Youtubers have had very explicit fanfictions written about them. And they all take it lightheartedly as they understand what it really is — a fantasy that’ll never happen. And fanfictions can get really, really weird, but it will never affect reality. If Xiao Zhan himself wasn’t offended by the work, then it’s his fans overrreactions.

        Likewise, if people like him to begin with, they’re not going to change their opinions because of some fanworks that gender-bended him. If anyone dislikes him, they will not be looking at stuff made by his fans to begin with. Fanfiction and fan MVs are not powerful enough to tarnish an artist’s ‘ image.

      3. @minhee Moreover, the fanfiction only exists in its own place. If the author and fans of the fanfiction posted in where Xiao Zhan can reach to such as his super topic on weibo or they tagged his name to the fanfiction, it would be a different story. However, no, they didn’t. The author and her fans know well what is the restriction and they stayed in their house. It was Xiao Zhan’s fans who were crazy enough to read and report it at its house.

        So all the troubles were started by his fans (can’t say it is antifan trying to act as fan to harm him because it started with a fans with yellow mark and more than 1 mil followers in his super topic – the Chinese call people like that Big Fan). Moreover, in China, the Big Fans always have the relationship with the studio and the artist. Therefore, Xiao Zhan and his studio surely know about the action of the Big Fan and in fact, secretly agree with that action. The antifans showed evident that the hotsearch about this fanwar has been deleted and it means the studio has a hand in it (because only studio with connections and money can purchase the termination of a hotsearch). However, the apology of his studio wasn’t clear enough and Xiao Zhan keeps silent since then. It was why he is hated even more by the non-fans and the netizens.

        I think he should stand out to solve the case. Keeping silent as so is selfish, even to his fans or to AO3 fans. Nobody say that he can control all of his fans, but at least, he should try to stop them to behave crazily. Now, when the damage is there, he should at least sincerely apologize in person (not via his studio).

      4. @alluka I totally agree with you. I always find that celebrity should be able to make a strong stand to show his fans where his believes are, in a sense guiding his fans, and deter them from being bat sh1t crazy fans. He can absolutely straight out tell his die hard fans to calm down and it’s only a fanfic, yet he didn’t. He let it escalate, so he’s in the wrong.

        And as you have said it so clearly, fanfics is a world of their own, they don’t set out to hurt anyone nor to be for profit. They might be able to make money after however that’s barely anything from those sponsored website, or like a few rare cases like shadow hunters. It’s fiction, not real life, not putting the actor in shame, if anything, you should feel honoured that guys and girls love whichever version you like to be!

      5. @alluka as you said earlier, his fans are childish enough to report to a03. If he wants to make any further public statement, he should consult his legal team beforehand as this incident is clearly being blown out of proportion intentionally.

  2. 慶餘年 shouldn’t be rated down. The appearance of Xiao Zhan in 慶餘年 was very limited, only up to 1 episode. Moreover, he was the worst actor in that one. So rated down will affect other artists more especially Zhang Ruyun.

  3. Haven’t watched The Untamed but have read about the series and the lead male actors’ popularity.
    Such a shame that his fans’ actions bring more damage than help boost his career. The poor guy will probably suffer phobia of being too popular after all this fiasco. He’s so young and for this to happen is really sad indeed. After all, with so many talented, good looking actors in China who’s getting younger every day, his popularity may be for a limited time and he should’ve been profiting from his current fame by the endorsements.
    Not sure if having over zealous fans are a boon or bane to rising stars

  4. This poor guy…he’s barely been popular for like less than a year and he’s already being dragged like this. Have people SEEN how crazy his fans are? They mob him in public places and pretty much stalk him wherever he goes. I feel so bad for him. He’s been basically holed up at home for the past two months because of the coronavirus situation, not even working, and suddenly because a few of his fans decide to do something so completely stupid, he’s thrown into a fire pit. Unless there is proof he actually told his fans to report AO3 to the government, he’s as much of a victim in this whole mess as the folks who got AO3 taken away from them. It’s really sad that people are using this as an excuse to attack him and down-rate the series he’s involved in. There were LOTS of people who worked on those series, downgrading them hurt them as much as they hurt Xiao Zhan.
    I love fanfic and AO3 just as anyone else, but folks need to direct their anger to the right places, and directing it at Xiao Zhan is NOT the right direction. There is nothing he can say or do that will make things better. If he came out against his own fans, do you know how quickly some of those crazy animals will turn against him? And I’m not saying only his fans are crazy, there are a LOT of crazy people fixated in actors/idols. It’s really unhealthy and they need mental help, but I don’t think the object of their obsession should be the ones responsible for their actions and paying the price for it.
    And if he came out and said the government shouldn’t have shut down the site, then he’s inviting the government’s wrath against him. He is totally stuck between a rock and a hard place and for someone who barely got popular and probably has no clout, he’s really screwed.

    1. @dalebaines he can totally disassociate himself with the fanatics. You can’t just let the crazy fans dictate your career. Many celebrities have crazy fans, and many said: these actions of this group of fans is not what I stand for – is all he needs to say, and that would reduce the hate on him instantly, and literally redirect the hate to the crazed fans. Instead the dude hasn’t said anything official, just his management company, which isn’t good enough, why he is getting a lot of hate.

      And for all those keep saying he need to consult his legal team, uh, how is saying: I’m not condoning these actions equate to I’m guilty???? Do you guys know laws at all lol. Unless there is evidence that links him to the fan’s actions, he wouldn’t even get a letter of hearing lol. There are many many ways to say how sorry he is for the current situation without jeopardy himself in any way.

      1. @littlefish new news states that his big fan said the action to report AO3 was leaded by his studio. And he himself once stated that he knew every statement of his studio.

        So we can conclude that: Xiao Zhan and his studio stood behind everything.

        It explains well why he is so silent as so.

      2. @alluka The only thing that makes me think it’s not the case of what you say is from what I understand he lost lucrative sponsorship deals because of this, so for the sake of profits, you’d think he or his studio wouldn’t have wanted this debacle. I agree the prolonged silence is weird. It’s like he’s just disappeared, but I don’t agree ever that he should apologize for his fans’ actions unless he actually encouraged it. And I would need more proof than just finger-pointing by the perpetrators to believe that. You never know if his big fans are already starting to turn against him by throwing the responsibility on him and his studio due to the hate they’re getting. They’re the ones who reported AO3 to the government, fucking cowards should own it and stop trying to redirect the blame unless they can prove they were instructed by Xiao Zhan and his studio. I’m saying this because I have seen how sick his fans, and fans of other idols, can be, so I tend to believe they’re the troublemakers rather than someone else.

      3. @littlefish My understanding about how the Chinese entertainment industry works is that crazy fans DO have a lot of influence on an idols’ career there. They’re called “big fans” or something, like the official fan clubs for the actor. They seem to get a lot of say in things which is really truly disturbing. Isn’t it members of his main fan group that caused all of this? If he were to say, I disassociate myself from them, can you imagine how disastrous that could be as well?

        His management company is shit. I don’t even follow his career as closely as many people do and even I know that. They didn’t even want him to get the role in The Untamed to begin with. Just based on some of the stuff I’ve seen his management team do it is highly questionable on how they handle him so who knows if they’re shutting him down even if he wants to do anything. What I find odd is that no one else in the industry is even speaking out on his behalf…I think one of his costars on The Untamed just said he likes him and that’s about it. Accused rapists have more support than Xiao Zhan has at this point.

        I agree it is odd how silent he’s been…it’s almost like he’s MIA completely. But again, we can never know if that’s his management team putting him on a lockdown or what the hell’s going on. If the people around him are telling him to not say anything and they’re the ones controlling his career, what could he do?

      4. @dalebaines while I agree that the fans does drive the actor’s career, I don’t think the fans necessarily drive his decision? (Not when it comes to pick and choose what drama to be in, who to sponsor, and what clothes you wear – there is a certain degree of influence no doubt, but not concrete hard push). It’s not hard to release a personal statement on weibo/twitter by yourself. At some stage, you need to see how bad the management company is and just ignore them or walk away. But now I think the damage has been done. Even if he couldn’t walk away from the management company, I’m sure he should be able to disassociate himself from the bad fans, because at least then he won’t lose the true fans and get hate from potential fans

      5. @littlefish No you’re right, I was thinking about it, and especially seeing the new article JS just posted here, I do agree it’s time he says SOMETHING. If that much damage is already being done to his career, then for God’s sake, SAY something, dude. Even if it’s against his management team’s advice or whatever. Write something from the heart, or vid it, and just post it. And if he’s not allowed to post on his own weibo cuz maybe he actually doesn’t have control of it, create another acct and post it. You’re right, there are ways. I still don’t think he should have to apologize for the fanatics who worship him because he really has no control over everyone in his fan group, but maybe say something that won’t encourage future behavior like that from his fans.

        And on the slight chance that maybe he did condone their behavior, the reporting or whatnot, then maybe he should also come clean about that too and at least apologize specifically for the emotional turmoil the actions caused because he didn’t foresee the severity of his actions. That is ONLY if he condoned the reporting to the government.

        What’s really discouraging about this whole debacle is that people are so willing to forgive celebrities who have cheated on their spouses (or worse), been accused of sexual assault, harassment, and other infinitely more heinous deeds, and yet everyone is already so ready to call for this particular actor’s blood over something that is pretty mild in comparison. Can’t read fanfic or post it on AO3? Find another way. When there’s a will there is ALWAYS a way (I heard people are already finding a way). It’s not the end all be all to life. But this is what people are willing to destroy a man’s career over. It’s crazy. His antis must be so happy so many sheep are doing their work for them.

      6. @littlefish The article that just got posted on this site today made it sound pretty bad tho, like he’s on the cusp of losing everything. Hopefully it was just an exaggeration.

  5. Haven’t keep up with XZ management/agency, have THEY speak out at all???!

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