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    China's 'Cameo' Industry in Spotlight After Celebrities' Videos for Crime Family Go Viral

    China’s celebrity personalized video industry includes Olympic athletes, CCTV hosts, and more than a few Hong Kong actors. Some have found themselves in hot water recently after netizens unearthed videos of their birthday messages for the son of a notorious crime lord in Myanmar.

    The celebrity personalized video message industry has taken off around the world, with sites like Cameo and Memmo gaining huge popularity. But in China, the industry has come under scrutiny recently after it emerged that several celebrities sent video messages to the son of a crime lord notorious for overseeing telecoms fraud operations.

    One of the “big four” crime families in northern Myanmar, the Bai family is involved in gambling, mining, and telecoms fraud operations, with many victims in China. Amid Chinese authorities’ ongoing crackdown on telecoms fraud, videos have circulated online showing several famous Chinese celebrities sending birthday greetings to Bai Yingcang, son of ringleader Bai Suocheng.

    Several of the celebrities featured in the videos have since issued public apologies, including Hong Kong actors Eric Tsang and Charlie Cho. Tsang said he will no longer take video requests, while Cho said he did it “simply for the money.”

    Personalized video messages from celebrities is a longstanding industry in China, where fandom culture has exploded in recent years. Many vendors advertise celebrity videos on popular e-commerce platform Taobao, where over 10,000 people have purchased such videos.

    One list of celebrities provided by a Taobao vendor includes Olympic athletes, who cost 4,500 yuan ($629) each for a single video, and hosts for national broadcaster CCTV, who also charge several thousand yuan.

    Other celebrities on the list include acting heavyweights Tang Guoqiang and Liu Jin, famous for playing Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in film and television, respectively. Tang charges 55,000 yuan, while Liu’s price is not displayed.

    “Hong Kong stars are the most likely to do (personalized video messages),” the vendor said.

    On WishR, a Chinese website similar to Cameo, personalized videos from foreign celebrities are also offered, including Stranger Things actor Sean Astin and singer Brandon Howard, starting at 60,000 yuan and 90,000 yuan, respectively.

    On Cameo, Astin and Howard charge $349 and $1,000, respectively, significantly lower than their price on WishR.

    More money-conscious customers can also find “artificial” celebrity videos offered at discount prices on second-hand platforms like Xianyu, where videos of celebrities are dubbed over with another person’s voice reading the client’s requested script.

    According to a vendor on Xianyu, the most expensive “artificial” video is for Taiwanese pop sensation Jay Chou, priced at 1,000 yuan.

    However, it is uncertain whether these services are legitimate. The agent of well-known actress Guan Xiaotong, who appears on the celebrity list provided to Sixth Tone for a price of 100,000 yuan, told state-run China News Service that the actress does not provide such services.

    When questioned, the Taobao vendor said it is not guaranteed that the celebrity is willing to record the video, and customers only pay when a contract is signed. “We can only try to communicate (the request),” the vendor said.

    Questions surrounding the industry have existed for years. In 2018, a man named Wang pretending to be a celebrity agent defrauded more than 20 companies by providing them fake celebrity personalized message videos, in a case involving 2 million yuan.

    Wu Zikun from Beijing Xingquan Law Firm told China News Service that celebrities are not liable for their customers’ illegal activities, as long as the video is a simple birthday message or blessing.

    Nonetheless, a commentary from state broadcaster CCTV Tuesday called for more regulation of the industry, as these videos can “elevate the buyers’ standing and reputation.”

    “This gray industry, which operates on the edge of secularism, morality, and even legality, may seem ‘harmless,’ but it has already revealed risks if it is detached from legal supervision and constraints,” the commentary said.

    Chinese and Myanmar authorities have stepped up law enforcement operations in northern Myanmar in recent weeks, with several high-profile members of the four major crime families now under arrest. The whereabouts of Bai Suocheng and his son are unclear at the time of publication.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: A screenshot shows various celebrities sending birthday greetings to Bai Yingcang, a member of a crime family in northern Myanmar involved in telecoms fraud. From Weibo)