BY THE EDITOR
China’s A-list actors getting exorbitant salaries has been quite a controversial topic in the society in recent years, even before the highest-paid star Fan Bingbing was fined for 884 million yuan ($129 million) for tax evasion last week.
Fan’s punishment shows the authority is taking measures to address the issue of extremely uneven, and unfair, distribution of wealth, which may lead to widespread disenchantment among the ordinary people.
To a deeper extent, this issue also goes against the socialist value, the ideological foundation of China’s leading Communist Party.
Back in 2016, a survey conducted by China Youth Daily showed that 93.7 percent of the 3,402 respondents agreed that stars earn too much, and 59.8 percent agreed that their earnings should be capped.
“The demand for popular actors and actresses to appear in TV dramas, films and reality shows is huge,” said Shi Chuan, Vice Chairman of the Shanghai Film Association, according to a Beijing Review report in 2016.
How much do China’s A-list actors, as well as celebrities, make?
A-list actors’ fees have moved in line with box-office receipts’ rise from less than $1bn a decade ago to more than $6bn in 2016.
The 10 highest-earning celebrities in China pulled in more than 2.26 billion yuan in 2017, up 19.2 percent from 2016 and 173.6 percent from 2015, according to Forbes, with Jackie Chan topped the list with 330 million yuan.
Fan came the second by making 300 million yuan. That is more than America’s highest-paid actresses — Emma Stone, Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lawrence.
Fan stayed on top of Forbes China Celebrity List from 2013 to 2016. She had never fallen out of the top-ten spots from the list since 2005, the second year of its inauguration.
Fan’s total income from 2013-2017, according to Forbes, stood at 904 million yuan.
Fan Chengcheng, her younger brother, launched a celebrity V+ membership system on the Sina Weibo social media platform, which requires 60 yuan membership fee every six months to view high-definition photos of him. Overnight 80,000 fans paid 4.8 million yuan.
In Comparison, China’s per capita disposable income stood at 25,974 yuan in 2017, up 7.3 percent in real terms after deducting price factors, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
It stood at 23,821 yuan in 2016 and at 21,966 yuan in 2015.
China’s authorities have said in June they are capping the pay of actors as part of a move to crack down on tax evasion and “money worship” in the industry.
Actors in Chinese films and TV programmes will have their pay capped at 40 percent of total production costs. Meanwhile, lead actors cannot be paid more than 70 percent of total cast pay, the government says in a notice.
The government said it is needed to deal with “sky-high pay” for actors, “yin-yang contracts” and “tax evasion and other issues”.
These problems have “damaged the health of the film and TV industry”, and led to “money worship”, “the youth blindly chasing celebrities” and “distorted social values”, the notice added.
Film stars, including Fan, were alleged to have used so-called “yin-yang contracts” – a practice where one contract sets out an actor’s real earnings, and another details a lower figure, with the latter submitted to the tax authorities.
Fan’s case may be just the “tip of the iceberg” as far as tax evasion is concerned, said People’s Daily, in an opinion piece published last month. It said yin-yang contracts involve stars, production companies and investors, among others.
China’s box office revenue exceeded $8 billion last year, second to North America’s nearly $11 billion.