To people outside China, 网红(Wang Hong) has little meaning. Indeed, even in China it has no direct English translation. An extremely new, and highly cultural specific term with layered meanings, Wang Hong could refer to two kinds of Internet celebrities: those who create original contents that went viral over the internet, or those who can draw millions of followers online with an attractive appearance. China’s Great Firewall blocked access to YouTube nationwide, but the first kind of Wang Hong falls right into the category of the typical YouTube micro-celebrities. The other category, comprised of fashionable young women who acquire a fortune from their online fame, is what the term most commonly refer to. From here forward I will address Wong Hong as only the latter. The essay will examine the rise and implications of Wong Hong as conditioned by China’s prevailing socioeconomic climate.
The research report will start by distinguishing Wong Hong from the micro-celebrities in the conventional Western context, with Marwick’s definition of micro-celebrity. It will proceed to illustrate the reason Wong Hong is only viable in China’s particular socioeconomic climate: the bulging middle class fosters China’s consumer boom, while the digital habit of the 90s generation starts to dominate the society’s consumption pattern. This young generation of spenders, in particular, is more consumption-oriented than their predecessors. This digital naive generation constitutes a large portion of Wong Hong ‘s fan base, or followers. I will draw in the ideas Lisa A. Lewis raised in her “Fandom as Pathology,” that fandom is socially symptomatic and psychological compensation. Although Lewis took the fan as the admirer of an idol, her analysis in fact provides a clear picture for the psychology of these young female followers. The online celebrities harvest a stunning wealth by leading online sales (of their personal businesses) with glamorous posts. Insecurity — the desire to become glamorous online and the mental transportation or belief that one can become as glamorous as the Wang Hong by having the identical cosmetic products and luxury items — allows Wang Hong‘s ecosystem to flourish. The drive of social comparison of middle/upper-middle class in the reality sphere has been distributed over the digital sphere.
The implications of the phenomenon is twofold: first, social media celebrity incubators such as TopHot emerge to provide soil for people with the impetus; second, the dominant popularity of Wang Hong across multiple platforms institutes a rigid, homogeneous, standardized aesthetics for female beauty, from facial features and body images to the luxurious dress codes.