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SOCIETY & CULTURE

By Zhao Jing, Yang Rui, Zhao Runhua and Mo Yelin / Mar 23, 2019 06:27 PM / Society & Culture

The death toll for an explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China's Jiangsu province rose to 64 as of Saturday morning, with 21 in critical condition and 73 seriously injured, state-run broadcaster CCTV broadcaster reported.

Another 28 are still missing as of Saturday morning, the state-run Xinhua News Service reported.

The blast, which created an enormous fireball and registered as a magnitude 2.2 earthquake, occurred at 2:48 p.m. Thursday in the factory located in an industrial park in Yancheng city in Jiangsu province, about 270 kilometers north of Shanghai.

The cause of the blast is still under investigation. But a worker told Caixin that a fire started in a truck carrying natural gas and expanded to tanks storing benzene, which is highly flammable. Benzene is naturally found in crude oil and petroleum products and is commonly used to make plastics and synthetic fibers.

In the aftermath of the blast, all factories in the park have halted production, Caixin has learned. Many of those factories were damaged by the explosion.

Related: Contamination Fears After East China Chemical Blast Kills 47


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SOCIETY & CULTURE

By Teng Jing Xuan / Mar 22, 2019 05:57 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China’s urban residents were more inclined to save or invest their money than to spend it in the first quarter of 2019, according to quarterly figures from the central bank released Friday.

Of the 20,000 depositors across 50 Chinese cities surveyed by the People’s Bank of China in the most recent quarter, 25.9% said they were more inclined to spend, down 2.8 percentage points from the previous quarter, while 45% said they were more inclined to save and 29.2% were more inclined to invest, up 0.9 and 1.9 percentage points from the previous quarter respectively.

The survey also asked respondents how they felt about employment.

The bank’s Employment Sentiment Index reading was 45.8% in the first quarter, up 0.3 percentage points from the previous quarter but still under 50%, which indicates that overall sentiment is still negative. Only 16.3% of respondents thought the employment situation was good and that it was easy to find jobs, while 51.9% thought it was average and 31.8% either thought the situation was poor or were unsure.

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By Ge Mingning, Wei Shumin, Liang Yingfei, Yang Rui, Qi Xiaomei and Zhao Runhua / Mar 22, 2019 12:45 PM / Society & Culture

Flames were still visible at the site of the explosion in Xiangshui county, Jiangsu, 16 hours after the explosion on Thursday. Photo: Caixin

Flames were still visible at the site of the explosion in Xiangshui county, Jiangsu, 16 hours after the explosion on Thursday. Photo: Caixin

An explosion Thursday at a chemical plant in eastern China has killed at least 47 people and seriously injured 90, according to state media.

The blast, which created an enormous fireball and registered as a magnitude 2.2 earthquake, occurred at 2:48 p.m. Thursday in Jiangsu, a province that produces much of China’s agricultural chemicals.

The factory, run by Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemicals, is located in an industrial park in Xiangshui county, and there are concerns about exposure to the chemical benzene that allegedly caused the explosion.

Benzene is commonly used to make plastics and fibers and is naturally found in crude oil and gasoline. Exposure to benzene is known to cause cancer.

A worker told Caixin that a fire started in a truck carrying natural gas, and expanded to tanks storing benzene. The worker witnessed two blasts, and said the area outside the facility was chaotic with people rushing to escape. The government has not officially announced the cause of the blast.

By 6 a.m. Friday, 16 hours after the accident, there were still visible fires and audible blasts in the area, with black, blue, and yellow smoke rising, witnesses told Caixin.

According to public government records, in January 2018, a local inspection group found 13 safety risks at Jiangsu Tianjiayi Chemicals, including insufficient operating rules for benzene storage. A family member of a worker at the plant told Caixin that the company suspended production in 2018 due to safety concerns but quickly resumed operation by the end of the year.

Rescues are ongoing, and residents and workers in nearby areas have been evacuated. China’s National Health Commission is also sending doctors and mental-health experts to the site.

See more photos here.

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By Tian Jiawei and Zhao Runhua / Mar 20, 2019 12:44 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The university admissions scandal in the U.S., which involved influential public figures bribing and cheating their children’s way into elite institutions, has been widely discussed in China. Caixin’s Chinese-language story about the scandal was one of our most-read articles.

The popularity isn’t hard to explain. China, home of Confucius, places foremost importance on education. But it has been struggling with corruption and lack of equal access to education for decades. A recent scandal involving celebrity Zhai Tianlin — who managed to get into prestigious schools but allegedly obtained fraudulent academic qualifications  re-sparked the debate here about privilege and higher education in China.

In the U.S., students normally apply to universities based on their scores on standardized tests, which, granted, they may take several times. But a number of other factors are included, such as extracurricular activities and awards.

Meanwhile, Chinese have their singularly important annual college entrance examination, also known as “Gaokao” — which in most cases solely decides a student’s fate, no matter what other supplementary activities they’ve done.

While China also has its admission bribery and privilege-related access problem, its situation is worsened as well-off parents pour money into exam training classes, including private tutors, to help their children ace the Gaokao. And as China’s wealth gap widens, the divide between who can and cannot afford this preparation is also widening.

Though China must address corruption in its admission system and provide more equitable access to Gaokao prep, one opinion writer, Qi Kezhan, stressed keeping the exam but introducing more flexible and diverse admission criteria.

Related: Record Numbers Take Grad-School Exam Amid Shaky Job Prospects

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By Du Sisi and Isabelle Li / Mar 20, 2019 01:29 AM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China’s ongoing efforts to contain a national African swine flu epidemic are moving from the farm to the slaughterhouse.

That’s the word from the Ministry of Agriculture, which has set a May 1 deadline for local offices to “clear up” potential disease-spreading risks associated with slaughtering procedures, according to an announcement on the ministry’s website.

Slaughterhouses without pollution discharge permits or proper disease prevention measures will be ordered to take immediate corrective actions or shut down. Those that take rectification steps but fail to meet standards by July 1 will be disqualified as slaughterhouse operators.

Slaughter must be suspended for any pigs that might have the disease, and pigs suspected of carrying the virus must be isolated for further testing, according to the announcement.

The Ministry of Agriculture said in January that more than 916,000 pigs had been culled as of Jan. 14, as China grapples with a disease that is highly contagious among pigs. A Caixin estimate based on official numbers puts the latest figure closer to 950,000.

Related: Lack of Recompense Could Leave Pig Farmers Struggling After Swine Flu

 

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By Zhao Runhua / Mar 19, 2019 07:23 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

A 13-year-old boy surnamed Shao stabbed his 37-year-old mother to death on Saturday, during a family argument over the mother’s “harsh” discipline, local police in Yancheng, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province said. The boy has since been arrested. Police did not disclose any further details.

The case, though still under investigation, has raised public concerns, as this is not the first of its kind. Last year, a 12-year-old boy surnamed Wu killed his mother with a knife after she caught him smoking at home and beat him with a belt. The boy was later released, as the age of criminal responsibility in China is 14, but his case triggered heated debate over the punishment of juvenile crimes.

In 2018, China established a new department under the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the country’s top national body responsible for prosecution and investigation, to make and update related regulations for juvenile crimes.

Related: How Legal Loopholes Helped a Boy Who Stabbed His Mother to Death Avoid Punishment


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By Shen Xinyue and Tang Ziyi and Ren Qiuyu / Mar 18, 2019 02:42 PM / Society & Culture

The Chengdu No. 7 Experimental High School. Photo: IC

The Chengdu No. 7 Experimental High School. Photo: IC

Parents were enraged, an investigation was launched, the story went viral. Students at a Chengdu school were being served moldy and rotten food, based on photos that circulated last week.

But now, authorities in the southwestern city are alleging that the photos were faked, after their investigation found that only one out the 18 samples collected from the Chengdu No. 7 Experimental High School’s canteen did not meet safety standards.

On Sunday, a local investigation team announced that three people have been detained for disseminating “fake information” after CCTV footage showed them entering the canteen storehouse and trampling on food before taking photos last Tuesday.

The authorities said that a sample of noodles was found to contain mildew – but that the other 17 ingredients it tested were clean. Another three samples, however, are still being tested for salmonella, and results are forthcoming. Authorities also seized 22.5 kg of “substandard” noodles.

There was no way to verify the accuracy of the authorities' claim that the photos were faked. But between March 13 and March 16, 929 of the school’s students were sent to the hospital for check-ups in response to the scandal, and three students were hospitalized for acute appendicitis, inflamed abdominal lymph nodes and abdominal pain.

The school's principal has since been dismissed, authorities announced.

Related: Private School Fires Supplier That Served Students Spoiled Food

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By Zhao Runhua / Mar 15, 2019 07:46 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The Forbidden City is more than just a cultural treasure – it’s also a highly lucrative intellectual property asset. In 2017, the palace seized an impressive 1.5 billion yuan in revenue ($223.29 million) from the sale of souvenirs alone.

However, those wishing to leverage the Forbidden City’s reputation are finding it much harder in another realm: dining.

Opened last month on the first day of the Lunar New Year just outside the palace’s northern gate, the new Corner Tower Restaurant advertised a special chrysanthemum-flavored hot pot supposedly adored by Empress Dowager Cixi, one of the most powerful women in Chinese history. The idea seemed to be a winner – some foodies arrived at the restaurant as early as 3:30 p.m. to secure their seats.

The customers were less excited upon eating, however. Some complained that taste was less than satisfactory – especially given the fairly steep price tag, often over 200 yuan per person.

The incident kicked off greater online debate over whether or not the Forbidden City is “over-commercialized,” and the restaurant has since suspended all hot pot services.

The restaurant told Caixin on Thursday that it has no plans to resume its hot pot – and even though Spring is typically a popular time to visit the Forbidden City, no diners were spotted at the restaurant during Thursday’s peak lunch hour (more photos here).

Related: Hot Pot Chain Haidilao Brings Spice to Hong Kong Market

 


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By Bing Qianli, Wuhua Lu, Zhao Runhua / Mar 14, 2019 04:19 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

A TV series has triggered heated debate in China, portraying the “true” driving force behind Chinese families: to raise children as products to satisfy parents' needs, and to conduct familial relations like "business deals.”

In “All is Well" very little is well. In the Su family, a dominant mother has grown up in a family that adores only male members, and so she raises her two sons as assets that serve emotional needs she failed to receive in her childhood. Meanwhile, an ordinary and vulnerable father has little voice in decision-making.

A son is turned into the family’s “honor earner,” a Stanford graduate who under-appreciates the tuition fees he gets from the mom who has sold her apartment to procure the money. This is all deemed ok as long as he brings “glory” to the family.

Another son is raised as an "acknowledgement giver," who compliments the mom to heal her childhood wounds and get money and attention in return.

The daughter, meanwhile, is seen a "useless nothing," as there are no needs she can fulfill. Receiving little support from the family she desperately wishes to leave, the girl finally grows up as an independent woman but struggles with commitment to trust or love.

Two psychologists writing on WeChat argued that the show's popularity is largely due to its real-world portrayal. They believe many Chinese families are in an abnormal state in which kinship is about parents raising children to satisfy their own needs and children serving those needs to receive love and attention in exchange. The twisted intergenerational relationships become a cycle that the Chinese families can hardly break free from.

“The tragic legacy passed down by previous generations can only be resolved if one generation can be aware of the harm and refuse to sacrifice others' lives in order to heal their own wounds. It is not easy, but we hope we will be that generation,” the psychologists said.

Related: Despite Viral Trailer, Peppa Pig Movie Disappoints at Box Office

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By Wang Jiawen and Tang Ziyi / Mar 14, 2019 09:05 AM / Society & Culture

Sun Yang. Photo: VCG

Sun Yang. Photo: VCG

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has filed to appeal a decision clearing Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, a three-time Olympic champion, of wrongdoing after he destroyed a doping control sample in September.

Sun was “party to smashing a container of his blood with a hammer last year,” Swimming site Swimvortex reported on Wednesday.

The swimming star was initially let off with a series of warnings from international swimming authority FINA. But Sun could face a lifetime ban if the Court of Arbitration for Sport, an independent institution located in Switzerland, finds that he broke WADA rules.

Sun, one of China’s best-known professional swimmers, was previously suspended in 2014, for taking a stimulant.

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By Luo Guoping, Zhao Runhua / Mar 13, 2019 06:14 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

A major coal-producing city in Shaanxi province is set to resume the operation of several mines, which were suspended in January after a serious mine collapse that killed 21.

On Monday, Yulin city released a list of coal mining companies that will soon resume operation. The total capacity of the mines is around 130 million tons per year. The city government had previously announced in February that it would resume coal production of around 200 million tons per year worth of mines. It is not clear if all mines affected by the accident will be allowed to re-open soon.

Some mines in Yulin have lowered the price of coal by around 20 ($2.98)--40 yuan per ton, as they expect coal supply to increase.

After the January accident, the city halted an estimated 150 million tons of coal production due to safety concerns, pushing the price of coal sold at local mines up by as much as 150 yuan per ton.  

Yulin city produced 456 million tons of coal in 2018, over 12% of China’s total coal production that year.

Industry watchers believe the city’s recent decision will affect related coal futures, with the prices of some futures already declining.

Related: City Halts Coal Production After 21 Killed in Mining Incident

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By Zhao Runhua / Mar 05, 2019 06:16 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

One of China’s most famous – and controversial – entrepreneurs died at the age of 91 on Tuesday.

Chu Shijian, former president of tobacco company Hongta Group, was known as China’s “King of Tobacco.” 

Chu was appointed head of Hongta when he was 51, and went on to transform the group into the one of the largest tobacco companies in Asia.

In 1999, the year Chu turned 71, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for “economic problems,” a term that can refer to any financial wrongdoings, including bribery and fraud. But Chu was granted a temporary release merely two years later due to his health conditions, and his sentence later was reduced.

During his temporary release in 2002, China’s tobacco king began planting oranges in China’s southwestern Yunnan province alongside his wife. The oranges became hugely popular, especially within the business community, and fans affectionately called them “Chu Shijian’s oranges.”

Related: Rebounding Tobacco Sales Spur Calls for Tax Rise


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By Charlotte Yang / Mar 01, 2019 02:38 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

When the FBI raided Don Miller’s home in rural Indiana in 2014, they'd never seen anything like it.

Miller had amassed around 7,000 cultural relics from all over the world, including the skeletal remains of 500 people looted largely from Native American burial grounds.

The operation was the largest single discovery of cultural property in the history of the FBI, according to the local Indiana bureau. Miller, an amateur archaeologist and a renowned scientist who helped build the first atomic bomb, had likely acquired those items in violation of federal law and international treaties, according to the FBI.

Miller died at the age of 91 in 2015, complicating the already difficult task of returning the artifacts to their legal owners.

Now, part of the case has finally been resolved. In a ceremony with Chinese officials, the U.S. announced on Thursday that it will return 361 cultural relics and artworks to China, including jade objects, stoneware, coins and woodcarvings dating from the Neolithic period to the Qing Dynasty.

Chinese officials said this round of repatriation is the largest from the U.S. since 2009, when the two countries signed a memorandum regarding lost cultural relics.

Related: Search Continues for Ancient Relics From China’s Past

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By Zhao Runhua / Mar 01, 2019 11:05 AM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Starbucks probably didn’t expect its customers to turn violent when it unveiled its latest product, cat paw-shaped glass mugs, this week.

But after scalpers and customers began fighting tooth and claw over the limited-edition items, Starbucks said it will change the way it sells them.

The coffee chain had initially planned to release 1,000 cat mugs per day for sale online from Thursday to Sunday.

But due to “unexpected” positive market feedback and intense “passion,” the company said Friday, Starbucks will release the remaining 3,000 cat-paw cups at once today on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Tmall.

The company said the first 1,000 cups had sold out “in an extremely short time” during the first day of online sales.

Related: Tim Hortons Joins Chinese Coffee Market in Battle for Hearts and Mouths


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By Zhang Yu, Tang Ziyi and Charlotte Yang / Feb 28, 2019 07:00 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China’s employment population has shrunk for the first time ever on record.

At the end of 2018, the number of people employed fell to 776 million, a drop of 540,000 from 2017, according to annual census data published Thursday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The working-age population, or people between the ages of 16 and 59, also shrank — for the seventh consecutive year, down a total of 2.8% from 2011 to 2018, a clear sign that China’s population is aging rapidly.

Last year’s working-age population stood at 897 million, down from 902 million in 2017, according to the NBS. Li Xiru, director of the Population and Employment Department at NBS, warned last month that the employed population would further drop in the coming years.

The country’s shrinking work force creates more headaches for officials as it pushes up labor costs and places more strains on an economy already struggling against external headwinds.

Related: Chart of the Day: China’s Shrinking Workforce

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By Charlotte Yang / Feb 28, 2019 06:36 PM / Society & Culture

Photo:VCG

Photo:VCG

Chinese high school students generally outperform their western peers at math — at least, that’s what many in the country believe.

That assumption was shattered Monday, when China placed a mediocre sixth at the 2019 Romanian Master of Mathematics (RMM), a major math competition for pre-university students. The U.S. won the championship for best team, while the highest individual prize went to an Israeli candidate.

Math competitions like the RMM are serious business in China, where participation can give students a leg up in university admissions.

China’s defeat on Monday prompted social media users to ask if recent Ministry of Education curbs on math competitions were misguided.

Since the ministry requested that universities limit preferential admissions for math competition participants, interest in the subject has fallen, one Weibo user said, in a comment that received 2,200 likes.“Chinese parents still take a utilitarian approach toward education.”

Others said the government should avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and encourage participation from truly talented students.

Chinese students’ foundations in math are “not as solid as before,” Zhai Zhenghua, the Chinese RMM team’s coach, said in an interview with Chinese online media outlet Pear Video. “Overall, our level has declined while other countries have improved.” Zhai pointed to China’s performance at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) in the past five years, during which China was frequently in the top three but never took the first place.

Still, in China, the RMM is seen as more of a practice run for the IMO in July, Zhai said. This means that although the students China sends to the RMM are all outstanding, they aren’t the country’s best, Zhai said.


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By Zhao Runhua / Feb 27, 2019 05:00 PM / Society & Culture

High schoolers march under banners that say

High schoolers march under banners that say "victory" on Feb. 26. Photo: VCG

It’s the final countdown for millions of teenagers across China.

The annual college entrance examination, or “gaokao,” marks the end of high school in the country and decides which university a student can go to. It’s still seen by many as the only way for students from poor families to change their destinies.

Every February, high schools across China organize grand military-style parades to kick off the 100-day countdown to June 6, the exam’s start date. Schools hope the parades will boost morale for student “soldiers,” and attending the exam is widely referred to as “fighting on a battlefield” (上战场) in China.

Even though China is opening more higher education institutions and encouraging existing schools to expand matriculation, competition for college admissions is growing fiercer as a gulf widens between prestigious schools and lesser-known ones.

In 2018, 9.75 million students signed up for the exam. The prestigious Peking University’s acceptance rate that year was roughly 0.03%.

Gallery: Gaokao Countdown in Pictures

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By Zhao Runhua / Feb 27, 2019 01:06 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

You’ve heard the statistic many times before: China has pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in mere decades.

This was due mainly to China’s blazing-hot years of economic growth. But now, as it settles into middle-income-country status, it is coming to grips with more mainstream welfare programs — and the bureaucratic problems those pose.

Its latest gripe, according to a high-level conference Tuesday: Impoverished recipients of government aid are pretending to work but aren’t.

A report from the conference therefore proposed cutting direct support to those who are able to earn a basic living but still depend on subsidies — though it did not say who would get cut off, or how the government would determine cheaters.

It also pointed out several types of "disgraceful" destitution: those induced by “laziness” and “gambling,” those in which elderly parents fall into poverty as their children refuse to support them, and impoverishment caused by the expenses “related to marriage” — which could range from taking out loans to impress a potential suitor, to the expenses involved in getting divorced.

The only seeming solution the working group proposed was to “educate” this group of alleged malingerers.

As Beijing increases welfare assistance each year, illegal benefiting has become a lucrative income channel. Earlier this month, in a county in Henan province, an investigation found that only four out of 72 individuals registered for poverty assistance truly met aid requirements. In a separate scandal in the same county, residents illegally purchased poverty qualifications from officials to receive state aid.

Related: More Soybeans, Less Poverty: China’s Rural Priorities for 2019

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By Charlotte Yang / Feb 27, 2019 12:07 AM / Society & Culture

Illustration: VCG

Illustration: VCG

He thought he was getting the woman of his dreams. But a lonely 28-year-old math teacher surnamed Wu got more than he bargained for in a set-up that has attracted widespread attention involving Jiayuan, one of China’s leading match-making sites.

The resident of the eastern city of Hangzhou shelled out a hefty 10,000 yuan ($1,492) to sign up to Jiayuan’s VIP program, making him one of millions of young Chinese to turn to such services to find their ideal mate. He thought he’d found the girl of his dreams when the service paired him with a 31-year-old surnamed Zhu, who said her father was head of a major publicly traded company and listed her college as the prestigious Peking University.

The romance quickly blossomed as Wu wooed his new sweetheart online.

He told a local TV station Zhu asked him for an expensive ring on their second date to prove his affection. On their third date, she asked for a pricey gift for her mother. Wu quickly burned through 30,000 yuan within three days of dating trying to keep his Juliet content.

But the requests for gifts kept coming, and Wu grew suspicious as his wallet grew lighter. He finally got in touch with the local Jiayuan office, which informed him last month that the woman’s identity was real. Unconvinced, Wu managed to find the woman himself and confirmed she wasn’t a Peking University graduate, and was a divorcee with two kids, according to the Global Times.

In its latest statement on Monday, Jiayuan promised to compensate Wu and issued an apology, saying the woman had fabricated her identity. Jiayuan is also pressing a civil charge against the woman.

 

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By Zhao Runhua / Feb 25, 2019 05:52 PM / Society & Culture

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China is not pleased with celebrities’ traffic boosting tricks – particularly the “bots” they employ to fake traffic data.

The state-run CCTV called for a “healthier” entertainment industry, when an investigation it aired this weekend found that roughly one-third of China’s 337 million Weibo users had “shared” and “liked” a pop star’s new album – a number that is not possible.

CCTV did not specify the star’s name, but the broadcaster did show a screenshot of the Weibo page of Cai Xukun, a popular K-Pop-style star who boasts over 22 million followers on the Twitter-like platform.

Celebrities’ commercial values are often judged by their numbers of followers and likes, and traffic boosting has become a lucrative and highly sophisticated market. Spend 10 yuan ($1.5), for instance, and you can purchase 400 bot followers that are managed by machines and professional boosters, CCTV learned.

Some celebrities’ agencies allowed fans to organize album-boosting activities that artificially boost popularity. Some fans even purchase extra IP addresses to like and share songs without being detected by regulators.

In a response on Sunday, Weibo said it was aware of the “abnormally high volume” of shares of some celebrities’ posts. It also said it now limits the number of shares and comments that can be displayed on a Weibo account to 1 million, so as not to not encourage traffic boosting – though that limit had already been introduced earlier this month, before CCTV’s investigation aired.

Cai is not the only celebrity facing criticism for allowing bots. Superstar Kris Wu also made headlines last year music sales in the U.S. iTunes store were investigated on suspicion of data manipulation.

Related: Popular WeChat Account Shuts Down After ‘Endangering Social Stability’

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