Online fan clubs have been mobilizing with remarkable efficiency to get supplies to embattled hospitals treating coronavirus patients.
As the coronavirus takes its toll in China, infecting thousands and inundating hospitals short on resources, help is coming from an unexpected source: celebrity fan clubs.
In one week in January, the online fan clubs of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and Mariah Carey pooled together more than $19,000 worth of supplies and donated them to hospitals in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the outbreak.
Since the epidemic began last month, Chinese fan clubs have been at the forefront of grass-roots efforts to support Hubei’s embattled hospitals. Their efforts have highlighted the remarkable efficiency and organizing power of online fan clubs, which are otherwise known for getting members to show up at celebrity appearances.
Their efforts have been contrasted against those of China’s Red Cross Society, which has been slammed by the public for its handling of donations and inefficient distribution of much-needed supplies, especially protective clothing for doctors and nurses.
All through the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January, Charlie Zhou, a coordinator for the Taylor Swift fan club in China, was busy collecting donations from members and using the money to buy equipment and supplies for hospitals.
“We spent an entire day discussing it in a WeChat group,” he says, referring to the Chinese chat app. “Then we wrote down the donation info, what hospitals the supplies should go to, and who the contacts are.”
“Everything is public and transparent, so people know where the money goes.”
Another fan club—of Chinese actor Zhu Yilong, who is from Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak—was already thinking of ways to help as early as Jan. 21, when a prominent Chinese scientist said the new coronavirus could be transmitted from person to person.
That night, members on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, agreed to buy 200,000 face masks, 200,000 sanitizing wipes, and 1,000 bottles of soap. They would be distributed to workers and tourists in Wuhan, as well as installed in public toilets.
Zhou, the coordinator of the Taylor Swift group, says the fan clubs try to maintain transparency by using payment apps such as WeChat Pay and Alipay to record transactions.
“Everything is public and transparent, so people know where the money goes,” he says.
Zhou says he even asked medical staff to show their licenses before sending donated items, and posted screenshots of deliveries to show members that they had arrived.
Yaya, the coordinator of another Chinese fan club that donated to Hubei hospitals, says the groups were able to coordinate the donations because they were used to organizing large-scale events for their members.
“When our idols show up for television appearances, for example, we need to prepare gifts for the host and other guests, and if they give us permission, we’ll also buy some food,” she says. “While standing outside the studio, we will also bring banners to support our idol.”
Many fan clubs also have their own finance teams to keep track of donations and spending, which allows them to organize charitable events.
Every year on Swift’s birthday, for example, the fan club in China contributes to one cause. In 2017, they donated over 1,200 trees to a desert in central China. In 2018, they raised funds for a charity that helps blind and deaf children. Last year, it was an organization that trains guide dogs.
Yaya says fan clubs engage in these activities because they believe they’re an extension of a celebrity’s image.
“For our idols, we do charity work to transmit positive energy,” she says.
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.