Chen Guoping's shot to fame was so sudden, and his fall just as quickly, that everyone, including himself, is still processing who he is and what he wants to be.
Chen Guoping is busier after he quit his police officer job. Photo by Gao Jia
By GAO Jia
Chen Guoping- Anti-Fraud Officer Chen - is probably the most famous police officer in China. Or was. When Officer Chen resigned from the police department of the small seaside town of Qinhuangdao (population 1.9 million) in northeast China at the end of March, the news got 100 million clicks Chinese social media site Weibo.
Then, Officer Chen disappeared. His personal live streaming channel went dark for two weeks. When he came back on air, two and a half million people dialed in. No longer the steadfast blue-uniformed guardian of public security, Chen appeared in an ill-fitting pinstripe suit bearing an equally incongruous TV smile on his face. So, ex-officer Chen, why did you quit?
“Everybody knows what happened in the past two months. Two incidents made me realize that as a public figure, things I do, even unintentionally, may reflect badly on my team.”
The first incident that “everybody” knows about happened on March 18, when Chen chatted live with “Little Six,” a live streamer who many netizens believed to be a suspected people smuggler. The “conversation” was brief and bizarre. “I only have one question,” Chen said to Little Six, “Are the streets of Cambodia paved with gold? Do you recommend people to come?”
“No, they are not. And I suggest people do not go there,” said Little Six.
Netizens were befuddled and angered. Was this stalwart of justice suggesting that Little Six had done nothing wrong? How dare he! Internet fame can be fickle and Chen suddenly found his Douyin account with a big black mark against it.
Ten days later, a mysterious viewer donated a million yuan during a live session. It was a lot of money, but influencers often receive virtual cash from fans. Chen’s account then belonged to Qinhuangdao PD and any money was always donated to a good cause, winning the approval of followers. But this time, the online mob felt differently and conspiracies immediately blossomed, even though every single yuan was donated just as before. The next day, Chen quit.
Back live, streamer-without-portfolio Chen tried to be his usual upbeat self. “My team does such an amazing job - They don’t deserve criticisms aimed at me - I’m happy to hear criticism,” He then talked about his physical condition. “With such bad rheumatism, I can’t keep up both as a police officer and an influencer - I’ll slow down, be more present, and be positive - Isn’t it exciting?”
I asked Chen if he regretted becoming an influencer. “Would I have been perfectly happy as an ordinary police officer? Probably not,” he said.
Anti-Fraud Officer Chen has 8 million followers, but it took a long time to get there. In 2018, a friend asked for help making a short film on financial crime, thought of Chen, and they ended up making 20 episodes together. The police department applauded their efforts and Chen enjoyed being in front of the camera.
In 2019, Chen opened “Anti-Fraud Officer Chen” on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok owned by ByteDance, labeled as a government account owned by the Qinhuangdao Police Department. Shortly after, Anti-Fraud Officer Chen became one of the first government accounts to have a live channel.
In his earliest live sessions, Chen talked about past cases and interviewed victims. Viewers, if there were any, were uninterested but Chen persevered and in September 2020 he got a lucky break. The day started badly. Chen tried to “tap" another host – viewers enjoy watching influencers dialing into one another's live channels and improvising on a split screen – but most people he tapped mistook him for act security guard and made fun of him.
Chen was visibly embarrassed, and began to sweat profusely when he stumbled into the room of cosplayer SONG Zhiqiang, dressed up as a eunuch for the day. Song didn’t know what to make of the visitor, uniformed and unmade-up, not the typical look of a Douyin personality. A few long awkward seconds passed.
“Hey, I fight wire fraud. What do you do?” Chen finally said, following the formula of a “tap.”
“I’m not a fraudster. I’m an entertainer. I just, you know, make people laugh,” Song said, confused. “I absolutely am a good guy, big brother.”
“I help people avoid wire fraud.”
“You really are a police officer?” The cosplayer saluted clumsily on the screen. “I’m an entertainer. I don't solicit gifts. My followers give them to me of their own free will. I’m not a fraud. I’m a good person.
“You tell me what you want, boss,” he continued. “I have 3000 people in the room. They can all become your followers, if that’s what you want.”
“Well, tell them to download the national anti-wire-fraud app…”
“Sure Sure. Whatever you say, boss. I’ll do nothing else tonight.” Song saluted again.
Song Zhiqiang later told me he wasn’t even acting. His account had been reported and blocked before, and he genuinely thought he was in trouble again. In fact, he blocked Chen immediately after the conversation.
Chen thought it funny, and posted the clip. It was viewed 36 million times and got 1.3 million likes. Within a week, Anti-Fraud Officer Chen had 3 million followers on Douyin and 2 million on Kuaishou. At one point that week, he had 780,000 viewers online at the same time and his internet stopped working temporarily.
Soon, Chen began to be recognized on the street in Qinhuangdao. Most people just want to know if he was really the officer on Douyin. Some ask for selfies, and Chen happily obliged. But he soon discovered that being famous wasn't all that fun. Once at a barber shop, another customer took a video of Chen telling the barber that someone offered him 800 yuan to make a sponsored post, and that he declined. The first part made its way online, with a click-bait caption, "Anti-Fraud Officer Chen discussing making money through sponsored content.”
Chen enjoyed the spotlight, or appeared to. When he holds court with reporters and fellow influencers, he shares tips. He seems confident about making a living as an influencer, although he tries to curate a persona that is beyond money. "Someone offered me 220k a year for only four videos a month. I declined, " he said.
His parents, however, are worried. Like many old Chinese parents, they liked to boast about their son's job. In China, police officers are well respected. "No job, no identity," they say. He tries to focus on the bright side of the lifestyle. “I raised a million yuan to help the pandemic effort. How many people have done that? Even by quitting, I made more people aware of the danger of wire fraud,” he said.
He says he “absolutely doesn’t get depressed reading nasty comments,” and maintains that quitting was the right decision.
In fact, his shot to fame was so sudden, and his fall just as quickly, that everyone, including himself, is still processing who he is and what he wants to be. For fellow officers, he is a decisive and resourceful former coworker. In the media, he is the compassionate hero who persuaded criminals to turn themselves in and helped poor victims anonymously. For his followers, he is a well-intentioned former police officer forced to quit by an online mob. For cynics, he is just another influencer striving to squeeze the most out of the entertainment machine. For friends, he is still big-hearted Chen Guoping, if not as carefree as he used to be.
Chen likes taking friends and visitors out for barbeques and seafood. When his guests point their cameras at the spread of food, he encourages them to post the photos online. “Tell the internet, Officer Chen is doing just fine,” he said. "My followers say, you are nothing without your uniform. I don't believe so."