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In late February, a certain hot topic on Weibo started to trend.
[Controversial? Actor? That can only be Jiang Ying. His acting is shit, and his personality is garbage. He's a fabricated idol, through and through.]
[I would also nominate Jiang Ying. I've had nothing good to say about him since he used all those alts to diss people. And his fans are all so aggressive. They spend all day talking shit about Ye Xiaohan.]
[Psst, his fans are really vicious. What do they call themselves? Shadows?]
[??? Wtf is your problem? Can you not drag our Jiang Ying-gege into this? Why don't you run along and do your homework or work some overtime?]
[See, now his fans are here…]
[I want to nominate someone. Qi Zhu. He's just as controversial as Jiang Ying.]
[But, but, but there's nothing bad to say about Qi Zhu's acting skills. It's just that his personality is a little too cold. Rumor has it he's pretty standoffish even with people on set, and he even made a newbie cry. Does that mean he has a bad attitude? A lot of people have dug into those rumors.]
[Qi Zhu has plenty of other scandals.]
[Scary… let's not talk about him anymore. I hear his comment control ability is super strong.]
[Fuck, one of these commenters changed their name and ran away? What's so scary, huh?]
[Sisters, I have a risky little idea. What do you think would happen if these two people starred in a drama together?]
[Oh, they would definitely fight, right? HouseflyRubbingHandsTogether.jpg]
"Today's netizens are all so naive." Jiang Ying, at some charity dinner party, scrolled through Weibo and sighed. "First of all, there's absolutely no way Qi Zhu and I would ever shoot a drama together."
"Why?" asked Jiang Ying's assistant Chen Shu. "He's a popular actor, and you're… at least internet-famous. If the right opportunity comes up, isn't it possible that you'll costar in something?"
"We have a bad relationship. We fight every time we see each other. Everyone in the industry knows that." Jiang Ying shook his head. "No director who hopes to put out a good drama would want to see us working together."
The person who was currently making a speech to the guests of the dinner party was dressed in a prim and proper suit. His hair was neatly combed. As though hearing something, he swept his gaze over to Jiang Ying's table.
The contents of the speech had been determined by the event organizers, which meant it was a rather dull and dry monologue.
And so it was that Assistant Chen saw Jiang Ying, quick as lightning, lifting a hand and sticking up his middle finger at the speechifying Qi Zhu.
Assistant Chen fell silent.
There was no denying it. Their relationship certainly wasn't good, and it seemed Jiang Ying was the one who instigated their disputes.
"Being controversial means you have a lot of fans and anti-fans," Jiang Ying said as he took out the laptop he always carried with him. "But take me, for example. I can control how frequently I get involved in new scandals. Sooner or later, the fresh new actor Jiang Ying will be legitimately popular."
He looked up at his assistant and waved his glass about, as though making a speech of his own. "Understand?"
"Not… really." Jiang Ying's assistant Chen Shu earnestly shook his head.
Jiang Ying was definitely the first person who could sound so proud of himself for being controversial.
Jiang Ying. Controversial net star. His mother was the famous screenwriter Song Jingxi. His father was the legendary movie star Jiang Zheng. His older brother was the recently-retired world-champion-level esports player Jiang Xun. And his older brother's partner was top boy band T.ATW's lead dancer Gu Wei.
His whole family had dreams and ambitions that they worked hard to achieve. Only Jiang Ying seemed happy enough to stagnate.
This sort of degenerate was easily satisfied. He clearly felt no guilt over simply treading water in life.
Chen Shu had to call the agency every time Jiang Ying trended and needed damage control. He had to make frequent appearances before the media just to say, "No comment." But, otherwise, he felt like it was pretty easy being Jiang Ying's assistant.
"Let me put it this way. I haven't been involved in any scandals all month." Jiang Ying reached for his phone and opened the Weibo app. "And today, I seem to have done something that scored me loads of new fans."
That afternoon, at the airport, he had chewed out a professional paparazzo. His words were fierce, his attitude was earnest, and a passing auntie had even flashed him a thumbs up.
Assistant Chen also opened up Weibo. What he saw rendered him speechless.
Whether or not Jiang Ying had gained new fans remained to be seen, but Assistant Chen immediately saw that Jiang Ying was trending.
Assistant Chen snuck a glance at Jiang Ying. Was this what Jiang Ying called 'controlling the frequency of his new scandals'?
The tag sat high on the trending topics list, and news traveled fast in the entertainment industry. Many people at the dinner party were shooting their table curious looks.
One seat over, Jiang Ying casually took a phone call.
"Ge? I'm filling in for you at that charity dinner. What's up?" Jiang Ying greeted.
"Do you really need to ask? I didn't take over the agency that long ago, and you've already been causing trouble for me every day," said Jiang Ying's older brother Jiang Xun from the other end of the line, without any trace of patience in his tone. "I'm starting to understand why your manager always complained about you."
"These people are obviously just making a big deal out of nothing," Jiang Ying said. "All I did was scold a paparazzo. That's the sort of thing that should net me some new fans, right?"
"Fans? Yeah, you're pretty good at netting anti-fans." Jiang Xun took a few seconds to calm himself. "Scolding a paparazzo is one thing, but do you even know what you said? In front of all those cameras, you cussed someone out and told his mother to die."
"That guy has dissed me online, and this time he pushed down one of my fans while trying to get that camera in my face. The poor girl fell down and scraped her knee so bad it started to bleed. If this sort of guy wants to come offline and start shit, shouldn't he make sure his mother is well-protected first?" Jiang Ying clearly felt he had been perfectly justified in his words and actions. "I only have a few real fans. Isn't it my job to protect them?"
Jiang Xun was silent for a long moment.
"Fine, I got it," he said in the end. "I worry about you. Don't cause any trouble at the dinner party."
Jiang Ying grunted a noncommittal response, then hung up and heaved a deep sigh. "People really change after they get married. They get way chattier."
Assistant Chen didn't dare say anything about the big boss, so he pretended not to hear Jiang Ying's remark.
Controversial stars trended from time to time. That much was inevitable. Netizens were so used to seeing it already that they were hardly surprised when a video clip of C-list net star Jiang Ying began to circulate. In the video, Jiang Ying stood in the crowd at the airport, fiercely spitting insults at a paparazzo.
Whoever posted the video clearly had an agenda. They'd snipped out the part where a fan was pushed down, leaving only footage of Jiang Ying losing his shit at what may have seemed like an innocent photographer.
Jiang Ying's fans, his 'shadows', had already grown accustomed to seeing this sort of thing.
@Shadow Will Always Love Gege: #BoycottPaparazzi# Our gege has never hidden his true colors. Forgive him.
@Has Jiang Ying Posted Today: #TheGooseIsLoose# If you all have time to gossip about this nonsense, why not check out our gege's supertopic? Take one look at his gorgeous face, and you'll be in a good mood all day.
Jiang Ying's anti-fans were also unfazed by this sort of news—
@User99236788: JiangYingKANI, shouldn't you thank someone when they photograph you? It means they think you're worth photographing.
@Hydrangea Baobao: The controversial ones really are arrogant.
Assistant Chen scrolled through Weibo for a while and discovered that the most interesting responses to a video like this came from passersby who weren't terribly invested in Jiang Ying.
Passerby: Jiang Ying is trending again? I hear he's the son of the legendary movie star Jiang Zheng. It's too bad. If he learned to keep his mouth shut, he would be pretty popular.
Assistant Chen strongly agreed with this passerby's sentiments.
Presently, Jiang Ying was wearing a white hoodie. Since he was attending a charity dinner party, he hadn't done up his hair in any wild or ostentatious style. He sat quietly, chewing on the straw in his glass of fruit juice, and focused intently on whatever he was looking at on his phone. He almost looked like a good, well-behaved student.
Jiang Ying, in that moment, had the appearance of temperament one would expect from an idol.
Or, at least, that was what Assistant Chen would have thought. If he didn't know what Jiang Ying was doing on his phone.
Jiang Ying used his main account to like the video that some tabloid had published to smear him. Then he grabbed his laptop, logged into seven or eight of his alt accounts, and started to personally cuss out his anti-fans.
"Don't you get tired?" Assistant Chen asked timidly as he watched Jiang Ying log into all those alts.
Most artists in the entertainment industry wouldn't go out of their way to read negative comments about themselves online, because they would often be attacked for baseless and inexplicable reasons. But Jiang Ying was different. He had a steady heart that refused to be fazed by attacks against his character, and he seemed to feel it was necessary to personally shut down each and every one of his antis. He often sacrificed huge amounts of his time and energy in order to defeat his enemies, and many of his alts had already been banned in the line of duty.
A lot of people liked him. And a lot of people hated him.
The agency had only made one request of Assistant Chen: not to let Jiang Ying fight with people on his main account.
"This controversial idol never gets tired," Jiang Ying claimed. "I love this shit."
His fingers flew across the keyboard, clicking and clacking and gleefully sending out countless new messages from his various alt accounts.
Jiang Ying's Alt Account 1: What do you think an idol is? You think an idol exists just for you to attack them? Do you think these celebrities owe you something?
Jiang Ying's Alt Account 2: The paparazzi photograph people they think are worth photographing? Then I'm calling you a little turd because I think that's exactly what you're worth.
Jiang Ying's Alt Account 3: Can you antis grow some brain cells? You jump at the chance to attack Jiang Ying whenever you see any little thing on Weibo. Your type can even find a way to drag Jiang Ying in the comments of an article about the price of pork going up. Should I assume you're damaged? Or that you don't have a brain at all?
"What are you snickering about this time, idol?" The voice came from behind Jiang Ying. Someone had approached and stopped behind him. That someone abruptly reached out and grabbed Jiang Ying's right wrist, yanking his hand away from the keyboard.
Jiang Ying spun around. Standing behind him was Qi Zhu, who had just been making a speech on stage.
As soon as those two made eye contact, Assistant Chen felt a chill race down his spine.
"Black suits don't suit you." Jiang Ying looked Qi Zhu up and down. "Makes you look old."
"Hoodies don't suit you either," Qi Zhu responded with an inscrutable expression. "Makes you look like you're pretending to be young."
Assistant Chen was nearly thirty. As he watched these two young men in their very early twenties bicker over matters of looking old and pretending to look young, he silently scooted farther away for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
"What do you want?" Jiang Ying asked as he closed his laptop.
"Here, for you." Qi Zhu placed a large paper bag on the table in front of Jiang Ying.
Jiang Ying's interest was sufficiently piqued. "What's this?"
"The event organizers prepared it as a gift for the presenters," Qi Zhu said. Then he turned to leave.
"You're giving your unwanted freebies to me?" Jiang Ying found that hard to believe. "Since when do you give people things?"
"Yes," Qi Zhu answered with a nod. A hint of sympathy slipped into his typically indifferent tone. "Tomorrow is the last day of February. You only have a birthday once every four years. It must be hard."
Jiang Ying fell silent for a moment.
Then, he complained, "Are you looking down on leap year babies?"
Qi Zhu didn't pay him any more mind. He left the paper bag and walked away.
"What the hell is in here?" Jiang Ying mused. He was still undeniably curious.
Inside the bag, there sat a stuffed penguin and a little box.
Assistant Chen watched as Jiang Ying picked up his phone, opened up QQ, and found a chat with someone nicknamed 'Class Monitor'.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: What's in the box?
[Class Monitor]: Smart speaker. 'Gossip Buddy'.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: What does it do?
[Class Monitor]: It's an AI. You like to fight. When you're bored, I figure you can fight with it.
[Big-Clawed Crab]: Oh? You're dissing me?
[Class Monitor]: Oh.
"Who's 'Class Monitor'?" Assistant Chen asked, peering over at Jiang Ying's cell phone screen. He got the inexplicable feeling that these two were bizarrely close.
"Qi Zhu, obviously. We used to be classmates," Jiang Ying said. "You see now, right? There's no way we could shoot a drama together. Our relationship is just way too bad."
Based on their exchange just now, it was plain to see that Jiang Ying was overly aggressive and Qi Zhu was disinterested in paying much attention to Jiang Ying.
Assistant Chen wasn't sure if that meant their relationship was bad, and he didn't dare make a guess. But when he glanced at Jiang Ying's phone, he caught a glimpse of the QQ app interface. Next to Class Monitor's name, there was a big ship1.
1. In QQ (an instant messaging app), a big ship next to someone's name means you and that person talk to each other more than you talk to anyone else on your contacts list.