The video for one of their most popular songs, “Manual of Youth,” shows the boys dancing with comic book superheroes in a classroom aglow with pastel colors as they sing: “The sun of this world can only shine on me brightly because of confidence. The center of this stage only flashes for me.”
That wholesome schoolboy image has won TFBoys love not only from Chinese fans, but also from the government. They have twice been featured on the Chinese Lunar New Year television gala staged by CCTV, the state broadcaster. The Communist Youth League’s official Weibo account often promotes the group’s activities. In April, it posted an item about Wang Yuan’s receiving a special award from United Nations officials in China for his proposals on education.
On International Children’s Day in 2015, the Communist Youth League released a video featuring TFBoys singing “We Are the Heirs of Communism,” the song of the Young Pioneers, the Communist children’s organization. In the video, they wear the Young Pioneers’ signature red scarves and sing: “Love the country and the people. Fear neither hardship nor the enemy.”
“One way the Chinese government controls the entertainment industry,” said Zhu Dake, a cultural critic at Tongji University in Shanghai, “is by honoring and financially rewarding those who, from the government’s perspective, are conveying positive values.”
In this case, “positive values” means not just traditional values such as filial piety, social harmony and hard work, but also deference to the party line.
The Chinese authorities are quick to discipline celebrities who break the rules, whether by indulging in illicit drugs, soliciting prostitutes or demonstrating sympathy for Hong Kong or Taiwanese “separatists.” Recent victims have included South Korean entertainers. Since South Korea agreed last year to allow the United States to install a missile defense system — called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad — South Korean shows have been blocked from the Chinese internet, and South Korean singers and actors have been barred from Chinese television.
“No company can risk sponsoring a ‘bad boy’ band that might end up on the government’s blacklist,” said Zou Dangrong, the chief executive of the Hunan Dangrong Film and Television Media Center, which trains people to become online celebrities. “The celebrities can’t have a ‘tainted history.’ They can’t just do whatever they want. That’s common sense in China.”
Mr. Zou said the TFBoys’ success was also a sign of the progress of China’s entertainment industry.
“Before the early 2000s, the mainland Chinese entertainment industry was dominated by Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Celebrities from those places were regarded as true stars,” Mr. Zou said. “But it’s different now. We have the money, and the market. What’s more, entertainment companies have learned the key to producing successful idols.”
The TFBoys’ fame is reaching beyond the music industry, and bringing film offers. Wang Junkai had a role in Zhang Yimou’s movie “The Great Wall.” Wang Yuan appeared in the film adaptation of the popular writer Guo Jingming’s fantasy novel “L.O.R.D.: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties.”
Ms. Jia said she was saving money for one of TFBoys’ fourth-anniversary concerts in August. “I’m happy to do all this for them,” she said.
“I love their persistence, their maturity, which is remarkable for people their age,” she said. “When I’m feeling bad, I tell myself, ‘These boys are working so hard, so why can’t I?’”
How will she feel if, as these boys grow up, one of them breaks loose and does something really scandalous?
Ms. Jia did not seem ready to face that possibility. She paused before responding.
“Well, I don’t believe they will,” she said. “There’s a Chinese saying: At the age of 3 you can already see what a man will be like when he is old.”