Last fall, Papi Jiang, a 29-year-old graduate student in Beijing, began posting short, satirical and occasionally profane monologues about daily life in urban China to social media. Within a couple of months, she'd racked up tens of millions of views, earned nearly $2 million in private funding and raised hopes that online celebrities might offer a new revenue stream for China's Internet companies.

Then, last week, it all ended: Papi Jiang's videos abruptly disappeared.

According to an editorial in People's Daily, the official paper of the Communist Party, Papi Jiang raised two concerns. First, she used foul language, a practice out of sync with President Xi Jinping's new effort to create a "healthy, positive culture" in cyberspace. More important, she offered a high-profile example of how online media is becoming more influential than the traditional outlets that Chinese authorities have long kept a watchful eye on.