Over the past couple of years, there has been a trend towards more heavy-handed censoring in China, particularly for content that strongly represents Western ideals and culture. Each year, as China’s population becomes more global, online, educated and well-travelled, its censors battle harder to keep China ‘pure’ and free from the evils of sex, drugs and civil rights that have polluted the West.
While China’s censoring of the Internet is well documented, rules require everything from mainstream advertising to TV soaps to get the big State tick before being aired in the Mainland. “The Empress of China” – its biggest-budget soap ever made following China’s only female emperor during the Tang Dynasty, was abruptly pulled after its release in late-December 2014. After a few days the show returned with cleavage shots strategically removed from the lead actress, Fan Bingbing. It happened at a similar time to announcements that the Shanghai Auto Show was likely to ban racy models.
If you’re like me and use the Internet in China, constant censoring in China is nothing new, but it has stepped up in recent months. To view a lot of foreign content in China, even sites like Google Translate, Internet users need a VPN. Frustratingly, the state has been stepping up its defence against VPNs, causing them to less reliable and making browsing English language sites like chewing sand at times.
In addition to automated tools, China has an army of more two million people – larger than many country’s entire work forces – monitoring tirelessly, viewing websites and social media content to ensure that they are appropriate. In mid-January the Authorities announced that they had closed down about 2,200 websites and 20 million online forums, blogs and social media accounts in 2014, and more than one billion social media posts had been removed for inappropriate content.
It wasn’t long after that, when WeChat, China’s most popular social network, showering users’ screens with American flags when any one of its 468 million+ users mentioned civil rights or something to do with Martin Luther King, Jr. The so-called ‘technical glitch’ wouldn’t have won any favours with Beijing.
Possibly the most interesting outcome of the incident was an article covering the story on Beijing’s mouthpiece, The Global Times. The comments below the article were littered with highly inappropriate comments (see below and http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/902824.shtml) – even the ‘C’ word remained unfiltered. In a twist of irony, it seems that State Media remains one of the last bastions of uncensored commentary in China. Who would have thought?