China on Friday declared all cryptocurrency transactions illegal, trying to end its citizens’ use of digital currencies that operate without government control. It was just the latest in a series of restrictions imposed by President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party.
There is a silver lining to the fact that isolationist measures are becoming more drastic: they show just how much more difficult and elusive such government control is in a globalized economy and in the age of social media.
Last week, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, a shorthand video app called Douyin with 490 million users, announced a 40-minute-per-day restriction for its users under the age of 14. on the youth video game, which has become limited to one hour per day on weekends and holidays. “Sissy idols” and “sissy men” are now banned from the media. And the more traditional censorship is still going strong, with China refusing to allow the release of Marvel’s hit film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in its theaters.
While the bans on effeminate men and cryptocurrency may seem to have little in common, they are both emblematic of how Xi and his party want to keep China safe from foreign and individualistic influences, these measures repression furthering its goal of greater control over all aspects of Chinese economy, culture and education. While displays of power are deeply damaging to those aggrieved by these measures, the fact that isolationist measures are becoming more drastic has a silver lining: they show just how much more difficult and elusive such government control is. in a globalized economy. and the age of social media.
Many of the new restrictions on social media, video games and other teenage hobbies have been seen as “proactive measures” in response to China’s tightened child protection law, which allegedly seeks to “protect the physical and mental health of minors ”through strict mandates on the time minors spend online. The same goes for the ban on “sissy idols” and “sissy men” enforced by the National Radio and Television Administration of China, and the pressure exerted to curb fan groups in order. to reduce their “chaotic” influence on youth and culture. As a result, several fan accounts for BTS, BLACKPINK, and other K-pop or South Korean pop music groups have been suspended on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform with half a billion monthly users. .
The tightened controls come from Xi, now president for life, and are part of a “national rejuvenation” plan to rid the country of the influence of “low moral standards” and end “irrational behavior”. As such, repression has a dual effect. More directly, it allows the government itself to mold young minds to its specifications and reduce exposure to foreign viewpoints. More subtly, it undermines the authority of parents, who are usually the ones who wonder how much time their kids spend on social media and video games or what music they can listen to and what celebrities they can pin on their walls. In other countries, private negotiations take place within families over screen time restrictions. Parents can have conversations about the values celebrities stand for and whether they agree with them. Within the framework of civil rights and Chinese ideology, it is the government that applies a strict and uniform mandate.
Art of foreign origin is the most threatening to the Chinese government. No matter how respectful a production like “Shang-Chi” is to Chinese culture, with much of the film performed in perfect Mandarin and plot points inspired by Chinese myths, this is an American film. of Asian origin. Co-written and directed by Asian-American filmmaker Destin Daniel Cretton and starring protagonists from the Asian diaspora such as Simu Liu and Awkwafina, the film’s main themes reflect American ideals of moving forward. after the loss of a loved one and to follow independent and unconventional paths. .
There are many ways the Chinese government and its state media can exercise strict control over its own national celebrities. In a recent chilling example, megastar Fan Bingbing was charged with tax evasion before disappearing and reappearing four months later with a public apology and a promise to pay a $ 70 million fine. After initially denying the charge, she told the New York Times after the ordeal that her absence had helped her “calm down” and “seriously think” about what she wanted from her future. Since then, Fan’s social media accounts have included reruns of key political messages aligned with the Chinese government. Other high profile celebrities have also faced heavy fines for the seemingly selective application of tax evasion charges as well as censorship without explanation, arguably for becoming too influential and therefore potentially an independent source of power from the government. government.
But denying access is China’s strongest muscle for bending to foreign influences – so it flexes it often. Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao, who left China at the age of 15, has become a persona non grata after her negative remarks about her country of birth in a 2013 interview surfaced. His film “Nomadland” and its historical accolades have been censored by the Chinese media. Zhao’s next film in November – “Eternals,” Marvel’s next installment after “Shang-Chi” – is also slated to be banned.
While it may be evident that Friday’s cryptocurrency ban has an economic dimension, these new social and cultural restrictions also have a troubling economic purpose. For the first time in cinema history, the world’s most recent top-grossing films have been Chinese productions, “The Eight Hundred” of 2020 and, so far in 2021, “Hi Mom”, instead. typical Hollywood blockbusters. While this was largely due to the delayed releases and other consequences of the pandemic, it could have inspired China to implement isolationist economic policies in favor of its own entertainment industry, the ban on “Shang -Chi ”being just the last example.
Additionally, China’s ban on “sissy men” from entertainment appears to target hugely popular K-pop groups that enjoy staunch fan bases. Government restrictions reduce consumer spending that benefits neighboring countries rather than the Chinese music industry. South Korea’s global music sensation BTS, which grosses an incredible $ 4.65 billion annually, met with anger and censorship in China last year when the head of the group commented on the Korean War.
But ordinary people are fighting these battles for cultural control in what may soon be the world’s largest economy. Silent acts of rebellion are happening every day in China. Citizens take great risks to find workarounds to restrictions, such as using someone else’s login or watching movies illegally. Where the fandom and appetite are strong enough, art and banned media messages like “Shang-Chi” are still likely to reach their audiences, even if pirated copies are the only way to get there ( although video game restrictions are more difficult to overcome, with at least one Chinese company using facial recognition software to implement controls).
Whatever content and transactions Beijing is effective in limiting, the volume and scope of the restrictions underscore the colossal task China has to enforce this order. Ultimately, these social and economic measures may well push more Chinese citizens to leave the country, producing the next generation of pioneers like Chloe Zhao and Simu Liu.