Well I am on a role talking about China on this blog! There have been two disturbing developments this week in Chinese government’s media censorship campaign, as discussed in articles in The Australian and The Financial Times. The first development is that the government has indicated that it will move to gain greater control over microblogs. These sites somewhat resemble Twitter, which is banned in China. Currently microblogs are one of the few outlets for free expression and government dissent in China. According to The Australian, “It is the only widely connected public forum in the Communist Party state and the sites are regularly used to make comments about government departments, officials and other authorities.” It is said that the government will soon require companies offering microblogging services to obtain government licenses. One would suppose that these licensed companies would have to impose stringent censorship on its users’ blogs in order to stay in business. The chief executive of the very popular Chinese microblogging site Sina has already said it is implementing “more mechanisms to quash rumors.”
Both articles also mention the Chinese government’s new initiative to purge Chinese television of “vulgar” shows. One show that has been cancelled as part of this purge is Super Girl, a hugely popular (400 million viewers!) talent show series where the audience votes for the winners. While the Chinese government accuses the show of being profane, critics feel the real reason for cancellation is that the government feels threatened by democratic process featured on the show. Not having seen the show myself, I cannot comment on the vulgarity of its content, but I strongly suspect that the voting element is the real cause for offense. Hunan Satellite TV says it has “agreed to replace Super Girl with programs that “promote moral ethics, public safety and housework.” (Housework? Seriously?!)
How long can this censorship go on? When I wrote a report on “The Great Firewall of China” back in 2008, my conclusion was that while there are ways around the internet firewall, and people do use these methods, most Chinese citizens are content to visit the websites that are available to them. Now, however, I suspect the tides may be turning. Will the 400 million fans of Super Girl fail to notice that one of their favorite shows have been cancelled for no good reason? Sure, pop culture is known for its short memory, but Chinese youth will probably not be satisfied if their only options on television are government-produced news shows or the Chinese equivalent of “Leave It to Beaver.” Far from keeping Chinese youth loyal, a lack of media they can relate to may lead them to seek out foreign media that features far more subversive themes than a talent contest. Likewise, from a purely strategic point of view, I think the Chinese government is using poor judgement in upping its censorship of microblogs. These blogs let people blow off a bit of steam against the government. Attempts to stifle this may cause increased anger and push resistance underground where it will be harder to monitor and respond to. These increased controls indicate to me that the Chinese government is very concerned right now about losing control, but I think these overly stringent policies may harm their cause rather than help it.
What do you all think of the Chinese government’s new policies? Do you think they will succeed in dampening free speech and pushes for increased democracy in China? Or do you think these policies will engender resistance?
The Australian- “Censors kill Super Girl as bloggers muzzled”
The Financial Times- “Censors kill off China’s ‘Super Girl’“