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China Decides What it’s Citizens Watch
The Communist Party of China (CPC) under the leadership of Xi Jinping has strengthened the level of censorship. It is a known fact that the Chinese media works directly under the command of the CPC. The media is not free to report or discuss issues which it may deem important or necessary. The media is a tool by which the CPC extends its viewpoints and also makes its policies and opinions known to the Chinese people as well as the international audience.
However, under the leadership of Xi, the censorship and monitoring are now extending into building a narrative and imagery of the Chinese society. The media and popular culture are now censored to a very large extend and it promotes a picture of the Chinese society which the CPC and Xi are comfortable with. With the promotion of such sanitized imagery, (heterosexual masculinity and femineity in particular) one can argue that the CPC and Xi have an idea of the Chinese society which conforms to major ‘traditional’ aspects. They want to hold on to it and even encourage people to adopt and adhere to these roles, the latest victim being the popular sitcom, Friends. A lot of scenes and dialogues were deleted when it was aired in China. The part where one of the characters is homosexual has been completely deleted and there is no mention of this either.
CPC has been known to censor topics and events which it deems unfit for public consumption. Every year prior to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Incident, words like Tiananmen, June, 4-6, protests etc. become impossible to search on Chinese internet. During the recent Jasmine Uprising, words like Jasmine were also fetching errors on Chinese internet search platforms. In 2018, China had banned the movie Winnie the Pooh after comparisons between Xi Jinping and Winnie the Pooh became part of Chinese public discourse. Recently, Beijing changed the ending of the famous Hollywood movie the Fight Club. Even the Marvel universe of superheroes is not safe from the pressures from the Chinese censorship.
Is it because the CPC and Xi seem to be uncomfortable with the notion of individuality and the fact that people can assert their sexual orientations and political opinions? Does the CPC perceive this to be a challenge to its overall position and the fact that Chinese people can decide to follow their own goals and decide on their position in the society; it upsets the notion of complete loyalty towards one ideology? The top-down push of cultural homogeneity may be because the CPC is scared of diversity and to a very large extent may be uncomfortable with the notion of ‘thinking individuals’. Dividing the society into proper accepted binaries helps the CPC enjoy a semblance of control and authority. A diverse Chinese society challenges the notion of ‘Chinese’ which the CPC promotes and adheres to.
Beijing has managed to keep its internet sanitized as per its requirements because it has developed and nurtured a parallel internet platform which is not in sync with the global internet and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Gmail etc. In China, one will find it increasingly impossible to search for these websites. Beijing promotes its own domestic internet sites like Weibo, WeChat, etc.
However, with the increasing interconnectedness between China and the World, there has been a steady flow of information and news into China, something which Beijing is not comfortable with. The ‘great Chinese firewall’ seems to be over worked and under constant threat of being breached. Also, with more Chinese people travelling outside China, they do travel back with more and different information compared to one which is promoted by the CPC.
What is interesting is that this censorship is now moving beyond what is produced within China. The standoff between Google and the CPC is a well-known incident where Google had to agree to follow the Chinese media restrictions or decide not to operate within China. Even today, most of the media outlets and social media platforms agree to Chinese government’s demands to increase censorship and sanitize the contents because the Chinese market is very attractive. China today is the second largest box office market after the United States.
The lure of the Chinese market is making the western media and film industry engage in self-censorship and agree to Chinese clauses. But the regular self-monitoring adopted by the Western film and social media platforms raises the question of whether they are changing their goals of being the spokesperson of the people. The movies, media and social media in the western world has made a space for itself as being critical of the government and policies. However, when it comes to Chinese market, they seem happy to toe the CPC lines of control. The money which they are likely to gain from the Chinese market appears more attractive and that has given the Chinese government and CPC a strong tool to dictate what they expect from the western media as well.
Beijing has been known to use its financial clout to mould international opinion in its favour. Even in the case of media, the Chinese government has been successful in using this financial clout to decide what the western media show and the Chinese people watch within China.
Dr Gunjan Singh (A. Prof. at OP Jindal Global University & Vifindia)
4 March 2022