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The Chinese government’s plan for bringing ‘traditional culture’ online

by Alexandra Marginean and Ekaterina Fakirova

The ambitious “common prosperity” drive of Chinese President Xi Jinping aims to bridge China’s widening wealth gap, emphasising that it is more than a purely economic objective but is central to the Chinese Communist Party’s governing foundation. As Xi prepares to run for a third term in 2022, his extended “rectification” campaign redraws the boundaries of business and society in China, with targets as diverse as ride-hailing services, insurance, education, and even the amount of time children can spend playing video games. The Chinese government’s current regulatory crackdown has spared almost no industry. [1] As part of the President’s economic vision, it is also an attempt to inject ideological rigour into the new economy after years of explosive growth and exert more control over which industries prosper. Xi wishes to create a “unified system of values” which supports social harmony against the ‘indulgent’ norms around individualism, and the prioritisation of “traditional Chinese” culture over foreign influences. [2] The government has become more and more focused on the future of Chinese youth and asserting control over their role models, the content they watch, and the things they learn. 

Banning fan groups & celebrities online

China’s fan culture is partly fueled by online organizations that pour millions of dollars into supporting superstars, with one source suggesting that it is already a $100 billion business in its own right. Chinese fan organizations spend a vast amount of money on long-distance internet battles over their favorite superstars. However, a series of cases that went viral on Chinese social media have prompted the government to take harsh action against these organizations. [3]

The “Clear and Bright” Campaign was the result of the “milk waste” controversy that took place in May 2021. Viewers of the popular talent program Youth With You 3 were encouraged to buy milk and scan the QR code on the bottle caps to demonstrate their support for the show’s stars. As a result, videos of people opening dairy goods bottles and pouring the contents into drains have become popular.  As the number of dairy bottles emptied directly into the sewer were estimated to be at 270 000, the Beijing Municipal Radio and Television Bureau temporarily halted the broadcast due to widespread internet criticism. [4]

On August 27, China’s internet authority, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), announced the ban of online lists that rank celebrities from all digital platforms. The “Clear and Bright” campaign began in June, with the CAC promising to put an end to cyberbullying and rumor-spreading. The Campaign ought to cease vote manipulation, minors raising cash, and agitating fans to showcase their wealth and luxurious lives.  According to a recent Xinhua story, the CAC has removed 150,000 pieces of “harmful internet information” and has sanctioned more than 4,000 accounts associated with fan groups. [5]

Furthermore, Beijing has tightened its inspection of celebrity conduct in addition to placing restrictions on “chaotic fan organizations.” A new set of behavioral standards for stage performers was released in February 2021 , with the goal of ensuring that actors and actresses “love the homeland,” “abide by social morality,” and “preserve the reputation of Chinese culture”. Moreover, in November 2921, the Cyberspace Administration of China announced that celebrities are prohibited from waving wealth and extravagant possessions. In a statement, CAC claimed that both celebrities and fan accounts must “follow public order and good customs, adhere to correct public opinion orientation and value orientation, promote socialist core values, and maintain a healthy style and taste”. [6]

The China Association of Performing Arts banned 88 influencers from livestreaming on the same day. The purpose of the list was to “strengthen industry self-discipline” and “prevent illegal and immoral artists” from returning to the business. The notice stated that in order to execute the new laws, Chinese social networks must monitor and report “suspected unlawful and criminal conduct of exposed stars, and group fights amongst followers” to the authorities, as well as moderate anything that might cause social disturbance. Because worldwide applications like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are restricted in China, users must rely on censored native sites like Weibo, Renren, and Youku. [7]

Time limits for minors on video games & social media  

China being the world’s largest video game market has led to the yearlong concern of authorities about young people’s addiction to gaming and the internet, which resulted in the establishment of clinics that combine therapy and military drills for individuals suffering from “gaming illnesses”. Last September, the Chinese Government even implemented rules limiting minors’ internet gaming to three hours per week, an hour between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday most weeks. [8] It also set a monthly restriction on how much children might spend on virtual gaming things, ranging from $28 to $57 depending on their age. Furthermore, when minors log in to play, they are required to provide their true names and national identity numbers, which then led to gaming giants such as Tencent and NetEase to create systems detecting minors. [9] 

Following the recent video game time limit, another intense measure limiting the time spent by kids online was imposed in line with Beijing’s battle with “internet addiction”. In China, TikTok is known as Douyin (抖音), and both apps are made by the Beijing-based internet company Bytedance. Although the two apps are similar, their features are not the same. [10] Similar to TikTok’s international success, Douyin has grown to become one of China’s most popular apps, with over 600 million daily active users. Bytedance announced the introduction of the app’s “Youth Mode” in late September 2021, declaring it would implement the strictest youth protection measures in the history of the platform.[11] Users under the age of 14 are limited to 40 minutes of daily use on the app. In addition to limiting the amount of time adolescents can spend watching short videos, they will only be able to use Douyin during the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The company added that users in “Youth Mode” will be presented with “enriching” content related to general knowledge, science, culture, etc. so that children can learn and grow while being on the app. [12]

The People’s Republic of China is currently undergoing profound social transformation, given the government’s implementation of definitive and stringent regulatory measures in a narrow time period and across so many industries. They are part of a larger strategy that includes a comprehensive rethinking of how society should be organised. [13] If previous instances of cultural reform occurred haphazardly, the recent State action suggests that a more strategic and steady hand is dealing the cards, namely that of Xi Jinping and his reintroduction of the “common prosperity” concept.


[1]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/china-crackdown-tech-celebrities-xi/2021/09/09/b4c2409c-0c66-11ec-a7c8-61bb7b3bf628_story.html

[2]  https://supchina.com/2021/12/02/chinas-cultural-crackdowns-a-guide/ 

[3]  https://www.insider.com/chinas-internet-watchdog-is-cracking-down-on-outlandish-fan-behavior-2021-6 

[4]  https://supchina.com/2021/09/09/idol-worship-and-fan-culture-in-china-explained/ 

[5]  https://supchina.com/2021/12/02/chinas-cultural-crackdowns-a-guide/ 

[6] https://www.businessinsider.com/china-bans-celebs-from-showing-off-wealth-on-social-media-2021-11?international=true&r=US&IR=T 

[7] https://www.businessinsider.com/china-bans-celebs-from-showing-off-wealth-on-social-media-2021-11?international=true&r=US&IR=T 

[8]  Technology-58384457 

[9] https://www.reuters.com/world/china/why-how-china-is-drastically-limiting-online-gaming-under-18s-2021-08-31/ 

[10]  https://supchina.com/2019/09/25/the-difference-between-tiktok-and-douyin/ 

[11]  https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/zp43DhzwanDApoPCIgCvJQ  

[12]  https://www.insider.com/douyin-tiktok-40-minute-daily-time-limit-users-under-14-2021-9 

[13] https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/09/09/assessing-chinas-common-prosperity-campaign/ 

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