China bans homosexuality, luxurious lifestyles from online videos

Crackdown on online content comes with renewed nationalist push

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Sexual freedom, luxurious lifestyles and portrayals of Chinese imperialism are the latest targets of China’s crackdown on internet video content.

“Abnormal sexual lifestyles”, including homosexuality, are included among the 84 categories of topics that were banned from online video programmes by Chinese censors last week. “Unhealthy” views of the family, relationships, and money are also banned.

The detailed list is the first issued by government censors to cover the rapidly growing field of internet video, and comes after dozens of the country’s most popular entertainment channels were shut down in an online crackdown that started three weeks ago.

Although the crackdown has provoked anger from netizens, it has showed few signs of letting up. Last week, Chinese technology and media companies such as Sina Weibo and Tencent closed down an additional 291 video-streaming platforms and fired almost 10,000 journalists.

Beijing has heightened its scrutiny of online content in the run-up to the politically sensitive national congress of the Communist party later this year, analysts say.

“Government tightening of online content is certain right now, be it because of the 19th National Party Congress or the Hong Kong handover anniversary,” said Chen Lin, assistant professor of marketing at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai.

The government’s push to regulate online video comes with an escalation in nationalist propaganda. Movie-goers in Beijing say that since Saturday, a government-produced clip titled Our China Dream is screened before films shown in theatres.

The “China Dream” is a slogan popularised by president Xi Jinping, who defines it as the “rejuvenation of the Chinese people”.

“Tell the China story well,” the censors instructed in their new guidelines, “spread modern Chinese values . . . consolidate China’s strength.”

Under the new guidelines, mocking revolutionary heroes is forbidden, as well as portraying ethnic discord or lack of national unity. 

In particular, programmes should not portray “the use of military force to conquer others during China’s historic feudal period”. 

The clause is a veiled reference to Tibet and Xinjiang — two large border regions of China where separatist movements have emerged in opposition to the government’s policies against Buddhist and Muslim citizens

The list of banned topics has disturbed organisations working on LGBTQ issues.

“It’s out of step with Chinese people’s lives, and is bad for the development of sexual education,” said Ying Xin, director of Beijing LGBT Center.

Articles shared on social media that complained about the ramp-up of censorship and nationalist propaganda were also deleted by censors.

China’s first cyber security law, which came into force last month, gives the government greater powers to defend the private information of Chinese citizens and to support national security — such as the ability to delve into the private practices of foreign and domestic technology companies in China.

Although depictions of homosexuality have been banned on television for at least a decade, the emerging field of online content had been a grey zone. Last year an online drama about teen gay romanceHeroin (also known as Addicted in Chinese), had its run cut short by censors after gathering a large fan base.

Additional reporting by Archie Zhang

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