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Shamanic Rituals and Shaking Shoes: Here’s What Censors Are Looking For on China’s Short Video Apps

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The multi-faceted Chinese censorship machinery has been on a major internet sweep for a little while now — plenty of background on that here — yet one of the more contentious areas of focus has been online video content, due in part to the authorities’ vagueness in past public statements.

But now, thanks to a document recently published by the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA) — a nationwide professional organization comprised of satellite stations, major media such as Renmin Net and Xinhua Net, internet companies including Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, video sharing platforms Youku, iQIYI and Bilibili, and a host of film and television production companies — we have more of an idea about the form and categories of content that the government wishes to keep off of China’s rapidly multiplying short video platforms.

So are China’s content producers, consumers, and platforms any better off for this knowledge? And what are some of the things censors are getting twitchy about on the Chinese internet?

On January 9, the CNSA published two documents spelling out the new standards: one entitled Regulatory Criteria for Internet Short Video Platform, and another called Censoring Criteria for Internet Short Video Content. The latter includes 100 conditions for short video publishing grouped into 21 categories.

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Some of the conditions are not especially surprising, such as bans on content related to terrorism, violence, gambling, and pornography. Others are more political but again not exactly a surprise in the current Chinese climate. For example, one is not allowed “to mock, satirize, oppose, or dispose of the method, theory, system, major principles, or policies of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.” But it’s not just the Chinese elite, political leaders of other countries are protected as well: it is not permitted under the new guidelines “to derogate or spoof leaders of other countries, [as this] might cause international disputes or bad international influence.”

Other stipulations are a little less obvious. For example, it is forbidden “to open a channel, section or homepage pertaining to Samdambi [a shamanic ritual], Tai Sui, Gu magic, voodoo, or any type of magic, and to advocate superstitious thoughts.”

Some of the new conditions are so detailed that they easily lend themselves to visualization. For instance, you are not allowed “to wear clothing, hats or shoes with leaders of the Party and the nation on them, [nor] to form strange expressions by shaking or folding the clothes, hats and shoes.” Maybe it’s just us, but seems like that’d get the mind wandering to exactly how you could fold a hat into a strange expression….

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Other conditions spelled out in the new document read in a somewhat abstract way. For example, it’s forbidden “to present the People Liberation Army’s image in an overly exaggerated way,” “to make a figure’s style overly exaggerated or weird, leading to an adverse effect on minors,” and “to advocate and publicize non-mainstream views of marriage and romantic relationships.”

In terms of the enforcement of these rules, the CNSA has heavy administrative backing from Chinese government bureaus including the National Radio and Television Administration, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Culture, and more. But to a large extent it seems there’ll be more emphasis on self-censorship.

To this end, short video platforms and other media outlets effected by the rules appear to be on a recruitment drive to build internal teams to monitor and censor content. “The number of auditors should be 1/1000th the number of new short videos uploaded on the platform,” states the Regulatory Criteria for Internet Short Video Platform, meaning that each platform might need more than 10,000 auditors in accordance with the latest regulations.

Bilibili, Gen Z’s anime and video platform of choice, will presumably require the largest auditing labor force, since according to the Regulatory Criteria: “all content on short video platforms will be censored before it is published, including title, description, bullet comments, and video comments.”

How do netizens feel about the new regulations? Well…

“What is the point of bullet comments if they’ll be censored before being published…” – Haitai Zhima Banfan

“From now on we’ll just be reading bullet comments from years ago on these videos” – Meiyou Ganqing Boluotou“Y’all just smile!!!” – Wo he Edison 55 Kai

“You guys just take charge of too much.” – Yewei Yang tal

Fan Shuhong
    Shuhong (aka Rita) is a language instructor, English/Chinese translator, writer, and proud bunny owner based in Beijing. She's previously worked in Washington D.C. and IUP at Tsinghua University. She loves Chinese language, Japanese arts, post-rock music and good English TV series. Instagram: rita_van