Zhibo is a weekly column in which Beijing-based American Taylor Hartwell documents his journey down the rabbit hole of Chinese livestreaming app YingKe. If you know nothing about the livestreaming (直播; “zhibo”) phenomenon in China, start here.
Last week, I told you about how I almost got myself thrown off of Yingke by violating the sacred “thou shalt not hop onto a bicycle” commandment — and started to talk about all the other commandments regarding treason, self-endangerment, and solider-streaming I subsequently learned about. If you missed part one, here it is again:
All caught up? Great!
Without any further preamble, let’s jump right back in where we left off:
4. Don’t drink or show people drinking…maybe…?
As someone who enjoys a glass of whiskey now and then, I’ve been pretty worried about Yingke’s official on-camera imbibing policy. Unfortunately, the rules are of minimal help — there are only two rules that directly reference alcohol:
- Don’t stream anything that involves self-harm, such as (but not limited to) heavy drinking/alcoholism
- Don’t show other people in the stream who are violating rules, such as — and I’m translate-quoting here — drinking, smoking, or topless men
Wait, what? Forget the drinking, when did topless men become a part of this? I don’t have a clue in this world why it specifically says men (the exact language is男性赤裸上身) or how that fits in with drinking and smoking, but there you have it (perhaps it’s some sort of idiomatic language and I don’t get what it really means).
Either way, I’m not really sure what the rules are. I’ve had a few drinks while streaming before — I’ve even joked with some of the moderators about how my fans always ask me to drink more (though as I mentioned last week, that can quickly go down a dark path). The Yingke rules seem to go on and on about anything that really matters, and there’s no question people drink all the time while streaming, so my guess is it’s one of those rules that might be enforced with just a touch of subjective selectivity.
That being said, I’d like to avoid as much liability as possible, so let’s just say I’ve been spending more time drinking *coffee* from a big mug while streaming at night.
5. Don’t hawk stuff
This one might actually be the most interesting. When I first started down the Chinese live streaming rabbit hole, my expectation was that every major star would be promoting products left and right. But to Yingke’s immense credit, I’ve hardly ever seen any kind of branded product in a stream, let alone obvious product placement.
Perhaps the native advertising is so subtle (or my Chinese is so bad) that I don’t notice it, but I haven’t seen any streamers obviously attempting to promote anything. Specifically, the rules are:
- No publication of advertisement information, such as but not limited to:
- Yingke tickets or selling fans
- health products
- drugs (duh)
- swords (is this a problem?)
- bows/crossbows (is THIS a problem?)
- adult products
- STD medicine (erm…)
- …or absolutely anything else that is deemed inappropriate
What interests me about the no advertising rules is I know for a fact that the app is pretty strict about using their platform to promote just about anything, not just dangerous/illegal/sensitive items. So either I’ve missed the part in the rules where they say “look, just don’t use your streaming room to run commercials, people,” or it’s just understood.
6. Don’t do sex things
We all knew — I hope you all knew — this would be the big one. Of the ten or so long paragraphs that make up the bulk of the user agreement, at least six of them either mention or are specifically devoted to the rules against adult behavior. To be honest, I’m not sure if this is because they want as many specific things outlawed as possible, or they just want to oversaturate the message for the benefit of whoever decides which apps aren’t in accordance with Chinese laws.
Either way, here is a SAMPLING of the things specifically mentioned:
- No spreading of pornographic content, including but not limited to pictures, speech, songs, audio, video, or text (how does one spread pornographic text on a live stream?)
It’s worth pointing out that in Chinese, the word for pornographic is often 黄色, or yellow. There are a few schools of thought on how this came to be, but let me warn you right now that Googling “Chinese yellow porn” is NOT the ideal way to get answers.
- No advertising for prostitution or one-night stands
- No bare-backed females or shirtless males
No idea. Not consistent with either the rest of the rules or reality.
- No indecent makeup
- No skin-colored tights
The Chinese — 肉色紧身衣, “meat-colored clothing” — is far better.
- No fishnets or garters
- No *sexual uniforms*
- NO TRIANGLE-SHAPED SHORTS
- No focus on the chest
- No focus on the buttocks
- No focus on the legs
- No focus on the feet
- No chest-shaking
What if you shake your chest but don’t focus on it? What about buttock-shaking? I feel like there are a lot of unanswered questions here.
- No “guessing the color of underwear”
- No erotic games
- No “rubbing” games
Glad we clarified that.
- No “drawing a circle with your buttocks”
- No tearing your clothes/torn clothes
Someone call American Apparel and tell them to cancel their sponsorship deals.
- No “simulating the movement of a piston”
Ok, no, this one is DEFINITELY my favorite.
- No “easy to open” clothing
If you’re gonna be an Yingke stripper, you’re gonna work for it, damnit!
- No “imitating the sensations of human sexuality”
- etc. ad infinitum
The thing about all these rules governing “adult” behavior, though, is that they seem to lean pretty heavily towards Pirates of the Caribbean-Rules-Are-Really-Guidelines territory — that is to say, very few of them seem to carry much weight:
I see London, I see France, I see meat-colored clothing and triangle shorts
Definitely some non-facial focus going on there
Yeah, I’d say the rules aren’t exactly being followed. Hell, I’ve even spotted the occasional violator of the Glorious People’s Banana-Ban!
So what does this mean?
After talking to some of the moderators and Yingke investors, my impression is that their overall goal is a common-sense PG-13 ranging towards the lighter side of R rating, if that makes sense. It’s certainly not meant to be a family-funtimes-hour kind of app, and there’s obviously a direct link between how close to the boundaries you get and how many users are regularly tuning in. They do clearly enforce a strict no-actual-nudity/no-actual-sex-acts policy and I’ve never seen anything that would get them a hard-R rating in our own (equally dumb and strange) MPAA-based world.
As for the rules in general, it’s clear that Yingke is working hard to maintain that difficult balance between hosting a fun and exciting platform and not getting themselves axed by the powers that be. As one of the few actually profitable live-streaming companies — and one that’s constantly evolving and adding new features — they’ve clearly got a solid model built to last… insofar as anything in the fast-changing Chinese online world can be said to “last.”