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Censorship’s impact on Chinese culture

China’s Min­istry of Cul­ture recently man­dated removing 100 songs from web­sites across the country in an effort to pre­serve China’s “national cul­tural secu­rity.” The list con­sists largely of tracks by Hong Kong and Tai­wanese artists, but also includes hits from Amer­ican pop icons such as Lady Gaga, Bey­oncé and the Back­street Boys. The min­istry claims the banned songs weren’t sub­mitted for manda­tory gov­ern­ment screening and haven’t been approved for dis­tri­b­u­tion. We asked Hua Dong, a fac­ulty member in Northeastern’s Asian Studies Pro­gram and an expert on Chi­nese pop cul­ture, to ana­lyze gov­ern­ment cen­sor­ship and its impact on Chi­nese cul­ture.

Why does the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment believe that music from cer­tain Amer­ican pop stars poses a threat to China’s national cul­tural secu­rity?

This example demon­strates another attempt by the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to rein in the fast growing Internet in the country. China now has almost 500 mil­lion Internet users, mostly young, edu­cated and wealthy, who spend the majority of their online time using social net­working sites and micro-​​blogging. Internet is cen­tral to the lives of China’s Neti­zens. It is an impor­tant venue for accessing enter­tain­ment and infor­ma­tion, and it is an effec­tive tool for social activism. One recent example is a protest last month attended by 12,000 micro-​​bloggers that suc­cess­fully forced the local gov­ern­ment to shut down a toxic chem­ical fac­tory in Dalian, a Chi­nese coastal city. The take­away mes­sage from the event for the Chi­nese web cen­sors might be that infor­ma­tion must be con­trolled and the Internet should be cleansed of any “poor taste and vulgar con­tent.” China’s Cul­tural Min­istry may find the rebel­lious and defiant nature of pop songs threat­ening to the “social har­mony” that the gov­ern­ment is trying to pro­mote.

More gen­er­ally, how do bans like this affect Chi­nese cul­ture, media con­sump­tion and the country’s youth?

When I first learned of the Cul­tural Ministry’s “black­list,” I reached out to a few friends in China who are either active in China’s cul­ture scenes or serve as cul­tural offi­cials them­selves. Inter­est­ingly, none of them were even aware of the new reg­u­la­tion. They con­tinue to use Weibo (a Chi­nese ver­sion of Twitter) and check Renren (a Chi­nese ver­sion of Face­book) as before. I then checked some Chi­nese web­sites, and found a growing cyn­i­cism filling the blogs. Bans like this are not enough to silence people into com­pli­ance in the 21st cen­tury.

Ai Weiwei, a Chi­nese artist, also recently made head­lines again for his scathing attack on the gov­ern­ment in Newsweek since being released from deten­tion. What has the public reac­tion in China his­tor­i­cally been to those such as Mr. Ai who crit­i­cize the gov­ern­ment and cen­sor­ship?

Ai Weiwei, who has nearly a hun­dred thou­sand fol­lowers on his new Twitter ser­vice since his release, has achieved huge name recog­ni­tion in China. His release was met with warm wel­come and sup­port from the Neti­zens in China. How­ever, this sup­port and aware­ness is still con­sid­er­ably small within the large Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion. Out­side the small circle of Chi­nese intel­lec­tuals, the Chi­nese public cares about the same things as any typ­ical Amer­ican — buying a car and a house, job secu­rity, afford­able med­ical care, better schools for their chil­dren and so on. Many blog­gers are not inter­ested in pro­moting polit­ical change, yet remain pas­sionate about having the right to express their opin­ions about topics that interest them. The government’s pros­e­cu­tion of dis­si­dents tends to fall off the radar for those who mainly endeavor for a better life in a fast-​​evolving society.

– by Lauren Dibble

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