No Earrings, Tattoos or Cleavage: Inside China’s War on Fun

The Communist Party wants to instill the people with “core socialist values.” That means winnowing out content that extols individualism or hedonism.

The New York Times
Date: March 27, 2019
By Li Yuan 

In an episode of “Give Me Five,” censors covered the Chinese pop star Jiang Yaojia’s pink hair with a ladybug cap, as seen in a Taiwanese-based media broadcast, CTi News.

China is waging a war on fun. The latest target: men’s earrings.

Chinese censors in recent months have blurred the earlobes of some of China’s young male pop stars in television and internet appearances, lest their piercings and jewelry set too feminine an example for the country’s boys. The ban elicited eye rolls and even some jokes, but it illustrated the Communist Party’s creeping interference in even the smallest details of Chinese life.

Men’s earrings aren’t the only objectionable material that China’s censors are blurring, covering up or cutting out. Soccer players wear long sleeves to cover their tattoos. Women in costumes at a racy video game convention have been told to raise their necklines. Rappers can rhyme only about peace and harmony.

This sanitizing infuriates Rae Fan, a 22-year-old college student in southern China’s Guangxi region. Some of her favorite American and South Korean movies have disappeared from local streaming platforms. To make matters worse, her friends appear indifferent to it and won’t welcome anything that smacks of criticism of the government. Her parents, both civil servants, told her that she would be better off not watching those movies anyway.

In other words, the censorship is working.

“The purpose of this kind of control is to ensure everybody shares the mainstream values,” Ms. Fan said. “We will be easier to manage.”

The Communist Party’s effort to instill what it calls “core socialist values” — patriotism, harmony and civility, among others — is intensifying. Content that celebrates money worship, hedonism or individualism is increasingly removed. Material that was acceptable only a few years ago no longer passes muster.

In a few years’ time, today’s youths will have seen less unfiltered content than people even five years older. Without knowing what they don’t know, they’re likely to be more receptive to party doctrine and easier to govern.

“To cultivate a new generation that will shoulder the responsibility of national rejuvenation, we need to resist erosion from indecent culture,” the official Xinhua News Agency wrote in a 2018 commentary that criticized those it called China’s effeminate young male idols. “More important, we need to nurture outstanding culture.”