Moviegoing is a national pastime for the Chinese during Spring Festival, and this year more than ever. As of Wednesday, the movies that debuted in China’s theaters during the Chinese New Year holiday have racked up a cumulative $882 million, nearly twice as much as the box office gross during this period last year.
Earnings on February 16, the first day of Chinese New Year, were staggering on its own. Ticket sales neared $200 million, with the family-friendly CGI fantasy Monster Hunt 2 (捉妖记2 zhuō yāo jì 2) representing the lion’s share. While Monster Hunt 2 has now been eclipsed by Detective Chinatown 2 (唐人街探案2 tángrénjiē tànàn 2) in terms of box office gross, the former’s performance last Friday shattered several records, including opening day and presale earnings in China’s moviegoing history. The fantasy sequel also surpassed the record set by The Fate of the Furious — the latest installment of China’s most beloved Hollywood franchise — for largest single-day performance.
But of course, there have been media reports of potential box office fraud. Last Saturday, several audience members disclosed on Weibo that the tickets they purchased for Detective Chinatown 2 either showed up as tickets for Monster Hunt 2 or were handwritten, a common tactic employed by theaters to underreport ticket revenues.
And it wasn’t just accounting shenanigans. News of seating irregularities when it came to screenings of Monster Hunt 2 as well as dubious movie reviews on the ticketing and box office tracking app Maoyan — one-star ratings given by users with little account activity, with little to no elaboration — are a sign that, despite government efforts, box office manipulation doesn’t seem to be going away.
Internet celebrity MC Tianyou banned from livestreaming
The prospects of 喊麦 (hǎnmài), or “microphone shouting” — a rap-like musical genre that was first popularized by livestreaming hosts in the rural northeastern regions of China and is known for its crude, iconoclastic lyrics — look pretty grim these days. In late January, streaming site YY rolled out a notice announcing that it was “cleaning up” its platform to “foster a healthier livestreaming environment.” According to YY’s new rules, people posting sexually suggestive and violent content would have their accounts shuttered, and severe offenders would face legal persecution.
The new rules, as reported by news media Jiemian, also prohibit the words hanmai and MC, a moniker usually included in the aliases of hanmai emcees, from appearing on the platform’s livestreams — several streamers have dropped the “MC” from their social media handles as a result. As part of its “cleanup” initiative, YY also shut down the accounts of nearly 1,000 livestreaming hosts and banned 77 hanmai songs from its website on account of vulgar lyrics. Among the songs, three of them, according to Radii China, were from MC Tianyou, one of China’s most well known hanmai celebrities.
MC Tianyou, who dropped the MC from his name, couldn’t avoid further censure. According to Q Daily, government directives were issued last Sunday banning several livestreaming hosts, including MC Tianyou, from all livestreaming platforms — a good indication that the Chinese administration’s recent clampdown on hip-hop culture continues.
CCTV news program Focus Report offered some insight on the same night that news of MC Tianyou’s removal broke. The program, which is produced by China’s state broadcaster, accused the livestreaming industry of disseminating lascivious and morally questionable content. MC Tianyou’s livestreams were cited as an example of the industry’s pernicious side, with Focus Report honing in on bawdy conversations about sex and references to meth usage in MC Tianyou’s performances.
The banning of MC Tianyou is the latest example of the Chinese administration’s increasing oversight and censorship of China’s livestreaming landscape. In 2016, China’s internet watchdog, the Cyberspace Administration of China, issued an edict prohibiting the streaming of any content that would “undermine national security and social stability.” And last year, as reported by Xinhua, China’s Ministry of Culture shut down a dozen livestreaming apps for showing pornographic content and cracked down on 30 sites for broadcasting illegal content.