And then they came for the gay fiction

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—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor-in-Chief, with Jiayun Feng, Jia Guo, and Anthony Tao

Sina Weibo bans gay fiction and ‘violent’ content

China’s censors, information control-freaks, and ideological watchdogs have had a busy week:

  • Last week, China’s news and media regulator ordered short-video app Kuaishou and Bytedance’s news app Jinri Toutiao to clean up their act. (One of Kuaishou’s sins was allowing videos of teenage mothers to become popular.) Kuaishou is now planning “to add around 3,000 content checkers to its existing 2,000-member team” to censor content, according to TechNode.

  • Four of China’s most popular news apps were suspended on April 9: Jinri Toutiao (three-week suspension), Phoenix News (two weeks), NetEase News (one week), and Tiantian News (three days).

  • “All scientific data generated in China must be submitted to government-sanctioned data centers before appearing in publications,” according to new rules reported by Science Magazine this week. It’s unclear what effect the new regulations will have.  

  • Neihan Duanzi, a popular app produced by Bytedance that allows users to share jokes and viral content, was permanently shut down by order on April 10 — user anger ensued.

  • The CEO of Bytedance published an abject apology for the ideological failings of his company on April 11.

So the week would not be complete without some more censorship news! On April 13, social media platform Weibo announced it would clamp down on comics, games, and other content featuring homosexuality and violence.

  • The crackdown is part of a three-month cleanup campaign aiming to “further build a clean and harmonious community,” according to a notice (in Chinese) on Weibo’s own Weibo account.

  • China’s updated Cybersecurity Law — which came into effect in June 2017 — is guiding the campaign, according to Weibo. It also is probably linked to a three-month campaign just launched by the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications targeting pornography, “cultural content for children” that is “harmful to the healthy growth of minors,” and “fake news…fake news organizations and journalists, [and] ‘news extortion.’”

  • Weibo’s cleanup targets comics, literature, graphics, and short videos that contain pornographic content, promote violence, or feature homosexuality.

  • The notice specifically mentions the following:

    • Rotten (腐 fǔ): This refers to any kind of decadence, but is sometimes used to describe a subculture whose members are women who enjoy gay-related novels, comics, and all sorts of cultural products;

    • Gay (基 jī): It’s unclear why they chose to use this word — it’s from Cantonese slang — a loan word from the English gay (see etymology, in Chinese);

    • Yaoi (耽美 dānměi): This is a loan word and a fiction genre that originated in Japan, describing male-male romance narratives popular with young women;

    • Fan fiction (本子 běnzi): Fan fiction based on original works.

  • “Illegal games with violent content” such as Grand Theft Auto, Mafia, and Mercenaries will also be targeted for censorship, according to Weibo.

Weibo says it has already deleted 56,243 posts, 108 accounts, and 62 topics from its platform, and it encourages users to report any content that falls into the categories listed in the announcement.


 These are the most important stories of the past week:

1. General Secretary Xi Jinping gave a speech

On Tuesday at the Boao Forum for Asia — China’s annual gathering of the political and business elite on Hainan Island — Xi gave the keynote.

  • Xi reassured the world of China’s commitment to opening up its economy, including reducing tariffs on imported cars.

  • Wall Street was relieved, Elon Musk was happy, and global share prices were buoyed — see our summary of Xi’s speech and responses to it.

2. A massive naval display in the South China Sea  

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) put on a grand show near Hainan Island.

  • A total of 48 warships, 76 aircraft, and more than 10,000 troops paraded for the Central Military Commission (CMC) and its chairman, Xi Jinping, who had just come from Boao, where he gave his open markets speech.

  • China’s Ministry of Defense also announced a live-fire drill to take place in the Taiwan Strait on April 18. Why now? Two possible reasons are discussed in our piece on the naval parade and the live-fire drill: a show of support to China’s strategic partner Russia, and a reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump signing a law that elevates Taiwan’s diplomatic status by allowing high-level official visits.

3. Investors bet billions on facial recognition and co-working

Two big deals this week:

  • Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) firm SenseTime, a leader in facial recognition technology, raised $600 million from Alibaba and other investors, valuing the startup at $3 billion, according to Bloomberg. The company claims that the average annual revenue growth over the last three years has been 400 percent.

  • Global co-working giant WeWork has bought Shanghai-headquartered Naked Hub for $400 million. Here is WeWork’s blog post about the deal.

4. The dissident and the smuggled salmon

A business story that could only happen in China.

  • After the Oslo-based Nobel Peace Prize committee honored Chinese literary critic and activist Liu Xiaobo 刘晓波 in 2010, China interfered with and effectively blocked imports of salmon from Norway.

  • However, Chinese people like fish, and Norwegian salmon is good, so the salmon continued coming in, mostly through Vietnam, where it could be relabeled to get around informal embargoes as well as import tariffs.

  • This week, Chinese customs agents announced they had arrested 17 people, including a Norwegian citizen, for salmon smuggling. We summarized this fascinating case, drawing on reports from seafood industry websites and the Financial Times.

5. #MeToo in China: The rice bunny has teeth

Feminists in China have found themselves censored and even arrested in recent years — internet censorship of the #MeToo hashtag led to the creation of the meme mǐ tù 米兔, which literally means “rice bunny” but is used in place of the original hashtag.

6. Smile, you’ve confessed to the nation

A nonprofit organization called Safeguard Defenders has published the first detailed report on how Chinese police have worked with state broadcaster CCTV regularly since 2013 to air “confessions” by people accused of a variety of crimes. Read our summary, or the whole report:  Scripted and staged: Behind the scenes of China’s forced TV confessions.


Unmanned street sweeper on a test run

A fleet of unmanned street sweepers conducted a test run on empty streets in Shanghai on April 11. If they passed the test run, such vehicles could replace millions of sanitation workers in China.


‘Have a Nice Day,’ a Beijing Film Festival selection, is an unsparing portrait of urban China at the margins

Perhaps the most telling moment in Have a Nice Day comes just as Mr. Skinny, a butcher who moonlights as a hit man, is about to murder Xiao Zhang, a construction site driver who has stolen a bag of cash from his boss. Skinny’s meat cleaver is poised when his phone rings and he pauses to politely field a call from an unknown number: “Property investment? No, I’m not interested. No, I don’t want to buy a house. Thank you.” Director Liu Jian’s award-winning movie, pulled from France’s Annecy film festival last summer due to “official pressures,” is showing this week in Beijing as part of the Beijing International Film Festival.

Education-themed Bollywood film ‘Hindi Medium’ strikes a chord with China’s anxious parents

Bollywood film Hindi Medium has been quietly making a splash in the world’s second-largest market. In its first week, the movie grossed over $21.5 million (135 million RMB). Its opening in China is the second best for Bollywood films, behind only Secret Superstar and ahead of Dangal, currently the highest-grossing Bollywood movie in China’s box office history.

When it comes to sports success in China, it’s all about the women

China’s women’s soccer team becomes the first to qualify for the World Cup, while the women’s rugby team wins Hong Kong Sevens.

Jordan Peterson and China’s ‘White Left’

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, and the author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. The New Yorker calls him “one of the most influential — and polarizing — public intellectuals in the English-speaking world.” And in the wake of his interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman on January 16 — in which he parried the British broadcaster’s repeated attempts to paint him as a provocateur — it appears Peterson has gained something of a following on the Chinese internet as well. But to what extent, exactly, have the Chinese embraced him?

Beijing event promotes black visibility, community building in China

Poets, activists, authors, and observers packed the Beijing venue The Bookworm on April 6 for a spoken-word event called Culture Shock, organized by BLK GEN (short for “Black Genius”). It was highlighted by a performance by Bay Area poet/rapper/activist Tyson Amir (author of Black Boy Poems) plus eight Beijing-based performers. The night centered on the dialogues and misunderstandings that can arise from the collision of cultures.

Kuora: The An Lushan Rebellion and the fall of the Tang

How did the Tang dynasty lose power to be succeeded by the Song dynasty in China? A story of one of the bloodiest wars in Chinese history — the An Lushan, or An-Shi, Rebellion — and the mortal blow that put the Tang down for good. Find out in this week’s Kuora, written by Kaiser Kuo.

Mingbai: Some businessmen are more fun than others

When it comes to personality, many Chinese businessmen have more than enough to keep the paparazzi busy. Meet some of China’s richest and quirkiest businessmen here.

Zlatan’s $100 million China offer and Man U’s Chinese ‘fans’…? Don’t believe everything you read

Mark Dreyer looks at the week that was, the hype that wasn’t, and the money that changed hands in the China sports world.

Friday Song: Life is unpredictable and love fades

Lyrics and video of “Love Song” (情歌 qínggē) by Malaysian singer Fish Leong 梁靜茹.

Jokes app Neihan Duanzi shuttered by China’s media regulator for ‘vulgarity’

On April 9, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) ordered the temporary removal of several news apps, including Toutiao, from Chinese app stores. The next day, news broke that Neihan Duanzi 内涵段子, an app under Toutiao that circulates jokes, memes, and humorous videos, had been permanently shuttered.

Sinica Podcast: All sorts of swindles in the late Ming society, with Christopher Rea and Bruce Rusk

Two professors of Asian studies discuss their entertaining new translation of a Chinese classic: a collection of stories about cheats, frauds, and swindles in the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644).

996 Podcast with GGV Capital: Nathan Blecharczyk on Lessons From Airbnb’s China Expansion

On the first live show of the 996 Podcast, GGV Capital’s Hans Tung and Zara Zhang interviewed Nathan Blecharczyk, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Airbnb and the chairman of Airbnb China.



Wedding photos

A couple poses for wedding photos at a studio in Shanghai. In China, newlyweds usually get their wedding photos taken prior to their big day. In recent years, it’s become popular to travel to scenic spots and dress up in costume for wedding photos. You can watch this SupChina video of a couple getting married in Qingdao, Shandong Province.

Jia Guo