The orders were sudden, dramatic and often confusing. Last week, “American Idol” style competitions and shows featuring men deemed too effeminate were banned by Chinese authorities. Days earlier, one of China’s richest actresses, Zhao Wei, had seen her movies, TV series and news reports erased from the internet as if she never existed.
Over the summer, China’s multibillion-dollar private education sector was decimated overnight by a ban on for-profit private lessons, while new regulations erased more than 1 Trillion dollars in Chinese tech stocks since a peak in February. As Chinese tech moguls fight more over President Xi Jinping’s campaign against inequality, “Xi Jinping Thought” is taught in elementary schools, and foreign games and apps like Animal Crossing and Duolingo have been taken from stores .
A dizzying regulatory crackdown unleashed by the Chinese government has spared almost no industry in recent months. This sprawling “rectify” campaign – with targets as disparate as ridesharing services, insurance, education, and even the time children can spend playing video games – is redrawing the boundaries of business and society in China as Xi prepares to face a controversial third term in 2022.
“It is striking and significant. It is clearly not a rectification sector by sector; it is a complete economic, industrial and structural rectification,” said Jude Blanchette, Freeman Chair in Chinese Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. .
At the Chinese National Congress next fall, Xi is expected to retain his title as secretary general of the ruling Communist Party of China (CCP), a move that would overturn a decades-old system of term limits and leadership succession. To build momentum, he is proposing a program to fight income inequality under the banner of “common prosperity”, a campaign that gives officials and companies rallying to the cause the opportunity to show their loyalty ahead of the reshuffle. party staff.
According to the authorities, restricting the private tutoring sector aims to level the playing field in highly competitive Chinese schools and ease the financial burden on families. China’s biggest tech companies have been brought to heel in the name of protecting competition and protecting consumer data.
Yet other recent regulations targeting the country’s youth appear to be aimed at asserting control over popular culture, measures which critics say limit the public’s few outlets for debate and expression.
Officials are cracking down on ardent Chinese fan clubs whose members discuss and rank celebrities, doing all they can to support their favorite stars. (When Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu was arrested on rape allegations in August, his fans flooded social media in his defense and called for him to be released from prison.)
Male Chinese celebrities known for their androgynous style have also become a threat in Beijing’s eyes. Regulators last week ordered broadcasters to encourage “masculinity” and end “abnormal beauty standards” such as “niangpao,” an insult that translates to “sissy men.”
“The party does not feel comfortable with expressions of individualism that are somehow transgressive of the standards it promotes,” said Rana Mitter, professor of Chinese history and politics. modern at the University of Oxford. “The party-state makes it clear that it has the first and the last word on what is allowed in mass culture.”
In China, the campaign was met with a mixture of approval and skepticism. Liang Min, 35, a linguist from Jilin Province, said China’s pop idol culture, in which young fans donate money to celebrities, is out of control. “Teenagers are being misled. Personally, I am proud of this action,” Liang said.
Netizens criticized the order against sissy culture as state-sponsored homophobia. “Sissy men won’t hurt the country, but prejudice and narrow thinking will,” a censored comment on WeChat said after gaining more than 100,000 views.
Jo Tan, 33, administrator of a test prep school in Changsha, Hunan Province, said the limitations of tutoring had done more harm than good. His company has halved its workforce and teachers have to work longer.
“Students still have to compete to get into good schools and colleges, and many of us are now on the verge of being unemployed,” she said.
“Whoever proposed this policy probably never had to worry about the education of his children,” said Tan, adding that making high school and universities free would do more to promote equality in education.
Michael Shou, managing director of an on-demand English tutoring platform, said he expects more regulatory action in more sectors.
“I think we are witnessing a profound transformation of society, especially since the government has put in place definitive and strict regulatory measures in such a short time and in so many different industries,” he said. declared.
Xi’s crusade has left the country’s previously all-powerful tech titans, such as Jack Ma of Alibaba and Pony Ma of Tencent, without a doubt over who controls China’s future. But it also alarmed investors.
Regulators on Wednesday summoned Tencent and Netease to their online gaming platforms, ordering companies to eliminate content that promotes “incorrect values” such as “the cult of money” and the “cult of money” culture. sissy “. The two companies have promised to “carefully study” and implement the orders.
Officials are working to restore investor confidence, with Vice Premier Liu He promising at a forum Monday in Hebei Province that China’s support for the private economy “has not changed and will not change. will not change in the future “. On Tuesday, the People’s Daily published a front-page article promising the government’s “unwavering commitment” to the private sector and protecting foreign capital and competition.
The scale and speed of the society-wide rectification has made some fear that China is at the start of the kind of cultural and ideological upheaval that has crippled it before.
Last week, an essay by a retired newspaper editor and blogger described the changes as a response to threats from the United States. “What these events tell us is that a monumental change is taking place in China and that the economic, financial, cultural and political spheres are undergoing a profound transformation – or, one might say, a profound revolution. “Li Guangman wrote.
The essay, picked up by Chinese state media, drew comparisons to a 1965 article that launched China’s decade-long chaotic cultural revolution, and even left some members of the party establishment concerned.
Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of the state-run Global Times newspaper, criticized the article as misleading and an “extreme interpretation” of the recent wave of regulatory orders that could trigger “confusion and panic.”
The differences over the article may be a sign of a deeper conflict within the party, according to Yawei Liu, a senior China adviser at the Carter Center in Atlanta, who wrote that such disagreement indicates “a debate raging within the CCP on the merits of the reform. and open up about China’s current situation … and what kind of nation China wants to become. “
Residents expect more measures to come, targeting ordinary life as well as other areas. As the Culture and Tourism Ministry prepares a ban on karaoke songs deemed contrary to “core values of socialism,” city officials are regulating dancing in Chinese parks, a popular pastime for retirees. In a People’s Daily editorial last week, the vice president of the Chinese Film Association called on filmmakers to make more patriotic films and “further promote” Xi Jinping’s thinking.
Ouyang Haotian, a Guangzhou student studying event management at Macao University of Science and Technology, said the government’s crackdowns are well-intentioned but sometimes implemented too brutally.
“Everything the government does, it does to maintain the stability of its governance, sometimes without taking into account the impacts on individuals,” said the 22-year-old. “It’s a trial and error process, so people have to come to terms with those mistakes and move on.”
Yet, he said, the measures can go too far. “There comes a time when government regulations stop working. You can ban artists and certain movies or songs, but you can’t teach people what to think,” he said.
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