China’s Cyberporn Crackdown Not Really About Porn

The National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, a branch of China’s main media regulator, recently announced a new crackdown on pornographic online content, a measure the Global Times notes is essential for China’s “cyber development”:

Bu Xiting, an official at the Communication University of China, sees the campaign as a sign of the government’s determination to create a healthy cyberspace.

“[It] shows that China is taking an important step toward the rule of law in the virtual world,” Bu said.

He said that as China has built up the biggest population of netizens amid decades of breakneck Internet development, forums, websites and online game ads have wielded bad influences by touting themselves with sexual hype, which is why the government needs to step in.

China launched a sweeping campaign against the spread of online porn on Sunday.

The cyberspace raid, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” will involve thorough checks on websites, search engines and mobile application stores, Internet TV USB sticks, and set-top boxes, the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said in a circular. [Source]

For a full translation of the announcement, see China Law Translate. At Foreign Policy’s Tea Leaf Nation, Zhang Jialong warns that this most recent crackdown has little to do with porn, and much to do with bolstering the party’s new media influence:

Chinese authorities have put would-be free speech advocates on notice: Step away from the computer. As an April 14 article in Communist Party-run news portal Seeking Truth avers, from mid-April until November, government offices nationwide will be striking out at online media in a dedicated campaign called “sweep out porn, strike at rumors.” An April 16 headline on state news service Xinhua declares the move is in response to “calls from people in all walks of life.” But at its core, this is about going after rumors — party parlance for destabilizing falsehoods  – in the name of going after porn. In other words, it’s about ensuring that party organs, and not the Chinese grassroots, have the loudest voice on the country’s Internet.

This latest campaign has been months in the making. On Feb. 5, the Central Propaganda Department (CPD), the party organ tasked with and information dissemination, ordered an investigation of “pornographic and vulgar information” — one whose main target was actually a variety of online columns, infographics, and trending or recommended reading. Interpretation of the actual meaning of “pornographic and vulgar information,” of course, rests entirely with the CPD. [...] [Source]

While pornography sweeps and anti-vulgarity operations are not uncommon in China, this most recent one comes amid an ongoing central government campaign to increase control of the Internet. Over the past year, the Xi administration has done much to rein in online public opinion by launching rules to build a “favorable online environment” and punishing violators, publicly humiliating influential social media users, and creating a legal means to punish broadly defined “rumor-mongers.”

Another post from Tea Leaf Nation notes that the Sina Weibo hashtag #扫黄打非·净网2014# (sweep out yellow, strike at rumors · clean web 2014), created to aid in the crackdown, seems to be backfiring, instead “allowing users to find (blurred) pornography more easily”:

The Chinese government’s latest effort to bring the country’s social web under control appears to be backfiring. A new phase in a government crackdown on undesirable online content announced March 28 — called “sweep out yellow, strike at rumors” (the former referring to , the latter including opinion contrary to the Communist Party line) — has become a hashtag on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, bearing the same name. It appears to be an astroturf campaign: authorities have encouraged the hashtag, even if they did not generate it, by inviting netizens to get in on the anti-porn action through “joint monitoring and reporting.” And join they have, by labeling not-quite-pornographic material with that tag in what looks an awful lot like a bid to taunt censors. [...] [Source]

The newest crackdown has also set its crosshairs on slash fiction. Offbeat China notes that this has angered many of the “rotten women” who often write and read the genre:

Slash fiction is a genre of fan fiction that focuses on the interpersonal attraction and sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same . In China, slash, or dan mei (耽美) in Chinese, goes beyond fan fiction, and is used exclusively to refer to male-male slash. Believe it or not, slash is more popular than one would expect in China, and sex scenes are a big part of Chinese slash stories.

[...] The majority of readers, as well as writers, of slash in China are straight young girls who identify themselves as “rotten women (腐女).” [...]

[...] In their eyes, slash is but a victim of the country’s system-wise against . As one female netizen 咖啡呆丶LM commented: “This is not cleaning the cyberspace. This is pure discrimination. I may never see a rainbow flag fly above China in my life time.” [Source]

After describing the politics behind the campaign and the contrast between China’s official anti-porn stance and the prevalence of black market retailers and sex workers, Lily Kuo also notes that some see this crackdown as a means to discriminate. From Quartz:

[...] Others believe the anti-porn moves are more aimed at sexual minority groups than mainstream porn. In the past. the government has shut down sites offering advice or information to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender people in China as well as sites containing erotic gay fiction. Less ominous is the possibility that Chinese officials simply launch these campaigns with little intention of stamping out the industry. Instead, it provides an occasion for the government to flex its muscles over China’s internet firms and require them to fall in line. [...] [Source]