There’s a Chinese joke about lawyers that goes like this:
“You know you broke the law, right?”
“Why, teaching the law is illegal!”
[Editor’s note: It reads better in the original Chinese]
The joke became reality this week after censors shut down a law professors’ livestream roundtable not once, but twice, across separate platforms. CDT Chinese has archived an essay detailing the online takedown that captivated China’s legal world.
The private liberal think tank Hongfan Institute of Legal and Economic Studies hosted a coterie of professors from Beijing’s prestigious China University of Political Science and Law for a roundtable discussion on the legality of a new blacklist, issued by the China Association of Performing Arts, of “unethical” entertainers banned from the arts industry. The lawyers were discussing whether entertainers on the blacklist were entitled to sue the China Association of Performing Arts and, if not, whether the association (and others like it) were acting in violation of China’s 2020 anti-monopoly law. The new law is aimed at tech monopolies, but has the potential to bring about vast changes in other Chinese industries. The list of unethical performers was issued as part of a “profound transformation” in the entertainment industry driven by a sweeping campaign to bring its values in line with those of the Party.
The discussion was streamed live on Bilibili, where it drew over 3.8 million viewers until it was shut down by Bilibili moderators. Undeterred, the organizers of the roundtable moved to a new livestream room, which was also shut down. Next, the discussion moved to Tencent Meeting and the law-focused site haolvshi.com.cn, but those sites proved incapable of handling the traffic, as millions of spectators tuned in. Finally, the discussion was moved to Weibo but—after cutting off the feed 10 times—censors simply suspended the Hongfan Institute of Legal and Economic Studies’ account. The annotated screenshots below show the Institute’s efforts to evade censors by switching platforms:
The essay archived by CDT Chinese concludes with a comment that the author attributes to an unnamed netizen:
Tonight really opened my eyes.
It showed the anti-monopoly law experts what a monopoly really is,
and it showed the legal experts what illegality really is.
There is no real world lesson more vivid than this. [Chinese]