Minitrue: Cyberspace Administration Targets Broad Range of Content to Avoid “Gloomy Sentiments” During Spring Festival

The following censorship instructions have been distributed online.

In order to create a festive and harmonious atmosphere for online discourse during Spring Festival, the Central Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has decided to initiate a one-month “2023 Spring Festival Online Clean Up” campaign, starting today.

I. Objectives

Implement and adhere to the Spirit of the 20th Party Congress; uphold the concept of “people-centered development”; strengthen the inspection and supervision of critical links in online ecosystems; vigorously crack down on sudden problems or online outbursts during the Spring Festival period; curb the spread of unhealthy culture; take practical measures to protect the legal rights and interests of the majority of netizens; clean up the online ecosystem; and cultivate a positive, spiritually healthy atmosphere for online public opinion during Spring Festival.

II. Tasks

This campaign will run from today until the end of February. The clean-up focuses specifically on the following six aspects:

  1. Continue consolidating the successes of the crackdown on “celebrity culture” and endeavor to maintain a healthy online ecosystem in the entertainment sphere. First, closely monitor situations related to CCTV’s New Years Gala and Spring Festival film and television releases. Crack down on fan groups that use these as an opportunity to incite flame wars and oppositional attacks, among other issues. Strictly guard against problems within fan groups spilling over into athletics, e-sports, or similar fields. Second, strengthen the scope of management over online information about celebrities in order to prevent gossip, scandals, and exposés of private information from taking up resources in the public sphere. Third, online platforms are strictly prohibited from using Spring Festival activities to create new celebrity ranking contests, which must not resemble efforts to entice youth to pool together money to vote. Fourth, make a concerted effort to crack down on unhealthy “internet celebrity” issues. Deal severely with “celebrity” bloggers who have a history of sensationalizing or slandering. Investigate so-called “inspirational accounts” that attempt to either glorify their past misdeeds or rehabilitate their image after serving time in prison.
  2. Seriously investigate online wealth flaunting, the promotion of extravagant eating and drinking habits, and other such problems, in order to prevent the resurgence of these bad habits. First, focus on deleting all images, videos, or texts that flaunt a luxury lifestyle by referencing such phrases as “eye-wateringly expensive New Year’s meals,” “sky-high annual bonuses,” “a deluge of New Year’s cash,” “gigantic red envelopes,” “top-end luxury mansions,” “extravagant betrothal gifts,” and the like. Nor must content surreptitiously flaunt wealth, invite invidious comparisons, or incite similar problems. Second, identify and eliminate all information that intentionally encourages excessive consumption, features scenes of feasting or drinking to excess, or promotes food waste during the Spring Festival period.
  3. Focus on investigating organized online gambling, fraud, and other illegal and prohibited activities. First, continue clearing out gambling-related information and shutting down gambling transactions on illegal internet platforms during the Spring Festival. Seriously investigate online behavior that employs card games, treasure hunts, or red envelope give-aways in WeChat groups to simulate or covertly promote online gambling. Two, strictly crack down on the use of “Spring Festival Migration red-envelope subsidies,” “Spring Festival wealth collections,” “transferring prepaid cards for a reward,” and other online frauds by other names. Strictly guard against “Red Envelope Downpours,” “Wool Picking,” and other activities that lure users into giving false ratings.
  4. Strengthen the crackdown on feudal superstitions and unhealthy traditions. First, continue to clean up posts and videos that praise or promote feudal superstitions and practices, fortune telling, divination, and other illegal services. Strictly limit the use of click-bait posts that feature revealing clothing or suggestive behaviors to create vulgar personas such as “hotel hottie,” “scenic-spot hottie,” “snow hottie,” “rural hottie,” “food delivery hottie,” etc.
  5. Strictly manage issues such as online bullying and internet addiction, and strengthen the protection of minors. First, focus on erasing video content that mocks or bullies minors, or that entices them to engage in dangerous activities, and continue to crack down on the use of “internet celebrity kids” for profit. Second, strictly monitor the use of “smart” devices, online games, and video game livestreams that could potentially expose underage children to vulgar, sexual, violent, and other inappropriate content. Third, crack down on the practice of renting or buying accounts, and encourage parents to proactively set up parental controls to prevent minors (particularly “left-behind” children in rural areas) from developing internet addictions.
  6. Implement a thorough crackdown on false information in order to avoid exacerbating “gloomy sentiments.” First, focus on cracking down on rumors and rumor-mongering related to citizens’ livelihoods, food safety, accidents, and similar topics during the Spring Festival period. Strengthen efforts to refute rumors as they arise, and to clarify the facts in a timely manner. Second, continue to crack down on pandemic-related online rumors. Investigate and deal with posts on false pandemic trends, fabricated reports about new pandemic control policies, fake miracle cures for the virus, spurious personal experiences with the virus during the Spring Festival period, and other problematic content that might mislead the public or create widespread panic. Third, strictly investigate concocted year-end stories about debt collection, bankruptcy, poverty, hardship, or any other vulgar, melodramatic, made-up tales that play on netizens’ emotions or family sentiments in order to trick them into spending money or giving tips. Strictly control the publication of “homecoming diaries,” “return-to-the-village eyewitness accounts,” and other false information intended to incite geographic prejudice, spread anxiety, or exaggerate the “dark underside” of society. 

III. Requirements

  1. Sound deployment and implementation. All local CAC bureaus should carefully formulate detailed special action plans that take into account local conditions. Clearly lay out objectives, responsibilities, and work methods. Carry out an in-depth clean-up and rectification that achieves concrete results.
  2. Clarify work priorities. All local CAC bureaus and online platforms must step up supervision of priority areas such as home pages, trending lists, trending topics, trending recommendations, push notifications, information flows, and comment sections to ensure a healthy environment in these key areas.
  3. Strengthen platform responsibility. Increase supervision of key online platforms’ work teams, increase shifts during Spring Festival, thoroughly investigate problems and loopholes, strengthen content censorship, and pay extremely close attention to task implementation.
  4. Strengthen censorship oversight. Rigorously investigate online platforms, accounts, and multi-channel networks (MCNs) that violate the law or regulations. Compile a selection  of “typical case studies” and provide a detailed summary of the results of the campaign. Time the release of propaganda exposés for maximum deterrent effects. [Chinese]

The censorship directive translated above was published on the official WeChat account of the China Cyberspace Administration (CAC) on January 17, 2023, less than a week before the start of Spring Festival, China’s Lunar New Year celebration. While it is not unusual for CAC censorship directives about the direction of coverage for Lunar New Year festivities or the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala to leak around this time of year, this directive is particularly detailed and was made public by CAC itself.

The announced “2023 Spring Festival Online Clean Up” seems aimed at steering online discourse away from anything that might exacerbate “gloomy sentiments” during this typically festive time of year. For Chinese citizens returning to their hometowns for Lunar New Year, there is plenty to be anxious about: the abrupt and chaotic lifting of “zero-COVID” controls, a new nationwide wave of COVID infections, skepticism about official COVID death toll figures, China’s historic population decline, a disappointing economy, shortages of COVID medications, and increased medical debt for those who do contract the virus and require treatment. The text’s focus on “rumors” should be viewed in light of the term’s use to describe, as historian Steve Smith has written with reference to the Mao era, “any information or opinion at variance with the official construction of reality.”

Politicians and propagandists alike seem keen to find ways to lift people’s spirits during these trying times. Some local governments have relented and allowed residents to set off formerly-banned fireworks during the Lunar New Year. And recently, many netizens were surprised to receive personal Lunar New Year’s well-wishes from none other than Xi Jinping himself—via a Weibo link that sent users to a faux WeChat incoming call page, notably lacking a “reject call” button. Clicking “answer” pulled up a short video of Xi’s recent livestream address to grassroots cadres, spliced with shots of rapt audiences around the country applauding his speech. Online reactions to the unsolicited video message ranged from amused to puzzled to decidedly un-cheerful. One comment read, “I do not wish to speak with you, thanks. Scram.”

Cindy Carter contributed to this post.

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. Some instructions are issued by local authorities or to specific sectors, and may not apply universally across China. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source. See CDT’s collection of Directives from the Ministry of Truth since 2011.


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