Censors took down a Zhihu question-and-answer that asked, “Why don’t young people watch Xinwen Lianbo anymore?” Xinwen Lianbo, China Central Television’s flagship evening news program since 1978, is among the most watched television programs in the world. However, viewership seems to divide sharply among generational lines. The censored Zhihu question-and-answer revealed that long working days, turgid Party-speak, and disillusionment with China’s current political and economic trends are among the factors depressing youth viewership of the Chinese Communist Party’s nightly news broadcast:
@大海捞真：When I was younger, Xinwen Lianbo would come on just as we were sitting down for family dinner. After it finished, we’d wash the dishes while listening to the weather report. By the 8:00 p.m. “golden hour,” we’d settle in to watch the shows … Nowadays, I’m not even off work by the time Xinwen Lianbo airs.
@祖如慧：[Xinwen Lianbo] just repeats the same few phrases over and over again: implement, follow up, emphasize, execute, optimize, standardize, rectify, unify, better, deepen, perfect, transform, innovate, grow, suggest, pay close attention to, vigorously, adequately, in-depth, mechanism, achievements, crack down on, ideology, conduct.
@柚子：The catastrophes beyond our borders have nothing to do with me, and the “steady improvement” domestically is something I haven’t experienced, so …
@北辰之月：The first 25 minutes are Great, Glorious, Correct. The last five minutes are just a rundown of catastrophes in various countries. // Stop liking this, I’m scared. I wonder what y’all are saying in the comments, so many have been censored…
@瞅你咋地：For decades, it’s only ever said one true thing: “Today’s date is …” [Chinese]
Youth dislike for Xinwen Lianbo is hardly new—see “You Liar,” a 2014 diss track aimed at the broadcast from Chongqing rapper 小艾EYE (Xiǎo Ài EYE, or “Lil’ Eye.”) (In 2021, the rapper was blacklisted, all of his social media accounts were shut down, and all of his music was removed from streaming platforms, reportedly due to the song.) Yet the latest censorship is reflective of the Party’s seeming unease over youth discontent. A social media discourse analysis by The Economist found that online discourse on at least one Chinese social media platform had grown increasingly negative over the past five years. Censors have repeatedly taken down viral expressions of discontent like “Kong Yiji literature,” laments of the overeducated and under-employed, and the self-appellation “Four Won’t Youth,” who won’t date, marry, buy homes, or reproduce.
The Party seems increasingly willing to enforce its cultural vision, leading to what Sinologist Geremie Barmé has termed Xi Jinping’s “empire of tedium.” Youth criticism of government-approved “main melody” content appears to represent a firm red line. In April of this year, a Peking University student was dismissed from their position in the Communist Youth League and forced to make a public apology for publishing a mild criticism of the propaganda flick “Flashover” to social media platform Xiaohongshu. In May, comedian Li Haoshi was blacklisted for a punchline comparing his dogs to People’s Liberation Army soldiers. In May, Weibo began censoring contemporary artist Yue Minjun’s iconic paintings of smiling soldiers. Music is no exception. The band Slap was wiped from the web for its satirical, politically incisive lyrics. Officials in the city of Shijiazhuang even pressured a local rock festival to use as its theme song a rewritten, watered-down version (“The Unkillable One from Shijiazhuang”) of a rebellious rock anthem originally written by indie legends Omnipotent Youth Society. Sometimes, the censorship is physical: officials in Zhengzhou literally whitewashed a wall to erase a poem, “Momma,” that had gone viral online.
Given the shrinking space for cultural criticism in general, it is hardly surprising that criticism of the Party’s flagship news broadcast was so promptly censored.