Quote of the Day: “Do You Think Xi Jinping is a Dictator?”

Hu Chenfeng, a Chinese content creator who first rose to fame making videos about poverty, has been suspended from Bilibili and Weibo after a livestream viewer asked him:  “Do you think Xi Jinping is a dictator?” CDT a published a video of the incident: 

After uttering “fuck” under his breath, Hu began denouncing the question-asker by repeatedly exclaiming that the question was a serious violation of streaming guidelines, that the person who asked the question must be insane, and that police would likely be at their doorstep soon. The following day, Hu shared a post to Bilibili announcing that he would take three days off from streaming due to “physical discomfort.” Fans were skeptical that the choice was his own, asking underneath the announcement: “Was this voluntary, or coerced? Are you unwell, or was there some other reason behind it? Please state your opinion directly.” Another fan asked, “Stop beating around the bush. Please state your opinion about him clearly,” in apparent reference to the question about Xi. Despite Hu’s vehement reaction to the question and his abrupt self-announced hiatus, his social media presence was suspended across platforms.

The question was a classic example of “rushing the tower” (冲塔, chōngtǎ), slang for deliberately saying politically sensitive things online knowing full well that censorship—or perhaps even real-life detention—will follow. An example of “rushing the tower” includes a December 2023 WeChat post titled “Arise, Ye Bloggers Who Refuse to be Slaves!” that denounced censors as “the sanctimonious face of evil.” (For more on “rushing the tower,” see CDT’s 20th Anniversary Lexicon ebook.) 

The incident was a near exact repeat of a 2019 incident in which the streamer Yao Shui Ge, famed for his outlandish online antics, invited a viewer onto his livestream only for the viewer to jokingly assert himself to be “Xi Jinping’s son.” Yao Shui Ge immediately ended the stream but the damage was done. He, too, was suspended across platforms and his name became a sensitive term on both Bilibili and Baidu—returning no search results in the period after the incident. (He is now searchable across both platforms.) CDT Chinese’s “quote of the day,” a selection of a netizen voice, held that the two streamers’ panicked reactions to mentions of Xi revealed all:

Do you think Xi is a dictator? Judging by Hu Chenfeng’s reaction and Yao Shui Ge’s shock back in the day, deep down everyone knows the answer. [Chinese]

Online mentions of Xi Jinping are so frequently censored that netizens have taken to jokingly calling Xi “Voldemort,” after the Harry Potter villain also known as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” Recent key-words related to Xi that have been censored include: “Xi Jinping Rules China,”  “Xi Jinping + The Emperor is Greatly Pleased,” “Xi Jin + Guaranteed Failure,” “Jinping + Guaranteed Failure,” and “Freedom of Speech + Xi Jinping.” “Inflammatory” content about Xi was reportedly behind the removal of Meta’s WhatsApp and Threads apps from Apple’s App Store in China on Friday.

This is not Hu Chenfeng’s first brush with censorship. In early 2023, Hu made a viral video documenting the poverty of an elderly woman in Chengdu. Censors took it down, much to his shock. From Li Yuan at The New York Times:

In March, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator, announced that it would crack down on anyone who publishes videos or posts that “deliberately manipulate sadness, incite polarization, create harmful information that damages the image of the Party and the government, and disrupts economic and social development.” It bans sad videos of old people, disabled people and children.

[…] Hu Chenfeng recorded the footage that was removed from the Chinese internet. On popular video sites, he had posted a recording showing an elderly woman living on barely $15 a month. In the words of many social media commenters, he was revealing too much. “This subject is untouchable,” one commenter wrote on a now-deleted discussion thread on Zhihu, a site similar to Quora. Another wrote, “His account was censored simply because he showed what life is like for many people.”

[…] “I shot these videos in the hope of making some money while pushing our society to move forward just a little bit,” Mr. Hu, the videographer, said in a video posted in a backup social media account that had not been blocked. “But I never expected that this is forbidden.” [Source]


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