Shows blur western brands over Xinjiang cotton dispute

Source: NYT (4/9/21)
Chinese Shows Blur Western Brands Over Xinjiang Cotton Dispute
Online platforms that stream dance, singing and comedy shows are pixelating performers’ T-shirts and sneakers amid a nationalistic fervor.
By Tiffany May

The sneakers of a contestant on the stand-up comedy series “Roast” were blurred. Credit…Tencent Video

HONG KONG — Viewers of some of China’s most popular online variety shows were recently greeted by a curious sight: a blur of pixels obscuring the brands on sneakers and T-shirts worn by contestants.

As far as viewers could tell, the censored apparel showed no hints of obscenity or indecency. Instead, the problem lay with the foreign brands that made them.

Since late March, streaming platforms in China have diligently censored the logos and symbols of brands like Adidas that adorn contestants performing dance, singing and standup-comedy routines. The phenomenon followed a feud between the government and big-name international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the authorities are accused of mounting a wide-reaching campaign of repression against ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs. Continue reading

Countering Xinjiang backlash with a musical

Source: NYT (4/5/21)
China Tries to Counter Xinjiang Backlash With … a Musical?
The movie is part of Beijing’s wide-ranging new propaganda campaign to push back on sanctions and criticism of its oppression of the Uyghurs.
By Amy Qin

A Chinese government propaganda sign with slogans reading “Forever following the Party” and “China’s ethnicities, one family” in Aksu, Xinjiang, last month. Credit…Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

In one scene, Uyghur women are seen dancing in a rousing Bollywood style face-off with a group of Uyghur men. In another, a Kazakh man serenades a group of friends with a traditional two-stringed lute while sitting in a yurt.

Welcome to “The Wings of Songs,” a state-backed musical that is the latest addition to China’s propaganda campaign to defend its policies in Xinjiang. The campaign has intensified in recent weeks as Western politicians and rights groups have accused Beijing of subjecting Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang to forced labor and genocide.

The film, which debuted in Chinese cinemas last week, offers a glimpse of the alternate vision of Xinjiang that China’s ruling Communist Party is pushing to audiences at home and abroad. Far from being oppressed, the musical seems to say, the Uyghurs and other minorities are singing and dancing happily in colorful dress, a flashy take on a tired Chinese stereotype about the region’s minorities that Uyghur rights activists quickly denounced. Continue reading

Global Storytelling–cfp

Dear colleagues,

We are writing to announce a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal, Global Storytelling: Journal of Digital and Moving Images, founded by Editor-in-Chief Ying Zhu, edited at Hong Kong Baptist University, and published at University of Michigan. The journal invites submissions that engage with the affect (emotional engagement) and effect (social impact) of audiovisual storytelling across all audiovisual platforms and encompasses multiple methodological approaches. For more info see our temporary journal homepage here.

You can find our open call for papers here. Please submit through this web portal (or email

We also invite submissions for a special issue on serial narrative, entitled “Streaming and Seriality”, described here.

If you are interested in being our peer-reviewers, please email your name, a link to a CV or webpage describing your background, and a list of topics you are interested in and qualified to review to

We look forward to hearing from all!

Dorothy Lau, Managing Editor
Jonathan Frome, Associate Managing Editor

Feminist icon

Source: NYT (4/2/21)
A Chinese ‘Auntie’ Went on a Solo Road Trip. Now, She’s a Feminist Icon.
Tired of housework and an unhappy marriage, a 56-year-old woman has been on a six-month jaunt across China that has challenged deep-rooted gender norms.
By Joy Dong and 

“Why do I want to take a road trip?” asked Su Min, a 56-year-old retiree from Henan Province in central China. “Life at home is truly too upsetting.”

She spends each night alone, curled up in a four-and-a-half by eight-foot rooftop tent, balanced on stilts above her car. She often eats her meals in parking lots. She has seen her daughter and grandchildren only once in the past six months, and her husband not at all.

Su Min, a 56-year-old retiree from Henan Province in central China, has never been happier.

“I’ve been a wife, a mother and a grandmother,” Ms. Su said. “I came out this time to find myself.”

After fulfilling her family’s expectations of dutiful Chinese womanhood, Ms. Su is embracing a new identity: fearless road-tripper and internet sensation. For six months, she has been on a solo drive across China, documenting her journey for more than 1.35 million followers across several social media platforms. Continue reading

What happened in Mingjing Village

Source: China Media Project (3/23/21)

The breaking story of a shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday afternoon made headlines across the United States and around the world. Many outlets in the US have followed with live updates, and in the days to come there will surely be further reports and analysis asking a crucial question: Why?

The treatment of the Colorado story by US and international media starkly contrasts with the reporting of a story unfolding the very same day on the outskirts of the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou – the detonation of a bomb in a historic village, killing five and injuring five others. In this case, there were no big headlines. There were no reporters on the scene. There was only a trickle of information, including a pair of terse local police notices, a news item from the state-run Xinhua News Agency that parroted the police line, and a graphic video of the aftermath circulating with little context on social media.

Today the Guangzhou story has settled into eerie silence across the Chinese media landscape. News editors are reportedly under instructions to use only official copy from Xinhua — ensuring that if the story is told at all, it is told only in the way the authorities see fit.

Left with only hints as to what might have happened in the Mingjing Village (明经村), what can we learn? Continue reading

Online database of speech crimes and punishments

Source: NYT (3/1/21)
China Persecutes Those Who Question ‘Heroes.’ A Sleuth Keeps Track.
By 袁莉


中国中央电视台2月19日播放的画面:仪仗队抬着一名去年6月在中印边界冲突中死亡的中国士兵的棺材。 CHINA CENTRAL TELEVISION, VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

At least seven people over the past week have been threatened, detained or arrested after casting doubt over the government’s account of the deaths of Chinese soldiers during a clash last year with Indian troops. Three of them are being detained for between seven and 15 days. The other four face criminal charges, including one man who lives outside China.

“The internet is not a lawless place,” said the police notices issued in their cases. “Blasphemies of heroes and martyrs will not be tolerated.”

Their punishment might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for an online database of speech crimes in China. A simple Google spreadsheet open for all to see, it lists nearly 2,000 times when the government punished people for what they said online and offline.
要不是因为有人建了一个中国文字狱的在线数据库,这些人受到的惩罚也许不会引起人们的注意。这是一个简单的谷歌表格,面向所有人开放,它列出了政府对近2000人因为他们的线上或线下言论所做的惩罚。 Continue reading

Online lit writes new chapter for movies and tv series

Source: China Daily (2/19/21)
Online literature writes new chapter for movies and TV series
By Xu Fan

A scene in My Heroic Husband. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As one of the fastest growing businesses in the internet industry, online literature has become a main source to spawn films and TV series, said a report released by veteran insiders.

Recently, China Film Association and Beijing Film Academy jointly released a report on the market potential of movies and dramas adapted from online literary works in past two years.

With an impressive improvement in storytelling technique and visual effects, such works have won high popularity in China as well as gripping attentions overseas, said the report’s writers.

Between 2018 and 2019, a total of 42 of the 100 most popular movies and dramas, or 42 percent, were adapted from internet stories, according to the report. Continue reading

HK move to overhaul RTHK fans fears

Source: NYT (2/19/21)
Hong Kong’s Move to Overhaul Broadcaster Fans Fears of Media Crackdown
The broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong, is known for independent reporting often critical of the government.
By Vivian Wang

Recording a Radio Television Hong Kong program last year. Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

HONG KONG — The Hong Kong government on Friday called for the city’s public broadcaster to be more tightly supervised by government-appointed advisers, in what pro-democracy activists say is the authorities’ latest move to limit freedom of the press.

The government issued a 157-page report accusing Radio Television Hong Kong, an outlet that has often reported critically on officials, of lacking transparency and objectivity.

The report came hours after the government announced that the head of the public broadcaster would leave his post six months early. His replacement is a civil servant from outside the broadcasting service with no journalism experience.

For supporters of Hong Kong’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement, RTHK’s troubles signaled the fate of independent journalism under an intensifying crackdown on dissent. Often compared to the BBC, the broadcaster is government-funded but is promised editorial independence in its charter. Continue reading

App writes new chapter in reading

Source: China Daily (1/28/21)
App writes new chapter in reading
By Yang Yang | CHINA DAILY

A screenshot of the Xiao Niao Aves app, which was launched in December under the slogan “in the name of literature”, displays the basic information of one of the available articles. CHINA DAILY

As digital reading and social media in China become more dominant in daily life, fewer people are reading books. This trend has been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Retail book sales dropped by 5.08 percent in 2020, the first fall in two decades. Moreover, at the start of this year, at least 17 newspapers around the country announced their demise.

At such a time, the launch of a literature app Xiao Niao (“little bird”) Aves seems both timely and risky. The design is simple and neat. Its logo is a flying bird in paper-cutting style, with the slogan “in the name of literature”.

The articles are divided into five categories-fiction, nonfiction, archive, column and poetry. Each article is presented with a picture, and basic information; title, author’s name, the section it belongs to, a short sentence that provides a glimpse into the article and the publishing date, one article following another. Users can roll directly down to see them all.

There are also different sections run by different editors or writers, such as Story Archipelago that carries the latest Western short stories edited by Peng Lun, Novelists that publish fictional works edited by Li Jingrui, and Going to the Best University That I Know, a series of essays created by journalist and writer Yang Xiao.

One can read a part of the articles but will have to pay 12 yuan ($1.85) each to read the first three pieces. The price for access to a whole year’s articles is 588 yuan, which many consider quite expensive. Comparatively, classic literary magazines are much cheaper. China’s top literature bimonthly Harvest charges 180 yuan for a year’s subscription, and now is offering 50 percent discount on online shopping platforms. Continue reading

Bilibili boycott

Source: SupChina (2/10/21)
Brands pull ads from Bilibili amid boycott over perverted anime series and sexist user comments
While the Chinese streaming site hasn’t directly addressed the boycotts, the distasteful anime series at the center of the controversy was taken down for “technical reasons.”
By Jiayun Feng

Mushoku Tensei

A growing number of brands are halting advertising on Bilibili, a Chinese video-streaming service popular among young people, as part of an intensifying protest of the site’s failure to curb misogynist comments and its promotion of sexually suggestive content.

An anime series for ‘lowlifes’

At the center of the controversy is a Japanese anime television series called Mushoku Tensei: Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu, or Jobless Reincarnation: I Will Seriously Try If I Go To Another World. Adapted from a light novel that was originally published in 2012, the anime series concerns a 34-year-old unemployed man who is looked down upon by his peers for not having a purpose in life. However, after he dies in a car crash, the man is reincarnated into a fantastical world as a newborn baby gifted with an overwhelming amount of magic power as well as the mind of a grown adult.

The series premiered in Japan last month, and soon became available to stream on Bilibili with Chinese subtitles. But unlike how it’s treated as sort of a “niche product” on Japanese networks — the series is shown at midnight with adults as the target demographic — Bilibili aggressively advertised it as teen-friendly show, despite its frequent depiction of the protagonist’s fetishizing and pedophilic behavior, including stealing used underwear from his teacher and molesting young girls. Continue reading

Spring festival gala criticism

Source: SupChina (2/11/21)
Once again, blackface and single-shaming jokes are featured at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Gala (春晚 chūnwǎn) comes in for withering criticism nearly every year for poor taste, sexism, and other issues. This year is no different.
By Jiayun Feng

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s annual Spring Festival Gala (春晚 chūnwǎn) comes in for withering criticism nearly every year for poor taste, sexism, and other issues. This year is no different:

Perpetual misfiring on Africa and blackface

Five minutes into the gala, a group of Chinese actors adorned in blackface makeup and stereotypical African tribal garments appeared on the stage, dancing joyfully in a segment that also featured flamenco performers, belly dancers, and women dressed like Cleopatra in ancient Egypt.

Continue reading

Chinese publisher jailed

Source: The Guardian (2/9/21)
Chinese publisher who spoke up for dissident academic is jailed for three years
Geng Xiaonan guilty of publishing illegal titles after she made comments backing Beijing critic Xu Zhangrun
By Helen Davidson in Taipei

A poster of Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Wuhan. A publisher has been jailed for three years for speaking up for a professor who was critical of the president.

A poster of Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Wuhan. A publisher has been jailed for three years for speaking up for professor Xu Zhangrun who was critical of the president. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

A Chinese publisher who spoke out in support of a dissident academic has been jailed for three years in Beijing after she pleaded guilty to illegal business operations.

Geng Xiaonan, 46, and her husband Qin Zhen, were arrested in September on suspicion of publishing thousands of illegal titles. According to reports, Geng told the court she was guilty of the charges against her, that she was the primary decision maker, and asked it to show leniency to her husband and staff who were just following instructions. She also asked for leniency for herself, because she was sole carer to her ailing father. Qin was given a suspended sentence of two-and-a-half years. Continue reading

Clubhouse app blocked in China

Source: NYT (2/8/21)
In China, an App Offered Space for Debate. Then the Censors Came.
For a little while, the social media platform Clubhouse provided the rare opportunity for cross-border dialogue on contentious topics free from the country’s usual tight controls.
Amy Chang Chien and 

Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China’s government has been ramping up its efforts to assert near-total control over what citizens read and say online. Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

One by one, the chatroom participants took the digital microphone as thousands quietly listened in.

A Chinese man said he did not know whether to believe the widespread reports of concentration camps for Muslims in the far western region of Xinjiang. Then a Uighur woman spoke up, calmly explaining that she was certain of the camps’ existence because her relatives had been among those interned. A man from Taiwan chimed in to urge understanding on all sides, while another from Hong Kong praised the woman for her courage in coming forward.

It was a rare moment of cross-border dialogue with people on the mainland of China, who are usually separated from the rest of the online world by the Great Firewall. For a short time, they found an open forum on the social media app, Clubhouse, to discuss contentious topics, free from the usual constraints of the country’s tightly controlled internet.

By Monday evening, the inevitable happened: The Chinese censors moved in. Many mainland users reported receiving error messages when they tried to use the platform. Some said they could only access the app by tunneling through the digital border using a VPN, or virtual private network. Within hours, more than a thousand users had tuned in to hear a discussion about the ban in a chatroom titled “Walled off, so now what?” Searches for “Clubhouse” on the popular Chinese social media platform Weibo were blocked. Continue reading

Li Ziqi sets subscriber record

Source: SCMP (2/3/21)
Chinese internet star Li Ziqi sets Guinness World Record for YouTube subscribers with rural lifestyle show
Li’s videos show her in rural Sichuan, doing farm chores, growing and gathering food, and cooking it. Her videos have gained almost three million subscribers since July, and she set off the recent kimchi storm.
By  in Shenzhen

Chinese vlogger Li Ziqi shot to fame on YouTube with her rural lifestyle videos. Photo: Li Ziqi/YouTube

Chinese vlogger Li Ziqi shot to fame on YouTube with her rural lifestyle videos. Photo: Li Ziqi/YouTube

Chinese internet culinary sensation Li Ziqi has set a record for “Most subscribers for a Chinese-language channel on YouTube”, Guinness World Records announced on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service on Tuesday night.

She was listed in the records in July with 11.4 million subscribers and had gone up to 14.1 million by the end of January, the post said.

“The poetic and idyllic lifestyle and the exquisite traditional Chinese culture shown in Li’s videos have attracted fans from all over the world, with many YouTubers commenting in praise,” the post said. “The culture that her videos conveyed is travelling further.”

Continue reading

Worker deaths put big tech under scrutiny

Source: NYT (2/1/21)
Worker Deaths Put Big Tech in China Under Scrutiny
The deaths of two young employees of Pinduoduo, an e-commerce platform, have reignited longstanding concerns about working conditions at internet giants.
By Vivian Wang

A 2018 shift at the Shanghai headquarters of Pinduoduo, an e-commerce platform that is facing an investigation and a boycott over its working conditions. Credit…ChinaTopix, via Associated Press

It was 1:30 a.m. just days before the new year, and the 22-year-old employee of Pinduoduo, a Chinese e-commerce company, was leaving after a long day of work. Suddenly, she clutched her stomach and collapsed. Her co-workers rushed her to a hospital, but six hours later, she died.

Less than two weeks later, a young Pinduoduo worker leaped to his death during a brief visit to his parents. The next day, a third employee said he had been fired after criticizing Pinduoduo’s work culture.

The day after that, a delivery driver for another technology company set himself on fire, demanding unpaid wages. “I want my blood and sweat money,” he said in a video shared widely on Chinese social media in recent weeks.

The string of deaths and protests has reopened a national debate around the power of China’s biggest technology companies and the expectations they impose on their employees, at a time when internet giants around the world are under fierce scrutiny. Continue reading