Move to ban TikTok in schools

Source: The Conversation (1/18/23)
Dozens of US schools, universities move to ban TikTok
By (Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro)

SUQIAN, CHINA – JANUARY 1, 2023 – Illustration: TikTok, a short video platform, Suqian, Jiangsu province, China, Jan 1, 2023. (Photo credit should read CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Disclosure statement: Nir Kshetri does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

A growing number of public schools and colleges in the U.S. are moving to ban TikTok – the popular Chinese-owned social media app that allows users to share short videos.

They are following the lead of the federal government and several states, that are banishing the social media app because authorities believe foreign governments – specifically China – could use the app to spy on Americans.

The app is created by ByteDance, which is based in China and has ties to the Chinese government.

The University of Oklahoma, Auburn University in Alabama and 26 public universities and colleges in Georgia have banned the app from campus Wi-Fi networks. Montana’s governor has asked the state’s university system to ban it. Continue reading

Semantics of Tea Drinking

List members might be interested in my recent publication “Semantics of Tea Drinking: Online Writing and the Shaping of Counter-public Spheres in Xi Jinping’s China.” positions (2022) 30 (4): 865–893. Find the abstract below, along with a link that should give access to the entire essay.

Lorenzo Andolfatto


Recent discussion concerning the Chinese government’s autocratic practices has been orienting public attention toward the large scale of its surveillance apparatus. Observed from afar, the integration of digital and material infrastructures for discipline and control–whether in the form of factory/detention complexes in the Xinjiang region, face–recognition technology, or the Great Firewall–cannot help but convey the impression of a faceless authority acting upon statistics and data. Yet data and statistics refer to individuals and communities, whose interactions with the powers that be are negotiated daily on concrete grounds, such as over a cup of tea. The expressions hecha 喝茶 (drinking tea) and bei hecha 被喝茶 (being asked for tea) long ago acquired a chiefly political connotation and are now commonly used to imply being approached by the State Security Police for a forced interrogation. As the everydayness of the expression suggests, this type of state interventions in civil society attests, in Foucault’s terms, state power’s “capillary form of existence, the point where [it] reaches into the very grain of individuals.” This article makes use of an extraordinary corpus of online texts presenting firsthand accounts of bei hecha experiences to explore questions of everyday governance and governmentality in contemporary China. Adopting a text–based approach to matters conventionally pertaining to the realm of political science, it argues for an understanding of hecha ji texts (written recollections of tea–drinking sessions) as a distinctive form of writing that is functional to the construction of counter–public spheres of dissent in the tightening authoritarian environment of Xi Jinping’s China today.

Xi Jinping invites you to a video call

Source: China Digital Times (1/19/23)
Xi Jinping Invites You to a Video Call
Posted by 

A screenshot of the video call shows a color photo of Xi Jinping against a red background, a green "incoming phone call" icon, and the Chinese message: "Xi Jinping Invites You To A Video Call."

A screenshot of the video call shows a color photo of Xi Jinping against a red background, a green “incoming phone call” icon, and the Chinese message: “Xi Jinping Invites You To A Video Call.”

A novel propaganda method—a “video call” from Xi Jinping delivering Lunar New Year’s well-wishes—inspired titters after China Central Television (CCTV) shared it on Weibo. The Weibo link 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. Less a phone call than a directive from on high, the video was met with mockery online, forcing CCTV’s Weibo page to lock and censor the comment section. CDT captured and translated a selection of comments before they were erased:

ihc3sqw:Straight out of “Ring” [A Japanese horror film in which mysterious phone calls play an important role.]

whyworld:Just watched the video. What stylish packaging. They didn’t even pretend to have someone on the line with him. The point being that our only role is to listen.

华国锋 [The username is “Hua Guofeng,” Mao’s oft-forgotten successor who proclaimed a “Two Whatevers” policy, following whatever Mao did and whatever Mao said.]:Xi Jinping must seize control over the economy. We all believe in your ability—whatever you control will surely go up in smoke.

啪啪啪WN:Hello, Piggy. If Tencent could be bothered to reintroduce the “end call” button, that would be nice. I do not wish to speak with you, thanks. Scram.

YiiPerona:Who the fuck started this “Xi Jinping invites you to a video call” thing? My first belly laugh of 2023. [Chinese] Continue reading

New year censorship crackdown

Source: The Guardian (1/19/23)
China announces lunar new year censorship crackdown to silence Covid ‘rumours’first”
Plan to target ‘gloomy sentiments’ across festival period comes as independent health forecasters estimate over 600,000 deaths from Covid
By  in Taipei

Chinese paramilitary police wear face masks outside the entrance to the Beijing Railway Station

Police wear face masks outside the entrance to the Beijing Railway Station. Chinese authorities have announced an online crack down on Covid “rumours” across lunar new year Photograph: Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Chinese cyber authorities have announced an internet censorship crackdown to ensure there are no “gloomy sentiments” caused by pandemic “rumours” during the lunar new year festival.

It comes as health forecasting firm Airfinity estimated more than 600,000 people have likely died since zero-Covid restrictions were lifted in December – 10 times more than Chinese authorities have officially declared.

The month-long “Spring Festival online improvement” program will target those spreading what authorities deem to be “rumours” about the spread of Covid and patient experiences.

The national cyber administration specified “in-depth rectification of false information and other issues to prevent gloomy sentiments”. Continue reading

The year 2022 in censorship

Source: China Digital Times (1/12/23)
The Year 2022 in Censorship: A Selection from the ‘404 Archive’
Posted by 

The ten censored essays collected below are a first draft of an unauthorized history of the extraordinary year 2022, compiled by CDT Chinese editors. Toward the end of the year, discontent over the zero-COVID policy burgeoned into contention over the Party’s right to rule. In 2015, the journalist Jiang Xue, whose essay “Ten Days in Chang’an” heads the list below, told an interviewer, “I’m not a particularly brave person, but I can weigh my choices and decide what cost I’m willing to bear for the sake of freedom and independent expression.” This past year, tens of thousands across China joined Jiang Xue in “weighing their choices” and decided to risk grave danger to voice their opinions. Censorship was but the first punishment many of the authors below were willing to endure as the price of speaking up. Arranged together, the essays are modest rather than incendiary, still less revolutionary: a pandemic diary, a compilation of visual art, a list of those who died during Shanghai’s lockdown, an archive of 33 attempts to disguise a censored video, a report on a bank depositor, a poem about cicadas, a policy proposal, a cri de coeur, a list of 10 questions, and a photo essay of a vigil. None passed censors’ muster. These essays are not the “most censored” essays of the year, but rather a selection of notable pieces that were scrubbed from the web. A selection of each has been excerpted and translated into English below. Continue reading

Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall

Source: China Digital Times (1/6/23)
Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall, November-December 2022: “Zero-Covid is Over, But I’m Afraid to Go Out”

Nearly three years after whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s death from COVID-19, the “Wailing Wall” that emerged in the comments section under his last Weibo post continues to serve as a repository for the hopes, dreams, worries, and opinions of countless Chinese citizens. CDT editors regularly collect and archive Wailing Wall content, including the selection of comments translated below.

In November, visitors to the Wailing Wall talked about long lockdowns in Xinjiang and elsewhere, a fatal fire in Urumqi (in which COVID barriers prevented firefighters from quickly extinguishing the blaze and rescuing residents), gatherings to mourn the victims of the fire, and nationwide protests that broke out soon afterward and morphed into a referendum on political repression.

After police cracked down and arrested many of the protesters, many Wailing Wall visitors implored Dr. Li to “protect the children,” referring to the young people demonstrating by chanting slogans and holding up blank white pieces of A4 paper. Others referenced the death of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin and the attendant mourning period that followed the protests.

On December 7, the National Health Commission released ten new COVID guidelines, effectively putting an end to China’s long-running “zero-COVID” policy. The announcement inspired a flood of comments on Dr. Li’s Wailing Wall, and CDT ran a special feature: Wailing Wall Special Edition: The Turning Point.

Throughout December, large numbers of Wailing Wall commenters discussed the wave of Omicron infections sweeping the nation, fretted about the government’s lack of preparation, and shared personal stories about illness, overwhelmed hospitals, backed-up morgues and crematoriums, and shortages of medicines and home test kits. Many commenters seemed eager to leave the past three years behind, and embark on a better year in 2023. Continue reading


Source: China Media Project (12/7/2022)


Once signifying graceful women of a distinguished background, the term “socialite,” or yuan (媛), has in recent years become a misogynistic umbrella term used on digital platforms in China to disparage women who advertise fancy lifestyles. The term has also been used by state-run media to roundly criticize perceived materialistic excesses, reinforcing their unfair association with femininity.

The Chinese word yuàn (媛) has traditionally referred to the “virtuous and comely woman” as mentioned in the Shuowen Jiezi (说文解字), a Chinese dictionary compiled in the Han dynasty. Since 2020, however, the word has rapidly evolved — or perhaps devolved — into a catchall word used on the Chinese internet, and also in state media, to denigrate modern-day beauties as disgraceful and degenerate.

In October 2020, a Wechat article profiled a group on the WeChat platform called “Shanghai Female Socialite” (上海名媛群) in which women discussed the art of living or pretending to have rich lifestyles. The members, for example, would split the costs of high tea at fancy hotels, or they would share Gucci pantyhose, in order to mutually cultivate high-society personas — sometimes with the goal of connecting with wealthy suitors. Continue reading

Comedies in East Asian Media

New Publication
Comedies in East Asian Media: Laughing in Bitter Times, a special issue of Archiv orientální
Archiv orientální Vol. 90 No. 3 (2022)
Editors: Ta-wei Chi, Elaine Chung, and Jessica Siu-yin Yeung

Table of Contents

Introduction/ Ta-wei Chi, Elaine Chung, Jessica Siu-yin Yeung

Cultural Memory, the Trope of “Humble Wage Earners,” and Everyman Heroism in the Hui Brothers’ Comedies and Their Remake/ Jessica Siu-yin Yeung

Laughter Suspended: Japanese Surreal Comedy and the Ends of Progress/ David Humphrey

Neoliberal Subjectivities and Cynicism in China: Feng Xiaogang’s Dream-play Comedies/ Yung-Hang Bruce Lai

A Tale of Two Dragons: Politics of the Comedic Kung Fu Body in Chinese Cinema/ Wayne Wong

YouTube Vidding and Participatory Memories of Stephen Chow’s Stardom in South Korea/ Elaine Chung

“I wish my films would bring hopes to the spectators”: An interview with Michael Hui/ Jessica Siu-yin Yeung

City of Laughter: On the Traditions and Trends of Hong Kong Comedy Films/ Fiona Yuk-wa Law

A Brief History of Taiwanese Comedy Cinema/ George Chun Han Wang

For query about access, please contact the editors:

Ta-wei Chi (
Elaine Chung (
Jessica Siu-yin Yeung (

Without a Covid narrative, censors are not sure what to do

Source: NYT (12/22/22)
Without a Covid Narrative, China’s Censors Are Not Sure What to Do
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
The end of “zero Covid” has undermined years of official propaganda, and the vast censorship system is struggling to catch up.
By John Liu and 

A testing booth in Beijing that was shut down after China ended its “zero Covid” policy earlier this month.

A testing booth in Beijing that was shut down after China ended its “zero Covid” policy earlier this month. Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

Since China dropped its strict “zero Covid” policy, a joke has been making the rounds on social media about the sudden shift.

Three men who don’t know each other sit in a prison cell. Each explains why he was arrested:
“I opposed Covid testing.”
“I supported Covid testing.”
“I conducted Covid testing.”

The joke has yet to be broadly censored. It is a sign of just how much the Chinese Communist Party, usually a master of messaging, is struggling to come up with a coherent explanation for the policy shift and a clear directive for what to do with an explosion of cases now threatening the country’s medical resources.

So dizzying was the switch that even two weeks later, the state’s powerful propaganda and censorship system has yet to catch up to the flood of confusion and criticism seeping through the country’s typically tight internet controls. Continue reading

Beijing’s Global Media Influence Machine

Source: The China Project (12/16/22)
Beijing’s global media influence machine — Q&A with Sarah Cook
Beijing spends billions on trying to influence the global conversation about China. Where does the money go, and is it working? I spoke to Sarah Cook, who has tracked media and internet freedom in China since 2007, about her latest report on the PRC’s attempts to shape the way we talk about China.
By Jeremy Goldkorn

Illustration for The China Project by Nadya Yeh

Sarah Cook is the research director for China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan at Freedom House, an American nonprofit organization founded in 1941 and dedicated to monitoring and defending human rights and civil liberties around the world. She heads up the The China Media Bulletin and has authored a number of Freedom House reports, including Beijing’s Global Media Influence 2022 — Authoritarian Expansion and the Power of Democratic Resilience. We spoke by video call in November. This is an edited transcript of our chat.—Jeremy Goldkorn

Beijing’s global media influence is a fascinating topic. But why did you do this report now?

I’ve been following the way the Chinese Communist Party influences media outside of China for over 10 years. This is just the latest report that Freedom House has published on that topic. In 2012, I did one called the Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship. And then in early 2020, we published Beijing’s Global Megaphone, which looked at the different tactics that Beijing is using to try to influence media, not only through propaganda, but also through censorship, other pressures, or control over infrastructure.

This time, we wanted to get a better understanding of how this was evolving and playing out, particularly during the pandemic and across a wide set of countries, while also looking at the degree of local response and resilience.

How well equipped are democracies to respond to the challenge posed by the CCP’s media influence activities? How much impact do the party’s efforts actually have on the media ecosystem, particularly in democratic settings?

We looked at Europe, the U.S., Australia, and we also looked at what’s going on in parts of Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. We worked with local researchers in 30 countries to delve into how these dynamics are playing out. The project took about two years to complete because it’s a lot of information. So then we published the findings in September, 2022. Continue reading

Traumatized by Covid

Source: NYT (12/15/22)
Traumatized by Covid, but Ruled by a Party That Never Apologizes
Gripped with grief, anxiety and depression, many in China want a national reckoning over the hard-line “zero Covid” policy. Holding the government to account may be a quixotic quest.
By Li Yuan

Credit…Elaine L

They posted photos of their positive Covid tests on social media. They described their symptoms as if it were something to be celebrated: fever, cough, fatigue, body ache, loss of taste and smell. They talked about how wonderful it was to no longer be afraid of being sent to quarantine camps for infections and to no longer have to worry about neighbors being locked down for weeks as a result.

“Savor the moment when we are able to get sick,” an independent bookstore owner in Beijing posted on her WeChat timeline. “Let’s protect this most humble right.”

Since the government abruptly dropped its stringent “zero Covid” restrictions last week in the face of rare nationwide protests, much of the Chinese public has embraced a new life. They have been eager to gain back some of their basic rights, even if it means the virus is now spreading quickly.

But beneath the relief is a collective and profound trauma that will not be easy to heal. Gripped with grief, anxiety and depression, people want a national reckoning of what went wrong. Many are now on an almost quixotic quest in the belief that the government should acknowledge its harsh policies were a severe mistake and should apologize for the harm it has caused. Continue reading

Protest songs

Source: China Digital Times (12/12/22)
Protest Songs: “Urumqi East,” “If You Won’t Take the Lead,” “Can’t Imagine What Your Pain Was Like,” and “Down with Tyranny … No More Emperor Xi!”

The recent protests commemorating victims of the November 24 fire in Urumqi and criticizing harsh pandemic measures and repressive government policies employed a wide variety of protest themed slogansartworkpoemsessays, and songs. Some of the songs, such as “Do You Hear the People Sing?” or “The Internationale,” are familiar from previous protests, whereas others are new, referencing specific protest events from the last two weeks.

Over 130 years after it was written—and nearly a century after its lyrics were translated into Chinese—the “The Internationale” continues to resonate as a powerful message of defiance. It has been performed by symphony orchestras and heavy metal bands. Videos of hundreds of Tsinghua University students singing those stirring lyrics (“Nor gods, nor emperors on which to depend”) in Beijing on November 27 called to mind Shanghai’s locked-down residents blasting the song from their windows last April, and the Tiananmen Square protesters singing the same anthem back in the spring of 1989.

In terms of musical style, the four protest songs below range from folk ballads to marching anthems to Sichuanese rap, but all make reference to some of the various demands articulated by protesters: allow public mourning for the victims of the Urumqi fire, loosen COVID restrictions, respect citizens’ rights, put an end to heavy-handed policing, and oppose the unchecked power wielded by Xi Jinping. Continue reading

China eases restrictions in victory for protesters

Source: NYT (12/7/22)
China Eases ‘Zero Covid’ Restrictions in Victory for Protesters
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Beijing’s costly policy of lockdowns has pummeled the world’s second-largest economy and set off mass public protests that were a rare challenge to China’s leader, Xi Jinping.
By Keith BradsherChang Che and 

A Covid testing booth in Shanghai. The city said recently that it would no longer require residents to show a negative P.C.R. test to ride the subway or buses or to enter outdoor parks.

A Covid testing booth in Shanghai. The city said recently that it would no longer require residents to show a negative P.C.R. test to ride the subway or buses or to enter outdoor parks. Credit…The New York Times

Over the past three years, China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, staked his legitimacy on “zero Covid,” making it an ideological campaign aimed at demonstrating the superiority of centralized control over democratic rule. He declared a “people’s war” against the coronavirus that used lockdowns and quarantines to eliminate infections.

In a remarkable pivot, the Chinese government announced a broad rollback of those rules on Wednesday, an implicit concession to public discontent after mass street protests in late November posed the most widespread challenge to the ruling Communist Party in decades.

The party appears to be attempting a tactical, face-saving retreat that would allow Mr. Xi to change tack without acknowledging that widespread opposition and economic pain forced his hand. China’s state media depicted Wednesday’s move as a planned transition after Mr. Xi’s zero-tolerance approach secured a victory over a virus that has now weakened.

The move could very well assuage protesters. But the party is expected to confront a surge of infections as lockdowns lift, schools reopen and people try to resume normal life. The government must now place much greater urgency on vaccinations, which had been neglected in recent months, experts say. Continue reading

China stems protest, but ripples of resistance remain

Source: NYT (12/5/22)
China Stems Wave of Protest, but Ripples of Resistance Remain
Students, residents, lawyers and workers are still challenging the country’s Covid-19 restrictions, even though the intensity of the political chants has been dialed back.
By Chang CheChris BuckleyAmy Chang Chien and 

A demonstration in Beijing last month against strict coronavirus measures. The recent unrest has been the boldest and most widespread in China since the pro-democracy movement of 1989.

A demonstration in Beijing last month against strict coronavirus measures. The recent unrest has been the boldest and most widespread in China since the pro-democracy movement of 1989. Credit…Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

In central China, students chanted demands for more transparency about Covid rules, while avoiding the bold slogans that riled the Communist Party a week earlier. In Shanghai, residents successfully negotiated with the local authorities to stop a lockdown of their neighborhood. And despite pressure from officials, a team of volunteer lawyers across China, committed to defending the right of citizens to voice their views, fielded anxious calls from protesters.

The recent wave of demonstrations that washed over China was prompted by frustration about pandemic restrictions, but the unrest also sometimes resulted in calls for China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to resign. Since then, the police have been out in force to prevent a resurgence, and the mass protests have subsided. In the aftermath, a low-key hum of resistance against the authorities has persisted, suggesting that the big rallies emboldened a small but significant number of people, including students, professionals and blue-collar workers.

None of those local acts amount to a major challenge to Mr. Xi and the Communist Party. But they suggest that residents are less afraid of challenging officialdom, albeit in more measured, tactical ways. They often invoke China’s own laws and policy pledges, an approach that is less likely to draw the wrath of Communist Party leaders. Continue reading

The comic ingenuity of Chinese protesters

Source: CNN (12/2/22)
Opinion: The comic ingenuity of Chinese protesters
By Christopher Rea and Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Protesters in Beijing hold up white pieces of paper during a demonstration against China's zero-Covid measures on November 27.

Protesters in Beijing hold up white pieces of paper during a demonstration against China’s zero-Covid measures on November 27. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: Christopher Rea is a professor of Chinese and former Director of the Centre for Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of “The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China.” Jeffrey Wasserstrom teaches Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of “Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink” and editor of “The Oxford History of Modern China.” The views expressed in this commentary are their own.

CNN–It transforms the most powerful man in the country into a teddy bear.

It adds to the calendar the imaginary date of May 35 to invoke a people’s uprising that government censors seek to erase from memory.

It mobilizes the public to expose sexual predators with the unlikely affirmation, “Rice Bunny!”

We refer, of course, to a quality as widespread among China’s people as it is absent among its leaders – comic ingenuity.

May 35 stands in for “June 4,” Chinese shorthand for the 1989 massacre commonly known in English as “Tiananmen,” and a phrase the People’s Republic of China censors have tried to scrub from the internet. Continue reading