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China's Porn Purge Has Only Just Begun, And Already Sina Is Stripped of Publication License

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, April 24 2014

The new BBC series Sherlock is a popular subject for dan mei (Wikipedia)

It seems that China is taking spring cleaning pretty seriously. On April 13 they launched their most recent online purge, “Cleaning the Web 2014,” which will run until November. The goal is to rid China's Internet of pornographic text, pictures, video, and ads in order to “create a healthy cyberspace.” More than 100 websites and thousands of social media accounts have already been closed, after less than a month. Today the official Xinhua news agency reported that the authorities have stripped the Internet giant Sina (of Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging site) of its online publication license. This crackdown on porn comes on the heels of a crackdown on “rumors.” Clearly, this spring cleaning isn't about pornography, it's about censorship and control.

The National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications found 20 articles and four videos, all of which contained pornographic or lewd material, on Sina-owned sites. As punishment, Sina will be barred from publishing "newspapers, magazines, books, audio and video online."

In a statement the Office reported: "Some of these articles were as long as 500-plus chapters and clocked millions of clicks... imperiling social morals and seriously harming minors' physical and mental health.”

After the recent ProPublica article on how Sina Weibo is struggling to censor as rigorously as the Chinese government would like, maybe we should have seen this coming.

According to Paul Mozur of the Wall Street Journal, this is

the first time the government has used its annual campaigns to go after the country’s largest listed Internet companies. In the past, sites would be taken down and social-media accounts suspended, but the operations of companies like Sina were generally left alone. The move likely sends a signal to China’s other major Internet companies and news portals to ensure that their platforms do not feature prurient content.

Sure, “prurient” content, or anything else that displeases the authorities. This isn't just about porn.

As Chinese blogger and editor Zhang Jialong writes for TeaLeafNation:

An April 16 headline on state news service Xinhua declares the move is in response to “calls from people in all walks of life.” But at its core, this is about going after rumors — party parlance for destabilizing falsehoods – in the name of going after porn. In other words, it’s about ensuring that party organs, and not the Chinese grassroots, have the loudest voice on the country’s Internet.

Jialong explains the value of China's ambiguous censorship laws, and even the lack of clarity or hard and fast definitions in the most recent call to investigate and remove “pornographic and vulgar information” [emphasis mine]:

The party has long controlled the media. One lever for doing so has been legal ambiguity; China does not have clear regulations governing news, and so it’s unclear when a line has been crossed. The goal of the new campaign is to move the line again, putting pressure on the rights of reporters and netizens who wish to express their own opinions.

There are reports that the authorities are treating some groups more harshly than others.

A group of young, straight female netizens who call themselves “rotten women” say their online specialty, male-male slash fiction or dan mei, is receiving special attention from the authorities simply because the content is gay.

Numerous publications have picked up on the story that straight, young, female writers of slash are being unfairly persecuted in China, both before and after “Cleaning the Web 2014” began.

A 2011 “witch hunt” for dan mei authors resulted in the arrest of 20 college-aged female authors, described as by their mothers as “bookish,” “quiet,” and “too simple and pure to have a boyfriend.” Also “polite,” “introverted,” and “very obedient.”

A post on Offbeat China sums up the reaction of the “rotten woman” netizen to the recent crackdown:

“Why pick at slash while there are far more sexually-explicit romance fictions about heterosexual relationships? Why target at slash while gaming companies are showing semi-porn pop-up ads? Why close slash websites while AV sites are everywhere?”

One woman attributed it to discrimination: “This is not cleaning the cyberspace. This is pure discrimination. I may never see a rainbow flag fly above China in my life time.”

Offbeat China sums it up best: “After all, as many rotten women pointed out, China is a country where it’s not a crime for a man to rape another man, but illegal for women to write about gay romance.”

Two other possibilities I'll float here: that the Chinese authorities have been alerted to the potential subversive power of slash fiction; or that slash fiction has gotten too popular for its own good, drawing too much attention from the Western media or too many eyes from inside China (a young girl was harangued by a police officer for “spreading indecent sexual texts and images online...and reaching more than 5,000 clicks on them”).

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