25 Feb 2022

Is Chinese censorship taking us back to 1950's America?

The focus on culture and entertainment appears to have shifted to protecting conservative moral values.

If it seems as if China's censors are currently working overtime, there's an interesting parallel to the moral panic that gripped the United States in the 1950s.

Films, television, and any entertainment content is coming under strict scrutiny from Chinese authorities, with images and storylines that feature LGBTQ people, sex-positive topics, or a focus on women's rights all ending up on the cutting-room floor.

While censorship in China has been hitting the headlines recently with a few high-profile examples, censoring what Chinese audiences get to see has been an increasing trend for some time.

Analysts of Chinese affairs point to the publication of China's latest five-year plan as a clear indicator of how the ruling authorities view culture and entertainment. According the provisions of the five-year plan, culture and entertainment must put social benefits ahead of considerations such as commercial opportunities or audience engagement.

What this means in practice is that culture and entertainment must uphold traditional ideals of maxulinity and feminity, and can't be seen to be encouraging anything that might challenge the socially conservative norms.

It's exactly the kind of approach that was prominent in 1950s America, when conservatives tried to push back on the progressive movements surrounding Women's Liberation, Gay Liberation, and the Civil Rights movement.

The top-down approach of Chinese censors is supported by a bottom-up army of online users who target anyone who appears to challenge the socially conservative norms that have deliberately become interdependently associated with patriotism.