On Tuesday, China’s Cyberspace Administration (ACC) announced the start of a campaign to “purify” the Chinese internet. This campaign, which will last a month, coincides with the Lunar New Year, which will last from January 31 to February 6, but also with the start of the Beijing Olympics.
“It’s hard not to see a link between the start of this campaign and the Olympics” explains Marc Julienne, researcher on China at IFRI.If these ” periods of purges and increased censorship ” are not ” not a novelty », they generally occur at the time of major political meetings. With the proliferation of crises surrounding these Games in Beijing, such as the Peng Shuai affair (the Chinese tennis player who disappeared from the radar for several weeks), the Uyghurs and the question of the boycott of these Games, it is not surprising to see the China Cyberspace Administration launch this campaign.
It is out of the question to let these crises taint the biggest international sporting event that China has hosted since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. For Beijing, it is appropriate to reflect the image of a powerful and unified Middle Kingdom.
To avoid hiccups, the powerful ACC, founded by Xi Jinping in 2014, plans to get rid of “ bad behavior and wants to display a ” healthy, festive and harmonious online environment “. A program that goes through a fine management of the home pages of the main websites and advertisements in order to present “positive information” to Internet users.
Celebrities in the viewfinder
In a press release, the ACC specifies its objective which is to “Rectify the mess on the internet” and “to stem the spread of an unhealthy culture”. Directly targeted are behaviors that could be seen as promoting a luxurious lifestyle, encouraging the cult of money or even superstition. The administration also indicates in its press release that it intends to take action against ” rumors “ online and prevent celebrities “illegal and immoral” to orchestrate their return.
A purification campaign which is also part of a “a more global context of digital takeover, which itself is part of an ideological tightening of the Party line since 2017” explains Marc Julienne.
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Since last summer, Beijing has launched a crackdown on the Chinese entertainment industry, particularly targeting culture ” chaotic from celebrity fans. A crackdown that has spread and aims to eradicate content deemed “ unhealthy » in particular, remove from the screens celebrities with a style deemed effeminate while encouraging the display of a “patriotic culture”.
For Marie (the first name has been changed), a journalist specializing in the study of Chinese media who prefers to remain anonymous, Beijing intends to try to “dilute the influence that celebrities have on the younger generation” for the benefit of the Communist Party. According to the journalist, the idea would be above all to convey the message to people who have influence that they “will be held responsible” if they return images “negative” online during this period.
Athletes under supervision
For Marc Julienne, this new episode highlights the “paradox” faced by the Chinese state. On the one hand, China aspires to influence by bringing out talents, whether in cinema, music or sport, but fears at the same time that these personalities with growing influence will end up eclipsing the aura of the Chinese Communist Party. .
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Worse, they could, as in the Peng Shuai affair, end up turning against the Party. A fear that pushes China on the increasingly slippery slope of authoritarian measures, even if it means causing profound damage to its image and harming the influence to which it aspires.
To ensure that the Olympic Games run smoothly, and that the spirit “healthy, festive and harmonious” imposes itself ” offline “ like ” in line “, Beijing has already threatened sanctions against athletes who have the bad idea to express their opinions. On Tuesday January 18, Yang Shu, Deputy Director General for International Relations at the Olympic Games Organizing Committee, warned at a press conference that athletes could be sanctioned if they made speeches that undermined “the Olympic spirit, and especially Chinese laws and regulations”. A very Chinese definition of a spirit “healthy and festive”.