Oct 16th, 2015

Culture Shock: Chinese Ministry Slammed on Not-so-Social Media

By: Josh Chin       Source: Wall Street Journal       Date: 16/10/2015

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With China’s guardians of taste cracking down on everything from televised cleavage to the lyrics of Taiwanese rapper MC Hotdog, Chinese Internet users were provided with alternate entertainment this week: watching the country’s culture ministry get eviscerated on social media.

The Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for the protection and promotion of Chinese traditional culture, launched its official account on the popular social-media platform Weibo Thursday and almost immediately it found itself drenched by a firehose of vitriol. Three messages posted to the feed since Thursday afternoon had attracted over 100,000 comments a day later, most of them unfavorable or outright hostile.

“You manage what we read, what we watch on TV, what movies we see, what we do online, when we drive our cars, what we say, but you don’t manage the quality of our food or housing, our health, or our children’s ability to attend school,” read one comment that attracted more than 23,000 likes. “Everything you should manage, you don’t and what you shouldn’t manage, you do!”

The account was launched on the same day that the official Xinhua news agency released the full text of a landmark speech on arts and literature delivered by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The speech, delivered at a symposium last October, laid out a vision of artists serving the state that closely resembled cultural policies outlined by Mao Zedong seven decades earlier.

Mass trolling of government Weibo accounts, once common, has become rare in recent years as authorities have tightened their grip on the platform. The response reflected widespread frustration with increased censorship and cultural tightening under Mr. Xi, including harsher restrictions online that led to the banning of several popular foreign TV shows and cartoons. Censors, accused by users of deleting thousands of comments in the early going, appeared to have largely given up by Thursday evening.

“I came to see the comments. Enough to keep me laughing for days,” one user wrote in a comment repeated widely on the ministry’s Weibo feed.

The ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Weibo confirmed the account belonged to the ministry but declined to comment on user censorship allegations.

“Hello all netizens, the Ministry of Culture’s official Weibo account is now officially open! In the future, we will publish cultural policies and information here. We’re looking forward to everyone’s support and attention!” read the first message posted to the account. Subsequent messages discussed Mr. Xi’s speech on culture and the opening of a rural songs event in eastern China’s Anhui province.

In addition to illustrating Internet users’ irritation with censorship, the outpouring also reflected confusion about the structure of the government apparatus responsible for controlling the country’s cultural life. While the Ministry of Culture is responsible for cracking down on certain undesirable trends – Japanese cartoons and funeral strippers, for example – many of the complaints it faced on Weibo were more appropriately directed elsewhere.

“Chairman Xi talks about ‘House of Cards,’ and yet you still block it,” complained one user, referring to Mr. Xi’s mention of the Netflix drama during a speech in Seattle last month. The streaming of foreign TV shows online is regulated, not by the Ministry of Culture, but by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, an agency under the State Council.

In fact, many of those criticizing the culture ministry appeared to be under the mistaken impression that it was in charge of the widely reviled film and TV regulator. Later comments asked the ministry to post a message clarifying the different types of censorship undertaken by different government agencies, while others begged the ministry to convince the film and TV regulator to open its own Weibo account.

Based on the ministry’s experience, China Real Time guesses the regulator would sooner lift its TV cleavage ban than expose itself to social media.