Video Games, Exams, Hit Dramas: What’s Getting Banned in China

The Chinese government is trying to address social problems with a whole lot of bans.
August 31, 2021, 11:53am
China school regulations
The Chinese government is limiting children's online gaming time to three hours per week. Photo: Cui Jun/Beijing Youth Daily/VCG via Getty Images

Lots of things are getting banned in China, as the government uses its far-reaching power to crack down on what it deems harmful practices across Chinese society, from education to entertainment to the tech industry.

Although the tightening policies have attracted some public support, they also come at the expense of personal freedoms and could hurt investor confidence in China’s private sector. 

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Some nationalistic commentators have celebrated the moves as part of a sweeping campaign to cure the ills of Chinese society and bring people onto a path to prosperity.

“There is a profound revolution taking place in economy, finance, culture and politics,” a prominent blogger, Li Guangman, wrote in a column that has been reposted by major Communist Party mouthpieces. “This is a return from having capital at the center to having people at the center.” 

The policy changes announced by Chinese authorities recently will potentially impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people and shake up industries worth billions of dollars. Here are some of the things Beijing has pledged to ban over the past week: 

1. Excessive gaming by minors 

The National Press and Publication Administration on Monday announced a new rule that will allow minors to play online games only between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. 

Before the latest restrictions, minors were allowed to play video games for 1.5 hours on weekdays and three hours on weekends. The regulator said a further cut in the gaming time is necessary to ensure children’s healthy growth. 

2. Exams for young children 

Also on Monday, the Ministry of Education asked schools to drastically reduce the number of exams for young children, in a campaign to ease the burden on students and their parents. Last month, the government announced a ban on pro-profit afterschool tutoring as part of the same campaign. 

3. Celebrity popularity rankings 

China’s internet regulator on Friday asked social media and streaming platforms to remove celebrity popularity rankings and eliminate online fights among fan groups. Authorities say it is part of a broader initiative to clean up the “chaos” in China’s entertainment industry, which they say has fueled irrational spending and eroded young people’s sense of morality.

4. Popular dramas by ‘tainted’ stars 

Under the entertainment industry crackdown, celebrities deemed “tainted” for violating the law or making inappropriate speech have seen their names scrubbed from the internet. Famous actress Zhao Wei, for example, had her online presence erased for unknown reasons. 

Her classic 1990s costume drama My Fair Princess, one of the most watched Chinese series ever, has been removed from Chinese streaming platforms. 

5. ‘996’ work culture 

China’s highest court last week declared the “996” work schedule, which stands for “9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week,” a serious violation of labor laws. Labor practices by China’s tech giants have caused strong discontent in recent years. 

6. Exploiting users with algorithms 

China’s internet watchdog last week published a strict draft regulation on the use of algorithms. Under the regulation, tech companies are required to let users turn off algorithm-powered recommendations and refrain from discriminatory treatments based on consumers’ spending habits. 

Social platforms will also be required to promote “mainstream values” and “positive energy,” terms that refer to content in line with Communist Party ideology. 

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These new regulations have prompted mixed reactions from internet users. Some policies, such as the gaming ban and the call against long working hours, address widespread concerns among parents and workers, even though many people are skeptical about how they will be enforced. 

Wu Qiang, a political commentator in Beijing, said the Chinese leadership is increasingly adopting conservative cultural policies to strengthen its control over Chinese youths. “The authoritarian rule has led to micromanagement of ordinary people’s lives,” Wu said, “from the control of uteruses under the family planning policy, to the current control of children’s homework, exams and gaming time with state regulations.” 

Dali Yang, a political science professor with the University of Chicago, said the regulations made by different government bodies might not be part of a well-coordinated effort, but they reflected how bureaucrats were trying hard to carry out various directives under Xi Jinping’s strongman rule. 

The nationalistic commentary by Li has struck a populist tone in predicting a “return to the socialist essence,” citing the crackdown on Alibaba and Xi’s “common prosperity” call. He said the latest policy changes would make sure China no longer provided a haven for rich capitalists, sissy man celebrities and a West-worshipping culture. 

But in reality, Professor Yang said, the Communist leadership needs to balance economic growth with tightening regulations, which could lead to market turbulence and other unintended consequences. 

On Monday, Xi said at a leadership meeting that the government should step up regulations in areas related to technology, information security, and livelihood issues, while increasing the transparency and predictability of policymaking. 

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.