China blacklists Actor Zhang Zhehan on social media platforms; keeps a tight rein on Internet media censorship

Published August 18, 2021, 11:53 AM

by Enzo Luna

Chinese actor and singer Zhang Zhehan was blacklisted from social media platforms in China after photos of him visiting Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine in 2018 go viral.

According to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party, no Chinese people should be “ignorant” of the history of the War of Resistance against Japanese aggression (1931-1945), especially public figures.

The blacking out of the actor’s accounts on all social media platforms came after the China Association of Performing Arts (CAPA) urged the industry to ban Zhang.

Photos of Zhang Zhehan in front of the shrine, taken in 2018 resurfaced recently and have stirred controversy. (Photo credit Weibo)

According to the association, Yasukuni Shrine is the spiritual tool and symbol of Japanese militarism in launching its war of aggression and a place where right-wing Japanese forces deny history and beautify the war.

This announcement follows right after China has issued new guidelines in March this year for China’s performing artists designed to — according to the official statement — increase the quality of the performances, shine a positive light on them and advance the development of the industry.

The rules affect an entire industry, from actors and singers to magicians, comedians, and acrobats. The most important ones include “love for the party and its principles” and serving “the people and socialism.” The regulations issued by the government-backed CAPA come at a time of hardline social policies under Xi Jinping.

Chinese music platform NetEase Cloud Music and QQ Music, streaming site Youku, and video-sharing platform Douyin have announced their clearing and removing Zhang’s account. His behavior was considered harmful and had a negative impact on society, especially the youth.

CAPA’s assessment says that Zhang’s highly improper behavior harms national emotion and negatively influences teenagers who follow him.

The association reprimanded Zhang and urged a boycott of him in the performing industry in accordance with provisions of “notice for the self-discipline of performers in the performance industry.”

The Chinese government issued in May 2010 its first white paper on the internet that focused on the concept of “internet sovereignty,” requiring all internet users in China, including foreign organizations and individuals, to abide by Chinese laws and regulations. Chinese internet companies are now required to sign the “Public Pledge on Self-Regulation and Professional Ethics for China Internet Industry,” which entails even stricter rules than those in the white paper, according to Jason Q. Ng, a specialist on Chinese media censorship and author of Blocked on Weibo.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power, censorship of all forms of media has tightened. In February 2016, Xi announced a new media policy for party and state news outlets: “All the work by the party’s media must reflect the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority, and safeguard the party’s unity,” emphasizing that state media must align themselves with the “thought, politics, and actions” of the party leadership.

A China Daily essay emphasized Xi’s policy, noting that “the nation’s media outlets are essential to political stability.” China’s policy on strict media controls includes using monitoring systems and firewalls, shuttering publications or websites, and jailing dissident journalists, bloggers, and activists. Google continues to battle with the Chinese government over internet censorship. In November 2012, all Google domains, including Google search, Gmail, and Google Maps, became inaccessible and blocked by China’s government. In 2014, the government blocked virtually all Google services in China.

In March 2009, China first blocked access to Google’s YouTube site due to footage showing Chinese security forces beating Tibetans. China at that time routinely filters Internet content and blocks material that is critical of its policies.

Internet censorship in China affects both publishing and viewing online materials. Many controversial events are censored from news coverage, preventing many Chinese citizens from knowing about the actions of their government and severely restricting freedom of the press. Such measures, including the complete blockage of various websites, inspired the policy’s nickname, the “Great Firewall of China,” which blocks Wikipedia, YouTube, and Google. Methods used to block websites, and pages include DNS spoofing, blocking access to IP addresses, analyzing and filtering URLs, packet inspection, and resetting connections.

Going back to Zhang, the actor already issued his apology online, but it did not stop the boycott and termination of his business partnerships.

Zhang is the second artist blacklisted by Chinese social media after hip-hop star Kris Wu, who is being investigated for rape.