China Bans Hip-Hop, Popular Culture Of ‘Low-Taste Content’. Is Country Sewing Seeds Of Revolution?

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Written by Dana Sanchez


Will hip-hop help sew the seeds of another Chinese cultural revolution?

Hip-hop is a new and wildly popular genre in China, but the country’s censorship board has designated some hip-hop content as immoral and vulgar, and says it doesn’t belong on the air.

Although hip-hop has resonated with Chinese youth, two winners of the hugely successful TV show “Rap of China,” were sanctioned in recent weeks for “bad behavior or content at odds with Communist Party values,” Reuters reported. These include hip-hop artists Wang Hao, known as “PG One” and Zhou Yan, known as “GAI.”

Chinese social media responded angrily to the ban, according to Time.

“SARPPFT (the Chinese media regulator) is so trashy! They didn’t want to give Chinese hip pop singers any chance of survival! we can go back to ancient times,” wrote one user on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

“How can a government with high culture have such childish logic?” asked another.

Beijing is eager to use popular culture to shape public opinion, including co-opting rap artists ahead of its five-yearly congress last year. With state support comes the insistence that Party values must take center stage in the artists’ work.”

Hip hop wasn’t the only thing banned on Chinese TV. So were actors tattoos, Time reported. It’s part of a crackdown that “reflects a broader squeeze on popular culture as the country’s stability-focused leadership looks to rein in potential platforms for youthful dissent.”

PG One was forced to apologize for lewd lyrics in a song, “Christmas Eve,” which critics said insulted women and encouraged the use of recreational drugs.

PG One “does not deserve the stage,” and “we should say ‘no’ to whoever provides a platform for low-taste content,” the official government news agency Xinhua news agency wrote. Other government mouthpieces quickly followed suit and the hip-hop artist’s tracks were pulled from most online sites.

China bans hip-hop
Chinese rap singer Wang Hao, aka PG One, performs during a New Year concert in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China Jan. 1, 2018. Photo: Reuters

China’s media regulator, SAPPRFT — the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television — said programs should not feature actors with tattoos (or depict) hip-hop culture, sub-culture (non-mainstream culture) and dispirited culture (decadent culture),” Sina, a Chinese news outlet, reported.

Gao Changli, director of the administration’s publicity department, outlined four “Don’t” rules on Friday:

  • Absolutely do not use actors whose heart and morality are not aligned with the party and whose morality is not noble
  • Absolutely do not use actors who are tasteless, vulgar and obscene
  • Absolutely do not use actors whose ideological level is low and have no class
  • Absolutely do not use actors with stains, scandals and problematic moral integrity.

Rapper Mao Yanqi, aka VaVa, was cut from the variety show “Happy Camp,” according to Tencent News, Time reported. Music by Triple H, an influential underground rapper, was removed from major streaming sites. And a contestant on the show “Super Brian,” which is not hip-hop related, had his hip-hop style necklace blurred out.

Revolution always begins first in culture

“Revolution always begins first in culture,” Suzanne Moore wrote in an August 2012 Guardian report. Moore wasn’t talking about hip-hop in China. She was talking about Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist protest punk rock band that promoted LGBT rights and criticized Vladimir Putin as a dictator. Charged with religious hatred, band members were each sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.

“What Putin cannot stop, though, is a concept,” Moore said. “Pussy Riot are essentially conceptual artists. This is what makes them threatening – it is not possible to imprison a concept.” Social media helped spread Pussy Riot’s message and made them a household name, Moore added.

Social media is also credited with helping Egypt’s pro-democracy youth activists to fuel the anger against a brutal regime, leading to the Arab Spring revolution, according to the Index on Censorship, a U.K.-based nonprofit that defends free expression worldwide.

“The April 6 Youth Movement and ‘We are All Khaled Said’ Facebook group mobilised Egyptians for the protests by posting videos of police brutality and calling for civil disobedience.”

China has a history of cultural revolution and censorship

The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a political movement in China from 1966 to 1976 aimed at eliminating “impure” elements in Chinese society. Led by the Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong, aka Chairman Mao, the revolution claimed more than 1.7 million lives, according to the official death toll.

China endured massive violence and upheaval that ripped families apart. The Cultural Revolution remains a hugely sensitive political topic in China, South China Morning Post reports.

Controversy erupted this month after a Chinese government-controlled publisher denied censoring information about the Cultural Revolution in a middle school textbook. The chapter title referring to the period of massive social upheaval and violence in China was changed to “arduous exploration and development achievements,” according to a Jan. 11, 2018 SCMP report.

“The furor came after a post widely shared on Chinese social media suggested that politically sensitive content about the political movement had been removed… The post showed photographs of the old version of the textbook and a revised text. The pictures appeared to show that a chapter formerly devoted to the Cultural Revolution had been taken out. The post also suggested that a sentence referring to the political movement in China in the 1960s and 1970s … had been altered to remove a reference to the Communist Party.”

China’s campaign against hip-hop is part of “a broader clean-up of cultural content from video games, online streaming and even performance art amid a drive to make cultural products adhere to mainstream socialist core values,” Reuters reported.