The Chinese government has been known to crack down on social media users that it deems “threatening” its society or national dignity. Recently, a 21-year-old female live streamer was arrested by Shanghai police after she broadcast the Chinese national anthem in an insulting manner.
The anthem controversy
Yang Kaili used the Huya live streaming service to broadcast the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers. She waved her hands like a conductor during her brief performance. And it was this callousness with which she sang the song that irked a lot of Chinese nationals. “How dare you joke about the national anthem, which seriously affects the social atmosphere and national dignity and all networks should directly block you without accepting any apology!” said a Weibo user (ABC News).
Beijing had introduced a law last year under which anyone found singing the March of the Volunteers in a distorted or disrespectful manner can be detained for a period of up to 15 days. They can also be jailed for up to three years. It was this law that was used to arrest Yang. The police concluded her way of singing an “insult to the dignity of the national anthem.”
Faced with huge criticism over her anthem performance, Yang quickly released an apology on Weibo, where she has more than a million followers. “I sincerely apologize for singing the national anthem in an unserious manner while broadcasting. What I did has hurt your feelings. I’m sorry. Sorry to the motherland, to the fans, to web users, and to the platform,” said Yang Kaili (South China Morning Post).
She also promised to stop her broadcasting activities and take up patriotic education. Meanwhile, Huya took quick action and blocked her anthem video after the controversy erupted. All her uploaded videos were taken offline subsequently. TikTok, a live streaming service where Yang had a staggering 44 million followers, also deleted the videos.
Hong Kong and Macau are also planning to introduce strict laws against disrespecting the national anthem. Many are concerned that they might accidentally violate the law and end up in jail.
Live streaming crackdown
China has been censoring a lot of live streaming media of late. And one major company that has been banned in the country (from September 2018) is Twitch. Since the site is not as popular as domestic live streaming services like Huya, the ban on Twitch did not create much of an uproar. While Huya, Douyu, and YY have millions of monthly active users, Twitch only has a fraction of the user base.
However, the ban did highlight the Communist Party’s paranoia of not being able to oversee who citizens interacted with. “Chinese authorities likely bristled at Twitch’s chat functionality. The government can control chat on its domestic platforms. It can’t do that with Twitch. And since gamers in that country have alternatives, it’s easier to close it than to work with Amazon on meeting its standard,” according to Venture Beat.
Tech-savvy Chinese Internet users often use VPNs to bypass the Chinese censors and use banned sites like Twitch. Unfortunately, most of the public has no choice but to live with the strict Internet censorship rules that the government has set up.