The Golden Shield Project aka The Great Firewall
The Chinese government takes drastic measures to induce online censorship and surveillance. These measures take the form of dismissals and demotions, libel lawsuits, fines, arrests, and forced televised confessions from parties accused of violation(s). But it can still be dragged to the effort of bandwidth throttling, keyword filtering, and access blocking to certain websites. This national effort falls under the Golden Shield Project, and is also known as the Great Firewall.
This massive blockade comes with a reasonable purpose, it is all done for keeping social unrest from happening in cases such as official corruption, economy, health and environmental scandal, certain religious factions, and ethnic strife (Xu & Albert, 2017).
Government "White Paper"
In 2010, the government issued its first "white paper" (government issued statement) detailing their basic policies on the Internet, providing an overall picture of the true situation of Internet in China to the Chinese people and the rest of the world. It went as far as requiring all internet users to abide by Chinese laws and regulation, and signing the Public Pledge on Self-Regulation and Professional Ethics for China Internet Industry would seal its legitimacy (CECC).
By 2016, under the sovereign of president Jin Xiping, it became stricter.
Adhering Xi’s policy, new media policy for party and state news “must reflect the party’s will, safeguard the party’s authority, and safeguard the party’s unity.” Which comes down to state media aligning themselves to the thought, politics, and actions of the party leadership for political stability.
SAPPRFT (2016). Further guidelines regarding the provision of audio-visual materials restrictions:
- Depiction of prostitution, fornication, rape and other ugly behaviors;
- Expression or display abnormal sexual relations or sexual behavior, such as incest, homosexuality, perversion, sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual violence;
- Promotion of unhealthy views of marriage and relationships, including extra-marital affairs, one-night stands, and sexual freedom.
The Chinese film industry reached another epoch when Queer Films peaked at Cultural Revolution.
For years in film history, homosexuality has only been depicted poorly when shown on screen, portraying only derogatory roles to project myths on how (straight) people should think about gay people, and gay people should feel about themselves.
Ultimately, media has the power to directly or indirectly influence the minds of the viewers.
It provides ways by which people get to know the world; and “provide with a consistent and near-total symbolic environment that supplies norms for conduct and beliefs about a wide range of real-life situations” (McQuail, 2010). That's why networks and film companies avoid portraying queers for fear of alienation or offending advertisers, investors, and audiences who have been long exposed to predominantly negative portrayals of gays in media, believing that homosexuality is abnormal and something to be feared and shunned.
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Contrary to the homosexual roles of the past depicting gay people as lower intelligence with deviant character and other weaknesses, in recent decade, there have been many positive portrayals as moral, well-behaved, and civil despite being subjected to harassment and ridicule.
In the light of positivity, the first actor to receive distinction for playing a homosexual role in China was Jiao Gang, who was nominated as the best supporting actor at Chinese Film Media Awards. Today, there are more artists recognized for their queer portrayals in TV, as audiences are more tolerant, open, and appreciative of the roles.
More Ways Than One
Though homosexuality had been lumped together with other sexual content by State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) in 2008, where explicit scenes are edited and removed from films and before airing on television programs, banned material can still be found on the Internet or pirated DVDs.
Unfortunately, Chinese audiences have little access to queer media compared to the independent “underground” films produced or distributed to Hong Kong, Taiwan, or other foreign countries. This is the reason why it is difficult to find investors, giving queer films and documentary makers very limited financial assistance, causing independent film makers in China to turn to international sources of funding. Queer Comrades for example: China’s only independent and established LGBT webcast, which works in partnership with the Ford Foundation.
Due to SAPPRFT restrictions, queer filmmakers have no connections to traditional methods of promotion and distribution or state funding; but there more ways than one to achieve this.
Microblogging became the main tool for promotion and distribution of queer films and documentaries ever since Chinese cyberspace has been popularized. Even though digital environment is still strictly regulated and monitored, microblogging has come to Chinese netizens just as Internet revolutionized the globe. Nearly 34% of China’s 688 million netizens are active in microblogging thru Sina Weibo platform (equivalent to Twitter). Where users can move in equal standing, from those who want to use the Internet for expressing their sexual identity to those who want to operate against the political censorship and legal ambiguity of The Great Firewall. Microblogging rose its activity to 73.2% since 2015, evidence that accessibility to other web-based content is an effective method of distribution and promotion.
Sina Weibo, the top microblogging platform in China, goes hand-in-hand with Youku Toudo in providing user-generated content, with 450 million users as of 2014 and continues to reach international users across the globe. This has now become the go-to platform for spontaneous production and promotion of free-flowing reports on diverse issues, as well as a feature of China’s New Documentary Film Movement.
Queer NGOs and support groups now use Sina Weibo as a way to reach out to individuals, and other parties involved. This is to give support to producers, film makers, and the way around the tight censorship, to display their works in public and raise awareness and discussion to queer film and documentary making.
Films and documentaries in China must all undergo much scrutiny and screening to pass censorship. Some modifications may surface after the screening that all productions and moviemakers must follow if they so wanted to push the release of the films, but in some cases:
- Some were taken down after the complete release of the film (i.e. Guardian, 2018; Word of Honor, 2021),
- Banned (East Palace, West Palace, 1996; Lan Yu, 2001)
- Stopped mid-filming (A Light in the Night, 2021)
- Releases were held up (Immortality, A League of Nobleman, Eternal Faith; 2021).
Before the Internet revolutionized the way of communication and entertainment, screening of queer films and documentaries were done as private events that often took place in bars, KTV clubs, cafes, and closed-off apartment complexes; but now there are new ways of distributing and consuming queer films and documentaries.
The new generation is open to new thoughts and active in chasing the truth behind the stories. The big picture of China’s censorship can be summed up as follows:
“If something's different and you publicly promote it, they [the authorities] worry it could get out of control and threaten their harmonious society.”
- Bin Xu, the director of Common Language, a lesbian, gay and transgender support group based in Beijing.
Govt. White Papers - china.org.cn. China.org.cn. (2022). Retrieved 27 May 2022, from http://www.china.org.cn/government/whitepaper/2010-06/08/content_20208007.htm.
Media Censorship in China. Council on Foreign Relations. (2022). Retrieved 27 May 2022, from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/media-censorship-china.
Public Pledge of Self-Regulation and Professional Ethics for China's Internet Industry (Chinese and English Text) | Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Cecc.gov. (2022). Retrieved 27 May 2022, from https://www.cecc.gov/resources/legal-provisions/public-pledge-of-self-regulation-and-professional-ethics-for-chinas.
Shaw, G., & Zhang, X. (2022). Cyberspace and gay rights in a digital China: Queer documentary filmmaking under state censorship. Core.ac.uk. Retrieved 28 May 2022, from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/82925566.pdf.
Zhang, X. (2014). Portrayals of gay characters in Chinese movies: A longitudinal look. Digital Object Identifier System. Retrieved May 28, 2022, from https://doi.org/10.31274/etd-180810-2794
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
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