Hong Kong – Viewers of some of China’s most popular online variety shows were recently greeted with a curious vision: a smudge of pixels obscuring the brands on sneakers and T-shirts worn by contestants.
As far as the audience can tell, there were no signs of obscenity or indecency in the censored costume. Instead, the problem was with the foreign brands that made them.
Since the end of March, streaming platforms in China have completely censored the logos and symbols of brands such as Adidas that perform dance, singing and standup-comedy routines. Following the incident, after a quarrel between the government and big-name international companies, they said they would refrain from using cotton produced in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where officials were accused of mounting an extensive campaign of repression against ethnic minorities. Goes, which also include Uygars.
While anger in China against Western brands has calmed down and is permanent on social media, the artist’s vision has quickly changed to a growing drop of censored shoes and clothing, amid a heated global controversy, rare for a Chinese outlook , Supernatural, provided comic relief. It has also highlighted unexpected political visits facing unexpected entertainment platforms as the government continues to weaponize the Chinese consumer in its political disputes with the West.
Most brands were incomprehensible, but some could be identified. Chinese brands did not look hazy. It is unclear if Chinese government officials ordered the show to explicitly obscure the brands. But experts said video streaming sites apparently felt under pressure or forced themselves to distance themselves from Western brands amid fights.
Ying Zhu, a media scholar based in New York and Hong Kong, suggested that censorship is a reaction to both state and grass-roots patriotism, especially as nationalist audiences’ opinions become more prominent and louder.
“The pressure is both upward and downward,” Professor Zhu said. He said, ‘There is no need for the state to issue directions to rally companies. Nationalist sentiment runs high and powerful, and it drowns out all other voices. “
The censorship campaign could unearth a controversy that erupted last month, when Swedish clothing giant H&M was suddenly scrubbed from Chinese online shopping sites. The move comes after a statement by H&M made months earlier by the Communist Youth League and state news media expressing concern about forced labor in Xinjiang.
Other Western clothing brands also said they would refrain from using Xinjiang cotton, and several Chinese celebrities broke ties with them one after another. Since then, loyalty testing has spread to streaming shows.
Fung Kicheng, an assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies media and politics, said he believed the platforms censored brands to potentially backfire from the audience.
“If no one is happy with those brands appearing on the show, they can start a social media campaign attacking the makers, which could attract the attention of the government and eventually get the punishment,” he said by email on Thursday. Could. “
As the blur of apparel brands spread, this led to some hiccups on the show. The video platform iQiyi announced that it would delay the release of the episode “Youth with You 3”, a reality show for pop idols. The reason was not disclosed, but internet users said it had to do with Adidas, which supplied T-shirts and sneakers for contestants, who wore them as a type of team uniform.
Some internet users made predictions about how future episodes would look, with photoshopping done to flip the contestants vertically so that their Adidas T-shirts read, instead of “Sabiba”.
When the episode streamlined two days later, the pixelated rectangles obscured the distinctive triple stripes on dozens of dancers’ T-shirts and sports jackets and their Adidas sneakers. Internet users softly noticed that none of the shirts were spared, save for the contestant who wore their shirt backwards. Many editors expressed condolences to the video editors for showing off their lost sleep and t-shirts.
Other shows perform similar blurry feats in postproduction. Another reality show contestant for entertainment, “Sisters Who Make Waves”, practiced cartwheels in indiscriminate blurs in sneakers. The stand-up comedy series, “Roast”, had so many shoes wiped out that when a group gathered on the podium, the space between the floor and their long heel was seen melting into fog.
A representative for Tencent Video, which hosts “Roast”, declined to comment on why some brands were censored. Streaming platforms iQiyi and Mango TV, which host “Youth with You 3” and “Sisters Who Make Waves”, respectively, did not respond to requests for comment. Adidas did not respond to emailed questions.
Onscreen blur or crop is hardly a novel in China. The earlobe of male pop stars has been airbrushed to disguise earrings considered to be very attractive. The drama, which featured a specific play for the Tang Dynasty, was pulled from the air in 2015, only to be replaced with a version that had a lot of costumes and awkwardly zoomed in on the talking heads of the cast. Soccer players have been ordered to cover arm tattoos with long sleeves.
Onscreen censorship reflects the difficult line that online video platforms, which are regulated by the National Radio and Television Administration, need to run.
“The explosion is likely to lead to self-censorship of platforms to be safe from regret,” said Haifeng Huang, associate professor of political science at the University of California at Myrade and scholar of public opinion and scholarly research in China.
“But it nevertheless indicates the power of the nationalist section of the state and society, which is also likely a message to the audience: these big platforms have to censor themselves even without explicitly stating them.”
The blistering episodes also show how stage audiences seem willing to sacrifice the quality of the viewing experience to avoid political collapse, even when jokes are made.
“In a social environment where censorship is common, people are frustrated and even consider it another form of entertainment,” Huang said.
Albi Zhang And Joey Dong Contributed to research.