It was the perfect storm. At the same time, we had incidents from the NBA, Blizzard Entertainment, and South Park all hitting the same controversy. The China problem. What makes this significant is the fact that 1.) it broke into the Western stream of consciousness. 2.) The censorship issues at hand hit sports, video games, and television alike. The iron fist of Xi Jinping takes no prisoners. Jinping is the leader of China. I’d call him the president but he has accumulated so many other secondary leadership titles, that they all mush together into the dictator sort of status you’d expect from an oppressive regime.
They can censor your thoughts. China rules by distraction, using a “50 cent” army of pro-government posters to argue online. No WhatsApp. No Katy Perry. It’s worth reading what it’s like spending a week behind China’s “Great Firewall” of internet censorship. If you plan to try and use a VPN to get around it, good luck. China goes after those too.
I don’t want the opportunity here to go to waste. The purpose of this piece is to guarantee nobody forgets about the Blitzchung Blizzard debacle. The ramifications of this incident are still rippling throughout the company. Blizzard Entertainment employees are seeing this moment as the time to finally jump ship.
This whole affair also serves as a wonderful teaching moment about the Chinese way of life when it comes to people’s rights. Freedom of expression is something that the western world either obsesses over or takes for granted, depending on who you talk to. Back when I still had a Twitter account, I had the chance to meet a busty babe by the name of Naomi Wu. A gorgeous Chinese gal with brains to back up the beauty. Naomi is a tech enthusiast. I think that’s too general of a label, but the inventions and devices this lady created over the past several years go way over my head.
Her story is shocking because you would think that a “Woman in Tech” story like Naomi would be widely praised and lauded over here in America. Nope. People from the GamerGate era can sympathize whenever the media blogger circle jerk collective screws someone over. The hive mind that’s out-of-touch from practical reality and only working to score clicks and ideological “brownie points” with their peers.
In Part 1 of Naomi Wu’s trilogy of articles, she describes how VICE mistreated her. In the sense of her geographical and cultural situation. VICE’s ignorance of safety when it comes to China is something they have a reputation for. It’s a frustrating story to read and I recommend you do so in its entirety. But the short version is that a VICE reporter came to visit and get a look at the day-to-day life of Naomi Wu. She declared any discussion of sexual orientation or relationships as off-limits. VICE didn’t respect Naomi’s wishes. They dug up 4chan and Reddit speculation about Wu’s personal life and decided to hamfist it into the story they were writing up. VICE’s editor-in-chief Jason Koebler was tone-deaf in alleviating these concerns. The usual litigation tactics in this sort of situation were out of the question for Naomi. Because of China. She decided to take matters into her own hands and flash Jason Koebler’s address in a video demonstration. Naomi showed off these boots with tiny video screens built into them and got creative with what to display.
Back when I first found Naomi’s Medium piece I had the whole “was it ethical for her to do that” discussion. I’d link to it but my Twitter is banned. Sorry.
I want to stress a particular point. As she’s a PRC (People’s Republic of China) citizen you shouldn’t know anything about Naomi Wu. She’s not supposed to be on YouTube and Twitter. These platforms are banned in China. The only means of circumventing that is a VPN. Something that’s also outlawed in the country. All in all, Naomi Wu’s contact to the west was a fragile thread. Something made worse by VICE working to try and deplatform her from Patreon and YouTube. Something made more horrific by the infamous Sarah Jeong smearing Naomi via Twitter. She ran cover for VICE and made them be the victim in the whole situation.
Part 2 of Naomi Wu’s story is more of the same. She highlights how the western media establishment defended Sarah Jeong when she got hired at The New York Times. A collection of Jeong’s old racist tweets sparked an uproar.
The recurring theme being Western ignorance of what it’s like for folks in China. In December 2018 SubscribeStar came to the public’s attention as an alternative to Patreon, in light of a controversial banning for past comments made by Sargon of Akkad. The blogosphere smeared SubscribeStar as a white supremacist “safe haven,” and Naomi Wu got caught in that crossfire. PayPal and Stripe stopped working with SubscribeStar. Also, Naomi Wu was subjected to the same algorithmic suppression on YouTube as many western creators are.
I failed Naomi by not being there for what happened next. I was too busy dealing with my own Twitter woes to keep track of what went down these past few months in her life. Part 3. She tried moving on from all the VICE drama. This Hasan Minhaj guy has a Netflix show called “Patriot Act.” In one episode he decided to drag poor Naomi back into the limelight. What makes this egregious is that it was a segment dedicated to criticizing the Chinese government. They edited in clips with Naomi into the mix, making it appear as if she was some sort of vehement critic of Xi Jinping.
On July 12th, 2019, the Chinese police threw Naomi Wu into a van and detained her. You can see her walking out of the police station in this video.
After this, she threw herself into her work as if her life depended on it. Normally this is just a metaphor but in Naomi’s case, the consistent public visibility makes a real difference in that regard. YouTube throttled her content anyway. Indifferent to her struggles.
This is a long tangent to have right in the opening of this piece. But Naomi Wu regularly expressed frustrations as to the silence of journalists in the west. Hopefully, this article helps fix that, somewhat. Naomi Wu got dragged into western petty politics, whereas what happened with Blitzchung is like the inverse. China decided to drag the western world into their petty politics.
I have to give credit to both TheQuartering and YongYea for their consistent coverage of all this. To do so, I made a playlist of all their videos. So you can follow the whole saga from start to finish that way if you don’t like reading. No worries. I understand. Blitzchung wore a gas mask like those worn by the Hong Kong protesters, and stated: “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times”. The two casters interviewing him “duck and covered” beneath their desk as if an atomic bomb detonated. The immediate aftermath of the moment humorously has an ad spot from Mitsubishi Motors. The stream cut off with some awkward clapping.
Mitsubishi didn’t like any of this. A few days later, they ended their sponsorship of Blizzard esports events.
On October 8th, 2019, Blizzard issued a harsh punishment for Blitzchung. They cited Section 6.1 of their rule book:
“Engaging in any act that, in Blizzard’s sole discretion, brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image will result in removal from Grandmasters and reduction of the player’s prize total to $0 USD, in addition to other remedies which may be provided for under the Handbook and Blizzard’s Website Terms.”
Fluffy language which in this case meant a one-year ban and taking away Blitzchung’s prize money. Blizzard also terminated their working relationship with the two casters who interviewed him. That is to say, Blizzard Entertainment punished other people because of what Blitzchung did in expressing his support for Hong Kong.
This brought the Blizzard and Chinese relationship to the public’s attention.
What’s going on in Hong Kong? This isn’t the first time they’ve been on the international stage. Hong Kong had a massive round of protests back in 2014, too. The New York Times has a lovely timeline of the 2019 saga so far. This year’s protests began over a bill proposal that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Protests threw objects at police, and the police responded in force, and then some. They used tear gas and pepper spray. The use of excessive police force became a focus, and protesters demanded an investigation into that. Hong Kong, unlike mainland China’s communists, has a system of limited democracy. This year’s protests that started over an extradition bill evolved into a “five demands” proposal, pushing for full democracy in Hong Kong. This is because Hong Kong was ruled by Britain until 1997. When Hong Kong returned to China a “one country, two systems” set-up came into play.
What’s the alternative? China can’t be so bad, right? Welp.
In September of last year, Chinese censors cracked down on live streaming by banning Twitch. We’ll explore the government’s various efforts of seizing control of the web later on, but for the moment this serves as a solid stage setting example of what we’re dealing with here. Twitch had a brief upsurge of popularity in the country, and Chinese leadership snuffed “the foreigner” out in favor of their own domestic live streaming sites and outlets.
Chinese-owned Tencent helped Bobby Kotick regain control of Activision in 2013, away from the likes of Vivendi. In retrospect, it was misleading for western games media to say Activision Blizzard went “independent.” However. It’s important that we clarify something. Tencent is not NetEase. NetEase is not Tencent. These are two different companies entirely. People were curious as to whether or not Tencent could’ve influenced Blizzard’s decision making. As a lovely Niche Gamer piece explains, probably not. Bobby Kotick went as far as saying Tencent is a “passive investor” in the company. NetEase and Blizzard first teamed up in 2008. They brought Starcraft II to China back then, and slowly extended that reach to include the whole “Battle.net” umbrella. NetEase and Blizzard announced an extension to their partnership at the beginning of 2019.
It isn’t exactly far-fetched to mix in Tencent into the Blitzchung discussion. John Needham, Global Head of League of Legends Esports, decided to remind people to “focus on the game” and not bring up politics. The much-beloved League of Legends studio Riot Games is owned entirely by Tencent. Tencent has a 40% stake in Epic Games, too. There’s a handy list of Tencent’s investments over here on PC Gamer, if you want to explore the fuller extent. What does it boil down to in terms of the final product? Mobile Games. In the case of Riot Games, it was a point of contention last year. The writing was on the wall. A year later it comes out Tencent and Riot Games started working on a mobile version of League of Legends.
But to reiterate: people are likely pointing fingers at the wrong place.
It also raised eyebrows about the habitual “virtue signaling” politics that corporations take part in, over in the West. If Blitzchung isn’t allowed to be politically outspoken on what he believes in, what does that mean for things like Pride Month? The source of the imbalance is the money. Blizzard is obligated to kowtow to Chinese censorship because China can pull Blizzard’s entire access to the market.
China has different values than the West. They aren’t afraid to clamp down on media or pop culture to enforce a reflection of their values. China’s version of cultural tolerance means John Boyega shrinks and other characters just straight up disappear from Star Wars posters. It may seem like an insignificant change. You can argue on a case-by-case basis that these tiny revisions don’t matter, in isolation. But then along came South Park. The satirical cartoon series that has a long history of poking fun at current events and society set their sights on China. At the exact same time as the Blitzchong debacle. In the episode, Randy Marsh tries to branch out his weed growing enterprise to the Chinese market. He’s thrown in jail and meets Winnie the Pooh.
The reason why China began banning Winnie the Pooh is that a picture of Xi Jinping and Barack Obama looked similar to Pooh and Tigger. The country’s censors see it as ridiculing Jinping and wanted to stop it from becoming a “euphemism” for the Dear Leader. In August of last year, China blocked the live-action Winnie the Pooh movie that had Ewan McGregor in it, too.
With that background context, you can better appreciate the metaphor shown in this picture.
How did China react to South Park’s banter? Oh, you know. Just a simple purge of all “clips, episodes, and discussions of the Comedy Central show.” Just a big ol’ memory hole. This means that the Chinese audience can’t discuss ideas like how their government forces Hollywood to culturally cater to them. We love spirited debates on social media here in the west. But over in China, on Baidu’s Tieba, the only discussion threads you’d find were “According to the relevant law and regulation, this section is temporarily not open.”
“Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look like Winnie the Pooh at all. Tune into our 300th episode this Wednesday at 10! Long live the great Communist Party of China. May the autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful. We good now China?”
Marvel characters made an appearance in the South Park China episode as a nod to Disney’s history of self-censorship in their cinematic universe movie series. Back in 2016, there was an uproar from critics when it was announced “The Ancient One” character from Doctor Strange would be CHANGED from a Tibetan monk into some Celtic chick played by Tilda Swinton. Director Scott Derrickson was blatant with the reasoning behind the switch. He said that acknowledging Tibet in the Doctor Strange film whatsoever had the “risk alienating one billion people.” Meaning the Chinese market. Tibet is taboo for Chinese sensibilities because of a long complicated political history centered around the country’s sovereignty.
To tie things back to Blizzard, the box office success of the Warcraft movie in China back in 2016 is a moment of recent history that showcases the growing dependence on the Asian market. The movie’s profits were a surprise in the eyes of those who correlate revenue directly to critics’ review scores. Blizzard had a helping hand thanks to the movie’s producer Legendary Entertainment being acquired by the Dalian Wanda group. For people unfamiliar: for any US/foreign company to get access to the Chinese market they have to partner up with a Chinese-based company on the inside.
Back in 2016, the issues of censorship and Chinese day-to-day life were starting to bleed over into the west’s line of sight. The kids who immersed themselves in Blizzard Entertainment’s online world had many more reasons to want to escape reality.
What happened with the NBA and china? First, the wind-up. October 4th, 2019, Daryl Morey tweeted a picture proclaiming “FIGHT FOR FREEDOM STAND WITH HONG KONG.”
A Chinese Consulate-General spokesperson freaked out over the tweet and demanded a retraction from Mr. Daryl Morey. The English statement issued by the NBA was more impartial about apologizing for the “offense” caused by Daryl Morey’s tweet, more so than the Chinese one which seemed to be a direct condemnation altogether.
Daryl Morey deleted his Hong Kong tweet and issued an apology:
- (5:18 PM – 6 Oct 2019) 1/ I did not intend my tweet to cause any offense to Rockets fans and friends of mine in China. I was merely voicing one thought, based on one interpretation, of one complicated event. I have had a lot of opportunity since that tweet to hear and consider other perspectives.
- (5:18 PM – 6 Oct 2019) 2/ I have always appreciated the significant support our Chinese fans and sponsors have provided and I would hope that those who are upset will know that offending or misunderstanding them was not my intention. My tweets are my own and in no way represent the Rockets or the NBA.
A sizable list of Chinese companies cut ties with the NBA over the incident. Actually, to be more exact, it ended up being all of them. Ted Cruz was upset. He called out China’s “economic coercion and blackmail to get American companies to engage in censorship.”
Here’s an Axios article that helps set the fractious mood.
- “Commissioner Adam Silver — who plans to visit Shanghai on Wednesday — backed Morey today: “[T]he NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues.””
- “China is hitting back: CCTV, the state-run broadcaster, has announced it will no longer air two pre-season games that will take place in China. “We’re strongly dissatisfied and oppose Adam Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said.”
This sets the stage for how the Blitzchung unraveled. Blizzard’s official Weibo statement in China, translated “We are very angered and disappointed at what happened at the event and do not condone it in any way. We also highly object the spreading of personal political beliefs in this manner. Effective immediately we’ve banned the contestant from events and terminated work with the broadcasters. We will always respect and defend the pride of our country.”
Politicians added gasoline to the PR fire. Here in the United States, we had the likes of Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio sternly wagging their fingers. We don’t exactly live in a world where a single tweet can change the course of human history, but a boy can dream. Blizzard’s loss of authority over their community is one of the worst losses of the Blitzchung episode. Nobody gave a damn about following their rules or listening to them anymore. Tim Sweeney and Epic Games had a sweet opportunity to morally flex over Blizzard for this disaster. Sweeney paraded around Twitter for quite a while that Epic Games won’t ban players for political speech. Unlike SOME companies. Like Blizzard. They even demanded one of their Overwatch League coaches delete a tweet that condemned the company.
One of the casters that got fired by Blizzard was in tears over the Blitzchung situation. This was his livelihood. He didn’t cause the “offense” in the first place (although that’s disputed). Yet Blizzard threw M. Yee under the bus too. A Reddit user by the handle name of u/Oagoz stepped down from being a long-time moderator of r/hearthstone. This was a result of the Blitzchung situation. “After 4 years of being a moderator for the sub and an advocate for this game, i am leaving the moderation team as this is no longer a company i want to support or follow. I appreciate the community and my time spent with y’all. Good luck, Blizzard,” Oagoz wrote.
At least r/hearthstone was still open. At the time this was all happening, the official r/Blizzard general subreddit forum closed down. The drastic loss of loyalty and respect for Blizzard Entertainment didn’t stop there. Former employee Kevin Hovdestad shared a photo of the brewing discontent felt by staff at the company. At the foot of a magnificent statue in the courtyard of Blizzard Entertainment’s building, there are slogans like “Think Globally” and “Every Voice Matters” engraved alongside the pavement. Someone at Blizzard took the liberty of covering them up after what happened to Blitzchung. If you’re curious about what the statue looks like? Here’s a decent photo. The picture was taken when employees at Blizzard staged a walkout on behalf of Blitzchung, showing the consensus at the company wasn’t collectively mutual.
The Blitzchung situation wasn’t the only Hearthstone political episode. Inspired by Blitzchung’s bravery, a daring group of players in the Collegiate Hearthstone championship live stream took the activism plunge. In the middle of a match, the American University team held up a makeshift “Free Hong Kong, boycott Blizzard” sign on camera. Whoever was in Blizzard’s control booth quickly cut away from their feed. A Reddit post from one of the players explained the motive behind the stunt. Seeing the reaction of what Blizzard would do. In the immediate aftermath of it? Nothing. But that was the point. Now, the contrast in treatment between American University and Blitzchung’s case showed hypocrisy. It evolved the overall situation as people were exploring why Blizzard did what they did.
(No worries though! Blizzard ended up banning GiantDwarf, TJammer, and Xcelsior the following week.)
Hearthstone caster Brian Kibler weighed the Blitzchung situation and stepped down in response. He ultimately agreed that Blitzchung violated the rules and deserved punishment. However Kibler added that, regardless, it was too harsh of a ruling. The situation came off as alienating. Brian couldn’t be an honest smiling personality working on behalf of this company in light of everything going on. He wasn’t the only Blizzard community figure to condemn the company. Hearthstone‘s first-ever champion, James “Firebat” Kostesich, was disheartened by Blitzchung’s initial harsh punishment.
The gaming community had their own plans in mind to take on Blizzard. One early action that gained traction was a proposal to flood the company with GDPR requests. The European Union’s General Data Privacy Regulation is, to put it bluntly, a burdensome pile of red tape.
“Under EU law, you’re allowed to request all information a company has on you, along with the purpose of this information collection. What most people don’t know, is that these requests are VERY hard to comply with, and can often take a companies legal group 2-7 days to complete PER REQUEST. If a company doesn’t get you the information back in 30 days, they face fines and additional issues. In extreme cases, a company can request an additional 2 months to complete the requests if there is a large volume, but suffice to say, if a company gets a significant amount of requests, it can be incredibly expensive to deal with, as inevitably they will have to hire outside firms/lawyers to help out.”
In my personal opinion, this idea had merit. Some were skeptical and called it an abuse of the GDPR system. Yet, any user’s safety and security are important. People deserve to know whether or not Chinese authorities have access to one’s personal information.
So #BoycottBlizzard took off. Subscriptions were canceled. World of Warcraft subscriptions were actually canceled. People get addicted to the game so that means a lot. Every word in the past few sentences is a link. There are countless testimonials of angered Blizzard gamers deciding to uninstall the Battle.net app. Go ahead and click these words. Lots of people. Refunds happened too. Blizzcon. Warcraft III: Reforged. “Ticket has been submitted.” A gesture that takes money out of Blizzard’s pocket and signals how angry people were. Here’s a tutorial on how to delete your Blizzard account if you still want to participate.
A more brilliant move from the gaming community was hijacking Overwatch character Mei and turning her into a protest symbol. Within the game’s lore, she comes from a Chinese background. So it’s a natural extension that reflects the stark reality at hand here. Using Mei as a rebellious statement worked effectively. So much in fact that Blizzard removed a $175 Mei statue from their merch store.
Some folks were too impatient waiting up to 30 days to have their Blizzard account deleted. One creative fella told a customer service representative: “Delete it right now or I’m going to reinstall all your games and call everyone N***** N***** N***** until you permanently ban me. So save us both some time and push the f****** button.”
Then came a problem. “So now Blizzard have disabled ALL FOUR authentication methods to actively stop people from deleting their accounts. This is beyond disgusting. Spread awareness of this. #BoycottBlizzard,” tweeted Espsilverfire2. 24,132 retweets and 44,900 likes. Mission accomplished on the awareness front. Other people were having this problem. These tweets prove that the issue certainly wasn’t imaginary. Another unintended negative PR fire to put out. Polygon ran some defense for Blizzard on the account deletion issue. But to their credit, it was justified. A huge amount of people attempted to delete their Blizzard accounts, all at the same time. This can obviously lead to Blizzard’s systems getting overloaded. The article notes that account deletion requests eventually went through, even for the viral tweeter involved in raising the question in the first place.
John Botherer, a co-founder of Rock Paper Shotgun, saw the armies of GamerGate besiege the doorstep of his outlet. He has been critical of the gaming community for years. In light of the Blitzchung situation, he had this to say.
It's extraordinary watching them all suddenly having discovered China is a bit fucked up, and then acting as though it's been their lifelong work to fight against the regime.
It's frightening that it took a Twitch streamer getting a ban for them to even pretend they give a shit. https://t.co/oSZroBOuzx
— John Walker Definitely Is (@botherer) October 10, 2019
Botherer argues “the gamers” were the ones in the dark about this. But that’s not true. It’s the games media who shrugged China off.
The relationship between the games industry and China isn’t exactly a new revelation for 2019. In November 2018 it came up in light of a myriad of cases. The most prevalent being Ubisoft’s fiddling with Rainbow Six: Siege game assets in order to appease Chinese censors. Ubisoft didn’t pussyfoot around why they were changing stuff in their maps or game icons. They said “Because of China” straight up. An excuse they put forward for the tweaks to Rainbow Six: Siege was so Ubisoft could have “A SINGLE, GLOBAL VERSION.” That is to say, in layman’s terms, they were going to change the game experience in the United States to accommodate China’s sake. To be clear, this was solely visual content. But even so, it hit home how China feels about blood, sex, gambling, and violence.
Roughly two and a half weeks later, Ubisoft backtracked on the aesthetic changes to Rainbow Six: Siege. A peek into the toilet of social media shows the sizable backlash the company had hurled at them. To put it bluntly, there was a significant amount of public feedback for Ubisoft to consider and listen to. Whereas the games media blogosphere (you know who I mean when referring to that) is largely unified with gamers when it comes to Blizzard’s disaster with Blitzchung? With Ubisoft, the boogeyman of “GAMER ENTITLEMENT” was taken out of the closet to spook, once more.
It’s worrying that certain games media outlets can allow themselves to defend Chinese censorship if their agendas sway them to do so. In the Blizzard dilemma this year that wasn’t the case. At least, not in the same vein angle that happened with Ubisoft. The shadow of GamerGate still made itself known. Kotaku tried to push an argument that the Blizzard Hong Kong fiasco was “PROOF” that video games aren’t politically neutral. That Kotaku article unnecessarily blurred lines in this whole discussion, so allow me to revert that damage. What happened with Blitzchung and Blizzard is *not the same as* a video game developer deciding to politicize the story and themes of their product.
In a more light-hearted moment during this turbulent time, Google’s search results labeled Blizzard Entertainment as a “Chinaware store”. This seems more than fitting considering Blizzard issued 1,000-year bans to folks discussing Hong Kong on their official forums. The company was so serious about stopping Hong Kong discussion that they prevented battletags from having any mention of Hong Kong in them.
On the eve of October 11th in America (but dated as October 12th which along with other reasons led folks to believe this was published from China), Blizzard Entertainment finally published a follow-up statement on the Blitzchung affair. After several days of intense public backlash that the company quietly watched unfold. They did it in an infamous time of the week. The “Friday at 5 PM” time frame is a dumping background for any bad PR announcements. It’s a golden opportunity for most businesses all around, as it’s when journalists and bloggers go home for the weekend.
Blizzard Entertainment reduced the ban of Blitzchung and the casters. They cut it in half to six months from their initial one-year punishment. Blitzchung also got his tournament prize money back.
Blizzard’s statement is long so most people wouldn’t bother reading it too closely. There’s a contradiction in trying to clamp down on “hot” political topics from being mentioned while also trying to hold free speech up as valuable. “Staying focused on the tournament” would’ve been easily accomplished if Blizzard simply let Blitzchung say his peace. By creating such a hubbub over it they made the whole thing the controversy it ended up being.
At the time the statement came out, TheQuartering was live streaming with the famous Mark Kern. He was an early pillar of the Blizzard Entertainment game studio.
He had a lot to say when the Blitzchung news broke. Kern had previously vowed not to indulge in any political talk on Twitter. But he made an exception this time given how it all hit close to home for him. The thing that pushed Mark Kern over the edge, in particular, was the punishment penalty itself. Despite his background pedigree Kern was risking a lot by speaking out against China. He did that in the literal sense, too. Someone argued in Chinese to Mark and he had no problem arguing back in English.
Just so you can appreciate the full effect of this. In the picture below, you see Mike Morhaime talking to Mark Kern about making World of Warcraft Classic a thing. Also in that same picture, you’ll see Mark Kern uninstalling the game in protest of what happened to Blitzchung, many months later.
“Please tell us more about why you are cancelling your World of Warcraft subscription,” Blizzard’s site prompt asks. “I made this game with the team. I am opposed to Blizzard’s fear of China and the silencing of Blitzchung. I am calling on Blizzard to stand up for what is right,” replied Mark Kern.
Hear from the man himself.
- (6:00 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “This hurts. But until Blizzard reverses their decision on @blitzchungHS I am giving up playing Classic WoW, which I helped make and helped convince Blizzard to relaunch. There will be no Mark of Kern guild after all. Let me explain why I am #BoycottBlizzard”
- (6:01 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “I am ethnically Chinese. I was born in Taiwan and I lived in Hong Kong for a time. I have done buisiness with China for many years, with serveral gaming companies there. So I think I have a valid perspective here, having been a Team Lead at Blizzard and having grown up in Asia.”
- (6:02 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “I have watched China slowly take over as the dominant investing force in gaming and movies over the years. It’s a shame US companies never believed as strongly as China and Asia in investing in games, but this allowed China to have unprecedented influence over our media.”
- (6:04 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “Chinese game companies have grown huge not just because of market size, but because the government subsidizes them. They get free land, free offices, and huge infusions of cash. This cash was and is used to do expand and buy up stakes in US gaming companies.”
- (6:06 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “I’ve seen firsthand the corruption of Chinese gaming companies, and I was removed from a company I founded (after Blizzard) for refusing to take a 2 million dollar kickback bribe to take an investment from China. This is the first time I’ve ever spoken pubically about it.”
- (6:07 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “I’ve also seen how American company reps in China have been offered similar bribes to get licenses for large AAA titles. Not everyone refused like I did.”
- (6:11 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “Chinese companies tried to ruin my career with planted press stories. Money is often paid for favorable press in China and some of that money flows here to the US as well. Unfortunately, money talks. China has succeeded in infiltrating all levels of tech, gaming and more.”
- (6:13 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “Unfortunately, US and European companies are loath to take risks and invest in game companies legally as much as China was. China remained one of the few places mid tier studios could get funding. So again, China influence grew. I’m sure this is the same for movies as well.”
- (6:15 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “But now we are in a situation where unlimited Communist money dictates our American values. We censor our games for China, we censor our movies for China. Now, game companies are silencing voices for freedom and democracy. China is dictating that the world be authoritarian.”
- (6:16 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “Of all the companies in the world, Blizzard is the LAST company I ever expected to give in to China’s demands. Blizzard was always about “gamer first” and “don’t be greedy.” At least, it was when I was there.”
- (6:19 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “It’s one thing to keep politics out of games, which I am still a proponent of doing. It’s another to unfairly and harshly punish voices that speak out against corruption, against abuses of human rights, and freedom.”
- (6:20 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “I take a huge risk by saying this. China monitors all social media and I know this means that we will probably never get an investment from China for my new MMO, and probably never get a license to operate there.”
- (6:22 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “But enough is enough. I stand with Hong Kong, and I oppose Blizzard’s obvious and laughably transparent fear of China. It’s time for Blizzard to grow the spine it used to have, and to do what’s right for gamers once again. Gamers, rise up.”
- (6:27 PM – 8 Oct 2019) “And yes, this means I will be refusing any deal for Epic exclusivity. The money comes from Tencent. Em8ER will never be an Epic game store exclusive. This might mean we never make a dime, but more is at stake now than just games. A line has to be drawn, and I’m drawing it now.”
TheQuartering and Mark Kern followed the story closely and brought up the fact this disaster happened under President of Blizzard Entertainment J. Allen Brack’s leadership. Quartering pointed out how “freshly mad” people were at Blizzard. Not just in America, either. With this new change to the exacts of Blitzchung’s punishment, the China and Hong Kong audience were likely to frown at the company’s backpedaling. This last-minute compromise simply served to diffuse the public anger, but not leaving anyone whatsoever entirely happy. To say broadcasts are “not a platform for divisive political and social views” is too broad a brush, that extends far beyond the Blitzchung fiasco.
In this Blizzard response, they stress “The specific views expressed by blitzchung were NOT a factor in the decision we made. I want to be clear: our relationships in China had no influence on our decision.” Bullocks. This is simply untrue given the Blizzard remarks made days earlier on the Chinese social media network Weibo. Take a minute and just soak this in. Eventually, Blizzard Entertainment passed the blame off by saying their partner NetEase wrote it. But it doesn’t change the fact that this official statement was made in their name.
Here we have Blitzchung’s reply after the Blizzard compromise. He expressed remorse for what went down, at least in the sense he now understood he could’ve been more careful. Best to hear it direct. He deserves as much after what he went through.
“Many people has been asking me if I accept the latest decision of Blizzard, I will discuss that on two parts. Tournament prizing and suspension. For tournament prizing, I quoted what Blizzard said on the official website, they mention that I played fair in the tournament and they believe I should receive my prizing. This is the part I really appreciate, Blizzard also said they understand for some this is not about the prize, but perhaps for others it is disrespectful to even discuss it. People from Blizzard had explained this to me through a phone call and I really appreciate that and I accept their decision on this part.
For second part about the suspension, Blizzard had changed their suspension on me from a year to six months. Once again, I appreciate for their reconsideration on this. To be honest, I think six months is still quite a lot to me. But I also being told that I can continue to compete in the hearthstone pro circuit which they mean the grandmaster tournament. I appreciate for this decision they made because grandmaster is currently the highest level tournament in competitive hearthstone. However, I wish Blizzard can reconsider about their penalty on the two casters involved.
Lastly, many people wants to know if i would be competing in hearthstone in the future. Honestly, I have no idea on that yet. Since my next tournament is very likely to be the grandmaster tournament of next season, it’s probably at least a few months from now on. I will take this time to relax myself to decide if I am staying in competitive hearthstone scene or not.”
Blitzchung has a plethora of other career options if he ends up completely walking away from Blizzard products. The people over at digital TCG Gods Unchained had earlier offered to pay Blitzchung ALL his lost winnings and ticket to their $500k tournament. A bold move that net the game developers a lot of free publicity. But it came at a cost. The newfound popularity put significant stress on the game’s servers. It could’ve been natural. But at least one report claimed potential “cyberattacks” from some unknown source.
Controversies are baggage. Blizzard Entertainment found new luggage to carry around. The company found themselves sandwiched between Blizzcon 2018’s proven disaster and Blizzcon 2019’s impending potential doom. The Activision Blizzard stock price took a 6.74% nosedive because of how poorly received the Diablo Immortal reveal was. A research firm told investors “Blizzard severely miscalculated how their fans would respond, which suggests they aren’t in touch with their players as maybe they should be.” In other words, the official cause is that gamers rose up. A change.org petition about it all got over 40,000 signatures. In between 2018 and 2019, Blizzard Entertainment employees went through career turbulence. Management did a lot of cost-cutting. In the first round, the company did a buyout route. Expendable staff who were willing to voluntarily part ways with Blizzard got a comfy severance package. At least 100 people took Blizzard up on their buyout offer in late December 2018. Fast forward to February 2019, Blizzard took more action. This time it was layoffs. Roughly 800 people were now out of a job.
Blizzcon’s cringe history looked to be repeating itself. But the response wouldn’t be as simple this time. In 2018 the boldest gaffe brought on by a Blizzcon attendee was the “is this an out of season April Fools joke” red shirt guy. No. This time the stakes were higher. The problem faced wasn’t just about a game. Instead, it was about a company trying to cater to a global audience, and dropping human rights and free speech to the lowest common denominator.
Protests at Blizzcon 2019 were a surefire thing for several reasons. TheQuartering single-handedly bankrolled the operation and guaranteed the organizers had the necessary funding. Another guy set up a website where people could buy “I Stand With Hong Kong” shirts to wear to Blizzcon. But mainly it was the fact that a super-serious political activism group, Fight For The Future, threw their hat into the ring. These were folks who had years of experience organizing mass protests.
Deputy Director Evan Greer said: “Blizzard, and other companies who are engaging in censorship on behalf of an authoritarian government, are not going to get away with it. They have no idea what kind of Internet shitstorm they’ve unleashed. We’re going to make an example out of them to make sure that all companies know that throwing human rights and free expression under the bus to make some extra money will not be tolerated.”
The Verge tried to frame this as proof that games and politics mix. Even though in reality it’s the exact opposite, as the politics aren’t in the video games here. Blizzard wanted to keep the two things separate. The gaming community simply wanted to uphold the integrity of free speech as its own separate thing, adjacent to products themselves.
The overwhelming hype towards the Blizzcon protests had ripple effects beyond the company. Nintendo’s New York City store had planned a voice actor meet and greet to commemorate the launch of Overwatch on Switch. Blizzard canceled the whole thing. A few hurdles stood in the way. People’s attention spans are short. The passage of a few week’s time meant a likelihood that the internet could “move on” and forget about Blitzchung. Moreover, we’re talking about a company that sells products of distraction. Blizzard Entertainment dangling shiny new video games posed as a viable remedy to ending their PR nightmare. All they could do was wait. The shiny dangling ended up happening with leaks revealing Diablo IV and Overwatch 2 ahead of time before the Blizzcon show.
Given what went down with American University the previous week, Blizzard put the kibosh on post-game interviews and player cams. The continued treatment given there happened in the chatroom too. Reports came out alleging Blizzard was suspending people who left pro-Hong Kong messages in the Hearthstone Masters Tour live feed comments section. The company issued a statement to Polygon. “We are not banning people from Twitch chat for specifically using pro Hong Kong speech or any other political statements. Bans are being levied by an automated moderating system that’s triggered by viewers spamming any phrase repeatedly. We expect to have the issue corrected in the next few hours.”
On October 18th, 2019 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Mike Gallagher, and Tom Malinowski sent a letter to Big Bobby Kotick, CEO at Blizzard-Activision. Much of it repeating what we already talked about. The politicians basically urged Kotick to defend American values and not buckle to whatever China wants.
On the 21st TheQuartering reported on news surrounding Magic The Gathering pro Lee Shi Tian. At the Mythic Championship event, Lee used his winner’s interview to voice support for the Hong Kong protests. “It feels so good to play as a free man,” he said. Watch for yourself here. He revealed that, according to inside sources, Wizards of the Coast took a hard line hands-off approach to policing anyone with regards to speaking out about Hong Kong. From the tournament event itself down to anyone in the livestream chats. A follow-up report by Polygon acquired a direct statement from Lee. “As a professional gamer, this is the place for me to show my support to him, Hong Kong, freedom of speech, and democracy. Blitzchung’s action inspired me a lot — and show the world that the universal value was at risk. This is happening in the world right now.” Lee si Tian told Polygon. He was confident that Wizards of the Coast wouldn’t punish him. The only immediate sort of pushback Lee Shi Tian had was someone trying to take over his Twitter account. Lee urged people to reward Wizards of the Coast for allowing him to speak his mind by buying their stuff.
The whole “focus on the tournament” enforcement of rules for Blizzard didn’t stop at just these livestream shows. The company was trying to figure out whether or not these rules applied to their games. In the case of a “Make Azeroth Great Again” guild on WoW Classic, the group had to deal with Blizzard flip-flopping as to whether or not the name broke any guidelines. First, it was YES, then it was NO, but then it was YES again.
In a surprise twist, former Xbox vice president Mike Ybarra joined the ranks of Blizzard. He’s now their new executive vice president and GM. PCGamer made note of the Blitzchung situation here. This indicates that it was now “baggage” onto Blizzard’s reputation for the long term. The addition of Mike Ybarra is noteworthy due to the fact that a lot of people were jumping ship in recent months. Dustin Browder, Eric Dodds, and Jason Chayes all held high-level company positions. But when Blizzard scrapped a mobile game and a Starcraft first-person shooter, the trio decided to depart amidst the corporate focus shift towards Diablo 4 and Overwatch 2.
The mistrust from the Blitzchung situation spilled over into another situation. Players who bought special in-game items for World of Warcraft had a portion of their dough go towards the prize pool. Critics were upset Blizzard chose crowdfunding instead of offering a lump sum of cash, themselves. Details on how exactly things were split, and where, is hard to pin down. TheQuartering tried figuring it out and it all just looks like a damn headache.
The closest I can narrow it down is like so. The initial announcement back in March 2019 says this:
“For a limited time, every purchase of the Transmorpher Beacon or Lion’s Pride and Horde’s Might Fireworks, 25% of the proceeds will contribute toward the year’s finals LAN event prize pool for the Arena World Championship (AWC) and the Mythic Dungeon International (MDI) with a guaranteed minimum prize pool of $500,000 USD ($250,000 USD for each event.) Your support will help take the WoW esports prize pool to the next level.”
Fast forward to October/November 2019, the end result says this:
“We’re happy to announce that because of your direct support, the combined prize pool for WoW Esports at BlizzCon 2019 will be $660,000! Each of our two WoW Esports programs, the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship and the Mythic Dungeon International Global Finals, will have a prize pool of $330,000 up for grabs. Thank you for making this the largest prize pool we’ve ever had for WoW Esports at BlizzCon and thank you for your continued support of WoW Esports.”
The clincher of confusion was whether or not the $660,000 was raised by just the community. To put it another way, did the guaranteed minimum prize pool somehow come from Blizzard’s pockets themselves? An article on invenglobal.com articulates it best. “If one were to give Blizzard the benefit of the doubt, the wording of Blizzard’s original post a could read as a $500,000 guaranteed prize pool should the proceeds from the toys not exceed that value.”
As pointed out by TheQuartering, that’s probably what they meant but they worded it poorly. All in all, it was one last mini-controversy to come out before Blizzcon.
(SIDENOTE: The truth about the prize pool came out after the fact. The GM of a prominent Blizzard Esports team wrote a tell-all post on Twitlonger. The bottom line is that it boils down to a messy bait and switch. His best guess? “Blizzard couldn’t allow AWC or MDI to have bigger individual prize pools than Hearthstone Grandmasters, OW World Cup, or SC2,” the GM wrote.)
We’ll talk about what went down at Blizzcon. But first please scroll past J. Allen Brack wearing a Pride pin. This is the same “no politics talk on official livestreams” J. Allen Brack who mishandled the Blitzchung controversy.
Finally. We arrive at Blizzcon 2019. This PC Gamer article lists all the reveals, so we can get all that out of the way. You got your Overwatch 2, you got the new Diablo, a new World of Warcraft expansion, and more Hearthstone cards.
During the opening ceremony, J. Allen Brack addressed the Hong Kong controversy on stage. He doesn’t name anyone specifically. Viewers commented to point out how nothing was direct. One part PR fluff, one part Sphinx riddle.
“Blizzard had the opportunity to bring the world together in a tough Hearthstone eSports moment about a month ago, and we did not. We moved too quickly in our decision making, and then, to make matters worse, we were too slow to talk with all of you. When I think about what I’m most unhappy about, it’s really two things. The first one is that we didn’t live up to the high standards that we really set for ourselves. And the second is that we failed in our purpose. And for that, I am sorry, and I accept accountability.”
I understand why people wanted more action to rectify the mistakes made in the first place. People were upset Blitzchung faced any punishment. Deciphering Brack, he said: “this incident happened, we screwed up in dealing with it, but we’re a hella diverse company so we’re going to allow people to freely protest all weekend.”
That they did.
The Hong Kong protests were legit. As you can see by this PC Gamer live blog, they happened. Heck. Let’s link the rest of the media coverage just to rub it in. ESPN. Polygon. Variety. Eurogamer. Kotaku. CNN. LA Times. TechRaptor. The Hollywood Reporter. The New York Times. IGN.
I looked around the Twittersphere for pictures. Here’s what I found. Enjoy this collage.
The demonstration was a peaceful protest. Here’s someone who just flat out casually says “free Hong Kong, revolution of our times” to the Q&A panel. But the REAL MVP was someone that goes by the handle @matanevenoff. This boy is an absolute unit. He delivered. He shouted “FREE HONG KONG” at the top of his kid lungs when someone was trying to ask a Q&A question. As you can see here in official live feed form, and also he took footage HIMSELF when jumping into action. That wasn’t the first bit of Hong Kong activism @matanevenoff engaged in. As noted by Slasher, this lad was at an NBA game and managed to wave a free Hong Kong shirt on the live feed. The poor cameraman in that case quickly panned away once it clicked in his brain what was up.
The Blizzcon weekend went off without a hitch. Relatively speaking. People gathered together peacefully to engage in a spirited exchange of ideas. Here’s a highlight video if you want to see the general Blizzcon 2019 experience in a nutshell.
But what about the aftermath?
According to TheQuartering’s sources, the band Weezer was supposed to play at Blizzcon. They backed out last minute. In light of the whole Blitzchung thing. The back-up option, Fitz and the Tantrums, was only available live for some reason. Blizzard ended up with a musical group called The Glitch Mob at the very last minute. On the whole mood of the company in general, TheQuartering’s sources said J. Allen Brack acted as a mouthpiece and a scapegoat for Activision. J. Allen Brack proved to be not telling the whole truth to PC Gamer. At one point he says “And so employees are free to post on their social media accounts. If you think about the people that we have that are esports athletes, our Grandmasters, or anyone who is participating in esports, they’re free to say and do whatever they want on their social channels.”
PC Gamer got to the heart of the Blitzchung matter and asked Blizzard to explain their relationship with NetEase (read the whole Brack interview it’s a solid final wrap-up). Their question pertained to whether or not NetEase had any influence on the decision to punish Blitzchung. Given the Weibo post talking about “defending the pride of China” is confirmed as written by NetEase, it isn’t a stretch to assume the powers China would have beyond that. Brack’s answer is fascinating because it demonstrates the workaround China has created.
“Blizzard is not legally allowed to operate or to publish games in China. You must have a partner. That is the regulation, that is law. NetEase is our partner. NetEase is not a government agency, NetEase is a company. They are the publisher. One of the things that has kind of come up around this is the Blizzard Weibo post and the text around that. We are not legally allowed to operate those channels. We are not legally allowed to contribute. That is a NetEase decision, they are the publisher in China.”
Calling NetEase “not a government agency” may be true at its face. However, the Chinese government can easily exercise direct control over a company like NetEase. For folks in the United States, you need to toss away the usual presumption of corporate autonomy afforded to companies in the west. That simply does not exist in China. Whatsoever.
Overwatch game director Jeff Kaplan had a lot of insight with doling out punishment given Overwatch‘s emphasis on competitive play. In a Washington Post interview Kaplan spoke out against Blizzard’s decision. “I think the suspension should be reduced more or eliminated. But that’s just me.” The usual “too harsh” and “too quick” critiques were brought up. The head honchos of Hearthstone, game director Ben Lee and creative director Ben Thompson, told Kotaku in an interview essentially the same thing. Kaplan’s testimony reveals how against the norms the Blitzchung case was. Jeff explained that the team puts a significant amount of “devil’s advocate” consideration for the judgement process.
But we’ll have to see what the future holds for Blizzard. The “old Blizzard” is long dead. That’s for sure.
The only thing I have left to do here for this piece is explore the China aspect in-depth. Let’s explore the various methods of control their government have exerted on other companies. This should paint the picture with what happened between China and Blizzard.
It’s a world of video game “curfew” restrictions for minors. If you’re a kid in China who wanted to play video games after 10 PM and before 8 AM? Too bad. The law says you can’t. That’s just the player’s side of all this. It’s just as much of a nightmare for publishing video games. China’s State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), is the Chinese government gateway that decides which video games are rejected or allowed.
Let’s take a peek at China’s rules for online games content.
- Anything that violates China’s constitution
- Anything that threatens China’s national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.
- Anything that harms the nation’s reputation, security, or interests.
- Anything that instigates racial/ethnic hatred, or harms ethnic traditions and cultures.
- Anything that violates China’s policy on religion by promoting cults or superstitions.
- Anything that promotes or incites obscenity, drug use, violence, or gambling.
- Anything that harms public ethics or China’s culture and traditions.
- Anything that insults, slanders, or violates the rights of others.
- Other content that violates the law
Let us take a hypothetical position of a Chinese censor looking at the Blitzchung incident. It’d likely violate rules 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8. How so? Blitzchung made a statement encouraging Hong Kong to rebel against Chinese authority (rules 2 and 3). In doing so, China could argue that Blitzchung contributed to fueling the violent conflict going on over there in the protests (rule 6). The Chinese government has hijacked control over defining their culture and traditions, but that’s a story in of itself. Even so they could accuse Blitzchung of going against Chinese social cohesion (rule 7). Blitzchung’s statement might’ve offended livestream viewers who are pro-China and against Hong Kong (rule 8). Rule 9 is just a catch-all that gives China a “blank check” to punish anyone they want.
So is it worse for video game companies in China, or the players themselves? That’s an open-ended question. This Business Insider article should put the fear of God inside you gamers:
“Chinese regulators have also been working to introduce mandatory time limits for gamers under the age of 18. Tencent, China’s largest video game company and the world biggest publisher, began implementing mandatory age restrictions on its own last year, while the Chinese government was still blocking new releases. To manage the age restrictions, Tencent introduced a new program called the Real Name Identity System (RNIS). Players under the age of 18 were limited to playing just two hours a day, while those under the age of 12 were limited to one hour a day. Each player’s name and age is checked against the national citizen database maintained by China’s Ministry of Public Security. Tencent also introduced facial recognition software in September 2018, starting with thousands of randomly selected gamers living in Beijing and Shenzhen.”
This alone points to a totalitarian regime. This alone more than covers as evidence for asserting China demanded Blizzard Entertainment to punish Blitzchung.
But lets explore further.
In early 2015 there were concerns that Microsoft Outlook was hacked by Chinese authorities in a man-in-the-middle-attack type maneuver. It happened to Google, Yahoo, and Apple the year before. Greatfire.org was able to spot a pattern in the victims. That being these companies were communication platforms that the Chinese government couldn’t monitor as easily as their own domestic entities. Those who pointed the finger at China’s government for the attack were vindicated a few months later. That April, a tool known as “the Great Cannon” launched a DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) targeting GitHub. The motive being GitHub’s platform was hosting numerous anti-censorship projects. Researchers from the EFF and several universities found compelling evidence that China’s government was behind this because the DDoS attack required an entity with access to backbone routers all across China. The “problems” with the Blitzchung livestream weren’t the first time China has tried to police this type of content. Back in October 2014 a BBC live broadcast was cut short because of “technical problems.” That meaning the TV channel showed the brutal unrest going on in Hong Kong at the time, with a cop beating and kicking a pro-democracy protester.
Freedomhouse.org is a reliable and consistent watchdog for tracking how “free” the internet is in countries around the world. Starting in 2015, China became the top contender, overtaking the likes of Syria and Iran to get that number one “worst of the worst” spot. To put things into perspective: China held that spot in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
I’ll say it flat-out: any set of “rules” put in place when it comes to policing content are vague intentionally because people are hard-wired to err on the side of caution. Even if it’s too much. This is a system of pressure that China actively enforces. The government threatened to close down the news services of an internet group called Sina. China’s Cyberspace Administration accused Sina of spreading “illegal information related to rumors, violence and terrorism, pornography, swindling, advocation of heresies and has distorted news facts, violated morality and engaged in media hype.”
China has enacted a ton of laws surrounding policing the internet. That’s on top of their various means of enforcing these authoritarian policies put in place. Here’s a general background going over all that. But let’s explore specifics.
- November 2015: any company that offers online music (Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent) are ordered to filter out “harmful” content from their libraries before making it available to the general public. This doesn’t just apply to domestic companies, but also any foreign company wishing to do business in China. Platforms like Spotify would be expected to comply if they chose to open up a market there.
- March 2016: a set of new “Online Publishing Service Administrative Rules” are put into effect in order to “regulate criteria” and “promote the healthy development of internet publishing services.” The scope of this applies to any information online. Anything from text, pictures, audio, video, animation, you name it. If the general public can readily access it via the web? It fits. Platforms who don’t sufficiently police and remove problematic content are subject to severe punishment. You need a Publishing Service License in order to play ball in China whatsoever, and in doing so you must meet their standard of having regulation compliance systems in place. “The law stipulates that an internet publication cannot include any content that opposes the principles of the constitution, threatens national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity or security, divulges state secrets, damages the reputation or interests of the state, incites ethnic hostility or discrimination, endangers social morals or ethnic cultural traditions, advocates heresy or feudal superstition, disseminates rumors, disturbs social order and stability, disseminates obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, or incites crime or insults others or infringes on their legal rights and interests.”
- June 2016: China’s government targets foreign TV shows. Satellite TV channels can’t air more than two imported programs throughout the year during the hours between 7:30 PM and 10:30 PM, by order of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. “Only independently innovative programs with Chinese cultural genes, characteristics and style can sustain themes of the Chinese dream, core socialist values, patriotism and outstanding Chinese cultural traditions.”
- November 2016: a law is passed targeting the film industry. Promoting “socialist core values” is encouraged, and anything that goes against the “dignity, honour, and interests” of China is banned. It’s really an extension of criteria discussed in the publishing service rules portion. A prohibition on material that mixes restrictions on “spreading terrorism or extremism,” or “inciting hatred,” with banning anything that defames “the people’s excellent cultural traditions” or makes the Chinese government look bad.
- June 2017: the Cyberspace Administration of China orders online news networks be managed by editorial staff approved by the party.It applies to “all political, economic, military, or diplomatic reports or opinion articles on blogs, websites, forums, search engines, instant messaging apps and all other platforms that select or edit news and information.” Basically, all of China’s mainstream media is required to get training and credentials to ensure they kowtow to the government’s agenda.
- July 2017: South Korean soap operas, American TV shows, and Japanese animation are targeted on video-streaming sites Bilibili and AcFun. Much of the content library is removed in order for “regulatory requirements.” Bilibili downplays it by saying foreign films and television only make up 10% of all their content. But investors get nervous about the impact to the bottom line if this ban is sustained. Beijing’s Culture Bureau bans Justin Bieber for “bad behaviour.” “We hope that as Justin Bieber matures, he can continue to improve his own words and actions, and truly become a singer beloved by the public.”
- August 2017: China forces Cambridge University Press to remove over 300 articles from their China Quarterly catalog. It was a “comply or be shut down” ultimatum from the General Administration of Press and Publication of China. The targeted subject matter includes: Tienanmen, the Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Xinjang, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. It was an attack on academic research dating back to the 1960s and a sign of the severe decline in academic freedom in China going on currently. Three days after this was announced, Cambridge University Press did a 180-degree turn and brought the articles back. The reversal came after an outcry from the general public and academic community. Ironically, the news of Cambridge’s uncensoring was in itself censored on Chinese social media.
- September 2017: it’s discovered that China has been erasing historical documents that were stored in online databases. The China National Knowledge Infrastructure and the National Social Sciences Database were targeted by the Chinese government. Any documents that go against the political ideology promoted by Xi Jinping are deleted in a concentrated effort to rewrite history.
- October 2017: the Cyberspace Administration of China orders internet chat service providers to verify the identities of all users and keep at least a six month backlog of archived group chats. These companies, such as Tencent’s WeChat and Baidu’s Tieba, must enact a credit system to sort the userbase by and provide group chat services on that basis. Any user who breaks the rules gets their credit score lowered, privileges revoked, and eventually they get reported to the government.
- January 2018: Hip-Hop culture and tattoos are banned by order of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China. The government now demands programs don’t feature actors with tattoos, generally depict hip hop culture, and any underlying decadent sub-cultures that lay beneath that. This is speculated to be an official measure from China after a rapper named “GAI” was removed from Hunan TV, another rapper “PG ONE” had to apologize after making a song that promoted “drag culture” and insulted women, and a third rapper named “Triple H” had his music erased from China’s top streaming platforms.
So when it comes to video games, you can now understand how things like Pokemon Go were a luxury to the Chinese. It isn’t just video games. A Chinese version of Tinder is programmed to discourage users from trying to solicit casual sex. This is where we go from government censorship to people censoring themselves.
That’s really the end of this story. When we’re talking about how China can cause people to censor. When people begin censoring themselves, that’s the end of the road. The policing of thought has won.
READ MORE: from some fantastic fellas I had the honor of helping out earlier this year. “What’s going on with China & Big Tech?” I’m still proud of them both.