The Great China Crackdown on Gaming, Tuition, Fandoms and Karaoke |

China crackdown

China has been making headlines around the world for its series of curbs and restrictions, ranging from its regulation on after-school tuition to karaoke songs. Most recently, China made news this week when it announced that it would curb video gaming time for kids. This latest move adds to the current set of restrictions that seem to target the youth across the country.

What are Chinese students supposed to do after school now? They can’t take private classes. They can’t dote on idols. They can’t play video games.

Video game killswitch 

On Monday, it was reported that the country’s National Press and Publication Administration has introduced new limits on gaming for minors in China, which applies to any gaming device including mobile phones.

Under the new rules, those under 18 years old will only be allowed to play video games on weekends and holidays – that is, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – for only one hour per day. The time is also set: minors nationwide can only be on a video game from 8pm-9pm. They can also play for an hour, at the same time, on public holidays.

What’s more, the new rules also mandate that minors must register to play online with their real names – no more fictitious handles! And gaming companies must enforce real-name verification to prevent children from posing as adults to flout the rules.

The regulation comes two years after a previous video game limit of three hours per day on weekends and holidays, and 90 minutes on weekdays. The goal of the new regulation is to “strengthen education and family life” and curb any habit that could “destroy a generation.”

No more idol worship

China has been cracking down on rabid fan circles, or fan quan – informal virtual communities centred around an idol – under their new “Clear and Bright” campaign. China’s “idol economy” is a widespread phenomenon that could be worth 140 billion yuan by 2022, and consumers – especially the youth – do tend to spend a lot on their idols. The industry has been criticised for their influence over minors and for causing social disorder.

The internet watchdog has punished more than 4,000 accounts related to fan clubs and closed down discussion channels that spread celebrity scandals or “provoked trouble.” These include hurling abuse online and doxxing by publishing private information with malicious intent about a particular individual on the internet.

The clamp-down came after Canadian-Chinese pop star Kris Wu was detained on suspicion of sexual assault – fan groups reportedly discussed organising a “prison break” to “rescue” their idol. However, the crackdown on various fandoms isn’t a new thing; anyone with the knowledge of the story behind Xiao Zhan, popular idol/actor who leapfrogged into fame after starring in “The Untamed”, will know that fandoms can make and break a celebrity’s career.

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Under the newer, stricter rules, the management of fan group accounts will now need to be authorised by the celebrity agencies who will need to monitor them daily, and teenagers are limited from joining the fan clubs.

The latest campaign also clamped down on activities that entice minors to contribute money to their idols. The internet watchdog has barred platforms from publishing popularity lists – like Weibo’s “Star Power Ranking List” – and stopped them from charging fans to vote online for their favourite acts. They’ve also regulated the sale of fan merchandise after a series of controversies – this includes the mass dumping of milk caused by a marketing campaign on iQiyi’s reality show where fans gained extra votes for their idols by buying the products which were then discarded.

Killing the tuition competition

In April, government regulators limited after-school tutoring hours in a bid to unburden parents who’re afraid their offspring will lose at the starting line in a competition over scores. 

Under the new set of guidelines, tuition centres have been blocked from providing after-school classes for core subjects (such as math, science, and history), while weekend classes, public holiday tutoring, as well as online tuition for children below 6 were prohibited.

For students, this may be a welcome reprieve from the hours of tuition they’re expected to attend after school – sometimes well into the night. The guidelines aim at easing anxiety over education by measures like reducing homework and improving the quality of education and after-class services provided by schools.

China cracked down hard on its own billion-dollar after-school tuition industry – in doing so, the country hopes to ease the financial burden on parents, and hopefully raise birth dates (a core state objective). Beijing has isolated the tutoring sector in its war against “disorderly expansion of capital” and has accused the industry of expanding at a rate that has begun to hurt its customers. 

According to the new rules, all institutions that teach the school curriculum – or “cram schools” – will be registered as non-profit organisations, and no new licences will be granted.

Karaoke song blacklist

Policing the lyrics of songs isn’t new – from 2015 to 2020, China banned hundreds of songs it deemed “harmful” – that is, songs that allegedly persuade listeners to take drugs, gamble, commit crimes, get violent, and generally be a nuisance to society.

Those songs include “Beijing Hooligans” and “Don’t Want to Go to School,” as well as Taiwanese rapper MC Hotdog’s “I Love Taiwanese Girls” and “Fart,” which included the lyrics “There are some people in the world who like farting while doing nothing.” Most of the songs are in the genre of rap and hip hop.

This year, the authorities have announced a blacklist of songs that’ll be banned from the nation’s legion of karaoke venues – that’s over 50,000 karaoke joints (KTVs) with 100,000 songs each – as of October 1 (China’s National Day).

The youth’s response: lie flat

It’s no surprise then that discontent among Chinese youth is increasingly bursting to the surface, both online and on campuses. To bypass omnipresent censorship in China, the youth have lashed out with coded language through popular memes that tie to their sense of hopelessness about the future.

These follow the themes of “labourer” (打工人), “involution” (内卷), “chives”(韭菜), and “lie flat” (躺平).

“Labourer” is used by young, low-level employees who understand their lot in life as slaves to the bosses. “Involution” describes a sense of stagnation and decline in their lives, while “chives” represent how they’re merely mute vegetables at the disposal of the ruling class.

Bursting onto the scene in April was “lie flat” – a defiance to present society that constantly demands that people pursue material wealth and live up to unreasonable standards. To get out of this rat race, the solution is to “lie flat” and live a simple life.

“Lying flat” appeared on the Q&A platform Zhihu in early May 2021

What’s next?

While the country’s stance on curbing bad behaviour all around seems to be targeted at the youth, it’s also beginning to tackle the widespread corporate drinking culture. There are mounting calls from China’s MeToo movement – by the youth, especially interns – to curb post-work heavy drinking as they’re linked to sexual harassment. This came after allegations that an Alibaba manager sexually assaulted a female staff member during a drinking session.

Could alcohol – specifically the heavy corporate drinking culture – be the next thing China regulates?