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Comparison of Short-Video Content Restrictions 2019/2021

Because of the unexpected interest in the detailed list of content restrictions for short video platforms, I have made this comparison chart showing what has actually changed since the 2019 version.

Due to the unexpected interest in the recently updated list of 100 content restrictions for short video platforms, I have made a comparison table showing what has actually changed since the 2019 version. .

What Is probably of greatest interest to most in the document isn’t actually what is new, but is in the level of specificity that the restrictions go into at times. They include both broad blanket prohibitions, such as on content that is unhealthy for minors, and also some that are bizarrely specific- like prohibiting wearing clothing with the images of leaders on them in order to wiggle and comically distort their images. [17]

These rules apply only to short-video platforms but include all aspects of those platforms such as comments sections and other interactive features. They should be considered in the greater context of China’s ongoing attempts to control the ‘online information ecosystem’

What’s New?

Pan-entertainment: One trend that stands out are prohibitions on making things ‘too entertaining’. Examples include item 44 and 47’s prohibition on presenting history and the military in too entertaining a fashion. To those not familiar with the Chinese media landscape, this might appear like a cartoon-villain’s overt ban on ‘fun’, but there’s more to it than that.

The concept of pan-entertainment 泛娱乐化 refers to a gradual decrease in the level of public discourse in an information economy. The main idea is that as the number of content sources has increased, media organizations’ have become increasingly motivated to ‘pander’ in an effort to draw readers and advertising revenue. Entertainment programming increasingly focuses on the salacious, vulgar, and celebrity, and news and educational programming dumbs itself down. Information and entertainment content also become increasingly intertwined, with news no longer being a way of educating the public, but just another entertainment product to be consumed. In China’s model, this can mean that news broadcasts become a less effective method of ‘guiding public opinion’ and allows for the spread of misinformation or narratives counter to that of the Party-state.

This phenomenon clearly isn’t unique to China, and American media-scholar Neil Postman’s classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death, seems to have played a role in shaping the Chinese understanding. China’s attempts to address the problem however, are extreme, and include attempting to limit sources of news solely state licensed media, and ham-fisted attempts to stop the presentation of government policies and history as entertainment, as in these short-video content rules.

This struggle against ‘pan entertainment’ was already reflected in the 2019 prohibitions, but has only increased in prominence, including adding it to the title of section (18) on vulgar content.

Politics and Ideology

The biggest substantive changes occur in the first, and most overtly political section. In the 2019 version, this section was title ‘threats to the nation’s political legal system, but is now called, threats to the ‘system of socialism with Chinese’ characteristics. The overall message remains the same, however, The Party leads the nation, and its policies, programs, laws, and history must not be mocked. The new provisions restrict criticism of Chinese Marxism, or even using the nation’s history (and past mistakes) to criticize the current situation.

Incorporating other legal changes

As one would expect in an update like this, many of the additions to the list are to incorporate recent legal and policy changes. These include recent efforts to contain ‘fan culture’ and celebrity culture[54], and expanded limits on the use of minors in online content.

Comparison Chart

Red text indicates deletion, Blue text reflects rewording, and Green text reflects additions.

Differences that are not colored are most likely due to a change in translation style rather than a change in the original Chinese.

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Jeremy Daum is a Senior Fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, based in Beijing, with over a decade of experience working in China on collaborative legal reform projects. His principal research focus is criminal procedure law, with a particular emphasis on protections of vulnerable populations such as juveniles and the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, and is also an authority on China’s ‘Social Credit System’. Jeremy has spoken about these issues at universities throughout China and in the U.S.; and has co-authored a book on U.S. Capital Punishment Jurisprudence for Chinese readers. He is also the founder and contributing editor of the collaborative translation and commentary site, dedicated to improving mutual understanding between legal professionals in China and abroad.
He translates, writes, edits, does web-design, graphic design, billing, tech support, and social media outreach for China Law Translate.

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