What is self-censorship?

Many people think that in China the state media is censoring content online and offline vigorously under government order. However it's not always true since many of the censorship works are not done by the government officials but self-censored. Followed is a translation of recent blog post by Zhao Maoyu at the renowned Chinese blog “Mindmeters“, titled “Self-Castration Resulted from Self-Fear“, explaining the self-censorship policy at China Central Television, CCTV, the national and official TV media.

[In Translation]
Now all the people said the programs at Hunan TV (A provincial level TV) is much better than CCTV. The reasons behind it can be found at Wangxiaofeng's Blog. CCTV does not only produce rubbish programs but also attack its competitors with third-rated techniques. When I was home this year, my sister told me that CCTV did not attack other competitors because of fears. She did not want to tell me the real reasons.

I don't know whether anyone still remembers the “Red Horizon” soiree that is not released to the public. I think that anyone who have seen this program, as long as he did not bear extreme prejudice, should recognize that CCTV is not short of good producers and talented performance. I even dissert that the quality of this program exceeds all Hunan TV's programs. But such programs will not have a chance of getting to the public. What we saw on CCTV is only boring, lack of humor and full of philistinism. Indeed CCTV is not an institution of entertainment but of bureaucracy and politics.

All the staff at the Chinese bureaucratical institutions tend to think one thing first before they did anything else: how their bosses will consider? They were always trying to figure out the bottom line of their boss because they worried about exceeding the limit of tolerance. Moreover, the bottom line is often underestimated by these staff. To put more bluntly, they scared themselves. Let's look at an example how the people at CCTV works: If we set the tolerance rate at 10 for President Hu, the rate for the Ministry of Propaganda would be degraded to 9; 8 for the Ministry of Broadcasting and 7 or 6 for the officials at CCTV. When comes to the program producers it would be a miracle if the rate stays at 2 or 3. How can a TV program be excellent with such bottom line principles?

Also take the recently controversial TV series “Shiliang the General” for example. Even the stupids can know that this series is specially prepared for the political situation in Taiwan Strait. Some people post on BBS to vote on the “most disgusting lines” in this series, and the champion goes to this one: “One girl who would be killed by the Qing soldier soon said “”compare with the days of living with separation from the mainland China, I would rather die“.

I believed that even the President Hu and other people from the propaganda machine would not like this line. But why did the screenplay writer think that “the bosses” need such a line? I think it is the result of underestimating the bottom line of the bosses that lead to wrong conclusion. From the up to down, the fear is magnified and the bottom line is degraded to almost ground zero. The bosses just hope to forbid flirting but when it goes down to the average citizens, no options other than castration would be available.

A most recent case of self-castration and self-fear can be well illustrated in the news that the deeds done by the major websites to comply with the “Civilized Internet” policy:

QianLong: 3 suspected forums were closed down with 800 articles,  3174 pictures and 134 posts deleted.

Sina: 15 forums and 8 columns closed, totally of 134015 posts, including 71016 unhealthy posts.

Sohu: 11 pages and forums shut down. In addition it will select 10 or 20 people as Sohu's “Civilized Internet Supervisors”.

Baidu: Delete and block of illegal pictures and texts.

Zhongsou: Initiative to stop BBS searching and forum services to clean content. 20 forums are eliminated with about 10000 posts and 20000 links.


  • 88

    State censorship is only a catalyst for self-censorship. External censorship can never control a society of a billion people. The role of the state is merely to create the environment and conditions in which self-censorship becomes second nature, which makes censorship a self-policing system. Of course this sort of self-regulated system exists in all societies at a deeper and more subtle level than the clumsy but effective way it works in societies without freedom of the press, etc.

  • […] stumbled upon this piece by Frank Dai, and find the description of the mechanics of self-censorship to be equally entertaining and […]

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