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China Gives Internet Celebrities a Guide for Self-Censorship

Categories: East Asia, China, Freedom of Speech, Governance

A group of Internet celebrities in China have endorsed a government guideline for self-censorship on a variety of topics such as law, socialism, the state, the public's legal rights, and morality, according to state-controlled media outlet the People Daily [1]. But did they really? 

Some are arguing their endorsement was invented as political propaganda. The Internet celebrities were part of a group invited to attend a forum on Internet Celebrities’ Social Responsibility [2] [zh] organized by the State Internet Information Office (IIO) and held at the China Central Television [3] on August 10, 2013. There, they exchanged views with the head of IIO, Lu Wei, who presented the seven-point guideline.

The guideline includes principles for online public opinion leaders to self-regulate their online speech, which set limits [4] [zh] and boundaries not to be crossed when it comes to discussion of law and regulation, the socialist political system, the state's interests, citizen's legal rights, public order, morality, and facts and accuracy.

Pan Shiyi said in the forum that all netizens are and should be treated as active individuals. Photo uploaded by Pan Shiyi to Weibo. [5]

Pan Shiyi said in the forum that all netizens are and should be treated as active individuals. Photo uploaded by Pan Shiyi to Weibo.

As social media becomes more and more popular, online public opinion leaders are becoming very influential. In Sina [6] and Tencent [7] Weibo, there are more than 19,000 microbloggers with 100,000 followers; 3,300 microbloggers with one million followers; and 200 microbloggers with more than 10 million followers.

Soon after the conference, state-controlled media outlet, the People Daily reported [1] that all the celebrities who attended the forum had endorsed the seven-point guideline.

The set of principles has received quite some welcome in the past two days, yet others questioned it.

In fact, Pan Shiyi [8], CEO of real-estate developer Soho and one of the invited celebrities, questioned the premise of the seven principles during the forum:


People here are discussing whether the Internet should be controlled, managed, channeled and turned into a tool for cultivating the mass…. My personal opinion is everyone should participate in the network society and people should not be considered a passive subject who need to be educated or channeled. Those who spread rumors should be punished according to the law. I don't think the Big V [online celebrities] should be responsible for lifting people's morality. It won't work.

Some netizens noticed the contradictions in the guideline. @juchenxi, head of a news information center in an academy in Hunan, also spotted [9] the paradoxes:


A number of paradoxes here: Upholding the socialist system may contradict with national interest. The pursuit of truth may also contradict some conditions of the socialist system. Also, the protection of citizen's legal rights may also go against the system. It would be difficult to follow all these guidelines at the same time. It won't be easy just to uphold the truth.

Since the forum has invited quite a number of celebrities from the liberal sector which is often the target of censorship, there are some speculations about the its political intention. For example, @ranxiangbapi [10], a popular nationalistic microblogger, believed the celebrities were “forced to drink tea” [11], an online term used to describe interrogations by the internal security police:


Don't you smell the aroma of a “tea session” [11] in this forum? It invited those Big V [online celebrities] with a positive attitude in the show and gave them faces. Let's see how the Big V with a negative attitude perform in the future.

@simanan, also a nationalist opinion leader, also believed [12] the forum is a party strategy to build an united front [13] with the influential liberals:

《南华早报》刚才问我,如何评论#鲁炜对话大V#?我说了几条: 1)新时期搞统战,只能拾起老法宝。2)点着名宣底线,给脸看你要不要。3)撞墙沉船者听仔细,勿谓言之不预也。4) 鲁七条其实就一条,宪法原则耳。5)潘石屹会上自我漂白,鲁炜没搭腔,众人不附和。

Just now the South China Morning Post asked me to comment on Lu Wei's conversation with the Big V. I raised a few points: 1. This is a strategy to build a united front in a new era. But they use an old set of tools; 2. Faces have been given to some names before the consensus was introduced; 3. It is a signal to the destructive ones; 4. The seven guidelines can be reduced to one. Follow the constitution [one party principle]. 5. @Pan Shiyi [8] [CEO of Soho China, a liberal] tries to differentiate himself with others in the forum, Lu Wei did not give any response to him and no one backed him up.

Cultivate the angry youth?

Even though Chinese netizens still have doubts, the China Daily continued to propagate the necessity [14] [zh] to cultivate the “angry youth” and develop common boundaries on discussion for a rational and healthy culture. But why are people angry in the first place? Many netizens questioned:

长空雁_MIN [15]:那为何网络骂战如此疯狂?自己的切身利益得不到维护而现实中规则的制定者大多谋取了不正当利益,久而久之唯有对他人,对整个社会予以破口大骂才能解“心头之恨”。呼吁网民保持理性素养和道德自律是必须但是次要的,重点是如何解决不公,让更多人觉得自己生活在公正的时代,自身利益得到保护。

“Big bird in the sky”: Why there are so many fierce fights in the Internet? We can't defend our own interest but those who design the rules of the game have gained so much illegitimated interests. The resentment has kept on accumulating and we have to swear to maintain our balance. It is necessary but secondary to urge netizens to remain rational and well-mannered in discussion. The most urgent task is to solve the problem of social injustice so that people develop a feeling that they are protected and living in a fair world.

腹黑的果蝇 [16]:官员财产申报制度喊了多年,建设性的批评建议你听得进去吗?封锁消息防民之口倒是迅雷不及掩耳,在一个严格管制半封闭的网络环境下装模作样谈论自由理性平和,笑死人了

“Fly with black belly”: For how many years people have we demanded our officials to declare their properties? Can you even hear people's constructive suggestions? You have been so effective in blocking people's speech. In such a highly manipulated and censored environment, you pretend that it is free and ask people to be rational and soft? This is such a joke.

Fredio [17]:缺的是老百姓对政府的监督机制。

Fredio: What has been missed is a mechanism for people to monitor the government.