China's crackdown on social media platforms that “flaunt wealth” is putting pressure on influencers – each on the mainland and in Taiwan – to toe the party line.

Chinese regulators are completing a two-month “spring cleaning” of the country’s social media.

The latest version was launched on April 23, 2024 by the Cyberspace Administration of China. Qinglang Campaign – which accurately means “clean and bright” – goals to punish Chinese social media influencers and web celebrities who’re considered Display of wealth or conscious display of an opulent life based on money to draw followers and traffic. Its reach goes beyond the behavior of mainland social media users, as Taiwanese influencers are also feeling the pressure.

China is much from the one country to officially express concern concerning the perceived dangers of social media. The US government signalled on June 17 its desire to Place warning signs on platforms like TikTok, X and Instagram. But while the US efforts are Protecting mental health For users, the well-being of Chinese society is at the guts of Beijing's crackdown – and regulators there are going beyond mere warnings.

According to the policy of the Cyberspace Administration of China, various Chinese social media platforms blocked the accounts of influencers like for instance Wang Hongquanxingwho’s nicknamed “China’s Kim Kardashian”.

Wang appears to have been censored for boasting about his extravagant clothing and other luxury items. And he will not be alone. His fellow influencer Bo Gongzi received similar treatment for the demonstration of Porsche cars, Hermes bags and other rare and expensive accessories. And Baoyu Jiajie disappeared from Chinese social media platforms after boasting about her luxurious cuisine and lavish properties.

Violation of freedom of expression on the Internet?

Official Chinese media defended the move as a step against money worship and what Beijing describes as “toxic traffic“ – or recruiting online fans for the aim of being profitable.

Analysts reminiscent of Yao-Yuan Yeh, a Taiwanese professor of political science from St. Thomas University, have argued that the cancellation of influencers flaunting their wealth will not be simply motivated by a desire to guard public morality. Rather, it serves the aim of softening the Chinese public growing sense of relative economic drawbackaggravated by China’s current economic downturn.

While Ye's argument has merit, China has an extended history of punishing influencers who boast about their wealth, long before concerns concerning the country's economic situation arose. It reflects widespread fears in Beijing that social media might be used to spread views it considers subversive.

In 2014 there was an extra increase with the Cancellation by Guo Meimei.

Woman with cap sitting in a car.
Chinese social media influencer Guo Meimei in 2011, before she was criticized for flaunting her wealth.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Guo is an online celebrity known for her photos showing a lavish lifestyle, including driving a Mercedes and owning a big mansion.

The measures against the display of wealth come as a part of a broader crackdown on what Beijing sees as morally problematic behavior, reminiscent of watching pornography, gambling, drug use, vulgar live streaming and displaying Contempt for low-income residents.

The official campaign has received broad support from generally conservative public; it will not be only enforced from above.

In this respect, Chinese social conservatism draws on a centuries-old preference for an equal distribution of wealth, reflected within the Confucian idiom that political leaders “not concern about scarcity, but about unequal distribution.”

And Many surveys show The authoritarian Chinese government enjoys great support and trust among the many population.

As MIT political scientist Lily Tsai argues, the Chinese Supporting their authoritarian government will not be simply because of fear of political retaliation or satisfaction with long-term economic success. Rather, the Chinese Communist Party can also be credited with its ability to satisfy the general public's strong desire for retribution and justice.

This signifies that the Chinese people, by and enormous, support their government even when it punishes individuals who have violated the moral values ​​shared by each the political leadership and the common people – even when this implies restricting certain personal freedoms.

Taiwanese influencers

This public support for measures to combat social media activities deemed contrary to Chinese values ​​also serves as a political tool to strengthen the Chinese Communist Party's worldview.

As Experts on Chinese cultural policywe now have noted how China is putting pressure on Taiwanese social media influencers particularly to support its campaign against online wealth display. More broadly, China is using social media to encourage nationalist support and advance its agenda of reunifying the island democracy with mainland China.

The Chinese government has tightened control of cyberspace by directly or not directly pressuring celebrities and influential figures to publicly support pro-government values ​​and policies.

This happens in the shape of a Print campaign against the brand new Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te, who was elected in January, despite some Taiwanese voters are concerned about his views on independence.

Man and woman appear on giant screens.
Giant screens show Taiwan's President Lai Ching-te (left) and Vice President Hsiao Bi-khim thanking the gang after their swearing-in on May 20, 2024.
Photo by Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP via Getty Images

On May 20, Lai stressed in his inaugural speech as president that “the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) and the People’s Republic of China usually are not subordinate to one another“ – Comments which are understood as an uncompromising insistence on Taiwan’s independence.

China Central Television, an official media outlet in China, published a post on its social media account saying: warn the Lai government that “Taiwan independence was never, is never and never will be possible. China will eventually achieve complete reunification.”

Many Taiwanese entertainment stars, who mainly operate within the mainland, shared the CCTV post with their followers to indicate their support for China's reunification with Taiwan. CCTV, in turn, reposted their messages: Praise from “patriotic” Taiwanese celebritiesThis not directly put pressure on other Taiwanese celebrities to publicly declare their stance on reunification.

Current research shows that Taiwanese celebrities repost official messages less regularly on average than celebrities from the mainland and Hong Kong. Nevertheless, the frequent political signaling by celebrities on Chinese social media suggests an increasing politicization of popular culture.

An online army

Both the crackdown on online wealth displays and the pressure on Taiwanese influencers reflect Beijing's recognition of the facility of social media.

In 2022, China can have the biggest variety of web and social media users – about 1.02 billionin response to the most recent statistics. Chinese people use various social media platforms reminiscent of Twitter, WeChat, Xiaohongshu And Douyin for news and knowledge – something that President Xi Jinping, who got here to power in 2012, is well aware of.

The recent “spring cleaning” of Chinese social media will not be the primary to happen under Xi's watch, and it’s unlikely to be the last. Authorities in Beijing know that if social media is tightly regulated, it could possibly be used to spread their message. But if left unchecked, it could lead on to an increasingly subversive and chaotic cyberspace.

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