When I moved to China I soon noticed that millions of Chinese are huge fans of American television programs and movies. It has become a way for them to learn about our American culture and our English language.
There are internet sites that stream American television series and films with meticulous Chinese subtitles.
American television programs have become hugely popular for Chinese viewers and I myself enjoy accessing American films in English.
In late November, though, millions of Chinese fans of our American entertainment found their ability to gain access, shutdown, by the Chinese Government. Most of China’s legitimate video streaming sites are now falling victim to harsh censorship and you will not find any western television series on China’s broadcasting networks. Even Satellite television is no longer immune to China’s over-the-top censorship of western programs which has become a huge disappointment to television viewers in China.
The hit political thriller "House of Cards" was released on the video site Sohu in February of 2014 and many in China viewed it as a sign of liberalization in China's strictly-controlled media market. The show appeared uncensored despite unflattering story lines about China's ruling Communist elite. The show had over 103 million views and that’s more than double of Netflix’s 50 million global subscribers. As of late November, though, the show has been banned in China.
The Chinese government is now banning shows without warning or explanation. In April many popular American programs were blocked on China’s popular streaming sites including the immensely popular show ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ China’s Broadcasting regulators have announced that it will only allow healthy content to be streamed on China’s sites.
What is more disappointing for China’s fans of American entertainment is that they will have to wait for an entire season to air in the U.S. before the Chinese Broadcasting regulators will allow the shows to air on China’s internet sites. Many in China feel the released versions of their favorite shows will be highly edited and chopped up by the Chinese censors.
It now seems that the Chinese government has become alarmed by the popularity of our American programs. The programs get millions of hits per hour and they have become more popular than the Chinese programs, especially, among China’s youth.
A release of a new episode of a popular American program often attracts millions of views or downloads within hours of its release. The popularity of American programs has gotten so huge that officials in China are nervous about the impact it’s having in China. They are reacting as though the impact the western culture is having on their country’s youth could possibly become an ideological threat.
It’s unfortunate how many people in China accept China’s censorship or should I say crackdown on what can or can’t be streamed on China’s controlled internet. People are wearily accepting it as being China’s "new normal" under an increasingly powerful and hardline President Xi Jinping.
China’s growing image in the west is that anything associated with a [differing ideology] or the image China would like to portray to the world; is being squeezed, tightened, or limited and it’s being done out of fear that our western ideology will grow into a threat within China’s borders.
Many of China’s educated youth, however, are discovering ways to get around the blocked content. They continually explore technical workarounds such as using VPN’s (Virtual Proxy Networks) to bypass China’s censorship.
The Chinese Government views VPN’s as a growing threat because they are enabling internet users to get around China’s internet restrictions. The majority of China’s youth do not want to watch domestic shows, known for their over-the-top propaganda, and low production values.
Most Americans living in China see this type of censorship as being absurd and many of the Chinese youth, on various social media sites, are expressing outrage and concern about it as well. One concern for the Chinese is that the Chinese Government will totally shut the door to American TV, and that would most certainly be a tragic thing for millions of Chinese viewers.
The Chinese Government by dictating to its people on what it deems to be of entertainment value is in actuality restricting not only their people’s freedom but the creative spark of their country’s youth.
I told my students here in Suzhou, China, that television programs in the U.S. get canceled all the time due to ratings. The American television viewers determine the show’s entertainment value or lack thereof and the shows longevity is determined by the U.S. viewership not the American Government.
I pride myself on knowing that in America people can freely find their own sources of entertainment free from government interference. In America people will not stand by and let their freedoms be trampled upon because freedom is a major part of the American culture. Our freedom is what the Chinese people are desperately seeking and they are continually striving to emulate our culture. The Chinese people’s love for American entertainment is in actuality an embrace for our freedom of expression.
An unfortunate reality for the Chinese people, though, seems to be that the more they seek to express themselves freely the more of an ideological threat they become for the Chinese Government.
Hopefully, in the near future as technology continues to advance, the ability of the Chinese people to communicate instantly and freely will also advance. The Chinese Government will then have to realize that the will of the people seeking a Democratic system of Government will become more and more difficult for the Chinese Government to control.
The cry for Democracy will be heard, loudly, not only in China but throughout the world and that is the Chinese Government’s greatest fear.
But as I told my students’ only time will tell …….
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
U.S. voice mail: (800) 272-6464
China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:
Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.