Chinese rapper Gai. Photo via YouTube
Chinese rapper Gai. Photo via YouTube

Last week China announced a ban on hip hop culture. More specifically, there is to be no depiction of “hip hop culture, subculture (non- mainstream culture) and dispirited culture (decadent culture).” Oh, and no actors with tattoos either.

“Absolutely do not use actors whose heart and morality are not aligned with the party and whose morality is not noble,” was one of several directives highlighted in a statement released by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the country’s official body responsible for censorship and fun-killing.

The move seems to have stemmed from a fallout with a Chinese hip hop artist over accusations of him being a bad influence, and comes against the backdrop of a burgeoning scene for the genre across China.

Rapper PG One (real name: Wang Hao), got into trouble for his track ‘Christmas Eve,’ which features disrespectful lyrics about women (“Too much pussy… can’t keep track”) as well as seeming to endorse drug use (mentions of “white powder” and “kush,” otherwise known as cannabis).

After state media zeroed in on PG One, and got a forced apology out of him, his fellow Putonghua rapper, Gai – aka Zhou Yan – became the next target. A contestant on the talent show ‘I Am a Singer,’ Gai was suddenly pulled from it without explanation. Both were former winners of another show called ‘The Rap of China.’ Another artist, the female rapper Vava, was also unexpectedly removed from yet another TV show as the campaign expanded.

Say what you like about hip hop music and the mores associated with it – and yes, there’s plenty of valid criticism to be made of the genre’s overall treatment of violence and substance abuse, and its misogyny – but to outlaw an entire culture is absurd.

First of all, if we’re going to start targeting specific genres for promoting negative lifestyles, how about the country songs that seem to advocate gun use, or the emo music that often seems a little too preoccupied with suicide?

The real issue here, though, is China’s intolerance for anything that’s different. As we all know by now, hip hop is by no means an isolated target.

Take China’s stance on Christmas, for example. In the lead-up to the festival last year, there was a big crackdown. Not for the first time, there were reports of churches being shut down, and many Christians are scared to worship openly. At the University of South China, in Hunan province, members of the Communist Party’s Youth League were asked to sign a pledge that they would not participate in Christmas-related celebrations and abide by “the faith of communism.” (That’s right, a political system that no-one has any choice over is touted as a religion.)

Like the assault on hip hop, being against Christmas is spun as a way of advocating Chinese culture and patriotism. But really it’s just another way for the Chinese Communist Party to denigrate beliefs or culture that originated elsewhere.

Chinese rapper Gai. Photo via YouTube

Anything or anyone deemed to be in opposition to the core values of the CPC is automatically viewed with suspicion. All threats must be headed off by an appeal to a higher power – just like Christianity, come to think of it, only more authoritarian.

But what the party’s sudden revulsion against hip-hop shows is that China’s inexhaustible efforts to control cultural output and expression are not limited to wiping out conflicting political stances. Theirs is an all-out cull on anyone having their own voice.

Why is it so difficult for China to bear the thought of people thinking for themselves? The country’s seemingly ever-shrinking space for opposing opinions, self-expression and individuality terrifies me. As a Hongkonger, it sometimes makes me averse to even visiting (and that’s not just because I love hip hop music).

The world thinks of China as the world’s rising superpower, and an endlessly exciting place to be. But it’s becoming clear that this is to a large extent hype: it’s also an unreconstructed authoritarian regime that is becoming stricter and stricter, and in many ways more and more closed off. China may soon bestride the world, but it seems the Communist Party still wants to control the bits of Chinese are allowed to be interested in.

Andrea Lo

Andrea Lo is a journalist based in Hong Kong, writing about lifestyle and cultural topics. Her work has been published by CNN, Discovery and Tasting Kitchen, among others.

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