Following a huge restructuring that has brought all forms of state media under direct management by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, the country's media regulator has taken a swipe at a time-honored tradition of its internet users—the egao, or spoof.
"No websites are to produce or disseminate programs that distort, spoof, or vilify classic literary and artistic works," state news agency Xinhua cited the new rules as saying.
"Neither must they re-edit, re-mix, re-dub, or re-subtitle classic literary and artistic works, radio and television programs, or internet-based original audio-visual programs," it said.
According to the directive, which is attributed to "state departments for press, publication, radio, film and television," governments at provincial, municipal and district level must engage in strict management of broadcasters, including mashups and remixes uploaded by internet users.
Websites must not provide a channel for the distribution of audiovisual content that has copyright issues and "content issues," it said.
"Undocumented original online programming, unlicensed film and television dramas and unlicensed broadcasts" are banned, Xinhua said, adding that anyone producing online audiovisual content must have a programming permit from the government.
"No clickbait headlines using vulgar creativity" will be allowed, the Mar. 22 directive said.
An employee who answered the phone at the State Administration for Press and Publications on Friday declined to comment.
"We have no remit to give explanations [to the media]. I can't answer your questions," the employee said.
Guangdong rights activist Wang Aizhong said the ban on altering programming seems to be aimed at ensuring that no versions are published that deviate from the official one.
"The reforms at this year's National People's Congress (NPC) mean that film, publishing and news are now all under the management of the central propaganda department," Wang said. "It is clear that cultural productions will in future be treated as state propaganda."
"The directive banning adaptations of classic works ... will mean that there can only be one interpretation in the country," Wang said.
‘A step back into feudalism’
Online comments slammed the move as a "step back into feudalism," and as a chilling effect on cultural confidence and creativity in China.
Others called on the authorities to publish a list of the "classic literary works" covered by the ban.
Beijing artist and poet Wang Zang said the directive was trying to ban huge amounts of content all at once, however.
"This stuff they are trying to ban; there is so, so much of it," he said. "This document means that they don't just want to make sure we have no freedom to express ourselves; they want to make sure we have no freedom to think, either."
Wang said he expects the new rules would force people to become more creative, however.
"We will have to diversify our language, so that it doesn't rely on the whim of the authorities," Wang said. "We will have to find many different ways to express ourselves."
An internet user also surnamed Wang told RFA that the tradition of egao on the Chinese internet clearly has the authorities very worried.
"There are a lot of short videos online, that are voiced and edited by ordinary people. It's a form of satire," he said. "[The authorities] aren't confident in themselves, so they fear online ridicule."
Last month, China's culture ministry launched a crackdown on the spoofing of communist revolutionary culture and its heroes, ordering the deletion of thousands of online videos for parodying popular "red classics and heroes."
It launched the crackdown after a spoof of the communist-era choral classic “Yellow River Cantata,” with lyrics changed to reflect the woes of contemporary life, went viral.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.