Censors block blogger after caller asks 'Is Xi Jinping a dictator?'

Hu Chunfeng's social media accounts are blocked for 'violating' rules despite the anchor's angry reaction to camera.
By Huang Chun-mei for RFA Mandarin
Censors block blogger after caller asks 'Is Xi Jinping a dictator?' Chinese celebrity blogger Hu Chunfeng responds furiously during a live stream answering a question whether “Xi is a dictator"

A Chinese celebrity blogger has been blocked by internet censors after someone called him up during a live stream and asked if President Xi Jinping is a dictator, according to video captured from the incident.

"I wanted to ask if you think Xi is a dictator," the caller asked, prompting blogger Hu Chunfeng to ask "What are you trying to say?"

The caller repeats their question: "I'm trying to say, do you think Xi is a dictator?"

Hu then cuts the caller off and launches into a furious rant denouncing their behavior. "Oh my God," he yells. "People like that are so scary!"

"This person was in serious breach of live-streaming regulations," Hu shouts to camera, wagging his finger at the caller, adding: "I cut him off immediately."

"People like that are crazy, right? Pretty sure someone's going to come looking for him after that," Hu says, in a reference to law enforcement agencies.

"He'll have to bear the legal consequences," he adds, wagging his finger again.

The incident was the latest in a string of politically embarrassing moments during live streams that have left government censors and their proxies in private companies scrambling to shut down any mention of "sensitive words," including unflattering mentions of Chinese leaders.

In November, U.S. President Joe Biden referred to Xi as a "dictator" following a leadership summit, prompting China to hit back calling his comments "absurd" and "a provocation."

Wasn’t enough

Hu's politically correct rant wasn't enough to save him from his own consequences, however.

Soon afterwards, a notice appeared on Hu's live stream page saying he was taking a three-day break "due to feeling unwell." 

After that, an announcement appeared on his Bilibili video-sharing account, where Hu has more than 15,000 fans, bearing the message: "This account is currently blocked." On his Weibo account, the message read: "This account has been blocked for violating our community guidelines."

Comments under the video posted to Radio Free Asia's X account said Hu's rant clearly hadn't been enough to protect him.

"There may have been a glimmer of hope if he'd answered ‘Of course not,’ with a revolutionary speech filled with high praise," @USABelAir2021, an account that describes itself as a "news account run by an overseas China," commented.

"He's going to get blocked whatever he does, his big reaction notwithstanding," the user commented.

X user @woyongdehuawei commented that the blocking of Hu's accounts was a "tacit admission that Xi Jinping is a dictator."

"The ban on Hu shows that the Xi Jinping dynasty is afraid of the voice of the people," the user wrote.

"There's no way he could survive that," user @Canadianavion replied. "As you said, it doesn't matter what he does after that -- it won't be of any use. Online monitors and platforms are far more likely to just shut down the account to protect themselves."

Former Sina Weibo censor Liu Lipeng, who now lives in the United States, agreed.

"The platforms are acting out of fear, because the topic of whether or not Xi Jinping is a dictator isn't a topic that can be discussed at all," Liu told RFA Mandarin. "Anything relating to Xi Jinping is taboo, and is a sensitive topic of the highest order."

"Online platforms are obliged to eradicate the whole incident."

Politically sensitive handles

Bilibili has run into trouble before with live streamed content from its platform.

In January 2023, it imposed restrictions on live stream anchors playing “Goose Goose Duck” after users in China assumed politically sensitive handles referencing Chinese leaders, disgraced former officials and exiled dissidents. 

They included jailed former security czar Zhou Yongkang, exiled billionaire Miles Kwok and former 1989 Tiananmen student movement leader Wang Dan.

And in June 2022, censors shut down the livestream of beauty influencer Austin Li after he displayed a tank-shaped ice-cream cake ahead of the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre, prompting fans to wonder what unknown event he could have been referring to, as the incident has largely been erased from textbooks and internet content behind the Great Firewall of online censorship.

Chinese censors have also extended their policing of Xi’s image overseas, with at least two satirical YouTube channels shut down in recent years for taking pot-shots at the Chinese leader.

According to Liu, Hu had inadvertently answered the caller's question by getting visibly rattled by it.

"His reaction was too dramatic, which made it spread further," he said, citing the shutting down of a live stream in Cantonese, the lingua franca of Hong Kong, by Douyin censors in October 2022.

"If you can't understand it, you have to shut it down," Liu said, adding that foreign nationals aren't allowed to run live streams in China, even if they are of Chinese descent, because they won't have undergone years of political education growing up.

Even having a foreign spouse is suspect, he said.

"There have been Chinese live streams that were shut down because a foreign spouse was seen walking around in the background," he said.

U.S.-based current affairs commentator Ma Ju said the incident was an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment.

"Everyone in China knows very well that this is a question that can't be answered, and a topic that can't be discussed," Ma told RFA Mandarin. "This incident has vividly demonstrated the fear that everyone feels living under the Chinese Communist Party's totalitarian rule."

"In particular, it illustrates the lack of freedom of speech that Chinese people have nowadays, and their fear of the dictator Xi Jinping," he said.

Translated with additional reporting by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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