China Mulls Crackdown on National Pastime: Singing Karaoke

Songs considered subversive or divisive by the ruling Chinese Communist Party will be deleted from karaoke menus under the draft regulations.
By Qiao Long
China Mulls Crackdown on National Pastime: Singing Karaoke Shanghai residents sing in a karaoke bar in a file photo.

China's ministry of culture is planning a clampdown on one of the nation's favorite pastimes -- belting out a few favorite tunes on a karaoke night with friends.

The new rules make venues offering karaoke services responsible for seeking out and deleting songs banned by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), ensuring that only "healthy" songs that "promote positive energy" will be sung in parlors across the country, according to a copy of the draft guidelines posted on the ministry's website.

Venues will be required to set up a blacklist of banned karaoke backing tracks, and delete them from a centrally controlled menu, under the proposed rule changes.

The blacklist will be under constant review by an expert karaoke music review board, the ministry said.

Songs will be banned and deleted if deemed by the board to "endanger national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity," "harm national security, honor or interests," or "incite ethnic hatred," according to the document.

Any songs regarded as obscene or promoting violence, gambling, or drug culture will also be deleted, as well as songs deemed "insulting" to others, it said.

Zhejiang current affairs commentator Sun Jialin said the move is part of an ongoing bid by the CCP to control every aspect of cultural life, including people's inner thoughts and feelings.

"Cultural censorship, ideological cleansing; it's all brainwashing," Sun told RFA. "Judging from the main points [in the rules], this will affect any songs linked to themes of freedom and democracy, human rights, and the rule of law."

Tunes that actually advocate independence for any region or people, or call for the overthrow of the CCP, are fairly non-existent, although there are CCP-approved revolutionary songs that call for the "liberation" of the democratic island of Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the CCP nor formed part of the People's Republic of China.

Instead, censors are more likely to target tunes that are associated with certain ways of thinking considered foreign, religious, or unhealthy, or with specific political and social movements.

"A lot of those tunes, for example songs by Cui Jian or 'Vast Sky and Endless Sea' by the [Hong Kong] rock band Beyond, have become hugely popular in karaoke parlors in recent years," Sun said.

Songs used in protests

The Cantonese ballad Vast Sky by Hong Kong band Beyond, which contains the lyric "Forgive me but I've never given up on my love of freedom," was used as a pro-democracy anthem by protesters in Hong Kong's 2014 Occupy Central movement.

Cui Jian's 1980s hit 'Nothing to my Name,' was criticized by officials during the Anti-Bourgeois Liberalism ideological movement of the time, who complained that the sentiment was inappropriate, because the singer always has the CCP to rely on.

Tang Dynasty's heavy metal version of the socialist anthem The Internationale came just a few years after thousands of protesters repeatedly sang the Chinese version of the song on Tiananmen Square during the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

The tune from Taiwanese artist Zheng Zhihua's hit song "Sailor" was sung to different Cantonese lyrics by crowds at candlelight vigils in Hong Kong, in support of the victims of the June 4 massacre by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) that ended the 1989 pro-democracy movement.

And Taiwanese songwriter Hou Dejian's "Descendants of the Dragon," a rousing and patriotic song about being Chinese, has also been used at protests, post-1989, after Hou took part in the Tiananmen protests.

A Hunan scholar who gave only the surname Tian said the crackdown is part of a much broader bid by the CCP to gain total control over all forms of public speech and expression.

"They are worried that certain unstable factors in society will use different methods to destabilize the regime," Tian told RFA.

"There is a huge, internal and external propaganda drive afoot in the cultural sphere right now," he said. "It's all about ideological control."

"An authoritarian mindset insists on controlling society."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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Jul 09, 2021 11:03 AM

The Nazis did pretty much the same thing. Any kind of art or music that was not consistent with Nazi policies or criticized the Nazis or Hitler were banned. The CCP has much in common with the Nazis.

Aug 11, 2021 06:19 PM

sounds like the party is very afraid.

if you stop all the leaks in a continually pressurizing system, eventually you get an explosion.