Since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he has been averse to over-enrichment and luxury excesses. For example, he tackled business gifts (which all too often ended in corrupt practices) and in a subsequent offensive, officials were no longer allowed to eat expensive (ie decadent) at state expense.
The following offensive has been launched for a few months now. Xi Jinping wants to significantly reduce major inequalities in China by 2035. They should even be banned by 2050. ‘Common prosperity’ is the latest program to create wealth and equality in the world’s most numerous country.
It is under this umbrella that the Chinese government recently tackled inequalities in the education system (children of wealthy parents in the city had more opportunities than poor rural children), terrified producers of luxury brands (China is responsible for half of the worldwide sales in luxury products) and recently also tackled the online culture.
In recent months, at least 20,000 influencers (in Chinese: wanghong) “censored” because they would “spread misleading content and pollute the internet environment”, according to The Financial Times. These included fan sites for Korean boy bands, social media pages promoting luxury fashion brands or financial gurus promoting certain investments online.
‘Safe and healthy’
Influencers now prefer to publish ‘safe’ and ‘healthy’ content, because of course nobody wants to see their pages taken off the internet. For example, safe is what rapper Zhang Yixing does, by hosting a quiz about the history of the Chinese Communist Party. Healthy are the videos of mushroom grower Wang Jing, who now has 2 million followers and sold half a million ‘grow your own oyster mushrooms’ kits. She went on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, to find a new channel to sell mushrooms. Another example is rural Zhang Tongxue who shows his 17 million followers how he harvests vegetables, gets wood and gets through his days in the countryside.
The Chinese government is clearly looking for positive social media messages about the countryside. These are particularly popular with busy city dwellers, who appreciate “the digital connection to the countryside, with its serene landscapes and slower pace of life”. Video films with educational content also enjoyed a 74% increase in popularity last year. In Wang’s words, “People like my videos because they learn how to use things to grow mushrooms that they would otherwise throw away, like corn stalks or rice water.” However, there is also a limit to online interest, Wang says: “People are interested in rural issues, but in the end, light entertainment is still more popular.”
China’s leadership has long realized that not everyone can live in the cities and has been developing policies to keep people in rural areas for years. However, that has not been successful enough. As a result, the gap between the rising value of their homes in the city, the wealthy middle class and the Chinese who are left behind in the countryside grown. With influencers, that gap has to be closed again.
The communication policy evokes memories of Mao’s Cultural Revolution who had to push aside the old demons and monsters of the elites in exchange for revolutionary purity as a modern ideal. Now that the urban elite is liberating itself from the distant hinterland, it is time for new pure wind. Agriculture and food security play a key role in this, Xi Jinping reiterated recently.
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Chinese leadership focuses on ‘safe and healthy influencers’ – Online culture must go from ‘hip and happening’ to peace and health in the countryside – Foodlog