Online backlash follows blurring of Christmas imagery on popular Chinese TV show

This post was originally published in Chinese by The Stand News on December 26, 2020. The following English version is published on Global Voices under a content-sharing agreement.

The political campaign “boycotting foreign festivals” has become more visible in China in recent years. Under government pressure, the majority of mainland Chinese media outlets have avoided producing programs that promote foreign festivals. This year, a Chinese online TV outlet had to abruptly blur its popular variety show’s Christmas setting when airing its premiere on Christmas eve—leading to an immediate online backlash.

The variety show “Who’s the Murderer?”, which has been on air since 2016 and is very popular among young people within and outside China, is produced by the popular online “Mango TV,” a subsidiary of state-controlled Hunan Television. As the first episode of the show’s sixth season was scheduled to air on Christmas Eve, it was staged in a grand hotel decorated in a Christmas theme.

While the content of the episode was not about Christmas, the setting could be interpreted as a promotion of “Western festivals,” and so the show’s production team decided to blur all the Christmas trees, wreaths, bells, and other decorations for the online airing of the show. Even accessories on the characters’ heads were hidden by post-production cartoon hats.

Twitter user @Chenpingcong191 screen-captured some of the scenes from the Christmas eve’s episode:

Pixelation of Christmas tree. wtf.

The show’s fans were shocked to see the post-production effects; comments also flooded the show’s official social media account and the hashtag #pixelationofChristmaselementsinWho’stheMurderer# (#明星大侦探将圣诞元素打码#) ​became viral on Weibo on the same day. Below are some typical comments on Weibo:

這馬賽克打得慘不忍睹

Can’t bear to see the mosaic…

滿屏的馬賽克要把我晃瞎了

The mosaic on the screen is going to blind me

洋節過不了審,大家理解一下,不要一直抓著不放了,有得看就不錯了。

The foreign festival element cannot pass the censorship authority, please understand and don’t complain. It is fortunate that it can be aired.

The campaign against foreign festivals has accelerated since January 2017 after the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council issued a document entitled “Suggestions on implementation of projects to promote and develop traditional Chinese cultural heritage” requesting all levels of government and authorities to organize activities that promoted Chinese festivals in order to establish people’s cultural confidence and strengthen China’s soft power.

China’s National Radio and Television Administration has become one of the key authorities to implement this political-cultural project. Its annual report in 2018 highlighted its achievement in the ideological struggle against Western values and religious influences through censorship, channeling of public opinion, and promotion of Chinese festivals and ethical values.

While there is no official document that bans Western festivals, the clampdown on religious activities, including Christianity, all across the country has extended to the clearing of public Christmas decorations. For example, in 2018, the Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau in Langfang City of Hebei province demanded the removal of Christmas decorations in the streets. In recent years, some Chinese schools have banned Christmas celebrations on campus.

The majority of Chinese people used to believe that the crackdown on Christmas was targeting a minority of Christian activities and the commercial sector would not be affected. The pixelation of the Christmas decorations on the TV show, however, shows that the policy may have more of an impact on people’s lives. A Weibo user talked about the economic implications of the current practice:

其实这种洋节对普通大众来说已经是稀疏平常的事情,商场到处都有圣诞元素,国家真要一刀切,义乌小商品市场直接断了国内市场专做出口就行了,国家倡导文化自信也没说要闭关锁国吧??

This Western festival has become our popular culture and the majority of our shopping malls are decorated with all kinds of Christmas elements. Does our state really want a clear cut [with the Western world], that the Yiwu small commodity market should only serve exports and stop selling its products in the domestic market? The promotion of cultural confidence does not state that we have to lock up the country, right?

Another Weibo user criticized the backwardness of the cultural policy:

在我们自己国家,基督徒相对没有那么多,大家伙过圣诞,完全就是为了好玩好吗!
商家乘机打折促销赚钱,消费者乘打折囤货。情侣找个借口互赠礼物顺便试一试杜*斯的质量。
真的和崇洋媚外没什么关系,甚至我敢说很多人都不知道这是个宗教节日吧。
文化自信不是这样建立的,中华文化之所以五千年传承延续在于它的兼容并蓄,有容乃大。曾经的我们,愿意接受外来文化,并将其优秀的部分融入自己的文化当中,使得华夏文明能够与时俱进,生生不息。如今这样是在干什么,故步自封吗?

In our country, Christians are the minority. The majority see Christmas as a fun festival.
The commercial sector finds a reason to get sales, consumers find an opportunity to spend, lovers find an occasion to reveal their feelings or make out. It has nothing to do with worshiping the West. The majority do not think that Christmas has anything to do with religion.
This is not the way to build cultural confidence; Chinese culture’s strength is related to its power to absorb other cultures. We used to accept foreign culture and make it our own, so that our civilization can move on. What have we become now?

On Twitter, @HuangZhanghong mocked:

Happy Mosaic Festival!

Also on Twitter, Chinese blogger @fangshimin criticized the double standard of the Chinese authorities regarding Christmas celebration by posting the screen capture of Chinese spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Christmas greeting on Twitter:

How come the wolf warrior diplomat can celebrate Christmas while ordinary Chinese people can’t? Even Christmas trees have to be pixelated? Can foreign journalists help posing this question to wolf warrior Hua?

Under Hua’s tweet, many raised similar questions, some with sarcastic remarks:

You’re using a phrase from the West. Does that mean you’re colluding with the West? Thinking-face Pooh will not be happy

Do Chinese in China celebrate Christmas? And if so, what is the percentage that do? Do Muslims, Buddhists and atheist Chinese also celebrate Christmas in China?

Merry Christmas, I hope everyone can enjoy the holiday! Hopefully those that don’t celebrate Christmas in China can at least enjoy some discounts.

After the online uproar on December 24, the pixelation of the Christmas decorations on the show was removed the next day.

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