China declared all cryptocurrency transactions illegalFriday, trying to shut down its citizens’ use of digital currencies that operate free of government control. It was just the latest in a spate of restrictions President Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party is imposing.
That the isolationist measures are becoming more drastic has a silver lining: They’re a sign of how increasingly difficult and elusive such government control is in a globalized economy and social media age.
Last week, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, a short-form video app called Douyin with 490 million users, announced a 40 minutes-a-day restriction for its users under the age of 14. The gaming industry was similarly impacted by a sweeping crackdown on youth video game playing, which became restricted to one hour a day on weekends and public holidays. “Sissy idols” and “effeminate men” are now banned from the media. And more traditional censorship is still going strong, with China refusing to allow Marvel’s blockbuster film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” to open in its theaters.
Though bans on effeminate men and cryptocurrency might appear to have little in common, they are both emblematic of the way Xi and his party want to keep China free of foreign and individualistic influences, with these crackdowns furthering his goal of greater control over all aspects of Chinese economy, culture and education. While the displays of power are deeply damaging for the individuals harmed by these moves, the fact that the isolationist measures are becoming more drastic has a silver lining: They’re a sign of how increasingly difficult and elusive such government control is in a globalized economy and social media age.
Many of the new restrictions on social media, video games and other adolescent pastimes have been deemed “proactive measures” in response to China’s tightened minor protection law, which purportedly seeks to “protect the physical and mental health of minors” through strict mandates on the amount of time minors spend online. The same is true for the ban on “sissy idols” and “effeminate men,” being enforced by China’s National Radio and Television Administration, and the push to curb fan groups to reduce their “chaotic” influence on youth and culture. As a result, multiple fan accounts for BTS, BLACKPINK and other K-pop, or South Korean pop music, bands have been suspended on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform with half a billion monthly users.
The tightened controls originate with Xi, now president for life, and are part of a plan for a “national rejuvenation” to rid the country of the influence of “low moral values” and to stop “irrational behavior.” As such, the repression has a two-fold effect. Most directly, it allows the government itself to mold young minds to its specifications and curtail exposure to foreign points of view. More subtly, it undermines the authority of parents, who are…