“Detailed” plots involving prostitution, rape and masturbation are also forbidden. So are displays of “unhealthy marital values,” which the guidelines catalog as affairs, one-night stands, partner swapping and, simply but vaguely, “sexual liberation.”
Despite the efforts of censors, the internet has long been the most freewheeling of China’s mass media, a platform where authors and artists — as well as entertainment studios — could reach audiences largely free of the Propaganda Department’s traditional controls on broadcasting, publishing, cinema and stage.
But the new restrictions — which expanded and updated a set of prohibitions issued five years ago — reflect an ambitious effort by President Xi Jinping’s government to impose discipline and rein in the web.
They were issued by the China Netcasting Services Association, which includes as members more than 600 companies, including the official Xinhua News Agency, the social media giants Sina and Tencent, the dominant search engine Baidu and the news aggregator Jinri Toutiao.
David Bandurski, an analyst and editor for the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project, said the association’s rules created the illusion of industry consensus as the company’s acquiesced to what party officials call “self-discipline.”
“Many of these companies are private, so it’s important for the leadership to have a means of bringing them together and creating a means of applying pressure on the collective,” he wrote in an email. “It is a tactic of co-option.”
Writers, filmmakers, podcasters and others attributed the guidelines and other measures to a new prim and paternalistic ideology taking shape under Mr. Xi, who has called on party members to be “paragons of morality” in pursuit of what he calls the “China Dream.”