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Soap operas censored in China for spreading 'unhealthy family values'

FILE - A pedestrian wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak walks past an advertisement of TikTok (Douyin) at a bus stop in Beijing, China Aug. 24, 2020.
FILE - A pedestrian wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak walks past an advertisement of TikTok (Douyin) at a bus stop in Beijing, China Aug. 24, 2020.

China’s movie regulators are rolling out new regulations on minute-long soap operas, a new genre that became popular in China during COVID-19 pandemic but which has been accused of spreading “incorrect values.”

Designed for shorter attention spans during the internet age, these mini-soap operas aim to get people watching videos on their phones hooked as quickly as possible.

Starting June 1, the soap operas must be registered and reviewed before they can go online. Key minute-long soap operas — those with investment of around $138,000 (1 million RMB) — must be reviewed by China’s National Radio and Television Administration. Others must be reviewed by social media companies.

State media reported that under the current model, many of these short videos are spreading “incorrect or non-mainstream values.”

Before the regulation takes effect, major video-sharing platforms are already taking action to censor the popular shows on their apps. Some of those taken down have portrayed unhappy Chinese families with plot lines featuring demanding mothers-in-law and lazy husbands.

Douyin, the Chinese version of short video-sharing platform TikTok, announced April 10 that it is taking down six minute-long soap operas because they “deliberately amplify and exaggerate family conflict” and “spread unhealthy family values.”

These include titles such as “My husband is a mommy’s boy,” “The last straw,” and “The pregnant woman.”

The same day, the video-sharing platform Kuaishou, removed four soap operas and 738 relevant posts. The company said these four shows, including “Mother-in-law’s doghouse” and “The pregnant lady,” amplified “intergenerational conflicts [that] deviate from the mainstream family value.”

On Weibo, China’s X-like social media platform, netizens are questioning the legitimacy of the censorship.

“Isn’t art supposed to exaggerate life?” asked a poster.

Another poster wrote, “The control is too much. These minute-long soap operas didn’t violate the law … they all have the declaration ‘This story is purely fictional. Any resemblance to actual individuals or events are coincidental,’ just as any TV shows.”

There are also users who support banning the videos, saying they “promote conflict for the sake of viewership.”

Other users say the government’s real fear is that the videos will further discourage young Chinese women from having families.

One Weibo user quipped, “Why not taking down those shows pressuring young people to get married?”

“It would be way more effective than any propaganda if there’s strict enforcement of law against domestic violence,” another read.

China is facing a serious demographic crisis and wants to encourage its young women to have babies.

China reported its population fell in 2022 for the first time in 60 years. The country then ended 2023 with 1.409 billion people, a drop of 2.08 million.

Birthrates in China have been plummeting for decades due to a strictly enforced one-child policy from 1978 to 2016.

The population is also rapidly aging, with around 300 million Chinese, the equivalent of almost the entire U.S. population, expected to enter retirement over the next decade.

China’s President Xi Jinping has said his country must establish a “new trend of family.”

In late 2023, Xi urged Chinese citizens to “actively cultivate a new marriage and childbirth culture,” and to “strengthen guidance of young people’s views on marriage, parenthood and family.”