FOCUS: Pornography Laws in China

By Abigail Cordaro
Staff Writer

Online pornography is strictly forbidden in China, but remains a multi-billion dollar industry evading the authorities. In recent years, the Chinese government tightened regulations and crackdowns on the producers, distributors, and profiteers of the industry, who risk maximum sentences of a lifetime in prison for these illegal activities.

The most high-profile series of government crackdowns began in 2015, when China’s anti-pornography office issued a notice that it was striking back in light of a series of viral incidents involving homemade explicit content, according to The Wall Street Journal. The incident that sparked the crackdown was a clip of a couple having sex in a Uniqlo dressing room, which went viral, inspiring online parodies and driving thousands of couples to take selfies in front of the store where the incident took place.

The notice declared that “So-called ‘indecent videos’ are harming social virtue, promoting pornography, severely disturbing order on the internet and trampling on the moral and legal bottom line,” and was posted on China’s National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications website, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Last year, the Chinese government attempted to crackdown on porn distribution by filing a lawsuit against four executives of Shenzhen Qvod Technology Co. Ltd, a company well known for its popular online video player, Kuaibo. The famous trial was live-streamed on the Sina web portal from a Haidian District Court in Beijing, attracting millions of viewers and thousands of comments.

The Wall Street Journal reported CEO Wang Xin faced allegations of aiding in the distribution of thousands of pornographic videos, and that the four executives were charged with “profiting from the dissemination of pornography.” Such crimes in China carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, however, Wang Xin plead guilty and received a sentence of only three-and-a-half years and was fined $150,000, according to Quartz. In the two-day trial that took place last January, prosecutors argued Qvod executives were aware that their video platform was often used for watching porn, and that they did nothing to monitor or prevent it. Mr. Wang retorted in his defense that the company was only responsible for producing the platform, not for policing how it was used. He famously stated “We believe there’s nothing shameful about technology,” and his vigorous defense was widely applauded online, reports The Wall Street Journal.

With over 650 million internet users in China and hundreds of websites, the Chinese government attempts to hold online platform creators accountable for the content their users post as a strategy to outsource censorship to the websites themselves. Beijing increasingly used criminal courts to try to regulate online behavior, silence criticisms of the government, and crack down on porn and illicit content. Qiao Mu, a media expert at Beijing Foreign Studies University said the issue of Qvod’s executive trial should have been addressed by internet regulators rather than a criminal court.

Despite notices and criminal cases, though, it is extremely difficult to monitor and enforce anti-pornographic laws when there are a multitude of ways for providers and users to watch and share explicit content, whether it’s homemade or pirated from Japan. In 2004, China saw the creation of a few large porn distributing services including 99 Erotica Forum and Erotica Juneday, however, most have been shut down by the government. The business model for these services in China operated so that they could avoid detection from authorities. However, the downfall of these services that led to their detection was the use of domestic Chinese banks on these sites.

Today, the online forum Caoliu, which was founded in 2006, is one of the only major porn sites still in existence. The site is based in Colorado, charges no fees to users, and has no staff based in China, making it out of reach for Chinese authorities.

Additionally, since 2015, livestreaming apps have exponentially increased in popularity and are now a $4.3 billion dollar industry in China. Thousands of young Chinese women called “anchors” stream themselves doing every day activities, but also perform acts for their viewers, who pay them virtual “gifts,” while the platforms receive a share of the revenue, reports Quartz.

Livestreaming services are required by law to monitor their content, and have recently imposed strict rules on anchors such as banning them from wearing stockings or eating bananas “erotically.” According to Vox, the Chinese government’s latest notice, which was issued in June, threatened to ban three of its largest live-streaming services. The notice singled out the companies Sina Weibo, iFeng, and AcFun. It stated all live-streaming services must suspend operations on non-licensed platforms, but the three large services do not stream on unlicensed platforms. Although the threat had an impact on the firms, neither the owners nor users seemed particularly alarmed. The vagueness of the notice indicates that the government is simply trying to manage the live-streaming industry, not crush it. The existence of porn on China’s internet may be forbidden, but it will not be eradicated anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share This