Friday, November 19, 2021

Chinese clampdown on tutoring, social media and games

Some years back Gil, our sons and I travelled in a huge loop around China but especially loved Shaolin, the Temple where they combine Buddhism with martial arts. Almost all modern martial arts originated there. Callum, all these years later, is just about to go to the European Championships in the ITF TaeKwon Do England Team but on that day 10,000 practicing martial arts kids were out in their silks (we were lucky). There were, everywhere, disciplined kids demonstrating their skills, who were attending one of the many schools there. It was spectacular.

Turning my thoughts to the China of today, that discipline has turned it into a superpower. We saw the poverty that existed in the countryside, almost feudal, and who can deny that its great success is in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. They did that by using socialist principles to leverage hard working, productive labour but who really paid for this - you and I. We lapped up those cheap goods. Almost every Christmas decoration and present you buy will have come from China. The complaints about low wages and what is called slave labour is a bit rich from those who have iPhones and wardrobes full of rarely worn clothes.

However, that brings me to some strange goings on… a second cultural revolution or clampdown. This has been led by the enigmatic Wang Huning. There’s a brilliant portrait of him here. Wang, like all iconoclasts in the past, is using state control to do some pretty unusual things.

Tech companies 

In addition to a fierce clampdown on large tech companies trying to become monopolies, Alibaba was fined US$2.8 billion, Didi was removed from all app stores.


Social media

He’s behind the move to control the tech companies with a ‘Minor Protection Law’, implemented in June; a crackdown on social media use,which means time management, content restriction and consumption limits for minors. 

On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, owned by same company,with 600 million daily users, if you’re under 14:

  • Swipe and you get a compulsory science lesson or Museum exhibit, before you can get back to the fun. It’s a mass nudge campaign.

  • Limited to 40 mins a day.

  • Mandatory 5 second delay on scrolling.

  • Not available 10pm to 6am.

Online gaming

A clampdown on online gamers targets what they see as the decadence of this activity:

  • Under 18 gamers can only play on public holidays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 8pm to 9pm.

  • Then there’s censorship in the form of not being able to play games that feature ‘cross-dressing’, ‘gay romance’ and ‘effeminate males’.

  • Changing ‘established’ historical narratives is also frowned upon, this includes  ‘politically harmful’ or ‘historically nihilistic’ content.

Online tutoring

This sector has been decimated:

  • Private sector tutoring companies have been banned.

  • Foreign education companies have come under strict regulatory scrutiny.

  • Compulsory state registration controls all education companies and platforms.

  • No approval for new off-campus tutoring centers providing core/compulsory education. 

  • All must become registered as non-profit institutions.

  • Tutoring banned on weekends, public holidays, and winter and summer vacations, which are popular times for off-campus education.

  • All new enrollments and payments stopped until registration complete by end of 2021.

This is all backed up with sophisticated tracking.Of course, since the dawn of the internet kids have circumvented restrictions through illegal websites, VPNs and foreign sites. Wonder how your kids got to watch that recent cinema only movie release?

Now we feel repulsed by all of this but for years I’ve seen keynote speakers and so-called liberal and progressive people call for similar restrictions on screen time, gaming and many agree that tutoring ‘games’ the education system in favour of the wealthy. We should use the Chinese clampdown to reflect on what we in the liberal, democratic world really want here.

Then there’s the social credit system, which is widely misunderstood, more on that later in another post

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