Hip-hop is a new musical style to mainland China, but it may be on its way out as quickly as it came in. It started to take off in mainstream media when competitions featuring hip-hop singers became especially popular last year. But in January a high-profile rapper called GAI
appearing on a popular Hunan TV program was removed without explanation from officials. The government's media arm later issued a statement banning hip-hop from television along with those who have visible tattoos. Hip-hop music, also called rap, was developed in the U.S. by African Americans in the 1970s. It consists of stylized, rhythmic music that often accompanies rapping, which is rhythmic, rhyming speech.
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Chinese leader Xi Jinping, now in his second term, has little tolerance for artistic dissent and has been working hard to build a cult of personality
as the country's single-handed national savior. "The government has, from time to time, taken initiatives to clean up content that it considers obscene or unhealthy. But under Xi there seems to be heightened attention toward 'correct' and disciplined thoughts and behavior," said Maya Wang, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. An official from the government media arm's publicity department said nobody of low moral standing or who is not aligned with the Communist Party should appear on television. Under Xi's leadership, Chinese mainstream media has celebrated increasingly nationalist songs, television shows and movies. One example is Wolf Warrior 2
, a violent and fiercely nationalist war movie
that is now the country's top-grossing film. The Chinese government has been increasingly encouraging singers and actors to spread what they call "positive energy," which is essentially a way to espouse the ruling party's core socialist values. Kristof van den Troost, an assistant professor of popular media at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Center for China Studies, said the hip-hop ban is mostly a campaign against what the Chinese government perceives to be "decadent foreign culture." He said these crackdowns have happened occasionally since China started opening up to the outside world in the late 1970s. While they have become increasingly rare in recent decades, they have regained intensity under Xi. "This type of campaign seems to me to reflect both a kind of cultural conservatism — aside from politics, censorship is frequently targeted at pornography or the glorification of crime — and a fear of Western pop culture's frequent anti-establishment attitudes," van den Troost said. Other well-known rappers have also recently come under fire: PG One was asked by the government last month to apologize over a song called Christmas Eve
for its alleged vulgarity, while Triple H has been censored from the internet. "Under Xi, the government has ratcheted up censorship online, more tightly controlled the internet and academia, and is more tightly censoring TV, films and music for ideological purity," said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International. China's younger generation mostly relies on the internet rather than traditional television. Hip-hop is still widely and readily available in China to those who can stream it online. "Censorship in China is hard to gauge: its rules are constantly shifting and the system seems to operate more by instilling fear through setting the occasional example rather than by creating clear rules and regulations," said van den Troost. Wang from HRW doubts the government's campaign will permanently kill off the country's hip-hop scene. "Given the government's many other initiatives, it is likely that after a temporary drive the hip-hop scene will recover from it," Wang said. Van den Troost said "in general, the effect of this [ban] is that people self-censor, just to be safe."