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Chinese censorship: Media creator substitutes ‘hemorrhoids outbreak’ for ‘plague’

Mobile game developers having to make concessions to appease Chinese censors

A character recounts living through a "hemorrhoids oubtreak" in a Chinese mobile RPG game. (Weibo screenshot)

A character recounts living through a "hemorrhoids oubtreak" in a Chinese mobile RPG game. (Weibo screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Players of the Chinese role-playing mobile game "Entwined Love Across Time" posted screenshots ridiculing in-game dialogue that showed characters discussing the aftermath of a “hemorrhoids outbreak,” UDN reported on Sunday (Aug. 29).

After the screenshots were posted to Weibo (China’s Twitter equivalent), a user claiming to be the creator of the game replied that because censors forbade any mention of the word “plague,” he had replaced the word with “hemorrhoids.” This resulted in a bizarre in-game conversation in the story-based game, in which a character recounts living through “hemorrhoids,” which taught him that “hemorrhoids are not to be feared, as human nature is much more fearsome than hemorrhoids.”

Another Weibo user questioned why the word “plague” would be censored and was quickly told it was due to the sensitivity of COVID-19.

In fact, the highly popular mobile and computer game “Plague Inc.” was removed from the Chinese market in 2020 after its popularity peaked during the first weeks of China’s COVID outbreak. To this day, Chinese authorities still vehemently deny the disease originated from within its borders.

Chinese censorship: Media creator substitutes ‘hemorrhoids outbreak’ for ‘plague’
In "Plague Inc.," players play with objective to wipe out humanity. (Twitter, Plague Inc./Rebel Inc. photo)

Media creators and companies in China are used to having to dodge all kinds of censorship requirements, related to COVID or not.

In 2019, a mobile version of the online battle royale game Playerunknown’s Battleground (PUBG, 絕地求生), entitled “PUBG: Exhilarating Battlefield” (絕地求生: 刺激戰場), was re-released as “Game for Peace” (和平精英). In the newer version, players participate in “military drills” rather than a battle royale, and when players are hit by bullets, a lighting effect takes the place of spurting blood.

Chinese censorship: Media creator substitutes ‘hemorrhoids outbreak’ for ‘plague’
"Playerunknown's Battleground: Exhilarating Battlefield" re-released as "Game for Peace." (Taptap screenshot)

World of Warcraft serves as another example of Chinese censorship, in which all blood, skeletons, and zombies are removed, as the Chinese Communist Party not only outwardly condemns violence but also adheres to strict atheist views.

However, these requirements also deeply affect the entertainment industry, as Chinese dramas used to distinguish themselves with strong period and fantasy stories. Both genres are now frowned upon by censors.

Following the successes of “palace dramas” such as "Empresses in the Palace" (後宮甄嬛傳), "Story of Yanxi Palace" (延禧攻略), and "Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace" (如懿傳), state-run outlet the People’s Daily shared a (now deleted) editorial originally published in the Beijing Daily in 2019 detailing the “negative effects of palace culture.” These include encouraging a royal lifestyle, detailing concubines' schemes against each other, romanticizing emperors, promoting indulgence, and pursuing commercial profits.

On the other hand, fantasy drama productions have had to avoid featuring any zombies or ghosts or even give scientific explanations for apparently supernatural phenomena in stories.

The 2018 web series “Guardian” (鎮魂), which was adapted from a fantasy novel of the same name, worked hard to shrug its fantastical elements. The show tried hard to explain everything with crude scientific theories as the two male leads investigated supernatural incidents, and in doing so, erased crucial character development arcs, which triggered fans’ anger despite the show’s popularity.

Chinese censorship: Media creator substitutes ‘hemorrhoids outbreak’ for ‘plague’
"Guardian," an adaptation of a fantasy danmei novel, tried hard to provide scientific explanations for supernatural phenomena. (Weibo, Guardian photo)

In addition, the original “Guardian” novel was labeled as “danmei” (耽美), a genre also known as boys’ love (BL) in Asia, which focuses on romantic stories between two male leads.

As anything involving homosexuality is heavily censored in China, terms such as “danmei” or “pure love” (純愛) are widely used to refer to the category, and a "bromance" is often described as "socialist brotherhood" (社會主義兄弟情). At one point in “Guardian,” a character even exclaims that he has witnessed “a brotherhood” (兄弟情) between the two protagonists.

Nonetheless, the limitations and awkward adaptations have not discouraged fans’ support nor stopped production companies from investing in more fantasy danmei adaptions. A series of shows followed “Guardian” and became instant hits due to the large fanbases of the original novels, such as “The Untamed” (陳情令) and “Word of Honor” (山河令), and several shows still in production such as “Immortality” (皓衣行) and the adaptation of “Heaven Official's Blessing” (天官賜福) have garnered high anticipation.

Chinese censorship: Media creator substitutes ‘hemorrhoids outbreak’ for ‘plague’
"Immortal" still in production but already highly anticipated. (Weibo, Immortal photo)

The original novels behind these works, along with their danmei peers and even traditional romance novels, are often censored for any explicit depiction of “pornographic” acts. Aside from a huge list of censored words, including any form of the numbers 89 and 64 (in reference to the Tiananmen Massacre) and other political terms, authors “may not describe anything happening beneath neck level” (脖子以下不能描述).

Even though Chinese netizens and creators often joke about censorship, violators reported to Chinese authorities face severe consequences. In 2018, danmei readers were horrified when a fanfiction writer received a 10-year prison sentence for self-publishing and selling “pornographic” books online.

As the Chinese government implements increasingly strict censorship restrictions, Chinese creators in all forms of media struggle to continue working or even switch careers entirely. With the recent crackdown on China’s entertainment and gaming industries, creators and audiences alike await to see what fits Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s (習近平) idea of “ideal.”