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'Squid Game' too dark for China? Cultural values justification exposes Chinese platform’s hypocrisy

China’s largest streaming service cites cultural values when turning away domestic rights for 'Squid Game'

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"Squid Game." (Reuters photo)

"Squid Game." (Reuters photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — China will not be showing an edited version of the South Korean hit show "Squid Game" due to ideological and cultural reasons, according to a content executive at the country’s largest streaming platform, iQiyi.

Wang Xiaohui (王曉輝), iQiyi's chief content officer, said the “particularly dark side of human nature” shown in the show is not suitable for China and suggested it may even threaten the “unity of the Chinese people.”

The Netflix show has become a cultural sensation in China, despite the U.S.-based platform not being allowed to stream to Chinese consumers, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

China’s strict content regulations mean that the rights to Netflix originals must first be acquired by local distributors before they are released. Even though the show has been viewed by more than 111 million users, China’s biggest platforms (iQiyi, Tencent Video and Youku) have shown no interest in purchasing domestic distribution rights, per reports.

“We have our own mainstream values, which are still very different from Western countries,” said Wang, apparently overlooking the fact that the show's creator Huang Dong-hyuk and the vast majority of the cast are Korean. The series was produced in South Korea, an East Asian country that has deep cultural ties to China.

Indeed, so interconnected are the two country’s cultures that hyper-nationalist netizens in both frequently debate one another on the origins of cultural assets both sides lay claim to. These include controversies over the origins of the hanbok traditional dress, the naming of Kimchi, and even modernist poets. "Squid Game" itself has become the latest battleground in this ongoing culture against South Korea, with Chinese netizens debating the origins of the green tracksuits worn in the show.

While Wang questions the appropriateness of this unconventional Korean drama for China, he does not think China should hold back from exporting its own shows to other markets in the region. The executive hinted that iQiyi itself may soon export dramas, per SCMP.

Wang suggests China's entertainment industry should focus on neighboring countries, which have a basis in “Eastern culture,” naming Vietnam as a prime example.

“Why does Vietnam like to watch Chinese costume dramas? Because their understanding and aesthetics are in the same line as our ancestors,” he said, ignoring the fact that Korean culture was heavily influenced by Confucianism in pre-modern times, just like Vietnam’s. Today democratic South Korea’s costume dramas are just as popular with Vietnamese audiences as Chinese shows.

Rather than acknowledge the glaringly obvious commonality between China and Vietnam — a communist political system — Wang prefers to appeal to a vaguely defined “Eastern culture” as a way to gloss over the politically motivated censorship of content.