On a recent Sunday evening in Beijing, a few minutes before 8 p.m., Huang Chong opened a Harry Potter video game on his smartphone and tried to play it.
She couldn’t – by government decree.
A pop up appeared on his screen: “Dear players… Minors can only play online games between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Friday, weekends and national holidays and public holidays. Please organize your playing time and get some rest. “
New rules in China means that under 18s are only allowed to play three hours of online games per week, at the specified time.
Even for a communist state that regulates its citizens lives far longer than the West, this is a further extension of control. And this control is now applied to different parts of society and culture, in a new repression.
Huang Chong, who is 15, said she didn’t mind the video game policy too much, but said it was “like banning smoking, drinking and playing mahjong for adults.”
“My friends are texting me complaining about the ban, that they only have Fridays and weekends to play for an hour and that they can’t socialize with their e-gaming friends,” said she told Sky News.
Rules have been introduced to combat video game addiction.
Huang Chong said she has no problem with video games. But her father Huang Wen Shang disagreed – and was grateful for the state’s intervention.
“I tried to persuade her to give up the phone, but when she’s already lost in it she feels happy,” he told Sky News. “She won’t realize that she’s playing for so long that it could affect her eyesight, her health, her studies.
“As parents, we need help from the outside – from teachers, from government policies.”
Video games are only part of a new campaign by the Chinese Communist Party to reaffirm its values on society.
The perceived hedonism of the past 20 years – you could also call it letting people do what they want – is being replaced by an emphasis on appropriate socialist values.
Follow the Daily podcast on Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Streamer
Movie stars have been berated by the government for promoting what they call “bogus, ugly and evil values” and actors have been mysteriously removed from the Chinese internet without explanation.
The government has also introduced measures to curb the “chaotic” culture of fans online. Karaoke songs that “endanger national unity” or advocate “obscenity” have been blacklisted.
Schools have now banned foreign textbooks and young students are required to read “Xi Jinping Thought” – the official nebula of the Chinese leader’s ideology that is enshrined in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.
And the country’s television regulator told Chinese media to “resolutely resist showing wealth and pleasure” and to take into account the political and moral issues of actors when selecting them.
He also banned what he calls effeminate men from appearing on screens – using the offensive term “niang pao”, roughly translated as “sissy boys,” to describe them in his official announcement.
Activist Lu Ruihai’s group provides information and support to parents whose children have come out.
“A lot of people use ‘sissy boys,’ an aggressive and derogatory word to label people who aren’t straight or don’t have typical, traditional sex,” he told Sky News.
“The whole LGBTQ community is numb. I think the policy is negatively affecting LGBTQ youth who have not yet come out.”
Both critics and supporters of the new rules have interpreted them as sweeping political adjustments – and not just ad hoc.
In an article widely republished in the state’s official media, prominent blogger Li Guangman said this was “profound” political change.
“It is also a return to the original intentions of the Chinese Communist Party … a return to the essence of socialism,” he wrote.
Public opinion would “no longer be a place of worship for Western culture,” he writes.
“Therefore, we need to control all the cultural chaos and build a vibrant, healthy, masculine, strong and people-oriented culture.”
Back home, Huang Chong had his government-sanctioned recess.
But there are ways around the new rules.
“A lot of students are using adult phones to connect to games,” she told Sky News.
“We’re smarter. We’re climbing the firewall. It takes a risk to go through the firewall because it’s illegal. Few people succeed.”
Teenagers – and many other normal Chinese citizens – can now find themselves in such small skirmishes with the state.