“Not everyone loves Papi Jiang but everyone hates SAPPRFT.” That was one of the most forwarded weibo comments last week after the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television ordered social media sites to remove videos featuring China’s most popular internet comedian.
Jiang Yilei – known online as Papi Jiang – burst onto the scene last October with her own brand of acerbic, rapid-fire monologues.
Papi’s subjects are taken from everyday life: the pressures of Chinese New Year, the stupidity of dieting culture and the rise of the nouveau riche, to name a few. Fans of the drama school graduate, especially the post eighties and nineties generations, love her. She has quickly amassed more than 12 million weibo followers.
SAPPRFT, known for its more conservative take on life, has deemed Jiang’s language as too “coarse” and her content as “vulgar”. On April 18 it issued a directive banning her 40-plus videos until they were scrubbed clean of expletives.
Papi was smart, issuing a statement that she was “happy to accept criticism” and promising that she would “pay more attention to her words and image”.
Yang Ming, one of Papi’s business partners, told ThePaper.cn that she would “continue to make videos in accordance with socialist core values”.
On the same day she released a new video without swearing to show that her appeal relied on more than shock value. But many of her fans were dismayed by the censorship saying that it proved just how hard it is to be imaginative in China. “Will SAPPRFT not rest until it has destroyed every last fibre of creativity,” queried one weibo user.
“You wanna know why Chinese soft power is so lame? Papi Jiang is a comedic genius, and now they’re squelching her,” warned Beijing-based academic David Moser on Twitter. Others disputed that Papi’s language was a problem. “Nine out of ten sentences schoolkids speak these days have curse words,” claimed one of the commenters on an article from Guangzhou Daily. “Does it really matter?”
In fact Papi’s swearing was pretty forceful at times, but always used to great comic effect. It was made all the funnier by her delivery – the clips were always sped up, making her voice high-pitched and the expletives so quickfire that sometimes you weren’t quite sure that you had even heard them.
Papi writes, films and edits all the material herself – with her messy Beijing apartment providing the backdrop to many of the clips.
Others asked why Papi was getting attention from the censors now, and not before. There are different theories for that. First her star was rising, and while SAPPRFT can tolerate rule breakers if no one is paying any attention, anyone whose videos have been viewed more than 100 million times needs to toe the line. Added to that was that Papi had just received Rmb12 million ($1.85 million) in investment from venture capitalists. Last Friday, she auctioned off advertising space in her videos for the first time, and some observers think that the authorities want to discourage the notion of internet celebrity as a business model.
The second theory is that on Tuesday – the day after SAPPRFT sent out the directive – Chinese President Xi Jinping was due to chair a top-level meeting on cyberspace management in Beijing. Xi’s vision of the internet is rather didactic – “a clean and healthy” space “imbued with positive energy and mainstream values”. That worldview is out of step with the kind of material that has made 29 year-old Papi famous.
Editorials in the state-run newspapers also made the connection between SAPPRFT’s smackdown and Xi’s meeting about cyberspace. The Global Times proclaimed of Papi that “with such influence comes social responsibility”, while the People’s Daily’s complained that internet culture has become too “low”.
“What are needed are more positive internet celebrities,” the newspaper continued, citing the recent debut of British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking on weibo as an example (see WiC321).
Users of social media scoffed at the bizarre comparison. “Hawking isn’t going to talk about sexism and Papi can’t talk about black holes. We need both,” wrote one irritated netizen. “Isn’t this rather insulting to Hawking,” asked another “as he is a bit more than an internet celebrity!”
Papi had the last laugh in this particular episode, however. Last Friday she sold a single advertising slot for one of her videos for Rmb22 million to Lily & Beauty, an e-commerce firm in Shanghai that sells beauty products. WiC can only guess at the language voiced by SAPPRFT when it heard the news.
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