China’s nanny state is growing ever more intrusive

Limits use of video games and portrayal of 'effeminate' men.



September 8, 2021 - 9:50 AM

Chinese President Xi Jinping (on screen) delivers a speech during the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on July 1, 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

A thread running through many dictatorships is leaders’ total certainty that they know what’s best for people. With a monopoly on political power, control over the use of force and dominance over communications, they impose decisions about what people can see, hear and — to the extent the regimes can manage it — think. China’s President Xi Jinping appears to be steering toward a period of intensified control by pushing the nanny state into people’s personal lives.

On Sept. 2, China’s television regulator banned effeminate men on the screen, saying that broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” using an insulting slang term for effeminate men — “niang pao,” or literally, “girly guns.” 

The order reflected official concern that Chinese pop stars, imitating the sleek look of some South Korean and Japanese singers and actors, were failing to encourage China’s young men to be masculine enough, the Associated Press reported. 

On Aug. 30, China’s video game regulator announced a tightening of rules governing hundreds of millions of gamers: Those under 18 years old can play online for just an hour on Fridays, weekends and holidays, and are barred from playing during the school week. Last month, a newspaper affiliated with China’s official news agency, Xinhua, published a report calling online gaming “spiritual opium” harming the country’s teenagers. “Young people are the future of the motherland,” declared a government explanatory statement about the rules. China has blamed online games for causing nearsightedness and addiction in youths. 

No doubt there are parents in many countries who might occasionally yearn for a little help in persuading their children to read a book or go outside and play. But not many in the end would want to cede parenting decisions to an authoritarian party-state.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (Li Xueren/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)

Mr. Xi’s two predecessors allowed China’s people more personal freedom and provided a rising living standard in exchange for loyalty to the party. These latest initiatives suggest that Mr. Xi is reversing that by putting more of an ideological stamp on society — with the Communist Party of China setting the pace — and that he will be far more intrusive in doing so. A school curriculum that includes Mr. Xi’s turgid political philosophy is now being imposed on an unusually young audience, starting from the third grade. Separately, Mr. Xi has launched a campaign to rein in entrepreneurs who displayed any spirit of independence.

Maybe Mr. Xi knows best — about everything, on behalf of everyone. But the more power concentrates in one man, the more brittle the system may become.