China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism cracks down on karaoke bars, creates 'blacklist' of unapproved songs

Chinese authorities have announced a “blacklist” for karaoke songs that will go into effect at the start of October, according to state-run media.

“On the list are songs containing content that endangers national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity; violates China’s religious policies and spreads cults and superstitions; and advocates obscenity, gambling, violence and drug-related crimes or instigating crimes,” Xinhua announced earlier this week, citing the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The government has not yet made the list public.

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China has tens of thousands of karaoke venues, some packed with private rooms where groups can sing along to their favorite songs without embarrassing themselves in front of strangers. Many have wall-to-wall TV screens, nightclub-inspired lighting and waiter service and libraries of more than 100,000 songs.

Local people performing Karaoke at a tent on a street in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon peninsula. Hong Kong

Local people performing Karaoke at a tent on a street in Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon peninsula. Hong Kong (iStock)

Beijing had previously banned about 100 songs in 2020, according to the South China Morning Post. Their names included “I Love Taiwanese Girls,” “Fart,” “Beijing Hooligans” and “Don’t Want to Go to School.”

Under the new plan, individual venues will be responsible for policing their offerings, according to the paper.

China’s Communist Party is known for heavily regulating content it deems inappropriate, ranging from anti-government criticism to pornography.

“Dictators are paranoid, and President Xi [Jingping] fears his own people more than anything else,” Dr. Matthew Kroenig, of the conservative foreign policy think tank the Vandenberg Coalition, told Fox News Thursday. “We’ve seen this across the board, the crackdown in Hong Kong, the genocide in Xinjiang, cracking down on private educational institutions just in the past few weeks — because he’s afraid of what these private teachers might be telling his people.”

The karaoke crackdown is more of the same, he said.

“It’s really a move in a totalitarian direction trying to control all aspects of society,” he said.

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Kroenig, also a government professor at Georgetown University, served in the administrations of Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, where he worked on countering China, Russia and Iran. He published a book last year touching on the resurgence of Chinese authoritarianism under President Xi Jinping: “The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the US and China.”

“We had this hope that as China became richer, it was going to become more cooperative and more democratic,” he said Thursday. “And under President Xi, China’s moved in the exact opposite direction.”

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And its behavior on the world stage can be baffling to the international community, especially for capitalist, democratic nations.

Earlier this year, the Chinese Uber-rival Didi had an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. Shortly after that, the Communist Party cracked down on the firm, costing investors a lot of money and costing the business itself a lot of its own value, Kroenig said. The Party also shut down a planned IPO for Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s ecommerce firm, Ant Group.

“To the west, this looks like self-defeating behavior, puzzling,” he said. “And I think the way you make sense of it is, Xi’s not on Wall Street. Xi doesn’t care most about economic performance. He cares about total control.”

He called the Communist Party leader the most powerful in China since Mao Zedong. 

“In the past, we thought of the Chinese Communist Party as a government run by a single-party state, a group of men in the Politburo making the decisions,” Kroenig said. “But now it really is Xi calling the shots, and dictators are sometimes paranoid.”

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