It’s not self-censorship, it’s just international relations.
Question: what do South Park, Winnie the Pooh, and the NBA preseason all have in common? They’re all shown on T.V., and they’re all banned in China.
Fearing being added to the list of companies denied entry by the Great Firewall of China, Blizzard Entertainment, subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, banned professional esports player Blitzchung from their Hearthstone tournament for one year, and revoked his prize money of USD $10,000 from a recent win.
The decisive action comes after Blitzchung, real name Ng Wai Chang, expressed support for the Hong Kong protests during the post-game interview for the match he won. Chang proclaimed “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age.” in Cantonese.
The two men interviewing Blitzchung hid their face from the camera as he began to speak. The effort to disassociate themselves from the pro-democracy statement should summarize the dynamic large corporations have with China, regarding their own interactions and relationship with the communist nation.
This dynamic was the focal point of a recent South Park episode titled Band in China. Spoiler alert, the episode got them banned in China. I think it’s safe to say they saw that one coming. The episode satirizes the growing trend of self-censorship by large corporations looking to capitalize on a growing Chinese market.
China is viewed by many, if not all, to have the highest potential for consumer retail growth and is expected to surpass the United States as the world’s largest retail market this year. Given the U.S. retail market is expected to be over $3.8 trillion dollars in 2019, that’s a lot of market to be had.
It’s no wonder these large companies fall to the whim of China whenever they sense a whiff of disapproval.
Just last week, the Houston Rockets general manager got the team, and the whole league in general, in some hot water. A pro-Hong Kong tweet quickly went viral and had to be taken down after upsetting Chinese officials and pro-China fans.
The backlash from the tweet resulted in the NBA losing many partners that help distribute NBA content in a tightly controlled Chinese market. The Rockets themselves lost many pro-China fans who found the tweet to be misinformed and are now choosing to boycott the team.
In another case of authoritarian obedience, Vans, the skateboarder clothing brand, removed a popular shoe design from their annual Custom Culture competition. The shoe was pulled, according to an official statement from Vans, to ‘uphold the purpose of Custom Culture’.
The shoe, entered by Canada-based Naomiso, depicts a red bauhinia, the same flower found on the Hong Kong flag, along with a yellow umbrella, a popular symbol of the protest. The heel of the shoe features a group of figures clad in yellow helmets and goggles, similar to the Hong Kong protesters.
Vans is just one of many clothing companies to adhere to China’s economical power this year. Earlier this summer, Nike pulled a clothing line they developed with Japanese brand Undercover after the company expressed support for the Hong Kong protestors. Versace also issued an apology after one of their shirts listed Hong Kong and Macau as countries, rather than cities.
The unwavering trend by corporations to keel to the pressures of China has been met by even more anger and disapproval. This time, however, the outrage comes from outside of China. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden was particularly critical of Blizzard for “humiliating itself to please the Chinese Communist Party.”
#BoycottVans and #BoycottBlizzard were quickly trending on Twitter soon after news broke of both events. Fans mocked Vans, a streetwear brand, for succumbing to the pressure of a government when their brand should represent rebellious creativity. Others made fun of their Off The Wall branding, modifying it to read Lick The Great Wall.
Activision Blizzard’s stock (ATVI) continued to drop Wednesday, closing 1.29% below their opening price. Fans were quick to pick up on the fact that Tencent, the aforementioned Chinese tech giant, owns a 5% stake in Activision, as well as many other entertainment companies that operate popular online games.
Tencent’s international investments go beyond just gaming, with the conglomerate reportedly financing Hollywood blockbusters Bumblee and Top Gun: Maverick.
Earlier in the year, fans noted a slight deviation in Tom Cruises’ character, Maverick’s, jacket. The original had the flags of both Japan and Taiwan, whereas the sequel seems to have replaced the flags with deceptively similar patches.
It’s highly refreshing then, in a global market place so heavily influenced by the demands of an authoritarian government, that not everyone is afraid of losing a little market share. After South Park’s episode aired, China immediately removed it from their internet along with every other South Park episode known to man.
South Park’s reaction was technically right on par with the rest of the corporate world. Only, it wasn’t.
In classic South Park fashion, the show neglected to apologize for their show and doubled down on their own statement from the episode that “anyone who would betray their ideals just to make a profit in China isn’t worth a lick of spit.”
If only the rest of the world had as much ‘tegrity’ as South Park. Catch the entire episode here.