mein the world of china video game warcraft the phrase chongta describes storming a castle before being equipped with the proper weapons and armor. More recently, the term has been used to refer to an equally reckless and even more treacherous act: posting comments or risky content on Chinese social media knowing full well that this will draw the ire of censors, or even high-level officials.
NetEase, a Chinese game developer, is quite familiar with the first meaning. Chongta it is, after all, a staple of “Diablo Immortal”, a hugely popular RPG set in medieval times. The firm was due to release the Chinese version of the game, developed together with Activision Blizzard, an American gaming giant, on June 23. On June 19, it delayed the launch, supposedly to further optimize the new version, causing a 10% drop in its stock price. Rumors spread that chongtaThe second interpretation played a role.
At the end of May, the official account of the “Diablo Immortal” firm on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, posted a controversial question: “How come the bear hasn’t given up yet?” The cryptic message was widely interpreted as a reference to Xi Jinping, the president of China, who has often liked Winnie the Pooh online (apparently because he resembles Disney’s portrayal of the pudgy bear). The Weibo account was banned in June, shortly before the game’s scheduled release. Many Chinese netizens immediately saw chongta.
It wouldn’t be the first time that inappropriate online content has cost a Chinese technology company dearly. Last year, Wang Xing, founder of Meituan, a super delivery app, posted a 1,000-year-old Tang Dynasty poem on Weibo. After some Internet users interpreted the verse as an affront to Xi, investors, fearful of state retaliation, dumped Meituan shares. The company’s share price fell 14% in two days, wiping out about $26 billion in market value.
On June 3, a live broadcast by Li Jiaqi, an online influencer known to his millions of fans as Lipstick King, was suddenly cut short after he was presented with a tank-shaped piece of cake. He hasn’t appeared on his show since then, a blow to Taobao, the e-commerce platform on which he plies his trade (as well as international makeup brands), before a big shopping party at China. Li’s disappearance is widely assumed to be related to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, in whose bloody crackdown tanks played a role. Therefore, the images of the vehicles are removed from the Internet around the anniversary, so that they do not remind anyone of what happened on that day in 1989.
In recent months, Chinese authorities have been pointing out that their two-year crackdown on the consumer internet, which at worst slashed some $2 trillion from the market value of Chinese tech companies, compared to late 2019, it was softening. This month, for example, regulators even approved a new batch of games. The Diablo debacle and the Lipstick King situation mean any respite can be short-lived and selective. So too are new rules requiring internet platforms to review user comments before they are posted, a draft of which was unveiled on June 17.
It is unclear whether NetEase’s alleged Pooh, Mr. Wang’s poem, or Mr. Li’s pudding was in fact an act of defiance. chongta. Mr. Li’s turret-topped cookie-wheel ice cream cake certainly doesn’t smack of willful subversion; The Lipstick King hadn’t previously displayed a dissident streak and it’s hard to imagine him willingly sacrificing a lucrative gig. Mr. Wang’s sin may well have been not considering all possible interpretations of his post. Whether or not NetEase’s Weibo account managers knew what they were getting into, their plight, and that of Messrs Li and Wang, suggests that guessing censors’ thought processes are becoming an increasingly important part of doing business in China. ■
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