HONG KONG — Viewers of some of China’s most popular online variety shows were recently greeted by a curious sight: a blur of pixels obscuring the brands on sneakers and T-shirts worn by contestants.
As far as viewers could tell, the censored apparel showed no hints of obscenity or indecency. Instead, the problem lay with the foreign brands that made them.
Since late March, streaming platforms in China have diligently censored the logos and symbols of brands like Adidas that adorn contestants performing dance, singing and standup-comedy routines. The phenomenon followed a feud between the government and big-name international companies that said they would avoid using cotton produced in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the authorities are accused of mounting a wide-reaching campaign of repression against ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs.
While the anger in China against Western brands has been palpable and enduring on social media, the sight of performers turned into rapidly moving blobs of censored shoes and clothing has provided rare, albeit unintentional, comic relief for Chinese viewers amid a heated global dispute. It has also exposed the unexpected political tripwires confronting apolitical entertainment platforms as the government continues to weaponize the Chinese consumer in its political disputes with the West.
resurfaced a statement H&M made months ago expressing concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang.
they would avoid using Xinjiang cotton, and one after another, many Chinese celebrities severed ties with them. Since then, the loyalty test seems to have spread to streaming shows.
Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies media and politics, said he believed that the platforms most likely censored the brands to pre-empt a backlash from viewers.
“If anyone is not happy with those brands appearing in the shows, they could start a social media campaign attacking the producers, which could attract attention from the government and eventually lead to punishment,” he said by email on Thursday.
As the blurring spread across apparel brands, it led to some hiccups on shows. The video platform iQiyi announced that it would delay the release of an episode of “Youth With You 3,” a reality show for aspiring pop idols. It did not disclose the reason, but internet users surmised that it had to do with Adidas, which had supplied T-shirts and sneakers for the contestants to wear as a sort of team uniform.
Some internet users made mocking predictions about how the upcoming episode would look, photoshopping images to flip the contestants vertically so that their Adidas T-shirts read, “Sabiba” instead.