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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Explained: Why has China banned a viral pop song?

Poking fun at China’s keyboard warriors, ‘little pinks’, a term used for nationalist youngsters who defend the country from criticism online, Namewee’s song makes several veiled references to human rights violations in China.

Written by Sonal Gupta , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 25, 2021 7:37:53 am
Malaysian rapper Namewee and Australian singer Kimberly Chen, the makers of song, 'Fragile.' (Photo: Facebook/Namewee)

With over 33 million views on YouTube, Malaysian rapper Namewee and Australian singer Kimberly Chen’s song ‘Fragile’ has created waves among Mandopop or Mandarin pop fans. However, China wasn’t impressed. The song was taken down from China’s streaming platforms, and the makers’ accounts were blocked from the country’s social media platform, Weibo.

Poking fun at China’s keyboard warriors, ‘little pinks’, a term used for nationalist youngsters who defend the country from criticism online, Namewee’s song makes several veiled references to human rights violations in China.

Global Times, a state-run newspaper, called the song “insulting” and “malicious”, released to the “displeasure of Chinese netizens”.

Why is Fragile considered ‘insulting’ to China?

At the outset, the song appears to be a saccharine melody, with a video showing pink-coloured sets and a dancing panda, featuring Namewee and Kimberly.

It starts with a warning, ‘Please be cautious if you’re a fragile pink.’ The song contains multiple mentions of the ‘pinks’ and their ‘fragile self-esteem’. It further ridicules the Chinese internet warriors with the lyric, “You say NMSL to me when you get angry.” NMSL is an acronym for offensive internet slang, “ni ma si le”, which translates to “hope your mother dies”, and was central to an online meme war between the Chinese and Thais last year.

The song also uses the term ‘Pooh’, a reference to Winnie the Pooh, a Disney character that is often used by netizens to troll China’s President Xi Jinping. In fact, in 2017, China banned the character, and in 2018, it had reportedly banned the movie ‘Christopher Robin’ in an attempt to censor posts online comparing the character to the Communist Party leader.

The music video goes on to show the panda cooking a ‘bat soup’ and serving a stuffed-toy bat on a plate to the duo — a veiled reference to the rumours that the coronavirus pandemic originated from bat-eating Chinese. “Desiring for dogs, cats, bats and civets…” one of the lyrics reads.

References to human rights violation

“It is illegal to breach Firewall. You’ll be missed if the Pooh discovers it,” the song goes. The ‘Great Firewall of China’ is a popular coinage referring to a series of laws enforced in China to regulate the internet usage of its citizens – from blocking Google and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to crackdowns on popular shows, songs and films.

‘Fragile’ also brings up the human rights violation of ethnic minorities in China. “Carrying cotton and collecting his favourite honey,” one of the lyrics reads, referencing the forced labour camps in Xinjiang – reportedly catering to 20 per cent of the world’s cotton — where Uighurs are made to pick cotton. Several media houses in the past including the BBC and The Guardian have reported on such detention camps that exploit ethnic minorities. The Chinese government, however, has denied these charges calling the camps vocational training schools as part of its “poverty alleviation scheme”, according to a BBC report.

Further, Namewee in one of the frames, juggles an apple in his hands and sings, “Swallow the Apple, cut off Pineapple.” The Apple is seen as a veiled reference to the crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, earlier this year. Whereas, pineapple refers to the country’s ban on pineapples from Taiwan, alleging there was a risk of “harmful creatures” that could threaten its own agriculture. China’s ban was seen as a hostile move that could threaten Taiwan’s economy, amid its insistence on including the country in its own territory as ‘Chinese Taipei’.

How have the singers responded to China’s ban?

“There are many races in Malaysia and I am categorised as Chinese. So, when people say you’re insulting Chinese people, I say – are you saying I am insulting myself? It’s unfair to say “Chinese” can only refer to China’s Communist Party or to the Chinese state,” Namewee, whose real name is Wee Meng Chee, tells BBC in an interview.

“If some are offended, it means they are the people described in my song. The ban has now become part of my creative work,” he adds.

The singer has often courted controversy due to his work. He was arrested in 2018 in Malaysia for his song, ‘Like A Dog’ for obscenity and allegedly insulting the country’s culture. In 2016, he was arrested for his music video, ‘Oh my God!’ for allegedly insulting Islam.

Meanwhile, Kimberly took to Instagram to mock China banning her from Weibo. She sang a parody of the ‘Fragile’ song, which translates to, “I’m sorry for hurting you. It’s okay to delete Weibo. Oh, I hear a sound. Fragile self-esteem has broken into pieces. It’s okay, I still have IG and (Facebook),” according to Australia’s

A glimpse at China’s crackdown on entertainment

This isn’t the first time a song has riled up the Chinese authorities. In August, the country had announced that it would blacklist Karaoke songs that endanger national unity, insult religious policies or encourage illegal activities like gambling or drugs.

In fact, in 2015, in a similar crackdown on songs, China had banned 120 “immoral” songs. According to The Guardian, these included, “I love Taiwanese Girls” which had a line stating, “I don’t like Chinese women, I love Taiwanese girls.” Other songs included, ‘Fart’, ‘Shaking Your Head for Fun’, ‘Beijing Hooligans’ and ‘Don’t Want to Go to School’.

In September this year, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s internet watchdog, had doled out a list of rules to regulate the entertainment industry. It banned several reality television shows, asking broadcasters to not promote “sissy” men – seen as the feminisation of men in the entertainment industry.

Even international pop stars like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Justin Beiber haven’t been spared by China’s long list of bans. In 2011, BBC reported that China had outlawed six tracks by Lady Gaga — ‘The Edge of Glory’, ‘Hair’, ‘Marry the Night’, ‘Americano’, ‘Judas’ and ‘Bloody Mary’. Beyonce’s ‘Run the World (Girls)’, Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’ and Backstreet Boys’ hit ‘I Want It That Way’ were banned as well. Beiber and Perry were banned from performing in China in 2017. Beiber was reportedly banned for his “bad behaviour”, according to a BBC report, while Perry was banned following her appearance at an event in Taiwan in a ‘sun-flower dress’ – a symbol associated with anti-China protests.

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