AO3 Blocked in China

On March 1, 2020, Archive of Our Own was blocked in China.

AO3 tweeted:

Their Weibo message is:

[Google Translate:] In the past few hours, we have received many enquiries about users in mainland China not being able to access archiveofourown.org. Some users also said that they can access AO3 using the website ao3.org. We are troubleshooting with our volunteers. For the time being, it seems to be due to the disconnection of the supplier (China Unicom, Telecom, etc.) when connecting the local network to the overseas network. We don’t know if this is due to a brief unplanned outage of supplier services or a long-term access restriction. Since this connection problem was not caused by the AO3 server, we have no way to solve this problem. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Although, as of this writing, the Wikipedia entry about AO3 attributes the blocking “to the critics of Xiao Zhan against the website fanfic writers who wrote about him,” Aja Romano’s Vox report says the timing of that kerfuffle is just coincidental, and the real reason is the effective date of China’s new internet rules: “China has censored the Archive of Our Own, one of the internet’s largest fanfiction websites”.

…The news immediately spawned unverified rumors that one of China’s biggest recent fandoms had inspired the ban. The Untamed is an internationally popular 2019 Chinese web series based on a queer romance novel originally published online. And there are more than 14,000 fanfics related to The Untamed on AO3. The rumors, which surfaced from within the Chinese internet, involved the large adjacent fandom for The Untamed’s main actor, Xiao Zhan, and focused on unsubstantiated reports of a harassment campaign launched by critics of Xiao Zhan against AO3 fanfic writers who wrote about him.

The Untamed premiered on Netflix in October and has only grown its following since then, while Xiao Zhan has become a huge celebrity since the show’s release. So the idea that fanfiction about the actor had led to the reported censorship of AO3 within China brought widespread alarm, finger-pointing, and outcry, with fans issuing calls to “protect Xiao Zhan” from further harassment. On March 1, after a day of online outrage, Xiao’s studio reportedly issued a public apology for “occupying public resources.”

But although the rumors wreaked havoc within The Untamed’s fandom (amid simultaneous attempts to halt the spread of misinformation) it seems very likely that the timing was purely coincidental. It’s more likely that AO3 became a target of China’s ongoing attempts to suppress queer and explicit media content, as a part of its larger dedicated pattern of internet censorship.

As Variety reported in January (“China’s New Internet Censorship Rules Outline Direction For Content”) –

Chinese authorities have approved a new set of comprehensive regulations that expand the scope of online censorship, emphasize the war against “negative” content and make platforms more liable for content violations.

While China previously had numerous, separate regulations floating about for everything from live-streaming to news media to chat groups, the new “Provisions on the Governance of the Online Information Content Ecosystem” consolidate them into a more coherent system of global rules for everything that happens on the country’s Internet. The new rules were approved in mid-December and will take effect in March.

Variety has a complete overview of the rules. This is the part AO3 seems most likely to have run afoul of —

… The new regulations then go on to dictate that content producers must “employ measures to prevent and resist the making, reproduction or publication of negative information.” This includes the following: the “use of exaggerated titles,” gossip, “improper comments on natural disasters, major accidents, or other disasters,” anything with “sexual innuendo” or that is “readily associated with sex,” gore or horror, or things that would push minors towards behaviors that are unsafe or “violate social mores.” Negative content, it concludes broadly, is actually just anything at all that would have a “negative impact” on the Internet ecosystem.

Romano also told Vox readers the latest development may have been inevitable:

Then again, it’s likely that AO3 would have been censored with or without the new law taking effect, because China has in recent years been cracking down on queer and sexually explicit online content — both of which AO3 has in abundance.

11 thoughts on “AO3 Blocked in China

  1. Lovely.

    I await fervent expectations for how this realio trulio isn’t a problem for the Chengdu bid and isn’t something fans should be worried about in considering whether or not to vote for Chengdu.

  2. It’s especially sad since it wasn’t that long ago that the AO3 put out an urgent call for volunteer translators because of needing and wanting to roll out the welcome mat for the massive influx of Chinese fen fleeing the censorship and persecution that they were suffering on their own websites and in their own country. I’d hoped that it would manage to fly under the radar for at least a couple of years before being blocked.

  3. Here’s a summary of what this looks like from the Chinese side. Google translate gives a clear enough translation.

    So apparently the problem was that AO3 hosted a bunch of erotic content involving and naming this popular actor and singer? A significant segment of his fan base apparently took offense at that, and organized a campaign to mass-report AO3 for hosting pornography, resulting in it being blocked.

    Many other segments of Chinese fandom were outraged at these actions by the actor/singer’s fan base. This resulted in the actor/singer’s studio issuing a formal apology for the dispute, while also calling on the various factions to strive to express themselves “more positively”. Wow.

    One take away from this is that AO3 is extremely well known in China and makes front page entertainment news.

    https://star.ettoday.net/news/1657383

  4. Here’s a longer article which gives more detail on the context and the fallout. Many fans believe that net censorship rules would not have been applied to AO3 were it not for the hostile manipulation of the reporting system by other fans.

    Some parts of this story seem like a huge Chinese puppy war, replete with boycotts, one star reviews and the slogan “fan behavior, idols pay.”

    https://www.36kr.com/p/5296815

    Check out the comments too…

  5. The fans of Xiao Zhan reported the site to authorities, because they don’t like their idol appears in a fantasy. That’s why AO3 is banned. Lofter blog and other writer & MV editor sites are also affected and regulated. Xiao Zhan is the leading actor of 2019 TV show “Chen Qing Ling” adapted from Boy Love Story “Mo Dao Zu Shi”. Although his acting skill was frequently doubted, he is still considered the most popular idol now and appears in hot topic from time to time.

  6. The USA will take him any day. He’s not to blame for this. Foreign fans are scarier than the Beehive. Every individual is responsible for their own behavior. Xiao Zhan is probably as stunned as the rest of us about what has happened. It was his image that was distorted and plagiarized. No one asked his or any of the characters for that matter (there’s a lot of content out there with various Untamed characters), writer, producers and actual oweners of the content how this would impact any of them. Yeah, yeah, I know . . . it comes with the job. But that’s it. It was a job he moved on from to his next project. He nor his agency, the drama, or writer hold any responsibility in this matter. He didn’t report a site that was already under review prior to this fallout. Blaming him and destroying his career is irresponsible and unjustified. Petty Patty and Petty Pete just skipping along leaving a wake of destruction behind.

    I seriously doubt very few of his out-of-control fans have not imagined his/herself in a personal moment with him or the other actors. So, were is the difference between thinking it or putting it in writing or art? Either instance is to his disadvantage and probably uncomfortable for him, yet he has zero control over others actions. I seriously doubt any actor, entertainer, influencer is 100% comfortable with the imaginings of its fan base despite his/her training to ignore such activities. A beautiful fitness influencer with a banging body trying to teach others how to be healthy is not asking to be sexualized, she is doing her chosen job. Some of the comments she receives are very offensive. However, it is the perception of another and not within her control other than hitting that block button. All the viewer has to do is create a new account and they’re back in. The point is, these public figures come under attack and are held responsible for someone else’s dumb mistakes. Not acceptable.

    You cannot blame the actors. What is so hard about putting blame were blame belongs. Learn to take some responsibility for goodness sake and stop looking to pass on the blame to the innocent. This is beyond ridiculous. Why is common sense in short supply these days? Young people are scary. I’m afraid to get old with this new generation. You would think people over there would be more concerned and focused on the Coronavirus. But no, let’s tear down an actor who is an innocent bystander in all this (forgetting his image was genderized without his knowledge). Talk about petty people and irresponsible behavior. I go through my Google news feed and before I see one Coronavirus story, I see three stories about this. Talk about priorities. Apparently real life issues pale in comparison to fantasy.

    I am a huge Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan fan in the most unlikely ethnic group (race and age). My family and friends are lost for words. Anyways. I enjoy some of the extended fan writing that is tasteful and good. I’m married and heterosexual, but I love the Untamed and all its actors. I was never one for BL/GL stories before (I don’t like war or western themes either, so don’t get your feelings hurt messing with me). I started reading fanfic because of the Untamed, and yes, some of it is poorly written and disturbing. However, if it wasn’t to my liking, I stopped reading that particular story and read something else. One story was so disturbing, I left a message that I tried to read the story but just couldn’t do it. I had to rewatch the Untamed to purify my Sweeties. I didn’t report it, I moved on. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it may be someone else’s. Not my busineess. Keep it moving. Untamed has lawyers for crap they don’t like. Easy, right?

    From some of what I have read, AO3 and the other sites were already under investigation and China had a prior plan to censor these sites in March 2020 anyways.The Chinese agency/oversight committee or whatever most likely blocked the sites because they saw multiple issues in regards to its censorship of content, which makes way more sense. No one blockes major internet sites over a single incident. It’s too easy to close a single account. This incident coinciding with China’s current plans is suspicious to me. I am not talking conspiracy theory or anything heavy. But what a coincidence. My experience is people are capable of anything, and I can’t imagine a true fan would drag her beloved star through yet another disparaging incident. A troll will do what a troll is designed to do. Create havoc. Or, it could simply be some dumbbutt making really bad choices and the choices snowballing out-of-control. Someone unable to think about how their choices just might affect someone else’s life. Irresponsible. People really need to get a grip. Grow up while you at it!

    Here in the USA we will support him. China be damned. Have a beautiful day.

  7. @LynnbWells, I gather you’re perfectly okay with Chinese censorship, and feel Xiao Zhan is the only victim here.

    I disagree. Strongly. And if China was in fact already intending to censor AO3, as seems very likely from the limited information available–that’s not better. It’s not better at all. It’s a gold-plated example of why Chengdu is a terrible place for a Worldcon.

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