Creating a Chinese content strategy that abides by restrictions

By Posted in - China & Content Strategy on April 12th, 2016 0 Comments

For higher education institutions, developing a content strategy for Chinese digital platforms can feel like a thorny issue. This is not only because of the unique Chinese culture, but also because of the specific content restrictions to which institutions, brands and businesses have to adhere in China, as enforced by the state government.

In this blog post, we explain some quick and easy steps to consider when developing a strategy for your Chinese content that won’t infringe on any official restrictions.

Search Engines

In developing a content strategy, the first priority is to make sure the content you create is searchable to your audiences. The Chinese search engine market has a unique ecology, because search engine giant Google is blocked in China.

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While technological geeks in China still use VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) to access Google’s services, the majority of ordinary Chinese users use regional search engines, such as Baidu or 360 Search.

Baidu has proved especially popular, accounting for approximately 70 per cent of the market share. The search engine offers a variety of search services, including Baidu Baike – a Wikipedia-like collaboratively-built encyclopaedia and Baidu Post Bar – a searchable keyword-based discussion forum.

Baidu is often the source from which Chinese users search for useful information. They may also browse Baidu Baike for overseas universities’ profiles and Baidu Post Bar for first-hand information about studying abroad. So when developing your content strategy on Chinese social media, you have to make sure your content can be found on Baidu first.

Mind Your Language

In China, the government provides its own guidelines on what language can and cannot be used in any media. Xinhua News – the official government news agency – recently released the latest series of words and phrases that are to be banned on Chinese media. These don’t directly apply to social media per se, but we would still recommend that they be avoided.

The language use on mass media has to be ‘politically correct’, adhering to the state government’s linguistic policy. Phrases relating to ethnicity, like ‘Huihui’ (回回) and ‘Manzi’ (蛮子), are considered especially sensitive and therefore completely banned. Others such as ‘Mengzu’ (蒙族 Mongolian), ‘Weizu’ (维族 Uighur), and ‘Hasa’ (哈萨 Kazakhs) are considered incorrect forms. Instead, guidelines point to the complete form – ‘Mengguzu’ (蒙古族), ‘Weiwuerzu’ (维吾尔族), and ‘Hasakezu’ (哈萨克族) – instead.

The released ‘banned word list’ also includes other aspects too. For example, words like ‘best’ (最佳,最好) and ‘most famous’ (最著名) cannot be used to describe the quality of products. ‘Superstars’ (天王,巨星), ‘movie queen’ (影后) or ‘movie king’ (影帝), are not allowed to be used for describing celebrities in entertainment industry – may use ‘show folks’ (娱乐界人士), ‘famous actors/actress’ (著名演员),  ‘famous artist’ (著名艺术家) instead. Slang and swear words are also completely prohibited.

Controversial Topics and Phrases

In addition to the above formal guidelines on language use, there are also ‘unwritten’ restrictions that have to be followed in regards to particular events and topics.

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The most famous controversial topics in China include the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 – also known as the ‘June Fourth Incident’ (六四事件) or ‘89 Democracy Movement’ (八九民运), as well as the more recent ‘Occupy Central’ (占中) – also known as the ‘Occupation Movement’ (或占领行动).

The strict avoidance of these topics has also led to restrictions on a number of phrases that Chinese internet users recently developed to describe the events. These include ‘June Fourth’ or ‘Six Four’ (六四), ‘Tank Man’ (坦克人), ‘Umbrella Revolution’ (雨伞革命), ‘Umbrella Movement’ (雨伞行动). For full details on ‘unofficially’ banned words, take a look at this link.

While these topics are free to be discussed in the West, Western higher education institutions are strongly advised to avoid mentioning them on their Chinese digital channels, in the interests of remaining fully compliant. Although a growing number of Chinese students are politically-minded and willing to talk about these controversial issues, to ensure your institution doesn’t cross any boundaries, you may wish to monitor for any inappropriate words or phrases posted by external audiences via your digital channels.

This may all sound very complex and headache-inducing, but it doesn’t have to be. By following the guidelines, and where possible working with a Chinese digital expert (hello!), there’s nothing to stop you developing a great Chinese content strategy.

Want to know more about how to connect with Chinese audiences? Get in touch with us here.

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