Chinese Censors Quash Yet Another Viral Sensation

Vlogger Papi Sauce is funny, fast-talking, and profane. That's enough to spook Beijing.

Papi3
Papi3

Video blogger (vlogger) Papi Sauce is a Chinese Internet sensation. In hyper-fast Mandarin delivered from what looks like a modest apartment in Beijing, she skewers rich housewives flaunting their husbands’ wealth, gossipy colleagues, and fad diets. Papi Sauce also sometimes engages in more serious topics like the double standards placed on women in daily life. Her videos can be irreverent, and occasionally profane. One thing they’re not is a threat to the Chinese government or the welfare of its citizenry. But that hasn’t stopped increasingly active state censors from pulling the plug.

In an April 18 post on Weibo, a microblogging platform, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily announced, “Rectification has been ordered for the extremely popular online video series ‘Papi Sauce,’ due to the frequent use of crude language such as ‘fuck.’” The order came from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), the government agency responsible for much of the press censorship that many Chinese media consumers often describe as either irritating or oppressive. Within hours of the announcement, tens of thousands of comments poured in on Weibo, both supporting the vlogger and complaining about the new SAPPRFT directive. “It’s not that we all love Papi Sauce,” one comment explained. “But we all hate SAPPRFT.”

Papi Sauce is the online name of Jiang Yilei, a Shanghai native who now boasts over 11 million Weibo followers. Since her online debut in 2015, Jiang has demonstrated a keen grasp of what makes content go viral; on Weibo, her videos are often forwarded hundreds of thousands of times and receive millions of views. Her work sometimes veers into topics like sex, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases, usually by making fun of social attitudes toward them. But the majority of her videos focus squarely on the quotidian. “Are you friends with any of those couples who like to feed each other in public?” Jiang asks flatly in one popular, and representative, video. Her voice rises several pitches as she mimics such a couple, waving around an imaginary spoon and cooing, “’Here, hubby, say ah!” Then she looks straight at the camera and utters something similar to “go f--- yourself,” with the expletive bleeped out. In another video, Jiang pretends to be a weeping woman complaining about how beautiful she is. “Why was God so unfair to me?” she cries, wiping her eyes with a tissue.

Video blogger (vlogger) Papi Sauce is a Chinese Internet sensation. In hyper-fast Mandarin delivered from what looks like a modest apartment in Beijing, she skewers rich housewives flaunting their husbands’ wealth, gossipy colleagues, and fad diets. Papi Sauce also sometimes engages in more serious topics like the double standards placed on women in daily life. Her videos can be irreverent, and occasionally profane. One thing they’re not is a threat to the Chinese government or the welfare of its citizenry. But that hasn’t stopped increasingly active state censors from pulling the plug.

In an April 18 post on Weibo, a microblogging platform, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily announced, “Rectification has been ordered for the extremely popular online video series ‘Papi Sauce,’ due to the frequent use of crude language such as ‘fuck.’” The order came from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), the government agency responsible for much of the press censorship that many Chinese media consumers often describe as either irritating or oppressive. Within hours of the announcement, tens of thousands of comments poured in on Weibo, both supporting the vlogger and complaining about the new SAPPRFT directive. “It’s not that we all love Papi Sauce,” one comment explained. “But we all hate SAPPRFT.”

Papi Sauce is the online name of Jiang Yilei, a Shanghai native who now boasts over 11 million Weibo followers. Since her online debut in 2015, Jiang has demonstrated a keen grasp of what makes content go viral; on Weibo, her videos are often forwarded hundreds of thousands of times and receive millions of views. Her work sometimes veers into topics like sex, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases, usually by making fun of social attitudes toward them. But the majority of her videos focus squarely on the quotidian. “Are you friends with any of those couples who like to feed each other in public?” Jiang asks flatly in one popular, and representative, video. Her voice rises several pitches as she mimics such a couple, waving around an imaginary spoon and cooing, “’Here, hubby, say ah!” Then she looks straight at the camera and utters something similar to “go f— yourself,” with the expletive bleeped out. In another video, Jiang pretends to be a weeping woman complaining about how beautiful she is. “Why was God so unfair to me?” she cries, wiping her eyes with a tissue.

In the wake of the SAPPRFT order, many online expressed frustration that their government would spend time and energy micromanaging something so petty, while China faces pressing and unsolved problems like the sometimes deadly food scandals that regulators have yet to contain. “SAPPRFT comrades, you’re working so hard,” went one such comment, which was up-voted more than 30,000 times. “When will you help out with food safety?” That, of course, is not SAPPRFT’s job, but the comment reflected citizen frustration that government minders seemed more interested in what one called “pointless stuff” while keeping discussion of pressing problems under wraps. One commenter listed more than a dozen major news events with profound implications for average Chinese, all of which had in various forms been censored online, including “air pollution, water pollution, toxic milk powder, vaccines hurting kids, sky-high home prices, plunging stocks.”

SAPPRFT is one of the least popular government agencies in China – right up there with the China Securities Regulatory Commission, which many Chinese blame for plunging stock market values, which in 2015 wiped out trillions of dollars in wealth, much of that from the balance sheets of mom-and-pop investors. It’s not just that SAPPRFT has for years come across as a group of joyless, humorless government minders standing between Chinese citizens and the prospect of better movies and television. Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has sought to bring China’s once-raucous Internet back under the tight control of the ruling Communist Party, SAPPRFT guidelines have become even more stringent. In early 2015, the enormously popular historical drama Empress of China was temporarily pulled from the airwaves; when it returned, the show’s once-copious cleavage had been edited out, much to viewer dismay. New SAPPRFT regulations issued in March prohibited television shows from depicting homosexual relationships, causing one popular series, Addicted, which features a gay couple, to be removed from many streaming websites. And on April 17, SAPPRFT announced a ban on reality shows featuring the children of celebrities.

It’s unclear what steps SAPPRFT wants Jiang to take to “rectify” her videos. For now, the vlogger’s Weibo and WeChat accounts remain accessible, and her work is still online. But new ones are unlikely to appear until Jiang has done whatever it is authorities want her to do. “I will pay more attention to my words and image,” wrote Jiang in an April 18 response posted to her Weibo account, “and firmly respond to the rectification requirements for online videos.” For Jiang, just being popular is enough to appear on the state’s radar, which fears independent voices – even ones that are simply entertaining.

Many Chinese netizens have learned to deal with political censorship as a fact of life. But in return, they’d like to have a bit of innocent fun outside the social media-friendly propaganda generated by state media. “Some people like watching news broadcasts to pay attention to important national affairs. Some people like to have a little fun by watching Papi Sauce,” wrote one Weibo user. “The pressures of life are already so great. If we stop telling jokes, if we are no longer allowed to cuss a little when we’re irritated, aren’t we just waiting for an explosion?”

Fair Use

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian is a journalist covering China from Washington. She was previously an assistant editor and contributing reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @BethanyAllenEbr

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