China’s social media was briefly aflutter this fall about an impressive feat in the popular online fantasy game Honor of Kings. A player had completed a “pentakill,” or five kills in a row, but something just smelled wrong: The user in question was 60 years old, according to the verified account information—hardly the type to be an expert gamer. Even more mysterious, why was this person brandishing digital weaponry at 3 a.m.? Was the player in fact a teenager sneaking online in the wee hours of the morning?
Under normal circumstances, the speculation might have ended there. But these days are far from normal in China. Deeming video games a distraction from the hard work of serving the motherland, President Xi Jinping’s government mandated in August that youngsters could play just three hours a week, and only at specified times. Thus, the anonymous gamer, whoever he or she was, might have been violating the law and the great leader’s wishes. The matter got so much attention that the game’s operator, the Chinese tech giant Tencent, investigated and in a formal statement confirmed that the game-obsessed insomniac was indeed a perfectly legal 60-year-old. (The company employs facial-recognition software to match users to their accounts.)
The episode would be humorous, if it weren’t so frightening. China today is in the grip of the most concerted government campaign to assert greater control over society in decades, perhaps since the tumultuous days of Mao Zedong. The edict restricting when kids can play video games is just part of a barrage launched by Xi’s administration in recent months across both business regulation and mundane daily life. Chinese companies face more hurdles to listing on public stock markets abroad and education providers are no longer allowed to offer online lessons run with foreign teachers, while local television bars men whose hairstyles are deemed insufficiently masculine.
Taken together, this deluge of dictates can be viewed as one element of Xi’s broader agenda to mold a new Chinese society that will be instilled with proper socialist values—as he defines them—purged of corrupting individualism and other bad habits that have seeped in from foreign (read: Western) cultures, and thus girded for the next phase of national struggle: the quest for global greatness. [Continue reading…]