What is the China "Forbidden" List?
As part of it’s job in "maintaining social harmony" the CAC or “Cyberspace Administration of China” places content and advertising restrictions (censorship) depending on the nature of content, products and services sold online. These are known as “on the Forbidden List“. Websites containing or linking to sites that contain forbidden content can be blocked in mainland China. Beijing PBOC regularly publishes it's updated "forbidden list" of (currently 70) industries and services that are not allowed to advertise or to sell online inside the great fire wall of China.
Strict rules and restrictions are placed on internet service providers, marketing platforms (including Baidu), Social Media (including Weibo and We Chat ) and all publishers that wish to reach the online audience in China. Paid-advertising (such as opening social media accounts, or PPC/SEM advertising) and payment providers are forbidden to provide services these types of industries and products.
It is important to note that Search Engine Optimisation (Chinese SEO) is-permitted as long as the content is not blocked by the great firewall of China. For example: it does not stop gold-or commodity traders being online however they are just not permitted to buy advertising.
What sorts of products and services are on the forbidden list?
The list can be broadly divided into three sectors; (1) political-socio-cultural, (2) economic and (3) banned (illegal) product/s. To an outsider without an understanding of the way China works, including the obvious forbidden products and political content, there are some surprising additions to the list that may seem a little odd to westerners. Things such as "fetal gender testing kits," "gold" and "Peppa the Pig" are all banned from being advertised inside China. There are also "censored on the go" topics as new words/ towns/ places and topics are added to be blocked by the firewall. ISP's are informed immediately whenever a new "forbidden" search item is added.
1. Political and Social Content
Under the political and socio-cultural banner falls all content that may be deemed as offensive to Beijing. This includes maintaining the revisionist messages and general stand of the Party as well as Chinese cultural norms. Political content must-adhere to the party line and not put the party in a bad light. This includes any negative references to the party or content that may cause "loss of face." A recent famous example is the banning of the image and mentioning of the cartoon characters "Peppa the Pig" and "Winnie the Pooh" because they were used by bloggers to lampoon Party leaders.
Political and/or historical content that dispute the revisionist Party line is also strictly forbidden, such as posting about Tiananmen, Xinjiang, Tibet or to discuss Taiwan as an "independent state." For example all international airlines were forced to rename Taiwan as part of mainland China on their booking systems or risk being banned from flying to and from lucrative China routes.Naturally all unapproved political or religious literature is also banned.
Another political element is the censorship of "bad news" such as environmental disasters, pollution, industrial accidents or events of social unrest incidents are also blocked.
Social content that is censored can be broadly termed as "offensive to Chinese culture." This includes pornography and gambling websites, forbidden music or content that is deemed inappropriate for Chinese viewers. For example the once highly popular live streaming service whereby ladies would seductively eat a banana has been banned due to it's sexual overtones and inappropriate nature of the content. Hip Hop music was also recently deemed as offensive however due to it's sheer popularity it will be hard to see it being entirely banned on the China web. Lottery and “lucky games” are also banned for advertising online.
2. Economic and Financial Products and Services
These rules are based on protecting consumers from financial scams and controlling currency and banking services. The China government places restrictions on financial transfers and the marketing of financial products and services. Examples include advertising gold, FX currency exchange and trading and crypto currencies (e.g. Bitcoin). Auction sites, digital payment systems and websites that enable property transactions are also forbidden. E-wallet and online transactions must show their SAFE (Beijing) license. Insurance and stocks/ securities firms must also be approved prior to opening accounts
Crowd funding and fund-raising content is banned as are pyramid schemes.
3. Forbidden Products and Services
These rules are to restrict or prevent fake, illegal or restricted products from being advertised online. For example, seeds, weapons, narcotics, sex toys, gender determination kits, lock picking kits, pharmaceuticals and “vulgar” products.
As a rule of thumb if your product is-registered with China customs and approved for sale and distribution inside of China then it will be OK to advertise. However, this rule does prevent a lot of “food” and “cosmetics” and “health” related companies that have not (yet) got their products registered. E.g. supplement and vitamin manufacturers need to prove their products are registered before we can submit application for their online advertising accounts. Education providers such as colleges and Universities must-show their local education certificates as part of the approval process. Tourism providers may also be requested to produce local registered tourism operating licenses prior to being approved.
Is my brand and product ok to be advertised behind the great firewall of China?
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