China to Ban Karaoke Songs With ‘Illegal’ Content

China is readying a blacklist for karaoke songs in order to ban tracks featuring “illegal” content, its Ministry of Culture and Tourism said.

Such content includes anything that harms national unity, sovereignty or territorial integrity, endangers national security or harms national honor, incites ethnic hatred or undermines ethnic unity, violates religious policies, promotes illegal activities like gambling or drugs, or runs “contrary to public morality,” it stated in vague terms that can be widely interpreted.

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KTV venues should instead highlight special selections of “healthy and uplifting” music and patriotic pro-Party songs, it added.

China boasts some 50,000 or so karaoke bars, which tend to be equipped with songs from a catalogue of over 100,000 songs, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The new rules, which come into effect on Oct. 1, are described as necessary to “promote socialist core values” as well as “maintain national cultural and ideological security.” KTV venues will themselves be responsible for censoring the music and videos they play. Government inspectors will conduct spot checks for compliance, and violations will be reported to the national level.

It remains unclear what will happen to foreign music content available in China’s KTVs, many of which boast extensive catalogues of American rap and pop music that employ obscenities or could easily be deemed as glamorizing “illegal activities.” Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) did not respond to requests for comment on the matter by the time of publication.

This is not the first time that Chinese authorities have prepped a music blacklist, but prior attempts to clean up unwanted songs focused on blocking their online dissemination rather their existence in actual entertainment venues. Hundreds of songs deemed illegal have been ordered off streaming platforms, social media and the rest of the web since 2011. Previously, however, many of those taken down online could still be found at karaoke parlors.

A 2015 list of 120 banned songs includes nearly 20 tracks from subversive underground Chinese rap group In3, a half dozen from Taiwan’s MC HotDog and a number from Taiwanese frontman Chang Chenyue (A-Yue). Coming in at No. 1 atop the list was the In3 track “Hello Teacher,” an angry diatribe against an incompetent, biased teacher that ends with a call for her to go “die.” Other banned songs include “One Night Stand,” “Don’t Want to Go to School,” “Suicide Diary,” “I Want to Kiss Your Mouth in the Dark,” “No Sex, No Love,” “Fuck” and “Fart.”

The new 2021 list specific to KTVs has yet to be issued.

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