China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Although existing studies have analyzed how censorship restricts the digital visibility of Chinese sexual minorities, they tend to approach censorship as a given context, an inert structure, and an essentialized mechanism that can be creatively evaded. As a result, contradictory conclusions often conjure up as they see sometimes relaxed control as progress yet sometimes retightened control as deterioration. Using a case study of ZANK, a gay dating app that has been shut down by the authority for “ineffective self-censorship”, this paper argues that existing studies on China’s Internet censorship obscure a fundamental problem in the fickle censorship toward homosexuality – the sexual shame. In both official policies and censorship guidelines made by government-affiliated industrial associations, homosexuality is lumped together with incest and sexual deviants under the rubric of obscenity. As a result, not only is obscenity skillfully integrated into the identity of homosexuality, it also makes a sexual identity, instead of sexual acts, a measure of obscenity. However, this paper finds that ZANK was unintentionally aligned with the authority on this stigmatized same-sex identity. In its live streaming guidelines, ZANK had a much broader definition of obscenity in which “sexual imitations” and “flirtatious comments” were both within the scope. Moreover, ZANK live streaming prohibited comments implicating hooking up. This paper concludes that, by denying the display of same-sex desires, ZANK not only reinforced the stigma of obscenity by fighting against it, but also deepened the sexual shame – the foundation of censorship toward homosexuality – into same-sex identities.