One of the ways China's internet censorship exhibits itself is by keeping tight control over how the country's political leadership is portrayed and mentioned online – if at all.
Usually it takes some sort of action by social media users to end up censored for this particular “offense” – but as the case of opera singer Liu Keqing shows, not necessarily.
Reports are saying that the only discernible reason for Liu's online presence to be restricted “repeatedly” is his striking resemblance to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Liu is based in Europe, but is using ByteDance's TikTok twin app for the Chinese market, Douyin, to reach his audience interested in what is described as his “eccentric” singing tutorials.
And Liu recently shared with his 40K+ followers on Douyin that his account had been flagged and blocked for the third time because of “image violations” and that he was waiting for it to be reinstated, having submitted his ID details to the censor.
“I don't understand,” Mr. Liu said in an interview with the Times. “Maybe the country has security concerns.”
Mr. Liu, 63 gets strange looks from people as he resembles Xi who is 67. They're also the same height (5 feet 11 inches) and both speak in a deep voice. Both are from Beijing.
When he talks about an “image violation” here, Liu isn't suggesting this is about copyright of photos or anything of that kind – in fact, it's about undermining the desired public image projected by the president. And since this is ByteDance, another possibility could be an efficient but overzealous algorithm weeding out whatever it deems needs to be removed according to China's stringent censorship rules.
It's unclear if any at all resemblance to Xi is unwelcome, or only such that might associate him with less than statesman-like activities: Liu is said to engage in “passionate opera performances” during his online tutorials.
Others have been there before the opera singer, looking too much like China's president and causing a great deal of attention on the internet, like a Chinese food vendor who did little else than do his job of serving pork buns.
And Winnie the Pooh got straight up banned in 2017, because too many internet users were having fun comparing Xi's appearance to that of the cartoon bear. It's unclear what the offense there might have been, other than the whole thing appearing way too undignified to those in charge of Xi's image on the web.