A notable literary occurrence unfolded recently as a published work delving into the fall of the Ming dynasty, attributable to the perceived ineptitude of a Chinese emperor, was abruptly withdrawn from circulation. The decision emanated from a surge of discerning online associations between the historical narrative of the emperor’s reign and the contemporary leadership of China’s President, Xi Jinping, which subsequently necessitated stringent censorship measures. The publication under scrutiny, “Chongzhen: The Diligent Emperor of a Fallen Dynasty,” was removed from the public domain, ostensibly due to “printing issues,” as officially announced by its publisher, the Dook Media Group.
Remarkably, in parallel to this development, a sequence of online posts wherein the actions and attributes of the bygone emperor were likened to those of Xi Jinping was systematically eradicated from the virtual realms. Chongzhen, the focal character of the historical account, ruled until 1644 when his reign concluded tragically with his self-inflicted demise. Historians have documented his rule as one marked by diligence, yet overshadowed by chronic paranoia, frequently manifested in the rigorous scrutiny of his subjects’ loyalty.
Intriguingly, users of the Chinese social media platform Weibo extensively shared content extracted from the book, accompanied by vehement criticisms directed at the emperor, characterized by phrases such as “Bad moves one after another, the more diligent Chongzhen was, the more the kingdom suffered.” The book’s cover was particularly revealing, featuring Chongzhen’s name together with a symbol of a red noose, emblematic of the emperor’s dire end. Additional excerpts on the cover effectively encapsulated the essence of Emperor Chongzhen’s character: “paranoid and mercurial” and, notably, an astute understanding of how he had driven himself to the precipice of a failed leadership.
Subsequent to these developments, the said book was swiftly rendered inaccessible in online spheres, further compounded by an inability to trace the title on Weibo, which yielded null results. Moreover, the name of the book’s late author, Chen Wutong, was met with a similar fate as it came under the shroud of censorship on Weibo.
Of significance is the fact that this publication had originally seen the light of day on September 1, reposing as a reprint of an earlier edition dating back to 2016, distinguished primarily by its altered cover design and title. This occurrence, in essence, underscores the overarching censorship framework characteristic of the Chinese government, one that diligently polices and proscribes content running counter to its established policies or, in particular, critical of the incumbent leadership.
The most recent episode adds to a mounting series of instances wherein the Chinese authorities have aggressively moderated content that diverges from the official line or critiques its leadership. Notably, in a recent biography centered on Elon Musk, authored by Walter Isaacson, key phrases implicative of “fascism” were discreetly obfuscated, given the critical connotations linked with China’s rigorous ‘Zero Covid’ policies. The extent of such censorship in China has even encompassed the popular internet meme, Winnie the Pooh, largely deemed to lampoon President Xi Jinping and subsequently obliterated from the Chinese digital landscape.