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Happy Lunar New Year: Beijing warns of enhanced surveillance during celebrations

Censors are on the lookout for showering under a waterfall of money, overeating, and more conventional sins

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has preempted celebrations for Lunar New Year – the Year of the Rabbit* commences on January 22 – by warning citizens to keep evidence of seasonal overindulgence off the internet.

The internet regulator warned it will investigate and take action on online flaunting of wealth and overeating during the seasonal celebrations that are marked with displays of generosity and abundance.

Examples of illicit behavior include showing off how much was spent on dinner, paying large year-end bonuses, excessive gifting in traditional red envelopes, betrothal gifts, and showing off mansion-like homes.

The CAC also banned the practice of "waterfall-style New Year money" – a recent trend that sees people record video of themselves with a large stack of money distributed from rooftops or other heights in a manner that makes the cash look like a waterfall.

Additionally, the regulator is taking action against those wishing to spread gloomy outlooks of life in China through what it is calling "false information," particularly related to COVID. Epidemic-related online "rumors" – such as discussing dubious cures, stories of breakouts, or urban legends of patients – are all a big no. So is bemoaning your misery in an attempt to solicit donations, or slagging off the situation in your hometown.

The latter is a nod to the fact that many Chinese citizens go home for the New Year, creating enormous movements from cities to rural areas. It won't do to have those who have become sophisticated urbanites trashing outlying areas.

Other internet behaviors Beijing wants to quash this season include online gambling and fraud, superstition and fortune telling, cyberbullying, influencers that hype up illegal activity or showcase prison life. Toxic online fan clubs are again under Beijing's eye, to ensure that frenzied online discussions don't spill out from spats over celebrities and brands into sporting stoushes.

The CAC expressed particular concern for minors, who could not only be bullied but also used for profit – either as online celebrities or through their internet habits. The org said it intends to protect kids from internet addiction through parent involvement.

China has attempted to "clean up" the internet and prevent most of these behaviors before, including stopping residents from complaining about COVID-related social conditions.

This "special operation," however, will continue until the end of February, the regulator said. That takes it beyond the traditional spring cleaning period that sees Chinese residents spend a week cleaning before the New Year commences.

The CAC instructed local internet information departments to implement plans to promote the "special actions," increase the intensity of website inspections, strengthen content review and other tasks related to platforms. They are also encouraged to publicize their work.

Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone. Especially those of you planning a money waterfall. ®

*In Vietnam, which also observes the Lunar calendar, it will be the Year of the Cat.

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