After a More Political Halloween in Shanghai, Now Comes the Crackdown

After a More Political Halloween in Shanghai, Now Comes the Crackdown  

When people gathered in Shanghai at the end of last month for the city’s first big Halloween celebration in years, the parade of costumes—ranging from movie references to local memes and even a few tongue-in-cheek jabs at the government and flailing economy—was initially hailed in state media and on Chinese social media as evidence of “the Chinese public’s cultural confidence and openness” and that “Chinese people live freely without restraint.”

But it was only a matter of time before the crackdown would come. In the last few days, a number of Chinese youth have been detained by police for their political expression at the Halloween parade and Chinese tech companies have been instructed by authorities to rein in cosplay on their platforms, Radio Free Asia reported on Monday, citing several sources.

The arrests come shortly after Chinese censors reportedly ordered social media sites such as Xiaohongshu and Douyin (the original Chinese version of TikTok) to “rectify” content related to Halloween costumes and ban Halloween posts that “violate the core values of socialism,” an unnamed media company employee told RFA. 

In photos of the parade that garnered significant attention on social media and in the international press, some Halloween revelers sported thinly veiled references to China’s COVID restrictions, such as the white hazmat suits worn by public servants enforcing strict pandemic protocol. At least one person was seen wearing a shirt covered in sheets of blank paper—a prominent symbol used in last year’s protests amid an official crackdown on political slogans. The protests last November, watched closely by the world, were widely considered to be one of the most serious threats to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grip on power yet. (Authorities notably eased COVID restrictions the following month).

“What is up with Shanghai?” Her, the activist, wrote on X. “They’ve just returned from improving diplomatic ties there,” she said, referencing Xi’s rapprochement with Biden on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco last week, “and now they’re arresting people here.”

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