The hugely popular Chinese short video app Douyin has suspended its commercial operations after an internet watchdog weighed in on a controversy involving insulting remarks made about a hero of the Korean war.
The app, which is run by Beijing ByteDance Technology, was one of five China-based internet firms ordered by the Beijing office of the Cyberspace Administration of China last month to conduct a “thorough self inspection” of their advertising content and delete any material relating to heroes and martyrs, including Qiu Shaoyun, a Chinese soldier remembered for his heroism during the 1950-53 conflict.
On Sunday afternoon, the watchdog said it had instructed the firms, which include the New York-listed search engine Sogou, to remove all commercials that mention Qiu and that all of them had “voluntarily suspended [their] commercial services”.
According to Beijing’s narrative, Qiu chose to burn to death instead of running away and exposing the location of his comrades during a battle in 1952.
His story is included in Chinese school textbooks and he is hailed as a hero.
The online controversy started on June 5 when an advertisement for Douyin appeared on Sogou that invited people to view “jokes about Qiu Shaoyun getting burned”.
The following day, the cyberspace administration issued a statement saying it had spoken to the two companies and ordered them to delete all related content. Beijing ByteDance Technology issued an immediate apology.
In Sunday’s statement, made on social media, the watchdog said that the five firms – which also include Beijing Adnice Advertising Co, Beijing App Factory Corp and Baosheng Advertising Corp – had been ordered to arrange “patriotic lessons” for employees involved in approving advertising content and cybersecurity.
“The firms all said they will make changes according to the authorities’ requirements and voluntarily suspend all commercials,” it said.
It said also that the State Administration for Market Regulation was liaising with the Beijing branch on further punishments for the companies, details of which will be announced later.
An advertising agent who works with Douyin and its clients said the suspension of commercial services would result in “huge” financial losses.
“Douyin makes tens of millions of yuan in advertising revenue every day,” the person said on condition of anonymity. “One online game client spends 3 million yuan (US$452,000) a day.”
The agent said that the company had told her it had suspended its advertising services but did not say for how long as it “doesn’t know itself when the government will let them resume”.
Agents were scrambling to move advertising content to other channels run by Beijing ByteDance, which also operates the Jinri Toutiao, Xigua and Huoshan apps, she said.
Douyin did not immediately reply to the South China Morning Post’s request for a comment.
China passed a law protecting those deemed to be war heroes in April. It sparked controversy as it provides a legal base from which to punish anyone the Communist Party feels has distorted its version of history.