Why China Censored Its Politicians Doing 'Gangnam Style'

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The ubiquity of PSY's "Gangnam Style" — and the pantomiming horse dance that goes along with it — has made the song/video/phenomenon pretty harmless around the world by now, except in one place: China. No, the country's censors don't even want you thinking that Chinese leaders would partake in such a silly little dance. So when censors at Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, deleted the obvious photoshop above on November 17, the uncensored among us had to ask: Why so serious?

Everyone from Ellen and Britney Spears to Britain's olympians and the U.S. military has done that hip-jiggling horse dance thing, but in China, you see, it's different — even for China. "The images of Chinese leaders are carefully managed by propaganda leaders, and the suggestion that they would dance in formation and shake their hips is certainly unwelcome," explains an (unintentionally funny) dispatch from China Media Report — a media-studies center in Hong Kong.

So, sure, gathering from that, there's a sense that this photo could be making fun of those leaders — presumably Leaders at China's 18th Party Congress. But there's also the fact that people in China could easily fooled by this and actually think said leaders are doing the real "Gangnam." Evidence? Late last month, thousands of Chinese people were fooled by this fake "Gangnam Style" by Obama impersonator Reggie Brown. "On Sina Weibo... users have posted thousands of tweets and comments on tweets proclaiming that the Obama video 'blows up' all other Gangnam Style videos and satires, while noting that -- at 51 -- the U.S. president 'is still very agile and skillful,'" Bloomberg's Adam Minter reported at the time, noting the giant deal that the video made and all the Chinese people who thought it was the real thing. And perhaps censors are just doing their jobs if confusion really exists. 

"Still, giving the censors the benefit of the doubt that they operate consistently, the explanation might have to do with the extreme care that the country gives in cultivating the images of its leaders," writes The Washington Post's Max Fisher, an Atlantic alum and "Gangnam Style" guru. Meanwhile, if you aren't in China, enjoy this thing all you want.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.