Moral censors move on to karaoke bars

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The Independent Online

One of China's most beloved institutions is being targeted by a government crackdown on vulgarity and dissent, as more and more karaoke parlours are fitted with a surveillance system that informs officials when illegal music and pornographic videos are downloaded.

The southern city of Chongqing is the latest area to have the national karaoke content management system, or the "Black Box", installed in its karaoke bars. The device is designed to monitor the playlist remotely and automatically alerts police. Last month nearly 180 bars in the city were fitted with the system.

In some cases, a red light flashes at the local police headquarters when a forbidden song is chosen. The system has been discussed for years but installation only began recently.

The songs and music videos on karaoke parlour playlists are usually downloaded from online sources, which make them hard to monitor. Despite the Great Firewall of China, which blocks access to banned websites, many internet users can still find ways around the methods of blocking sites. Songs targeted by the government include those containing obscenities and those that are considered to be rallying calls for independence in Xinjiang or Tibet.

Typical of the material being targeted, according to the Chongqing Evening News, is a satirical song called "Conquer the World", which is accompanied by a graphic video that depicts a government official who fantasises about taking French women to Japan to shoot pornographic videos, and then flies to the US to urinate on the steps of the White House.

Karaoke is a hugely popular pastime in China, and outlets range from expensive, high-end luxury booths aimed at rich business people to smaller venues which can also be fronts for brothels. Also targeted in the ongoing morality campaign are 81,000 internet cafes. The government boasts of having blocked access to banned websites more than 87 million times in 2009.