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China censors Oscar for Chloe Zhao, who made history

Chloe Zhao’s historic Oscar success, winning best director and best film, is being met with a silent response in her country of birth, and even censorship.

Zhao’s “Nomadland” is the second film directed by a woman to win the Oscar for best film. She is the first black woman and the second woman to win the Oscar for best director.

Still, in China, where Zhao was born, his historic success has not been touted or celebrated. State media in China remained silent until Monday afternoon, with no mention of their victory by CCTV and Xinhua, the two main state vehicles.

Instead, there was even censorship. A post announcing Zhao’s victory in the direction of the cinema magazine Watch Movies, which has more than 14 million followers on the ubiquitous Weibo microblog, was censored just hours after it appeared on Monday morning. A hashtag called “Chloe Zhao wins the best director” was also censored on the platform, with users receiving an error message saying, “according to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the page was not found”.

Some users resort to using “zt” to post about Zhao, using the initials of his full Chinese name, Zhou Ting. Typing Zhou’s Chinese name on Weibo brought only unrelated posts from early April. A search for “Oscars” showed only official posts from the embassies of South Korea and the United States.

Douban, a popular application among film buffs, banned searches for “Nomadland” and “Zhao Ting”, saying that “search results could not be displayed in accordance with relevant laws and regulations”. Several discussion threads about Zhao’s victory were excluded from the app as well. News about WeChat, the largest messaging app in the country, was also deleted.

Still, news of his victories spread across the Chinese internet, with individual web users and bloggers rooting for Zhao. Many took note of her acceptance speech, in which Zhao quoted a line from a poem written in the 13th century that she, like many other Chinese children, had memorized as a child, which translates as, “People are good at birth.”

In contrast, South Korea’s Youn Yuh-jung, who won over the audience by playing his grandmother in “Minari”, can still be searched on the Chinese internet. Youn won the award for best supporting actress, becoming the first Korean artist to win an Oscar.

And at Youn’s home in South Korea, “Actor Youn Yuh-jung” topped Twitter’s trend list, while other South Korean celebrities quickly congratulated him. Lee Byung-hun, a South Korean actor known abroad for his role as “Storm Shadow” on the “G.I. Joe, ”posted a photo of Youn holding an Oscar trophy. “Impossible is just an opinion,” he wrote in the post. Bae Doona from the acclaimed Netflix series “Kingdom” and a well-known South Korean actor Kim Hye-soo also congratulated Youn on his social media accounts.

Zhao faced a nationalist backlash in March, when he won a Golden Globe for best director, with netizens in China questioning whether she could be called Chinese and some saying she insulted her country in comments about the political system. China’s press, television and social media are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, either directly or through self-censorship, and online criticism can often result in requests for boycotts by famous artists or brands.

Before the March reaction, the film was scheduled to be released on April 23 in China, according to local media, but it was not released last week and there was no official word on the release. Officials at two cinemas in Beijing said they were unaware of the film’s upcoming screenings.

However, offline, some celebrated Zhao’s victory and congratulated him.

“Wow, how amazing_ to win the most important award in the world as a Chinese,” said Zhou Lu, 35, who worked for a publisher in Beijing. She said she had never heard of Zhao before, but planned to watch the movie.

Others pointed out that nationalism should not take place in the discussion about the film.

“Your victory is well deserved and has nothing to do with your country or ethnicity,” said Victory Dong, a 19-year-old university student who uses Douban.

But Dong felt no particular connection to Zhao based solely on his country of birth. “She is a global citizen, I am not.”

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