American Businesses in Chinese Markets: Is free speech really free?



Protesters rally in support of Houston Rockets manager Daryl Morey and against basketball player LeBron James in Hong Kong, China, 15 October 2019.

Colton Kersey, Opinions Editor

Recent apologies from big American corporations to the Chinese government are making Americans wonder if the content they are watching is even made for them.

For the uninformed, Hong Kong is currently in the middle of mass protests as they struggle to retain independence from the mainland Chinese government. These protests are a fight for democracy, so it’s no surprise that some people would come out in support for Hong Kong. While individuals feel free to express their opinions, big companies have gone silent.

But their actions speak louder than their words.

Such is the case with Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey. Morey recently tweeted in support for the Hong Kong protesters and the Chinese Basketball Association and other Chinese companies quickly denounced and severed ties with the Houston Rockets.

A similar case was present when professional Hearthstone gamer Blitzchung said live on stream, “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our age!” Blizzard-Activision, the company behind Hearthstone and the tournament, responded by giving Blitzchung a one year ban and redacting his prize money. After outrage from fans Blitzchung’s ban was shortened to six months and his prize money restored.

After late-night talk show personality John Oliver pointed out China’s President Xi’s resemblance to Winnie the Pooh, both John Oliver and images of Winnie the Pooh were banned in by the Chinese Government.

American companies are currently too scared to voice their opinions on Hong Kong fearing that the Chinese government will ban them and they will lose all the profit that can come from the massive Chinese market. 

Not all companies are bending the knee to China, however. South Park the popular late-night satire show was recently banned in China for their controversial episode ironically named “Banned in China” in which the show criticized the Chinese government and the American companies that support China. South Park dug themselves in the hole more when the released a spoof apology to the Chinese government saying, “We too love money more than freedom.”

Some individuals have been banned in China for far less. Zedd, a popular DJ was banned in China for simply liking a South Park Tweet. And PewDiePie, one of the largest channels on YouTube was completely removed from the Chinese internet for viewing memes of President Xi Jinping as Winnie the Pooh.

While individuals feel that they can openly express their views on Chinese government, businesses must remain quiet to sell to the Chinese market, which begs the question: is free speech free?