What things are currently banned in China?

Previously, I’ve written about the apps that are banned in China.

So today, I thought I’d share with you a broader list of things, events, practices and even cartoon characters that are outlawed in China.

You may be surprised or even a bit shocked!

1. Most foreign films

most foreign films are banned in china

The few foreign films shown in China are usually action flicks. Image by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.

Chinese regulators allow only a handful of foreign movies to be shown in theaters each year. And the number of approved movies keeps dropping.

In 2022, Chinese movie-goers were able to see just 38 foreign films, a sharp fall from 73 in 2021 and 136 in 2019.

Approved films still face the heavy hand of government censors, who cut anything that doesn’t align with traditional Chinese values.

2. Protests and demonstrations

hong kong protest

Outward signs of social unrest are rare in China. Image by Joseph Chan on Unsplash.

China is a socialist country with “Chinese characteristics”. It’s not a democracy.

This means protests and demonstrations get shut down straight away, and the offenders are whisked away by the police.

Any news of the events gets scrubbed from the Chinese internet by censors to prevent further unrest.

Even in Hong Kong, demonstrations are quashed (as you may recall from the pro-democracy protests in recent years).

3. Major foreign websites and apps

Facebook and Instagram are banned in china

Your favorite social media websites are blocked in China. Image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.

As I mentioned at the start, there’s a whole bunch of leading websites and apps that are banned in China.

The main ones include Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, TikTok and X. But even sites like Pinterest and Reddit don’t have the Chinese government’s tick of approval.

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Most major foreign news outlets, such as The Guardian, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the BBC are also blocked in China.

4. Virtual private networks (VPN)

vpn usage is legal but vpn companies can't operate in china

Sign up to a VPN before arriving in China. Image by Privecstasy on Unsplash.

While using a VPN in China to access foreign content is not illegal, VPN companies themselves can’t set up in China and VPN websites are blocked. The local authorities don’t want to encourage uncensored internet access.

So, if you travel to China and want to use all your favorite sites and apps, you’ll need to sign up to the VPN before you arrive.

Check out my review of the best VPNs for China.

5. Prostitution

prostitution is illegal in china but still happens

Prostitution is illegal in China. Image by Ronny 80 on Shutterstock.

Prostitution might be the oldest profession in the world, but it’s illegal in China.

However, this doesn’t mean prostitution doesn’t exist in China. In fact, some observers believe that the sex-work industry is flourishing and always has been.

Many brothels are brazenly located in busy streets but to most people, they look exactly like any other innocuous shop.

6. Pornography

pornography is illegal in china

Porn is forbidden in China. Image by Charlesdeluvio on Unsplash.

Pornography is banned in China too.

The ban ranges from the hardcore stuff to the softer stuff you might see on sites like OnlyFans.

But just like prostitution, Chinese citizens find ways to access porn discreetly and some people have VPNs to help them unblock the restricted content.

7. Violent video games

violent video game resident evil

Violent games have been banned for a few years now. Image by Heather Plew on Pixabay.

China’s Ministry of Culture has banned more than 60 games from being live-streamed on the popular local broadcast platform, Bilibili.

The crackdown affects games deemed too violent or sexualized, or contain elements of gambling.

This includes well-known games like Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto.

8. Unlimited gaming time

china has put a curb on gaming time

Time’s up on unlimited gaming in China. Image by Aslysun on Shutterstock.

Since August 2021, Chinese kids have been banned from gaming for more than three hours a week (you read that right – per week).

As a result, young people in China have curbed their addiction to video games according to the China Game Industry Group Committee, which is affiliated with the gaming regulator.

Leading Chinese app Douyin, which is the local version of TikTok, has also banned under-14s from using the platform for more than 40 minutes a day.

9. Uncensored books

all books go through censorship in china

The Chinese book industry is subject to strict censorship. Image by Andranik Hakobyan on Shutterstock.

Beijing’s tight grip on media extends to books. Every book is screened before publication, and censorship is standard procedure.

Obvious topics that are off limits include critical talk about Tibet, Taiwan, or the Chinese Communist Party. Reporting on the wealth of Chinese officials is also forbidden.

Publishers that ignore the rules are quickly shut down. This leaves authors with a choice – agree to censorship or forfeit access to 1.4 billion potential readers.

10. Online bible sales

online bible sales are one of many things banned in china

You can read the bible in China but you can’t buy one online. Image by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.

There’s no problem owning a copy of the bible in China, but the government makes it hard to actually find one to buy in the first place.

Online sales of the famous book are banned from major e-commerce platforms like JD and Taobao (the Chinese version of Amazon).

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Although church bookstores are still allowed to sell the bible, the clampdown is one small way the government controls religious activities.

11. Traveling without ID

chinese train station booking office

A busy Chinese train station. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

There’s no doubt about it that China has the most impressive and extensive bullet train network in the world.

But you can’t book a train ticket unless you can prove your identity by showing your national ID card, even if you’re traveling just one stop. Similarly, you can’t enter any major tourist attraction.

Where I’m from (Australia), we can travel around our country uninhibited so I find this concept quite strange.

Foreigners who visit China need to have their passport to use the fast-train network and enter tourist attractions.

12. Guns

guns are one of the major things banned in china

Guns don’t have a place in Chinese life. Image by Brett Hondow on Pixabay.

While guns can be found in many homes across the United States, they’re banned from the general public in China.

Harmony is a crucial part of Chinese culture and this means firearms don’t have a place in the culture, despite gunpowder being invented in China.

Gun crime basically doesn’t exist in the country. This is one of the reasons why China is so safe to visit.

13. Marijuana

marijuana warning sign china

Possessing marijuana can send you to jail. Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

Unlike many other countries, China has a tough stance on marijuana.

The country has some of the strictest penalties in the world if you’re caught with the green stuff, and the country’s opaque legal system doesn’t make things easy for offenders either.

Despite this, some Chinese people do use cannabis. In 2018, the official number of users was just 24,000, but in reality this number is probably significantly higher.

14. Same-sex marriage

combined rainbow and chinese flags

Gay Chinese can’t get married. Image by Elif Bayraktar on Shutterstock.

Homosexuality itself isn’t banned in China, though same-sex marriage is.

The role of the traditional family unit is central to Chinese culture and society, and you’re expected to be married to the opposite sex by your late 20s or you’re deemed a “leftover”.

Gay relationships are mostly kept secret in China, and like-minded people find each other via gay apps.

15. Fortune telling

Seeing a fortune teller or Feng Shui master are now banned in China.

But feudal superstitions are still believed and followed, particularly in rural China. And Chinese people still believe in lucky and unlucky numbers.

It’s yet another thing the locals need to be fairly discreet about.

16. Gambling and casinos

gambling is illegal in china

Gambling is underground in China. Image by Stefan Schweihofer on Pixabay.

Gambling and casinos are outlawed in mainland China, and there’s no sign of that changing with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign that aims to clamp down on money laundering.

Macau is the big exception here, which has a different governance system to the mainland.

apps banned in chinaapps banned in china

Like porn and prostitution, underground gambling is common in China (so I’ve heard – I promise I haven’t gambled in China!).

According to Insider, some locals visit mirror gambling websites that change URLs daily.

17. Cryptocurrency

bitcoin is banned in china

You can no longer buy crypto in China. Image by Mc_Cloud on Shutterstock.

In 2021, cryptocurrency including Bitcoin was banned in China.

The People’s Bank of China argues that the ban is to stop financial crime and prevent economic instability, while it pushes the uptake of the Digital Yuan as part of the country’s “common prosperity” initiative.

In a legal loophole, possession of crypto is still permitted as it’s recognized as virtual property under Chinese law.

18. Remembering Tiananmen

Tiananmen Square

The Communist Party of China aims to control the narrative. Image by Kai Song on Pixabay.

On the Chinese internet, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre simply didn’t happen. It’s been scrubbed by censors.

Sometimes though, Chinese celebrities find themselves in hot water by bringing up touchy subjects, and this includes Tiananmen.

For example, influencer Li Jiaqi (known as the “Lipstick King”) mysteriously disappeared for a few months in 2022, following a livestream event where he presented a cake resembling a tank on the anniversary of the massacre.

19. Some foreign celebrities

Brad Pitt was once banned from entering China

Brad Pitt was famously banned from China. Image by DFree on Shutterstock.

A handful of foreign celebrities have been barred from entering China.

The most famous is Brad Pitt, who starred in the movie Seven Years in Tibet which is about the Dalai Lama. The Chinese government condemned the portrayal of its military, and banned Pitt from entering for 20 years (the ban is now lifted).

Other celebs who aren’t likely to get a Chinese visa anytime soon include:

  • Richard Gere
  • Katy Perry
  • Justin Bieber
  • Harrison Ford

You can find out why they’re on the blacklist here.

20. Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh characters

Finding a digital image of Pooh Bear alongside Xi Jinping is impossible in China. Image by Klári Cseke on Pixabay.

This is a rather strange one. Poor old Winnie is censored in China!

He was used in memes a few years ago that mocked President Xi Jinping. Since then, comparison images of Winnie and Xi, as well as various phrases, have been blocked.

The online search results for “winnie the pooh xi jinping” on Bing in China (which is not blocked) are vastly different to those on Google or Bing in your country.

Similarly, Peppa Pig is on China’s ‘naughty list’ for being associated with so-called gangster subculture. Who would have thought?

21. Private mapping

Chinese map showing Guangdong province

Private mapping activities are banned in China. Image by Timfazyl on Shutterstock.

The Chinese authorities want to safeguard national security and the country’s geographic information from prying eyes.

This means private mapping activities are banned in China. People can’t contribute to open-source software like OpenStreetMap (OSM) without risking jail time.

What you see on OSM has been built outside of China (or by those who have risked getting caught within the country).

The best China map apps are therefore the Chinese ones, which make it hard for foreign tourists wanting to use accurate English maps in the country.

Don’t let the things banned in China bother you

If you’re planning a trip to China, don’t let these things bother you too much.

China is an amazing place to visit and the people are happy, despite the Western stereotypes and negative media stories.

Just remember to get your VPN before you go. At least you’ll be able to share your awesome photos on social media sites!

Now you know about the main things banned in China, what do you think? Did any surprise you? Please share your thoughts in the comments. And don’t forget to check out the list of banned apps in China for more insights.

Main image credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

FAQ about things banned in China

What is illegal in China?

Prostitution, possessing drugs and firearms, and gambling (except in Macau) are examples of illegal activities in China.

Is Facebook banned in China?

Yes, it is.

Is YouTube banned in China?

Yes, it is.

Is homosexuality banned in China?

No, it isn’t. However, homosexuality and same-sex relationships are practised discreetly in China.

Is the bible banned in China?

No, it isn’t. While you won’t see bibles widely available in China, you can still have a personal copy.

Is the TV show ‘Friends’ banned in China?

No, it isn’t. However, it’s censored like all foreign TV shows that air in China.

Is the Big Bang Theory banned in China?

No, it isn’t. However, it’s censored like all foreign TV shows that air in China.