A screenshot of Youku.com
A screenshot of Youku.com REUTERS

China’s ongoing crackdown on foreign entertainment is expanding to include content from Korea, Japan and Thailand in what could be interpreted as an act of self-censorship by websites.

Video hosting websites Youku, iQiyi and others have opted out of buying redistribution licenses for several popular international television programs from the U.S., the U.K. and various Asian countries. A report by Caijing, a Chinese financial publication, found that 80 percent of Japanese and Korean anime shows slated to begin broadcast in July haven't yet sold licensing or rebroadcast rights to Chinese video sites, which had previously constituted a lucrative market for such content. Shows that are set to premiere later in the year have reportedly seen even less interest from Chinese streaming sites.

On Weibo, some users expressed worry that the most recent standoff is the result of continued Chinese government efforts to limit foreign influence.

“F---. Another Cultural Revolution?” one blogger wrote.

“And so the Cultural Revolution has begun…,” another blogger said, in a reference to the 1960s Communist movement that violently expunged foreign influence from China and led to the deaths of millions of Chinese citizens.

Several fans of shows that will no longer be available for streaming on Chinese websites expressed their disappointment in the government’s inability to trust its citizens.

“We have the ability to distinguish right from wrong, we put up with censorship and deleting Internet posts and we’ve stopped caring about not being able to use Facebook and Twitter,” one fan wrote. “But blocking foreign TV from us? … Establishing dignity doesn’t come from reducing our worldview.”

While streaming sites allowed legal access to foreign content, the recent content ban will not stop most fans from getting their shows elsewhere, and in fact, the prohibition only hurts the business of streaming sites.

“Banning or no banning, it actually makes little difference to real fans,” one blogger wrote. “The real pity is that these Web portals went through a lot of difficulty to build awareness of copyrights among users, and suddenly we are put back to square one.”

The report does not specify the government's new directives regarding foreign TV content, but it implied that officials are behind the restriction. Last month, Chinese authorities pulled several popular American TV shows from local video streaming host websites, including popular shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Good Wife.”

A spokeswoman for Youku.com, one of the leading video streaming portals, told the Associated Press that it received a notification from the country’s media censorship bureau, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, ordering the removal of several foreign programs, without offering a reason. Similar recent orders were issued to other sites, including Sohu.com.