Midjourney Bans Image Generation with Xi Jinping Globally after Pressure from Beijing
Chinese President’s name blocked as a search term worldwide
Decision to Restrict Access
In an effort to balance the freedom to create caricatures with the ability for Chinese users to access Midjourney, CEO David Holz announced the decision to no longer allow the generation of images featuring Xi Jinping. The Chinese President and Communist Party leader’s name has been blocked as a prompt, not only for users in China but also for those around the world.
Attempting to generate an image using the term “Jinping” results in a warning message stating that the phrase is forbidden and that circumventing the filter to break the rules may lead to access deactivation.
Protecting Access in China, Not Profits
Holz claims that the decision is about maintaining access to Midjourney in China rather than financial gain. Critics argue that blocking Midjourney in China would significantly reduce the platform’s current and potential customer base.
AI researcher Henry Ajder, based in the UK, believes that this decision makes it harder for Chinese activists to create critical content both inside and outside China. Ajder also accuses Holz of “double standards” since leaders like Joe Biden, Olaf Scholz, and Emmanuel Macron do not face similar restrictions.
Midjourney has previously been used by critics to create images featuring Xi Jinping alongside Winnie The Pooh, a character that became a vehicle for criticism of the Chinese leader due to perceived similarities. As a result, both the film “Christopher Robin” and the character were banned in China.
Circumventing the Ban
The prompt ban is not foolproof, as users have found ways around it by using alternative terms like “Chinese Prime Minister.” However, doing so risks losing access to Midjourney’s image AI. The platform emphasizes in its guidelines that it reserves the right to enforce rules at its discretion, stating, “We are not a democracy. Behave respectfully or lose your right to use the service.”
This is not the first time Midjourney has blocked terms. Following the spread of fake images depicting Donald Trump’s arrest, the platform tightened its restrictions. Inputs on topics like Afghanistan are also blocked, and certain style preferences are ignored at the request of contemporary artists.
Alternatives to Midjourney
While Midjourney is widely regarded as the best image generator, alternatives like Stable Diffusion, an open and freely usable AI model, are available. This model can be accessed via various online platforms or even run locally on personal computers without a cloud system connection.
Several specialized versions of Stable Diffusion are designed to mimic Midjourney’s style, and content restrictions are not imposed on many online services that use this model. Even Dream Studio, the official web tool of Stable Diffusion’s creators, Stability AI, allows prompts featuring Xi Jinping without issue. Restrictions on this platform are mostly limited to sexual content.