Throwback Thursday: Navigating the Maze of Chinese TV Censorship


It’s weird, it’s wonderful, it’s a dive into 11 years of blogging archives. It’s Throwback Thursday time …

This Thursday we’re traveling through time to 2011, when the authorities launched a particularly strong offensive on some of our favorite TV shows (don’t tell anyone because time travel is also banned – we’ll talk more about that. late).

Eight years ago, censors were particularly fed up with the depictions of the police, romance and spies on television. The temporary ban was implemented during a “propaganda period” in preparation for the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. As such, the content has been replaced with “a healthy regime of patriotic propaganda that [would] glorify the holiday before the anniversary of July 1, ”including dozens of winning packages that covered“ dramas related to the founding of the holiday ”or“ a comedy about mothers and their daughters-in-law ”. As much as a regime of “dozens” of CCP dramas seems intriguing enough, no one seemed to complain about the ban being lifted after the big day passed.

Since then, Chinese censors have flirted with various other restrictions, ranging from understandable (nudity) to completely ridiculous (man buns) type. Let’s take a look at some of the most fascinating targets over the years.

Costumed dramas
Level: Some restrictions

There is no greater love than that between a Chinese audience and a good old fashioned costume drama. Even if you haven’t watched one yourself and don’t speak Mandarin, there’s a good chance you’ve gained some basic knowledge of at least one love story filled with concubines because everyone looks at them all the time. While regulation is more flexible online, TV stations are only allowed to allocate 15% of their airtime to costume dramas.

In January 2019, some successful costume dramas were dismantled streaming platforms after an article published in Beijing Daily accused the shows of encouraging viewers to pursue glamorous lifestyles and promoting fun above the virtues of hard work.

Then in March 2019, another temporary ban specifically targeting streaming platforms has been implemented. The ban, which will last until June 2019, directly affects costume dramas, with some shows being cut altogether and delaying broadcast dates for others. It is difficult to measure the success of the new regulations; occasional surfing on Youku reveals that at least a few dramas remain available for free streaming.

Neckline and nudity
Level: Strict

What could be better than a costumed drama? A costumed drama drowned in the cleavage, of course. Or at least that was until the government banned that too. The ultra-popular The Empress of China, also known as Wu Zetian Saga, with the non grata persona star Fan Bingbing is seen as the catalyst for this anti-breast regulation. In 2015, the show aired on Hunan TV but was drawn a few days later for “technical reasons”. Technically, it was way too exciting, so when it reappeared on screens, the Tang Dynasty drama lacked its previous oomph, with the revealing cleavage being cropped to only show the faces of the actors. Despite censorship, fans still call him by his nickname Wu’s breast saga.

Nudity has always been a troublesome topic for Chinese censors, and extreme lengths are often needed to protect public morals, like anyone who has watched the Oscar-winning 2017 film Shape of water in mainland cinemas can attest to this. In this case, the censors layered a dark modesty robe resembling a shadow on Sally Hawkins before her escape with the creature from the black lagoon, which led to a series of hilarious parodies.

Time travel
Level: Strict

In our opinion, the time travel regulations should be strict. The potential to alter past and future events by crushing the prehistoric bad mosquito, becoming your own grandfather, or destroying the very fabric of space-time itself is enormous! But we’re talking about real-world apps, not TV shows. Shows involving time travel were banned in China in 2011, and although the ban only applies to a very small portion of TV content, the restriction is still in effect. The reason given by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) for the ban was that time travel dramas “make up myths, have monstrous and strange plots, use tactics absurd and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism, and reincarnation, “which sounds pretty good to us. If you were wondering, reincarnation also benefits from a prohibition of its own. We wonder why this could be.

Men’s earrings
Level: Not clear

There are already a lot of prohibitions, but unfortunately the work of a censor is never finished. At the end of 2018, viewers were faced with a new trend in online streaming services: fuzzy male earlobes. It’s because a new, quite stranger regulation on male earrings came into play as a way to preserve the government’s fragile sexual state, decreeing that Chinese male celebrities were harming the people by being too feminine. However, it was not clear whether the pixelated lobes were the result of an interpretation of the old ‘no obscenity’ regulation that saw masked tattoos, or a direct targeting of the infamous earrings. .

All kidding aside, with each restriction weighing more heavily on the shoulders of the television industry, it really makes it difficult for creators to entertain viewers. Still, netizens, as usual, find the lighter side of the situation, pointing out that many of China’s classic novels, like Travel west or Dream of the red room, would not be suitable for mainland television as they explore themes of superstition, adolescent and extramarital love, reincarnation, revenge and feudal thoughts. If all goes well, maybe it will be again someday.

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Pictures: Candies, CNN

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