News / Asia

Chinese Movie Industry Debates Proposal to End Censorship

An actor dressed as an Eighth Route Army soldier waves after a performance at the Eighth Route Army Culture Park, one of two theme parks, in Wuxiang county, north China's Shanxi province, October 20, 2012.
An actor dressed as an Eighth Route Army soldier waves after a performance at the Eighth Route Army Culture Park, one of two theme parks, in Wuxiang county, north China's Shanxi province, October 20, 2012.
For a country that wants to project "soft power," China is wrestling with how to reconcile its censorship system with the need to create films the world will want to watch.

Xie Fei, a professor at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, recently sparked a debate on government control over the film industry when he called for abolishing the country’s censorship procedures in favor of a movie rating system similar to that used in the United States.

“In the past few years, there were so many unwritten laws when censoring movies,” Xie wrote in an open letter that was reposted tens of thousands of times online. “Unwritten laws such as: ‘ghosts are not allowed in contemporary settings,’ ‘extramarital affairs are not allowed,’ ‘certain political incidents are not allowed,’ etc. The censorship system [in China] is not defined by law, but done according to individuals.”

Such rules, Xie wrote, are “killing artistic exploration.”

According to Xie, several directors had been ostracized because of the subjects they chose for their early films. Among them, Zhang Yuan, whose 1993 independent film, Beijing Bastards, depicted the life of Beijing’s disaffected youth. Censors banned the movie, and Zhang was prohibited from making films in China for the next 7 years.
 
In a microblog, Zhang expressed gratitude. “Thank you old Xie," he wrote, "for letting out such a mighty voice.  Xie represents our rallying cries.”

Increased competition

Beijing-based filmmaker Dayyan Eng, who reposted Xie Fei’s comments on his microblog account, says that with more foreign films entering the domestic market, local directors struggle to compete. He blames it partly on the censorship system.

“It's [Censorship] restricting what we can make. And I think that everyone has been finding out, especially this year, because the local films have been killed by Hollywood,” Eng says.  

Although Chinese lawmakers recognize that domestic films are facing increasing pressure to compete with foreign films, they did not directly respond to Xie Fei's suggestions that a U.S.-style rating system was better than China's censorship rules.

The Chinese government protects its local film industry by imposing a quota of foreign movies allowed in China each year.  The number was increased in February from 20 to 34.
 
In addition, movie theaters are financially rewarded for choosing to show local films. But, according to official statistics, the share of Chinese-made movies has dropped this year to 41.4 percent of total ticket sales.
 
“If Hollywood is allowed to make whatever they want, and actually most of them, the big budget ones anyway, are being shown in China, we are at a disadvantage because the system that’s in place to regulate or censor this things is not the same for Chinese films and for Hollywood films,” Eng says.

Eng's latest film, Inseparable, was the first wholly local production to feature a Hollywood star, Kevin Spacey. Eng says the censorship system influenced the way he wrote his movie.

“When I first started out doing the story and writing the script and even up to shooting and editing it, in a way I have to censor myself a little bit. For example, there would be certain scenes I want to do, but I would think ‘Maybe it is not going to pass the censorship if I do it this way, if I go too far' so I tend to pull myself back little bit,” he explains.

China's dragon seal

Prior to distribution in Chinese theaters, all screenplays in China must be approved by the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), a censorship body established after the Communist Party took power to ensure that cultural products were in accord with the ideological and political aims of the party.

SARFT does not publicly disclose the details of its decisions, but it gives a list of general, prohibited themes. They range from criticism of social order and the government to topics that “tempt people’s degeneration.”

Recent calls to abolish the "shencha," as the censorship process is called in Chinese, and substitute it with a rating system are not new.

Similar proposals surfaced in 2007, after nude scenes in the Ang Lee film Lust Caution were cut before the film's release in China.

As early as 2004, Chinese media reported that a rating system would "come out soon," but in 2010 they quoted a senior official from SARFT saying that such a system would not be "appropriate" for China.  

Online discussion

But now, with a growing number of actors, directors and producers sharing their views online, it has become easier for critical voices to contribute to the national discussion. Last September, Director Lou Ye publicized his frustration over cuts SARFT requested for his latest film.
 
“We must not be afraid of movies! Movies are not so scary, and not so important,” Lou wrote on his microblog account. “If a country, a system feels frightened by movies, it definitely is not because the movie is strong, but it is because they [the country and the system] are weak.”

Film producer Robert Cain has consulted Hollywood and Chinese studios on co-productions since 1987. He says that by not establishing a rating system, the Chinese government is patronizing its public.

“There is no need to treat everyone in China like a child or an infant that can be hurt by certain topics in movies,” Cain says.  He adds that censors could still retain political control over the content but make allowances on other themes.

“Everyone knows that people have sex, everyone knows that crime takes place and it seems very hypocritical to me that the government wants to pretend -- at least in films -- that these things don't happen in China.”

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video Empire State Building Highlights Cecil the Lion

People gathered in streets and rooftops in Manhattan to see the image highlights that covered 33 floors of the building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Wangchuk from: NYC
January 04, 2013 10:06 AM
Censorship is unconstitutional under the PRC Constitution but since when has that ever stopped the CCP who acts above the law? The Chinese communists don't believe in free speech for Chinese people and that includes their movie industry. Censorship of the media & film will continue as long as the CCP dictatorship rules China. And Mr. Huang is just another 50 Cent Party member paid by the CCP to come to their online defense.

by: Doug Shear
January 03, 2013 5:17 PM
Great article on Chinese censorship. As my partner and I are completing a Chinese screenplay called Eye of the Wind, it helps to know the direction the Chinese film industry is heading. I admire the Chinese filmmakers who manage to survive in such a repressive environment.

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
December 31, 2012 12:44 PM
Dont blame everything on the system when yourself is incompetent. Tell me there are Hollywood movies and Chiese movies in the same theatre, why yours are less popular? Why the Hollywood movies can pass Chinese censor but you can't? Be smart!
Wake up, if you cant produce Avatar, it is because you are stupid not because the censorship. There are twilight, harry porter, skyfall, titanic, avatar, the lord of rings, star wars, they all show in Chinese theatres. there are vast topics and stories for you to make good movies, and your tiny brain has to focus on anti-CCP? on pornography?
In Response

by: Robert from: 3rd world usa
January 02, 2013 5:44 AM
I was under the impression they did make avatar dvd's by the boat load. Never saw the other ones so can't comment on them. Problem is also getting them out of the country so we can see them. Maybe they should look at the home movie market instead and release "directors" cuts of the films.
I do wonder if they mean they want a ratings board that is corrupt and crooked like the US has, or like it is supposed to be set up in the US? I loved the movie "This Film has Not Been Rated"

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs