TV censorship rearing its ugly head again in China

February 02, 2018 13:11
The Rap of China, a music reality show, is the latest victim of the government's relentless TV censorship.  Photo: Facebook

For mainlanders who are old enough to have a firsthand experience of the Cultural Revolution, they can probably still remember that the only form of mass entertainment to which they had access was the “revolutionary model operas” and the only book they were allowed to read was Chairman Mao’s Quotations, also known as The Little Red Book, plus some other books for practical purposes.

But they would be dead wrong to think that those days have long been gone. Under President Xi Jinping, China is witnessing a massive return to the leftist track in almost every aspect of society.

Under such tense political atmosphere, the Communist Party is once again tightening its grip on ideology across the nation, and this includes enforcing the strictest TV censorship in decades.

The result is that anything and anyone going against the party line or socialist values will have to go off the air immediately.

To give readers an idea of how strict that censorship has been, here are a few examples:

A few years ago, the producers of a big-hit historical drama, The Empress of China, were ordered by the communist authorities to re-edit the series and remove all close-ups showing the cleavage of female characters.

The once highly popular reality show, Dad, Where Are We Going?, was banned from national TV on the grounds that the program “is consuming the children of celebrities”.

Recently, the authorities have issued an official order banning word games and even the use of connotations on TV shows because, as mainland officialdom has put it, they “violate the values and spirit of the marvelous cultural heritage of China”.

The latest victim of the relentless TV censorship was a music reality show produced by known as The Rap of China, the show has become a huge sensation among young viewers since its national premiere last year.

However, the show has recently come under enormous fire from the Communist Youth League of China and other official mouthpieces such as the China Women’s News and because a song written a few years ago, The Christmas Night, by one of the show’s champions, PG One, was found by netizens to contain offensive material about sex and drugs.

As a result, not only was PG One’s work banned, the entire western hip-hop culture is now under rigorous scrutiny by the authorities.

Meanwhile, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has explicitly required TV networks across the nation to ban artists who have tattoos on their bodies from appearing on their programs.

Also banned are elements of hip-hop culture, subculture and “decadent culture”.

Meanwhile, the SAPPRFT has also issued the “Absolute 4-Nos” principle regarding the choice of celebrity guests appearing on TV programs.

Under this principle, four types of artists or celebrities should never be allowed to appear on TV shows: 1. actors and actresses who are disaffected with the Communist Party and who are morally corrupt; 2. artists who often make salacious, filthy and repulsive jokes; 3. performers who are ideologically low-end; and 4. those who are ridden with moral issues such as having been involved in sex scandals.

If the “Absolute 4 Nos” principle is strictly enforced, perhaps only the entertainment soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army propaganda unit can meet all the requirements and appear on national TV.

The edict also covers actors, actresses and singers from Hong Kong and Taiwan as many of them have been aggressively eyeing the mainland market in recent years and have gained both fame and fortune by starring in mainland TV dramas and movies, and appearing on TV reality shows.

Apparently, many of them would be banned from mainland national TV under that principle, too.

As we all know, most of these entertainers have very little, if not zero, understanding of the essence of communism. The majority of them are likely to be “ideologically low-end” since all they want to do is make money.

The problem is, show business is not only a multibillion-dollar industry in its own right, but is also the embodiment of a country’s “soft power”.

The thriving entertainment industry of Hong Kong 20 years ago and the present “Korean wave” are all textbook examples of how showbiz can help promote the culture and international image of a city or a country.

That the communist officialdom is imposing its autocratic will on the mainland entertainment industry would only further strangle whatever innovation and creativity mainland TV program producers might still have.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor