Pictured: Honkai Impact 崩坏3 (bēnghuài), one of the games punished for inappropriate content. All story links in Chinese unless otherwise specified
Two weeks ago, China’s Ministry of Culture announced that it was ratcheting up its supervision of China’s booming online video game market. As part of its sweep, 50 mobile games were selected for a “full-on body search” to ensure that there was no content deemed “violent, obscene, or harmful to social values.”
According to entertainment outlet Yuledujiaoshou, 41 companies have already been punished for including prohibited content in their games. Among the different genres, anime games are likely to suffer the most from the ministry’s increased scrutiny, because they are most likely to use sexually suggestive content to cater to their predominantly male players.
In June, Bloomberg reported that China’s video game market had surpassed the U.S. to become the largest in the world. But as China’s gaming market has grown over the years, so has the administration’s oversight of its industry.
Two months ago, the video game branch of the China Audio-Video Copyright Association announced that the survival game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) was unlikely to obtain a license in China due to to its excessive violence and gore, and its promotion of values that were “detrimental to the mental development of its young consumers.” The government’s regulations, nonetheless, have not dissuaded some domestic game developers. According to Quartz, Chinese tech company NetEase made overhauls to Wilderness Action (荒野行动 huāngyě xíngdòng), a copycat version of PUBG, to make sure that their game could pass muster. As a gesture of obeisance, NetEase filled the game with banners extolling nationalist values such as “Safeguard national security, safeguard world peace,” and even included the latest catchphrases by Chinese leader Xi Jinping — “Never forget why you started, and you can accomplish your mission” — lifted directly from his Communist Party congress speech this year.
CCTV show about China’s national treasures is a surprise hit
At first glance, National Treasure (国家宝藏 guójiā bǎozàng), a CCTV-produced variety show that teaches audiences about the history of ancient Chinese relics, doesn’t seem to possess the necessary ingredients to be a hit. It’s neither a historical drama nor an idol drama, two of the more popular forms of programming in Chinese television. And compared to The Rap of China (中国有嘻哈 zhōngguó yǒu xīhā), a reality competition show that took China by storm in the summer, the artifacts spotlighted in National Treasure hardly seem like they’d resonate with China’s younger audiences.
And yet, somehow, National Treasure works. After two episodes — the show premiered last Sunday — National Treasure has already accumulated more than 1.8 million views on streaming website Bilibili, which is popular with millennials. The show boasts an enviable 9.3 rating on Douban, one of China’s most popular review websites.
Media outlets like Zhipianquan have pointed out that high production value, along with the show’s digital distribution on Bilibili, may have helped National Treasure reach younger audiences more effectively than any previous shows produced by CCTV, China’s state television broadcaster. According to Sixth Tone, National Treasure managed to avoid the usual pitfalls of other history shows by balancing hard historical facts with entertaining skits featuring famous stars like Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Ka-Fai (梁家辉 Liáng Jiāhuī). And so, by being unafraid to be more playful in its reenactments, National Treasure has managed the near impossible: It is a state television-produced show about culture and history that actually pleases younger audiences.
Watch the series premiere here.
Historical dramas, on the other hand, may want to watch out
There’s concern that China’s media regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), might further clampdown on historical and idol dramas in the coming year. This rumor started last week when a message detailing SAPPRFT’s new policies on TV content began to circulate in private WeChat groups. Representatives from the TV bureau of the organization have since denied the veracity of the message, but if the rumors turn out to be true, period dramas and idol dramas will likely be facing one of the most severe crackdowns thus far.
According to the message, period dramas that “distort” historical events will no longer be allowed to air on China’s province-level satellite TV stations. The number of idol dramas that can be shown on satellite TV channels will also be restricted, as new policies from SAPPRFT specify that idol dramas cannot account for more than 10 percent of a station’s scripted television programming. In lieu of historical and idol dramas, SAPPRFT is working to encourage the production of film and TV content that is more “patriotic” and “realist” in content and tone.
One of the reasons the rumor gained such traction is because the policies delineated in the message can be read as extensions of already extant regulations. Earlier this year, SAPPRFT ordered TV stations to stop airing period dramas and dramas starring young idols. TV stations were instructed to instead air government-approved propagandistic dramas in preparation for the Communist Party’s National Congress and the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army, the two most important political events of the year.