Internal memo reveals tighter regulations on Chinese films and television dramas

Society & Culture

Censorship of Chinese films and TV programs has been bad recently, and it’s about to get worse. That’s the takeaway from an internal document circulating in the Chinese entertainment industry.

The memo (in Chinese), obtained and shared by WeChat blogger Xiaode Zhang 晓得张, is allegedly from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (see this piece on recent developments at the organization known as SAPPRFT).

In the document, the government encourages content that showcases “people’s happiness” and features important upcoming events, such as the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the PRC in 2019, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s 100th anniversary in 2021.

Types of content that are discouraged or subject to extra scrutiny include history, the military, and revolution. Creators are forbidden from making “subversive adaptations” of historical events and content should be in line with the official narratives of historical figures. Creators are also advised to focus on lives of average people and avoid broad issues of social order and the national situation.

Some other regulations include:

  • Don’t glorify the Republic of China, the Beiyang government, and its warlords.
  • Coming-of-age stories should avoid romance, crime, and violence.
  • Crime stories need to get approved by the Ministry of Public Security and may not contain too many details about the crime.
  • Celebrities who have been caught in drug or sex scandals should not be featured.
  • Homosexuality is respected, but gay-themed content or gay characters are not allowed.
  • Don’t promote weapons or wars. Don’t depict Western countries as imaginary enemies.
  • Stories can be adapted from games, but game players cannot be main characters.

The memo also encourages self-censorship. “To avoid potential risks of being censored, ask friends to review your work first,” it says.

But even before the release of such a document, pressures of tightening censorship have certainly been felt in the industry. In March, the Beijing International Film Festival pulled gay romance Call Me By Your Name from its program. In the same month, the media authorities released an urgent notice to ban “defaming, distorting, and parodying” classic TV shows and films. Recently, British cartoon character Peppa Pig was in trouble due to its metaphorical association with the subculture of gangsters.