Screenplay Censorship Cancellation: Old Wine In a New Bottle
China’s State Council has reconstructed its State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). A new film censorship regulation was announced on July 18. Censorship for “general-topic” film scripts is cancelled.
In other fields including publishing, TV, and journalism, censorship is also lifted, to some extent. However, the cancellation is actually putting old wine into a new bottle, which existed as early as in 2006. Cultural professionals speculate that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities are trying to revitalize an ailing economy, by appearing to relax cultural market constraints.
On July 17, a new regulation on SARFT administration and function adjustment was officially released. It cancels 21 original functions of the SARFT, and decentralizes another eight.
Back in March, the CCP new administration initiated a Big-Ministry Reconstruction. The role of the newly formed SARFT has changed accordingly. Now only film synopses, instead of full scripts, have to be submitted for film shooting approval.
However, an earlier regulation on screenplay registration, and film administration, recorded the same content, which took effect in June 2006. Since then, film censorship by the CCP authorities has never been relaxed in practice.
Yang Weidong, Beijing independent filmmaker, has been suppressed for years by the CCP. He had shot a large-scale documentary film —— “The Need".
Yang Weidong: “CCP authorities accused me of affecting national and political security negatively, since I had interviewed lots of “sensitive” figures. The censorship has lasted for nearly two years, but I still have no result.”
Yang, aged 47, has interviewed about 260 people from all sectors of China’s society since 2008. He wants, by means of interviews and documentary film, to reflect social values, and to report on people’s views on faith and freedom.
But what is a “general” topic? And what is a “non-general” topic? Neither of these two categories has been clearly defined by the authorities.
Yang Weidong: “There’re no clear criteria available. If the film violates CCP interests, it will just be put into a sensitive-category, and censored."
The CCP’s suppression of film makers and its censorship of film have long existed in China. Most mainland filmmakers have always suffered in silence. So far, this “old wine in a new bottle” has sparked different reactions.
Ye Kuangzheng, cultural critic and poet in China, says it seems to lift a ban on scripts’ censorship. Yet, when a dispute arises during film censorship, producers had no traceable criteria to rely upon.
Ye Kuangzheng: “It doesn’t mean that rule of the censorship based on the censors’ systematic thinking or examination. In fact, when an order of censorship issued, you need to balance the views of all parties, finally, the approved scenes often lose implicit logical links.”
(Poet, China) Li Nan: “I think this may be a compromise by several different parties.”
In China, under the harsh film censorship system, there have been very few truth-telling directors. In order to survive, many directors have been forced to accustom themselves to self-discipline.
(ex-editor, Hebei state radio) Zhu Xinxin: “Outwardly, China’s cultural market is quite vigorous. Actually it’s full of products of poor quality and topical repetition. Room for creativity is very limited, and neither are audiences satisfied. Such a market is warped and bound to be contracted. “
On the eve of June 4th, Du Bin, freelance photographer with the New York Times, was detained in China. He was the director of a documentary film, “Wowem Above Ghosts’ Heads”, and the author of a book, “Tiananmen Massacre”. The CCP authorities have charged him with “suspicion of disturbing public order”. Currently, Du Bin has been released on bail.
Zhu Xinxin comments on the CCP’s “new-bottle” announcement of the cancellation of film script censorship. It is to stimulate the economy by appearing to relax constraints on the cultural market, Zhu says. Whilst films on sensitive topics will still be censorship candidates, Zhu believes.