Censors lay down the law in China

After banning their hottest film star, Chinese publish list of what is not allowed on screen. By Clifford Coonan

In a move unusual for its frankness, China's film censors have quietly released their private list of what is not acceptable on screen. And it is not a short one.

It emerged soon after the blacklisting of Tang Wei, the country's hottest rising star, whose performance electrified Ang Lee's Golden Lion-winning erotic thriller Lust, Caution. In response to the fuss, China's top regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), released on its website a detailed list of censorship criteria.

As so often, the index of censors' dislikes provides a fascinating insight into the dark desires of the general populace. China is a deeply formal society, reserved, even prudish, on matters sexual, although growing openness in society has led to greater permissiveness. Directors must not produce films that depict hardcore sexual activity, rape, prostitution or nudity. "Vulgar dialogue or music and sound effects with a sexual connotation" are also out.

Any content involving "murder, violence, horror, evil spirits and devils and excessively terrifying scenes, conversations, background music and sound effects" is banned. The list forbids films that "distort the civilisation and history of China or other nations ... or ... tarnish the image of revolutionary leaders, heroes, important historic characters, members of the armed forces, police and judicial bodies."

Other banned subjects include the reconstruction of crimes or films that reveal police investigatory techniques. Movies that advocate nihilism, environmental damage, animal abuse and the capture or killing of rare animals will also be on the censor's list.

Tight censorship of films, newspapers, books and magazines is one of the ways the Communist Party in China maintains its grip on power. But there was general bafflement about Tang's blacklisting and no explanation – all she knew was that a multi-million-yuan cold cream advertisement she had starred in had been pulled. Other actors wonder why the Taiwanese director Ang Lee didn't get punished, but as an adviser to the Olympic Games he is too high profile to be censured, particularly so soon after Steven Spielberg quit over China's role in Darfur.

SARFT says that its rules are aimed at "purifying screen entertainment" and "creating a more harmonious and green film environment for the public, especially children".

China's censorship system is rigorous but opaque, and while many of the categories are already an open secret, it is unusual to see the criteria spelt out so publicly. It is significant that the list was made available as China's political leaders were gathered in Beijing for the country's annual parliament, the National People's Congress.

Most Chinese movies that British audiences see are banned in China – even directors such as Zhang Yimou, who is orchestrating the opening ceremony of the Beijing games, spent years in the wilderness on the wrong side of the censor, until he started making more nationalistic fare such as Hero.

Film directors in China often complain that they do not know why their films are banned. Censorship councils are composed of people from all walks of life, and often a film can be banned over something that offends a local representative of a farming organisation from some remote province who has been appointed to watch the movie. The rules were changed a few years ago so that a film-maker could submit the script of a film for approval before shooting, rather than wait until later to be banned, but even if censors pass the script, it is no guarantee that the final picture will make the grade.

Many people in the business in China want a film classification system, something that is currently lacking. This way, children would be forbidden from seeing the raunchy Lust, Caution but adults could still watch grown-up films. However, even that limited form of self-regulation is unlikely anytime soon – a film industry executive said bringing in a film classification system in China would be like "legalising pornography".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific