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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Implementation Engineer

£150 - £200 per day: Orgtel: Implementation Engineer Hampshire / London (Gre...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Pharmacuetical

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Real Staffing, one of the UK'...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform