Chinese television fans furious after big-budget costume drama censored for too much cleavage

Viewers feel that the censorship of The Saga of Wu Zetian was a step too far

Rose Troup Buchanan
Tuesday 13 January 2015 17:09
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The images before and after censorship
The images before and after censorship

Chinese television lovers are furious after one of the most popular shows on appears to have been censored – for showing too much cleavage.

The Empress of China, a big-budget costume drama following the life of China’s only empress Wu Zetian, was mysteriously taken off air on 21 December before reappearing with a few crucial changes.

Fans have noted that wider shots, displaying – among other things – the sumptuous costumes of the period drama have been replaced by closely cropped images focused on the face of actress Fan Bingbing.

The drama, also known as The Saga of Wu Zetian, and broadcast on Hunan Satellite Television, is among the most expensive TV programme ever made in the country, costing a reported 300 million yuan and featuring over 3,000 costumes.

Renamed by social media bloggers as The Saga of Wu’s Breasts, viewers have taken to social media to complain.

“The show was so beautiful! It’s the Tang dynasty — the characters are supposed to have plump bosoms! Now you’ve cut it so all that’s left is a big head. Thumbs down,” wrote one user on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular social media network.

Historical dramas have been a long-standing mainstay of Chinese television, and had neatly avoided any ideological problems presented by the current political mood – until now.

China’s broadcasting censors, who examine every drama prior to its release, have previously banned a range of behaviours on the nation’s TVs - including adultery, sexual abuse, nudity, ghosts, murder, rape, suicide, gambling and drug uses – but the latest changes appear to have gone too far.

Blogger and newspaper columnist Jin Ge told the BBC, “I hope that the administrators realise they are making fools of themselves.”

He added: “The people feel like they are being treated like children.”

Cropping the shots has also provoked a debate about the historical accuracy of the show, with some viewers claiming that the lower the dress of a woman during the Tang dynasty (AD 618 to 907) the higher their status.

These claims have been refuted by a historical expert from Tsinghua University, who told the Global Times that although women were free to wear low cut dresses during the period, their breast were not deliberately squeezed together as appears in contemporary films.

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