Censor’s cleavage cuts in Chinese TV costume drama spark calls for rating system
Calls for a rating system for Chinese television dramas have grown after online backlash over censors cutting all cleavage from scenes in a popular TV drama about China’s only female emperor.
The drama, The Empress of China, also known as the Saga of Wu Zetian – renamed “The Saga of Wu’s Breasts” by social media bloggers – was pulled from the schedules of commercial satellite station Hunan TV for “technical reasons” late last month, Xinhua reported.
When it returned a few days later, the show, starring the famous Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in the title role of Wu Zetian – who ruled in the Tang dynasty (618-907) – had been conspicuously edited.
Scenes of female characters, with cleavage showing dressed in period costume, had been cropped out – leaving only close-ups of their heads.
Mainland media said it showed it was time to introduce a rating system for TV dramas; China also has no rating system covering films released in cinemas, which are reviewed and sometimes re-edited before screening.
Some social media bloggers also argued that the drama had been too sexy for children who were watching the show.
The Global Times insisted that a system of control was necessary. “The reality is that censorship exists in many countries and it is unlikely to be reversed in China,” it wrote.
An editorial on the bjnews.com, the website of The Beijing News, said the lack of any rating system was the reason why the drama had been censored.
He also argued that audiences could watch an unedited version of programmes on the internet even if a TV version was edited.
Changes to The Empress of China sparked fury among mainland internet users, who argued that censors had gone too far.
An online survey released by the Sina Weibo microblogging service on Monday found that nearly 95 per cent of respondents disapproved of the censorship of The Empress of China.
Some mainland bloggers, who renamed the drama “The Saga of Wu’s Squeezed Breasts”, mocked the decision by censors.
They circulated a series of edited pictures on social media, showing people how to highlight the head and hide the breasts when it comes to other characters.
One of the pictures shows Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of Mona Lisa – but only with her head. “This is what the well-known painting looks like in the eyes of Chinese censors,” internet users said.
The Global Times newspaper noted in an editorial that while the censorship was “largely done out of moral concerns”, the resulting public outcry should serve as a warning for the future.
“While it is powerful, censorship lacks authority,” it said. “In this sense, when using censorship, more considerations should be given to public opinion to garner support and avoid similar incidents.”
China’s broadcasting censors, which examine every drama before it is aired on TV, have issued regulations banning the showing of behaviour including adultery, sexual abuse, nudity, ghosts, murder, rape, suicide, gambling and drug uses – on TV screens.
However, rules governing censorship in China are opaque and reasons are not provided about why cuts are made.
Negative portrayals of contemporary politics are often banned, as are revealing scenes and issues that authorities believe could lead to social unrest.
The strict approval process has been criticised as arbitrary at times, with films and TV series often scuttled at the last moment – and sometimes, as in the case of The Empress of China – even after they have begun airing.
Last month, the premiere of acclaimed director Jiang Wen’s latest film, Gone with the Bullets, was abruptly delayed due to eleventh-hour demands by censors.
Additional reporting Agence France-Presse