Great Scott, this is quite interesting.
While I do love living in Shanghai for a variety of reasons, the main thing that makes me a sad panda here is that China is a little censor-happy. And when I say ‘a little censor-happy’, I mean titanically, gigantically, massively censor-happy. But a recent development has made me question whether they might have gone too far this time.
As I so often complain about, the internet here is heavily censored, via the infamous “Great Firewall of China”. This forces every request you make online to go through the Chinese firewall, which not only blocks many sites outright (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogspot, Blogger, IMDB etc.), but even if a site is allowed, it slows it to a crawl. Basically, if the websites you use frequently are not hosted on Chinese servers, you are going to be in for a lot of waiting and frustration. Things as simple as checking your Gmail become arduous, drawn-out tasks.
Newspapers and all media are also heavily moderated and regulated by the government. This includes television and film, and is the basis of the most recent ban handed down from the censors – a ban on time travel.
No, that does not mean Big Brother have had the technology for a time machine for a while and are only now banning it – it means that Chinese TV programmes, movies and all other media are now banned from having any kind of storyline that involves travelling through time.
Here’s a clarifying quote from the New York Times:
In a statement (available here in Chinese) dated March 31, the State Administration for Radio, Film & Television said that TV dramas that involve characters traveling back in time “lack positive thoughts and meaning.” The guidelines discouraging this type of show said that some “casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation.”
So, does the fact that I have Back To The Future on my computer make me a criminal? Probably. But I’m not deleting it. Michael J Fox’s Johnny B. Goode rendition is just too awesome.
In a country where TV seems to be dominated by a lot of soap opera and drama, apparently quite a few popular shows rely quite heavily on time travel – perhaps most notably “Palace”, which tells the tale of a woman who falls in love with a painting from the Qing dynasty (I know, totally normal, right), and ends up travelling back in time and getting it on with hot Chinese princes. This new law pretty much outright bans this show (and all shows like this) from ever existing.
While the government’s official reasoning above might tug at the truth, I think what’s really going on here is the prevention of any show that tries to make it look as though there were better days in China’s history – or, indeed, hint at the fact that people feel the need to ‘escape’ from modern-day China, via time travel or any other means. Timewarp TV shows in every country so often romanticise the past, and this is probably deemed dangerous and subversive in some way to a government that is desperate to maintain such firm control over more than 1.2 billion people. I’m sure that they’re far more worried about the past making the present look worse, rather than the TV shows of the present defiling or vilifying the past, like they are claiming.
As a Brit, it seems so odd to me that I live in a country where freedom of speech can be so curtailed that they can ban particular tropes or themes in TV shows… but hey. I can still eat hong shao rou at my leisure, so it’s all good.
At least the government here are straight up about removing their citizens’ freedoms, rather than doing what the USA does: continuously reinforcing the belief that their people have total freedom whilst gradually eroding away at each one, using terrorism as an excuse.