Shanghai: Chinese directors and journalists speak about movie censorship

18 June 2011 10 h 46 min 12 comments

During one of the many seminars organized by Shanghai International Film Festival, some Chinese directors spoke about censorship in their country and the way they deal with it.

Their comments were covered by international press but also -and its more surprinsigly- by one of the China state owned website 

Director Jia Zhangke, who won the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival in 2006, was among the film maker who openly spoke about censorship levels in China.

During one forum, he explained that “he had to abandon one film lest it broke anti-pornography laws. Then he ditched a spy movie rather than fill it with Communist party “superheroes”.” His declaration was covered by Reuters, The Guardian and Wall Street Journal. But the first coverage was surprinsingly done by the state owned news platform The article “Directors lash film censorship” was written by Pang Li  and published on 16 June, the same day of the conference.

Jia Zhangke: “This kind of cultural over-cleanliness that bans the erotic, violent and terrifying is cultural naivety”

In this article, Pang Li wrote:

While talking about making genre movies in China on Wednesday in Shanghai, some well-known film directors explicitly expressed their great disappointment at China’s film censorship. “The only reason that we cannot make genre movies is the barrier that censorship sets,” Chinese director Jia Zhangke said.

The well-known director revealed that after his fourth feature movie “Shijie (The World),” he wrote a script about man’s sex life. After he submitted the screenplay to the film authority for approval, an official told him that he could not do the project. It may violate the criminal law on spreading pornography, the censor said. Jia bailed on the project. Jia said that he also conceived an espionage movie about the Communist Party and Kuomintang four to five years ago. He got funding, cast actors and did a lot of research in the mainland and Taiwan. But the project never saw light because of censorship. “If I want to make the movie here, I have to portray all the communists as superheroes,” Jia said. “This would betray my original idea and make it difficulty to develop the story.” “This kind of cultural over-cleanliness that bans the erotic, violent and terrifying is cultural naivety,” he added.
[The remarks from Hong Kong director and producer Manfred Wong were also mentioned in the article.]

“If you want to make a crime movie in the mainland, all the cops must be portrayed as good guys and no gunfire sequences are allowed to be filmed in a downtown area”, veteran Hong Kong director and producer Manfred Wong said. “And if you want to make a romantic movie, you can’t show cohabitation before marriage or an affair. The biggest problem is not that filmmakers are unwilling to create – they are given little to work with,” Wong said.

Wong said what mainland filmmakers really need is a film-rating system.

[The story concluded], “Sadly, the film authority refuses to create one, and the country suffers without an important mechanism that would allow the film industry to grow more quickly.”

How does it work ?

According to The Guardian, China has a vast censorship apparatus, but films and television programmes are particularly tightly controlled. One film director told the Guardian that censors demanded 400 changes before they would pass his movie. The british newspapers also quoted Li Hongyu, who writes about film for Southern Weekly newspaper, “it was simplistic to suggest a ratings system would result in less censorship. While western ratings systems focus on issues such as violence and pornography, China has much wider concerns about the content of films”, he said.

In The Guardian, Tania Branigan explains how “China’s control over movies” is working. 

China has a movie censoring committee composed of approximately 30 or so staff whose backgrounds are very diverse, spanning from movie professionals, the Women’s Federation, the [Communist] Youth League, teachers, and a religious committee to various governmental administration departments,” Li added. The debate about introducing a ratings system has been going on for many years. But it is hard to implement, since if the system is used, it will not be easy to cover the government’s other considerations. What if it is concerned about political views?”. Official requirements, which concern the moral as well as political qualities of content, can be baffling to outsiders: the head of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television recently denounced TV time travel dramas for their “frivolous” approach to history.

Full articles  on, and 

Picture by Pang Li(
SOURCES:,, (16/06/2011)

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