Chinese television producers are exercising their artistic license when shooting a Party-approved historical drama in the hopes of getting higher ratings. Viewers are not amused.
State censors prohibit movies and television shows from depicting a whole range of topics—absolutely no aliens, ghosts, reincarnation, and supernormal abilities because they are “unscientific,” for example. The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television regularly updates this long list, causing headaches for Chinese producers.
Because the “industry’s professionals can’t grasp the censorship trend … they’ve all stuck to shooting anti-Japanese War dramas,” said Chinese screenwriter and producer Wang Biao, who goes by his pen name Jiu Nian, to Beijing News.
The anti-Japanese war—better known internationally as the Second Sino-Japanese War—is approved for ideological entertainment because it fits the narrative the Communist Party wishes to promote.
Since everyone is familiar with that slice of history, screenwriters decided to spice things up to keep viewers’ attention.
Sex, Kung Fu, Hollywood
In an episode of a recent anti-Japanese war-themed drama—the Second Sino-Japanese War—a drugged, half-naked woman, is shown touching herself sexually for five minutes, according to state-run Beijing News on March 30. In the next scene, the woman, who is a widow, is raped by a man.
So-called anti-Japanese heroes and heroines are all equipped with the special powers found in famous martial arts novels. Some heroes fly over the walls; some are masters of tai chi and Shaolin kung fu; and some can rip Japanese soldiers in two with their bare hands.
Producers also “borrow” from Hollywood action movies—a Chinese hero avoids bullet shots from several Japanese soldiers in slow motion just like Neo in “The Matrix”; in a separate drama, a hero sports the three sharp “claws” associated with Wolverine from the “X-Men” franchise.
If the graphic scenes, supernormal displays, and violence showed up in any other television opera, it would probably be banned. For instance, a 2015 Tang Dynasty drama starring actress Fan Bingbing as Empress Wu Zetian was briefly suspended because the women wore costumes that were too revealing. The producers got around the issue by cutting out the revealing clothing.
But when the show is about the anti-Japanese war, producers are able to get away with making their show “as shocking, abnormal, and sexual as possible to secure high television ratings,” Wang said.
The creative liberties taken by screenwriters also extend to historical accuracy.
In one drama, a Chinese army leader said to his soldiers, “Comrades, the 8-year anti-Japanese war has begun!” In another show, a soldier said, “Comrades, the anti-Japanese war has lasted for seven years. There’s only one year left, everybody don’t give up!”
In yet another drama, a young man said, “My grandpa was brutally killed by the Japanese when he was nine years old. I hate the Japanese!” Some Chinese netizens wrote, “How was he born then?”
There’s the sense that these operas are made to satisfy the demands of producers rather than viewers.
“My head and heart were left empty and confused,” a screenwriter told Beijing News. “I think my IQ has dropped after I churned out an anti-Japanese War script.”
Many netizens wonder how these anti-Japanese war dramas escaped the regulator’s inspection and preview, especially the sexual scenes, which border on soft pornography.
The Chinese regime has supposedly banned pornography, and “content with negative values” such as drug abuse, excessive violence, depiction of criminals, and, of course, criticism of the Party. On March 31, several comic cartoon websites in China were punished for displaying this content, according to state media.
The recent anti-Japanese war dramas may have escaped state censorship, but their incredulous plots are turning away viewers.
“My over 70-year-old grandpa is livid at these anti-Japanese war dramas and refuses to watch them any more,” said a Chinese netizen who goes by the handle “Chirp7.”
The post continued: “Those screenwriters leave me speechless. … They should go write science fiction novels.”