Reflections on Chinese Censorship
At the beginning of these posts, I was wary of discussing Chinese Censorship and its effects on the entertainment industry. I didn’t want to come off too pretentious, since I knew that growing up in America with western media and politics would likely give me a euro-centric perspective. I knew that my personal genre preferences would also skew my discussions. While I wasn’t trying to present a purely objective argument, I still wanted to include unexpected perspectives and have a more empathetic lens towards the Chinese point-of-view. Therefore, I tried to make these posts as personal as I could by including anecdotes of my family and my aspirations. However, I think my work is still open to much criticism, since I barely touch the surface of Chinese media’s relationship with censorship. If mainland-Chinese people read these blog posts, I’m sure they’d say that I have no real understanding of the industry as a whole — and they would be right. I’ve only watched an infinitesimal fraction of all of the content produced in China. On the other hand, I know that censorship still affects many filmmakers, and by discussing these topics more openly, maybe China will start to change.
The other night, I spoke with a Chinese friend who had worked China’s entertainment industry for a few years before heading to America to study film. I asked her for Chinese TV show recommendations and she helpfully provided a list of shows, along with a breakdown of each genre. Through our conversation, I discovered that — despite what I believed from my personal experience with Chinese television — China still has a lot of good content. However, as my friend described, most of these shows came out a decade ago, and really great shows are still rare. She reminisced on a historical documentary series she loved as a child, and how only a few years later, it was removed from all stations because the content did not align with the government’s narrative. Over time, censorship’s restrictions began weighing heavily on her, so she left China. I often forget about the immense privilege I have as an American citizen. Although our industry has more issues than we can keep track of, we still have freedom. For some, its much harder than it should be to pursue their dreams, but our government plays a much smaller role in these restrictions. As always in these posts, it comes down to censorship. Even during a Shanghai film festival I attended this weekend, filmmakers isolated censorship as their largest creative hurdle.
This past Saturday, New Filmmakers Los Angeles (NFMLA) hosted a Shanghai Cinema Film Festival, featuring 13 short films from Shanghainese directors. During the Q&A, filmmakers often returned to censorship, and openly discussed their struggles, including constantly revising their passion project scripts. Many of the directors still haven’t been able to make these features. To stay in the game, all of the them work on commercials or feature films, making just enough money for the next project. Although they crave artistic freedom, many refuse to leave Shanghai. In order to tell the stories that matter to them, they need to stay at home. I was surprised by this passion, and it reaffirmed my suspicions about filmmakers when I began writing about this topic. People will create, regardless of what impedes their path. Some will escape to greener pastures, and some stay where they are, hoping to revolutionize their hometowns. As the Q&A reached the final question, one of the short film producers, Ran Tao, predicted a new beginning for Chinese film. She stated that the Chinese entertainment industry had taken a downturn in the past 2–3 years, but the closures and resets due to the Coronavirus pandemic has altered this pattern. Right now, China has the opportunity to reset, and when productions resume, there’s a high chance that creators will release some of the best content in decades.
It seems like Chinese media will still continue growing, despite the constant battle against censorship. I hope that when I go to China next summer — if we can safely travel at that time — that I’ll encounter a rich and vibrant media culture that begins to prioritize creativity and entertainment above commercial viability. Until then, I’ll try to watch as much TV shows as I can and continue learning about Chinese culture through its shows.