Hong Kong drama series banned on the mainland
Joyce Ng, Raymond Li and Amy Nip
Mainland censors banned a controversial 30-episode Hong Kong-made television drama series that has built up a large following across the border - with just five episodes to go.
A director at TVB said When Heaven Burns, a bleak portrayal of humanity and Hong Kong society, was the first local TV drama series to be banned on the mainland in a decade.
A source at the channel said the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) ordered TVB's sub-licensees on the mainland - you kou.com and tudou.com - to stop showing the series and remove all its content from their websites. He said a similar order was issued to TVB's other licensed online video providers on the mainland. 'TVB is concerned about the matter. It is waiting for an official notice before making any comment,' the source said.
The ban comes as Sarft starts to limit the number of televised entertainment programmes and replace them with 'moral preaching' programmes from next year.
A source at sohu.com confirmed that episodes of the TVB drama were removed from its website yesterday. Along with other mainland video providers, sohu.com paid TVB a fee for the right to show the series. The exact reason for the ban was not immediately apparent, but the series is known for its controversial storyline, which features cannibalism. It has low ratings but draws a cult following among young viewers in Hong Kong, where it is still being shown. It is one of the most discussed TV series in the online community.
The series is popular among young viewers on the mainland because of its A-list cast including actors such as Bowie Lam, Moses Chan and Charmaine Sheh.
The ban has baffled fans north of the border because the series makes no direct reference to contemporary affairs on the mainland. Most people believe it is due to the depiction of cannibalism, which the censor may have deemed inappropriate.
Many viewers criticised Sarft for inconsistency, with one mainland blogger asking: 'If they think the drama has problems, why did they ban it halfway through?'
The series, which began airing last month, centres on the lives of three former band members after a tragic adventure in Xinjiang 18 years previously left them trapped in snowy mountains. The three kill and eat the flesh of a fellow band member in order to survive. The story tells how they are haunted by guilt and struggle to come to terms with their lives.
Apart from the cannibal scene that regularly appears in flashbacks, the story portrays a bleak view of humanity. Characters in the drama cheat each other and enter into casual sexual relationships.
A mainland commentator said it was popular because it was not the usual type of Hong Kong TV drama, which often focuses on a family feud or love story, rather than touching upon the dark side of human nature.
A quote in the series that 'this city is dying, you know?' has become a Facebook hit phrase for young people disillusioned with Hong Kong society.
A search for Chinese titles of When Heaven Burns on the video sub-site of Baidu, the largest search engine on the mainland, last night found nothing but a line saying the phrase 'could involve content that is in breach of relevant laws and policies'.
Jonathan Chik, the drama's director, said on Facebook: 'Who can stop the wheel of times from moving forward? When Heaven Burns is so far reaching that its impact is beyond what we expected. No one should give up showing the remaining episodes, now it's coming to an end.'