Gay-themed drama is latest victim of China’s drive to purge ‘harmful and obscene’ content from web

Although the scriptwriters had toned down the romantic nature of the main characters’ relationship, the show that had attracted 1.8bn views has been pulled from a popular video-sharing platform

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 6:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 August, 2018, 7:53am

A Chinese drama series based on a popular gay-themed sci-fi novel has been pulled from one of the country’s top video-streaming platforms barely two months after its release, sparking fury among its fans.

All episodes of Guardian (Zhenhun in Chinese) were completely removed from video-hosting service Youku on Thursday.

The show – based on a novel published online by an author using the pen name “Priest” – is the latest in a string of Chinese productions recently pulled or delayed since an official directive was issued last month to “clean up TV programmes of harmful and vulgar content”.

The online drama was taken offline for “content adjustments”, a Youku spokeswoman said on Friday. She would not elaborate on what content required adjustment or when the show was expected to return.

Guardian, adapted from a Chinese fantasy novel of the same name, has been an instant hit since its premiere on June 13.

In total 40 episodes were released between its premiere and the end of July and it had been viewed more than 1.8 billion times on Youku since its launch.

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The storyline features two male protagonists with supernatural powers who protect the peace of two worlds, fighting off villains.

Although the novel was explicit about the heroes’ homosexual interactions, the screenwriters were careful to present their relationship as a bond of brotherhood in the hope of avoiding the censors.

Internet users discussing the popular drama online had also avoided explicit mention of the show’s gay undertones, referring to the topic using the hashtag “socialist brotherhood” in a bid to avoid catching official attention.

After the show was taken offline on Thursday, internet users bombarded Youku’s official Weibo account, demanding an explanation for its removal as well as reimbursement for the platform’s paid VIP service, which was required to gain access to the series. The service costs between 15 and 20 yuan (US$2.20-2.90) a month.

Youku is the video platform arm of Alibaba Group, the owner of the South China Morning Post.

Other fans ranted on forums and social media, leading to the hashtag “Zhenhun removal” trending on Weibo. The hashtag, mentioned in 400,000 posts, had been viewed more than 100 million times as of Friday afternoon.

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“In order to pass the censors, the screenwriters turned this story into a science fiction drama for children, and it was still taken offline,” one internet user commented on Weibo.

Another questioned whether any love stories should be allowed. “What about the kissing, sex, and the bullets and blood in war films? Shouldn’t they all be removed as well? Let’s all watch only CCTV news then.”

Guardian is the latest in a string of Chinese web productions to be removed since media watchdog the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, issued a directive to entertainment sector authorities on July 10.

The relevant authorities should “strictly control programmes [and] monitor and clean up harmful and vulgar content that might infringe on the physical and mental health of young people”, according to the directive.

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Last week, a remake of the classic Chinese fairy tale The Legend of the White Snake was taken off live-streaming giant iQiyi for content adjustment.

The programme had been criticised by Buddhists who accused it of blasphemy because the renowned monk Fahai kisses and hugs a green snake spirit in the programme.

Earlier the same month, the Chinese version of Saturday Night Live was taken off the air just weeks after its launch, sparking debate on whether the show was a victim of censorship or poor viewing figures.

The show had also been criticised for self-censorship because, unlike its US counterpart, it steered well clear of political satire.