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Television drama Premier Zhou Enlai fits the patriotic bill in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Photo: Weibo

No period dramas or pop idols: Chinese censors say patriotic shows must mark 70th anniversary of People’s Republic

  • Broadcasters told content in August must be ‘appropriate for the whole environment’
  • Sina TV survey of 783,000 people shows 39 per cent of viewers unhappy with restrictions

Chinese broadcasters must stop showing period dramas and glitzy productions that involve screen and music idols for 100 days from Thursday, and instead choose from a list of 86 “patriotic” shows to prepare viewers for the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic on October 1, state censors said.

According to a notice published on a social media account belonging to industry regulator the National Radio and Television Administration, “TV stations should put emphasis on choosing shows ... and not broadcast any period or ‘idol dramas’ that are too entertaining. [They must also] make sure the shows broadcast are appropriate for the whole environment during this period.”

The patriotic shows on the list focused on “different stages of the Chinese people’s road to independence, prosperity and strength, they praise the country, praise the people, praise the heroes and praise the times”, the notice said.

Members of the public were worried that popular shows, including The Untamed, a web series loosely based on an online homoerotic novel, would be taken offline. Others supported the list and said the deluge of period dramas needed to be regulated.

Xu Haofeng’s Chinese martial arts film The Hidden Sword was pulled days before its release in July. Photo: Handout

“We shouldn’t let idol dramas that are too vulgar destroy our youth’s future,” one Weibo user said.

In a survey by entertainment news outlet Sina TV published on the Weibo network on Wednesday, about 39 per cent of the 783,000 respondents said they were upset that their viewing would be limited in August, while about 26 per cent said there were shows on the patriotic list that they would be happy to watch.

Regulators have tightened their grip on movies, television and music in the months leading up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Watch out Peppa Pig: Chinese censors on cartoon alert ahead of 70th anniversary of People’s Republic

In January, blockbuster The Story of Yanxi Palace was taken off air after an article in Beijing Daily criticised the period drama genre for promoting negative values such as luxury and viciousness. The story focused on Qing dynasty (1644-1911) imperial concubines vying for the ruler’s affection

Last week, music fans discovered that the song Do You Hear the People Sing? from the musical Les Misérables – chanted by crowds during recent demonstrations in Hong Kong – could no longer be found on major Chinese music-streaming sites such as Tencent’s QQ Music, and Xiami, owned by Alibaba, which also owns the South China Morning Post.

In July, episodes of some hit costume dramas were aired in rapid succession to wrap up their seasons early.

The Story of Yanxi Palace was taken off air in January after criticism in state media. Photo: Handout

The Untamed, which starred Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo, both popular Chinese actors and singers, was released on a six-episodes-a-week schedule from July 1, instead of four as broadcasters had intended.

Highly rated crime drama The Longest Day In Changan went to six episodes a week from July 15 instead of four, while VIP subscribers were given early access to five episodes on August 5.

In the past two months, film releases have been cancelled for “market” or “technical reasons”, leading to suspicion among fans they were censored for content at a sensitive time. Last month, Xu Haofeng’s Chinese martial arts film The Hidden Sword was pulled days before its official cinematic release.

Chinese censorship is stifling country’s film industry

The world premiere of Eight Hundred, a World War II epic touted as China’s answer to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, at the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival on June 15 was cancelled on short notice because of “technical reasons”, as was the movie’s July 5 theatrical release.

The movie is based on the 1937 Battle of Shanghai, when about 400 Nationalist soldiers defended the Sihang Warehouse against an invading Japanese army. Some fans suspected the portrayal of Nationalist soldiers was deemed inappropriate in the run-up the 70th anniversary. The Nationalists were defeated by the Communists in a civil war, leading to the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: No period dramas ahead of republic’s anniversary