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Why the Gay Kisses in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Won’t Make It to Chinese Cinemas

Fresh off its Oscar wins, “Bohemian Rhapsody” will hit theaters in China, but some scenes won’t make it to the Mainland.

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The award-winning movie Bohemian Rhapsody is set to debut in mainland China later this month but foreign media reports on censorship of gay scenes within the movie have prompted animated discussion on Chinese social media. Why are these scenes being cut at all? What’s on Weibo explains.

In March 2019, Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic on the life and career of Freddie Mercury, will be released in theatres across mainland China, with various Chinese news outlets identifying the Chinese National Alliance of Arthouse Cinema (全国艺术电影联盟) as the movie’s distributor.

The National Alliance of Arthouse Cinema is a non-profit film distribution organization established in 2016. According to QDaily, the organization cooperates with major Chinese cinemas in distributing films throughout the country and has some 1500 member cinemas – about 3% of the country’s total number of movie theatres.

Various foreign media outlets, including The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter, report that portrayals of drug use and several intimate kisses between Mercury and other male characters will be cut from the Chinese version of the film, a decision that has been regarded as controversial by social media users both inside and outside of China.

 

Film Censorship in China

 

The Chinese movie industry is an area that has always been subjected to strict control and censorship. The first movie censorship laws in China were implemented as early as the 1930s, carried out by the Central Film Inspection Committee since 1931, with the purpose of legally prohibiting movies deemed “offensive to the Chinese public” (Pang 2011, 463; Zhu 2003, 202).

Theatrical releases in China are controlled by the SARFT (State Administration for Radio, Film, and Television), which is overseen by the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party (Grimm 162-163).

Throughout the years, China’s censorship apparatus has affected the screening of hundreds of foreign films in the PRC in a multitude of ways. The famous Titanic scene in which Rose (Kate Winslet) poses naked for Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), for instance, was cut from the Chinese version. In Mission: Impossible III a scene in which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) distracts two Chinese henchmen and kills one was also eliminated in China.

In March 2017, a new film censorship law came into force in mainland China, officially titled the ‘Film Industry Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China’ (中华人民共和国电影产业促进法),  laying out the regulations for prohibited content and content that must be cut. The law applies to the various pre-shooting and pre-screening stages, and is meant to “promote the healthy and prosperous development of the film industry.”

The law, as outlined here, stipulates that, among other things, movies cannot contain any elements that, for example:

  • violate, resist, or undermine the basic principles of the constitution
  • “harm national unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity” or “damage the national dignity”
  • “slander ethnic cultural traditions” or “instigate hostility towards ethnic groups”
  • damage the “mental health of minors”
  • harm China’s “social morality” or disturb the “order of society”
  • promote “obscenities,” “gambling,” “drug abuse,” or “violence”

Although some of the stipulations in the law are straightforward, there are also many parts that are vague. How does one determine what is harmful to the “mental health of minors”? Is there an objective way to judge whether a film is “hurting the feelings of ethnic groups”? What is the censors’ definition of “obscene”?

In the end, these regulations leave ample room for the main censorship body, the SARFT, to determine case-by-case how and if foreign films that have been allowed to be screened in mainland China should be altered to stay ‘in line’ with the country’s strict censorship policies.

 

Banning Gay Content?

 

Homosexuality is no longer illegal in mainland China since 1997, and has been removed from a list of mental illnesses since 2001, but bans on content displaying homosexuality have made headlines over the years, highlighting the general discomfort of Chinese regulators towards gay-themed dramas and films.

In early 2016, Chinese State Administration released new regulations banning “homosexuality” in filmography for conveying “unnatural” values of love (Guangming Online). That same year, China’s popular gay-themed web series Addiction (上瘾) was yanked by censors due to disapproval at the plot’s lengthy exploration of homosexuality. A year later, Chinese regulators laid out rules stating that online videos showing “displays of homosexuality” were no longer allowed. In 2018, gay romance Call Me by Your Name was suddenly pulled from the Beijing film festival.

At the same time, there is no shortage of examples that show homosexuality has some leeway in China’s (online) film and media landscape. Last year, 2018, saw the mainland release of gay movie Seek McCartney (Looking for Rohmer) (寻找罗麦). Thai gay-themed film Fathers was released on popular video platform Bilibili in 2017.

Chinese version of Thai gay-themed film “Fathers” or “Two Fathers”

An online video showing a young Chinese man coming out to his parents as gay became an online hit in 2015. And now, in 2019, Bohemian Rhapsody, centered around one of the LGBT community’s most global cultural icons, is set to hit the big screen in China – albeit censored.

Mixed signals? Confused censors? Not necessarily. According to renowned Chinese sexologist Li Yinhe, the Chinese government is not against homosexuality per se. At an Amsterdam symposium in 2014, the LGBT rights activist stated that “the government is not against homosexuality, but against sex in general.”

Such a stance was made explicit with the March 2017 Film Industry Promotion Law, which, in the words of a Beijing-based film director, has since forced many in the industry to “prioritize education over art” so that their work can get past the censors. Any scenes including (explicit) portrayals of prostitution, LGBT relations, extramarital affairs, polyamory, or pornography, will generally not be permitted to reach a large Chinese audience, wrapped in conservative rhetoric that accuses such scenes of “promoting obscenities” or being “harmful to the healthy development of Chinese minors.”

At a time of a rapidly transforming (and aging) China, “healthy content” is mostly the kind of content that depicts the conventional family – marriage and children – as the cornerstone of a stable Chinese society. Depictions of Freddy Mercury kissing other men, apparently, does not fit the ideal family model propagated by Chinese authorities; with the government’s ongoing trumpeting of the two-child policy, homosexuality’s refusal to be dictated by the laws of biological fertility may also be one of the many reasons motivating the censors’ decision to tone down the ‘gayness’ of Bohemian Rhapsody.

 

Weibo Responses

 

On Weibo, news about censorship of the Chinese release of Bohemian Rhapsody became a trending topic.

Although a large number of netizens are happy that the movie will be released in China, there are also many dissatisfied with the censorship that comes with it.

Some people argue that the selective cutting of scenes will be detrimental to the overall quality of the movie. Popular Weibo user ‘Gongyuan 1874’ (@公元1874), a self-proclaimed ‘author’ and ‘cultural critic’ with more than 3 million online followers, wrote a lengthy post on February 28  in which he describes Freddie Mercury as a “rebel fighter” whose life was defined by freedom. The author argues that the “artistic value of the movie is “greatly reduced” by censoring those parts that show Mercury letting himself go.

Some commenters are so disgruntled at the movie’s censorship that they are boycotting it. One Weibo user wrote: “Because I want to protest against the unfair treatment of LGBT by authorities, I will not go and see the edited version of Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“I’d advise everyone to go and get a pirated version of the movie,” another commenter writes: “Homosexuality and drugs were a part of Freddie Mercury’s life, to ‘castrate’ this movie is disrespectful [to his memory].”

There are also some more moderate netizens, well aware of the current restrictions placed on the film and TV industry, who argue that cutting some scenes – total scene time cut from the Chinese release is alleged to be no longer than two minutes – will leave the message conveyed by the movie unharmed, and that viewers should be grateful such a film is being screened in China at all.

“I have been watching the comments about Bohemian Rhapsody and the deleted gay scenes,” one music blogger writes: “Some people think it’s an insult to Freddie Mercury, and say we should boycott the movie. I think this kind of reasoning doesn’t show much goodwill.”

The blogger argues: “I think Freddie Mercury is a great singer, a well-respected artist, and an icon of his time – not just a representative for gays. The exploration of his own identity was a major influence in his life and artistic work, but if you insist on discussing the content of the film, the legendary experiences of the band…their artistic achievements and rock ‘n roll spirit are all relevant – all in all, don’t hold on to sexual orientation [as the most crucial theme].”

There are some who might agree, asking “is it necessary to screen those deleted gay scenes in China?”

Amid hundreds of comments on the issue, there is no clear consensus. While some point out that the Chinese release of a movie such as Bohemian Rhapsody is a sign of ‘progress’ in a strictly controlled media environment, others see its censorship as doing a disservice to the film’s main themes of artistic freedom and LGBT emancipation.

However, in an age where censors even go after heterosexual, ancient Chinese dramas, the mere entry of Bohemian Rhapsody into the Mainland perhaps suggests an atypical loosening of the stranglehold being placed on China’s TV and film industry. Any way the wind blows, apparently, does really matter to Chinese netizens.

By Manya Koetse , edited by Eduardo Baptista

References [online sources via in-text hyperlinks]

Grimm, Jessica. 2015. “The Import of Hollywood Films in China: Censorship and Quotas.” Syracuse J. Int’l L. & Com. 43 (1): 155-190.

Pang, Laikwan. 2011. “The State Against Ghosts: A Genealogy of China’s Film Censorship Policy.” Screen 52 (4): 461-476.

Zhu, Ying. 2003. Chinese Cinema During the Era of Reform: The Ingenuity of the System. Westport, Connecticut, London: Prager.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

China Media

Surprise Attack: CCTV6 Unexpectedly Airs Anti-American Movies as China-US Trade War Intensifies

“They have no new anti-American films, so they’re showing us the old ones instead.”

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CCTV 6, the movie channel of China’s main state television broadcaster, has gone trending on Chinese social media today for changing its schedule and playing three anti-American movies for three days in a row.

Some suggest the selection for the movies is no coincidence, and that it’s sending out a clear anti-US message while the trade war is heating up.

The three movies are the Korean war movies Heroic Sons and Daughters (英雄儿女, 1964), Battle on Shangganling Mountain (上甘岭, 1954), and Surprise Attack (奇袭, 1960), airing from May 17-19 during prime time at 20:15.

Ongoing trade tensions between China and the United States heightened when Trump raised an existing 10 percent tax on many Chinese imports to 25 percent earlier this month. Chinese authorities responded by raising taxes on many American imports.

Over the past week, anti-American propaganda has intensified in Chinese state media, with the slogan “Wanna talk? Let’s talk. Wanna fight? Let’s do it. Wanna bully us? Dream on!“* (“谈,可以!打,奉陪!欺,妄想!”) going viral on Chinese social media.

The movies broadcasted by CCTV these days are so-called “Resist America, Help North Korea” movies (“抗美援朝影片”).

The ‘Resist the USA, Help North Korea’ (or: “Resist American Aggression and Aid North Korea”) was a propaganda slogan launched in October 1950 during the Korean War (1950-1953). China came to the assistance of North Korea after the war with the South had broken out in June that year and the UN forces intervened in September.

The government, led by Mao Zedong, sent troops to fight in the war. Mao’s own son, Mao Anying, was killed in action by an air strike a month after the start of this 3-year war against US aggression in support of North Korea. The war ended with the armistice of July 1953.

“That’s not a target, it’s the enemy: American Imperialism.” Political poster from 1950 (http://military.china.com/).

“Resist USA, Aid North Korea” propaganda poster抗美援朝.

All three movies aired on CCTV6 are set during the “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea.”

Battle on Shangganling Mountain focuses on a group of Chinese People’s Volunteer Army soldiers who are holding Triangle Hill for several days against US forces.

Heroic Sons and Daughters tells the story of a political commissar in China’s volunteer army who finds his missing daughter on the Korean battlefield.

Surprise Attack revolves around the mission of the Chinese army to blow up the strategic Kangping Bridge, cutting off supplies to the American army and allowing the Chinese to engage in a full attack.

On Chinese social media, the unexpected decision of the CCTV to change its original schedule and to air the three historical films has become a much-discussed topic, with many people praising CCTV6 for showing these movies.

The issue was also widely reported on by Chinese media, from Sohu News to Global Times, which called the broadcast programming itself a “Surprise Attack.”

Not all netizens praise the initiative, however, with some commenting: “It seems that there are no new anti-American TV series or movies now, so they’ve come up with these old films to brainwash us.” Others said: “This kind of brainwashing is not useful.”

Many Weibo users, however, just enjoy seeing classic movies, saying “They don’t make movies like this anymore,” and “It’s good for the younger generation to also see these classics.”

If you’re reading this article on Saturday night China Central Time, you’re still in time to watch the airing of Battle on Shangganling Mountain on CCTV6 here.

Update 18th May CST: It seems that a fourth movie has been added to the series now. This might just become the CCTV6 Anti-American movies month! We’ll keep you updated.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

*Translation suggested by @kaiserkuo.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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The Lawyers Are Here: Chinese State Media Popularize ‘Rule of Law’

The Chinese TV show ‘The Lawyers are Here’ is “helping the people through the rule of law.”

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The Lawyers are Here (律师来了) is a weekly television program by state broadcaster CCTV that focuses on the legal struggles of ordinary Chinese citizens. The program educates through entertainment, and in doing so, propagates core socialist values such as equality, justice, and rule of law.

You just bought a new house when you discover its locks have been changed and you’re denied access. Together with five colleagues, you’ve been working in a factory when your boss suddenly lays you off without explanation. You won a lawsuit but still have not received the settled compensation. What to do? What kind of rights do you have as a Chinese citizen?

These kinds of legal cases are at the center of a weekly Chinese TV show called The Lawyers Are Here (律师来了), which was first aired on CCTV’s Legal Channel in 2017 as a follow-up to the 2016 I am a Barrister (我是大律师).

The Lawyers Are Here introduces a different legal issue every week. The problems range from the aforementioned examples to people wanting custody over their child or a former patient fighting a negligent hospital for financial compensation.

Besides the TV host (Cao Xuanyi 曹煊一) and the people involved in the case, every 45-minute episode features various topic experts and four lawyers who offer their views and advice on the matter.

Each show begins with a short video explaining the story behind the case, after which the participants analyze the different legal aspects. One person provides further clarification at certain moments throughout the show by reading from Chinese legal texts.

Once everybody has a clear picture of the current situation, the show enters its most thrilling stage. Background music heightens the tension as the lawyers have to answer the most crucial question of the night: are they willing to take this case? It is then up to the party involved in the case to choose the lawyer they trust the most to win their case.

The Lawyers Are Here describes itself as “China’s first legal media public service platform.” It does not only offer help to the common people on the show who are caught up in legal issues, but it also informs viewers on how to handle certain problems, and educates people on China’s legal system.

One 2018 episode featured a female nurse from Beijing who was seeking help in getting divorced from her abusive husband. The woman only wanted a divorce if she could get full custody over her 15-month-old son. The lawyers on the show explained that if the woman could prove she suffered from abuse at the hands of her husband, she had a stronger case in getting full custody.

The woman, visibly upset, tells that she has never reported the abuse to the police, but that she did go to the hospital and took photos of her injuries. Although the lawyers on the show predicted that the pictures and hospital records would be sufficient evidence for the court, they also strongly advised all viewers to always report these incidents to the police.

Legal advice on the show goes beyond family-related issues. In another episode, a victim of a fraudulent car dealer was reprimanded by the lawyers for signing a contract before thoroughly reading it. “Never sign a contract before reading it completely”, the show warned, also telling viewers never to be pressured into signing a contract.

The Lawyers Are Here also often shows how the people featured on the show receive help from their lawyer after filming, and how a dispute is finally settled in court.

 

Popularizing Rule of Law

 

Every episode of The Lawyers Are Here starts with the slogan “The law is the rule, help is the intention” or “Helping the people through the rule of law” (“法为绳墨, 助为初心”).

By clearly reinforcing the message of ‘live by the law and justice will prevail,’ The Lawyers Are Here serves as a media tool to propagate the idea of ‘Governing China with Rule of Law,’ which is emphasized by the Party leadership.

“Rule of law” is one of the 14 principles of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ and one of the 12 Core Socialist Values. This idea is clearly promoted throughout the show, along with other socialist values such as equality, justice, and integrity.

Image via 博谈网.

An important aspect of promoting the idea of a nation that is ruled by law is educating people on Chinese law, and, perhaps more importantly, creating more trust in legal institutions among the people.

Besides news media and other forms of propaganda, TV shows such as The Lawyers Are Here are effective tools for doing so. Not only does it present legal cases in a popular and modern way, even adding a game factor to it, it also personalizes it by letting the people tell their emotional stories – sometimes even moving the TV host to tears – and showing that the law can resolve complex family or business problems in an efficient matter.

On social media, people compliment the CCTV show for “bringing justice to ordinary people” and “standing up for the weak.”

“I hope we can have more programs such as these,” one Weibo commenter writes.

The Lawyers are Here is broadcasted every Saturday on 18:00 at CCTV12.

By Gabi Verberg, Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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