How Communist Censors Control the Movies You See


Once upon a time, Hollywood movies were controlled by censors who prevented them from bringing subversive and controversial subject matters into theaters. Thankfully those days are long gone now. Now Hollywood movies are censored by the officials of the Chinese Communist Party. And it’s a censorship that begins at the script stage and affects what you see on the screen.

Hollywood executives are only now becoming familiar with the censorship board and its workings. A recent count by one of their advisers found that the board has 37 members, including representatives from government agencies and interest groups, like the Communist Youth League and the Women’s Federation, along with filmmakers, academics and professional bureaucrats.

At the top of S.A.R.F.T. is Cai Fuchao, a recent member of the Communist Party Central Committee. In a previous municipal post in Beijing, he was widely reported to have policed Web sites for banned material with the help of 10,000 volunteers, and to have joined in a roundup of a million illegally published books in 2004.

Finally Hollywood’s output is coming under the control of total party discipline. We’ve actually reached the point where the Communist Party determines what appears in a Hollywood movie.

When “Kung Fu Panda 3” kicks its way into China’s theaters in 2016, the country’s vigilant film censors will find no nasty surprises. After all, they have already dropped in to monitor the movie at the DreamWorks Animation campus here. And the story line, production art and other creative elements have met their approval.

This isn’t the traditional kind of censorship that involved the version being sent to China getting cut up for domestic consumption. This is a censorship that begins at the script stage and moves through the entire production process.

Co-productions like “Kung Fu Panda 3” draw close monitoring by the censors at every step. Scripts are submitted in advance. Representatives of S.A.R.F.T., according to Mr. Cohen and others, may be present on the set to guard against any deviation. And there is an unofficial expectation that the government’s approved version of the film will be seen both in China and elsewhere, though in practice it is not unusual for co-productions to slip through the system with differing versions, one for China, one for elsewhere in the world.

That practice will stop once China decides to punish those movies that use differing versions by delaying their release date.

Billions of dollars ride on whether they get it right. International box-office revenue is the driving force behind many of Hollywood’s biggest films, and often plays a deciding role in whether a movie is made.

China is on track to become the world’s largest film market and the Communist Party is gaining the power to decide which movies get made.

One production currently facing scrutiny is Disney and Marvel’s “Iron Man 3,” parts of which were filmed in Beijing in the last month. It proceeded under the watchful eye of Chinese bureaucrats, who were invited to the set and asked to advise on creative decisions, according to people briefed on the production who asked for anonymity to avoid conflict with government or company officials. Marvel and Disney had no comment.

Hollywood as a whole is shifting toward China-friendly fantasies that will fit comfortably within a revised quota system, which allows more international films to be distributed in China, where 3-D and large-format Imax pictures are particularly favored.

And no, you don’t get to sneak anything past the authorities.

In a 2011 Web post, Robert Cain, a producer and consultant who guides filmmakers through China’s system, described having worked in Shanghai on a romantic comedy that went off script; the director included a take in which an extra, holding a camcorder, pretended to be a theater patron taping a movie on a screen.

The next day, Mr. Cain and others involved with the film were summoned to the office of a Communist Party member who told them the film was being shut down for its “naïve” and “untruthful” portrayal of film piracy. Assuming they had been reported by a spy on their crew, the producers apologized and managed to keep the film on track.

Isn’t life under Communism wonderful? Donate to the Center for American Progress today. A bright future of informing on your neighbors and co-workers awaits.

Some of the prohibitions were broad, barring violations of the fundamental principles of the Constitution and the harming of social morality. Others were more pointed. Disparagement of the People’s Liberation Army and the police were banned, as were “murder, violence, horrors, ghosts, demons and supernaturalism.”

Censorship like this from American authorities would have made Hollywood howl, but the New York Times can’t find a single quote from anyone critical of this arrangement. Not even anonymously. Not one quote.

But the good news is that we may finally get family friendly entertainment… courtesy of Communist censors in China.

Steven Soderbergh, whose film “Contagion” was shot partly in Hong Kong, said the participation of China’s censors simply added to the chorus of input that surrounds every big-budget filmmaker.

“I’m not morally offended or outraged,” Mr. Soderbergh said. “It’s fascinating to listen to people’s interpretations of your story.”

It’s not censorship when the left is censoring you. It’s censorship when Americans do it. It’s an interpretation when the Communist Party does it.

A fascinating interpretation.

  • Publicus

    Money talks. Why is ths censorship? If some rich anti-ChiCom antes up I'm sure the filmmaker will ignore the Chinese market. It's just business.

    • truebearing

      Surely you are joking.

    • Wind Sore Dick

      Liberals will do anything to please their beloved communists genocidal monster nations.

      On the flip side, Hollywood went nuts when Christian groups cut out curse words from movies when they wanted to show it to their children, saying their artistic freedoms have been violated.

      A skillful movie maker can fool the censor and slip by harsh criticism. Painters have done it for centuries under tyrants and inquisitions.

    • Tiberius

      Another way to "interpret" censorship, I must admit the left are sure good at the wordsmithing game. Again, where is the cry of Hollywood of their 1st Amendment rights? Seems I hear crickets chirping. One thing I do agree about the money game IS involved. This should show the fools on the Left that keep thinking Hollywood really cares about them and representing them on film as these noble people of truth, and justice ala ERIN BROKOVITCH movie. The Hollywood all they care is $$$ and thats it so keep thinking they "really care" about you. Funny is the day I actually root for the Chinese Communists to censor some of the trash coming out of Hollywood.

  • slider 96

    How does this affect movies I see here in the US ?? I don't understand your purpose here Mr.Greenfield . Movies are not censoredhere in the US , they are rated , those ratings are related to certain content .Filmakers usually try to keep their movies in a range that accomodates most audiences.The Chinese have nothing to do with this here , and as for what they do in China ….that's their problem ,and their buisness .

    • Daniel Greenfield

      This affects the movies at the development and script stage.

      Please read the article.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Filmakers usually try to keep their movies in a range that accomodates most audiences.The Chinese have nothing to do with this here , and as for what they do in China ….that's their problem ,and their buisness ."

      And I thought you had a problem with reading comprehension, but really it's worse. You don't even read the articles at all.

      China is a big market with authoritarian control over what is consumed there, particularly in the media. If China has the most "concerns" (objections, edits…censorship requests) and the biggest coherent market, then they have the biggest say in what is acceptable. Call it soft power if you like, but they do limit what you see, shower bag.

      But those who've been indoctrinated by leftists and haven't woken up in any way will think this is just another day moving towards Utopia.

      • Loran

        Indeed. Just look at how a man I once very much respected, Jacky Chan, has sold out over the years to the Chinese communist government so he can keep his career on the rails in that massive media market. He even came out in public some years ago in defense of authoritarian repression of the Chinese people and attacked Taiwan's democratic, open society.

        • Questions

          Is this the end of "Rush Hour" or "Drunken Master?" This really is sad. Really, I dig Jackie Chan. I even learned a few martial arts moves from him. Kissing the PRC government's butt to stay bankable apparently is a full-time job.

      • Tiberius

        Seems people just read headlines or a few words here and there and feel they know what the article was about.

        Just to use a recent example, the remake of RED DAWN was changed from the communist Chinese to now the much vilified (except for the tenured diehard "professors" in academia) North Koreans. I saw pics of the movie poster showing the chinese character 8 and 1. Also there were propoganda pictures of the chinese government being friends of the people. Anyway, my point was that the change of villian in the remake was no mistake.

        There is a saying of bring a horse to a trough to drink but can make the horse actual drink it if it does not want to. Or something to that effect

  • truebearing

    Yet another loss of US sovereignty, this time it is creativity.

    It isn't surprising that Hollywood would accept censorship if it made money. Hollywood is a sewer.Next it will be Muslims demanding, and getting, cinematic dhimmitude from the spineless, greed-obsessed, degenerate scum that run Hollywood.

    Maybe this is why Hollywood can't produce a decent movie anymore. I certainly won't waste my money on their garbage.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Next it will be Muslims demanding, and getting, cinematic dhimmitude from the spineless, greed-obsessed, degenerate scum that run Hollywood. "

      It already is. What, you haven't noticed?

    • Questions

      Maybe instead of making ridiculous and ugly generalizations, you can see a few movies instead. Go see "Les Miserables," Zero Dark Thirty," "Flight," "Silver Linings Playbook" or "Life of Pi" and then tell me it's "garbage." "Truebearing" seems to specialize in bearing false witness.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        "Maybe instead of making ridiculous and ugly generalizations…"

        They may be ugly, but they're not ridiculous. Your denial is though.

        "…you can see a few movies instead. Go see "Les Miserables," Zero Dark Thirty," "Flight," "Silver Linings Playbook" or "Life of Pi" and then tell me it's "garbage.""

        Generalizations are often useful in discussions when used correctly. I'd only object to the statement that it reflects a loss of sovereignty, but that's because it's about all we haven't lost. The thing is that the general public has no problem consuming entertainment that passes the propaganda standards of the last standing communist super power. That fact that you are unconcerned because you got to see "Zero Dark Thirty." And how does that threaten communism, socialism, or even Islam in any way? It doesn't. In fact, I'd go on to say that any audience could easily view ZDT and see bin Laden and the jihadis as victims of the evil empire torturing them for no reason. It didn't even depict the WTC attacks other than the opening credits with a dubbed (that's audio only while opening credits appear on the screen) emergency operator comforting a woman who complained of being hot. Wow.

        Thanks for reminding me that it's even worse than stated in the article and by others.

  • mikael

    It is hard to judge whether or not censorship in China is appropriate. Of course, one should always have the right to speak their mind, but one must also realize how huge China is. It's economic development in the past decades in the past decades has literally shifted the balance of power in the whole world. Now imagine if this country was purely democratic, how could a nation with a population of 1.4 bn ever come to a consensus? How could they ever be ruled democratically.
    In any case, there are other ways to express one's view besides the conventional ones. I found this really interesting article that talks about the "art protest" in China, definitely worth checking out http://alternatista.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/protes

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "It is hard to judge whether or not censorship in China is appropriate. Of course, one should always have the right to speak their mind, but one must also realize how huge China is. It's economic development in the past decades in the past decades has literally shifted the balance of power in the whole world. Now imagine if this country was purely democratic, how could a nation with a population of 1.4 bn ever come to a consensus? How could they ever be ruled democratically."

      By following the US model before Soviet Communists infiltrated us.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "It is hard to judge whether or not censorship in China is appropriate. Of course, one should always have the right to speak their mind, but one must also realize how huge China is."

      Are they are close ally with the same culture and ideology? If not, then the answer is no, it is not appropriate to alter any media for them that will be consumed outside of their sovereign control, and it is probably not even appropriate to cooperate at all if things heat up again, which looks likely these days.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    "…though in practice it is not unusual for co-productions to slip through the system with differing versions, one for China, one for elsewhere in the world."

    Well it's such a relief to know.

  • http://www.clarespark.com clarespark

    Most of us barely know how many supporters of the communist movement in China during the early 1940s there were. I wrote about one pro-communist book here: http://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-…. The recent HBO movie Hemingway and Gellhorn transmitted the same pro-Communist message, both regarding the Spanish Civil War and the burgeoning Maoist offensive whose public face was Chou En-lai. "Review essay on Hemingway's Spy Mission to China, 1941."The British Left gave both the movie and Peter Moreira's book good reviews.

  • JacksonPearson

    "How Communist Censors Control the Movies You See"

    They don't control me at all.
    Because I can't remember the last time I contributed a single dime to Hollyweird's comrades. They'd be in rags if they depended on income from people like me.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      Good.

  • Ghostwriter

    That's vile. Unbelievably vile. What business is it of China's what movies we make? The political censors in China can drop dead for all I care.

  • http://photopeach.com/user/traslocarehouse8 riccardo

    È difficile trovare persone competenti su questo argomento, ma sembra che voi sappiate di cosa state parlando! Grazie