China Film Player Reveals Efforts to End Censorship (Q&A)

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Wang Jianlin, chairman of Beijing-based Wanda Group, talks with THR about his recent purchase of AMC Entertainment, his admiration for Hollywood and why China needs to rethink the way it regulates film content.

THR: The Financial Times recently reported that you eschew Hollywood fare because of its lack of “traditional Chinese morality.” Is it going to be uncomfortable for you if some of the films showing in your cinemas, both in China and the U.S., could be perceived as not particularly “moral”?

Wang: No, that report must have been mistaken. On the contrary, I very much admire and support Hollywood movies -- particularly the big ones. I find them very impressive, and they usually show a very positive attitude about life -- they capture some of the beauty of life and a sense of its true value. It’s actually Chinese movies that I often find unsatisfactory. I often don’t see much value in them.

THR: About that -- how do you assess the current state of the Chinese movie industry?

Wang: In my view, our culture and entertainment industry is still pretty immature. Its share of the world market and its share of the Chinese GDP is very, very small. That’s the reason that our government stipulated a very providential policy last year for developing this sector over the next 10 years. There have been a number of policies concerning laws and taxation introduced to encourage our entertainment industry. So I’m looking forward to a golden era sometime in the next 10 to 20 years in the development of Chinese culture and entertainment.

THR: What do you think is holding back the Chinese film industry? What needs to occur for Chinese filmmakers to compete with Hollywood on the world stage?

Wang: From my observations, there are three things holding back the Chinese industry. The first thing is lack of attention from the government and private enterprise. In recent years, we’ve attached great importance to the country’s economic development through core industries, while mostly ignoring culture and entertainment. The second reason has to do with the investors themselves. Before, our major investors in entertainment were just small and medium-size enterprises. There were no deep-pocketed investors like Wanda active in the industry. So that constrained the size of investment and the level of quality Chinese film production and entertainment could achieve. The last factor is our comparatively strict censorship system for film production and publication. These are the biggest factors that have been holding us back. But I think we’ve begun to acknowledge these issues and are now proposing solutions. Right now, as I mentioned, the Chinese government has attached great importance and has held many meetings and produced influential papers supporting the development of culture and entertainment. We need to attract more of China’s biggest enterprises to join this industry and make big investments, such as Wanda is doing. Thirdly, I think we should lose the censorship and approval system of film production and publication.

THR: Lose the censorship? Do you think that there’s a good chance that will actually happen?

Wang: It’s absolutely possible. There’s a chance.

THR: In your view, how has the censorship and approval process in China been hindering the industry?

Wang: A censorship system in general is not a problem. Many countries have a censorship system of some kind; the U.S. has its rating system. The problem with our system is that there is only one authority -- the film bureau [the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television] -- with a small number of people who are in charge of the approval of all films, which takes a long time. And some of these people will shoulder different ideas, so the directors will have to correct or make changes to their artistic vision, based on the opinion of a small number of so-called experts. This has severely held back the development of our film industry. I’ve proposed that we have to decentralize the censorship process and assign it to local, provincial governments. If we let different provincial governments handle the approval of various films, we can learn what works from the various instances and films. If that can be achieved, I believe the film industry of China can prosper. 

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