China tells TV to get history right


BEIJING -- Chinese media regulators warned the nation's TV producers not to make dramas that are "historically inaccurate" after one primetime costume series based on ancient legend incorporated rap music and fight scenes reminiscent of the Hollywood movie "The Matrix."

In a Web notice posted Thursday, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television warned against shows based on stories with no historical basis, which might "confuse Chinese youth's understanding of ancient history and traditional Chinese culture."

Chinese bloggers and an article from the Chongqing Morning Post noted that SARFT's warning came at the end of the controversial run of "Cowherd and Weaver Girl," a 35-part, romantic-fantasy begun June 29 on China Central Television's dedicated drama channel (CCTV-8).

"Cowherd," which stars disgraced former Olympic gold medalist diver Tian Liang, is an adaptation of a popular third-century legend about the forbidden romance between a mortal and a divine fairy.

Tian left diving for acting in 2007 after being criticized publicly for his sports endorsement activities.

Online commentators were critical of Tian's performance and costumes and of the show's use of "Matrix"-like fight scenes and rap music stylings in songs sung by actors playing gods. The "Cowherd" is an adaptation of a tale credited as the reason many Chinese celebrate a sort of Valentine's Day on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month.

Separately, the SARFT notice also cautioned local officials especially to supervise shows with ethnic and religious themes.

The language in that part of the notice echoed other statements from Beijing about managing the nation's "harmonious society," statements made in the wake of recent ethnic riots that saw nearly 200 mostly ethnic Han Chinese killed in the largely Muslim and Turkic-speaking Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China.

Last week, in a separate notice, SARFT reiterated a 2005 policy statement insisting that dialogue in TV dramas should be in standard Mandarin Chinese and not in any of the dozens of dialects and ethnic minority languages spoken across China.

Shows other than local musicals, should be mostly in "Putonghua," or "common speech," as standard Mandarin is known. Revolutionary and historically-themed TV shows, children's series, and shows promoting educational content are to use Mandarin only. Leaders portrayed in TV shows are to use only Mandarin.

Ethnic and religious issues are a matter of "national unity and social stability," SARFT spokesman Zhu Hong said.

Chinese television and filmmakers are hard at work on a raft of shows and films that will focus on the founding of the People's Republic 60 years ago this Oct. 1.