Overhaul Film Censorship to Boost Business, Suggests Leading Chinese Advisor

China Patriotic H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Screenwriter Wang Xingdong makes the proposal at a consultation meeting ahead of China's annual parliament, which meets this week in Beijing.

A senior film industry figure and adviser to the Beijing government Wang Xingdong has called for the censorship of movies to be based on clear legal rules, rather than by individual government officials.

A lack of clarity about how censorship works is one of the main hurdles facing Hollywood as it tries to gain access to the booming China market.

Wang, who worked on the script of the propaganda epic Founding of a Great Republic and is vice-chairman of the China Directors' Guild, said that for years censorship has been carried out by individuals in the government, making it very difficult to work out what would be approved by the censors and what wouldn't.

"The fate of a film was even decided by the likes and dislikes of individual government officials. Some films which have passed the censorship were interfered with because of a certain cadre's opinion, or were even cancelled outright," Wang told the Xinhua news agency in an interview.

His comments came on the sidelines of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an annual meeting of leading businesspeople, scientists and cultural figures for an advisory session ahead of the actual National People’s Congress (NPC) itself.

Other celebrity attendees include Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, comedian Zhao Benshan, whom had been rumored to be involved in a corruption investigation and the Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan.

He also wanted to expand plans by China’s top film regulator, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), to decentralize the censorship process for local movies, granting bureaus in the provinces the power to examine films, as part of an effort to streamline the approvals process.

Pilot schemes have been introduced in Jilin, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shaanxi and Hubei, although big-budget movies about the 1949 revolution or historical films shot by military units are still the responsibility of SAPPRFT.

The NPC starts on Thursday (March 5) and red flags will fly all over the capital as delegates arrive in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square for the event. The parliament is largely a symbolic affair as most of the laws under discussion have been decided and the Bills are generally passed to resounding applause and nearly 100 per cent approval, but the NPC does give insights into what issues the Chinese government considers important.

This year, slower economic growth, the fight against corruption, a new counterterrorism law and reform of state-owned enterprises are likely to top the agenda.