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Article China: Film Censorship

(May 2, 2008) On March 3, 2008, China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued the Circular on Restating Film Censorship Standards, reiterating but elaborating upon the standards set forth in China's Regulations on the Administration of Films (in force on Feb. 1, 2002; art. 25 lists ten types of forbidden content (Dianying guanli tiaoli, available at (last visited Apr. 22, 2008)) and in the 2006 Provisions on Screenplay (Synopsis) Filing for the Record and Film Management (in force on June 22, 2006; art. 13 lists ten types of forbidden content, art. 14 lists 9 circumstances in which a film should be cut and revised) (Dianying juben (genggai) bei'an, dianying pian guanli guiding, available at (last visited Apr. 22, 2008).)

Item 3 of the new circular lists nine types of circumstances in which film content should be cut and revised, reflecting those set forth in the 2006 Screenplay Provisions. These include the distortion of China's civilization and history or that of other nations and depictions that would “tarnish the image of revolutionary leaders, heroes, and important historic characters, members of the armed forces, police, and judicial bodies.” The circular also forbids the depiction of hardcore sex, rape, prostitution, or use of “vulgar dialogue or music and sound effects” with a sexual connotation and the depiction of “murder, violence, horror, evil spirits, and devils.” It bans the detailed representation of crimes, disclosure of special investigatory techniques, or highly provocative depiction of homicide, blood, violence, drug use, or gambling; scenes of maltreatment of prisoners and of the extraction through torture of confessions from criminals or criminal suspects; and the use of “excessively terrifying scenes, conversations, background music and sound effects.” Advocacy of religious extremism and incitement of contention or conflict between different religions or sects or between believers and non-believers are also banned, as is film content advocating “nihilism, environmental damage, animal abuse and the capture or killing of rare animals.” (Guang Dian Zong Ju guanyu chongshen dianying shencha biaozhun de tongzhi [SARFT Circular on Restating Film Censorship Standards], Mar, 3, 2008, available at; Clifford Coonan, SARFT Clarifies Censorship Rules on Sex, Drugs and Environment, VARIETY ASIA, Mar. 9, 2008, available at

In addition to the above restrictions, on December 1, 2007, China imposed an unwritten ban of at least three months on the release of films from the United States. The order reportedly came from an agency higher than the SARFT or the Film Bureau, the units that typically handle movie industry policy and its application, and is speculated to have originated from the Propaganda Ministry. Reasons for the move appear to be a mixture of political and film-trade industry issues. From the industry perspective, the ban is viewed as possible retaliation for the role of the U.S. Motion Picture Assocation members in convincing the the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to file an action against China in the World Trade Organization (WTO) in April 2007 over intellectual property protection and market access; in September, the cases became full disputes. (Patrick Frater, China Sets 3 Month Ban on U.S. Films, VARIETY, Dec. 5, 2007, The 2007 USTR report to the U.S. Congress on China's WTO compliance stated:

China continues to interpret its audio-visual services commitments restrictively, despite the fact that this approach encourages the illegal copying and sale of foreign films in China. In particular, China continues to treat its commitment to allow the importation of 20 foreign films for theatrical release on a revenue sharing basis per year as a ceiling rather than a floor and further constrains the timely release of these films through distribution and marketing restrictions and lengthy film approval requirements. The United States has raised its concerns in this area with China at high levels since 2004, … leading up to the filing of WTO dispute settlement proceedings in April 2007 on IPR enforcement and on China's restrictions on the importation and distribution of copyright intensive products such as theatrical films, DVDs, music, books and journals. However, little progress has been made to date.


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