Epic Post 4: Did Censors Ban Homosexuality?

You know your drama has a problem when your ship is title "Heroin."

The short answer is no. The long answer is it’s complicated.

Cfensi is back with our least favorite column, the epic post aka what’s wrong with the media.   As you might have heard from CNN, Time, or a number of other media outlets, China has recently taken down a series with a homosexual pair and may have banned everything from portrayal of homosexuality to reincarnation to extra-marital affairs.  I can probably write a book of ways SARFT can improve, but this time, they really didn’t do it.

Let’s break this news down one-by-one.  First, the more serious accusation from CNN.

Chinese censors say television shows shouldn’t include story lines involving gay relationships, plus other topics that “exaggerate the dark side of society,” according to new guidelines.

The document exists, and is against everything from reincarnation to sexual liberation. However, if CNN had bothered to look up the organizations (one of which they named in the article), they’ll see that the document is by two non-state-sponsored organization with no jurisdiction over TV production.  Just because an organization has the word China in it doesn’t mean it’s official.

Now back to the beginning. The  fiasco first came when the net series Addiction 上瘾, which is pretty much a BL version of Meteor Garden, was taken down, and all the media said it was because of the homosexuality. Fun fact: Meteor Garden was also taken down for promotion of school violence, which violates article 10 of the official SARFT’s Television Content Regulation for minors.

"Go Princess Go" featured

In Go Princess Go, the soul of a present-day male reincarnates into the body of  a concubine of a Prince, tries to woo all his fellow concubines while still in female body, then eventually falls for the Prince. At the end of the series, both get snapped into present day as male.

It’s more likely the move is a part of the plan to regulate net series like other TV series and make guidelines consistent. Previously, net series did not have to go through review prior to airing.  Just last month, at least five other Internet series were taken down temporarily, and all five are available for viewing in China as of writing. Only one of the five included a LGBT pair.  Yes, I am talking about the Internet phenomenon Go Princess Go 太子妃升职记, which is about a modern male who reincarnates into a concubine of a Prince and falls for him. The series ended up cutting out all of its sex scenes (China has no rating system, so all shows are suppose to be at most PG-13 if not PG). The producer said that they made the cuts according to their own discretion before submitting it for review, which probably means they played it safe and cut anything that might be controversial.   

In addition, the news articles forget to mention that Addiction promotes several things we know that SARFT is not okay with –  corruption, illicit drug use, and violence and sexual assault of minor.  The male lead used his dad’s government status to force government institutions to help him woo his beau, beat up innocent classmates for fun, kidnapped and almost raped the other male lead in the name of love,  and somehow those scenes were suppose to make him hot. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series was taken down for any of those reasons.

In last ye

Only last year, blockbuster The Dead End featured the homosexual male lead (Deng Chao) making out with another man.

And it’s not that homosexuality is not allowed to air in China.  Only last year, blockbuster The Dead End featured the male lead (Deng Chao) in a pretty intense make-out scene with another man.   In 2013, the state-owned CCTV  aired a scene featuring a homosexual pair caught (clothed) in bed in New Detective Squad. The same team later produced made-for-TV film Diving Boys 激情跳水梦, and the production team stated the film was written as a  BL without overt romances. The film also aired on CCTV.

To me, the bigger story here is that because of the ambiguity of SARFT and general lack of acceptance, several major productions have recently chose to remove homosexual relationships and add heterosexual ones  in the process of adaptation . While the changes were not fundamental in series like Nirvana in Fire, it’s a much bigger deal in dramas likely to be centered around the relationships, such as Rebirth and maybe Song of the Phoenix.  This is especially disconcerting in light of the rise of slash ships, so there’s a dichotomy of both the commercialization of fake homosexual relationships and the suppression of real ones in the TV world.  This act of self-censorship is just as problematic as actual censorship, and is actually something that’s going on instead of made up by the press.

Finally, to be fair, the Chinese media was all over this, too.  But Sina never pretended to have journalistic standards, CNN is suppose to at least have the pretense of one.


11 thoughts on “Epic Post 4: Did Censors Ban Homosexuality?

  1. Doubtful that CNN will do any fact checking or even issue a retraction about this. Damage has been done and China’s reputation will fall another notch.

  2. “The male lead used his dad’s government status to force government institutions to help him woo his beau, beat up innocent classmates for fun, kidnapped and almost raped the other male lead in the name of love, and somehow those scenes were suppose to make him hot. I wouldn’t be surprised if the series was taken down for any of those reasons.”

    I just want to ask about this statement of yours (just to clarify my mind). I have watched the series and I think he never used the status of his father because he dislike him so much, second it wasn’t shown that he even mentioned his father’s status in the series. He didn’t beat any innocent classmates just for fun he beats them cause they’re being a jackass. The third one was true though that he kidnapped the other lead

    • Thanks for the link! I’ve been reading more on BL-culture in China, and it’s great that people in China are taking note of the difference between BL fiction/drama and works that actually explore homosexuality. I used to be a big fan of shipping bromances, but I feel like nowadays bromances and BL are getting over-commercialized, and can often be setbacks to actually adavancing LGBT rights (cough,Addiction, cough).

      • Its no wonder the lead actors Huang JingYu (Johnny Huang), Xu Weizhou (Timmy Zhou), Lin Fengsong and Chen Wen would rather not talk about the series anymore right after this. Mentioning of lack of general acceptance and negative flaks from netizens regarding the underlying themes

  3. Thank you for this thoughtful, informative post. It helps a lot with understanding the situation with web series and censorship.

  4. Thanks for the in depth explanation! It is interesting because I am also one of those who blame SARFT whenever there are new drama regulations. I understand their desire to put a stop on Addicted/Heroin because it is a very negative drama with a lot of contents that we rarily see in cdramas. However, it is indeed the reality in China; the Guan Er Dai using their parents’ corruption power to make life of their classmates/entourage miserable. Sigh, this situation is a serious mess and China really needs some kind of social revolution.

    • I don’t want to sound like an apologist for SARFT, but corruption is not forbidden on TV. Neither is school violence nor rape of minors. SARFT has no clear rules, but my general feeling is that it’s only an issue when it’s done without punishment.

      For example, New Detective Squad’s Case 1 included an antagonist who was modeled after the 我爸是李刚 guy. Case 3 was centered around a government contract that gave everyone impotent vaccines, and was overall tied into the political machine in town.

      That said, what I think SARFT really needs is economists who can show them how counterproductive most of their guidelines are …

  5. Thanks for writing this post. I read about this brouhaha in a few English blogs (haven’t read the CNN article, though). I didn’t realize the Heroin/Addictive webseries has a few issues, as I didn’t watch it. I, too, initially thought it was because of the homosexuality plot. I do agree with you, though, it’s the self-censorship that’s concerning.

  6. Thanks for clearing that up! I saw on weibo the screenshots of the “ban”, which didn’t seem official, but some other sites that report on chinese news said it was a SARFT regulation. Good thing it’s not real lol.

    • Pretty much profound on Taiwanese news media outlets about the news, even though there are all BS rumours in the first place.

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