Why China just censored a busty Tang Dynasty soap opera

Obsession
China's Transition
Obsession
China's Transition

Plunging necklines are the latest victim of Chinese censors. The soap opera “The Empress of China”— based on the life of Wu Zetian, a seventh-century concubine-transformed-empress—was abruptly pulled from the air days after its release at the end of December. Viewers speculated it was because the show featured buxom women, including the Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, in tight-fitting, low-cut dresses. Sure enough, the drama re-aired late last week, featuring no changes to the plot but with strategic edits to show less cleavage.

The changes to the show have been met with online outrage as internet users criticize the government’s heavy-handed censorship. In the past, the State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SGAPPRFT) agency has issued a ban on salacious content including drug use and murder, time travel (deemed unscientific), and stories that propagate “a passive or negative outlook on life, worldview and value system.”

As of today, the topic “SGAPPRFT please get a brain” (registration required) has attracted more than 300 million viewings on the microblog Weibo. One blogger wrote: “In the future, China’s TV and films will completely degenerate to the same level as North Korea’s.” Other users posted images of a topless Mao Zedong as a way to mock censors. Already, some critical comments have been erased.

Television viewers and internet users are upset about more than just censorship. For some, it’s an example of hypocrisy. At the same time that officials routinely crack down on steamy films, Chinese politics is rife with scandals—the latest top Chinese official to be felled, Zhou Yongkang, has been accused of trading money and power for sex.

Punning on an old Chinese idiom that translates roughly as, “Gods may do what cattle cannot,” one Weibo user wrote, “The rulers may commit adultery, while the governed are not even allowed look at bosoms.”

Additional reporting by Zheping Huang.

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