More control on TV dramas and their actors means that they should prove they have a “correct political orientation” and promote “socialist values.”
by Yuan Peizhi
On April 26, 2022, the China Federation of Radio and Television Social Organizations and the China Network Audiovisual Program Service Association released the “Specifications for the Production and Operation of TV and Web Drama Crews.” As usual, a “trial” version of new regulations is published inviting comments, but the final version is never significantly different from what has been disclosed to start this pseudo-democratic process.
China produces more television series and TV movies than any other country in the world, including the United States, and keeping this huge segment of popular culture under control is crucial for the CCP.
An interesting part of the regulations is that they try to apply Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” principles and eliminate the “unreasonably high remunerations” of actors. According to Article 19, “the total remuneration of all actors should not exceed 40% of the total production cost, of which the remuneration of the main actors shall not exceed 70% of the total remuneration, and the remuneration of other actors shall not be less than 30% of the total remuneration.” The producers should also oppose “the unhealthy style of luxury and vanity” of some actors, take care that they do not “show off wealth,” and avoid extravagant expenses for their hotels and meals (article 25).
While this is not unreasonable in difficult economic times, it is also a way to rein in celebrities who have been denounced by Xi Jinping himself as suspiciously independent from the Communist Party.
The core of the provisions is that TV series should follow a “correct political orientation” (article 1). The aim of the TV series is to “promote the core socialist values and the spirit of patriotism” (article 5). It is thus necessary that actors, directors, and all the others involved in producing and filming the series have enough “political literacy” (article 7).
To be on the safer side, very detailed provisions apply the principle that in China there is no such a thing as a real “independent” filmmaking. Plans for TV and web series and how these plans are implemented should go through a long list of approvals by censoring bodies and local Party authorities.
The regulations explain that while legal religions should not be offended, TV and web series should “strictly abide by the national ethnic and religious policies” (article 20), which forbid promotion of religion, and resolutely “resist” xie jiao (i.e., banned religious movements) and illegal religion (article 5).
There are really no TV series in China that we know of that promote Falun Gong and other groups labeled as xie jiao, but the regulations would certainly make producers and actors more careful in avoiding all references that can be interpreted as promotion of religion or of “superstition.”