Translations & Introduction by Liju
The following excerpts are translations of television drama licensing and content regulations from the People’s Republic of China, promulgated between 1986 and 2015. During this period of roughly thirty years, China underwent dramatic changes in both the economic and cultural spheres corresponding to the nation’s transition to capitalism. “Chinese censorship” has played a prominent position in overseas news coverage of these changes. Rather than reducing TV drama regulation to a simple act of suppression on the part of the state, we understand these policy documents within the context of a marketizing media landscape that, over the course of these decades, came to be increasingly funded by private capital. In order to maintain control over the interests of the individual capitals involved, the state, in its capacity as the collective arbiter of the capitalist class, has implemented an evolving system of licensing and content regulations that legitimize the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government, and capitalist society more generally.
The decrease of state subsidies and the legitimation of market-based sources of funding such as advertisement and sponsorships served to integrate TV drama production into the marketizing Chinese economy during the 1980s. This early period was marked by a greater variety of provincial and county level state-owned production units entering the emerging industry, which had formerly been dominated by units under the ownership of the central government. To control the inflow of private capital, state institutions began licensing these production units. The first regulatory document selected below, the 1986 “Temporary Provisions Regarding the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television (MRFT)’s Implementation of a Television Drama Production Licensing System,” aimed at ensuring that only state-affiliated production units would receive funding from private sources. It states that “private production of television dramas is prohibited,” forcing wholly private production companies to work outside the law. The document also comes close to framing TV drama production as a capitalist venture through its explicit mention of zijin 资金, literally “funding” but here serving as a euphemism for “capital” (资本). One of the primary factors used in determining whether a state-owned production unit deserved a license was the amount of capital the unit had at its disposal, indicating that the viability of production as a business venture was of key importance to license-issuing units.
The second translated regulatory document, “Regulations for the Management of Television Drama Production Licenses” (1995), reveals that the capital which advertiser-developed production companies and business conglomerates brought to the industry would soon lead the MRFT to revise licensing laws. In this later document, drafted when marketization had become widespread and the transition to capitalism nearly completed, the licensing requirements mention no difference between private and state-owned production units. This is likely due to the recognized viability of the productions of private units on the TV drama market. The process required to receive these licenses became one of examination, the end goal of which was to determine whether a production unit was worthy of entering the market. The material side of this measure of worth lay in the management of capital. The regulations required the verification of “capital from outside the applying unit” in the form of a “letter of interest in sponsorship or investment and a report of fund usage.” Rather than attempting to restrict the flow of private capital into the hands of state-owned production units, the state now permitted private units to use wholly private sources of capital. This marks the full marketization of the TV drama production industry, which followed full marketization across a number of consumer goods industries but preceded the final marketization of the heavy industries in the late 1990s.
The measure of market worth also marks the intersection of the market and the changing ideology of the state, especially distinct after the turn of the millennium. As the state’s mechanisms of control over the TV drama industry were shifting to manage the flow of private capital, the industry’s examination systems ultimately abandoned the licensing system. Instead, production units were now required to submit individual dramas for examination. Only dramas which passed content examinations would receive permission to air. These content examinations utilized a series of content prohibitions outlined in the final two regulatory documents excerpted here, released in 2006 and 2016. Both these documents were promulgated after the completion of China’s capitalist transition, but they mark two different phases of the state’s efforts to compose itself in accord with the new social context. They outline the kind of ideological message required for a drama to enter the market. As with previous mechanisms of media control, both aim to reinforce the legitimacy of the party and the state, though now this goal is intertwined with an ideology supporting the new class of capitalists that had both gestated within and been newly recruited into those political institutions. The application of the content prohibitions creates dramas which normalize, validate, and market the capitalist mode of production. This involves the reproduction of an ideology that propagates certain social norms, non-state institutions like marriage and the family, and nationalism.
The 2006 document, the “Temporary Provisions for Television Content Regulation,” connects forbidden content to this emerging ideology. The differences between this document and the 2015 one, the “General Rules for Television Drama Content Production,” showcase the evolution of ideology to meet the changing needs of the state as it sought to restructure in a way “adequate to the task” of long-term social reproduction. In general, there are two categories of prohibitions: those legitimating the state’s authority, and those promoting a way of life beneficial to the reproduction of capitalist society.
Prohibitions falling into the first category can be further divided into those normalizing the existence of the state, and those aimed at obscuring the effects of capitalist exploitation. A literal example of the former is the prohibition on harming “the image of the People’s Army, the armed police (武警), public security and judicial personnel, and other designated careers” in the 2006 “Temporary Provisions.” This prevents production units from critiquing the state’s methods of exerting power over its citizens. A less explicit example would be prohibitions on content which diverges from a given historical narrative. This includes the prohibition on elements which portray “history, especially revolutionary history, in an excessively entertaining and game-like fashion” in the 2015 “General Rules.” Emphasizing the importance of the events of the twentieth century which brought the party to power normalizes the power of the party in the present day, regardless of the differences between the party in the first half of the twentieth century and its current incarnation. In doing so, capitalist social relations, maintained in part by the active governance of the party and the state, are naturalized as the best and only possible status quo.
An example of prohibitions aimed at obscuring the social outcomes of capitalist exploitation are the prohibitions in the 2006 “Temporary Provisions” on content which does not “clearly distinguish between real and fake, good and evil, and beautiful and ugly, muddling the demarcation between right and wrong.” This prohibition covers depictions of crime, “unhealthy activities,” and “societal backwardness,” which are all included in subsections of the document. These prohibitions would have dramas portray Chinese society as free from these maladies. It hides both dissent and the consequences of the capitalist exploitation, expropriation and exclusion of workers and ethnic minorities. The 2015 “General Rules” attempts to justify these prohibitions by claiming that these are “bad social practices which negatively influence minors,” indicating that this portrayal of a utopian People’s Republic hides the negative impacts of capitalism and validates the regime for future generations.
The second category of prohibitions promotes ways of life that benefit the capitalist mode of production. Many of the prohibitions falling under this category in the 2006 “Temporary Prohibitions” advocate for heterosexual, monogamous married life by banning portrayals of “views and situations concerning love and marriage which do not accord with healthy ethics and morals,” including sexual openness and premarital cohabitation. The state relies on heterosexual monogamy to ease anxieties about the nation’s declining birth rate and to reinforce gender and family norms in an era of increasing social anomie. One reason for anxiety about the declining birth rate is that fewer births will lead to a smaller labor force in future decades, increasing the social costs of caring for the elderly, placing a financial strain on the state, and undercutting the very factor that had previously ensured Chinese competitiveness on the global market. The intensification of that anxiety is evident in the 2015 ban on homosexuality as a form of “unnatural sexual relations.” This stigmatizes the queer community while emphasizing heterosexual monogamy as the societal standard. Besides promoting certain family patterns, the 2015 “General Rules” also added a ban on content deemed to be “propagating an extravagant lifestyle.” This is one way of mitigating proletarian alienation. It ensures that social inequality remains partially obscured, helping workers to remain satisfied with their own lifestyle, inherently limited by the wage.
The regulation and examination system that governs the TV drama industry was thus refined over the course of China’s capitalist transition and subsequent state-building efforts. Today, when production units create dramas within the parameters of the ruling ideology, they influence their audiences to conform to those parameters in their own lives and creations. The transition from a licensing system to the individual drama content examination system is indicative of the transition from an explicit system to a more subtle but effective mechanism of control. The difference between the 2006 and 2015 documents also reflects a type of refinement within state mechanisms more broadly, marking the shift from heavier-handed forms of intervention to more subtle methods of statecraft aimed at channeling private interests into the state’s regulatory framework.
Many of these efforts have been dedicated to diverting proletarians’ attention from their own conditions of life, whether defined by exploitation in the workplace or exclusion from it. This occurs on an explicit level, such as the new ban on “propagating an extravagant lifestyle” mentioned in the previous paragraph. It also occurs on a more subtle level, in the form of promulgating nationalism. The promulgation of nationalism not only legitimizes the party and state, but also redirects proletarian antagonism away from domestic capitalists and towards would-be foreign enemies. Article 3 of the 2015 document mentions that the industry should “vigorously carry forward excellent Chinese traditional culture” and “contribute to the realization of the Chinese Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.” These lines express the nationalism of the 2010s through the usage of the phrase “Chinese Dream,” as well as the focus on “traditional” Chinese culture. Xi Jinping has regularly used both of these themes to outline the material and modernizing goals of his administration since 2012. The promulgation of this type of nationalism facilitates the refinement of efforts to maintain the capitalist system of control through the redirection of proletarian antagonism, encouraging Chinese citizens to support this refinement without relying on laws or regulations.
In this sense, Chinese TV drama regulation in the 2010s is part of the trend of refinement in a specific direction. The 1986 and 1995 documents come from the initial and final period of capitalist transition, as new enterprises and capital flooded the budding industry. They therefore represent initial (1986) and more advanced (1995) attempts to codify state intervention into the ideological sphere under the ever-changing rubric of “reform and opening,” which was the official term used to represent the underlying transition to capitalism. Once that transition was complete, ideological interventions took place in a new context. The exploratory methods of the 2006 document represent a tentative step, feeling out the state’s new roles in bolstering private ideological production while also ensuring the reproduction of capitalist relations overall.. The 2015 document represents a solidification and reaffirmation of the direction of both TV drama regulation and the support of the capitalist system. Together, these four documents show how TV drama regulation reflects China’s capitalist transition, which in turn demonstrates the definitive entrenchment of the capitalist system today. I hope that readers can gain a deeper understanding of “Chinese censorship” by having access to this information in translation. In the context of the capitalist transition and marketization of the TV drama industry, they reveal that the state is not an external force intervening within the private media sector but is instead the means by which capitalist society reproduces itself, in this case through the sculpting of popular ideology. This fact lies at the heart of censorship in China.
Temporary Provisions Regarding the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television’s Implementation of a Television Drama Production Licensing System
June 1, 1986
The following temporary provisions were specially drafted in order to promote, improve, and strengthen the management of television dramas.
Article 1: All units (including all levels of TV stations) producing television dramas must hold a television drama production license (henceforth referred to as ‘license’). Units without a license lack the right to produce television dramas. Private production of television dramas is prohibited.
Article 2: The Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television and all provincial, autonomous, and municipal broadcasting and television administrations hold the right to issue licenses. All other units lack the right to issue licenses.
Propaganda and art units directly under the central government must apply to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television. All propaganda and art units within the provincial, autonomous, and municipal levels must go to the appropriate administration to apply. Upon issuing a license, all provincial, autonomous, and municipal level administrations must immediately record the case with the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television.
Article 3: Units applying for a license must have an independently produced television script, directing staff, filming staff, and recording staff, as well as dedicated equipment and capital.
When applying for a license, units must provide evidence for the above requirements. Evidence must be authentic and cannot be counterfeit.
Issuing units must rigorously verify the materials provided by applying units. Those without the appropriate materials cannot be issued a license.
Article 4: There are two types of television drama production licenses: long term and temporary licenses.
Long term licenses are effective for five years. After this period, units must reapply to continue producing television dramas.
Temporary licenses are effective only for production of the declared program and are invalid for any other programs.
License-holding units must be proactive and immediately report to the license-issuing unit any inability to fulfill the conditions of the license due to personnel and equipment changes.
License-issuing units must frequently inspect the personnel, equipment, etc. of the license-holding unit. If the unit is unable to meet the conditions of the license, the license must immediately be suspended.
Article 5: License-holding units are not permitted to sell, rent, transfer ownership (or covertly transfer ownership) of the license or use any methods to allow unlicensed units or units which do not meet the requirements to produce television dramas. However, license-holding units may collaborate with each other.
Article 6: All levels of television stations can only broadcast television dramas produced by license-holding units. Dramas produced without a license cannot be broadcast or circulated by audiovisual media circulation units, without exception. Completed television dramas must pass censorship before airing.
Article 7: If license-holding units receive aid from enterprises and institutions, the enterprise, institution, or individual must not interfere with the script, direction, filming, or recording of the drama. All production rights belong to the license-holding unit.
Article 8: License-issuing units must curb all behavior that does not comply with these provisions, as well as confiscate the dramas and suspend the license of non-compliant units. Units whose licenses have been suspended cannot reapply for a license within three years (from the date the license was canceled).
Article 9: These provisions are only applicable to domestic units producing television dramas. Collaborating with a foreign entity requires the unified examination and approval of the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television.
Article 10: The right to interpret these provisions belongs to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television.
Article 11: These provisions are effective from June 1, 1986.
Regulations for the Management of Television Drama Production Licenses
October 18, 1995
Ministry of Radio, Film and Television Order Number 17
Article 1: The following regulations were specially drafted to promote the production of television dramas, advance the construction of a socialist spiritual civilization, improve the quality of television dramas, and strengthen the management of television drama production.
Article 2: These regulations define the television drama as a television (video) program which utilizes electronic recording methods to tell a story.
Television drama production refers to the art of the creation and production of television dramas.
Article 3: The Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television is responsible for the management of television production for the nation. Provincial, autonomous, and municipal radio and television administrations are responsible for the television drama production of their areas of jurisdiction.
Article 4: All units seeking to produce television dramas must hold a television drama production license (henceforth referred to as “license”).
Article 5: There are two varieties of licenses: the long-term license and the temporary license. The long-term license is effective for three years. The temporary license is issued per drama and is restricted to use during the production of the program reported on the application.
Article 6: Television stations of a higher level than provincial capitals (or television drama production centers), film studios, audiovisual publishing units and propaganda and arts units with professional television drama production structures which meet the following conditions may apply for a long term license:
- Have professional teams for television drama producing (filming directors), screenwriting, directing, filming, etc., as well as a chief of staff. The chief of staff must have a degree of education higher than the junior college level that matches their profession, or have been responsible for the production of more than three television dramas aired at television stations higher than the provincial level;
- Have two full sets of specialized equipment capable of filming two television dramas simultaneously;
- Have specialized capital for television drama production;
- Have the capacity to produce over four single-episode television dramas or over two medium or long-form television serials every year.
Article 7: All units which are unable to fulfill the conditions of Article 6 of these regulations or organizations formed with the approval of Radio and Television Administration Department that fulfill the following conditions may apply for a temporary license:
- Have a clear certification or protocol that authorizes the screenwriter to produce;
- Have the necessary professional teams for scriptwriting, production, directing, filming, acting, etc. specified in the application;
- Have a script that has passed examination from a propaganda department or other responsible department higher than the prefectural level;
- Have the specialized equipment necessary for filming the program specified in the application;
- Have the dedicated capital necessary for filming the program specified in the application;
- Have a determined filming schedule.
Article 8: Long Term Application Examination and Approval Process
- Applying units must provide the Radio and Television Administration Department with the “Television Production License Application Form” and accurately fill it out, as well as provide verifiable and reliable evidence. The chief of staff, specialized equipment, and dedicated capital must receive certificates from the Human Resources Department, the Equipment Management Department, and the Financial Affairs Department respectively, and samples should be provided for every program listed in the professional resume.
- Television production units under the jurisdiction of the central government submit applications to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television for examination and approval after receiving comments and signatures from the necessary departments, committees, and administrations; television production units under the jurisdiction of provincial, autonomous, and municipal governments submit applications to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television for examination and approval after receiving comments and signatures from a provincial level Radio and Television Administration Department.
Article 9: Temporary Application Examination and Approval Process
- Applying units must provide the Radio and Television Administration Department with the “Television Production License Application Form” and accurately fill it out, simultaneously providing certification of the chief of staff, equipment, funding examination, etc. and a filming schedule.
Staff and equipment which are rented (borrowed) from other units must receive certification from the other unit or provide a contract between the two parties; capital from outside the applying unit must provide a letter of interest in sponsorship or investment and a report of fund usage.
- Television production units under the jurisdiction of the central government submit applications to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television for examination and approval after receiving comments and signatures from the necessary higher level departments; television production units under the jurisdiction of provincial, autonomous, and municipal governments submit applications to a provincial level Radio and Television Administration Department for examination and approval.
The Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television is responsible for uniformly designing the “Television Drama Production License Application Form” and the “Television Production Temporary License Application Form.” The Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television is responsible for uniformly printing the licenses.
Article 10: Major Revolutionary and Historical Themed Television Drama Production License Examination and Approval Method:
- Long term license-holding units producing this type of drama should first provide the script to all provincial level Radio and Television Departments and party propaganda committees for initial examination. After passing initial examination, the script must pass examination from the “Major Revolutionary and Historical Themed Film and Television Creation Leading Group” (henceforth referred to as the “leading group”). Once the script has been approved by the Leading Group, it can enter the filming stage.
- Units which do not hold a long-term license producing this type of drama should refer to this article’s first procedure. Based on the input from the Leading Group, the unit should apply to the Radio and Television Administration Department for a temporary license.
Article 11: For collaborations between long term license-holding units and units which do not hold a long-term license, the holder of the long-term license must be the dominant party. The license-holding unit must have a producer and director participating in the production process.
Units which do not hold a license must not apply for a temporary license.
Article 12: Collaborations between units applying for a temporary license and units which do not hold a license must provide a contract of collaboration, within which the license-holding party must take responsibility for providing the producer.
Article 13: The production rights and copyrights of the products of collaborations must not be held alone by the party which does not hold a license.
Article 14: The Radio and Television Administration Department must severely inspect units which are applying for licenses and issue them licenses after the fulfillment of all the conditions.
Article 15: Units applying for temporary licenses must apply before filming. Applications filed during or after filming will not be issued a license.
Provincial level Radio and Television Administration Departments must report issued licenses to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television within a month of issuing the license.
Article 16: Cross-provincial television drama production units must take the initiative to report filming locations to the local Radio and Television Administration Departments and provide them the license or a photocopy of the license. The photocopy of the license is only effective when officially stamped by the license-issuing department.
Article 17: The Radio and Television Administration Department must implement a system of yearly inspection of units holding long term licenses.
During the yearly inspection, if the conditions and qualifications to hold the license are not met or activities which go against national laws or regulations occur during production, the Radio and Television Administration Department may issue a request to suspend the license and report the case to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television to make the decision.
Units whose licenses have been suspended cannot reapply for a license within three years.
Article 18: Units holding temporary licenses should return their license to the issuing department within fifteen days of completing the broadcasting or publishing process.
If holders of temporary licenses have not begun filming six months after the issuance of the license, the issuing unit holds the right to recall the license.
Article 19: The television dramas aired by all levels of television stations (including cable television, similarly hereafter) must be produced by a license-holding unit.
Article 20: Television dramas sent to television stations for broadcasting must display the license number on the opening title and ending of the television drama. The opening must display the license number on the bottom for more than five seconds. The ending must display the license number and the name of the production unit in the same size, as “License Number XXX.”
If television stations find during censorship that the program does not display the license number according to the regulations, the station should return the program to the production unit to properly display the license number and resubmit.
Article 21: Audiovisual publishing units must check for licenses when purchasing television dramas. Audiovisual publishing units are prohibited from purchasing, publishing, and distributing television dramas without a license.
Article 22: 2: If production units violate these regulations, they will be penalized based on the seriousness of the case as followed:
- For units without a license who have produced a television drama or units which have not reported their filming to the local licensing management department must stop all production, seal the drama’s source material and master tape, and pay a fine of 10-15 percent of the television drama’s total investment.
- Units which alter, sell, rent, or transfer ownership of their license, other than having the license suspended, must also pay a fine of 500,000 yuan. The involved television drama’s source material and master tape will be confiscated and sealed.
- Television stations which broadcast television dramas that have not displayed their license number will receive a warning and public criticism and must pay 10-15 percent of the television drama’s total revenue as a fine.
Television stations which broadcast television dramas without a license must pay a fine of double the income made during the broadcasting period in addition to receiving a warning, public criticism, and suspension of the license.
- Units which refuse or interfere with license issuing personnel’s inspection or supervision will receive a warning and public criticism, and have their license suspended; those who violate regulations related to the maintenance of public order must submit to the punishment of public safety departments; that which constitutes a crime will be investigated according to criminal law.
- License holding production units which do not produce more than four single-episode dramas or more than two middle or long form dramas every year will have their license suspended.
Article 23: To suspend a license, a provincial level Radio and Television Administration Department must report their suggestion to the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television to decide. Provincial level Radio and Television Administration Departments are responsible for decisions to suspend temporary licenses.
Article 24: The Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television holds the responsibility of interpreting these guidelines.
Article 25: These articles are effective upon the day of their publication. At the same time, the regulations issued on August 21, 1989, and May 20, 1990 are abolished.
Temporary Provisions for Television Content Regulation
Published by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) on May 5, 2006
Notice on the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television’s Distribution of the “Temporary Provisions for Television Content Regulation”: SARFT has drafted the “Temporary Provisions for Television Content Regulation” in order to strengthen and regulate the nation’s television examination management, preserve the correct orientation, and unite the standards of examination. Now that it has obtained the approval of the Ministry of Propaganda, it is distributed to you. Please adhere to and implement these regulations.
First, these regulations are to be applied to all forms and genres of television dramas, including domestic dramas, collaborations, imported dramas (and animations) and films broadcast on television.
Second, according to the “Television Drama Examination Management Guidelines” (SARFT Order Number 40), the following content is prohibited in television dramas:
- Content which violates the basic principles affirmed within the Constitution;
- Content which endangers the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the state;
- Content which leaks state secrets, endangers the security of the state, or harms the honor or interests of the nation;
- Content which fans ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, harms ethnic unity, or disrespects ethnic customs;
- Content which propagates heresy and superstition;
- Content which disturbs the social order or disrupts social stability;
- Content which propagates obscenity, gambling, violence, or instigates crime;
- Content which insults or slanders others, or infringes upon the legal rights of others;
- Content which endangers public morality or excellent ethnic traditions;
- Other content which is prohibited by law, administrative regulations, and national regulations.
Third, television drama content examination, according to the above principles, should manage television drama content from two levels:
- Grasp the political, ideological, and value orientation of television dramas and prevent major thematic or fundamental issues in television drama content from entering the television market;
- In the circumstance that there is no major issue within the content, manage the content of the fundamental elements of television dramas such as the plot, language, scenes, music, sounds, etc., and prevent any problematic content from appearing on the screen.
Fourth, Television dramas containing the following elements should be appropriately cut and altered. If the problem is serious, distribution and broadcasting of the drama is prohibited.
- Elements which do not adhere to the circumstances of the country and the social system, are harmful to socialist China’s image, and are not beneficial to the unity of the country or social stability:
- Elements which deride the nation’s guiding policies or satirize daily life or social conditions;
- Elements which do not appropriately grasp the theme, leading to the objective effect of being biased and not suppressing evil, thus influencing the public’s correct understanding of the overall situation in all aspects of the country;
- Elements which exaggerate or magnify social issues, utilize naturalist methods to portray and reveal the dark side of society, or give rise to misunderstandings of the nation’s future
- Elements which propagate the notion that China historically used military might to subjugate other nations;
- Elements which utilize language and names which are associated with colonialism.
- Elements which harm ethnic unity:
- Elements which defame or belittle the image of characters belonging to an ethnic minority and harm the language, sounds, activities, and stories of an ethnic sentiment;
- Elements which exoticize unique minority customs and religion to the point of insult and defamation;
- Elements which portray sensitive issues, historical events which injure ethnic sentiment, and ethnic warfare;
- Portray ethnic exchange as warfare between two nations.
- Elements which propagate feudal superstitions and go against the spirit of science:
- Elements which propagate feudal superstitions such as spiritual possession, reincarnation and Yin-Yang, transmigration between life and death, divination, omen reading, etc.
- Elements which portray backward, strange, evil, or vulgar feudal culture;
- Elements which portray the mingling of humans, spirits, and gods in the contemporary period.
- Elements which exaggerate terror and violence, reveal evil conduct, and tempt viewers to commit crimes:
- Elements which propagate violence, murder, and evil savagery;
- Elements which painstakingly portray violent and despicable criminal methods;
- Elements which reveal reconnaissance methods and the details of solving criminal cases that may guide criminals into evading these methods;
- Elements which portray strange cases;
- Elements which sympathize with or understand to the point of glorifying or endorsing criminals, criminal ideology, criminal activity, or produce a similar effect
- Elements which do not clearly distinguish between real and fake, good and evil, and beautiful and ugly and muddle the demarcation between right and wrong, or produce a similar effect;
- Elements which portray drug usage, excessive drinking, gambling, or other unhealthy activities in detail;
- Elements such as scenes, script, scenery, music, or sound effects which portray excessive horror, pain, hysteria, agitate the sensory organs, irritate the spirit, or cause people to be uncomfortable.
- Elements which propagate obscene lust and vulgar content:
- Elements which portray wicked activities such as prostitution, whoring, sexual promiscuity, or rape;
- Elements which portray or reveal abnormal sexual relations and sexual activities, such as incest, perversion, sexual abuse, and sexual assault;
- Elements which propagate views and situations concerning love and marriage which do not accord with healthy ethics and morals, such as unmarried cohabitation, nonmarital pregnancy, extramarital affairs, sexual openness, and free love;
- Elements which excite the sensory organs through the portrayal of bedroom shots, kissing, caressing, bathing, or similar scenes shown relatively often or for a relatively long period of time;
- Scenes or lines which explicitly show sexual provocation, harassment, molestation, or other activities with a similar effect;
- Vulgar and dirty scenes, lines, or lyrics which will cause the audience discomfort;
- Elements which expose male and female genitals and unnecessarily show other parts of the body which should be covered;
- Scenes, lines, background music, sound effects, etc. which are unsuitable for minors to consume.
- Elements which insult or slander others, infringe on another’s legal rights, or harm social harmony:
- Elements which concretely harm the image of the People’s Army, the armed police, public security and judicial personnel, and other designated careers;
- Excessively mock the career status, social status, or bodily ability of others.
- Elements which harm social morality or excellent ethnic traditions:
- Elements which exaggerate, magnify, or collectively display aspects of ethnic ignorance and societal backwardness, elements which do not benefit the inspiration of ethnic pride, depress the will of the people, or diminish their trust;
- Elements which go against basic historical facts, defame or belittle peasant uprisings or the image of peasant leaders, or elements which attempt to rectify the image of historical figures or historical events which are controversial or non-controversial;
- Elements which chronicle, praise, or express the positive aspects of illegal societal forces or important figures which are already set as reactionary, backwards, or evil in the consciousness of the public;
- Elements which misrepresent classic works, or misrepresent or distort the spirit and substance or original works;
- Elements which reveal bad social practices which negatively influence minors such as young love, smoking, drinking alcohol, fighting, etc.
- Elements which contain content that is prohibited by law, regulations, and national regulations:
- Elements which do not adhere to the relevant national law or openly reveal the internal systems and procedures of certain specialized work;
- Elements which advocate for religious extremism or provoke contradictions and conflict between religions and sects;
- Drama names, subtitles, and other written language in dramas which do not accord to the “National Common Written Language Law” and other relevant laws;
- Other content which goes against the laws or the spirit of the law or does not benefit the construction or development of the nation.
Fifth, the reporting to television drama production and examination procedures should adhere to the relevant regulations in the “Temporary Methods for the Management of Reporting Television Drama Filming” (2006 Document Number 15) and “Rules for Television Drama Examination Management” (SARFT Order Number 40).
Sixth, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television is responsible for the interpretation of these temporary provisions.
General Rules for Television Drama Content Production
December 31, 2015
The following “General Rules for Television Drama Content Production” were specially drafted in order to deepen the implementation of the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s talk at the National Art Meeting, propel the nation’s television drama industry towards glorious development, and guide television drama production units to avoid danger and positively produce. May all member units put them into action.
Article 1: The “General Rules for Television Drama Content Production” were specially drafted in order to guide member units towards producing television dramas which accord with the nation’s relevant laws and policies, and the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television’s “Rules for Television Drama Content Management” and other relevant laws, based on opinions solicited from all sides.
Article 2: Television drama production organizations should recognize and respect these rules, actively produce content which advocates for these rules, and not produce content which is forbidden by these rules.
Article 3: Television drama production organizations should preserve the direction of the “two becomes” and the objective of the “two hundreds” and work hard to produce organic, unified, excellent products which spread the values of contemporary China, embody the spirit of Chinese culture and reflect the Chinese people’s pursuit of aesthetics, ideology, art, and ornamentation.
- Preserve the creative direction of centering the people, the theme of taking the people as performance, reflecting the sound of the heart of the people, to write for the people, to express for the people, to emote for the people, and to be a starting point and standing point to fulfill the spiritual and cultural needs of the people.
- Preserve socialism as the guiding core value, vigorously carry forward patriotism as the core of the spirit of the people, take revolution to be the core spirit of the times, and guide the people towards establishing and preserving a correct historical perspective, ethnic perspective, national perspective, and cultural perspective.
- Preserve reality as the main theme, adhering to reality, adhering to life, adhering to the audience, recording the advancement of time and social progress.
- Vigorously carry forward excellent Chinese traditional culture. Using history as a mirror, pass down civilization and inspire Chinese children to respect, believe, and strengthen themselves.
- Carry forward that which is good and beautiful and broadcast positivity. Keep in mind societal responsibility and guide people to strengthen their moral judgment and moral sense of honor.
- Work hard to tell Chinese stories well, carry forward the Chinese spirit, gather Chinese strength, and contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
- Preserve societal benefit as the priority, work hard to produce products which succeed ideologically and artistically and can do well on the market, and unite social and economic benefit.
- Securely establish artistic consciousness, put in great effort to improve product quality, and work hard to produce ideologically profound, artistically exquisite, and high-quality excellent products.
Article 4: Television drama production units should maintain a correct political orientation, value orientation, and aesthetic direction, and should not include the following content in their television dramas:
- Content which betrays the basic principles of the constitution, fans rebellion, or violates the constitution, laws, administrative regulations, and legal policies;
- Content which harms the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the nation;
- Content which leaks state secrets, endangers national security, or harms the honor and interests of the nation;
- Content which fans ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination, or insults ethnic customs, harms ethnic sentiment or breaks ethnic unity;
- Content which betrays the religious policy of the nation or propagates religious extremism, heresy, superstition, discrimination, or insult based on religious beliefs;
- Content which disturbs the societal order or disturbs social stability;
- Content which propagates obscenity, gambling, violence, horror, drug usage, instigates crime, or passes criminal methods;
- Content which insults or slanders others;
- Content which endangers social morality or excellent ethnic traditions;
- Content which violates the legal rights of minors or is detrimental to the physical and mental health of minors;
- Other content which violates law, administrative law, or legal documents.
Article 5: Television dramas may not display the following content:
- Content which does not adhere to the state of the nation or the social system, or harms the image of the nation or endangers the unity of the nation and societal stability;
- Content which harms the image of the nation, the national system, and the guiding policies of the nation;
- Content which harms the image of military personnel, armed police, national security, public safety, judicial, and other officials, as well as the image of societal groups;
- Content which exaggerates social issues or portrays the dark aspects of society in an exaggerated fashion;
- Content which belittles the role of the people in the advancement of history;
- Content which makes those on the wrong side objects of display, or biographize, eulogize, highlight the importance of, or positively portray reactionary, backwards, evil, or illegal social forces, social groups, and characters;
- Content which propagates the historical military conquests of China;
- Lines, names, scenes, etc. which have the characteristics of colonialism;
- Content which is separated from the conditions of the nation, divorced from the basis of real life, propagating an extravagant lifestyle, etc.
- Content which harms ethnic unity:
- Plot, names, character images, scenes, sound effects etc. which harm ethnic sentiment;
- Content which exaggerates ethnic customs and religious beliefs to the point of defamation and insult;
- Content which portrays ethnic wars and historical events which harm ethnic sentiment;
- Content which transforms historical conflicts between ethnic groups into wars between countries.
- Content which betrays the nation’s religious policy:
- Content which propagates religious extremism and heresy;
- Content which inappropriately compares and contrasts different religions or sects, which cannot incite protests or conflict between different religions or sects;
- Content which excessively depicts or promotes religious ideology, rules, rites, etc.
- Content which makes light of or ridicules religious content.
- Content which propagates feudal superstition and betrays the spirit of science:
- Content which promotes feudal superstition such as soul repossession, reincarnation, shamanism, etc.
- Content which propagates backwards, evil, and strange feudal rubbish.
- Content with overexaggerated horror and violence that portrays despicable actions to the point of inducing crime:
- Content which overexaggerates violence, murder, and evil savagery;
- Content which carefully depicts violent and heinous criminal processes, bodies, and mental abuse;
- Content which reveals reconnaissance methods and the details of solving criminal cases that may guide criminals into evading these methods;
- Content which portrays strange cases;
- Content which does not clearly distinguish between real and fake, good and evil, and beautiful and ugly and muddles the demarcation between right and wrong;
- Content which portrays drug usage, excessive drinking, gambling, or other unhealthy activities in detail;
- Scenes, lines, music, sound effects, etc. which portray excessive horror, pain, hysteria, agitate the sensory organs, irritate the spirit, or cause people to be uncomfortable;
- Content which propagates using violence to curb violence or extreme actions and feelings of revenge.
- Content which propagates obscene lust and vulgar taste:
- Content which depicts prostitution, whoring, promiscuity, rape, and other despicable actions;
- Content which depicts or portrays unnatural sexual relations and actions, such as incest, homosexuality, perversion, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual violence, etc.;
- Content which portrays and propagates unhealthy perspectives on marriage and married love, such as extramarital love, one-night stands, free love, etc.
- Relatively many scenes which excite the sensory organs or have a similar effect through the portrayal or suggestion of sexual acts.
- Scenes, lines, music, sound effects, etc. which explicitly show sexual provocation, harassment, molestation, or other activities with a similar effect;
- Content which depicts male and female body parts which should be hidden or clothing which is too revealing;
- Language which uses coarse language;
- Scene, lines, music, sound effects, etc. which portray actions that are not suitable for minors to experience.
- Content which insults or slanders others:
- Content which harms the image and reputation of historical figures and other real characters, or create a negative societal impact;
- Content which disparages the career identity, societal position, or physical characteristics of others;
- Content which deviates from classic excellent ethnic cultural traditions:
- Content which exaggerates or collectively depicts the backwards or regressive aspects of society;
- Content which betrays historical facts, seeks to “reverse a verdict” on historical figures or events, or “rectify the names” of controversial historical figures or events;
- Content which misrepresents the classics, or distorts the spirit or reality of the original work;
- Content which goes against basic common knowledge of history, lacks a basic historical foundation, or arbitrarily twists history;
- Content which portrays history, especially revolutionary history, in an excessively entertaining and game like fashion.
- Content which endangers social morality which might exert a negative influence upon minors:
- Content which portrays bad social practices which negatively influence minors such as young love, smoking, drinking alcohol, fighting, etc.;
- Content which violates SARFT’s relevant guidelines on smoking scenes;
- Character design which is excessively strange that may have a negative impact on minors;
- Content which portrays uncivilized actions that go against social morality;
- Other content which is prohibited by laws, rules, and national regulations:
- Content which violates relevant national laws and the systems and procedures of certain professions which have been publicized;
- Content which could spark international dispute or have a negative international impact;
- Content which violates the relevant national rules and misuse or incorrectly use special symbols, mottos, forms of address, or terms;
- Products and service placement within the drama which go against SARFT’s relevant guidelines;
- Content which disrupts ecology or abuses animals;
- Other content which violates the spirit of the laws and rules and negatively affects the nation’s development.
Article 6: In earnest recognition of the details of filming, please hire experts to manage the filming of the following content:
- Content which involves the language of ethnic minorities, revolutionary pioneers and other important figures, special symbols, and marks including images, charts, etc.
- Content which portrays the military, the armed police, national security, public security, judicial personnel, doctors, lawyers, and other certain careers and social groups;
- Costume, props, sets, etc. which involve certain historical time periods and career groups.
Article 7: The applying organization should inspect the language quality in the television drama sent for examination according to the national language regulatory standards to protect the correctness and standardization of language. In addition to formal inscriptions and relevant documents, the subtitles for the television drama should be in simplified Chinese. Lyrics for songs within the television drama, captions in foreign languages, lines, any words or symbols with special meanings, etc. should have subtitles.
Article 8: In the case of television drama production organizations which violate the provisions of these rules, resulting in adverse effects, the Association will, depending on the severity of the circumstances, the organization and the personnel directly responsible, criticize the organization, warn the organization, or publicly report the organization to the industry and society. In the case of serious issues, CPIA will cancel the membership and report the issues to the relevant authorities to be investigated and punished in accordance with the law.
China Federation of Radio and Television Associations
China Television Drama Production Industry Association
December 31, 2015
Original Texts in Chinese
第一条：任何单位（包括 各级电视台）制作电视剧，必须持有电视剧制作许可证（下称许可证）。 无许可证的单位，无权制作电视剧。禁止私人制作电视剧。
第二十五条：本规定自发布之日起施行，广发录字 821 号和520 号文件同时废止。
- 违背基本史实，丑化、贬低农民起义和农民领袖形象，未已有定论或学术界上存在争议的历史任务、历史事件 “翻案”、“正名”；
* Header image from The Imperial Doctress (女医·明妃传), a TV series based loosely on the story of Ming dynasty physician Tan Yunxian. Produced before and aired (in February 2016) shortly after the most recent regulations translated here (December 2015), it was acclaimed for its positive portrayal of a great woman in Chinese history (one whose professional accomplishments complimented the patriarchal and imperial systems rather than challenging their premises), and of traditional Chinese medicine itself, both as legacies of a romanticized national history with which modern proletarians are encouraged to identify.
 China’s capitalist transition from the 1970s to the early 2000s is explored in the article “Red Dust” (Chuang 2, 2019). Chuang characterizes the subsequent period (following the transition’s completion) as marked by the transformation of the vestiges of the makeshift socialist state into one “adequate to the task” of the long-term reproduction of capitalist relations. This analysis is introduced in “A State Adequate to the Task” (Chuang 2) and “Plague Illuminates the Great Unity of All Under Heaven” (Social Contagion, 2021), and will be fleshed out in part 3 of their economic history (forthcoming in Chuang 3). The first policy document (1986) translated here corresponds to the tentative earlier phase of transition, the second (1995) to the more abrupt final phase. The third (2006) appeared after the transition’s completion as the state was still exploring ways to adapt, and the final document (2015) marks the dawn of the current period, as the state’s direction of restructuring was becoming more firmly established.
 The institution responsible for the management of the television drama industry in China has always been in the jurisdiction of the State Council, whether as the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, or the National Radio and Television Administration. I will refer to the governing bodies of television dramas as “the state” with the understanding that the state and party overlap considerably, and that high-ranking officials in both state and party positions are often also major capitalists.
 Ruoyun Bai, Staging Corruption: Chinese Television and Politics (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2014), 34.
 Guangbo Dianying Dianshi Bu Guanyu Shixing Dianshiju Zhizuo Xuke Zhidu de Zanxing Guiding (广播电影电视部关于实行电视剧制作许可制作的暂行规定) [Temporary Provisions Regarding the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television’s Implementation of a Television Drama Production Licensing System] (Promulgated by the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television, effective June 1, 1986) Zongguo Guangbo Dianshi Wenyi Daxi 1977-2000: Shiliao ᐧ Suoyin Juan (Shang) [Chinese Radio and Television Literature and Art Compendium 1977-2000: Historical Materials and Index (First Volume)], edited by Jingbo Zhou, 111. Beijing: Zhongguo Guangbo Dianshi Chubanshe, 2007. Chinese original below.
 Dianshiju Zhizuo Xukezheng Guanli Guiding (电视剧制作许可证管理规定) [Regulations for the Management of Television Drama Production Licenses] (Promulgated by the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television on October 10, 1995, effective on October 10, 1995) Zongguo Guangbo Dianshi Wenyi Daxi 1977-2000: Shiliao ᐧ Suoyin Juan (Shang) [Chinese Radio and Television Literature and Art Compendium 1977-2000: Historical Materials and Index (First Volume)], edited by Jingbo Zhou, 140-142. Beijing: Zhongguo Guangbo Dianshi Chubanshe, 2007. Chinese original below.
 Dianshiju Neirong Shencha Zanxing Guiding (电视剧内容审查暂行规定) [Temporary Provisions for Television Content Regulation] (promulgated by the St. Admin. For Radio, Film, and Television, May 29, 2006, effective May 29, 2006) Zhongguo Guangbo Dianshi Nianjian [Chinese Broadcasting Yearbook] (2007), 538. Chinese original below.
 Dianshiju Neirong Zhizuo Tongze(电视剧内容制作通则) [General Rules for Television Drama Content Production] (Promulgated by China Federation of Radio and Television Associations and China Television Drama Production Industry Association, December 31, 2015, effective December 31, 2015) Sohu, Mar. 4, 2016, https://www.sohu.com/a/61883713_154166/. Chinese originals below.