Media sources told the China Media Project national media were ordered against coverage of the blockbuster film “The Da Vinci Code” on May 28, ten days before a June 7 order from the state film and broadcast regulator for the film to be pulled from more than 400 theaters nationwide. A missive from censors told media not to write news or editorials about the film or set off factors of instability, sources said.

Theaters across China halted screenings of the film today, and various media outside China cited unrest among the country’s Christian population and protection of domestic films as reasons for the decision. The state-run China Daily English-language newspaper also reported that the film had been yanked from theaters – the newspaper, overseen by the State Council Information Office as opposed to the Propaganda Department, targets a mostly foreign population in China and therefore generally has more leeway in coverage than its Chinese counterparts.

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The pulling of the film came without advance warning and surprised many outside China. Many foreign media reports focused on protection of domestic Chinese films as the reason for the change. Reuters, citing China Daily, said the decision to ban the film had come “after calls from several groups representing the Chinese film industry”. So far, China Daily seems to be the only source for that version of the story.

In the only domestic story run in violation of the Propaganda Department ban, however, Shenyang Today (沈阳今报) raised the issue of the film’s sensitivity and said the true reasons for the pulling of the film were not yet clear:

June 8, 2006 – This reporter learned last night that on the 9th of this month that “The Da Vinci Code” will be pulled from theaters.

The reporter contacted the manager of Stars Fantasy Cinema (星辰梦幻影都), Xu Zengbin, by telephone. He learned at 5:30am yesterday that “The Da Vinci Code” would be pulled on the 9th … He said he wasn’t clear about the reasons for pulling the film. With up to 10 domestically produced films due to hit the market soon, he said, one couldn’t help but think dropping a powerful performer like “The Da Vinci Code” was a way of protecting Chinese-made films.

Manager Xu expressed his disappointment that the movie had been pulled, because it had been welcomed by the public with very high attendance … Since premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, “The Da Vinci Code” has been eagerly received. However, due to the film’s sensitivity it has been boycotted in some countries. Some sources here in China also contend that the sudden pulling of the film from theaters is due to the sensitive nature of the film. This report approached a Ms. Zhang of Huaxia Films, domestic distributor of “The Da Vinci Code”, about this question but she was insistent on not addressing it. She would only say: “The pulling of the film came very quickly. We’ve just learned about it, so we’re not sure of the reasons.

[China Pulls “Da Vinci Code” in Wake of Protests (LA Times)]
[China pulls “Da Vinci Code” to help local films (Reuters)]

[Posted by Brian Chan and David Bandurski, June 9, 2006, 6:26pm]