Earlier this week the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT), China’s television authority, announced a clean-up of entertainment programming on the country’s 34 provincial satellite television channels, citing what it characterized as a worrying slide into lowbrow programs of questionable morality.

Beginning January 1, 2012, SARFT said it would limit the number of entertainment programs that could be aired by satellite channels, and that they would be required to offer no less than two hours of news content between 6pm and midnight.


[ABOVE: A live audience crowds in to watch “If You Are the One,” a popular dating program on Jiangsu Satellite TV that has come under fire for being too “low-brow.”]

Media scholar and CMP fellow Zhan Jiang (展江) has been one of the most outspoken critics of SARFT’s intrusion into entertainment programming. The following is an interview Zhan did last July with Phoenix Online, which the site re-ran this week in the midst of the debate about “low-brow” entertainment.

Phoenix Online Entertainment: Have you seen “If You Are the One?” or other programs like it? These kinds of programs have been accused of fabrication, of whipping up negative issues, of creating characters like gold-digging women and men who flaunt their wealth. How do you see this whole thing? [NOTE: “If You Are the One” (非诚勿扰) is a television dating program launched in January 2010 by Jiangsu Satellite Television.]

Zhan Jiang: I’ve watched a few episodes. As for concerns about fabrication, of puffing up certain topics and the like, I think this should be tolerated. This type of program is a necessary outcome of market economics, and so long as they do no great harm they should be tolerated.

As for questions of morality, talking about whether they are good or bad is fundamentally pointless. And what should be the moral standard here? Responsibility has an active dimension and a passive dimension. If doctors, police and lawyers and people in other professions maintain passive responsibility that already pretty good.

Phoenix Online Entertainment: If you’ve seen any recent episodes of “If You Are the One” you have the sense that it has become more restrained, and I understand this is because the State Administration of Radio Film and Television sent down an order for the clean-up [of such programs]. Do you think there’s a need to strengthen control of entertainment programs like this?

Zhan Jiang: To be perfectly honest, I don’t pay a great deal of attention to entertainment programming. But there is a place for them. I’m opposed to public authorities cracking down on the media. On the matter of public authorities cracking down on the media, I stand on the side of the media. And if, in turn, media do harm to the public, I stand on the side of the public. Whoever is in a position of weakness, that’s where I stand.

Phoenix Online Entertainment: But being in a position of weakness doesn’t necessarily mean one is in the right.

Zhan Jiang: Why must we be so intolerant about the so-called “three vulgarities”? Why should entertainment be so conservative? It’s like expecting those who are born slaves to consider the tastes of their masters. Why should underclasses [in our society] think about what elites think? On the surface the critics are all about goodness and morality, but in fact they are first and foremost intolerant.

Phoenix Online Entertainment: When phrases like, “I would rather weep in a BMW than smile from the back of a bicycle,” [emerge from entertainment programming], is this leading the audience to erroneous ideas in your view?

Zhan Jiang: Ma Nuo (马诺), [the contestant on “If You Are the One” who said these words], is guilty only of not being noble. If you launch accusations against her, does that ennoble you? In the entertainment industry, there are so many things that are far more “three-vulgar” than that. Entertainment programs have simply made us of various aspects of people’s natures.

When it comes down to it, ratings are a good thing! If you say they are bad, is that going to change anything? It changes nothing. Ratings are impossible to ignore for programming. This is the way its always been: few join the chorus of high-brow songs, while cheap ballads are sung by all. When the weaknesses and natural inclinations of human nature come out of the shadows, there are always those who make great pretensions to elegance and sigh about how things are getting worse.