Window on the South, a Chinese newsweekly published by the Nanfang Daily Group, launched a bold criticism today of China’s top broadcast supervisor, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT). [BELOW: Screenshot of coverage at China.com.cn of SARFT deputy minister Zhao Shi attending a news conference in September 2006].
Headlined “SARFT Bans Just Keep Coming: The Politics of TV Dramas Reflects Cultural Predicament”, today’s article criticizes the cultural upshot of official policies emphasizing control and at the same time pushing the commercialization of culture.
The article, which ran also on a number of major Web portals today, responds to a wave of recent bans from broadcast minders at SARFT, including an announcement back in January that only television dramas cleaving to the Party’s “main theme” would air during prime time in 2007 [Coverage from CMP]. The language “carry forward the main theme” (弘扬主旋律) is an unambiguous Communist Party buzzword, encapsulating the notions of Party control, the supremacy of Marxism, the central position of heroic Party figures, and other key concepts, in an analogy to orchestral music.
The Window on the South article begins: “In the last two years, the impact of the people over at SARFT could be said to be inextricably linked with the ‘ban’. Despite the fact that [orders] against speaking regional dialects [on TV] aren’t guaranteed to promote Mandarin in China, that [orders] against filming scenes of extramarital affairs won’t necessarily save those marriages of poor quality, that [orders] against airing foreign-produced dramas during prime time clearly do nothing to help promote national pride, bans of this kind are still coming wave upon wave” (禁令仍然层出不穷).
The article offers strong criticism of the flood of commercially-oriented period dramas set in imperial China (all, of course, SARFT approved), and asks: “Why is it that these [TV dramas] singing the praises of imperial power and celebrating violence get such strong ratings? Is it because they are supported by a great number of people who have this kind of feudal consciousness [respecting people with power and status], or is it because these types of dramas are creating a mass of modern feudals?”
The author’s implication seems to be that continued SARFT “bans” and the resulting “main theme” culture are pandering to, or perhaps even fostering, Chinese with a feudal mindset (臣民意识) versus a modern civic mindset (公民意识).
The author then poses the critical question: “In the present political climate, how can China’s cultural system (破冰) break through the ice? How can China’s cultural market free itself? And how can China’s cultural products walk out toward the wider world?”
The article, which ran on a number of mainland Websites, including Sina.com and Enorth.com.cn, appeared briefly this morning among the top headlines on Sina.com’s newspage, but was pushed to the back pages by early afternoon.