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China cracks down on historical TV dramas

  • She Yen-ning and Staff Reporter
  • 2011-12-18
  • 08:50 (GMT+8)
The historical TV drama Beauty Scheming has enjoyed wide popularity in China, but authorities would prefer to see more series with a contemporary setting. (Internet Photo)

The historical TV drama Beauty Scheming has enjoyed wide popularity in China, but authorities would prefer to see more series with a contemporary setting. (Internet Photo)

To address what it sees as widespread historical inaccuracies in popular time-travel television programs featuring imperial China, the China National Broadcasting Bureau has ordered television stations at higher than provincial levels to broadcast a larger number of productions set in the modern day, with such shows accounting for over 40% of all programs by 2013.

After a South Korean time-travel series was well received in China earlier this year, local imitiations as well as well-worn dramas about life in ancient China have become a fad, garnering high ratings. However, they are also a source of concern for the authorities, who like to maintain their standard interpretation of historical events. Whereas in other countries it is accepted that historical dramas will inevitably take liberties in the name of artistic license, this is more sensitive in China where art forms such as poetry and drama have a strong tradition of political criticism. Thus liberal interpretations of historical events may be perceived as veiled criticism of the government.

The new policy has raised the price of television series with a contemporary setting, which are less popular so far, by as much as 40% per episode. The Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post reported that the head of purchasing at one satellite television station said that each episode of a television series with a contemporary setting is priced at about 1-2 million yuan (US$157,000-$314,000), an increase of 300,000-600,000 yuan (US$47,300-$94,500), or 15-40% over earlier prices.

It was reported early this month that the bureau would control the broadcast of shows set in imperial courts or concerning time-travel, banning them from prime-time slots.

The bureau's notice said that by 2013 the broadcast of productions set in the present day should account for 40% of all programs aired by television stations above provincial level. It also stipulated that series featuring the imperial court, time-travel and historical events should not tamper with history and should avoid being too recreation-oriented.

The notice also carries rules on series featuring police and gangsters. It stipulates that television dramas to do with children, villages and minority groups should account for at least 15% of all shows by 2013.

Industry insiders said it was difficult to find time slots for television dramas set in the present day. In addition, they do not trigger discussions among a wide audience. While the bureau has proposed increasing the production of such television programs several times, such shows do not usually attract buyers. Even though modern television series were broadcast, they received lower-than-expected viewership, leading to a decline in their production.

According to the China National Broadcasting Bureau, among the television series projects rolled out in 2011, the number of historical dramas in June and September totaled 44, while those related to contemporary subjects numbered only 37 and no such project was proposed in August.

According to the latest report on new projects, only 3% of them were related to contemporary subjects. The situation is expected to change after the new policy, an industry expert said.

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