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Rachel Lu

Director Reveals Mystery of China’s Film Censorship System on Weibo

“No film is safe, no film investment is safe, no director’s creation is safe [under China's film censorship framework],” said director Lou Ye (@导演娄烨) in a recent interview with Sina, a Chinese Internet portal, that explored his experience with the ironfisted gatekeepers of China’s arts and explained his decision to post details of the film censorship process on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter.  (See Lou’s interview in Chinese here.)

Lou is one of the most prominent victims of China’s censorship system, which operates under the thumb of the country’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT). Lou’s 2006 film, “Summer Palace,” was banned in China because it was the first film to contain scenes depicting the Tiananmen Incident. As punishment for showing the movie at the Cannes Film Festival without official approval, Lou and the producer of Summer Palace were forbidden from making films in China for five years. 

In 2011, after making two films in France and after the lifting of his ban, Lou returned to China to for a new project–”Mystery.” The story is based on a netizen’s post on the Tianya Internet community, a popular discussion forum in China, about a woman’s struggle with her husband’s cheating. Mystery does not have the political overtones found in Summer Palace, but SARFT nonetheless reviewed the film and issued censorship directives as it does to all films released in China, ostensibly to protect the nation’s children as China lacks a film rating system. 

Lou explained in the Sina interview that his first cut of Mystery received SARFT comments to pare back sex scenes and re-edit a scene depicting the  gruesome murder of a homeless man with a hammer. Lou complied and received approval to show the film at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2012; but four months later and little over a month from the film’s public release date, SARFT told Lou that the film needed more editing. An utterly frustrated Lou responded by logging onto his Weibo account and tweeted details of the censorship process. 

Over twenty days from September 8 to 26, Lou tweeted his negotiation process with SARFT. At one point, Lou tweeted,

“I’m waiting for an answer: Can the film be released on time without any changes, yes or no? The answer is so simple but so difficult–[the process] makes me feel disappointed and sad, but I also feel a sense of understanding and support. China’s domestic film industry needs everyone to work together. I totally accept the fact that I’m a director in the age of film censorship. I just want a dialogue [with the authorities], and a dialogue is not a confrontation. There are no winners and losers in a dialogue. There are no enemies.” {{1}}[[1]]等待一个回答,能不能不做修改如期上映,行还是不行?这个回答,如此简单,但又如此之难,从中我感到遗憾,失望,从中我也感到理解支持和感动,中国电影需要大家一起努力,我完全接受我是一个电影审查时代的导演,我只是希望对话,而对话不是对抗,对话没有胜负,对话没有敌人[[1]]

Lou Ye: We Are All Responsible for the Unreasonable Censorship System

On September 25, Lou reported that SARFT and the filmmakers had reached a compromise on the murder scene, allowing the film to be released on time. However, Lou also announced a highly defiant gesture: He would remove his name as the director of the film in the public release version.  

Lou’s exposure of the inner workings of China’s film censorship process and bold gesture attracted support from other filmmakers, artists, and average netizens in China. Another director named Zhang Jiangnan (@张江南导演) commented, “Every time I looked at my films after censorship, I thought about removing my name, but I can never be as resolute as Lou Ye. I keep a ‘director’s cut’ for myself to make me feel better. To tell the truth, it’s about getting used to eating [expletive]…” {{2}}[[2]]每次面对删改后的片子,都曾经想过不署名,但却做不到娄烨如此决绝,只能留个导演版,自己看,聊以自慰。说起来,也算是吃屎吃习惯了……[[2]] A film critic named Han Haoyue (@韩浩月) commented, “Lou’s removal of his name as director is like holding a hunger strike on the street.” {{3}}[[3]]导演不署名类似于街头绝食抗议[[3]]

Almost all commenters applauded Lou for his courage. @鬼头安麦齍 tweeted, “Everyone has his principle. At the end of the day, you get old and die whether you stay true to your principles or compromise on them.” {{6}}[[6]]人各有志 坚持也是老死 妥协也是老死[[6]] Commentator Xiong Peiyun (@熊培云) tweeted, “I have seen Summer Palace, and want to show my support. One cannot stand by silently and watch one’s creation die, or be murdered.” {{4}}[[4]]看过《颐和园》,支持一下。人不能默无声息地等待自己的创造死亡,或者被谋杀。[[4]]

Many other netizens saw the possibilities that could result from making the censorship process public. @张秉坚 asked, “What would happen if every director and producer published the censorship process on Weibo from now on?” {{5}}[[5]]如果今后每部送审片的导演和制片人都把审查过程公布在微博上?![[5]] @沈晓雯同学 tweeted, “It’s not just the film censorship system; in other areas too, our lack of resistance allows such an unreasonable system to continue to exist. We have to shoulder the responsibility to eliminate the system instead of finding excuses for our lack of resistance. Lou Ye, I support you. I love your movies.”  {{7}}[[7]]不仅是电影审查制度,其他地方,我们的不反抗往往成全了不合理的存在,我们必须对消除不合理有必要的责任感而不是一味的为自己的不反抗找借口。支持娄烨导演!爱你的电影 [[7]]

@ximenpan agreed, “If everyone in every industry keeps true to his principles, maybe there will be some changes in the end.”{{8}}[[8]]每个人每个行业都坚持较真,终会有些许改变。[[8]] @含泪笑看你 tweeted, “It is an age of disappointment. It is an age of hope.” {{9}}[[9]]这是失望的年代,这是希望的年代[[9]]

 

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.