In the last several years, Chinese cinema has seen a sharp uptick in a specific genre: pieces where modern Chinese travel back in time to imperial China. After their arrival, they transition from being an awkward fish out of water to coming to appreciate and often prefer the world their ancestors inhabited.
The Chinese government’s Bureau of Radio, Film and Television has taken issue with this genre and declared it persona non grata. Their statement, from ChinaHush:
“The time-travel drama is becoming a hot theme for TV and films. But its content and the exaggerated performance style are questionable. Many stories are totally made-up and are made to strain for an effect of novelty. The producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore.”
A disrespect for history is cited, but like these dramas, one must read between the lines to distinguish the true purpose. While intended to be goofy fun, these pieces may actually be construed culturally subversive in their suggestion that despite the technological shortcomings, inconveniences, and hardships experienced in the country’s past, its protagonists are better off than they would be living in modern China. Whether that sentiment is rooted in frustrations with modern technology or civil unrest is moot. As far as the government is concerned, artists are saying something is wrong and unlike ancient martial arts heroes traveling from treetop to treetop, this will not fly.
The reaction to this stateside has been interesting. Most have been sharing the link as a humorous statement on cultural differences. Indeed, it’s pretty wild that a government office would dismiss an entire genre, let alone do so under the precipice of it being too silly. But while we may be amused, there’s nothing funny about the Chinese government’s track record when it comes to the treatment of its artists, writers, and anyone else who deigns to express anything on a large scale that might indicate they are unhappy with the way things are.
Though, to be fair, part of me wishes our government could do the same with romantic comedies. Sorry, Jennifer Aniston, but romantic comedies are silly, not romantic, and definitely not funny. We cannot allow such lies to perpetuate and poison our society.
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