Political Correctness in Chinese TV
I recently compiled a video illustrating examples of censorship of language concerning minority groups in Chinese TV, and wrote a short article explaining them. I thought some friends here might also be interested (the video is rather hilarious, as the low quality to the redubbing over offending words really draws more attention to them)
I posted the video here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic3kfnRxUnM&feature=plcp
And the article here - http://taolunchina.blogspot.com/2012/10/political-correctness-in-chinese-tv.html
But rather than looking at the article it might be more fun to just do the comparion of the video with the source material yourself (each of the shows is based on a novel), and yourself think of probable reasons why they might have been made to change it.
First part (first 30 seconds), below is the source novel, points of difference from the tv show bolded:
Second part (final minute), left hand side is source novel, right hand side is script, in order of appearance in video:
蒙古鞑子 - 他们 (redubbing)
蒙古鞑子 - 那些人 (redubbing)
藏边五丑 - 川边五丑 (change same as in new edition of novel, released around same time as show)
西藏圣僧 – erased
金轮法王 – 金轮国师 (change same as in new edition of novel)
到处诛杀蒙古鞑子，铲除为虎作伥的汉奸 – 到处在杀那些恶人 (redubbing first part, second part left out of script)
bodaweiOctober 22, 2012, 09:48 AM
I can't see either because I'm in China - however I am interested in censorship, I wouldn't mind a link to the TV show, and if possible a copy of your article.
I'm guessing it is not CCTV?
Do you think that the minority groups who run their own programs self-censor? I'm just interested because on the most basic TV subscription we get programs broadcast in minority languages. I'm wondering who does the translation to Chinese and whether that is scope for some creative writing.
Not sure at all about censorship in dialects in local shows - I would guess you would see more government attention to say, programs airing in the West and Northwest, and little to no attention say to programs airing in, say, Canton. Also unsure about the translations to mandarin....
The two programs in the video are both mainland productions, and probably aired on some CCTV channel at some point (you might even be able to find them on the CCTV website now, they tend to have alot of these sorts available).
27th episode, 11 minutes or so in (this count doesn't include a intro credits at the episode begining, may be different of a few minutes if yours includes). This is just one clip so should be easy.
2006 mainland edition, 10th episode, 30 minutes in or so starting (this timecount includes the episode intro at the begining, may be different if yours cuts it out) (the big meeting discussing plans of resistance scene) There are five individual clips I took from that 10 minutes or so, so you'll have to pay more attention if watching the original, though the above list of changes will still appear in the order I listed.
RJOctober 22, 2012, 01:14 PM
I thought you could see youtube in China now. Just not in Bizarro China? Anyway, VPN my friend. VPN. Stop wasting money on all those bakery runs and get a VPN. I sent you the article btw. Cant help with the video.
Thanks RJ for sending it to him - I guess best to also post it here in case others have the problem:
Many novels and TV shows are set in late imperial China. Naturally, the conquest dynasties and various non-Han ethnic groups play important roles in these works, and this can run afoul of government policies on unity and ethnic harmony.
The linked video is compiled from two recent mainland TV shows, and illustrates a wide variety of different kinds of censorship:
The first part of the video (covering the first 30 seconds) is from a 2009 mainland TV adaptation of Jin Yong’s novel “Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre”《倚天屠龙记》. The story deals with the rebellion against and overthrow of the Mongol Yuan dynasty. Here, several of the main characters are discussing Daiqisi, a woman of Persian descent.
The TV script tracks very closely the second edition of Jin Yong’s novel, the relevant excerpt of which is included below. However, in the places where the novel has the term “Persia” (波斯) the original voice of the TV actor is dubbed over by a very mechanical pronunciation of the word “Western area” (西边).
Presumably after the show was produced some official decided saying “Persia” here was problematic, and there was a rushed (and rather poor production job) of redubbing over the offending term.
It seems clear Daiqisi is not from Xinjiang – rather she is from the distant middle east – so at first glance this wouldn’t be a territorial integrity kind of issue. The problem is likely in the final sentence, which lists the appearance and characteristics of Persian people (black hair, black eyes, high nose, deep eyes, white skin), and contrasts this with Chinese people. True, the direct statement is that “This is different from central plains women (中原女)”, and the TV writers seem to of their own accord taken the initial step of changing the novel’s description of her as a “mix of Chinese and Persian descent (中国和波斯女子的混种)” into the less offensive “mix of central plains and Persian descent”, but clearly this wasn’t enough. Presumably some official decided that the implication remained that the appearance of people from, say, Xinjiang means they are not Chinese (and thus Xinjiang is implicitly, under this strained logic, not part of China), and Persia was redubbed into Western area.
For reference, below are the relevant parts of the novel (principal changes marked):
The second part is a series of 5 short clips from a scene in the 2006 mainland China TV adaptation of Jin Yong’s novel “Return of the Condor heroes”《神雕侠侣》. The scene involves discussion of plans to form resistance against the Mongol invasion of the Southern Song, followed by the arrival of a Tibetan martial arts master who goes by the name “Golden Wheel” (金轮) and is the greatest warrior in the Mongol army. In the story, he is the principal villain.
Here, there seem to be two levels of political correctness. First, the script includes changes aimed at softening the negative portrayal of Tibetans, many of which Jin Yong made in the 2000s to the third edition of his novel, which came out about the same time as the TV show. These changes from the second edition include renaming a group of minor villains mentioned here, originally the “Five Tibetan Border Scoundrels (藏边五丑)” into the “Five Sichuan Border Scoundrels (川边五丑)”, and changing Golden Wheel’s title from 法王, a high priest in Tibetan religion, to 国师, a generic term for a top official of a country. The TV show script also seems aimed at generally dampening this villain’s presentation as Tibetan – dropping the description of him as a “Tibetan sacred priest (西藏圣僧)” and instead emphasizing his affiliation with the Mongol army. If memory serves, the closest this TV show adaptation ever gets to stating his Tibetan identity, is when it notes that he studies 密宗, a term which some of the audience might associate with Tibetan religion – all express reference to his ethnicity seems gone.
The other changes are of a variety of sorts, and as in the first part of the video, sometime after production, a number of terms were identified for censorship, and a redubbing job was done with a new actors voice reading over the offending word (though the quality is a little better, so one has to listen somewhat closely to identify the change in the voice). Here, we see the removal of an offensive term for Mongolians -蒙古鞑子 – in favor of three different generic words, first “them (他们)”, then “those people (那些人)”, and finally “those bad people (那些恶人)” (in general causing these lines to sound a little oddly worded, even ignoring the voice change). Also, the reference to killing “traitors to the Han people (汉奸)” is likewise gone (though this likely from the original script, not as part of the post production censorship). Although the show in general seems fine treating this war as a conflict between a Mongolian nation (大蒙古国) and the Song (大宋), it seems that a line was drawn at the use of any potentially offensive ethnic term, and thus generally we have a striking level of political correctness in war speeches.
For reference, below I’ll include, in order of appearance, the various differences between the second edition of the novel and the TV show (all discussed/translated above), followed by a quotation of relevant parts of the novel.
蒙古鞑子 - 他们
蒙古鞑子 - 那些人
藏边五丑 - 川边五丑
西藏圣僧 – erased
金轮法王 – 金轮国师
到处诛杀蒙古鞑子，铲除为虎作伥的汉奸 – 到处在杀那些恶人
More complete excerpts from the novel:
BTW I'd be interested in any comments you have on the mechanics of censorship (eg. who sets the rules, how, and what are the likely official objectives of censorship). I know you have touched on this a little, and I have posted on this before. I better return to this after reading your article!
I really have little insight into the mechanics of it (besides a couple of the examples here that are the author's own self censorship in the 3rd edition of the books, and the script leaving out a few things originally, the rest seem likely to have been marked for censorship after the shows were completed - else the original actors would have just read the lines - but how that worked I don't know)
Let me know if you have trouble with the show links I provided above, or finding the specific parts of the episode. Hopefully the same time markers will apply and you will have no trouble finding the scenes.
I haven't got down to looking at this properly yet, but I have posted here before about my discussions with a friend who is a program director at a TV station. So my question about CCTV was - would they do something this shoddy? They may have shown it, but it is unlikely that they produced it was my point. Could be wrong, but my friend's impression is that CCTV works with big budgets and everyone else has to do their best. There is TV work done by un-trained or poorly trained people in the provinces.
The other point I was told is that top-down censorship is much less frequent than outsiders assume - it tends to be in-house censorship, and so it varies a lot from place to place. It could even be program to program, so that there may be inconsistencies even in the same production house, although there is a department to oversight this and look for consistency.
My only other point at this stage is that setting objectives for censorship of this type is likely to be very difficult indeed. What are they trying to achieve, who are they trying to please, and why. How much is down to the individual censor's view of the world?
I find this example you've written about above strange, living in the west where we seem to be inundated with images and stories of the wonderful minorities - it seems odd to airbrush the differences out on TV. So it would be interesting definitely to delve into the motivations for censorship of this kind. What story are they trying to tell, and to whom?
Well put RJ, and I would generally agree with your sentiments .. but it brings to mind the stunning contradiction of programming that is heavily weighted to war and conflict. With tensions between China and Japan worsening, and by extension the US, the conflict on TV has been jacked up. It is not just war films (a mainstay of Chinese TV and cinema), current affairs has been very lively, with more outspoken commentators coming to the stage, loudly pooh-poohing the ignorance of American commentators. For example, Mr Andrew Oros of Washington College got a considerable shellacking on Channel 6 last night. Mr Oros tried his best, denouncing his Chinese critics politely as 'out of touch', but the Chinese won on points, contending that Mr Oros was not just out of touch in China, and didn't understand history, but that he has no idea what is going on in Washington DC. The Chinese were also allowed to smirk, to great effect. We just had an audio from the US, with a regulation file shot of Mr Oros.
As an aside, it seems to me that Chinese TV is not where the powers that be need to focus effort. Pretty much everyone watching TV thinks along similar lines don't you think? Your potential for inflaming conflict is not on the couch.