In an episode released on October 27, China Digital Times (CDT Chinese) through their popular podcast, “404 FILES”, meticulously analysed the prevailing censorship in China. In Episode 36 of the podcast, CDT analysed the reasons why more than 30 films were removed from Douban.Douban is a highly popular social media entertainment platform wherein the users rate and record information relating to movies. Only recently, the Chinese Cyberspace Administration had slapped a fine of 1.5 Million Yuan on Doubon for its acts of “unlawful release of information”. It is worth noting, Doubon was also fined 9 Million Yuan in the month of November 2021.
The podcast took a crack at why 30 films were banned from Douban. According to the podcast, one of the prominent reasons for taking down films such as “Summer Palace”, “The Mob Fathers” and “Ten Years” was due to prevailing political sensitivities. Taking the example of Summer Palace, which depicts the infamous Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, 1989, wherein Chinese troops open fire on student-led protestors in Tiananmen, Beijing. This incident marked a dark day in the history of the Chinese Communist Party and hence the censorship around the incident. Similar is the case for “The Mob Father” which portrays the Hong-Kong freedom activists who criticise the Communist Party of China. The podcast also discussed the banning of “Ten Years”, a fiction movie based in the year 2025. Ten years describes life in Hong Kong in an authoritarian state which is dangerously close to the realities of Hong Kong, as claimed by CDT.
The second reason described by the podcast was the Communist Party’s disregard for democracy or freedom in general. For instance, the biopic of Aung San Suu Kyi called “The Lady” was recently taken down from the platform. Interestingly, the biopic was about the democratic movement in Myanmar led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who later won the first democratic elections held in a while in Myanmar. Further examples given by the podcast were “A Taxi Driver” and “Excavator” which were about democratic movement in South Korea and the fight against dictatorship in South Korea. Then there is the infamous case of the famous movie “V for Vendatta”, which is based on the theme of violent revolution against dictatorship. Although the movie was previously aired uncut in China, the movie was finally taken down in August 2020 from all Chinese streaming platforms.
Lastly, CDT Chinese blamed the Communist Party’s attempt to streamline the movies along with the official narrative of China over various political incidents that arose over the year with its neighbours such as the Korean War of the 1950s. One of the prime examples of this was Korean movies such as “The Great Battle” and “Once upon a time on a Battlefield”. It is worth noting that the Chinese Authorities are not only censoring the movies that digress from Chinese Official narratives but also movies that impact its Neighbour, North Korea. Movies such as “Crossing” have been caught in the crosshairs of China-North Korea friendly ties.
CDT further claimed that 30 movies are only the tip of the icebergs and actual numbers are way higher. Furthermore, the CDT also assured to analyse more than 300 movies and videos which were removed from LeTV, another streaming giant in China.
Intriguingly, this is not the first instance of censorship by Douban. In March 2009, Douban had removed art paintings of the Renaissance on the grounds of pornography. In the same year, when the country was mourning for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Douban went into high alert and had banned tons of content containing keywords that may be related to the infamous incident. In June 2021, Douban started banning the users pre-emptively before posting any content concerning the incident.
It is not only the Douban that is heavily censoring the content on its platform. Other prominent platforms such as Wechat are also heavily censoring the content on account of yet another politically sensitive event, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. A similar impact has been witnessed across other digital websites and apps such as online gaming where games had shut off their in-game chat functions.
CDT also claimed that the censorship regime of China has become more and more stringent over the last few years. Such stringent censorship can be seen across the chains from making scripts to distribution rights of the movies. Moreover, now the Chinese Authorities are eying on the film rating as well, results of which shall be visible soon.