This week, China decided to ban time traveling from Chinese movies. That may sound like a joke, but the Chinese government is not fooling around, and it’s not willing to take any chances.
The reason? Time travel in films “disrespects history.”
Now there’s an interesting trend in China’s film and television industry: more and more time-travel themed dramas are made and aired. In these time-travel based TV plays, usually the protagonist is from the modern time and for some reasons and via some means, travels through time and all the way back to the ancient China where he/she will constantly experience the “culture shock” but gradually gets used to it and eventually develops a romance in that era. Though obviously the Chinese audience is fond of this genre of shows, the country’s authority — General Bureau of Radio, Film and Television, to be exact — is not happy about this trend and calls a halt to the making of this type of drama.
H/t The New Yorker.
Usually the films in this time-travel genre feature a plot that revolves around actual historical stories, but the characters and action are exaggerated to make the stories more exciting or adaptable to film.
The ban comes down from China’s Television Director Committee Meeting, which found the popular time-travel genre “questionable.” Because so many of the stories are made up or strained for novelty, the directors complain that producers and writers “are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore.”
Forget for a moment the implications of a government whose reins on free speech are so tight that a top-down committee can ban an entire popular film genre.
What makes this story interesting is the fact that Chinese filmmakers — and the film-consuming Chinese public — are so interested in finding a connection to another time and place.
China has banned Google and Facebook and Twitter. Traveling to another time is the only chance many Chinese have of exploring at all.
The Chinese government is not banning time travel because it wants to protect history. It is banning time travel because letting anyone besides the Chinese government tell any story threatens the Communists’ death grip on Chinese culture.
Communists never won the culture war in China; they merely silenced the opposition. Even the memory of opposition is a threat to the Communists’ hold on power; banning time travel is the Chinese government’s attempt to wipe out any memory of the time when China was free.
Kathryn Ciano is the Warren T. Brookes Journalism Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.