In 2001, screenwriter and member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), Wang Xingdong, drafted a proposal to establish a film rating system in China. In February 2003 in Beijing, 64 Chinese filmmakers and critics signed a joint proposal titled “China must have its movie rating system”. The following month, Wang Xingdong again put forward his draft resolution during the annual CPPCC, including the recommendation that films be rated according to three categories: suitable for all; for 16 and above; and restricted to adults (China Daily 2003). Wang compared a ratings system to “making clothes – children and grown-ups surely have different sizes and you shouldn’t expect a film that caters to both children and adults” (in Wen 2003, 10). In April, an informal meeting was called by bureaucrats of the Film Bureau, (under the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television [SARFT]), involving filmmakers and scholars. Attendees submitted a position statement on the film industry. This included a request for an examination system that was more transparent, regarding standards, examiners’ identities, and the reasons for specific decisions, and advocated for a film rating system, to protect filmmakers’ freedom and to separate audiences by age demographic. In June 2003, SARFT provided Wang with an official response, stating “preliminary research is under way for drafting a film rating system with Chinese characteristics” (China Daily 2003). By November 2003, Wu Ke, Deputy Director of the Film Bureau in SARFT, stated that the draft for this system “has entered the substantial stage” and that SARFT was “soliciting advice and suggestions from all parties concerned, even including legal experts on the protection of the rights of minors” (China Daily 2003).
It is unclear exactly why such a policy was never brought to fruition. One theory relates to the film Dahong Rice Shop, based on Su Tong’s novel Rice. As in the novel, Dahong Rice Shop concerns a young peasant who escapes rural desolation for the city during the 1920s. He is taken in by the prosperous Feng family, who are rice proprietors, and marries each of their two daughters in succession. The narrative stretches across generations, representing the filial transmission of greed, envy, and violence. The film was originally produced in 1995, but was banned, presumably for its strong sexual content. Directed by Huang Jianzhong it was scheduled for screenings in Beijing, Wuhan, and Chengdu in 2003, when a SARFT order required the removal of promotional posters from city streets (Wen 2003). SARFT claimed the film had not yet received its final release approval, and that promoters were exploiting the film’s sexual content, including by advertising it as “not suitable for children”. Parties involved in the film had made similar comments, including actor Tao Zeru who claimed the film was only suitable for viewers over 30 years of age, and a producer who promised tickets would not be sold to minors. Dahong Rice Shop was again banned, ushering further public calls from well-known director Zhang Yimou for a ratings system. While unverified, various newspaper reports suggest that following the eventual release of Dahong Rice Shop in 2004, along with misleading publicity claiming it to be China’s first rated film, a former high ranking official contacted the Film Bureau to complain. The content of that complaint is believed to be that a rating system would facilitate the release of more films with such controversial content. Whether or not this is true, the state commentary on the development of a classification system disappeared. Perhaps taking the requests at the 2003 meeting into account, the 2006 Regulations on the Administration of Filing of Film Scripts (Synopsis) offered some clarification on the procedures involved in film examination. – Liam Grealy
– China Daily. (2003). Film ratings to protect young viewers. 13 November. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/en/doc/2003-11/13/content_281097.htm
– Wen, C. (2003). China considers film rating system: Industry stresses need to target mature audiences. The Hollywood Reporter. 379(1): 10.