“Devils on the Doorstep”: Film Censorship Up Close

Last week, CDT Chinese published the text of a decision by the State Administration on Radio, Film and Television about the 2000 movie, Devils on the Doorstep. The movie, directed by Jiang Wen, depicts the relationship between Chinese villagers and a Japanese prisoner during the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. The movie was nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival but was banned in China.

The SARFT decision, written in 2000 when the movie was released, offers a rare glimpse into the decision-making process of SARFT, which is responsible for overseeing and censoring the content of movies released in China. It explains in detail, almost scene by scene, the reasons for banning the movie.

On his blog China Copyright and Media, Rogier Creemers has translated the full document. From Creemers’ introduction:

Normally, censorship decisions are not made public, and their content is only revealed by reference in interviews with filmmakers. However, this document provides an insight into some of SARFT’s methods and priorities.

The most important part of the verdict relates to the portrayal of Chinese villagers and Japanese soldiers against the background of the Second World War, or, using the Chinese term, the War to Resist Japan. Throughout, SARFT takes the film to task for incorrect depictions of the nature of the Chinese people. An old grandfather should not be shown as being sympathetic to a young Chinese soldier, it is deemed incorrect that the villagers care for the Japanese soldier and the Chinese traitor (汉奸 hanjian), or that they indicate that they haven’t really suffered under the occupation. When the Japanese soldier imagines being attacked by the villagers, he imagines them as Samurai. However, SARFT feels that what he should feel most are “the armies resisting Japan, such as the Eighth Route Army or guerrilla forces”. Imagining villagers as samurai “uglifies the Chinese people”. In short, in this film, the “common Chinese people” do not show sufficient hatred towards the Japanese, do not sufficiently differentiate between foe and friend, and display ignorance and apathy. At the same time, according to SARFT, the film does not correctly display the cruelty of the Japanese army but, amongst others, shows a Japanese soldier giving sweets to children. Also, “Japanese army songs are played often, putting a spin on the Japanese imperialists flaunting their strength, which may gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

A smaller issue comes at the end of the film, where a Guomindang general declares that only the Guomindang can legally accept the surrender of Japanese troops. Again, this does not fit in official CCP historiography and is therefore beyond the pale.

Lastly, there are a few issues of obscenity and language. A sex scene between Ma Dasan and his lover Yu’er is deemed to “bring about strong, harmful sensual stimulation to people.” A scene in which the villagers’ pack donkey gets aroused by a Japanese army donkey is described as vulgar and boring.

The full translation is on China Copyright and Media.

October 16, 2012 10:03 PM
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