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China Tightens Control of Film, TV as Major Political Events Loom

The Chinese government is tightening control of film and TV and cranking up its propaganda machine to ensure a “unified atmosphere” in the run-up to politically sensitive events and anniversaries this fall.

New directives order the film and television industries to screen serious, patriotic content as the country prepares for the Communist Party’s National Congress and the 90th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

On Friday, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) instructed all TV stations to stop airing costume dramas and “idol shows,” or soap opera-like programs starring teen idols. Instead, broadcasters must air 17 propagandistic drama series approved by the government, Chinese news portal Sina reported.

A document issued by the SAPPRFT and shown on Sina said that the goal of the directive was to raise political awareness and “create a unified atmosphere” for the upcoming national events.

“During this period, [we] demand TV channels in all provinces not to air costume dramas, idol shows or content that is deemed to be too entertaining, in order to create a unified atmosphere,” the document said.

The announcement was made on SAPPRFT’s official WeChat channel, but it was removed shortly afterward.

The move came just days after Chinese authorities began enforcing the screening of short propaganda videos at all cinemas across China before every movie.

Since July 1, cinemas have been required to show one of four videos, each around three minutes long, promoting “core socialist values” and reiterating President Xi Jinping’s vision of “the Chinese dream.” The patriotic videos star top Chinese celebrities, including Fan Bingbing (pictured), Jackie Chan, and Donnie Yen (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).

On Friday, a preview of “The Founding of an Army” by Andrew Lau (“Infernal Affairs”) was held in Hong Kong. The propaganda film about the creation of the People’s Liberation Army features an ensemble cast and is expected to be released nationwide in August.

The new directives are in line with Xi’s approach to the arts. Since taking office in 2013, Xi has been adamant about the role of arts and culture, telling some of the country’s most famous artists and propaganda officials that the arts must serve the country and a social purpose.

The Communist Party’s National Congress is a major political event in China that takes place once every five years. During the 18th congress in 2012, Xi’s leadership and membership of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s highest ruling committee, were confirmed.

It is expected that during the 19th congress, Xi will further consolidate his power and control in the country and a reshuffle of the membership of the Politburo Standing Committee.

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