Stricter censorship of Chinese theater to ‘promote’ cultural development


China is tightening control on talk shows, crosstalk performances and stage dramas to “promote” the development of the performing arts market while ensuring their content will meet the needs of a diversified audience and cultural aspirations, state-run media has reported.

Censorship of the content of small theatrical performances such as crosstalk would become stricter, according to a notice issued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on Sept. 14, Xinhua News Agency reported on Thursday. Crosstalk is a form of comic dialog popular across northern China.

Show organizers are to seek approval from the censorship board prior to the event. According to the notice, special agents will be assigned to watch the performances live to ensure that no unwanted content is spread, including vulgarity, violence, and superstitious beliefs in feudalism.

Music performances including electronica and rap would also be subject to the tightened controls, the notice said. If the show was streamed in real time, a special agent would keep a close eye on it to remove any unsuitable content on the spot, it added.

The notice drew strong reactions from internet users. Supporters said it was a recognition of the vibrancy of China’s live performance industry and that regulating the industry would be necessary for its long-term growth.

Naysayers called it “cultural suicide,” saying that the authorities would only ruin the country’s cultural development and make young people turn to foreign culture exports. Some questioned whether those assigned to censor live events would be qualified for the job or would simply remove the content as soon as they heard sensitive words without taking the context in consideration.

Signs of scaling up control on live talk shows were already visible last year, when one WeChat public account that had more than four million followers was in July accused of publicizing content deemed to be in bad taste. In Suzhou, cultural authorities suspended a crosstalk performance that allegedly violated regulations, without giving any details of the legal grounds of the suspension.

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