China: New film law to "promote socialist core values"

15 November 2016

Chinese lawmakers passed the country’s first extensive film law set to take effect in March 2017, which directs filmmakers to produce films that “serve the people and socialism”, “prioritise social benefits”, and don’t “jeopardise national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity”, reported Chinese news agency Xinhua on 7 November 2016.

The Film Industry Promotion Law in general was enacted “to promote the healthy and prosperous development of the film industry, promote socialist core values, standardise the order of the film market and enrich the spiritual and cultural life of the masses”, reported Yibada on 13 November 2016.

Restrictions on foreign filmmaking
The law stipulates that Chinese filmmaking companies can work with foreign filmmaking companies, except for those that engage in “activities damaging Chinese national dignity, honour and interests” or who “harm social stability or hurt national feelings”.

Foreign filmmaking companies cannot independently film or distribute films in the country, and foreign individuals are totally banned from filming. Additionally, theatres have to ensure that no less than two-thirds of the annual screening time of all films will be of Chinese films, thus limiting screen time for foreign productions, though the law also lays out regulations for films co-produced with Chinese companies.

The law also states that films cannot include content that “releases national secrets, endangers state security, damages national dignity, honour and interests, or advocates terrorism and extremism”.

Another article in the law re-affirms the long-standing practice that Chinese filmmakers who wish to participate in foreign film festivals will still require government permission to do so or could face severe punishment, including a five-year ban from filmmaking or film-related activities, reported Chinese news site Sixth Tone on 8 November 2016.

Moral code for actors
Actors, directors and others involved in filmmaking, according to the new law, must also be “excellent in both moral integrity and film art” and should cultivate a positive public image, practicing self-discipline.

China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), the entity responsible for censorship, will also be creating a “professional ethic committee” to guide those involved in the various media to practice such core values.

Simplified processes and transfer of power
According to the law, the SAPPRFT’s approval power at the central government level will be transferred to provincial governments, which will require the training of more “censorship staff” and strengthening the regulation of censorship standards, explained SAPPRFT deputy head Yan Xioahong.

The law has not clarified how the different governments will divide their responsibilities, but it does simplify the approval process as currently a full script needs to be submitted for approval prior to production, but under the new law only an outline would be required, reported Sixth Tone.

Further, with the transfer from Beijing to provincial governments, some have noted that filmmakers could start seeking approval in more favourable regions, or apply to other provinces if their original ideas were not approved.

The law, however, does not enumerate what content will be censored and also does not outline a rating and classification system, all things that many Chinese filmmakers have been requesting.

Crackdown on fraud
Apart from laying out guidelines for content and values, the law was also created to crackdown on ticket and box office fraud, as well as to set ground rules for the industry and the promotion of filmmaking in the nation.

The law had been in the works for several years and was most recently debated by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in October 2015. Before this film law, Chinese filmmakers operated in an even more murky environment without concrete laws in place regulating the industry or content.

The law comes at a time when China’s fast-growing film market, already second in the world, could surpass current number one holder, the US, by 2017.

Photo: Cinema in Hangzhou Binjiang/Wikimedia Commons


» Yibada – 13 November 2016:
China approves a new film law

» Variety – 10 November 2016:
China approves first film law, includes moral code

» Sixth Tone – 8 November 2016:
Less censorship could make independent film productions suffer

» The Guardian – 8 November 2016:
China passes law to ensure films ‘serve the people and socialism’

» Reuters – 8 November 2016:
China film law targets box office fraud, negative content

» Xinhua – 7 November 2016:
China introduces film industry law

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