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Approved and rejected TV shows


Earlier this month, Danwei noted that SARFT was planning to limit the number of period dramas authorized for television production, in favor of modern soaps and patriotic series.

The results of the first round of reviews this year came out last week. SARFT announced that 80% of the submissions had been approved, and 63% of these dealt with modern subject matter. Various news reports have also noted that the other series tend to treat their subject matter in a more head-on matter - reproducing their source material faithfully rather than playing around with it.

Data concerning this round is contained in a summary chart (translated here), and a longer document that provides project outlines and SARFT comments*. Shows are categorized according to subject matter and place of origin.

Reasons for denying certification fall into five categories (roughly in order from most to least common):

  1. Subject matter awaits discussion - basically, putting it off until later. Ninety-one of the 166 rejected projects were denied for this reason. They will be addressed in later rounds of certification.
  2. Duplicate submission - another producer has recently submitted the same material.
  3. Requires xx department's opinions - certain subject matter (religion, minorities, criminal investigations, international affairs, national security) requires the relevant national, provincial, or local bureau to sign off before the SARFT can approve a project.
  4. Too many other projects with similar subject matter - this will be used to stop the costume dramas.
  5. Unclear description - "We can't understand what the heck you want to do, so we're not going to let you do it."

Even approved projects are sometimes subject to additional requirements. A number of series deemed "important historical subjects" were instructed to apply for additional review. Others were asked to change their titles, in some cases because of duplication, and in others simply because something about the original title rubbed SARFT the wrong way. A small taste: Magical Love (神奇的爱), a story about apprentice magicians, Brother Debtor, Sister Debtor (负哥负姐), about the new crop of indebted college grads, Born in the 70s (生于70年代), A Chinese Red Guard (中国红卫兵), Young Women of a Rich Family (豪门里的少奶奶), about the divergent fates of the daughters of a rich household in wartime China, and Zhongnanhai (中南海), about the construction of China's most famous gated community.

A few additional observations:

  • Roughly the same number of crime investigation series were granted certification as were denied.
  • More palace dramas were denied (7) than were approved (5). We will get to see the sixth part of Zhang Guoli's long-running series about Kang Xi's crime-solving adventures, though Zhang himself is no longer directing and may not star.
  • More episodes of historical martial arts dramas (504) were authorized than any category besides revolutionary history (1091). Only a single martial arts project was rejected, an adaptation of Liang Yusheng's White-haired Demoness, since there were already too many similarly-themed projects (including yet another remake of Jin Yong's Condor Heroes).
  • No army, rural, or children's dramas were rejected.
  • No urban development-themed series were submitted.
  • Every single project from the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles' film center was denied certification.

The big news the headlines are trumpeting is a new 60-episode adaptation of Dream of the Red Mansions, to begin shooting in November. I myself am looking forward to watching a series based on The Travels of Laocan, to air in February of next year. Will the producers stay faithful to the original work when they film the later, more supernaturally-inclined chapters?

Note: Let me digress a bit here to complain about the certifiably insane document preparers at SARFT. Rather than using tables, these documents have every bit of text positioned absolutely against a series of background grid images - this includes individually-positioned digits in the numbers. The detailed report loads 9.8 megs of jpgs into a 1.6 meg HTML document. Oh yes, and there are typos. Sure, anyone can now print out properly-formatted pages from their browser, but viewing the larger file is nigh on impossible. The translation provided here merely swaps in English text for Chinese and corrects erroneous figures; no formatting changes were attempted apart from image compression.

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