The State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) recently released a notice critical of time travel and other supernatural content on television. The notice as written does not actually ban shows featuring this kind of content outright – despite the alarmist headlines of numerous media reports – but this official discouragement indicates that any current or planned programming with such content will face significant challenges in production and obtaining approval from state regulators.
SARFT’s decision to speak out against programs that take liberties in their representation of historical situations and events indicates the central government’s active management of the entertainment sector and the mechanisms by which the government will use its powers to set the cultural agenda. The notice will have a cooling effect on the production of period pieces with fantastical elements, which apparently aggravated regulators because of their “bizarre [and] superstitious” plots. SARFT’s decision to focus on time travel may appear arbitrary, but this action demonstrates that the government is not averse to pulling the plug even on popular media that it believes to have an adverse social effect.
Television and film producers will be forced to consider whether their programming may fall into regulatory disfavor, and the result will likely be more conservative content more consciously aligned with the government’s social messaging priorities. SARFT also took this opportunity to encourage programmers to develop more content focusing on how well all ethnic groups in China have done under the leadership of the Communist Party as part of the celebration of the Party's 90th anniversary.