China Bans Time Travel Films and Shows, Citing Disrespect of History

BEIJING – China’s media authorities have stopped the clock on time travel in film and television, saying the sci-fi notion “disrespects history.”

This would be odd for a country whose big and small screens have long been filled with historically porous period epics about scandalized courts of bygone eras, but not so when one considers that 2011 marks the 90th anniversary of China’s ruling political party.

“The rationale [for the time travel ban] is that whatever isn’t possible in the real world belongs to superstition,” said film critic and journalist Raymond Zhou Liming, who notes that time travel is untouched by censors in Chinese literature and theater.

In the electronic mass media, however, which in China reaches the world’s largest TV audience and the globe’s fastest growing movie market, the idea of time travel presents a clear and present danger.

In time-travel dramas such as Myth (Shen Hua), currently popular on Chinese TV, audiences seem to like the story of a modern man going back to ancient China where, after some adjustment, he finds love and happiness.

“Most time travel content that I’ve seen (in literature and theater, that is) is actually not heavy on science, but an excuse to comment on current affairs,” Zhou told The Hollywood Reporter.

Apparently unhappy with film and TV presenting even the fictional notion that China’s ability to provide happiness is a thing of the past for the average man, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television posted its guidance about time travel.

“Producers and writers are treating serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore,” SARFT said.

This sort of guidance, while not a black-and-white ban, commonly acts as an effective catalyst for filmmakers’ self-censorship. In a country that has no film law on the books, what SARFT says often goes.

Recent messages on the SARFT website have ended with words celebrating the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1921.

“Follow the central spirit of the CPC to celebrate its 90th anniversary on television. All levels should actively prepare to launch vivid reproductions of the Chinese revolution, the nation’s construction and its reform and opening up,” one bit of SARFT guidance said.

The April 1 time travel guidance from SARFT, which has the power to pull the plug on any Chinese show anywhere, anytime -- answering as it does directly to China’s cabinet, the State Council -- was not an April Fool's prank, which has no such tradition

In Myth, an adolescent hero travels back 2,000 years to find he is blood brothers with Liu Bang, the first emperor of the four-century long Han Dynasty to which modern China’s ethnic Han majority traces its lineage.


“I don't think it's a bias against one particular show, but a general guideline,” Zhou said.

Since China’s ruling party bases much of its doctrine and strict media management on scientific Marxism, the fantasy of time travel – which potentially gives the individual the freedom to reorder reality – conflicts with politically correct thought completely ruled by the CPC.

In some ways, it's much ado about nothing. Time travel has hardly been a popular theme for moveigoers in China. The last time a major Chinese time travel film made it to cinemas here was Hong Kong director Clarence Fok’s Highlander-inspired Iceman Cometh (Ji Dong Qi Xia in Chinese), featuring actor Yuen Biao and actress Maggie Cheung in 1989, the same year the Chinese government crushed a student-led, pro-democracy movement in Beijing.