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To Show Or Not To Show In China

The big Hollywood production Memoir of A Geisha is having a tough time landing in China’s movie theaters. The movie was adapted from Arthur Golden's bestselling novel of the same title, telling the life story of a traditional Japanese courtesan around World War II. It was directed by Rob Marshall of the Chicago fame.

The movie has been generating controversy in both China and Japan for casting actresses of Chinese descent for all three leading roles of Japanese geishas: Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li are from Mainland China, and Michelle Yeoh is from Malaysia via Hong Kong but of Chinese descent .

The film was reported to have received the approval from China's powerful film regulator SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television) which was later reversed by senior officials. Ostensibly, the officials were concerned that the film may further the current anti-Japan sentiment in China . In 2005, anti-Japanese protests erupted in some major Chinese cities after Japan revised one of its history textbooks regarding the country’s past in WWII. The government had to crack down on the protests to prevent them from getting out of hand. Pictures of a nude sex scene, purported to come from the movie and include the Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, traveled widely on the Internet, fanning anti-Japanese sentiment before the film’s premier. Representing this sentiment, one Chinese blogger angrily demanded:

[translated] Zhang Ziyi, when you stripped naked under the body of a Japanese, did you think about yourself being Chinese? This year is the 60th anniversary of Japan's surrender to us. Did you forget history? Did you forget the shame our nation had suffered? …

Ziyi do you lack money? You don't. Ziyi do you lack fame? You don't. But why were you so foolish as to play a geisha that the Japanese actresses didn't even want to play?…

No matter when, please remember you are a Chinese. Every single word and behavior of yours outside China belongs to not Zhang Ziyi, but to all Chinese. You represent the dignity of a country…

Memoir of A Geisha is not the only film slammed by Chinese censors. Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboy love story that is enjoying unending accolades in the American film award season, is reported to also have been banned. That was after the director Ang Lee just praised Asia for having a more open mind about sexuality. In fact, A Date With Lu Yu (Lu Yu You Yue), one of the most popular talk shows in China, praised Brokeback Mountain for its love-conquers-all theme in a rare gay special in November 2005,

How much should we read into the censorship of these two movies? A Chinese reporter considered that the Geisha ban

reflects a certain distortion in Sino-Japanese relationships… If the movie supervision department banned this movie without any consideration of the market by the movie company, then this may leave the impression that this is a certain kind of affirmation for irrational emotions or even extremist nationalism among the people.

Comments on Angry Chinese Blogger’s post argued that the Brokeback ban revealed only the censors’ opinion, and not that of the society. Most of the Chinese media, including official newspaper, sang praised for the movie, as represented by a short review on Sina, China's largest Internet portal:

[translated] After watching Brokeback Mountain, all of us were dumfounded. The film is a gay love story, very moving…. I remembered a comment from a colleague when I watched Happy Together in the past. He said that if I didn't treat the protagonists as two men, but a man and a woman, then I'd understand the movie. But with Ang Lee's film, I didn't even have to think of a man and a woman. For the story was so natural. It's about the love between two people.

Regardless, pirated DVDs of both movies are widely available in DVD shops all over China. After watching Memoir of A Geisha, a Chinese blogger wrote:

[translated] Sometimes I think, other than wives, men also need other women's comfort. Geishas are men's half wives. Why do Geisha have to painted their faces white? Are they afraid of others knowing the truth? I need to work hard, make more money so I can travel to Japan in the future, and experience Japanese culture.

6 comments

  • […] Tian Yi, a Chinese Blogger, writes via Global Voices aboout the big Hollywood productions- Memoir of A Geisha  and Brokeback Mountain, movies that are currently having tough times getting ointo China’s movie theaters. […]

  • El gran cortafuegos de China

    Los blogs y la Internet están llegando al centro de la política mundial.
    En ese sentido, excluir a China y salirse de su realidad tiene sus pro y sus contras. La relación con este país es tan importante que ni Microsoft, Yahoo y Google se atreven con

  • ACB

    “This year is the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to us. Did you forget history?”

    Actually, it was the 60th aniversary of Japan’s surrender to America.

    FYI

    China celebrates the surrender of Japan on VJ day (the day when Japan surrendered to the US), it does not celebrate the actual day that Japanese foces surrendered in China (several days after VJ day). Why?

    Because Japan surrendered to the Nationalist army.

    Celebrating this day would remind people that Japan that the communists were a marginal force during WWII, and the nationalists did most of the hard work.

  • Alex K. K. Au

    March 1st, 2006 at 8:51 am
    ACB: “This year is the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender to us. Did you forget history?”
    Actually, it was the 60th aniversary of Japan’s surrender to America.
    FYI
    China celebrates the surrender of Japan on VJ day (the day when Japan surrendered to the US), it does not celebrate the actual day that Japanese foces surrendered in China (several days after VJ day). Why?
    Because Japan surrendered to the Nationalist army.
    Celebrating this day would remind people that Japan that the communists were a marginal force during WWII, and the nationalists did most of the hard work.

    A COMMENT TO ACB’S COMMENT ON 1st MARCH

    A Couple of Historical Facts for ACB’s Information:

    1. Jiang Jieshi, the chairman of KMT (Nationalist Party) being captured in 1937 by General Zhang Xueliang (one of the two pratitioners -the other was General Yang Hucheng of Xi’an Incidence, he was later detented by Jiang and brought to Taiwan until his death in 1990s) was forced to collaborate with CPC (Communist) to form an anti-Japanese united front in Sept.,1937. Jiang was actually not an eager anti-Japanese fighter proven by his then well-known policy advocacy of “We have to deal with our internal affair first, before we confront our external enemy”. The KMT had lost ground to Japanese invation since the latter’s penetration into North-East China (forming the so called Nation of Manchuria) since 1931. The Nationist later surrendered Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai and hence the regions of Central China and Eastern China to Japan during the period of 1931-1937. It was under these circumstances that brought up the Xi’an Incident. Communist should not be seen as marginal force of the coalition. At the highest point of the Sino-Japanese War, among the 4 million military force, the Communist constituted 1.5 million (The Eighth Route Army of the northwest region and The New Fourth Army from eight southern provinces) plus Communist-led civilian soldiers of over 2 million battling at Japanese occupied areas.
    2. KMT (or Nationalist), being the ruling party of China before 1949 was the legitimate body to represent China to officially undertake Japan’s surrender in 1945.

    One shall never misinterpret history to suit the present political argument.

  • Alex K. K. Au

    An Opinion would Like to Share with “Abriendo Juego, Abriendo Mundos”

    To compromise with the Chinese Government, like what Yahoo China has recently done in the expense of diviating from the rule of protecting privacy, and to provocate their users or customers by handing over the latter’s registered information to the government without getting the consent of their users or customers are really the dilemma of those ISPs you have mentioned is now facing. They might lost their market share one way or the other. But besides commercial interests, should these big players also consider corporate social responsibility, not to say morality and justice in a much stricter sense?

  • Alex K. K. Au

    February 10th, 2006 at 2:33 pm
    Abriendo Juego, Abriendo Mundos:

    El gran cortafuegos de China

    Los blogs y la Internet están llegando al centro de la política mundial.
    En ese sentido, excluir a China y salirse de su realidad tiene sus pro y sus contras. La relación con este país es tan importante que ni Microsoft, Yahoo y Google se atreven con

    [Translation]
    February 10th, 2006 at 2:33 pm
    “Opening Game, Opening Worlds”

    The big fire-break of China

    The blogs and Internet are coming to the center of the world politics.In this sense, to exclude China and to leave of his reality has his pro and his contras. The relation with this country is so important that Microsoft, Yahoo and not even Google dare with

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