The Hidden Rules of Chinese TV Series Censorship

“If anyone made ‘House of Cards‘ in China, it would certainly be censored,” award-winning Chinese film actor and director Zhang Guoli commented during the recent Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Chinese TV series have lost their appeal among young audiences due to their dull content and lack of creativity. With the rise of online channels, American and Korean TV series have gained great popularity among Chinese youth. Chinese film and TV directors often blame strict censorship for losing domestic viewers; it is obvious that the government restricts any content that is against socialism and promotes human rights, democracy and freedom.   

But what are the other regulations on TV content in China? A recent Chinese-language article exploring a few hidden rules about television production in China has gone viral online. The article highlighted four rules restricting topics covered in series:  

1 主人公不能太花心,小三不能有幸福


1. The main character can’t be too much of a playboy, and the mistress can’t have a happy life

The regulation reads: TV series shall not contain content that is harmful to social morality and Chinese cultural tradition. While current dramas do contain content that violates public order and morals of society such as the role of the mistress, such figures are usually portrayed in a negative light, serve as teaching material.

This explains why mistress characters end up being miserable.  

2 80后未婚生子情节一律绕道


2: No children before marriage

The regulation reads: TV series don't allow content that violates existing laws, administrative regulations and rules. According to “China's Population and Family Planning Regulations”, those born after the 1980s are usually only allowed to have one child, and a birth certificate must be obtained in order to have a child. Illegitimate children are against the law.

According to the piece, a TV drama called “Fiancee” featured a main character having a child before marriage, but censors didn't approve it until that part of the storyline was changed.

3 拒绝鬼魂,“异能”人士只存在于儿童剧


3:  Superpowers only exist in children's dramas

The regulation reads: TV dramas cannot promote cults and superstition. “Aliens” with superpowerscan only exist in children’s dramas.

 4 校园内不能有早恋,不能有暴力


4: No dating or violence at schools

The regulation reads: TV dramas cannot include content that’s harmful to the physical and mental health of minors. Widespread public opinion believes that dating on campus would affect their studies, so content related to dating at primary or middle school is not allowed. School violence is against the legitimate rights and interests of minors, and so it is forbidden.

How does the process work?

An infographic from Wangyi news explains the process of China's TV series censorship. It starts with the self-censorship by the production companies themselves. Then they submit the name of the TV series and the story outline to the provincial Bureau of Radio and Television before getting the license to make the series.

An infographic about China's TV series censorship

An infographic about censorship of TV series in China. Image from Sina Weibo.

Once it’s finished, the final product will go through the provincial Bureau of Radio and Television again. To be able to be broadcast on TV, a certificate from the State Administration of Radio Film and Television is required.

Topics related to important issues such as historic events, state leaders and religion need special permission. Topics about wars after the Chinese revolution of 1949 is not allowed.

Who are the censors?

The censors are composed mainly of retired leaders from state media and university teachers. They get paid from 50 to 100 yuan per episode (about 8 to 16 US dollars). They are on random rotation.

A commentary piece from China's Sohu news called for more relaxed censorship: 


According to the current censorship system, Chinese TV series don't portray real life, but try to hide from real life. Censorship is necessary, but when it's too strict, it can be harmful. It kills creativity and lead to a rigid and distorted market. Self-censorship will certainly affect our cultural influence in international competitions. 


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.