What Does Cleavage Censorship Have to Do With Hong Kong's Electoral Policy?

Three different versions of "the Empress of China". Image from The Arm Channel's Facebook Page.

Three different versions of “the Empress of China”. Image from The Arm Channel's Facebook Page.

What do cleavage and electoral policies have to do with one another? Maybe more than meets the eye.

In mainland China, when viewers watch the popular TV period drama The Empress of China, they do not see the female actresses’ cleavage, pictured in the first frame above. To keep things “decent”, censors have cropped the picture so that viewers see the little past the womens’ necks.

The show is currently being broadcast in Hong Kong on the city's most popular commercial television channel. Instead of choosing between the original, skin-bearing version and the cropped version, the Hong Kong Television Broadcast (TVB) spent HK 15 million dollars (almost 2 million US dollars) to edit the drama by digitally adding a piece of cloth to the authentic Tang Dynasty costumes in a more subtle effort to conceal the actresses’ cleavage (see the final frame in the above image).

Of all Chinese-speaking societies, now only Taiwan now will show the uncensored version of The Empress of China.

The program has the highest production budget of any drama series in Chinese television history and stars mega-celebrity Fan Bingbing as the only known empress in China's history, Wu Zetian. It first aired on Hunan satellite TV before it was taken off the air on December 21 for a re-edit. The new version, which reappeared on January 1, was crudely cropped to cover the actresses’ cleavage. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television explained that the drama contained “unhealthy images”.

The resulting censorship distorted the series’ long shots with the glamorous palaces as background as it narrowed the frame to closeups on actresses’ faces. Chinese television lovers were furious that the RMB-300-million-yuan ($48-million) production, which included more than 3,000 costumes painstakingly designed to capture accurately the Tang Dynasty's fashion, was so wasted.

Though there is no law in Hong Kong banning cleavage on television, TVB still took a cue from the mainland and carried out this unique digital solution to the supposed problem. The editing is so delicate that ordinary people cannot discern that the costumes were mended in post-production.

The image above compares the TVB's expensive censorship technique to the Hong Kong government's push to persuade the public to give up their rights to nominate candidates for the city's top leader, in exchange of their voting rights in 2017. The image suggests that both TVB and the government are self-censoring and self-delimited at the behest of Beijing.

The Arm Channel TV, a citizen media outlet based on Facebook and YouTube, published the image  demonstrating three versions of The Empress of China – the original uncensored version is on top, following by China's cropped version, and finally Hong Kong's edited version, entitled “pocket-it-first”.

The term “pocket-it-first”, meaning “take whatever is available”, is a political slogan the Hong Kong government has used to promote an election reform package, which limits the right to nominate mayoral candidates to a 1,200-member nominating committee. The image went viral online, with more than 6,000 likes and 800 shares in a matter of days.

The current election reform proposal, issued in August of 2014, specifies that candidates for the Chief Executives must be endorsed by the majority of the nominating committee, and that the total number of candidates must be less than 3. Both the pro-Beijing politicians and Hong Kong government officials told the public that they can either accept this proposal, or lose their voting rights altogether.

The pan-democrats have vowed to exercise their veto power in the Legislative council, as candidates must now have 600 votes from the nominating committee, as opposed to the previous quota of 150. Moreover, as the government keeps saying that there is no other choice under the August 31 determination, “pocket-it-first” will become “pocket-it-forever”.

Over the past few days, top government officials have visited local communities to promote the election reform package as if it represents genuine universal suffrage. Pan-democrats criticized these visits, describing them as a political performance aimed at fooling the public. A number of recent polls conducted by local research institutes indicated that about 47% of the respondents supported the government election proposal while 38% opposed. The majority of respondents with university degrees opposed the election proposal.

As the political drama took place when the historical drama started to air, Internet users compared the government's political spinning technique with the TV company's censorship of authentic cleavages – both are expensive, unnecessary, not genuine and submissive to Beijing's political will.


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