Zhang Hongsen, deputy director-general of China's Film Bureau and a censor himself, gave a rare briefing recently on the inner workings of the country's movie censorship process, which has come under fire from prominent Chinese filmmakers.
We're not only concerned about the political aspect of a movie, said Zhang. A movie's style may be problematic. For example, some movies may poorly portray the customs of ethnic minorities . . . some are problematic in their portrayal
of the rights of women and children. There are different problems.
One of the films that required heavy editing this year was director Li Yu's Lost in Beijing (Ping Guo) , a powerful story about the fallout after a Beijing foot massage parlour owner rapes one of his employees from the countryside.
Fang Li, the producer of Lost in Beijing , said earlier he was asked to cut scenes depicting sex, dirty streets, gambling, the Chinese national flag, and Beijing's Tiananmen Square.
In a recent interview, Fang accused the movie censorship committee of operating in a black box, saying it doesn't give reasons for the cuts it asks for.
Zhang said censors target sex and violence because China doesn't have a ratings system. All movies must be appropriate for viewing by people of all ages.
He said China's movie censorship committee comprises 24 regular members - five Film Bureau officials, including Zhang, and 19 film professionals, including directors, script writers, cinematographers and movie critics and scholars.
The committee, whose two-year term ends in May, also includes 13 "special" members who are brought in on a case-by-case basis for specialized issues like minority affairs, religion, law, foreign relations, and women and children's
affairs, he said. Zhang, who is 43, said the youngest censor is 40 and none are older than 65.
Authorities in China have banned a film set in a Beijing massage parlour that had already been heavily censored for its sexual content.
Lost In Beijing (Ping Guo) was released in Chinese cinemas on 30 November after scenes showing dirty streets, prostitutes and gambling were removed from the movie.
According to the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, however, the film still violated regulations.
Its producers have been banned from making films in China for two years.
The drama - which involves the rape of a masseuse and her subsequent pregnancy - was screened at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2007. It went on to win a jury prize at the Bangkok International Film Festival last July.
According to the Chinese authorities, the film broke regulations by using unhealthy and inappropriate promotional materials in its marketing.
Its producer, Fang Li, has attributed the decision to the widespread availability of uncut, pirated versions of the movie he did not sanction.
Previously, Fang said he had edited the film for Chinese distribution to remove sex scenes and a side character - a fired foot masseuse who becomes a prostitute. Scenes set in Tiananmen Square, the site of pro-democracy protests that prompted a
bloody military crackdown in 1989, were also removed.