China reality television up for elimination

Reality TV is big in China, where viewers go mad for ‘X Factor’ style shows. The state, though, is not amused – and it is cracking down on morally unsuitable programming.

All over the world, shows like X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing and Big Brother are loved and hated in equal measure. Creating near-constant showbiz scandal, they’re criticised for raunchy content, exploitation or straightforward, brain-melting stupidity.

But, for the Communist Party of China (the CPC), this mindless entertainment is a cause for more than just complaining. As of January 1st, 2012, ‘overly entertaining’ shows will be restricted on Chinese television, to make way for a more ‘harmonious’ and ‘healthy’ range of programmes.

Under an edict just announced by the Chinese state broadcasting watchdog, channels will be allowed to air only two entertainment programmes, such as dating or game shows, at peak viewing times. Only ten talent shows will be allowed across the country, and broadcasters must show at least one ‘morality-building’ programme each week.

Censorship is a daily reality in Chinese television. In May, for example, time-travel shows were banned because they communicated a ‘frivolous’ attitude to history. This month, though, restrictions are being introduced as part of the search for China’s lost moral compass.

Worries that TV schedules had become devoted to materialistic egotism were compounded on dating show You Are the One, when a female contestant told a potential suitor she ‘would rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on a bicycle.’ The show was quickly altered to reflect more wholesome family values.

Talent show Super Girl was not so lucky and is being axed, to be replaced with an instructive show on housework. Rumour has it that the telephone voting system used to choose the show’s winner was a little too close to democracy for the comfort of the ruling CPC.

For Chinese officials, trashy TV shows are what people want – set for commercial market success – but they are not what people need. And in order to save the people from the corruption of their ‘unthinking laughter’, the CPC feels it needs to step in – a stronger, more moral voice than the power of popular demand.

Rightful intervention?

For those that despair of lowbrow programming, such a move could be seen as justified. If people’s lives would be improved by more edifying or educational television, isn’t the government doing them a favour by pushing them to leave trashy TV, and all the materialistic, shallow messages it brings, at the door?

Others argue that coming to our own decisions, not being told what’s good for us, is what makes us intelligent, rational people. By letting the government decide what is good or bad, we are saying that ordinary people are incapable of making their own sensible decisions.

You Decide

  1. Do shows likeX FactorandStrictly Come Dancingcontribute positively to society?
  2. Should the state be able to enforce rules about what should or should not be shown on television?


  1. Put together your own ideal television schedule. Would you say the programmes you include are ‘morally improving’, or not?
  2. Write a speech arguing that reality television is – or is not – a destructive factor in modern society.

Some People Say...

“I’d rather make my own decisions than have someone else choose for me, even if I’m wrong.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why is China making these changes now?
Earlier this year several spy thrillers and romantic dramas were axed, to make way for ‘red’ propaganda shows that encourage patriotism. But over the summer the popularity, and ‘moral depravity’, of reality TV shows has soared. Some speculate that the state is desperate to protect the ratings of CCTV, the more sombre state channel that is finding its viewers stolen by more exciting reality television.
Is China making other moves to produce ‘moral’ television?
Yes. Yesterday, Beijing announced plans to build a television studio in Washington, which will push its English-language news service all over the world. Six hours of daily broadcasts will help to promote a positive image of China.

Word Watch

A harmonious society is said to be the eventual aim of Chinese leader Hu Jintao. It refers to both economic and social balance and stability. However, critics have suggested the concept of harmony is used to quash dissent – the word ‘harmonising’ is often a replacement for ‘censorship’ in China.
To suppress content from appearing in media sources. In China, for example, material may be removed from the internet or banned from publication in newspapers for certain political reasons.
The Communist Party of China: the ruling political party in the country. China has been under communist rule since after the Second World War.
Something that educates its audience, providing moral or intellectual instruction.


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