Making a clean breast of it


Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, who plays empress Wu ZetianHit drama The Saga of Wu Zetian has drawn further public attention after an attempt to cuttoo revealingshots in the 80-episode Hunan TV serial. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The buzz over the cuts of the actressescorseted cleavages in the TV drama The Saga of Wu Zetian has also attracted attention abroad. It has experts pondering on the issue, Xu Fan reports.

The much talked about cut of the first Chinese empressbust has not only not died down, it has also created a buzz abroad.

Numerous international media outlets, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Daily Mail, reported on the heated chatter in the Chinese media and blogosphere about how the top-rated domestic TV dramaThe Empress of Chinaalso known as The Saga of Wu Zetianwas halted after its first week of release fortechnical reasons“, then released again five days later.

What happened was when the 80-episode Hunan TV serial returned to the screen on the first day of 2015 after the abrupt suspension, scenes featuring the actresseslow-cut dresses and corseted cleavages have been cut and replaced by close-up shots of just their pretty heads.

A series ofbefore and afterscreen captures of the drama shows that even the Chinese emperor Li Shimins face has been cut in anafterscene, when he is leaning his head against the empressample breasts.

It has been widely speculated that the nations highest broadcasting regulator had asked for the cuts because the womens costumes were too revealing.

Chinese netizens created a slew of viral spoofs, such as nicknaming the dramaThe Saga of Big Head Wu“, and cropping out the busts of some of the well-known starsmovie photos.

Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, found that nearly 95 percent of the viewers disapproved of the cuts, calling themunnecessary“.

The interest shown abroad over the most powerful woman in ancient China, albeit only on her cleavage, made some experts stand back and examine the issue seriously.

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Censorship should have a clearer standard and be more flexible,” says Zhang Baiqing, head of the China Film Critics Society and a member of the movie censorship committee under the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

He believes that the hit drama might have passed censorship before its nationwide premiere, but might have then be pulled off the air due to two possibilities.

It could be because some viewers had complained to the authorities or some high-status official ordered a re-examination of the drama because of concerns about its possiblebadsocial influence, he says. “But whatever the case is, the cuts were unnecessary.”

Foreign countries have a complete system ofdos and donts‘. But our countrys regulations are ambiguous,” he says.

Chinese authorities rule that movies and television productions should not have pornographic contents, but plunging necklines and corseted breasts do not constitute pornography. It may be a matter of taste, says the Hangzhou-based researcher.

Yin Hong, executive deputy president of the journalism and communication school of the Tsinghua University, agrees with Zhang.

He points out that the hit drama had already been controversial before the suspension, but thearbitrarycuts cannot mitigate the heat of the debate.

The biographic work of Wu Zetian (AD 624705), the first and only female emperor who reigned from AD 690 to 705, had a record rating of 2.28 percent in a 50-city survey, just on the first day of its screening. But some viewers on Baidu Tieba, one of the countrys largest online forums, joked that they had been drawn to the big-budget serial for the actresseshalf-exposed breasts.

If there was a debate, let the public thrash it out,” says Yin. “The abrupt halt to the serial and the cuts will only attract more attention. There have been many similar situations in the past. We dont seem to learn from them.”

The drama had been criticized for its mediocre plot and coarse dialogues before the removal. But now, it has the support of many people.”

Raymond Zhou, veteran film critic with China Daily, says: “It had been bad, but now it may become a good thing.”

He cites the famedStreisand effectto show its similarity to the Chinese actress Fan Bingbing-starring drama. The effect is named after the American entertainer Barbra Streisands attempt to suppress photographs of her residence in California but instead drew further public attention to it.

Zhou points out that ancient scrolls and documents show that during Wus reigning dynasty, it was the custom for women to wear clothes that bared their necks and shoulders. The breasts might not have been assqueezedas those depicted in the drama.

But there are other experts who agree with the need for the cuts.

Wang Xudong, director of China Film Critic Society Academic, says television brings images into the living room. “It may not be good for our young to see exposed womens bodies. TV projects should have an educational influence,” he says.