When hearing the news this April that the Chinese Government had decided that its citizens were too busy indulging in frivolous time travel based dramas that played fast and loose history to pay respect to its heritage it was difficult not to scoff.
Why, if the Chinese government had its way the Doctor would travel back to Ancient China, pick up a few of its ancestors and take them to modern china where they’d discover everybody’s happy, prosperous and harmonious.
Dramatically it would be a bit one note but ideologically it’s a thrill a minute!
The dictatorship has already quashed such culturally divergent figures as Bob Dylan where the varnished walnut faced folk singer was asked to submit his set list to the government before performing on its turf (resulting in Dylan being called out by New York Times writer and Pulitzer Prize winner Maureen Dowd for breaking new ground in selling out) and the artist and architect of the Birds Nest, the Beijing Stadium, the still detained dissident Ai Weiwei.
Each have been on the receiving end of the Chinese governments attempts to control, distort and deny what its citizens are consuming in the wake of the “Arab spring”.
Geek websites grabbed hold of the story and ran with it imagining that each time they ran a picture of Marty McFly in his anachronistic ‘life reserve’ the authorities would be plotting new ways to murder pop culture.
In April, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television issued new guidelines with the intention of upholding the mores of its countries heritage- a heritage that according to the SARFT discourages ‘Fantasy drama, feudal superstition, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous values, and a lack of positive thinking.’
Speaking at the Television Director Committee Meeting the Authority made the bold assumption that time travel dramas were ‘totally made-up’ and ‘are made to strain for an effect of novelty.’
Their beef was with a growing trend TV Dramas like Shen Hua (Myth) where a modern day protagonist is hurled back in time to ancient China where no end of hi-jinks ensue as he stumbles from fish out of water to uniting with real life figures (such as Xiang Yu and Liu Bang prominent military leaders and political figures during the late Qin Dynasty) to leading thousands of troops to battle.
As well as sounding a lot like the plot to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, the drama spoiled many viewers enjoyment of its cultures proud history with its historical inaccuracies and blatant pandering to entertainment.
It would be like the British government banning all War based drama in the wake of Jon Bon Jovi’s appearance in the Yank-tastic U-571.
The alternative for the Chinese people would be state sponsored, painfully accurate historical dramas – historical dramas already full of CCP enforced improvements/inaccuracies that would only cost them the viewer their freedom of speech.
Sure the SARFT may only be ‘discouraging’ the use of the TARDIS on TV but when the country’s own freedom of speech is vague by definition it’s difficult not to imagine a government with a history of entering newspaper offices, seizing goods and fining news agencies ‘discouraging’ this with the same rigour.
Although they are not alone in their attempts at censorship, we regularly hear of dissidents being treated in a questionable manner. For instance Ai Weiwei, whose handcrafted porcelain Sunflower seeds are currently on display at the Tate Modern, has been detained by the Chinese Government for 75 days without access to his lawyer and has only briefly seen his wife.
The ridiculousness of trying to police fiction by putting anything considered “frivolous” in a box marked “Danger!” has nothing to do with time travel being a threat and everything to do with the current infringements being inacted on the people’s freedom of speech and basic human rights.
Something that Doctor Who counters just by building bridges with its leaps of imagination.