In October, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest film market for the first time, and the gap is expected to continue to grow. As a result, pressure and censorship from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is expected to increase on content produced by Hollywood.
“The day has finally arrived when China is the world’s No. 1 film market surpassing the box office total of North American for 2020,” said a government portal published under the auspices of the China State Council Information Office, also known as the CCP’s Foreign Propaganda Office.
The CCP has been working to boost its film production and consumption for more than a decade. A statement published by the CCP in October 2011 already spoke of “the urgency” of improving the “power of China and the international influence of its own culture” and the desire to “turn our country into a socialist cultural superpower.”
Chinese film success is bad news for Hollywood because China will no longer depend on its content to fill its movie theaters. On the contrary, Hollywood does need the Chinese market to continue its financial success.
In any case, Hollywood’s entry into China has always been restricted by the CCP. Since 2012, the CCP has allowed a quota of only 34 foreign films. Only films that meet the strict demands of the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department observers are eligible for consideration in the huge and lucrative Chinese market.
The Central Propaganda Department of the CCP is responsible for supervising the production, distribution, and screening of domestic films, organizing the review of the content of foreign films and requesting the relevant modifications for their suitability. It is also responsible for the import and export of all films, media, publications, and other content.
For the CCP, art, which includes the film industry, is a means of social control. That is why it considers it so important that any artistic production to which a Chinese citizen has access must be aligned with the ideology of communism.
It is known that Hollywood films must overcome many obstacles before they can be approved by the CCP and enter the Chinese market. To do so, they often have to modify scenes and entire dialogues.
Censorship takes many forms. There are films that Hollywood no longer makes, because they annoy the CCP and could instantly end all business with China. This is often the case with politically charged films, such as “Seven Years in Tibet,” about China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, or “Red Corner,” about human rights abuses in China’s legal system. After these films were made in 1997, China ordered that business with the three Hollywood studios that distributed the films be suspended.
It is expected that with the success of Chinese film production, Hollywood’s access to the Asian market will be even more limited and therefore pressure and censorship will also increase.