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One of 4 shows recently forced offline in China | Image Credit: Wikimedia

China likes control, this much we know. Its censorship of select U.S. movies, television, and technology all comes down to filtering out ideas and information that the government would rather its citizens have no knowledge of.

But as the country’s most successful  business minds set their sights on developing markets at home and abroad, the Chinese government is walking an increasingly awkward line between banning content and building business.


The Big Banned Theory

Four prime time U.S. TV shows – ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘NCIS’ and ‘The Practice’ – have all been pulled from streaming sites in China this week.

Rather than finding the content objectionable, however, the move appears to be down to the fact that state broadcaster CCTV  is planning to re-transmit these shows in the near future. This could be because they want greater control over the content, which seems odd in the case of something like ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Could it be, then, that the state is simply after good old fashioned eyeballs? If China is seeking to keep attention focused on its mainstream media channels, bringing the most popular titles to its airwaves isn’t a bad way to do it.

The decision is all the more bizarre when looking over a recent list of what has been banned and what has successfully made it to air. An episode of popular NBC shows ‘The Blacklist’ was banned earlier this month because it centered on an escaped Chinese dissident leaking information on germ warfare. Conversely, episodes of Netflix original ‘House of Cards’ have been able to stream on, despite frequent nods to the awkward issues in Chinese-American politics.

When it comes to matters of taste regulators are equally scattershot in their approach. Video game violence is broadly regulated and censored, for example, but HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’

Officially the line of China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, as laid out in a statement earlier this year. is that “Internet TV shows and micro movies [may contain] vulgar content that promotes violence and sex. We need to strengthen our guidance and regulation.”

In practice, business considerations may increasingly allow some shows to knowingly slip through the censor’s net.

Sense Over Censorship

At its core, the Chinese government knows that freedom to allow new technology will drive innovation and growth for the country’s already booming tech sector. It just doesn’t want to cede too much control as it goes.

China, Europe, US: The Coopetition Challenge: ...

China, Europe, US: The Coopetition Challenge: Wang Jianlin (Photo credit: World Economic Forum)

Industry leaders like Tencent and Sohu tend to get freer reign than most when it comes to presenting online entertainment options, which has helped China’s economic growth while simultaneously hindering the domination of state media. Elsewhere, the country’s billionaires continue to grow in number and exert their own pressure on authorities to develop a healthy streak of business sense.

In the movie industry, Wang Jianlin personifies this drive to better connect the Chinese and American markets. He controls both Dalian Wanda Group, one of China’s biggest movie theater chains, and its U.S. equivalent AMC Entertainment. With a personal wealth in excess of $8.6 billion and obvious designs on bringing more of Hollywood to the burgeoning Chinese entertainment sector, his is a powerful voice in the ear of  the authorities who decide what forms of entertainment are allowed into the country.

Business sense vs. authoritarian censorship: so continues the complex balancing act facing China’s government, as it seeks to further develop the country’s curious blend of communism and capitalism.

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