By: Steve Dickinson and Mathew Alderson

The China Film Industry Promotion Law (Discussion Draft) was issued for public comment by the State Council on December 15, 2011. This draft has been in process for many years. The plan was to have the law submitted for adoption at the most recent meeting of the National Peoples Congress that met in March 2012. This did not happen. No one has offered an explanation. The reason is do doubt that there is strong disagreement within China about the provisions of the draft. Major disagreement centers on the following two issues:

  • The main issue addressed in this law is the division of proceeds for film screening profits in China. As is typical, the central government wants all the profits. Local theaters want their share, distributors want their share, and the producers also want their share. These four groups are in a major battle over funds. As the amount of money at stake grows, the battle becomes more severe. This law attempts to resolve the issues entirely in the favor of the central government. This attempt to jam the other groups apparently failed. Nonetheless, the primary focus of the draft law is an attack on the theaters and the distribution of proceeds from screening films. This shows where the current interests of the Chinese government lie. Foreign players like to talk about the gross size of the Chinese box office. The more important issue is: who gets what share of that box office? For foreign investors this is the key issue and it should be addressed carefully.
  • The draft law gives SARFT’s Beijing office control over film the content. This move against independent creativity in film is out of line with recent trends and has been resisted by the creative film community. As many commentators have pointed out, the vast majority of recently popular films in China would be entirely banned by the standards proposed in the draft law. This is both a creative issue and a monetary issue. The creative people want to make what they want to make and the money people want to make films people will see. The Chinese public does not have any interest in paying money to view the boring pablum that would result under the standards in the draft. So the two groups (creative and commercial) have teamed up to oppose this backward looking law.

Though we hardly ever comment in detail on discussion drafts because you never know when these drafts will be adopted or the form they will take when they are.  Discussion in the abstract is therefore usually a waste of time. We have commented on this discussion draft because it reveals the current issues within the central government concerning film and other creative media arts in China.

For film, the government seems to seek the following:

  1. Increased control over film content.
  2. Force filmmakers into the role of propaganda tools for the party/government.
  3. Spread that propaganda by forcing theaters to show these propaganda films in the poor industrial areas and in the rural areas. The plan is to transform film from the current expensive, high class role it now plays, into an economical tool of the state. State funding for film is intended to fulfill this propaganda goal. The term “entertainment” does not appear anywhere in the discussion draft.
  4. Appropriate the majority of profits at the central government level.

Thus the draft is a giant step backwards to the Stalinist world of the 1950s. It is obvious why the government wants to do this. It is also obvious why the China film industry is opposed. The battle lines have been drawn.

In Part II of this series we will talk about how the draft Film Industry Promotion Law does little more than seek to clarify existing law.