Like other young people around the world, the Chinese are fans of U.S. TV shows, with the comedy “The Big Bang Theory” one of the more popular.
But American TV viewing in China hit a snag on April 26, 2014, when three major online video platforms, Sohu, Youku and Tencent, received notice from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) to take down “The Big Bang Theory” along with “The Good Wife”, “NCIS” and “The Practice”. Many believed that the ban was related to the “Cleaning the Web 2014″ campaign, which targets vulgar online content such as pornography for censorship.
“Big Bang Theory” producer Chuck Lorre wrote a tongue-in-cheek response to the news in his official production log:
The government of China has decided that “The Big Bang Theory” is not appropriate for viewing. I have to assume there was some sort of formal process involved in this decision. In all likelihood, a gaggle of communists sat in a darkened room and watched a few episodes. I like to think they took notes that were later used to formulate an official document that detailed the corrosive cultural effects caused by the shenanigans of Sheldon, Leonard, Penny, Wolowitz, Koothrappali, Amy and Bernadette. I like to think that during these screenings one of them laughed out loud and was promptly sent to re-education camp on the outskirts of Urumqi. I like to think one of them was reassured by how often the characters on the show eat Chinese takeout. I like to think there's a Chinese word for shenanigans. Regardless, the whole affair makes me very happy. The overlords of 1.3 billion people are afraid of our sitcom. Exactly what we were going for!
Lorre's American-style humor comes off more like harsh criticism of Chinese authorities when compared to Chinese-style sarcasm. Chinese netizens used the Chinese Communist Party's ideology to argue for the need to show popular American TV shows. Here is one argument for “The Big Bang Theory” via Sina Weibo user “Pretending to be in New York” (@假裝在紐約):
“The Big Bang Theory” is about four young scientists taking the wrong path in the career of capitalist scientific research. Eventually, they are too old to get married and cannot afford to buy an apartment. They are forced to live in a 150-square-meter house and survive on junk food. It is best represented by the pathetic scene of the stammering American Indian having a meal on the floor. [The series] exposes the racial discrimination, social injustice and decadent lifestyle of women in western society and serves as a strong warning for a large number of young people who blindly seek to migrate out of the country.
Soon after the online ban came the news that state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) will import “The Big Bang Theory”, but dub it using censored “green” translations of the original dialogue.
Bridge blogger Bill Bishop believed that the CCTV used its party connection to obtain a higher audience rating by cracking down on other online shows:
Online foreign video “crackdown” may be as much/more about ratings & ad $$s than ideology 分享网易新闻:「消息称央视引进”生活大爆炸”」 链接 http://t.co/SKjMv4fyKf
— Bill Bishop (@niubi) April 28, 2014
Online foreign video “crackdown” may be as much/more about ratings & ad $$s than ideology. Sharing NetEase news: “Source said CCTV will cast “the Big Bang Theory”. Link http://m.163.com …
But Vanessa Hung from Weibo believed the “green” version is to manipulate cultural exchange:
If they don't want ordinary people impacted by western culture, they should ban English education altogether and cut out all cultural exchange. This is how they enter the world?
Weibo user “Jilian mountain foot” came up with an allegory to describe the “green” version:
A scientist couple gave birth to a child and they were worried that the baby would be infected by bacteria. They only let the baby drink distilled water. Their baby died soon after. A story to express my feeling towards the CCTV green version of “The Big Bang Theory”.
A news website editor Ge Jia wrote that the ban is related to a new regulation announced by SARFT:
The reason is not related to the “web cleaning”. The content of the banned series are not unhealthy. The ban is related to the new regulation announced by SARFT last month. To strengthen their control of online audio/visual content, all American and British shows have to be approved before being broadcast. Although the video-hosting platforms have officially gained the copyrights to stream the taken down dramas, they haven't obtained approval from SARFT. The takedown is procedural.
A commentary from communist party mouthpiece Global Times newspaper also said the move was due to SARFT's regulation, and further explained that the policy is to protect local TV production.
If the regulation is to be used to the full extent, @xiaodonghhu's nightmare that online platforms could only show the “green” version as approved by SARFT may become real:
Though the ban happened a few days ago, I am still disheartened. I have to write this to express my feeling… What happened to “The Big Bang Theory” does not only imply that US, UK and Korean TV series and Japanese cartoons can no longer be shown online immediately [soon after they were distributed in the original T.V networks]. If they exercise the regulation to its full strength, all online video streaming platforms will return to the era of unified dubbed series.