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China Moving Towards A Ratings System?

As long as there has been a Chinese film industry, a ratings system of any kind has eluded audience members whose competence to determining content suitability has been all but nullified of by SARFT’s careful restrictions. For the first time, however, there may be a hint of change–a nod towards ratings and audience empowerment– in the air. James Marsh, author of the article China Beat: A Flirtation With Classification for, has the scoop.

Earlier this week, Chinese cinema exhibitor Beijing Bona Starlight Cineplex Management Co. Ltd. announced that it will start applying film classifications to films in the hope of providing better guidance to its patrons and improving box office performance. A subsidiary of film distribution giant Bona Film Group, the exhibitor currently only operates four cinemas in China, including two in Beijing, but has seven more venues in various stages of development. While this may seem like a pretty insignificant gesture, China currently has no official film classification system in place but there have been numerous appeals for one from throughout the industry. As it stands, any film that is passed for exhibition by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television can be watched by audiences of any age. SARFT itself also operates without any official guidelines and the opinion amongst many filmmakers and distributors is that if a classification system was in place, SARFT would be more lenient in what it chose to pass as suitable viewing for the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants. The announcement was made by Starlight’s General Manager, Huang Wei, and while the specifics of the proposed system have yet to be revealed, Huang suggested that Beijing Bona Starlight’s ratings would be based on Hong Kong’s current system.

In a system with such a rigidly-defined code of appropriate content for mainstream releases, even a whisper of a ratings hierarchy could suggest the beginning of some change within the SARFT universe. In any case, giving audiences the ability to determine the appropriateness of a film’s content for themselves is more power than Chinese audiences have yet enjoyed. Though Bona’s ratings system is purely cosmetic and not yet legal, reactions from other studios may set the course for the future of a ratings system. Marsh reports:

If China were to implement such a system then the hope is that SARFT would relax its attitudes towards sexual and violent content in films, if it was confident that only audiences of a certain age would be able to see them. Such a system might also help distributors hone their marketing campaigns towards specific audience demographics, making them more efficient and cost-effective. Beijing Bona Searchlight’s system, set to be implemented at the end of February, would only be advisory, and carry no legal weight, but it’s certainly a fascinating move that we’ll be sure to track in the months ahead.


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