China Hush reports that the Chinese film and TV industries have been ordered to stop making time-travel dramas, on the grounds that “The producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore.”
I find this convenient if wrong-headed. Convenient because while Americans may talk about what what our history means to us it is hard to pin down what historical orthodoxy is. China makes it easy. Wrong-headed because the Chinese government is very big on encouraging young Chinese to identify with “5,000 Years of Chinese History.” Getting people to do that is actually hard, and time travel might help.
David Lowenthal talks about time travel stories in The Past is a Foreign Country. Modern science fiction stories are only the tip of the iceberg, as there are countless stories of a knock on the head, a strange dream or a pact with the devil sending people to the past. Although lots of these stories are about about how you can use your amazing knowledge to make money gambling, or fix the present or whatever, many of them deal with how disconcerting and foreign the past is. In some stories you can’t talk to people, they may kill you for being a heretic, or you might starve to death. In any case, you will almost certainly want to go home. I have not watched any of these TV dramas, but all of them seem to open with the past being frightening and dangerous, but with the hero eventually finding their feet and, of course, true love. This would seem to be good from a Chinese nationalist perspective, since all these people are traveling to a past that is supposed to be ‘theirs.’ If Americans want to go a long way into the past we visit King Arthur’s court, which is obviously in a foreign country, and thus if we don’t identify with it and have to kill everyone to liberate them, that’s o.k. Chinese kids should -like- visiting Ancient China Land, and apparently they do.
Needless to say there are some serious problems. The past is really different from the present in ways that are being ignored in these stories. Sex and lust were probably the same things in the Qin Dynasty as now, but love? I doubt many people are learning much about the past as it is understood by historians from these shows. On the other hand, the official line seems to be that history is a nationalistic catechism to be memorized, respected, and bored by. That’s even worse. The article also reports that there is to be a ban on productions of the Four Classic Novels. Again, the problem is apparently a lack of respect for the treasures of Chinese culture, and you can see the point. If you let the current generation of Chinese youth get their hands on these stories they might portray the Monkey King as some sort of turbulent troublemaker or Li Gui as a drunken hoodlum. Heck they might even imply that Baoyu was gay! Far better to stick these stories in boring classrooms and museums than to risk what might happen to them in the present.
Via Jeremiah Jenne
Of course, banning time travel in cinema or any popular culture is myopic at best. What are they thinking?