The Government Information Office (GIO) announced on the weekend that starting next month, Taiwan and China would be allowed to cooperate on TV productions. Echoing the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration’s standard argument for closer cooperation with China at almost every level, Ho Nai-chi (何乃麒), head of the Department of Broadcasting Affairs, said that because TV advertising revenue keeps dropping, Taiwanese TV stations have no choice but to rely on foreign markets — in other words, China.
Amid apprehensions that Chinese talent would elbow out Taiwanese, the GIO said that guidelines were established to ensure that at least 30 percent of personnel in joint productions would be Taiwanese, while the number of Chinese could not exceed one third. Other clauses mandate that the main shooting locations must be in Taiwan and that post-production — editing, special effects and sound effects — must be completed in Taiwan.
Lastly, the promotion of communism and unification, as well as symbols of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), will not be allowed, the GIO said.
At first glance, these guidelines would assuage fears that Taiwanese TV productions would be tainted by communist ideology as a result of cooperation with producers across the Taiwan Strait.
But it isn’t so. The problem lies with what the guidelines do not cover: Chinese censorship.
A perfect example of this was provided by the behavior of Chinese filmmakers last week at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which they boycotted because organizers refused to yield to pressure from Beijing not to screen Ten Conditions of Love, a documentary about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. Two Chinese directors pulled out of the festival, and the organizer’s Web site was hacked, possibly by Chinese agents.
An order by Chinese regulators in March last year that TV stations across China stop reporting on actress Tang Wei (湯唯) and pull any ads featuring the star because of her role as a Japanese sympathizer in Ang Lee’s (李安) thriller Lust, Caution is also emblematic of Beijing’s ruthless approach to creativity if it defies ideology.
Given the grip the state has on the Chinese TV and film industry, together with the stringent screening and censorship process that precedes the release of entertainment in China, there is no doubt that similar hurdles would be imposed on Taiwanese-Chinese co-productions. One consequence of this would be that Taiwanese production companies seeking to co-produce a series with Chinese film studios would have no choice but to self-censor by avoiding such inflammatory topics as the occupation of Tibet, criticism of the CCP and Taiwanese independence. This does not mean that Taiwanese producers would no longer be free to express themselves and to address those topics, only that by doing so they would be forsaking any chance of Chinese artistic cooperation and financial assistance.
The risk is that through a process of filtering, Taiwanese productions that refuse to have their artistic integrity muzzled will be unable to make it in the Chinese market, while those that do will reap the financial benefits.
Gradually, Taiwanese production companies that opt to go it alone will be unable to compete with better-financed and ad-friendly Taiwan-China co-productions. Their financial survival will be severely compromised, and with that, Taiwanese voices deemed unacceptable by the CCP will be silenced, unless they find alternative sources of financing in other foreign markets.