In Hollywood, the screenwriter William Goldman once observed, “nobody knows anything”. Now, however, everybody knows at least one thing: whatever you do, be nice to China.

If your movie features a Chinese villain, change his nationality. If your plot omits a scene in China, insert- preferably with gleaming skyscrapers. If your production deal lacks a Chinese partner, find one. If Beijing’s censors dislike certain scenes, cut them.

China’s market it booming. Box office revenues rose [1] 36% last year to $4.82 billion, overtaking Japan. With the 10 new cinema screens opening daily, China is expected to overtake the US within a decade. The other reason is Chinese government control. To nurture domestic film, it allows only 34 foreign films to be shown annually, an increase from the previous cap of 20 but still a tiny number. To stand a chance of inclusion in the quota, a film must please, or at least not offend, the authorities.

Recent blockbusters such as Iron Man 3 and Django Unchained, and others in the pipeline such as Transformers 4 and Brad Pitt’s World War Z, have been modified to please Chinese authorities and audiences, promoting accusations of artistic surrender. [2] Even James Cameron said he was considering inserting Chinese elements into two sequels to Avatar, saying it would be “logical” to have Chinese characters on the planet Pandora.

Iron Man 3 went further than most, with some special additions made to the film, made to appeal heavily to the government’s sensibilities to make sure that it’s one of the few movies allowed into the country. They added scenes for the Chinese version that showed a Chinese surgeon saving Tony Stark and lines for the leading female actor Fan BingBing. Chinese links were expunged from the “Mandarin”, a comic villain played by Ben Kingsley. Robert Downey Jr, who plays the lead, said that he would consider creating other films for China, even beyond the popular action-film format. [3] “I think Chinese culture just responds to good cinema,” he said.


"Iron Man 3 Caters to Chinese Censorship"- THE POINT


The bad news is that this kind of behaviour in moviemaking has been going on in some form or another for well over half a century and there’s no feasible way of stopping it. The good news is that this has been going on for well over half a century and artists and entertainers have managed to find all sorts of ways to work in and around the systems in place and still develop films that appeal to more than the censor board or the bottom line. And they will continue to do so.

It won’t always work. That scene that Iron Man 3 added for the Chinese market will never make any sense. But it won’t always fail, either. And there will always be audiences who will fight for the chance to see results.

Recommended readings: How China's Censors Influence Hollywood



[1] P. Frater. 2015. Variety. ‘China Surges 36% in Total Box Office Revenue’. Available from: <; [1 September 2015]

[2] R. Carroll. 2013. The Guardian. ‘Hollywood risks ‘artistic surrender’ in effort to please’. Available from: <; [1 September 2015]

[3] L. Burkitt. 2013. The Wall Street Journal. ‘Too Much or Not Enough?’. Available from: <; [1 September 2015]





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