The East End Horror

I’ve been a bit busy, so I haven’t been able to post much. I’ll be doing that soon, hopefully, with stuff about my visit to the Tibetan Lama Temple here in Beijing, the ongoing Chinese New Year celebrations, and about how the Chinese are embracing Valentine’s Day big time. In the meantime, I just wanted to post this news item from Xinhua (the official Chinese government owned news service). It seems that I’m carrying more contraband into this country than I thought. Certainly, I realized that my libertarian literature might be problematic, or my having a DVD of Red Corner, but it seems I’ve got even more forbidden stuff than that.

China has ordered a ban on the sale of audio and video products containing elements of mystery and horror. The move is the latest initiative to “protect the country’s children and teenagers’ psychological development”, according to a newly-issued government circular. According to the General Administration of Press and Publications (GAPP) circular, such audio and video products usually “involve alien-looking characters and fictional story telling, both specifically plotted for the sole purpose of terror”. It said the horror, violence and cruelty involved in these audio and videos were unfit for children, and extremely harmful for their psychological development.

The circular instructed all existing publications involving elements of mystery and horror to be off the market, and ordered audios and videos in production to delete any hint of mystery and horror. China began its crackdown on so-called “terrifying publications” in April 2006, specifically targeting a Japanese comic story “Death Note”. It involved a notebook that can kill people if their names are written in it. The comic depicted various scary ways of dying, according to GAPP.

China also started a cleansing campaign against “vulgar” content in video and audio products starting this year. It ordered audio and video producers to stop the production and sale of vulgar products and recall those already on the market.

So, I happened to have brought with me a Japanese horror movie called Premonition, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, all three seasons of the Chris Carter series Millennium, and, the namesake of this blog, John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. Here I thought that stuff would be pretty innocent. As it is, I hid the Red Corner DVD by mislabeling it Children of the Corn.

As amusing as this whole story is, I have to add that this emphasis on children, down to the mention of comic books, reminds me of something we went through in the United States back in the 1950’s. At that time, there was a panic sparked by horror comic books like Tales from the Crypt, that supposedly kids were reading these things and having their brains screwed up. There was even a Congressional investigation, centered around “scientific” research presented in a now-discredited book called The Seduction of the Innocent, which held that comic books cause crime. Congress essentially pressured the comic book industry into adopting a self-policing panel called the Comics Code Authority, which still nominally exists to this day, with more popular kids titles featuring the Comics Code symbol on the cover.

Naturally, the First Amendment meant that Congress might’ve at least faced speedbumps in trying to ban comic books outright, and regulating them would’ve been a messy proposition. So the Comics Code served the interests of both mainstream comic book publishers, who didn’t want to have to face government oversight, and Congress itself. (It did, though, have the side-effect of dumbing down comic books for decades to come, and killing outright horror and mystery comic books like Tales from the Crypt.) But here in China, while Freedom of Speech is in the Chinese Constitution, we can all agree that it has no real authority under the law. So if the government wants to just ban these comic books, and now movies, outright, there’s really nothing other than financial and manpower limitations stopping it. And fortunately, going back to the whole “Paradox of the Police State” that I mentioned earlier, the government may lack any kind of meaningful enforcement mechanisms, and paradoxically, undermine respect for the rule of law by passing laws that are virtually impossible to enforce.


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