China's Censors: Time Must March On

Chinese television censors are trying to curb what they consider an unwholesome fixation with the past, according to the New York Times:

In a statement (available here in Chinese) dated March 31, the State Administration for Radio, Film & Television said that TV dramas that involve characters traveling back in time "lack positive thoughts and meaning." The guidelines discouraging this type of show said that some "casually make up myths, have monstrous and weird plots, use absurd tactics, and even promote feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation."

"Feudalism" in this context is a Marxist code word for a pre-revolutionary Chinese social order of landowners and bureaucrats -- not really feudal in the European or Japanese sense. And it's hard to imagine that Karl Marx himself, a literary enthusiast, would have approved of censors suppressing fantasies about bygone eras. But an alternative explanation is suggested by the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton's review of Eric Hobsbawm's latest collection of essays:

Marx, too, was an artist of sorts. It is often forgotten how staggeringly well read he was, and what painstaking labour he invested in the literary style of his works. He was eager, he remarked, to get shot of the "economic crap" of Capital and get down to his big book on Balzac. Marxism is about leisure, not labour. It is a project that should be eagerly supported by all those who dislike having to work.

Perhaps the censors' real fear is not "superstition, fatalism, and reincarnation," but sapping the work ethic of the masses.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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