Web Ratings Disabled for Chinese Communist Party Film

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Theaters in China began showing a new blockbuster movie last week chronicling the founding of the country's ruling Communist Party. But while the film "Beginning of the Great Revival" has enjoyed a wide release, finding out whether if the movie is any good or not has been more of a challenge as Chinese web users wonder why they can't review the film.

Two popular movie review websites in China have disabled the star rating system for the film. The sites, douban.com and mtime.com, are also not allowing users to leave written reviews about the movie.

Both sites were contacted, but a request for comment was not returned. The reasoning behind the action, however, was not a mystery to users on Sina Weibo, one of China's most popular microblogs. Posts on the microblogs claimed the websites had been forced to "harmonize" the movie reviews, a term used in reference to Chinese government censoring online content.

Chinese authorities are particularly sensitive to information that's critical of the government. This new film is being released to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of China's Communist Party. But not all Chinese Web users have been welcoming of the movie.

A screenshot from a Chinese microblog user taken before douban.com disabled its rating system showed the film receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, with 87.8 percent of participating users giving it one star. Others on the Web discussion boards have called the film an attempt by authorities to "brainwash" the public in an effort to create more support for the Chinese government.

Chinese Web users have also been poking at the irony of the film, said David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project. While the film depicts historical figures fighting for revolution, currently people in China cannot encourage revolution given the government's outlawing of any political subversion in the country, a point that microblog users are making.

Earlier this year, an online protest call was made urging the Chinese people to hold a "Jasmine revolution" against the government. Authorities responded swiftly, arresting human rights activists, blocking content on the Web related to the protest call, and even slowing access to Gmail.

Other protests have broken out in China since then. One of the most recent has been in the city of Zengcheng, where riots were sparked by migrant workers. In response to the riots, the Chinese government has blocked Google and microblog searches in Chinese for the city of Zengcheng.

But while mention of actual protests are censored on China's Web, "Beginning of the Great Revival" has become a major topic on the Web as the film has been promoted throughout the country. "You want people to talk about it," Bandurski said of the Chinese authorities. "They need the commercial success of this propaganda film. At the same time, they don't want too much of the wrong kind of discussion."

A 24-year-old from Beijing, who wished not to be named, said his state-owned company had made it an activity to go watch the film. China's propaganda offices had resorted to making the a blockbuster movie in order to better reach the masses, he added. As a result, many of the people choosing to watch it are simply doing so because its cast includes so many famous stars.

But the irony of the film was also not lost to him. "On the Web I saw this saying: people are allowed to sing revolutionary songs, but they are not allowed to actually lead a revolution," he said. "Chinese people are not dumb. They understand the humor of all this."

"So I think with this film, it won't really have a brain-washing effect. Instead it will have the opposite," he added. "The movie is saying open party politics is crucial. But in reality, China does not have that. From the movie's images, it proves the importance of democracy and having open party politics."

A 27-year-old in Beijing, who only wished to give out his surname Jin, agreed. He said he was interested in watching the movie, considering the current political climate of China. "The movie has secret societies, unlawful gatherings, protest demonstrations, and anti-government movements, these are all things that China's Communist Party currently bans," he said.

Jin said it was clear the movie's original intention was to brainwash people. But he added, "Ultimately, with a product like this, the creators can only make it, but its up to the viewers to interpret it as how they see fit."

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