A controversial Hong Kong television drama depicting scenes of cannibalism has touched the nerve in Beijing, for reasons that may go much further than a mere disapproval of its violent content. “When Heaven Burns,” a bleak portrayal of humanity produced by broadcaster Television Broadcasts Ltd., has been banned in mainland China in what the Hong Kong media said was the first such move against a Hong Kong soap opera in more than two decades. With just four episodes to go, Chinese state censors ordered TVB’s mainland sub-licensees, online video companies Youku.com and Tudou.com and nine other website operators to remove the show from their sites, the television station said. TVB said Wednesday it is trying to seek clarification from Chinese authorities. While the reason for the censorship remains unclear, the move is set to intensify an already heated online discussion about the show because of its unusual plot point: cannibalism.
The 30-episode series centers on a fictional tragic incident in 1992. During a mountaineering trip in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, four young, aspiring pop musicians become stranded on a snow-capped mountain. Out of desperation, three of them eat and kill the fourth. The story looks at how the three survivors and the people close to them are haunted by the experience years later. The story also laments a lack of originality in popular music and stresses the need to stay true to one’s dreams despite the suppression of society.
Those features might make it easy to see why Beijing’s censors would stop the show, given their focus on programming that steers away from controversy. But the ban also follows comments by the show’s screenwriter that might have given authorities other reasons to step in.