European Pressphoto Agency
Actor Charmaine Sheh of the Hong Kong drama “When Heaven Burns,” at an award show in Seoul in August.

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.

In an interview with Hong Kong’s Apple Daily on Monday, show screenwriter Chow Yuk-ming said that the story was inspired by the events of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989. He said he moved the date of the cannibal incident in the drama to 1992 from 1989 to avoid stirring controversy. Discussion of the 1989 failed student democracy movement remains taboo in mainland China.

His statement spurred a flurry of speculation in Hong Kong as to whether other elements of the show also allude to the Tiananmen crackdown, with some local pundits speculating that the decline of original music in Hong Kong represents the city’s forgetfulness of past events.

TVB on Wednesday acknowledged that Mr. Chow’s show nodded to Tiananmen as well as other historical events, though it said that doesn’t necessarily mean the plot of the drama is a metaphor of the June 4 crackdown.

Whatever influenced the censors’ decision, the ban on “When Heaven Burns” could attract further debate and help boost what has so far been mediocre ratings in Hong Kong. Though the drama has attracted somewhat of a cult following among younger viewers, older viewers have largely dismissed the program. Many have complained that the drama’s unique storyline– accompanied by unconventional filming techniques that include frequent scenes of the main characters gulping down pieces of near-raw steak–are hard to follow, and that the subject matter is too deep.

–Polly Hui

Measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis that adjusts for price differences, China in 2009 stood as the second-largest economy in the world after the US, although in per capita terms the country is still lower middle-income.

The government vowed to continue reforming the economy and emphasized the need to increase domestic consumption in order to make China less dependent on foreign exports for GDP growth in the future.

China has emphasized raising personal income and consumption and introducing new management systems to help increase productivity.

The restructuring of the economy and resulting efficiency gains have contributed to a more than tenfold increase in GDP since 1978.

The country is one of the world’s largest producers of a number of industrial and mineral products, including cotton cloth, tungsten, and antimony, and is an important producer of cotton yarn, coal, crude oil, and a number of other products.

The technological level and quality standards of its industry as a whole are still fairly low, notwithstanding a marked change since 2000, spurred in part by foreign investment.

China’s ongoing economic transformation has had a profound impact not only on China but on the world.

China now ranks as the fifth largest global investor in outbound direct investment (ODI) with a total volume of $56.5 billion, compared to a ranking of 12th in 2008, the Ministry of Commerce said on Sunday.

” Although the figure is already “quite amazing,” the volume is “not large enough” considering China’s economic growth and local companies’ expanding demand for international opportunities, Shen said.

China reiterated the nation’s goals for the next decade – increasing market share of pure-electric and plug-in electric autos, building world-competitive auto makers and parts manufacturers in the energy-efficient auto sector as well as raising fuel-efficiency to world levels.

Although China is still a developing country with a relatively low per capita income, it has experienced tremendous economic growth since the late 1970s.

Agriculture is by far the leading occupation, involving over 50% of the population, although extensive rough, high terrain and large arid areas – especially in the west and north – limit cultivation to only about 10% of the land surface.

Except for the oasis farming in Xinjiang and Qinghai, some irrigated areas in Inner Mongolia and Gansu, and sheltered valleys in Tibet, agricultural production is restricted to the east.

Due to improved technology, the fishing industry has grown considerably since the late 1970s.

China is one of the world’s major mineral-producing countries.

There are also deposits of vanadium, magnetite, copper, fluorite, nickel, asbestos, phosphate rock, pyrite, and sulfur.

In addition, implementation of some reforms was stalled by fears of social dislocation and by political opposition, but by 2007 economic changes had become so great that the Communist party added legal protection for private property rights (while preserving state ownership of all land) and passed a labor law designed to improve the protection of workers’ rights (the law was passed amid a series of police raids that freed workers engaged in forced labor).

Brick, tile, cement, and food-processing plants are found in almost every province.

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Beijing Censors Hong Kong Cannibal Drama

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