PRC-style censorship of "Oppenheimer"

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[link to full tweet here]

Notice the title of each group of five panels: yuánbǎn 原版 ("original edition") for the uncut version, and jiǎnbǎn ✂️版 [=剪版] (meaning jiǎnjí bǎn 剪輯版) for the censored version — all the more notable for its being written in pen, not typed out!  The scissors emoji is very commonly used in online platforms to indicate editorial process.

In the third set of drawings (which look identical to me — the only set that is identical on both sides), the characters say jìngtóu fāngxiàng 镜头方向 ("camera direction").  The same wording is used in the tenth (and last) cel.  I do not think any irony / humor is intended here. Rather, the author is perhaps showing that in this particular instance, nothing is edited, so the original scene remains the way it is. This set is the only one without female nudity / intercourse. Maybe this is why it escapes censorship.

The title of the cartoon is "Àoběnhǎimò héxié yìshù 奥本海默 和谐艺术" ("Oppenheimer — Harmonized Art").  Héxié 和諧 ("harmonious") refers to CCP's appeal for "Héxié Shèhuì 和諧社會" ("Harmonious Society"), hence censorship on information deemed subversive to that end. In Chinese netizen's parlance, héxié 和諧 has become a verb that essentially means to "to censor." People also use the less sensitive homophone héxiè 河蟹 ("river crab") (that link is in Chinese; this and other internet euphemisms for censorship in English may be found here).

In the case of Oppenheimer, one can say something like "diànyǐng lǐ de sèqíng huàmiàn bèi héxié le 電影裡的色情畫面被和諧了" ("the sexual scenes in the film have been censored").

BTW, that's J. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist, not the geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer, who had previously been unflatteringly featured on Language Log several times (in March of 2007).


Selected  readings

[Thanks to Tanner Greer]


  1. John Rohsenow said,

    September 3, 2023 @ 5:10 pm

    Thanks for the explanations of all these specialized PRC terms.–As I have not seen the film OPPENHEIMER and don't follow web discussions in China, do I understand that someone sketched cartoons of various censored scenes from the film to show how those scenes were recut (?) in the version released in China? This raises all sorts of questions:
    Did the Chinese authorities go to all the trouble editing the frames of the "objectionable" scenes in the film, or did the US studio do it for them, or even originally (re)shoot those scenes in two versions, one for US domestic consumption and one for overseas (i.e. PRC) consumption, as they have bee known to do in the past for the export (and domestic
    TV releases) of other films? Sorry these aren't language focussed questions, but I'm just curious.
    PS: Here is a partial answer to my question which suggests that the PRC (and Indian) censors do it themselves, rather than being anticipated by the US studios.'s%20Nudity%20is%20Censored,-22%20hours%20ago&text=Chinese%20cinemagoers%20noticed%20that%20a,in%20China's%20version%20of%20Oppenheimer.

  2. DDeden said,

    September 3, 2023 @ 6:49 pm

    Forgive my off-topic comment please.

    Translation to english (is there one online already? If not, would anyone be interested in doing a very brief one?)

    Cotton: from fluff to dyed cloth the traditional Chinese way

  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 4, 2023 @ 6:13 am


    There's no Chinese spoken on the soundtrack of that tweet, and only a little bit written in the subtitles, which are difficult to read, impressionistic,and superficial, and would not be very useful for helping you to understand the process that is being depicted in the video.

    I will share the video with a few specialists who are familiar with the cotton making process shown in the video and who may be willing to explain it briefly for you. They may even be able to direct you to published works on what you see in the tweet.

  4. KenEM said,

    September 4, 2023 @ 8:02 am

    Having seen the movie (though just once, a few weeks ago, so I could be wrong), I think the last three pairs are all the same scene, which has several cuts, starting before the censored part to show where the last replacement shot comes from

  5. Jerry Packard said,

    September 4, 2023 @ 5:54 pm

    When my son Errol visited from Tokyo a few weeks ago, one of the things he wanted to do was see ‘Oppenheimer’, since it isn’t being shown in Japan.

  6. He Zhang said,

    September 5, 2023 @ 9:25 am

    About the cotton video:

    The subtitles in the video are all flipped over so they are hard to read. They simply explain processing steps for spinning thread, dying thread, weaving, etc..

  7. He Zhang said,

    September 5, 2023 @ 9:35 am

    About cotton video again: the subtitles do give some details such as ingredients for the dye, or particular tools for spinning.

  8. He Zhang said,

    September 5, 2023 @ 10:49 am

    In the cotton video:
















    Sorry I would not translate the subtitles. Anyone interested may ask ChatGPT.

  9. Joshua K. said,

    September 5, 2023 @ 9:33 pm

    Considering that much of the movie "Oppenheimer" has to do with Robert Oppenheimer being investigated for associating with Communists and ex-Communists, I would think that those scenes would play quite differently for an audience in a country which is at least officially Communist.

    Did the Chinese censors make any changes to the political aspects of the film, or just the nudity and sex scenes?

  10. magni said,

    September 19, 2023 @ 9:31 am

    @Joshua K. No censoring act on video or audio in the political regard, at least to my knowledge. However, translations for some political terms are intentionally rendered vague and rigid. For example, every "communists" and "communist party" is translated into 美共 (Communist Party USA), even when the term is not referring to the USA branch of the party but the Soviets, or communists in general. "Ideology" is translated into 理想主义 (idealism), "follow the party lines" into 循规蹈矩 (conform/stick to convention), and "socialism" into 民主共和 (democratic republic) in one case.

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