by Akage Girl, October 22, 2020

Imagine watching an exciting and engaging show in the beginning. Then suddenly, the more episodes you watch, the more dialogue is changed and re-dubbed with strange voices. Eventually, the story-line becomes a chopped-up patched-up mess. There is a chance this show wasn’t poorly made. Instead, it has been censored. Strange thing censorship, sometimes countries use it to stop ideology they don’t want within their borders and sometimes film companies do it so they can sell something to foreign markets. At best it's clumsy and annoying and at worst, well……that’s another discussion. There are just some subjects that are taboo in various parts of the world.

Will any amount of begging get those deleted scenes and dialogue put on DVD?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a taboo is “a social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice” and since I am somewhat of a rebellious soul, I thought…why not? Let’s take a look at some prohibited subjects. There is one show that stands out as an example of all things banned (the book contains a boatload of forbidden subject matter) and that is Guardian, the C-drama released in 2018. Taboo subjects are scattered like little Easter Eggs throughout the episodes, just waiting for the unsuspecting viewer to find. At the same time, edits to scenes and dialogue coupled with severe divergence from the book, consequently, there is much unseen and removed from the original story.

Now I’m not here to argue the merits of censorship and yes, some things should not be seen on TV and children should ALWAYS be protected. I do appreciate entertainment ratings that tell me why a show is rated a certain way. (I loathe watching blood and guts, but I have no issues watching two people of the same gender declare their love for each other – neither are evil but content warnings are appreciated.)

Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan…..I loved them both!

For those of you that haven’t watched Guardian, it can be an interesting ride, but please read the book as you watch. The show plot-holes will drive you batty long before you are addicted to the incredible characterization from the wonderful Bai Yu and Zhu Yi Long. While yes, there is a romantic relationship between the two main characters in the book (Priest left more to the imagination and less graphic detail so even boring fuddy-duddies like me can enjoy the sweeping saga that is Zhen Hun – the book).

Please note, the idea of taboo subjects is fairly foreign to me. After all, I come from a country that will televise almost anything as long as they can sell advertising space or charge a monthly subscription. I did not understand the extent of any kind of censorship until I watched Guardian and it was eye-opening. After some research, I found there are several subjects not allowed in C-dramas. According to Time, CNN, and the Beijinger, the following are “taboo” items for mainland China television where Guardian was produced.

  • Cleavage
  • Celebrity kids
  • Drinking and Smoking
  • Time Travel
  • South Koreans (don’t know if that’s still applicable)
  • Only 15% of TV time can be on costume drama
  • Male Earrings
  • Promotion of feudalism, superstition, fatalism, and reincarnation
  • LGBT

Soooooo, what exactly can we see?

From that list, Guardian is only missing two things: celebrity kids, and South Koreans. But the rest…..holy cow. Kudos to the producers, the writers, and ESPECIALLY THE ACTORS for what they were able to accomplish with so many limitations. Because other than those two, taboos were on glorious display (only very little of it….and fairly well hidden at times). Sadly, Guardian’s story (especially in later episodes) was eviscerated when compared to the book. Still, I salute the creators for peppering in taboo subjects anyway. Here is a list of no-no’s found in the show.

Not a super-fan of cigarettes as a prop or alcohol as a plot device, however, I’m not for censoring it out. That said, Guardian used this beautifully, alas, I’ve seen several C-dramas where alcohol is a common prop so it must not be regulated that much. Smoking on screen is not considered appropriate in the US either so not much difference here. However, Guardian swaps out the cigarettes from the book for lollipops which was a bold move (more on that later).

Did they put Zhu Hong in this dress purpose? I think so… decide.

Not sure how this made it through censors but there are a few episodes with Zhao Yunlan traveling back ten-thousand years where he first meets Shen Wei. Granted, THE ENTIRE book was written about what happened thousands of years in the past and how it affected modern-day. There is just no Guardian without time travel included. Thankfully they were able to slip a little in (sigh…not as much as in Zhen Hun).

Was there anyone who did not love this scene? (no candy in Zhen Hun tho’)

About 15% of this show is a costume drama so I wonder if that’s how they were able to slip it underneath the radar or maybe it's because the costumes weren’t that opulent like other Mainland Chinese shows (very low budget for period clothing).

Did this one get through because the man wearing the earring is playing a cat? Whatever reason, hats off to the costume people for sneaking a male earring in.

Who knew male earrings were a taboo?

There is little to no fatalism nor feudalism in Guardian but Zhen Hun (the book) is just filled to the brim with Superstition and Reincarnation. In fact, the premise of the entire story rests squarely on the origins of reincarnation and is breathtakingly gorgeous. This is where the show differs A LOT from the book. The rich and stunning tapestry of Chinese mythology is the backbone of the book. Mythology translates very well to television and movies. Think Hercules (the TV show) and Thor and Loki (from The Avengers).

For this reason alone, it's worth reading Zhen Hun because Guardian has very little of it (not for lack of trying). But they do manage to sprinkle a few things here and there, although pretty scarce compared to the book.

Hmmm…..Is it a friendship? Is it more? Who cares?

The relationship between Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei the book was quite delightful and loving. While Zhao Yunlan uses spousal terminology for Shen Wei often in the book, it was never used in Guardian - that’s taboo. The actors Bai Yu and Zhu Yi Long did an AMAZING job helping us understand what was up between these two characters (a couple of times, I had to fan myself). And the lollipops!! The sweets were used as a subtle nod to the real status of Shen Wei and Zhao Yunlan. Again, candy not in Zhen Hun; Zhao Yunlan is a chain smoker (I prefer candy myself).

If anyone missed the subtext of Zhao Yunlan and Shen Wei’s couplehood, the writers proceeded to have every other character in the show define it…..just in case those dreamy looks and small touches weren’t enough. From the love triangle with Zhu Hong to the very strange pet name Ye Zun calls Yunlan while impersonating Shen Wei, it's actually quite blatant and verbal. The two men themselves never express it, unlike the book.

Barely two months after Guardian’s release, it was pulled from the air…..much to the anger of many fans. “Adjustments” were made before the rest of the 40 episodes were released. Frankly, it is obvious where the “adjustments” are, and it is quite devastating to the story. Sudden voice changes, words not matching up; much of the change appears to be around the mythology. It appears some scenes between the two leads were removed entirely.

A Great Story.....Shot to heck.........Thank you Fujoshimajo for GIF

The premise of Zhen Hun involves ghosts, gods, reincarnation, and a love story involving two men…..WAY too controversial for censors. Perhaps the creators of Guardian moved the setting to an alien planet in the hopes of skirting some of those rules about taboo subjects. Alas, much of the magnificence of the book is chopped like a bad haircut.

Guardian’s ending becomes rushed and messy. My theory is, this is because producers left in too many of those taboo items. If it were possible to own an unedited copy of Guardian, I’d buy it in a heartbeat and watch it in one sitting with my trusty bag of Double-Stuff Oreos. It starts as a charming and entertaining story. Towards the end, regretfully, it just falls apart and strays so far away from the book that it is unrecognizable. Perhaps Guardian is a microcosm of life. If we cut out all the taboo subjects and stray from the truth, then it just becomes distorted and silly.

Same characters in Zhen Hun and Guardian…..more interesting in the book (better ending too)

Reading Zhen Hun and watching Guardian has made me think long and hard about what should or should not be televised. Admittedly, it’s the ultimate hubris to think one culture is better than another. That said, the taboos of mythology and epic romance found in Zhen Hun pulled me along to the exciting conclusion (I cried). I have to ask why this story is not fit for television in the same area of the world that created the mythology and the characters in the first place. (Shrugging) We may never know the answer but please, if you watch Guardian, read Zhen Hun.

What about you? What taboos on television confuse and bewilder you? Wish you could buy the unedited version of Guardian just like me?

Edited by: KimWanHee (1st editor), BrightestStar (2nd editor)