Time Travel

When China Banned Time Travel

Before we talk about China’s problem with time travel, I have a simple question.

Why do we find time travel so fascinating?

Is it the science? The simple ability to say, “Screw you, laws of physics!” and go on a wild adventure through the ages? Or maybe it’s a desire to relive our past, to right wrongs and grasp missed opportunities. Or visit the future! Any number of possibilities, really.

I suppose we all have our own reasons; personally, I’d be more likely to visit historical events than anything from my own life. I’d be curious to see how it all started, and how it all ends. Maybe see if I could break something.

Not everyone is enthralled with the idea of time travel, though. Take the Chinese government, for example.

China Bans Time Travel, SciFi Fans Cry

Image: Looper (2012)

In 2011, the Chinese government decided it would be a good idea to discourage movies and television series about time travel, claiming the subject “disrespects history” and that the prospect of time traveling and rewriting history “goes against Chinese heritage.”

Maybe. (The word ban may or may not have been a mistranslation; I’m still not sure.)

The real problem, as far as I understand it, was mostly that, since time travel is a popular genre in China, this indicated the masses weren’t particularly happy with the current state of things. And that’s not good for, you know, morale.

Many time travel dramas, after all, involve a modern individual being whisked into the past, which in many cases he or she finds preferable to the present. Many people today dream about being the protagonist in their own time travel fantasy, to get away from the troubles of the modern world.

In 2012, this idea unfortunately became all too real, when two Chinese schoolgirls committed suicide, hoping to time travel into the past. “In my life, I have two secret wishes. One is to time-travel back to Qing Dynasty and shoot a film with the emperor, and the other is to travel to outer space,” read a note one of the girls left behind.

(I suppose I should mention that there are some questions regarding the validity of this story. Some journalists believe the story was given the negative time travel slant by the government. You can never be too sure, I guess. I don’t know.)

But even though time travel stories are discouraged in China, that didn’t stop Looper from busting up their Box Office. Time travel still appears to be wildly popular there, “ban” or no ban.


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.