893.4061 Motion Pictures/74

The Acting Secretary of State to the Minister in China (Johnson)

No. 1138

Sir: The Department refers to your despatch under date May 31, 1933,92 in regard to the threat of the Chinese National Board of Film Censors, in effect, to exclude from exhibition in China all films of the Columbia Pictures Distributing Company, Incorporated, until such time as that Company shall have agreed to withdraw from world-wide circulation its film entitled “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”.

In this connection the Department recalls that the case under reference is not the first instance in which the Chinese Board of Censors has similarly threatened American moving picture producers as like action was taken in connection with the films “East is West”, “The Shanghai Express” and possibly others.

As indicated in the Department’s instruction No. 848 of August 19, 1932,92 the American Government does not question the right of any government to prevent within that government’s jurisdiction the exhibition of any motion picture which it may regard as contrary to its interests. Nor would this Government be disposed to object if permission to exhibit pictures of any particular company were made conditional on the suppression of a picture which, following a dispassionate and unbiased study thereof, is found to contain features which vilify or hold up to ridicule the people or government of a friendly power or which are likely to affect adversely international relations. Such extreme measures on the part of any government, however, would be warranted only when there could be no reasonable doubt as to the seriously objectionable character of the picture and when the picture could not be revised so as to remove its objectionable elements, or when the producer refused to make such a revision. However, except under such circumstances as are indicated immediately above, this Government could not admit the right of any government to demand the suppression of an American picture outside the jurisdiction of the government making the demand, and any attempt to coerce American producers by unreasonable demands should be firmly opposed.

Each case, as it arises, must be settled on its own merits and the Department trusts that through a continuance of the cordial relations [Page 695] which now exist between officers of the Legation and members of the Chinese Board of Censors, such differences as occur may be adjusted satisfactorily. In the event that such negotiations fail to achieve the desired results, the Legation should request of the appropriate Chinese authorities a precise statement of the objections raised against the American film under discussion, and copies thereof, together with a comprehensive statement of the views of the Legation and any additional pertinent information, should be transmitted to the Department for its information and consideration.

Very truly yours,

William Phillips
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