How Has 'House Of Cards' Escaped China's Censors?

The show has reportedly won favor with top officials in China's government and pulled in more than 9 million views in China over the weekend.
Posted at 11:58 PM, Feb 18, 2014

Warning: minor spoilers may follow, though we promise not to ruin anything really good.

XANDER FENG: "Everyone in China who works on this level pays who they need to pay."

The second season of "House of Cards" is a huge hit in the U.S., but the American show from Netflix is also proving very popular in China. 

Which is surprising, considering the topics central to "House of Cards:" corruption, sex, power — and, in this season, China and its government.

That would usually make a show a sure bet for China's censors, who regularly edit and pull programming for reflecting negatively on government. Foreign Policy found Chinese viewers on Sina Weibo writing "hurry up and download it," before it's pulled. Others praised the show's writers who "really understand China-U.S. relations."

In its first weekend available in China, "House of Cards" pulled in 9 million views, making it the most-watched American TV program. This season includes a trade war between China and the U.S. along with the sensitive subject of cyber warfare.

Typically, China's censors give little leeway to Western entertainment airing in their country. For instance, 2012's "Skyfall" was edited to exclude a scene where Bond kills a Chinese security guard. (Via Eon Productions / "Skyfall")

"House of Cards" is getting even more breathing room than a Chinese program, called "Dwelling Narrowness," that also tackled Chinese corruption, then was pulled from the air by censors mid-season.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal, the chief executive for the Chinese website streaming "House of Cards" says the show "wasn't prescreened by Chinese regulators and airs uncensored," adding that his site "hasn't received any feedback from regulators about the show's content since the episodes were released Friday."

So, why has China's government given "House of Cards" a free pass? Of course, because it wasn't pre-screened, it could just be that no one's really noticed yet. Or it could be that it has Chinese fans in high places.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan reportedly really likes the show. And several outlets believe a handful of other government officials do as well. (Via South China Morning Post)

Granted, that might be less about the quality of the show and more about its pretty negative portrayal of American government. One China expert told The Washington Post, "millions of Chinese may come away thinking that U.S. politics are not that much cleaner than those systems closer to home.”

Still, millions of Chinese citizens do appear to genuinely enjoy "House of Cards" — so much so that a publisher recently bought Chinese rights to the book that inspired the series.