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ESL Conversation Topic - Banned in China!

Updated on April 21, 2015

Speaking Activity

Find out about the seemingly harmless things that the Chinese government has banned. From children's books to flowers to T.V. shows, even Brad Pitt is on the blacklist! Read on to find out who and what else is on the list. Great activity for discussing censorship.

Level: Intermediate, upper-intermediate and advanced.

Time: 40-60 minutes

ESL Conversation Topic - Banned in China!


You might be surprised by what is banned in China. Here is a list of 10 things that are prohibited in that country:

Gambling – Gambling was made illegal in 1949 and apart from visiting the former Portuguese colony, Macao, or betting on the 2 official lotteries, there is no other outlet to place a bet in China. Legally, that is. It is estimated that £900 million is wagered in underground gambling casinos every year. A staggering amount considering that half the population live in rural areas on just (£415) per annum.

T.V. shows such as The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, The Practice and NCIS. When viewers demanded an explanation, they were told, vaguely, that it was because the shows were out of copyright or that they “violated China's constitution, endangers the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, provokes troubles in society, promotes illegal religion and triggers ethnic hatred.”

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This children's story was outlawed in the Hunan Province in 1931 because “animals should not use human language, and that it was disastrous to put animals and human beings on the same level.” Interestingly, this book was also banned from the classrooms of New Hampshire, U.S.A in 1900.

Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss. It was banned in the People's Republic of China because they didn't like the “early portrayal of Marxism” and the ban wasn't lifted until the author died in 1991.

Gaming Consoles – The world's most populated country had no access to Wii, Xbox or PlayStation until very recently. Officials claimed the games could cause moral decay and an increase in violence. Some games are still banned, but can be found on the black market.

China's Enemy - The Jasmine Flower


Online Dating for Army Personnel -Firm restrictions on internet use is now placed upon members of the armed forces. Online dating sites, trips to internet cafes, blog posts and personal websites were also forbidden. Officials assert that the bans are there to prevent soldiers revealing sensitive data about operations online.

Tiananmen Square Massacre – The government has gone to great lengths to get rid of any information relating to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre from school books, internet, radio and T.V. Any keywords relating to the event, where soldiers killed hundreds of unarmed protesters, are blocked, even the words that are coded in an attempt to avoid the state censors.

Jasmine – China has declared war on this pretty white flower. Ever since the rebellion in Tunisia, named the Jasmine Revolution, officials have been wiping the internet of the Chinese characters for jasmine. Text messages with the inflammatory word have been blocked, the International Jasmine Cultural Festival was cancelled, flower markets were ordered not to sell the contraband and the president singing a song about it has been removed from the internet.

American Celebrities – Richard Gere because he is a devote Buddhist and has met the Dalai Lama. Brad Pitt for staring in the movie 7 Years in Tibet, where Chinese soldiers were portrayed unfavourably. Others include Lady Gaga, Bjork, Martin Scorsese, Harrison Ford and Sharon Stone.

Avatar - The first 2 weeks of the release of the movie, it took in £44.6 million. The film was then removed from all 2D cinemas in China, thereby making it practically invisible to the public (there are only 550 3D cinemas in the whole country). These tactics were used to give the domestic film industry an advantage and also because officials feared the forced removal of the blue-skinned Na'vi would remind people of their own policy of mandatory evictions and cause an uprising.

Adapted from the article:

ESL Discussion Questions

  1. Which ban surprises you the most?

  2. Which ban is the most shocking?

  3. Can you think of anything that was prohibited in your country in the past?

  4. Is there anything that is banned right now?

  5. Do you think this policy of censorship is an effective way to control the population?

  6. Can you think of any other country that has bans in place?

  7. Do you think the army's exclusion from normal internet use is fair, considering the security issues?

  8. If you had to ban one T.V. show or book, which would it be and why?

  9. Do you think there is anything suspicious about Alice in Wonderland?

  10. Do you think the authorities overreacted to the jasmine flower or do you believe it is powerful symbol?

  11. Do you think banning games, such as gambling, is a good thing?

  12. Gambling addicts in China who publicly admit to a gambling problem could potentially end up in a mental institution. There are no officially-sanctioned treatment centres either. How does this impact society?

  13. Do you think some video games are too violent?

  14. What do you not allow in your home? Or what did your parents ban you from doing when you were younger?

  15. Do you think that people will eventually forget the Tiananmen Square Massacre?

  16. If you could ban one thing in your country, what would it be?

© 2015 Muttface


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