Forget steamy scenes and young bikini models on television. In Hong Kong, the clock is to be turned back to a time when anything racier than a kiss was banned.

Television Broadcasts (TVB), Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air channel by audience has issued guidelines to staff that it no longer wants shots that reveal too much of a woman’s body or that are, well, too sexy.

Anyone appearing on TV dressed in a bikini will now be given a t-shirt to wear on top, according to a memo sent by TVB assistant general manager Virginia Lok.

The circular also stipulated that all sex scenes, not to mention rape, will be suspended, even if they are considered necessary to the flow of the drama.

It is unclear at the moment whether there will still be a bikini section in the next Miss Hong Kong Pageant.

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Miss Hong Kong Pageant Photo: TVB/Youtube

In an age when content players are struggling for eyeballs, the move is a little mystifying. After all, scantily-clad women have been a mainstay of TVB throughout its 50-year history, particularly in the last decade.

No reasons have been given for the new puritanism, so one can only guess what TVB is up to.

It’s possible that the station has bowed to complaints – from feminists and old-school moralists alike. Hot scenes in TVB dramas and entertainment shows have drawn criticism over the years as much as they have garnered applause.

The more likely explanation, however, is that TVB is effectively owned by Li Ruigang, a man who – whether by reputation or because his PR apparatchiks keep repeating the moniker – is often referred to as the “Chinese Rupert Murdoch.” Li is Chairman of the Shanghai-based China Media Capital.

Media censorship in China has been encroaching on matters of what one might regard as matters of propriety for some time. In 2015, censors ordered broadcasters not to show breast cleavage in Wu Zetian, a TV drama about royal conflicts in Tang Dynasty China. As many scenes had been shot of female characters in low-cut outfits, digital retouching had to be deployed to cover up anything too shapely. Upper body shots were also re-edited to focus more on heads and shoulders.

Mainland TV drama
Wu Zetian, a 2015 mainland Chinese TV drama. Photo: Youtube

Regulation of exposed flesh on TV in China varies over time, but the current regime of President Xi Jinping is known to take a dim view of it. The president’s attitude to licentiousness on-screen is in-keeping with his crackdown on prostitution in the Changpang area of Dongguan, where a thriving sex industry is said to have formerly contributed more than 10% of the city’s GDP.

In terms of the TVB ban, Lok’s circular also reminded staff to observe the new guidelines with regard to the station’s online output. You wonder how anyone seeking titillation will cope. After all, there’s no nudity elsewhere on the internet, is there?