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In the 2003 feature film Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, the villains are undead pirates whose true form of wasting skeletons becomes visible when they are illuminated by moonlight.

In China, depicting skeletons in films or video games or even static pictures is frowned upon. For example, Magic: the Gathering had to replace one of their standard cards that depicted a skeleton before being marketed in China. Also, World of Warcraft had to create a whole new set of skins for one of their races, the undead, before they could offer the game in China. There are many other examples. Also, I do know that the next installment of Pirates (Dead Man's Chest, 2006) did get banned from theaters.

How did the first Pirates of the Caribbean play in China given this restriction? Was the film shown in theaters unedited or did they create a version that had every single scene with skeletons in it (of which there are many) edited out? Or was the film simply banned from theaters and only available as bootleg DVDs?

skeleton pirates

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  • Not sure about the credibility of the statement, but the World of Warcraft undead were changed as a result of misunderstanding market regulations and perhaps a form of deception to delay the game from entering the Chinese market at all. – IS4 Aug 16 '20 at 14:43
  • fwiw, imdb has no China release date, so it might be a good theory that it was only released later on dvd, if at all. China also limits the total number of foreign films shown as part of supporting the domestic film industry, so it's also not only about content. The unfortunately only answer so far is right that it's probably an oversimplification about a single symbol or anything else being a cause for a ban (with some exceptions), but I don't think we know yet if it was actually released. – Mike M Aug 16 '20 at 19:26
  • The story shown in the movie plays in the Carribean. Had trouble to understand the title. – Bernhard Döbler Aug 18 '20 at 15:04
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There is no mention of a special version being released for China that I can find.

Two online reviews for a Chinese Mandarin edition of the movie mention the skeletons:

"The pirates take the form of rotting skeletons in many scenes throughout the movie and look pretty gruesome."

"The characters are all memorable, the battles are exciting, and the humor offsets the intensity of the action and the scares of the skeletons."

The linked page also mentions that this DVD is region locked to region 6, which is specifically and exclusively mainland China (reference).

That seems to suggest to me that this DVD is a genuine Chinese release as opposed to it e.g. being a Chinese-language release for a non-China region.

This reasonably suggests that the movie was released in China and the skeletons are present and not altered or cut from the movie.


Additionally, this article mentions that there is no official ban on skeletons in China, adding some proof of Chinese made games featuring skeletons.

This reddit post argues that the ban isn't on skeletons specifically, but rather on things like furthering superstition or portraying rebellion. This can explain some common occurrences of skeletons.

  • The Magic The Gathering card (one example from your link) is called "Diabolic Servitude", which is not too far removed from a superstition (think voodoo and similar dark or offensive magic/superstitions). If you compare the images, the one with the skeleton suggests raising or controlling the dead, whereas the one without the skeleton is much less suggestive of "dark" arts or things you might call a superstition.
  • The World of Warcraft Undead were originally raised as soldiers in an army to overthrow a ruler.

There's also a suggestion that companies may err on the side of preemptively censoring themselves to not hinder their Chinese release schedule - which means that skeletons could be avoided by companies who misunderstood the censorship rules.

It seems, based on what I can Google, that the skeleton ban in China is mostly a urban legend. Things get banned for different reasons, and skeletons generally involve either extreme violence or a literal uprising of the (un)dead, which are going to be red flags for China's general censoring rules.

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    I am asking about the cinematic version, not DVDs. One article I read, said that Pirates 3 was the "first" to be allowed to be shown: denofgeek.com/movies/… – Tyler Durden Aug 16 '20 at 13:25
  • Your speculative paragraph beginning ‘The Magic The Gathering card is called "Enchantment”…’ is a bit mistaken. As the OP’s linked article shows, many MtG cards depicting skeletons have been adapted for China (not just “enchantment” cards), while many other cards involving the “dark arts”, and with the “enchantment” type, haven’t had such changes. (“Enchantment” is an attribute appearing on many cards, not a specific card’s name.) There are many sources discussing this, official (from MtG’s publishers) and fan-made, and all identify “skeletons” as the commonality of the changes. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Aug 16 '20 at 20:16
  • @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine I wasn't talking about any cards that might have enchantments on the nor suggesting that China is banning anything related to enchantments, I used the example of the specific card from the OP's link which I misread as being called Enchantment, but on second look is called Diabolic Servitude. I've fixed the name in the answer. – Flater Aug 16 '20 at 20:28
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    @Flater: I appreciate those points, but you do seem to suggest in that paragraph that the card art was altered not specifically because of its skeleton, but to reduce its suggestion of “superstition”. That really is implausible: we have many other examples of which cards were and weren’t altered, and the specific commonality of the altered ones is skeletons. Plus, MtG’s publisher has repeatedly said that skeletons are the issue. I’m not saying this contradicts your overall answer — it’s certainly plausible that the “skeletons” criterion was chosen by MtG’s publisher [cont’d] – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Aug 16 '20 at 20:45
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    as their internal rule of thumb for complying with the Chinese rules, which may be more vaguely or broadly defined (a possibility you mention later). But within MtG, it’s pretty clear that skeletons always get cut, while many other elements that are just as suggestive of “superstition” (at least to Western eyes) do not get altered for the Chinese market. So while I agree the rest of your answer is plausible, that paragraph seems erroneous. – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Aug 16 '20 at 20:46
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I come from China, I can share some information from the Chinese perspective.

In the case of movie theaters, except for Pirates of the Caribbean 2, Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 3, 4, 5 are all released in cinemas in mainland China. The release time of Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and 3 is later than North America, and the release time of 4 and 5 is synchronized with North America.

Since the Chinese censorship agency will not disclose the reason for not passing the censorship, but will only inform the importing party, we do not know the reason why the second film has not passed the censorship. There have been relevant discussions in some Chinese film forums, and it is generally considered to be Because it contains superstition and horror content, it cannot be shown in the cinema.

However, the failure of a movie to be shown in theaters does not mean that it will never pass the review. Because passing the censorship does not mean that it is allowed to be shown in cinemas, and it is necessary to obtain a film release permit for public release. In fact, the registration number of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 can now be found (all movies that have passed the review in China have a registration number), which means that Pirates of the Caribbean 1~5 are now All have passed the review of the Chinese censorship agency. In fact, we can also legally pay to watch the edited version on the video website.

Due to piracy, only a very small number of people will buy DVD/BD. For example, the BD sales of Pirates of the Caribbean on Taobao (the Chinese version of AliExpress) are almost all zero. But they (referring to the edited version) did pass the review and released the BD.

The above is the information about the release of Pirates of the Caribbean in China


Regarding the discussion on the review system mentioned in the answers, China’s review regulations have almost no detailed rules, only a relatively rough regulation. In order to ensure that the film can be released to recover the cost, investors usually require film companies to conduct strict self-censorship.

For example, the review rules for movies are as follows:

Movies should be deleted and edited in the following circumstances:

  1. Misinterpreting Chinese civilization and Chinese history seriously violates historical facts; misinterpreting the history of other countries without respecting the civilizations and customs of other countries.

  2. derogating the image of revolutionary leaders, heroes, and important historical figures; tampering with the images of famous Chinese and foreign masterpieces and important characters.

  3. Maliciously degrade the image of the people's army, armed police, public security and justice.

  4. Mixed with obscene pornography and vulgar low-level content, showing plots of fornication, rape, prostitution, prostitution, sexual behavior, sexual perversions, and other hidden parts such as male and female sexual organs; mixed with dirty and vulgar lines, songs, background music, and sound effects.

  5. Contains murder, violence, and terror content, reverses the value orientation of truth and falsehood, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, and confuses the basic nature of justice and injustice; deliberately expresses the arrogance of illegal crimes, specifically displays the details of criminal acts, and exposes special investigative methods; strong Stimulating plots of murder, blood and gore, violence, drug use, gambling, etc.; plots of abuse of prisoners, torture of criminals or criminal suspects, etc. scenes, lines, background music and sound effects that are excessively frightening and terrifying.

  6. Promote a negative and decadent outlook on life, world outlook and values, and deliberately exaggerate or exaggerate the ignorance of the nation or the dark side of society.

  7. Promote religious extremism, provoke contradictions and conflicts among religions and sects, between religious and non-believers, and hurt the feelings of the people. Promote destruction of the ecological environment, cruelty to animals, hunting, killing, and eating of state-protected animals.

  8. Excessive expression of alcoholism, smoking and other bad habits.

  9. Violating the spirit of relevant laws and regulations.

The final interpretation of these regulations is in the hands of the review department. For example, regarding the first provision, what would be considered as "misinterpreting Chinese civilization and Chinese history"? The censorship department does not have any specific definition. If the censor believes that a film misinterprets Chinese civilization and Chinese history, then it will not pass the review.

But, in fact, the Chinese film censorship agency is a relatively loose department. A certain degree of bleeding, death, and human bones can pass the audit. The slightly offensive content can also pass the audit. For example, Venom has been released in China (Only cut five minutes)

In cultural works such as games and TV dramas, the review will be much stricter. According to my personal experience, it’s not because human bones usually represent superstition or horror. The skeletal element itself is one of the reasons why the work cannot pass the review. For example, in the game, some skill icons will show skeletal elements. Compared with the game characters of skeletons, these skills themselves do not constitute any behavior that promotes superstition, terror and rebellion, but they will still be required to be modified. So there are few skeletal elements in the game. But as I mentioned before, there are no official regulations on the prohibition of skulls in TV series/movies/games. This situation may be caused by excessive self-censorship by the publisher to ensure that it passes the review. In fact, we Occasionally, you can see skeleton elements that have not been modified in some games.

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    Because Chinese regulators tend to think that games are provided to children, and because China does not have a content rating system, the review standards for games are much stricter than those for movies. In addition, the game review department and the movie review department are not the same department, so I think the "hidden rule" that skeletons cannot appear in the game cannot be used as a reference to answer this question. – shuiqu Aug 17 '20 at 14:32
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There is a fairly comprehensive: list of banned, partially banned, or unreleased films in China on Wikipedia. On the same page there is also a list of edited films along with a list of films that had run time shortened by the producer and/or the distributor commercially in the first place to ensure the profit of movie theaters.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was released in theaters in China on November 21st 2003 and there is no evidence of scenes being censored.

Dead Man's Chest was:

Banned in China because it had spirits swarming around

At World's End was edited because:

Captain Sao Feng, played by Chow Yun-fat, demonizes the Chinese and Singapore


Inkstone news ran an article on April 23 2019 entitled, China’s new rules on video games: no blood, dead bodies, or mahjong. The article mentions:

Previously, skeletons and corpses were not flat out banned in games published in China but regulators did prompt the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft to turn dead bodies into gravestones in its Chinese version.

It is not unreasonable to assume that movie regulations wouldn't be far off from these game guidelines either.

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