• Fan Bingbing is popular not only for her acting skills but for her fashion statements as well.

Fan Bingbing is popular not only for her acting skills but for her fashion statements as well. (Photo : Screengrab)

The Chinese period drama “The Empress of China” has been likened to the raunchy HBO hit “Game of Thrones,” but the comparison may have been too much for the censors in Beijing.

The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China's state media watchdog, has laid out new regulations that tighten censorship of TV shows to ensure that costumes remain "decidedly demure" and that storylines focus on "socialist core values" instead of courtly innuendo, according to a report from the Hong Kong-based media portal Week in China.

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The new censorship rules, which are due to come into effect later this month, could delay broadcast for many Chinese shows as much as six months, the report said.

China's ongoing morality campaign, spearheaded by President Xi Jinping, came to a head in January when "The Empress of China" was abruptly pulled from the airwaves a week after its debut.

Described by local media as China's most expensive TV drama ever made, the show dramatizes the life of Empress Wu, China's only female emperor who ruled during the Tang Dynasty (698-907 AD).

The Empress, who is portrayed by Chinese star Fan Bingbing ("X-Men: Days of Future Past," "Iron Man 3"), is accompanied by a largely female cast with revealing period wear and coterie that elicited a fervent response from fans. Rumors that the actresses' low-cut dresses gave one of the show's cameramen a nosebleed during filming went viral, and the first episode broke Chinese ratings records.

The show's broadcaster, Hunan TV, wasn't as receptive, however, as it pulled the "The Empress of China" from the air on its second week, citing "technical issues." When the re-cut episodes returned to TV shortly after, they were made up mostly of establishing shots and close-ups of the actresses' faces. Authorities said the changes were made in order to remove "some unhealthy images for minors," leaving fans outraged.

In February, the TV series "The Investiture of the Gods," starring Li Yixiao as a mythical fox spirit in a revealing costume, was also subjected to similar "adjustments."

The new rules are targeted toward China's private satellite broadcasters, which are known for pushing the boundaries of what the country's ruling Communist Party considers as good decorum. Once the regulations come into effect, any show broadcast on satellite TV must be reviewed first by provincial broadcasting bureaus, followed by another review by regional propaganda departments, and a final inspection by the SAPPRFT.

These added layers of oversight are expected to considerably lengthen the time it takes to get shows on the air, while at the same time resulting in heavier censorship, Patrick Brzeski, a journalist with the The Hollywood Reporter, wrote in a report on Wednesday.

China's top Party leaders have been promoting conservative values in media, art and entertainment in recent years. In a major speech on the arts given in 2014, President Xi instructed artists, authors and filmmakers to produce works that are "morally inspiring, in order to serve the people and socialism and to present socialist core values," the report said.

Hollywood films and TV shows were also put on the spotlight in the past year, as the government cracked down on the country's once-lax online streaming video services, with shows as innocuous as "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Practice" being pulled from viewing.