‘Moses’ stripped from film title to avoid offending China’s communist regime

Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China. | Reuters/Lintao Zhang/Pool

A Chinese filmmaker has announced that his soon-to-be-released film, “Moses on the Plain,” has been renamed “Fire on the Plain,” which was done to avoid offending China’s communist government because of its biblical name.

The film’s director, Zhang Ji, who is also a cinematographer, made the announcement at the Beijing International Film Festival last week, Radio Free Asia reported.

When reporters asked why the name of his film, which is scheduled to be in theaters in December, was changed, Zhang said, “In this movie, we use a lot of fire as an element. I hope that we can use fire to connect different time and space, emotions, and that it can shine into our lives. I hope it can bring everyone brightness and strength.”

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When reporters asked whether the name “Moses” was a problem, the filmmaker refused to answer.

Zhang’s film is based on a novel of the same name, “Moses on the Plain,” by Shuang Xuetao.

Fr. Francis Liu, who is from the Chinese Christian Fellowship of Righteousness, told Radio Free Asia that the name change reflects Beijing’s efforts to remove all Christianity-related words from the public sphere.

“Moses is not just a name in the Bible, he is also a national hero of the Israelites,” Liu explained. “Do the Chinese authorities fear the positive meaning behind this name? For instance, he once led the Israelites against the tyranny of Egyptians and fought for freedom and liberation of his race.”

Variety magazine reported in June that the film, starring Zhou Dongyu and  Liu Haoran, was among the “first notable Chinese titles” to have completed shooting since the country’s COVID-19 outbreak.

Its executive producer, Diao Yinan, won the Golden Bear for best film for his crime thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice” at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2014.

Set in China’s industrial northeast, the film is about an investigation into the murder of a taxi driver.

Under the direction of President Xi Jinping, officials from the Chinese Communist Party have been enforcing strict controls on religion, according to a report released in March by China Aid.

Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, estimates that there are about 97 million Christians in China, a large percentage of whom worship in what China considers to be “illegal” and unregistered underground house churches.

The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern documented more than 100 incidents of Christian persecution in China between July 2020 and June 2021 — out of which 14 cases were labeled as “Sinicization,” which is a state campaign to forcefully assimilate religious groups into the Chinese culture as defined by the CCP.

Chinese authorities are also removing Bible apps and Christian WeChat public accounts as new highly restrictive administrative measures on religious staff went into effect earlier this year.

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