China’s film censors are offering hope for improved relations with Japan — or at least, that appears to be the case at first glance.

As a bitter standoff over a disputed group of islands in the East China Sea fuels long-running animosity between the two neighbors, Beijing’s television regulator is cracking down on TV dramas that feature scenes such as a Chinese kung fu hero ripping Japanese soldiers apart with his bare hands.

The People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece, reported Friday that the State Administration of News, Publishing, Radio, Film and Television, the body in charge of vetting everything printed and broadcast in the country, was moving to “rectify” War of Resistance-themed television dramas. To comply, provincial networks have started sending their TV drama staff to “study sessions.”

But industry executives say that what the authorities are trying to clean up is a mess of their own making.

Dramas set in the 1930s and 1940s, when Japan invaded and occupied the country, are standard fare on Chinese TV. They often are produced by private companies fiercely competing to sell material to the hundreds of channels owned and run by the state on different administrative levels.

As the regulator has meddled with almost every format and topic in recent years, producers have crowded into the anti-Japan sector, once dominated by patriotic propaganda films, as a protective cloak for action- and comedy-loaded series.

“After seeing this, my hatred against the Japanese has turned to sympathy,” said an Internet user nicknamed Jijie Qi, commenting on a gory scene in “Anti-Japan Super Knights,” a drama in which a Chinese man in kung fu dress thrusts his fist right through the chest of a Japanese soldier.

The regulator said the industry must approach the topic with more seriousness and dignity.

“The eight-year long War of Resistance was a great feat of the Chinese nation. It is a valuable resource for film and television productions, and describing and portraying it is a responsibility and mission for artists,” said Wang Weiping, deputy director of the regulator’s television drama management department. “Some recent productions have had a negative impact on society with their lack of seriousness, nonsensical plot, contempt for historical facts and excessive focus on entertainment.”

Some shows had “crossed the line too far,” said Cheng Hongrong, a director at the online platform of Hunan TV.

But producers say the excesses are a result of equally excessive content controls.

“We can’t produce stories about mistresses, extramarital affairs, social conflict — and even fights over real estate are taboo. When it comes to historical dramas, we can’t show infighting in the imperial palace,” said an executive at a production company who agreed to give only his surname, Huang. “The anti-Japan war dramas used to have a good market, as there are just too many other topics that we can’t touch.”

— Financial Times

Zhao Tianqi contributed to this report.