Sisters Who Make Waves

Source: The China Project (9/7/22)
Same-sex ‘ships’ on the summer’s hottest talent show in China
By Nathan Wei

‘Shipping,’ a once-niche fan fiction practice of pairing two celebrities or fictional characters in a romantic relationship, has become something of a national pastime in China this summer, thanks to a popular reality show with an all-female cast.

As one of the most talked-about talent shows in Chinese television this summer, the recently finished Sisters Who Make Waves, Season 3 (乘风破浪的姐姐) has gained popularity among both women and LGBTQ audiences for weaving feminist and queer themes into performances. This is a defiant feat in an age where China has greatly stepped up its censorship of LGBTQ content on screens large and small.

Produced by Mango TV, a video-streaming site under the Hunan Broadcasting System, the show features 30 female celebrities competing against one another and fighting for a position in an all-women band to be formed at the final. While its format is nothing new, Sisters invites only contestants who are above the age of 30 and have established their careers in respective fields. However, while on the show, they were assigned new challenges that required skills beyond their expertise. Famous singers were asked to learn K-pop choreography, while veteran actors were made to sing onstage. With this novel perspective, the show branded itself as focusing on all-age women’s self-exploration and growth.

When the first season of Sisters came out in 2020, the show received many positive reviews from female audiences who praised it for being refreshing, empowering, and carrying an implicit feminist message. Many considered its cast of middle-aged female stars as diverging from the conventional preference for younger women in the entertainment industry. Its showing of competitors’ mutual support during training sessions was also praised as encouraging the idea of “girls help girls” and challenging the stereotypical display of fights between women that prevails in reality television. Continue reading

A Lifelong Journey

Source: SupChina (6/24/22)
‘A Lifelong Journey’: A family saga through China’s past five decades
A drama focusing on the shifting fortunes of a Chinese family beginning in the latter half of the 20th century, filled with struggle and bittersweet nostalgia, has won over audiences both young and old.
By Brian Wu

Lifelong Journey

How have the past five decades of momentous change shaped the lives of ordinary Chinese families? That is the focus of the recent TV series A Lifelong Journey (人世间 rén shìjiān), which has been one of the most talked-about shows of the first half of 2022. Scoring a respectable 8.1 out of 10 on the popular ratings platform Douban, it has captured the attention of audiences both young and old.

The series is directed by Lǐ Lù 李路, who is best known for his 2017 anti-corruption hit In the Name of the People. Based on a prize-winning novel of the same name, it chronicles the shifting fortunes of the Zhou family, starting in 1969 with their humble beginnings in a shantytown located in the fictional northeast city of Jichun, where most of the story takes place.

With A Lifelong Journey, Chinese viewers found parallels with their own families’ experiences, from the rustic simplicity that characterized life in the ’70s and early ’80s to a shared bewilderment at the breakneck speed of social change as Reform and Opening transformed the economy.

The drama focuses on the three Zhou siblings — eldest son Zhōu Bǐngyì 周秉义, middle daughter Zhōu Róng 周蓉, and youngest son Zhōu Bǐngkūn 周秉昆 — who begin the story as teenagers sent far from home during the Cultural Revolution. Continue reading

Liu Yifei stars in A Dream of Spendor

Source: China Daily (6/6/22)
Actress Liu Yifei shows off tea acrobatics in her latest outing
By Xu Fan

A scene in A Dream of Splendor. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A Dream of Splendor [梦华录], marking A-list star Liu Yifei’s [刘亦菲] return to the historic theme, has quickly hooked millions of views since the 40-episode costume series began streaming on Tencent Video domestically and its overseas platform WeTV on June 2.

Starring Liu as a brave and independent young woman, the tale set in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) is inspired by Jiu Feng Chen [救風塵], a four-act play about a sophisticated heroine’s effort to rescue her friend from domestic violence by Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) playwright Guan Hanqing [关汉卿]. Continue reading

Televising Chineseness book talk

Virtual Book Talk (April 21): Dr. Geng Song – Televising Chineseness: Gender, Nation, and Subjectivity
Thursday, April 21, 2022
8:00 p.m. CST
Virtual event held on Zoom. Please register to attend:

This talk, introducing the author’s new book (University of Michigan Press, 2022), will look at the interrelationship between gender ideals and the production of subjects that are both loyal to the party and useful for the market in contemporary China.

By examining a range of new gendered images on the TV screen and in digital entertainment, such as the “bossy CEO,” the “little puppy,” and the “supreme heroine,” this talk will focus on Chinese-style neoliberal gender dynamics and will address a conspicuous paradox in Chinese popular culture today – the coexistence between an increasing diversity of gender presenta­tions and a revival of patriarchy.

Dr. Geng Song teaches in the School of Chinese, University of Hong Kong. He has written extensively on issues such as men and masculinities in China, Chinese television, and Chinese nationalism. Continue reading

A Lifelong Journey dives into China’s changes

Source: China Daily (3/3/22)
Record-setting TV series dives into China’s changes
By Xu Fan |

Poster of A Lifelong Journey. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A Lifelong Journey, an epic drama chronicling China’s unprecedented transformation in over half a century, has earned widespread applause, shattering records and becoming the most-watched TV series on State broadcaster China Media Group in the past five years, according to producers during a recent symposium held in Beijing.

The TV series, consisting of 58 episodes, is adapted from renowned writer Liang Xiaosheng’s novel of the same name which won the 10th Mao Dun Literature Prize, one of the country’s top honors for local writers.

Starting in late 1960s, the story follows the ups and downs of three siblings in a working-class family in northeastern China, striking a chord with viewers for its details vividly bringing them back to old times.

Interestingly, Liang, regarded as a representative writer of the “educated youth literature” genre, revealed he was originally unwilling to sell the adaptation copyright as he believed it would be difficult to bring the story to life on TV. Continue reading

‘Friends’ is target of Chinese censorship

Source: NYT (2/14/22)
‘Friends’ in China: Look for The One Where Ross’s Ex-Wife Isn’t Gay
The popular sitcom has become the latest target of China’s censorship campaign. The awkward cuts have not been missed by fans of the show in the country.
By Alexandra Stevenson

Cast members of Friends — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc — in a scene from “Friends: The Reunion.” 

Cast members of Friends — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc — in a scene from “Friends: The Reunion.” Credit…Terence Patrick/HBO Max, via Associated Press

HONG KONG — The wildly popular sitcom “Friends” is back on China’s best-known streaming services, but with some big changes to the script.

In the latest Chinese version, when Ross tells his parents he has split from his wife, he doesn’t explain the reason: She is a lesbian living with another woman, is now pregnant and plans to raise the baby with her partner. Instead, the scene simply cuts to his parents’ stunned faces, and the plotline ends there.

There are other, more subtle changes to the show, too.

Joey’s suggestion of a trip to a strip club is translated in Chinese subtitles as “going out to have fun.” When Paul the Wine Guy tells Monica, “I haven’t been able to, uh, perform sexually,” the subtitle says that he has been in “low spirits.” A lament by Rachel that she is more “turned on” by a gravy boat than her fiancé is translated as Rachel being more “happy to see” tableware.

The changes have prompted biting commentary on social media from the show’s many Chinese superfans, who mocked the prudishness of censors and said the alterations reinforced gender stereotypes. Continue reading

Online lit writes new chapter for movies and tv series

Source: China Daily (2/19/21)
Online literature writes new chapter for movies and TV series
By Xu Fan

A scene in My Heroic Husband. [Photo provided to China Daily]

As one of the fastest growing businesses in the internet industry, online literature has become a main source to spawn films and TV series, said a report released by veteran insiders.

Recently, China Film Association and Beijing Film Academy jointly released a report on the market potential of movies and dramas adapted from online literary works in past two years.

With an impressive improvement in storytelling technique and visual effects, such works have won high popularity in China as well as gripping attentions overseas, said the report’s writers.

Between 2018 and 2019, a total of 42 of the 100 most popular movies and dramas, or 42 percent, were adapted from internet stories, according to the report. Continue reading

Wuhan as star in propaganda push

Source: NYT (11/6/20)
As China’s Propaganda Push Continues, Wuhan Emerges as a Star
New television shows have paid tribute to the city where the coronavirus emerged, focusing on residents’ heroism and glossing over official mistakes.
By Vivian Wang

The opera “Angel’s Diary” in Wuhan, China, last month. Credit…Getty Images

They came out one after another, with flourishes and fanfare. A six-hour documentary series, showing the “heroic deeds of party members” and Wuhan’s “warriors in white coats.” A star-studded, 20-part drama, fictionalizing Wuhan’s doctors, delivery drivers and construction workers. Another pandemic show, set to swelling choral music, that viewers said left them choked with tears.

Wuhan, once synonymous with the devastation that the coronavirus could wreak, has become the subject of glowing paeans across Chinese media, lauded by officials as a symbol of the country’s resilience in the outbreak’s aftermath.

Propaganda agencies have churned out the television tributes to the city, where the outbreak first emerged, while the national Ministry of Culture and Tourism sponsored a new opera about its doctors. State news outlets have emphasized a rush of tourists to Wuhan, and at least one hospital recently welcomed business executives for a tour. Continue reading

Covid TV drama draws ire over depiction of women

Source: NYT (9/20/20)
A TV Drama on China’s Fight With Covid-19 Draws Ire Over Its Depiction of Women
A scene from a state-sponsored show extolled men who volunteered but played down women’s contributions. Internet users are calling for the show to be pulled from the air.
By Vivian Wang

Nurses during a ceremony marking International Nurses Day at a hospital in Wuhan, China. More than 90 percent of the nurses deployed to Wuhan at the height of the coronavirus outbreak were women. Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The scene came seven minutes into a new Chinese-government-sponsored television drama, so short that it would have been easy to miss: The head of a bus company in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus outbreak began, asks his drivers if they are willing to make emergency runs during the city’s lockdown. A line of volunteers forms. None are women.

That roughly minute-long clip has set off a furor on Chinese social media. Users have called the scene — in which the official then asks why no women have stepped up — a flagrant example of sexism in Chinese society and an attempt to erase women’s contributions to the fight against the virus. In reality, women made up the majority of front-line workers during the crisis, according to the official news media.

By Sunday, a hashtag about that segment, which aired on Thursday, had been viewed more than 140 million times. Tens of thousands of people had called for the show to be taken off the air. Continue reading

Fantasy and the Forbidden City

Source: China Channel, LARB (2/4/20)
Fantasy and the Forbidden City
China’s most popular costume drama tells more about the present than it does about the Qing dynasty – Tobie Meyer-Fong
By Tobie Meyer-Fong

Story of Yanxi Palace

During the summer of 2018, The Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略), a soap opera set in the Forbidden City, mesmerized audiences with its sumptuous costumes and lavish sets. Media analysts celebrated the protagonist – a concubine rising within the ranks – as a bold female exemplar, and noted that it provided a promising vehicle for education about China’s cultural heritage both at home and abroad. The show was made and initially screened by iQiyi, a Chinese internet streaming company owned by Baidu, although it was later also broadcast on conventional and cable television channels. (A version with English subtitles can be found on YouTube.) It proved hugely popular, with episodes streamed over 15 billion times by Chinese viewers. The BBC online breathlessly announced that Yanxi Palace was the “most Googled TV show of 2018 globally,” even though Google is blocked in China. Continue reading

Spring festival gala a “huge success”

Source: Sup China (2/6/19)
CCTV Claims This Year’s Spring Festival Gala Was A Huge Success — I Call It BS

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV released a report on the morning of February 6 summarizing how the 2019 Spring Festival Gala performed in terms of viewership and audience response.

The report gives the official narrative of this year’s rendition of the show, which began in 1983 and has often been the world’s biggest television event by audience numbers. To absolutely no one’s surprise, but in apparent contradiction to much of the snark about it on Chinese social media, the 2019 gala was allegedly “record-breaking” and has received overwhelmingly positive feedback.

According to the report (in Chinese), the show attracted a staggering 1.17 billion viewers across the globe. That’s up around 4 percent compared with the 2016 gala, which had 1.13 billion viewers. Meanwhile, CCTV noted that around 96.98 percent of all the online comments about the show are positive, which made this year’s gala one of the most well received editions in recent years. Continue reading

Reality show slammed for gender stereotypes

Source: Sixth Tone (1/30/19)
Chinese Reality Show Slammed for Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes
“My Little One” preaches the importance of marriage and traditional gender roles to the single female celebrities starring in the program.
By Li You

A screenshot from the reality TV program “My Little One” shows celebrity actress Yuan Shanshan with two dogs.

A reality television show has become the target of feminist fury after portraying several Chinese celebrities as spinsters and urging them to get married.

Though “My Little One” was intended to give viewers a peek into the personal lives of celebrities, it has largely devolved into preaching to its female stars about outmoded gender roles. Since the premiere of the second season on Jan. 5 on state-owned Hunan Satellite TV, the show casts a spotlight on TV personality Wu Xin, swimmer Fu Yuanhui, trampoline gymnast He Wenna, and actress Yuan Shanshan for remaining single. Continue reading

Top reality show of 2018: Dunk of China

Source: The World of Chinese (12/27/18)
Top Reality Show of 2018: Dunk of China
The smash-hit variety show combined basketball with pop culture to lure millions into watching
By Eduardo Baptista (苏昂)

As 2019 approaches, so does the usual array of lists and round-ups for the dwindling year. In the spirit of variety, The World of Chinese has endeavored to chronicle the countdowns that others don’t. Try elsewhere (or, indeed, everywhere) for your everyday 2018 listicles—here you will find the stories, characters and pratfalls that the rest of the English-language media has largely overlooked.

“A basketball variety show?” recalls Zhu Mingzhen, a 22-year old finalist in the first season of Dunk of China, a web-based reality series which aired on between August 25 and November 1. “It sounded like a scam to me.”

The pairing of judges [and singers] Jay Chou and Li Yifeng, though, along with CBA star Guo Ai Lun and revered Taiwanese-American NBA player Jeremy Lin would earn Dunk of China an 8.4 rating on Douban for its first season. Zhu reckons Chou and Li’s participation “converted a lot of Chinese girls into basketball fans.” Continue reading

Story of Yanxi Palace as evidence of “one China”

Source: SCMP (9/27/18)
Taiwanese, mainland Chinese are ‘one family’, and television drama show proves it, official says
Success of The Story of Yanxi Palace evidence of people’s ‘shared culture’, Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman says, but others reckon it’s just a good romp
By Laurie Chen

Since its premiere on July 19, episodes of The Story of Yanxi Palace have been viewed more than 100 million times in Taiwan. Photo: Handout

Despite the current troubled state of relations between Beijing and Taipei, the popularity of a Chinese period drama among television and online audiences in Taiwan is evidence of the “shared culture” of people living on either side of the Taiwan Strait, at least according to a mainland-based official.

Since its premiere on July 19, the 70 episodes that make up The Story of Yanxi Palace – which tells the tale of a group of concubines to the 18th-century Chinese Emperor Qianlong – have been viewed more than 100 million times in Taiwan, according to figures from online streaming platform iQiyi. Continue reading

Fraudulent TV ratings

Source: SupChina (9/25/18)
Director Exposes Chinese TV’s Fraudulent Ratings

Fan Bingbing, Feng Xiaogang, and tax evasion aren’t the only stories currently stirring up a storm in China’s entertainment sector. On September 15, Chinese director and screenwriter Jingyu Guo 郭靖宇 created a furor when he exposed on Weibo the prevalence of fraudulent ratings in China’s TV industry.

According to Guo, it is common practice for TV producers to “buy” fake ratings. The current rates go for around 900,000 RMB ($131,000) per episode, as he learned last year when he was approached by representatives to bolster the ratings of his show Mother’s Life (娘道 niáng dào). If Guo had agreed to purchase such ratings, his production company would have had to pay 72 million RMB ($10.5 million) for doctored ratings for the entire series. Continue reading