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
By PANG-CHIEH HO

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

“Rise of Phoenixes” on Netflix

Source: Variety (8/29/18)
Netflix to Fly With China’s ‘Rise of Phoenixes’
By PATRICK FRATER

CREDIT: COURTESY OF NETFLIX

Global streaming giant Netflix has boarded Mandarin-language series “Rise of Phoenixes,” from China’s Croton Media. It will be available on the platform outside China from Sept. 14. “Phoenixes” is a 70-episode series loosely based on “Huang Quan,” a novel by Tianxia Guiyuan, and co-produced by Netflix along with Croton Media (China Syndication), K. Pictures, Hao Mai Culture, iQIYI, COL Group and New Film Association.

It marks the small-screen debut of actress Ni Ni and co-stars Chun Kun. Other notables include Shen Yan and Liu Haibo (“Chinese Style Relationship”) as directors, and William Chang Suk-ping (“The Grandmaster,” “In the Mood for Love,”) as artistic director and costume designer. Continue reading

Story of Yanxi Palace

Source: Inkstone News (8/15/18)
Half a billion views for these backstabbing concubines in a single day
By Sarah Dai

Hundreds of millions are following the Qing Dynasty scheming and intrigue on China's Netflix.

Hundreds of millions are following the Qing Dynasty scheming and intrigue on China’s Netflix. Photo: Huanyu Film

China’s Netflix has a record-breaking hit on its hands. A 70-episode period drama about a quick-witted maidservant and a group of back-stabbing imperial concubines has set a single-day online viewership record in China – of more than half a billion people.

A total of 530 million views – which works out 38% of the population if everyone watched one episode – tuned in on August 12 to follow the scheming and intrigue on Netflix-like iQiyi, China’s biggest streaming platform. Controlled by search engine giant Baidu, iQiyi went public on the Nasdaq exchange in March. Continue reading

War on variety shows

Source: SupChina (7/16/18)
China Is Escalating Its War On Variety Shows, Including Saturday Night Live
By Jiayun Feng

The Chinese version of Saturday Night Live (周六夜现场 zhōu liù yè xiànchǎng) and 真相吧!花花万物 (zhēnxiàng ba! huāhuā wànwù — roughly, “Tell me the truth! Spending money on everything”), two variety shows exclusively on the video streaming platform Youku, have recently been taken down for no apparent reason.

真相吧!花花万物, a talk show hosted by Taiwanese celebrities Kevin Tsai 蔡康永 and Dee Hsu 徐熙娣, was found unavailable on July 13. The Beijing News reports (in Chinese) that Chinese SNL disappeared the next day. A Youku spokesperson did not respond to the paper’s request for comment. Continue reading

Stout, dark, and not pretty

Source: NYT (6/30/18)
Opinion: The Rise and Fall of China’s ‘Stout,’ ‘Dark’ and ‘Not Pretty’ Pop Star
查看本文中文版 | 查看本文繁體中文版
By Yuan Ren

Wang Ju, a contestant on the popular online Chinese talent show “Produce 101,” performing in the show’s finale on June 23.CreditVisual China Group, via Getty Images

BEIJING — For a moment, it looked as if China’s rigid beauty standards were on the brink of being upended — or at least expanded slightly.

“Produce 101,” a popular online talent show, puts women through their paces for one of 11 spots in a female pop band; at first, Wang Ju, a 25-year-old model manager who’d almost lost her place on the show earlier in the season, seemed an unlikely candidate for success. But over the course of a few weeks in June, Ms. Wang rode a mounting wave of public affection to find herself, as of midmonth, ranked second among the show’s 22 finalists. Suddenly, Chinese commentators were at pains to explain just how Ms. Wang — a woman Chinese media variously referred to as “stout,” “dark” and “not pretty enough” — got there. Continue reading

Tighter regulations on film and tv dramas

Source: Sup China (6/12/18)
Internal Memo Reveals Tighter Regulations On Chinese Films And Television Dramas
By JIAYUN FENG

Censorship of Chinese films and TV programs has been bad recently, and it’s about to get worse. That’s the takeaway from an internal document circulating in the Chinese entertainment industry.

The memo (in Chinese), obtained and shared by WeChat blogger Xiaode Zhang 晓得张, is allegedly from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (see this piece on recent developments at the organization known as SAPPRFT).

In the document, the government encourages content that showcases “people’s happiness” and features important upcoming events, such as the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the PRC in 2019, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s 100th anniversary in 2021. Continue reading

Marx Got It Right (1)

Marx is indeed still relevant in China.  R. D. Laing offered an elegant summary of his most pertinent doctrine:

Marx used the concept of mystification to mean a plausible misrepresentation of what is going on (process) or what is being done (praxis) in the service of the interests of one socioeconomic class (the exploiters) over or against another class (the exploited).

By representing forms of exploitation as forms of benevolence, the exploiters bemuse the exploited into feeling at one with their exploiters, or into feeling gratitude for what (unrealized by them) is their exploitation, and, not least, into feeling bad or mad even to think of rebellion.

A. E. Clark <aec@raggedbanner.com>

Marx Got It Right

Source: NYT (5/5/18)
On This Chinese TV Show, Participants Have Nothing to Lose but Their Chains
查看简体中文版 | 查看繁體中文版
By Chris Buckley

“Marx Got It Right,” a new TV show, is among the Communist Party’s attempts to reach a younger audience.CreditChina Central Television

BEIJING — Regal orchestral music strikes up, a computer-animated train races by and an old man with a bushy white beard looms onto the television screen. Then the studio audience applauds as an effervescent host opens an episode of China’s latest prime-time entertainment.

It looks like another Chinese talk show, but the bearded man is Karl Marx. This is “Marx Got It Right,” a slickly produced program that is part talk show, part indoctrination session — and a vivid illustration of the quirky efforts that the Communist Party under Xi Jinping is making to win over China’s millennials. Continue reading

Amazon looking to adapt Three-Body Problem

Source: Shanghaiist (3/22/18)
Amazon is looking to turn ‘Three-Body Problem’ into blockbuster sci-fi television series
The company is reportedly likely to earmark $1 billion for project involving the ultra-popular Chinese science fiction trilogy

Chinese sci-fi fans are bubbling over with excitement today following a report that beloved science fiction trilogy “The Three-Body Problem” may be made into a high-budget television series by Amazon.

The Financial Times reported yesterday that the American video subscription service will likely earmark $1 billion in order to acquire the rights to the extremely popular trilogy of novels written by Liu Cixin and produce three seasons of episodes. Continue reading

Reporter rolling her eyes goes viral

Source: NYT (3/13/18)
A Reporter Rolled Her Eyes, and China’s Internet Broke
查看简体中文版 | 查看繁體中文版
By Paul Mozur

SHANGHAI — It was the eye roll seen across China.

As the annual meeting of the country’s legislature stretched into its second week, the event’s canned political pageantry and obsequious (and often scripted) media questions seemingly proved too much for one journalist on Tuesday.

With a fellow reporter’s fawning question to a Chinese official pushing past the 30-second mark, Liang Xiangyi, of the financial news site Yicai, began scoffing to herself. Then she turned to scrutinize the questioner in disbelief. Continue reading

Reality tv taken over by robots and AI

Source: Quartz (3/6/18)
China’s reality TV programming is being taken over by robots and AI
By Echo Huang

A fighting scene in the King of Bots.

Fire and fury. (Youtube/Zhejiang TV official channel)

Almost two decades ago, Wang Xi, then a teenager living near the Chinese capital of Beijing, fell in love with an American robot combat TV show called BattleBots. One of the most-watched TV shows ever in the US, it got 1.5 million viewers per episode at its peak, and was syndicated around the world, including China.

Wang knew then that he wanted to one day make his own robot, and having it battle on TV in China. This year, Wang saw his dream realized on China’s first robot combat show, King of Bots (铁甲雄心), which debuted in January. It’s one of a series of robot combat shows that will air in the country this year, after China saw its first offline robot battle tournaments in recent years.

Wang’s robot, Greedy Snake, fought robots made by other teams from China, as well as from the UK and the US. The show, which aired on the widely-watched Zhejiang TV channel, quickly became popular. Its Feb. 26 episode ranked in the second spot for entertainment shows across 52 cities in its time slot, behind a Chinese remake of a trivia competition, according to research firm CSM (link in Chinese).

Wang, who was working as a game developer, is now a technical consultant to the show, said the show was inspired by the revival of BattleBots, starting in 2015. But China’s promotion of itself in recent years as a nation at the forefront of technology and innovation likely played a role too.

Popular Chinese reality TV shows have often been dominated by singing or dance competitions. In 2017, one of China’s most popular TV reality shows, The Rap of Chinagarnered a combined 2.7 billion views for the season and turned dozens of young contestants into stars, while another widely watched show focused on reciting classical Chinese poetry. The robot shows represent a change for reality TV programming, and come as China seeks to advance its technological prowess, from vowing to be a leader in artificial intelligence in 2030 to investing more in industrial robots for automation. Last year, a show that had humans compete against AI technologies in a variety of challenges—such as facial recognition—debuted in August.

While King of Bots had its season finale Monday (March 5), later this month, iQiyi, a streaming-service giant backed by China’s search giant Baidu, is planning to air a similar show called Clash Bots on March 23. Youku, another online video platform backed by Alibaba, is also rolling out This is Bots later this year, though a date hasn’t been set yet. The companies didn’t reply to queries about the programs from Quartz.

In King of Bots, competitors pit remote-controlled bots against each other in a container made of bulletproof glass. During a three-minute fight, each team needs to try to paralyze the other’s machine in order to win the game. Participants also need to navigate their bots to dodge traps in the competition stadium, including rivets on the wall, flames that burst from the ground, serrated rollers, and flipping platforms.

The bots caught on fire during a competition.

The bots caught on fire during a competition. (Courtesy of The Makers)

Competing teams, including those from the UK, the US, and Australia, all received a handsome amount of financial support from the show. In Wang’s case, he received some 200,000 yuan ($32,000) to make his bot, a tanker-like 110-kilogram (242 lbs) machine (on left, photo below) that lifts its opponent and hurls it down. The team, which included his wife, spent six months designing the robot, which was manufactured in Shanghai.

A total of 48 teams (link in Chinese) participated. Wang said he found the foreign teams more experienced in combat strategy and design because countries like the UK and the US have a longer history in robot combat events than China. Wang’s bot lost in the competition for one of the top eight spots to another Chinese team.

A team from Britain's Brentwood high school and Wang Xi's team in the reality TV show King of Bots.

A team from Britain’s Brentwood high school and Wang Xi, center, with two members of his team.(Courtesy of Wang Xi)

Yet, he notes, the show provided a platform for people obsessed with making robots, and a way to gauge their skill level. “If a country wants to rejuvenate and even lead the world, we should be counting on the attitude of pursuing knowledge and science,” Wang said.

Before the TV show, most teams were only competing offline, said Wang, who founded China’s biggest robot combat association in 2015. Now the group has more than 1,000 members. Wang estimates that there are around 300 people skilled enough to make a robot capable of competing and fighting.

One of them might be Yue Tan, an electronics engineering major in southern Guangdong province, who is making a 13.6-kilogram (30 lbs) bot that he hopes will compete in an offline competition hosted by the show’s co-producer, Shanghai-based video firm The Makers, starting in May. “Children can explore and build up confidence through making robots. Even if you fail, you will learn to improve during the process,” says Yue, who’s been discussing robot-making tips on Zhihu (link in Chinese), China’s answer to Quora.

Others also believe that the TV shows can encourage innovation. Chen Wei, the producer of iQiyi’s upcoming Clash Bots, expects that the show will boost young people’s aspirations for Chinese manufacturing and technology. “China is still lagging in some industry sectors,” Chen told news portal Chinanews. “If the game becomes popular and more people get inspired by it, our technology will probably also improve.”

The Chinese robot makers may have a ways to go. While two Chinese teams made it to the quarter-finals, a team from the UK (link in Chinese) eventually won the competition and half a million yuan (nearly $79,000) in prize money in the season finale.

China dismisses criticism of blackface skit

Source: SCMP (2/22/18)
China ‘opposes’ racism but dismisses criticism of CCTV blackface skit
Foreign ministry says backlash over Lunar New Year comedy sketch is ‘futile’ effort to drive a wedge between China and African nations
By Catherine Wang

Beijing on Thursday said it was against any form of racism but dismissed widespread criticism of state broadcaster CCTV’s annual holiday variety show as an attempt to drive a wedge between China and African nations.

A comedy sketch on the country’s biggest and most popular Lunar New Year television show caused uproar for using a Chinese actress in blackface and giant fake buttocks to depict an African character, and a black performer playing a monkey. Continue reading

Shameless Africa skit in CCTV spring festival gala

Source: Sup China (2/16/18)
China’s CCTV Spring Festival Gala Included A Truly Shameless Africa Skit, Featuring Blackface
A lowlight from the most-watched program on the planet.
By Anthony Tao

We need to talk about that Africa skit. You know the one.

Let me say up front that it’s dangerous and somewhat irresponsible to analyze a Chinese production — particularly one intended solely for a Chinese audience, whose understanding of ethnicity and race is filtered through a complicated and unique culture and history — through a purely American lens. I’ve watched this skit carefully, and I can’t find any intent to offend. Which is to say, there’s no real need to call it racist.

But this skit is clearly offensive — to sensibility, to foreigners, to intelligence, to one’s self-respect. To theater. To creativity. It is condescending, and willfully so, making it all the more offensive. It is arrogant and tone-deaf and shallow. It’s hard not to be embarrassed. Continue reading