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TV Drama in China

TV Drama in China

Ying Zhu
Michael Keane
Ruoyun Bai
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    TV Drama in China
    Book Description:

    This collection of essays brings together the first comprehensive study of TV drama in China. Examining in depth the production, distribution and consumption of TV drama, the international team of experts demonstrate why it remains the pre-eminent media form in China. The examples are diverse, highlighting the complexity of producing narrative content in a rapidly changing political and social environment. Genres examined include the revisionist Qing drama, historical and contemporary domestic dramas, anti-corruption dramas, "pink" dramas, Red Classics, stories from the Diaspora, and sit-coms. In addition to genres, the collection explores industry dynamics: how TV dramas are marketed and consumed on DVD, and China's aspirations to export its television drama rights. The book provides an international and cross-cultural perspective with chapters on Taiwanese TV drama in China, the impact of South Korean drama, and trans-border production between the Mainland and Hong Kong.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-99-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)
    Ying Zhu, Michael Keane and Ruoyun Bai

    In the decade prior to China joining the World Trade Organization in December 2001, Chinese television producers began to measure success and failure, not so much from a political yardstick, but in comparison to market expectations. Foreign programs were feeding into the system, finding enthusiastic audiences, and challenging the style of local production. By 2001, moreover, the technological possibilities of the medium were becoming increasingly evident. Digital channels, multi-platform programming, new formats, niche channels and short message service (SMS) interactivity were creating new demands for more programming and greater variety. However, despite an increase in formats and genres — including reality...

  5. I Tradition, History, and Politics

    • 1 Yongzheng Dynasty and Totalitarian Nostalgia
      (pp. 21-32)
      Ying Zhu

      During the mid-1990s, a new wave of serial dramas emerged to dominate dramatic programming in Chinese prime-time television. The trend climaxed in the late 1990s and the early 2000s with saturation scheduling of palace dramas set in the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Chinese critics were quick to coin the term “Qing drama.” Dynasty dramas set in the Qing palace were not new, however. They had previously appeared in the late 1980s — productions such as The Last Emperor (Modai huangdi, 1988) and Kang-Liang Reformation (Kangliang bianfa, 1989) garnered popular as well as critical acclaim. Interestingly though, while the Qing dramas of...

    • 2 Family Saga Serial Dramas and Reinterpretation of Cultural Traditions
      (pp. 33-46)
      Janice Hua Xu

      Chinese television has recently witnessed the spectacular successes of serials embracing epic themes. Dramas about traditional large families enduring turbulent times, mostly during the first half of the twentieth century, notably the Republican era (1911–49), have captured the imagination of viewers.

      Among these, Grand Mansion Gate (Da zhaimen, 2001), The Story of a Noble Family (Jinfen shijia, 2003), and Moment in Peking (Jinghua yanyun, 2005) enjoyed high ratings nationally. These family sagas usually revolve around the rise and fall of family fortunes and the unity of the extended family in the face of threats, including plots by outsiders, problematic...

    • 3 “Clean Officials,” Emotional Moral Community, and Anti-corruption Television Dramas
      (pp. 47-60)
      Ruoyun Bai

      Corruption is one of the most emotionally charged issues in China. In the shadow of two decades of double-digit GDP growth, corruption has reached endemic proportions, permeating the Chinese Communist Party and government agencies at all levels.¹ In the 1990s, millions of CCP members and cadres were punished by the Party’s discipline inspection system. In the latter half of the decade, corruption was more and more likely to be found at high levels. The most infamous scandals brought death sentences or severe prison terms to a former party secretary of the Beijing Municipality (Chen Xitong), a vice provincial governor (Hu...

    • 4 Global Imaginary, Local Desire: Chinese Transnational Serial Drama in the 1990s
      (pp. 61-72)
      Li Zeng

      The twenty-one-episode Chinese television serial drama Beijingers in New York (Beijing ren zai Niuyue), was first broadcast on China Central Television (CCTV) in October 1993, quickly capturing the attention of much of the nation.¹ The first Mainland drama to be shot completely in a foreign country, the narrative revolved around the aspirations of a Chinese immigrant who struggles to be successful in business, and in doing so defeats his American rival. The serial contained images which would not have survived the censor’s attention had it been located in Beijing.

      Its popularity with Chinese audiences, and the somewhat unexpected high praise...

  6. II Gender and Domestic Sphere

    • 5 Family Matters: Reconstructing the Family on the Chinese Television Screen
      (pp. 75-88)
      Shuyu Kong

      Family is central to television soaps in the West. Not only does domestic space constitute the primary site for the majority of soap opera plots, but the melodramatic interwoven desires, troubles and joys of family life provide much of the content and rhythm of these TV dramas. This defining feature of Western soaps, however, does not necessarily apply to Chinese TV serial dramas, which originated from a very different narrative tradition and have developed a quite different social function from Western soaps within the sphere of contemporary life. Until the 1990s, narratives of social change and public events constituted the...

    • 6 Maids in the Televisual City: Competing Tales of Post-Socialist Modernity
      (pp. 89-102)
      Wanning Sun

      Chinese television dramas over the past few decades have seen the rise and decline of various narratives: stories of successful entrepreneurs, stories of Chinese going to live overseas, anti-corruption political drama, crime and police drama, not to mention epic historical dramas reinterpreting Chinese historical figures and events. None of these, however, quite captures the imagination of urban residents as vividly as narratives of ordinary people living mundane lives in their homes on an everyday basis. And no other narratives speak to the emerging urban middle-class’s fear and anxiety about the urban “other” more palpably than the stories of the maid....

    • 7 Pink Dramas: Reconciling Consumer Modernity and Confucian Womanhood
      (pp. 103-114)
      Ya-chien Huang

      There is a scene in the Chinese television drama Falling in Love (Haoxiang haoxiang tan lianai) in which two females in skintight gym suits are working out on the treadmills while exchanging their opinions on the modern femme fatale. One of them announces,

      This is the era of post-modernism and post-feminism. You, wake up! A new era will not stifle the start of new relationships. We should fully explore the diversity and possibility of love. It does not matter whether you love an old man or a young dude; you just have to love someone anyhow.¹

      These are the words...

  7. III Production, Reception, and Distribution

    • 8 A Brief History of Chinese Situation Comedies
      (pp. 117-128)
      Di Miao

      The television situation comedy, or sitcom, was “invented” in the United States. Derived from the episodic radio format preceding broadcast television, the TV sitcom soon extended comedy genres. Hartley argues that there are two broad categories of sitcom: workplace comedies (often dealing with characters, relationships, and sexual exploration issues, at least in Western media) and family (or domestic) comedies (focusing on identity and individual roles within the family).¹

      This chapter will first explore how situation comedies have taken root in China, beginning with perhaps the best known workplace comedy of the early 1990s, Stories from an Editorial Office (Bianjibu de...

    • 9 Carnivalesque Pleasure: The Audio-visual Market and the Consumption of Television Drama
      (pp. 129-144)
      Rong Cai

      On a late Saturday afternoon, Miss Wu — a busy young lawyer in the capital city in her late twenties — goes shopping around the corner of her apartment complex in a residential area five minutes away from Beijing Normal University. She chooses to visit the supermarket and a nearby grocery store at dusk not to avoid the crowd but to find Mr. Zhang, the owner of a makeshift video stall. Zhang runs his business guerrilla style. He does not conduct business in the early afternoon when anti-piracy inspectors are likely to be around; he does not have a fixed spot among...

    • 10 From National Preoccupation to Overseas Aspiration
      (pp. 145-156)
      Michael Keane

      Dramatic content, including imported drama, comprises almost half of the broadcast time on Chinese television.¹ The considerable viewer appetite for TV drama on the Mainland, however, does not necessarily translate into high quality output that captures export markets. In fact, the apparent advantage of large numbers is undermined by market fragmentation and lack of rightsconsciousness. As I will suggest, these institutional imbroglios lead to cost-cutting in so far as producers are unwilling to take risks. Censorship at the pre-production stage further weakens the vitality of Chinese dramas. When finished dramas look for audiences in overseas markets, ideological emphasis militates against...

    • 11 A Trip Down Memory Lane: Remaking and Rereading the Red Classics
      (pp. 157-172)
      Gong Qian

      In the late 1990s, the term “Red Classics” (hongse jingdian) began to appear with increasing regularity in the Chinese media. The concept comes from an earlier age, and was an invention of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) historiography. The term “classics” normally refers to works that have attained canonical status over a long period of time. In this case, the classics were created in the modern era — a conscious endeavor by the Chinese state to create a revolutionary culture which would mold the socialist subject. The word “red” is directly associated with revolution in modern Chinese history. The Red Classics defined...

  8. IV Co-productions and Pan-Asian Markets

    • 12 Looking for Taiwan’s Competitive Edge: The Production and Circulation of Taiwanese TV Drama
      (pp. 175-186)
      Yi-Hsiang Chen

      In 1998, the most popular drama in Mainland China was Princess Huanzhu (Huanzhu gege), first broadcast by Beijing TV Station (BTV) in November of the same year. Based on a novel by Qiong Yao, a famous female romance writer in Taiwan, Princess Huanzhu was produced by Hunan Satellite Television. The director, Sun Shu-Pei, was also Taiwanese. The story of Princess Huanzhu is about a peculiar girl who mistakenly became a princess during the Qing dynasty. In spite of the historical context, the characters’ dialogue reflects present-day values and attitudes. Princess Huanzhu thus transcends the stereotype of historical costume drama. According...

    • 13 From the Margins to the Middle Kingdom: Korean TV Drama’s Role in Linking Local and Transnational Production
      (pp. 187-200)
      Dong-Hoo Lee

      In 1998, China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast a Korean drama, What is Love All About? (Aiqing shi shenme?) The result was a 4.3 percent audience share — the second highest audience share among all imported TV programs in China to that time. Since then, a succession of Korean television dramas have captured the imagination of Chinese audiences and made successful inroads into other Asian markets.

      The creation of hanliu (hallyu in Korean) — sometimes known as the Korean Wave — is a complex phenomenon.¹ In fact, the sudden surge in popularity of Korean television dramas and other popular cultural products in Asia was...

    • 14 Rescaling the Local and the National: Trans-border Production of Hong Kong TV Dramas in Mainland China
      (pp. 201-216)
      Carol Chow and Eric Ma

      New media technologies enable a rapid flow of media materials across national borders. In recent years, studies have examined the processes, forms, difficulties, and impacts of these media flows, especially on the influence of foreign media on audiences and industries in the recipient countries.¹ This chapter focuses on a particular aspect of trans-border media flow. It looks at the career histories and productions of two prominent Hong Kong TV workers: executive director Chik Kei-yi and script-supervisor Chow Yuk-Ming. We also trace the transformation of media representations of China together with changes in the production practices of Hong Kong television dramas....

  9. Notes
    (pp. 217-250)
  10. References
    (pp. 251-268)
  11. Index
    (pp. 269-276)