DRAMAS AND SOAP OPERAS IN CHINA
Chinese working girl drama Soap operas are the most watched television programs in China. By one count 50,000 hours of soap opera programming is broadcast on televison every year and the average Chinese spends a third of his viewing time watching soap operas. The most popular shows in the south and east are modern love stories. In the north, people prefer historical dramas set in the imperial era.
Dramas and soap operas here refer to series that run every week for a season and continue season after. Multi-episode dramas — miniseries — are covered separately below. In China, radio and television soap operas whose primary aim was to educate people about the one child policy were immensely popular. The show “Bai Xing” ("Ordinary People"), whose goal was to show that baby girls could be just as desirable as bay boys, became the number one show.
Dramas on state-run television that deal with filial themes include “Nine Daughters at Home” and “My Old Parents”. Some shows deal with more topical subjects. “Winter Solstice” is a drama about a beautiful old town done in by moblike developers and the thugs and killers that support them.
One of the most popular shows in the mid and late 2000s was “Soldier Sortie”, a drama about a bumbling country boy who escapes his abusive father by joining the army, where he blossoms into special forces commando. Much of the drama focuses on the soldier’s training and his battles with unnamed foreign forces. The action is exhilarating and realistic and the characters reveal many sides of themselves.. The main character Xu Sanduo has been named China’s most popular person by the Chinese search engine Baidu.com. The actor who play the Shaolin-Temple-trained Wang Baoqiang, appeared on a number of magazine covers. Perhaps most telling of the shows success was the increase in recruitments reported by the military after the show appeared.
Unpolished programs made by peasants, with peasants as actors, are becoming increasingly popular in rural areas. One such program, a two-part, 72-minute drama called “Father, I Should Not Lie to You” is about a teenage girl who lies to her parents to get money for a cell phone
Miniseries are arguably the most popular form of entertainment in China They can have a huge impact on Chinese culture and spring actors and even theme song singers to stardom. Even unsuccessful miniseries draw millions of viewers. The first popular miniseries was “Plainclothes Police”, a 12-part series that appeared in the mid 1980s. One of the most popular miniseries writers is Hai Yan, a former police officer who draws on his experience to produce police dramas such as “Jade Goddess of Mercy”, a police story that centers around a policewoman who finds out her lover is a drug dealer.
On dramas in China in 2000s, Henry Chu wrote in the New York Times: “Miniseries clutter the Chinese TV schedule morning, noon and night. Many become huge hits capable of launching unknown actors, and even the singers who croon their theme songs, to fame and fortune. Even a less successful miniseries can score millions of viewers, given the overall size of China's population. Although the form is largely passe in the U.S., it maintains a hold on viewers here for reasons ranging from the dearth of other entertainment options to China's long love affair with episodic storytelling. [Source: Henry Chu, New York Times, June 15, 2002]
“Because miniseries can generate so much ad revenue, the stakes are high for China's television networks, which often engage in fractious bidding wars for potential hits. "The competition is pretty excessive," said Yan Zongxiang, an executive at one of China's provincial television stations. "A lot of miniseries get made every year, but it's not easy to land the good ones."
“The most popular programs these days are those that deal with crime — especially official corruption, rampant in China — and family crises, including unemployment and extramarital affairs. Another popular form is historical drama, complete with period costumes and social commentaries that take oblique digs at contemporary Chinese society. Famous film directors and actors are a plus, and not that rare to find on TV, because unlike in the U.S., television in China is a bigger vehicle to stardom than the silver screen. The tube is practically universal, whereas cinemas are still an urban luxury.
"Plainclothes Police" was so "successful when it aired in the mid-'80s that the man who sang the theme song, Liu Huan, became an overnight pop sensation. The show spawned a host of imitators, which grew longer and longer to keep viewers coming back again and again. TV networks favored shows that kept viewers tuning in night after night. By the early 2000s, advertisers and viewers were expecting at least 20 episodes.
Why Dramas Are So Popular in China
Henry Chu wrote in the New York Times: ““Never mind the patience required of viewers to sit through a 30-part serial. "If you've got a good story, they'll follow it to the end," author Hai Yan said. He should know. Six of Hai's novels, most of them crime stories based on his experiences as a police officer, have been turned into miniseries, including "Plainclothes Police" and "Jade Goddess of Mercy." He has adapted many of them for the screen. Hai sees the miniseries as the modern equivalent of China's lively oral storytelling tradition. [Source: Henry Chu, New York Times, June 15, 2002]
“From imperial times through the middle of the 20th century, people flocked to teahouses and public meeting spaces to hear storytellers spin their yarns. These storytellers were masters of the cliffhanger; they knew how to keep their audiences hooked. That tradition translates well into a TV miniseries, better than a feature-length movie, Hai said. "Chinese people love watching stories [unfold]," he said. "The stories are very complex, which the shorter length of films doesn't always allow you to portray. The length of a miniseries lets you tell an audience a complete story."
Then there is issue that there isn’t much else to do. “Although city dwellers, especially young people, have plenty of other choices for entertainment — nightclubs, bars, the Internet, bowling alleys — watching TV remains a major leisure activity. In the countryside, home to the vast majority of Chinese, the tube is the No. 1 pastime, partly because there isn't much else to do. The experience is often a communal one. In poor areas, neighbors eager to catch the latest installment of a show will crowd into the home of the one person in the village who owns a TV. Even now in Beijing, it's not uncommon on a summer's eve to find a TV put out in an alleyway for residents to gather round to watch.
Making a Chinese Miniseries Drama in the 2000s
Scenes from Dream of Red Mansion Henry Chu wrote in the New York Times: ““Hai's "Jade Goddess of Mercy" is a sordid tale of sex, drugs, murder and betrayal that hops back and forth from Beijing to Yunnan province in the southwest to locations in North America. The script runs about 360,000 Chinese characters-10 times that of a feature-length film. Production costs are set to exceed $1 million, on the top end for a TV miniseries in China. [Source: Henry Chu, New York Times, June 15, 2002]
“The program's heroine is An Xin, a police officer who weds one man, has an affair with another, then discovers that her illicit lover is a drug dealer, whom she gets assigned to arrest. Revenge, tragedy and other amorous entanglements ensue. An Xin is played by 20-year-old Sun Li, a virtual unknown from Shanghai who said she was dumbfounded when the producers cast her in the lead role. Sun prepped for her part for five months, visiting a police station in Yunnan and learning taekwondo.
“If she's lucky, Sun's career will follow the same path as the other unknown actresses who have starred in miniseries based on Hai's books: instant stardom. "I want to play the role well and become famous, but it's not going to be decided by me," Sun said modestly one recent afternoon on the set, in a cluttered Beijing apartment. "I hope viewers like An Xin." They'll certainly have ample opportunity to decide: "Jade Goddess of Mercy" spans 25 parts.
Political Messages in Chinese Historical Dramas
Historical dramas and miniseries are very popular in China. In China, these often combine the portrayal of both actual and fabricated events, rendering the final product into ‘history television programs’ (translated from lishi dianshiju ), which usually are in the form of lengthy serialized productions. Matthias Niedenfuhr wrote in the Political Economy of Communication: the length of serialized historical drama productions “creates the possibility for creative staff and academic advisors to address contemporary issues through a historical setting. [Source: Matthias Niedenfuhr, Political Economy of Communication no. 1, 2013]
This ‘temporal shift’ enables the makers of these dramas to discuss taboo subjects which would be too sensitive if shown in a contemporary setting. Obvious examples here are corruption by officials, arbitrary justice, or mismanagement by the political elites. This is not to suggest that all history soap operas are veiled critiques of contemporary society or the political regime, but their potential to be de ployed in this way means that they are closely monitored by the authorities, and criticism may be perceived even if it was not intended.
In several high-profile cases, history soaps have triggered fierce discussions in China’s emerging public sphere includ ing academic journals, newspapers, television shows, blogs, and internet forums. Discussion of these issues such as the need for democratization in China, have often led the authorities to react quickly and harshly. The 2003 history soap “Towards the Republic” (Zouxiang Gonghe), which gave a controversial reappraisal of late-Qing leaders Yuan Shikai, Li Hongzhang, and Empress Dowager Cixi, was initially merely edited heavily by the censors. Only much later was it cut altogether from television schedules. The cost of investment in television productions is considerable and rising in line with the overall economic development and inflation in China. Consequently, producers can rarely afford to make a television drama on a sensitive topic which may later get banned. This outcome closes off revenue through the advertising fees from direct and secondary distribution on television stations, and from online broadcasts or the DVD market. Content producers in China therefore have to develop a keen sense of what can and cannot be shown on television. They walk a fine line between satisfying their audience and risking intervention by the authorities.
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian: For Chinese authorities, dramas are about education as much as entertainment. Broadcasting authorities have ordered channels to devote primetime to screening "anti-fascist" shows-about battling the Japanese occupation-and "patriotic" programmes, such as those which focus on military life and model officials. While early Communist history has been covered, Chinese television dramas rarely tackle the party's more recent history. "In the past, if we wanted to make a TV series like this, I fear that it would have been almost impossible. And even if we could have made it then, the show would not be as rich as it is now," Wu Ziniu, a director who made a TV series on Deng Xiaoping, told state news agency Xinhua. An editorial in the state-run Global Times described the new show as "significant progress", although the paper conceded: "Some issues still remain sensitive, which the TV series [doesn't] touch upon." Others are referred to only briefly or obliquely. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, August 15, 2014]
Government Regulation of Dramas in China
China's State media regulator (formerly called SARFT) issued a requirement in 2011 for provincial satellite TV stations to increase the number of TV dramas with a modern setting as a proportion of total TV dramas to at least 40 percent by 2013.The regulations had five components: 1) the 40 percent minimum quota for modern-day dramas; 2) a ban on all TV dramas that depict false historical events, such as time travellers; and 3) redefined limits on entertainment content during primetime hours. 4) Police dramas remained strictly regulated, but were allowed to depict the personal lives of police officers. 5) By 2013, 15 percent of broadcast content should contain subject matter relevant to children, rural viewers and ethnic minorities. [Source: Louise Duffy, RapidTV News, December 13, 2011]
In November 2011, SARFT officials announced that the government would impose a ban on advertisements in the middle of television dramas starting in 2012. SARFT said on its Web site that ads would only be able to appear at the start and end of an episode, which generally run 45 minutes. Analysts say the new regulation would result in lower ad revenues for television networks since many companies want to place their ads in the middle of a program. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 28, 2011]
David Bandurski of the China Media Project wrote: Why? “The ready answer seems to be that SARFT is putting its regulatory muscle where the Party’s mouth is on the broader issue of “cultural reforms.” The talk of “cultural renewal” and “soft power” at the October 2011 plenary session of the Party’s 17th Central Committee came with a whole set of political and ideological imperatives. And superficially at least, it seems that SARFT is now muscling in on the television sector with some of these imperatives under its arm.
More directly relevant to this ad-related ban, however, the “Notice” coming out of the plenum defined “the building of a public culture service system” as one of the chief goals of cultural reforms. The November 2011 official SARFT, notice said was “actively developing cultural work in the public welfare” as justification for the ban on advertising. The idea, basically, is that advertisements pollute the public welfare value of the television space, and removing them from television dramas is a service to the Chinese public.
Popular Chinese Miniseries
Chinese miniseries tend to be long. “Yangzheng Dynasty”, a popular docu-drama shown in the late 1990s about a cruel but reform-minded Qing dynasty emperor, had 44 parts. “Taiping Heavenly Kingdom”, shown on the weekends in the early 2000s, had 46 parts. Other popular miniseries have included the 28-part “Kelan P.I.”, the 35-party X-Files-like “Strange Man, Strange Case” and 20-part medical drama “Loving Care”.
Advertisers like long miniseries because they often pay per miniseries rather than per episode. If a ministries runs a long time, more people see their ads. “"Advertisers won't like it if it's not a long series," director Ding Hei told the New York Times. "The way they look at it, a good miniseries will begin to attract notice at about Part 4 or 5, then become really popular when you hit Part 6 or 7," Ding said. "If it's only 11 parts in all, then there are few episodes left, and the advertiser won't get as good a return on his commercials."
The popular Communist-party-endorsed miniseries “Awaken From a Dream in Five Willow Village” was about a beautiful peasant girl who married a rich man but doesn't know that he is having an affair with her best friend. As the story develops the best friend gets pregnant, the husband goes bankrupt and the peasant girl finds happiness raising geese, falling in love with a good peasant man who has adored her secretly for years.
“Great Northern Wilderness” (“Bei Da Huang” ) was a 20-part television series shown in 2008 and set during the Korean War. In the early 1950s “China's large population and the breakout of Korean War caused food shortages. This led to about 100,000 retired service people and hundreds of thousands of young people answering the call by the Chinese government to resettle in the wild lands of northern China and farm the land there.
The series focused on a love triangle involving a war veteran (Zhu Yawen), who falls in love with a girl (Liang Linlin), who strongly resembles his dead fiance, a victim of the civil war. The young lady, however, falls for another soldier, who takes her away to the wild unsettled area. [Source: Cheng Anqi, China Daily, December 4, 2008]
"Empresses in the Palace" (“Zhen Huan Zhuan” or “The Legend of Zhen Huan), is a 2011 Chinese television series based on the novel of the same name by Liu Lianzi. Directed by Zheng Xiaolong and starring Sun Li in the title role of Zhen Huan, the 76-episode Qing Dynasty tale attracted 6.8 billion online views. Netflix later released a heavily condensed six-episode version in the U.S. Another drama, "The Legend of Mi Yue", a 2015 production set in the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.) received 10 billion views. [Source: Sarah Dai, Inkstone News, August 15, 2018]
Dream of the Red Chamber
“A Dream of Red Mansions”, based on a classic Chinese novel set in 16th century, was a hugely popular television series in mid 2000s. Raymond Zhou wrote in the China Daily, “There is no disagreement about the value of the original novel, which is universally considered the crowning achievement of Chinese fiction. Variously translated as A Dream of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone, this 18-century classic presents a panorama of Chinese society with a depth and breadth rarely seen in Chinese literature. A special field of study is devoted to it, called Redology. This is China's Hamlet — in four big tomes. Experts have been arguing for a century about the hidden meaning of many details.
A 50-episode adaptation of “A Dream of Red Mansions” was rolled in 2010. Although it got high ratings it was slammed in the press and loathed by many viewers. Raymond Zhou wrote in the China Daily, “Most people who hate the new version cite the fact that it is different from the 1987 TV series, which is constantly on air and has become something of a classic in itself. [Source: Raymond Zhou, China Daily, July 23, 2010]
“Li Shaohong, director of the 2010 series, is a serious filmmaker with a feminine touch. She is the first one to put “dream” into A Dream of Red Mansions. The eerie music and the uneven pacing of sequences are subtle hints of the nature of the story. She also restores the framework of the mammoth work that actually constitutes its philosophical and religious underpinnings. In most other versions, the prelude with a Buddhist and a Taoist monk is discarded as superstition.
In 2011, China's television regulation bureau said that no more new film or TV versions of the Four Great Classical Novels — which includes A Dream of Red Mansions” — would be produced and aired for the foreseeable future. At that time dramas based on the Four Great Classical Novels were being made at a rate of about once year. Many viewers complained the remakes were made in a rush and the writers made a lot of changes to the original stories. [Source: QQ, China Hush, April 3, 2011]
Saga of Wu Zetian
In 2014, the wildy popular “Saga of Wu Zetian” — a Hunan TV drama about China’s first female emperor — was cancelled due to ‘technical difficulties’ after only one week.. But it was not political that did the televised show about the 7th Century Chinese empress, starring Fan Bingbing — one of China’s most famous actress — it was the costumes and cleavage. [Source: Robert Foyle Hunwick, The Telegraph, December 29, 2014]
The Telegraph reported: “Viewers online had previously dubbed it “The Saga of Squeezed Breasts.” The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT), China’s chief censors, has issued regulations banning depictions of one-night stands, adultery, sexual abuse, rape, polyamory, necrophilia, prostitution, nudity and masturbation, as well as murder, suicide, drug use, gambling and even racy subtitles and puns.
Historical dramas “Wu Zetian, who entered the 7th-century court as a 13-year-old concubine, only to rise to monarch for the last 15 years of her life, makes for a brave choice of subject, as her blood-soaked reign is notorious for allegations of multiple murder, physical cruelty and a wanton sexual appetite. In histories of the period, and films such as 1963's Wu Tsi-tien, Wu is claimed to have smothered her baby, killed her brothers and sister, had rivals dismembered and enjoyed a harem of younger lovers in her dying years, details of which are well known to Chinese viewers.
The Saga of Wu Zetain was eventually allowed to go back on the air after some scenes with revealing costumes, kissing and bathing were cut. By all accounts the show was a huge success rating No.1 in China for all 96 of its episodes, save one. It was the third television production by Fan Bingbing Studio. It is budget of roughly US$50 million was a record at the higer, beating the previous record held by Heroes in Sui and Tang Dynasties (2013).
Story of Yanxi Palace
“Story of Yanxi Palace” — 70-episode period drama about a quick-witted maidservant and a group of back-stabbing imperial concubines aired in 2018— set a single-day online viewership record in China drawaing more than half a billion views these in a single day. Sarah Dai wrote in Inkstone News: “China’s Netflix-like iQiyi “has a record-breaking hit on its hands...A total of 530 million views — which works out 38 percent of the population of China if everyone watched one episode — tuned in on August 12 to follow the scheming and intrigue. iQiyi is China’s biggest streaming platform.[Source: Sarah Dai, Inkstone News, August 15, 2018]
“Since its release on July 19, The Story of Yanxi Palace, co-produced by iQiyi and Beijing-based production company Huanyu Film, has attracted a cumulative 5.6 billion views, or an average of 130 million views per episode, according to TV stat provider Maoyan. In comparison, the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale had 16.5 million views on the night it was released. The second season of Stranger Things recorded 79.2 million views over the first three days, according to Nielsen.
“Palace dramas are a staple on Chinese TV. They typically revolve around concubines fighting for the emperor’s attention, often with cruelty and violence. This latest mega hit, set in the court of Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) at the Yanxi (yan-shee) Palace in Beijing’s Forbidden City, is another tale of love and revenge. In one episode, a jealous concubine schemes to destroy the lychee trees the emperor had shipped from southern China, so as to embarrass the empress who was planning to serve the fruit at a party. In another, the same concubine pushes the pregnant empress off a tower and causes a miscarriage. The lead character, a smart and loyal maid, stands by the kind-hearted empress. But the empress commits suicide after a second vengeful concubine starts a fire and kills her son.
The series has inspired hours of binge-watching among China’s couch potatoes, highlighting the continued interest in imperial dramas from millennial audiences.
Third of Chinese Primetime TV Made Up Japanese-Killing Gorefests
In the early 2010s, when Japan and China were engaged in bitter territorial disputes, improbably- plotted drama with the implausible mass slaughtering of Japanese soldiers was all the rage. Jake Maxwell Watts wrote in Quartz: “World War II would have ended much faster if Japanese soldiers actually died like Shi Zhongpeng, an extra at the Hengdian film studios in Zhejiang who met his end in spectacular style over 200 times in 2012 for Chinese TV. [Source: Jake Maxwell Watts, Quartz, May 17, 2013]
“With modern-day tensions with Japan running high, Chinese audiences have a seemingly bottomless appetite for war — specifically the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, which provided the subject matter for 70 of the 200 primetime dramas on major TV networks last year. Especially popular are the dramas that resemble B-movie gorefests, featuring Chinese heroes killing an entire company of Japanese soldiers, three arrows at a time, or a lone Chinese soldier ripping a Japanese soldier in two with just his bare hands.
The South China Morning Post reported: “Out on the battlefield, a Chinese soldier destroys an incoming fighter plane — by tossing a hand grenade into the sky....A Chinese peasant brutally “karate chops” the enemy in half with one swipe of his “iron palm”.In another scenario, a James Dean-lookalike who wears sunglasses, a leather jacket, slicked back hair and rides a motorcycle, in his portrayal of a revolutionary warrior during the Sino-Japanese war. [Source: Ernest Kao, South China Morning Post, April 11, 2013]
“Now China’s television regulator is cracking down on studios after a wave of derision on social networking sites like Weibo, claiming that the war should be treated more seriously. “The anti-Japan war is a great act of heroism performed by the Chinese people against the invaders, and is a valuable resource for film and television creativity,” said Wang Weiping, a watchdog official. “Recently some of this creativity has shown a lack of seriousness, creating lots of nonsense, not respecting history and being overly entertaining which has had a bad effect on society which must be corrected,” he said.
One drama — “Let’s Beat the Devils” — was yanked off the air for featuring a crotch grenade. In that show a Chinese woman visits her lover locked up by the Japanese. He fondles her and finds a grenade hidden in her crotch. It is meant for a suicidal act of resistance against his Japanese captors. According to the Huffington Post: “But before he pulls it out, the lovers exchange several lines of ambiguous sexual innuendo that might also refer to the later suicidal act. For example, the man says he would erupt one more time with ecstasy. ““They are using sex and violence to entice the audience under the cover of national sentiments,” read a Xinhua editorial that lashed out at ludicrous plots in such dramas. “They are reveling on the scars of the history.” “Quoting an unnamed playwright, Xinhua said the patriotic genre has become a cover for sex and violence on the television screen. [Source:Huffington Post, May 21, 2015]
Time-Travel Drama Pulled for Disrespecting History
In the early 2000s, a number of time-travel themed dramas were aired on television. According to China Hush. “In these TV plays, usually the protagonist is from the modern time and for some reasons and via some means, travels through time and all the way back to the ancient China where he/she will constantly experience the "culture shock" but gradually get used to it and eventually develop a romance in that era. Most of the time-travel dramas are based on real historical stories but with many newly added, and usually exaggerated elements to make it funny and more attractive. Nothing is off limits in this television genre. While some find it hilarious, others think the exaggeration and even ridiculous elements added into the story is a real source of annoyance and is a disrespectful for history. [Source: QQ, China Hush, April 3, 2011]
Shen Hua (Myth) was China's first time-travel TV play and a successful one. The play depicts how a young adolescent travels through time to the China of 2000 years ago and becomes sworn brother with Xiang Yu and Liu Bang, (both are prominent military leaders and political figures during the late Qin Dynasty period of Chinese history) and eventually ends up being an army general leading troops of thousands of soldiers. On the same time, his twin brother and families in the modern days is fighting with a mystery man to find him.
Though obviously the Chinese audience is found of this genre of shows, the country’s authority -General Bureau of Radio, Film and Television, to be exact, is not happy about this trend and called for a halt to the making of this type of drama. The authority has a good reason to go against the genre. "The time-travel drama is becoming a hot theme for TV and films. But its content and the exaggerated performance style are questionable. Many stories are totally made-up and are made to strain for an effect of novelty. The producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore."
CNN reported: New guidelines issued on March 31 discourage plot lines that contain elements of "fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even propagating feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons, and a lack of positive thinking." “The government says — TV dramas shouldn’t have characters that travel back in time and rewrite history. They say this goes against Chinese heritage. They also say that myth, superstitions and reincarnation are all questionable.”[Source: CNN, April 14, 2011]
Online Dramas in China
Chinese online dramas shown on streaming services such as iqiyi.com, qq.com, youku.com and sohu.com are commonly perceived as being less censored than their television and movie theater counterparts. They often feature more sexual, violent and other content that is deemed off limits by traditional broadcasters.. Still some online dramas go too far.
In 2016, China’s censors pull several popular online dramas, including hit rom-com “Go Princess Go” Most of the shows had been adapted from popular Chinese novels, including some dark detective dramas. Lilian Lin wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time: “People close to Chinese video sites Le.com (formerly known as letv.com) and iqiyi.com said that the dramas were taken down for being too vulgar, bloody and superstitious. Le.com said in a statement that it took down one of the dramas as requested by the “relevant department” and would resume streaming the show after “optimizing” part of its content. [Source: Lilian Lin, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2016]
“One of the dramas, the smash hit “Go Princess Go,” is about a modern Chinese man who accidentally travels back to ancient times and becomes a princess. The show, which had been viewed more than 2.4 billion times on Le.com as of last week, quickly generated buzz on social media for its outside-the-box plot and for its inclusion of some sexual scenes and language, both of which are rare in traditional Chinese television content. “Another of the shows, “The Lost Tomb,” is an adaptation of a fantasy novel series about tomb raiding and had been streamed by iqiyi.com. The Web drama had been highly anticipated thanks to the novel’s solid fan base as well as to Li Yifeng, the fresh-faced actor who plays the lead character.
“The show’s script had been significantly changed from the original novel in order to please China’s censors. As tomb raiding is considered illegal behavior, for instance, the lead treasure hunters in the show later submit their raided treasures to the government. Iqiyi.com said the drama was produced at a cost of 5 million yuan ($760,000) per episode, a record for Chinese Web dramas.
Some online dramas are based on online novels. In 2019, a popular online fantasy novel about antiques was adapted for an online series by on streaming giant iQiyi. Xu Fan wrote in the China Daily: “The work of fiction, titled “Huangjin Yan”, or “The Golden Eyes”, follows the adventures of a young pawnshop employee, who possesses the power to be able to see the past and future of every object he sees after his eyes are injured by a group of robbers. Thus the protagonist becomes a legend in the antique world and an easy winner in gambling on stones, the practice of buying a raw rock and then cutting it open, with the hope of it holding some gems. The story, penned by online writer Tang Yong, better known by his pseudonym Dayan, has accumulated more than 30 million views since its debut on China's largest internet literature site Qidian in 2010. [Source: Xu Fan, China Daily, March 14, 2019]
"The 56-episode online series The Golden Eyes is running on streaming giant iQiyi, and has become one of the most-followed hits on the site, which saw its paid subscribers reaching 87.4 million by the end of 2018. Led by singer-actor Zhang Yixing, a pop idol followed by over 46 million fans on Sina Weibo, the series also features actress Wang Zixuan, award-winning veteran actor Lee Li-chun and actor Wang Yuexin. The series has also opened simultaneously in several overseas markets such as Malaysia, Singapore and India, and will be released in Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam in local languages.
Image Sources: Wikicommons, Amazon Chinese DVD and video rental webites such as China Culture Network
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated May 2022