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China Arts & Entertainment

Dying 1000 Times a Year – ‘Japanese Devils’ and China’s War Dramas

In Anti-Japanese war dramas, “Japanese Devils” die a 1000 times a year.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese TV dramas about the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) are much discussed online topics this month. On April 7, China’s official censorship bureau spoke out against war-themed TV dramas that are “overly entertaining.”

TV dramas about the Second Sino-Japanese War (also referred to as ‘the War of Resistance against Japan’ 抗日战争) have been popular in China for years.

The Second Sino-Japanese War started in 1937, and merged into WWII in 1941. Although it has been seventy years since the war has ended, the topic is still very much alive on China’s TV screens. In 2012, seventy of China’s major 200 primetime TV shows revolved around this war (Lam 2013).

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Recently, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) announced a limit on TV dramas that sensationalize the history of war.

The critique is particularly directed at popular war dramas that are mockingly called ‘divine Anti-Japanese drama’ (抗日神剧) by Chinese netizens. These TV dramas generally depict the Japanese army as extremely weak and the Chinese protagonists as exceptionally strong.

In these series, the Chinese hero can cut a Japanese soldier in half by just using one hand. The fighting scenes are exaggerated; there is blood splattering everywhere while body parts are flying around.

These series are unacceptable, according to the SAPPRFT, because their mere goal is to entertain viewers. In doing so, they misrepresent history and disrespect the Chinese soldiers who fought to defend the nation. Examples of these TV series are The Wondrous Knight of the War of Resistance against Japan (抗日奇侠) or The Arrow in the Bow (剪在弦上) (Baidu 2015).

japaneseNotorious scene from ‘Anti-Japanese divine drama’ ‘The Wondrous Knight of the War of Resistance Against Japan’.

In response to the recent critique on China’s ‘Anti-Japanese divine drama’, various Chinese media have reported on another type of war drama: the life-like war play.

In Wuxiang, Shanxi Province, there is a theme park dedicated to the Second Sino-Japanese War (Eighth Route Army Park). This theme park harbours a group of 46 actors that perform different war plays on a daily basis. According to Sina News and China’s Lawcourt Evening Newsthe actors greatly disapprove of ‘divine drama’. Instead of distorting history, they claim to provide an accurate representation of the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The article in the Lawcourt Evening News interviews Yang Lei, a 27-year-old actor that has been playing a Japanese soldier (“a Japanese devil”) for over four years in the Eighth Route Army Park.

During the weekends or holidays, the park has hundreds of visitors who come to watch the performance. When it is very busy, Yang has to ‘die’ up to four times a day. “In the past few years, I have died over a 6000 times in total,” he says. The plays take about twenty minutes per show, and are focused on the events of 1943, the year that the Chinese Eighth Route Army fought against Japanese troops in Wuxiang.

One of the shows is about a small village in Anning that is invaded and occupied by Japanese troops. When a Chinese spy steals secret information from their camp, the whole village is held for questioning. A Chinese underground Party member sacrifices his life to protect the spy’s identity. Just when the Japanese general orders to have the entire village killed, China’s Eighth Route Army storms in and wipes out all the ‘Japanese devils.’

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dramaiiScene from the play at the Eighth Route Army Park (Sina 2015).

The Eighth Route Army Park performances are different from the ‘divine drama’, say the actors. In the theme park, they imitate reality as much as possible. The ‘Japanese devils’ wear the right yellow uniforms, caps, white gloves and boots. The actors use fake blood and cap guns that create a loud sound and a puff of smoke when the trigger is pulled – everything to make the scenes look real.

“You can play whatever you like, as long as you don’t play a Japanese person.” 

It is not easy playing a Japanese devil. Throughout the years as a Japanese officer, Yang Lei has gone through four military uniforms, fifteen pairs of boots and hundred pairs of socks.

Some of his colleagues are afraid to talk about their job. “I don’t know how to tell my friends and family about my role as a devil,” Liu Chuan says. His grandfather used to be in the Chinese army, and he might not be too happy about his grandson playing a Japanese soldier. The fear of telling relatives is not unreasonable, according to the article, as it has happened before that actors were removed from the theme park by their parents. “You can play whatever you like,” said the parents of one 19-year-old actor: “As long as you don’t play a Japanese person.”


dramaiiiHe has played a Japanese ‘devil soldier’ for years, and is still afraid to tell his grandfather, who served in the Chinese army (Sina 2015).  

dramaThe actors greet the applauding audience after the performance (Sina 2015). 

With all the critique concerning China’s war shows, many media sources report that this is the end for the “divine war drama.” Recent articles blame directors from Hong Kong and Taiwan for these kinds of exaggerated war plays.

The article on the Eighth Route Army Park suggests that this is a place where war is not “over-entertained.” The actors frown upon the “divine drama” because it is not about real history, but about commercial revenue. While saying so, the group of actors at the Eighth Route Army Park entertain their audiences every day. The park in Wuxiang is opened daily from 9.00 to 18.00. A single entrance costs 90 RMB (15 US dollar). Visitors can purchase an electronic ticket through text message and scan it at the entrance. The park, that opened in 2011, has not lost its appeal. While attracting more visitors, Yang Lei and his ‘devil’ colleagues can be expected to die a thousand times more.


japaneseiiiScene from ‘Anti-Japanese divine drama’.

– by Manya Koetse

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Curious about China’s “Anti-Japanese divine drama”? The video below is a compilation from The Wondrous Knight of the War of Resistance against Japan (抗日奇侠). 

 

References/Sources

Baidu. 2015. 抗日神剧. Baidu Baike http://baike.baidu.com/view/10364874.htm [15.4.15].

Lam, Oiwan. 2013. “China’s Anti-Japanese TV War Dramas Knocked for Vulgarity.” Global Voices, April 2014 http://globalvoicesonline.org/2013/04/14/chinas-anti-japanese-war-films-knocked-for-vugarity/ [15.4.15].

Fawan. 2015. “红色景区里的“鬼子兵.” Fazhi Wanbao 法制晚报 [Lawcourt Evening News], April 14 http://www.fawan.com.cn/html/2015-04/14/content_547245.htm [15.4.15].

Sina. 2015. “日本兵演员:演戏追求严谨不会演抗日神剧.” April 14 http://news.sina.com.cn/s/p/2015-04-14/151731716471.shtml [15.4.15].

Sina 2015. “抗日神剧”活跃荧屏怎能只怪港台导演?” Sina News, April 11 http://ent.sina.com.cn/v/m/2015-04-11/doc-iawzuney3057210.shtml [15.4.15].

 

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[box type=”bio”] koetse.148x200About the Author: Manya Koetse is the editor of What’s on Weibo. She’s a Sinologist who splits her time between the Netherlands and China. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Literary Studies, Japanese & China Studies and completed her MPhil in Asian Studies. Contact: manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.[/box]

 

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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China Arts & Entertainment

Famous Chinese Nursery Song “One Penny” Inflates to “One Yuan”

One penny becomes one yuan in this children’s song. What’s next – changing it to QR codes?

Manya Koetse

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Famous Chinese children’s song “One Penny” (一分钱) has changed its penny to a Chinese yuan ($0.15).

The lyrics to the song are now published online and in children’s books with the different lyrics, Chinese news platform City Bulletin (@都市快报) reports on Weibo.

The altered text in a children’s book.

The classic song, in translation, says:

I found a penny on the street,
And handed it over to Uncle Policeman.
The Uncle Policeman took the penny,
And nodded his head at me.
I happily said: “Uncle, goodbye!

The song, by Chinese composer Pan Zhensheng (潘振声), is known throughout China. It came out in 1963.

Apparently, in present-day China, nobody would go through so much hassle for a penny anymore, and so the text was altered (although it is very doubtful people would go through the trouble for one yuan either).

The penny coin (0.01) in renminbi was first issued in 1957, and is somewhat rare to come across these days. “It’s probably even worth more than one yuan now,” some netizens argue.

Chinese media report that composer Pan Zhensheng said the song is just an innocent children’s song, and that it should not be affected by price inflation. Sina News also quoted the composer in saying that changing the text is “not respectful.”

Although some Chinese netizens think the change in the song is just normal modern development, others do not agree at all. In Hangzhou, some say, all you can find on the streets nowadays is QR codes rather than coins. Surely the song should not incorporate those new developments either?

Some commenters on Weibo say the song would never be realistic in China’s current cashless society anyway: “Kids nowadays are not finding cash money at all anymore!”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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