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”. When is war drama too entertaining? In a theme park in Wuxiang, war plays are performed daily. The actors insist that their “acting is serious” and the faithful and accurate reenactment of history is their main goal. In their roles as Japanese soldiers, they ‘die’ more than a thousand times a year.
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).
Recently, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) announced a limit on TV dramas that sensationalise 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).
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 News, the 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’.
The Eighth Route Army Park performances are different from the ‘divine drama’, say the actors. In the theme park, they imitate the 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.”
The 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.
– 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).
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”] About 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: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter.[/box]
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China’s Top Mobile Gaming Apps
China has the largest mobile gaming market in the world. It’s an exciting market not just for game-lovers, but also for those into marketing and advertising.
One of the key drivers behind this online gaming environment is the fact that China is a mobile-first country. China’s average mobile user owns a relatively cheap but high-performance mobile phone, which enables them to play mobile games. As the quality of China’s smartphones keeps on rising, so are the possibilities and developments within China’s mobile gaming market.
The Chinese gaming industry is flourishing, but also highly controlled. Online games are allowed to be imported
To gain more insights in this enormous market, we list five of the mobile apps that currently play an important role in the mobile gaming industry. We made our selection based on the data from the Android app stores Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, and Zhushou360. We tried our best to give you a representative overview of a variety of apps that are currently most used in China, but want to remind you that these lists are by no official “top 5” charts.
This article is part of a series of five articles, listing popular Chinese apps in the categories of short video & live streaming, news, health & sports, and knowledge & education. We’ll list the other categories for you below this article, but let’s move over to review these popular mobile gaming apps now.
#1 PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds 绝地求生
PlayersUnknown’s Battleground (PUGB) is a so-called ‘sandbox style’ survival game, which basically means that gamers are allowed to freely roam and change the game, that does not have a set storyline, and that they are required to do all they can to survive as long as possible by eliminating its competitors.
In this online multiplayer game, that is called a Fortnite rival, players are placed together with up to 100 other players on an island. As the game proceeds, the battlefield gradually shrinks, putting more pressure on its players. The users have to assemble weapons and other necessities, and in doing so, need to kill their competitors and take their possessions. The last person left is the winner.
PUBG, which is currently the most popular mobile phone game app in China, was created by the South Korean Bluehole. In 2017, Chinese gaming giant Tencent launched the mobile app version of the game. The Chinese version is not entirely the same: it has been adapted to make sure it aligns with ‘socialist values.’
At the moment, there are two versions of PUGB games: Exciting Battlefield (刺激战场) and Full Ahead (全军出击). The games Exciting Battlefield and Full Ahead subsequently ranked most and third most popular game app in the Chinese Apple stores in 2018, with Exciting Battlefield reaching 14,9 million daily active users at the end of 2018. Currently, Exciting Battlefield still ranks the most popular game app in both the Tencent and Zhushou360 app stores.
#2 Honor of Kings or Kings of Glory 王者荣耀
Honor of Kings is a game developed and published by Tencent which was first launched in 2015. The game is a multiplayer online battle arena game, where players have to team up for a five-to-five battle.
Every user can personally assemble their hero and equip it with certain features such as appearance, powers, etc. The goal of the game is to destroy the opponent’s base.
In 2018, Honor of Kings was the second most popular game app in the Chinese Apple store with 53,8 million daily active users in the last quarter. This year, the game especially rose in popularity during the Chinese Lunar New Year: in the week from 4-10 February, Honor of Kings reached 92 million daily active users.
But the game’s popularity isn’t limited to China. In 2017, Tencent launched an international adaption of the game called Arena of Valor. The game was adopted as one of the games at the eSport Demonstration Event at the 2018 Asian Games, where the Chinese team won the gold medal.
#3 Speed QQ / QQ飞车
Speed QQ is a 3D game that combines both casual and competitive racing. The game has three kingdoms: wind, fire, and fantasy.
In each kingdom, there are different kinds of races, and players can move up levels if they beat other players. In the end, the strongest player of all will be crowned ‘king.’ To prove their skills, the best players of each kingdom can also race against each other in races played on racetracks on the border of the several kingdoms.
The game can be played by either a single player or multiplayer, with a maximum of six players.
Speed QQ, just as Honor of Kings and PUBG, is a game by Tencent – it is the world’s largest game distributor by revenue. Speed QQ was first launched in January 2008 as a PC version, and it was not until 2017 that the mobile app version was released.
#4 Identity V 第5人格
Identity V is a so-called asymmetric warfare game, meaning that the game is a wargame between individuals or a group of players and their hostile opponent.
The horror game, designed in gothic art style, is a one-versus-four multiplayer game. Later in the game, players can decide whether they want to play either the hunter or one of the four survivors.
However, the game is mainly a survivor-based game. The player first enters the game as a detective who receives a mysterious letter inviting the player to investigate an abandoned estate and search for a missing girl. As the player is searching for clues about the missing girl, a hunter will try to catch the player and strap it to a rocket ready for blast off. This is where the three other survivors come in; those are the ones who can free their fellow-survivor from the racket. But if they are too late, the player will be fired off and lose.
Identity V is the newest game app in our selection as it was launched in April of last year by NetEase. Despite its short period on the market, the game gained significant success. The app was the fifth most popular game app in Chinese Apple stores in 2018, with over 26 million downloads.
#5 Mini World 迷你世界
Mini World is a 3D sandbox style game, allowing its users to roam around in the virtual world of the game.
Mini World, also called a block art game, allows its players to build their world by moving around blocks and placing other elements. They can do this alone, but they can also invite friends and create a dream world together. The game closely resembles the Swedish game Minecraft (我的世界), which is also available in China.
Mini World was first launched in December 2015 by a Shenzhen based company. A couple of years later, the game was available in both Android and Apple stores. In 2018, Mini World became the fourth most popular game app in China with 3.7 million daily active users in the third quarter.
- Top 5 of China’s Most Popular Live Streaming and Short Video Apps
- Overview of Top 6 Chinese News Apps
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Here Comes Trump the Chinese Opera, Starring Mao Zedong and Kim Jong-un
In “Trump the Opera”, Trump sings and plays ping pong.
“Enjoy this ‘one country, two systems’ creative freedom,” is one of the slogans promoting a new Hong Kong opera production that features US President Trump – played by the same actor who also played Mao Zedong – and North-Korean leader Kim Jong-un, presenting a story revolving around the modern history and current situation of China-US relations and international politics in the form of traditional Chinese art.
The opera, titled “Cantonese Opera Trump” (粵劇特朗普) was written by Fengshui master and playwright Li Kuiming (李居明), who likes to mix up traditional opera with creative new storylines. In this production, ‘Trump’ allegedly will not just be singing; he’ll be playing ping-pong, too.
Promotion posters for the show have attracted the attention of some Weibo netizens, with some calling it “unimaginable.”
This opera is the 34th production made by Li Kuiming, who has some 1,4 million fans on Weibo. Three years ago, Li made headlines for his controversial Chairman Mao opera that explored the private life of Mao Zedong and also featured a scene in which Mao comes back from the dead to talk to Chiang Kai-shek.
The current opera is a sequel to the 2016 production, featuring the same actor, Long Guantian (龍貫天), as President Trump. The role of Kim Jong-un will be performed by Chen Hongjin (陳鴻進).
The press conference for the new opera took place on March 1st, just after the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended without a deal. The actors taking on the roles of Trump and Kim, however, posed together shaking hands.
Despite the somewhat controversial theme of the opera, the Singtao Daily writes that Li Kuiming’s production “avoids politically sensitive topics as much as possible.”
“Through this opera, I want to analyze China-USA relations,” Li told reporters: “China and the US have had very good relations for a long time (..), Nixon’s  visit to China marked the friendship between the two countries. At present, the China-US friendship has turned into a struggle.”
Li called it “a gift from heaven” that he was able to get performer Long Guantian to play Mao Zedong previously, praising his “enormous flexibility” in the roles he is able to take on. “For [his] role of Trump, I’ve read many books and thoroughly researched the life and thinking of Trump.”
One reason for the opera to stir some discussions on Chinese social media, is the fact that its promotional poster states that the “three roles” of “Trump, Trump, and Mao Zedong” are all performed by the same actor (Long Guantian).
The name of ‘Trump’ is written in two different ways on the poster, causing much confusion among netizens, who write: “I thought there was only one Trump?!” (To understand more about the two Chinese names of Trump, check this article). It is not clear if there will indeed be two ‘Trumps’ starring in the production or why the poster mentions the name of Trump two times.
The Mingpao newspaper reported that Li has high hopes for this production, quoting: “I have a friend who knows Trump, and who suggested bringing this opera to the White House so that Trump can enjoy it. We could translate it. If I’d ever be invited, of course, I wouldn’t say no.” He also added that he “wouldn’t have the courage” to perform the opera in North Korea.
The opera will be performed at the Hong Kong Sunbeam Theatre from April 12 to April 15. “I guarantee it will be good,” Li says: “If it wouldn’t be good, I wouldn’t put it on stage.”
By Manya Koetse
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