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China Arts & Entertainment

(Op-Ed) The Forgotten Genres & Loss of “Intellectual Taste” in Chinese TV Drama

“We need to recall those TV dramas and genres that have vanished into oblivion,” Zhao writes.

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When What’s on Weibo published a list of classics of Chinese TV dramas, Beijing Film Academy graduate Zhao B. felt the list was missing relevant titles and genres. These are the top classic TV dramas that should be added to the list, according to an article sent in to What’s on Weibo by Zhao.

The entertainment industry is a hot topic in present-day China, where online videos are being watched by millions of internet users every day. The way in which these videos are created, spread, and consumed, signals a new kind of emotional consumerism.

TV drama is still a benchmark of China’s popular culture, but it is no longer the newest one – and might even have started to be somewhat worn out. It has gone into a phase of systematically deleting conflicting memories, in sync with the loud internet environment and the pop culture factory.

Not only has the length of TV drama episodes been shortened for today’s ‘online binging,’ but streaming sites are also filled with certain algorithms and tracking codes that accelerate the obliteration of certain television dramas. The mass ‘industrialization’ of popular culture has shortened the lifespan of television dramas and its genres.

Which is why if a list such as the Top 30 Classic TV Dramas in China is based on rankings provided by social media sites or online video platforms such as Sougo or Douban, there are certain blind spots.

It is not out of mere nostalgia that we need to recall those TV dramas and genres that have vanished into oblivion. It gives us an overview of marginalized genres and taste, that are different from the current mainstream ones. They are the working memories for contemporary life.

Genres that have come up and have since been forgotten in the People’s Republic of China from roughly 1978 to 2018, are:

-the “rural genre” (农村题材)
-the “youth genre” (青少年题材)
-the “army genre” (军旅题材), a sub-category of the military genre.

Theme Productions versus Genre

There is a socio-historical difference in Chinese and English popular culture industries in use of the term ‘genre’ that should be noted here. Chinese TV dramas are often categorized in ‘topics’ or ‘themes’ (tícái 题材) rather than in ‘genres’ (lèixíng 类型).

Thematic terms were used in planning and reviewing art productions (literature, film, TV drama) in PRC history, but this practice has been transforming over the past forty years. 

With the rise of the pop culture industry, the term ‘genre’ (类型) also became more popularized, with ‘theme’ and ‘genre’ now existing together.

Some productions have been recognized as either an old-fashioned ‘theme’ product, while also being categorized as a genre. For example, the TV drama Era of Peace (和平年代, 1996) marks the transition from the thematic categorization of ‘Revolutionary History theme’ (革命历史题材) to the categorization of ‘Era genre’ (年代戏). Later, the famous production The Year of Burning Passion (激情燃烧的岁月, 2001) was simply categorized as a typical ‘Era Genre’ rather than a theme production.

But there are also those thematic productions that did not have a ‘genre offspring.’ One of those is the established “intellectual theme” (知识分子题材) in Chinese literature, film, and TV drama, which is not reflected in today’s TV drama industry. Although educated identity plays a key role in today’s medical genre (医疗剧) – a subcategory of the ‘professional genre’ TV drama (职业剧) – the agenda and rhetoric are very different.

To avoid long discussions on the complex nature of theme versus genre productions and categories in Chinese TV dramas, the following overview mixes both thematic and genre TV dramas, using the terms interchangeably.

‘Forgotten’ TV Dramas

An overview of some series in supplement to the Top 30 Classic Chinese TV dramas article:

 

#1 ‘Trilogy of Women’s Fate’ (女人命运三部曲)

* 篱笆、女人和狗  ‘Fence, Woman and Dog’

Year: 1989
Episodes: 12
Genre: Rural/Family
Directed by 陈雨田 Chen Yutian

* 辘轳、女人和井 ‘Windlass, Woman and Well’

Year: 1991
Episodes: 12
Genre: Rural/Family
Directed by 陈雨田 Chen Yutian 可人 Ke Ren

* 古船、女人和网 Ancient Ship, Woman and Net

Year: 1993
Episodes: 14
Genre: Rural/Family
Directed by 吴珊 Wu Shan 张扬 Zhang Yang

In this 1990s ‘Trilogies of Country Life’ (农村三部曲), China’s rural community is still presented as being in a stage of self-reflecting amidst a time of transformation. This portrayal of China’s countryside stands in stark contrast to present-day productions that often represent the rural community as either ‘to be developed’ or to be laughed about, caught in a discourse of urban-rural binary opposition. These series are still available for viewing on sites such as QQ (no English subs).

 

#2. ‘The Flowering Season of Being Sixteen’ (十六岁的花季)

Year: 1990
Episodes: 12
Genre: Youth
Directed by Directed by 富敏 Fu Min 张弘 Zhang Hong

This TV drama, spoken in Shanghai accent, tells the coming-of-age story of a group of middle school students. It represents Chinese youth as being in the age of poetic self-reflection, rather than the ‘young idol’ genre that is ubiquitous today. The actors and narrator’s voice directly reflect on society and question it. The episodes are available for viewing on Youtube here (no English subtitles).

 

#3. Young Special Force 少年特工

Year: 1992
Episodes: 16
Genre: Military
Directed by 郑方南 Zheng Fangnan

This TV drama, set in contemporary China, tells the story of the experiences of children during a military camp in Shandong, where these young scouts are thrown into a ‘battle’ between the ‘Red Army’ and the ‘Blue Army.’ The military setting and modern timeframe ironically reveal the hidden elite and historical subtext. Link to episodes on Youtube here.

 

#4. Era of Peace (和平年代)

Year: 1996
Episodes: 23
Genre: Army/History
Directed by 李舒 Li Shu 张前 Zhang Qian

This title represents the difference between the army sub-genre and military genre. It is a retrospective story that describes the transformation of China’s armed troops from the Reform and Opening Up (改革开放) (1978-1996) period, going from war preparations to a period of peace.

Over the last two decades, the army sub-genre has gradually allowed new components into the military TV drama genre, which has also led to those narratives in the late 2010s that focus on overseas operations by elite soldiers.

 

#5. Fortress Besieged (围城)

Year: 1990
Episodes: 10
Genre: No (some will say Historical)
Directed by 黄蜀芹 Huang Shuqin

This drama, a classic adaptation of the same-titled 1947 novel by Qian Zhongshu, is set in the 1930s and portrays Chinese intellectuals, while focusing on the misadventures of Fang Hongjian, who returns to China after studying in Europe. The mild, cautious, ironic yet effortless taste from 1940 Shanghai and the figures of Republic of China’s bourgeois intellectuals, showed itself for the very first time to PRC audiences in this classic.

Nobody would like to admit they forgot about this classic adaptation. Actually, people tend to forget it not because of itself, but for its isolation from any current trends. Intellectual taste and artistic pursuit are quite alien to China’s current TV drama culture. Intellectual influence and TV as art was a cultural feature of the late socialist planned economy of the 20th century, when the Communist war against intellectuals had ended, and the capitalist front was yet to be developed.

Various episodes are available for viewing on Youtube.

 

#6. Sinful Debt (孽债)

Year: 1995
Episodes: 20
Genre: Family
Directed by 黄蜀芹 Huang Shuqin

This drama, from the same female director Huang Shuqin (黄蜀芹) of Fortress Besieged, tells the story of five left-behind children in pursuit of their fathers – former sent-down “educated youths” as part of the Cultural Revolution crusade. It is a drama of middle-aged males, females and children, affected by historical, geographical, social and ethnic displacement. These series represent a delayed response to Scar Literature on TV.

The portrayal of Shanghai intellectuals in 1990s TV drama was very different from the 1980s intellectual idealism on TV, which then later transformed in the full-fledged populism in today’s political discourse of pop culture. In policy and critiques after 1990s, the once legit intellectual theme (知识分子题材) was completely erased.

Episodes of Sinful Debt are available for viewing on Youtube here.

By Zhao B.

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Comic & Games

China’s Top Mobile Gaming Apps

Gabi Verberg

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In a booming online gaming market, these are some of the apps most appreciated by Chinese online gamers today.

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, but have to pass the content censorship procedures and must be ‘ideologically compatible’ for the Chinese market. Many games, such as this year’s Resident Evil 2, are not allowed into mainland China.

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.

In 2018, it became the fourth most popular game app in Chinese Apple stores, with nearly 25 million downloads in that same year.

 

#4 Identity V 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.

At the beginning of this year, Mini World released a new version of its game, which brings it back in the top ten most popular apps in both the Zhushou360 Appstore and Baidu Appstore.

Also see:

By Gabi Verberg, edited by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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

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China Arts & Entertainment

Here Comes Trump the Chinese Opera, Starring Mao Zedong and Kim Jong-un

In “Trump the Opera”, Trump sings and plays ping pong.

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Hong Kong playwright Li Kuiming is not afraid to take on sensitive topics in his productions. After an opera about Mao Zedong, this upcoming Cantonese opera focuses on US President Trump and explores China-US relations.

“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.

Hong Kong performer Long Guantian as Trump.

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.

Image via https://hk.celebrity.yahoo.com

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 [1972] visit to China marked the friendship between the two countries. At present, the China-US friendship has turned into a struggle.”

Image via hk01.com

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 

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

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

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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