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Top 10 Overview of China’s Most Popular TV Dramas of Fall 2018

The top scoring TV dramas in China of this moment – and they are almost all available with English subtitles.

Gabi Verberg

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From beautiful costume series to suspenseful war-themed productions – these are the most popular TV dramas in China of this fall, an overview by What’s on Weibo.

Note: also see our Top 30 of all-time classic Chinese TV Dramas here!

China still has one of the most booming TV drama industries in the world, with dozens of new dramas being released every month, drawing in millions of viewers through the country’s most popular online video streaming platforms.

We’ve compiled a top ten of the most popular Chinese TV dramas of this fall, based on the current popular charts of the leading websites in Chinese online video, including Tencent Video, iQiyi, Sohu, Youku, LeTV, 360kan, Sogou Video, along with Baidu’s and Weibo’s popular TV drama charts.

This fall, Chinese viewers are mostly into dramas that are themed around (historical) love stories and suspense. What is noteworthy is that the often top-rated South-Korean tv dramas are not making it to the list of top-watched series this time, and that the current top 10 series are all produced in mainland China.

Please note that this list has been compiled by combining the top-ranking lists of this moment. And we have chosen to exclude popular drama series that already made it in our previous top-ten lists, such as White Deer Plain (白鹿原), despite their ongoing popularity.

Most of these series are available for viewing online with English subtitles. If you need a VPN to circumvent any geo restrictions, we recommend either NordVPN or ExpressVPN to do so.

 

#10 All Out of Love (凉生我们可不可以不忧伤)

Mainland China
Chinese title: Liáng shēng wǒmen kěbù kěyǐ bù yōushāng 凉生,我们可不可以不忧伤
Genre: Romance
Directed by: Liu Junjie (刘俊杰)
Episodes: 70, start 17 September 2018, Hunan TV

All Out of Love is based on the novel Liang Sheng, Can We Not Be Sad by Le Xiaomi (乐小米, also known as 纪伟娜). The TV series stars, among others, Wallace Chung (钟汉良), Ray Ma (马天宇) and Sun Yi (孙怡).

The series ranked fifth in the Weibo top ten most popular TV dramas and sixth position in the Youku top 10 TV drama series. Tencent Video ranked the series with an 8.2.

Growing up in rough times and poverty, Jiang Sheng and her adopted brother Liang Sheng are inseparable. Throughout the years, their greatest happiness lies in being by each other’s side. They eventually both develop feelings for one another, but despite them not being blood-related, they ignore their feelings. One day Liang mysteriously disappears, and Jiang is unable to find him. Years later, when Jiang is married, Liang suddenly comes back, and Jiang needs to face what is perhaps the most important decision of her life.

On Weibo, the official account of the series is nearing 375,000 fans right now.

See here the complete series including Chinese subtitles. Also available on Viki (incl. English subtitles).

 

#9 Battlefield Gun King (战地枪王)

Mainland China
Chinese title: Zhàndì qiāng wáng 战地枪王
Genre: War
Directed by: Li Yin (李印)
Episodes: 40, start 30 September 2018, Tianjin TV

Battlefield Gun King is the sequel in the ‘Gun King’ series following up The King of Guns (绝地枪王). However, it’s not really necessary to see the first series in order to understand this sequel.

Battlefield Gun King is currently ranking third place in the Sohu hotlists, and fifth place on the Youku most-watched lists. On iQiyi, the series scores a 7.1.

The TV drama tells the patriotic story of a family from China’s northeast, military hero Lu Yinghao, and the Chinese Communist Party’s fighting against the Japanese aggressors. It is 1945, and Lu Yinghao returns to China from the Soviet military base to celebrate his father’s birthday. At his arrival, he discovers that the Japanese military killed his family, mostly doctors, and other medical staff, to occupy the hospital. He decides to take revenge.

On Weibo, the official TV series account has approximately 22,000 fans.

See here on iQiyi the complete series with Chinese subtitles (no English).

 

#8 Mother’s Life (娘道)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Niángdào 娘道
Genre: Drama
Directed by: Guo Jingyu (郭靖宇) and Ju Xingmao (巨兴茂)
Episodes: 76, start 5 September 2018, Beijing TV and Jiangsu TV

Mother’s Life, starring Yue Lina (岳丽娜) and Yu Yi (于毅), tells the story of a young woman in times of China’s political turmoil around 1945.

The drama series is currently ranked first in the Sohu TV top ten, ranked seventh in the Weibo’s top 10 most popular TV dramas and is amongst the most popular series on Tencent Video.

Ying Gu is a young lady from a wealthy and influential big family. In the eight years she is married to her husband Long Jizong, they have three daughters. But when their third daughter is labeled a misfortune bearer, Ying Gu and her husband Xu Zhi are forced to move. Shortly after, Xu Zhi dies, leaving the pregnant Ying Gu all alone, which causes her to marry an opium addict out of desperation. One day, her new husband sells her third daughter to provide him with drugs. By taking out her rage, Ying Gu ends up in prison, where she thinks of a plan to reunite with her children.

See here the complete series including Chinese subtitles (no English).

 

#7 Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿传)

China Mainland
Chinese Title: Rúyì chuán 如懿传
Genre: Historical Drama
Directed by: Wang Jun (汪俊)
Episodes: 87, 20 August 2018, Tencent Video

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is an adaption from The Story of Empress Ruyi (后宫·如懿传) written by Liu Lianzi (流潋紫). In total, the book consists of six volumes which mainly tells the follow-up story of Empress in the Palace (后宫·甄嬛传) which subsequently was also made into a drama series in both 2011 and 2017. The 2017 production did not make this selection, however, it is currently ranked the most popular TV drama on LeTV.

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace starring Zhou Xun (周迅) and Wallace Huo (霍建华)  is currently ranked number one most popular series on 360kan, and number six on Baidu’s most popular drama list.

This fictional historical drama chronicles the marriage of Emperor Qianlong and his childhood friend and lover Ruyi. As Ruyi is a descendant of the Ulanara clan, she is only granted the position of consort. With the Empress Dowager as her sworn enemy, and dealing with the other consorts’ jealousy of her relationship with Qianlong, Ruyi faces many hardships in the palace. However, she is determined to become Empress Dowager of the Middle Kingdom.

With more than a million followers on the drama’s official Weibo account, it is one of the more popular TV series on social media in this list.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles, or watch on Viki.

 

#6 Martial Universe (武动乾坤之英雄出少年)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Wǔ dòng qiánkūn zhī yīngxióng chū shàonián 武动乾坤之英雄出少年
Genre: Fantasy, History, Martial Arts
Directed by: Zhang Li (张黎), assistant director Han Xiaojun (韩晓军)
Episodes: 40, 7 August 2018, Dragon TV

Just like Battle Through the Heaven, Martial Universe is based on a novel by author Li Hu (李虎), and was only published online.

This series starring Yang Yang (杨洋), Zhang Tianai (张天爱), Claudia Wang (Wang Likun/王丽坤), and Chun Wu (吴尊), is currently second most popular TV drama on Youku and third most popular series on Sogou Video.

This fantasy drama tells the story of Lin Dong, who, by coincidence, comes across a talisman with magical powers. After this encounter, his life will never be the same. Lin travels the world, and through his often very dangerous adventures, he gradually improves his skills as a martial artist. But will it be enough to face evil and save the world from demons taking over?

See here the complete series including English subtitles.

 

#5 Eagles and Youngster (天坑鹰猎)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Tiān kēng yīng liè 天坑鹰猎
Genre: Youth, Adventure, Suspense
Directed by: Cheng Zhichao (成志超)
Episodes: 40, 30 August 2018 on Youku, 25 September at Dragon TV

Eagles and Youngster is a coming-of-age story, adapted from the novel with the same name written by Zhang Muye (张牧野).

The series is currently ranked first in the Youku TV drama charts and ranking fourth in the Weibo’s top 10 most popular TV dramas.

With main characters played by Karry Wang (王俊凯) born in 1999, Vicky Chen (陈文淇) born in 2003, and supporting actress Jiang Yiyi (蒋依依) born in 2001, the cast of Eagles and Youngsters is the youngest amongst this list.

Eagles and Youngster revolves around city boy Zhang Baoqiang, who goes on an adventure with his two friends to find medicine to save their mentor’s life. On their way, Zhang accidentally finds an egg that hatches into a majestic white eagle. The creature ignites a series of events that put the young heroes in danger, and they begin to understand the meaning of life and deepen their understanding of the relationship between humankind and nature.

The series currently has 1,2 million fans on its official Weibo account.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#4 Battle Through the Heavens/Fight Break Spheres (斗破苍穹)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Dòu pò cāngqióng 斗破苍穹
Genre: History, Martial Arts, Fantasy
Directed by: Yu Songguang (于宋光)
Episodes: 45, start 3 September 2018, Hunan TV

Battle Through the Heavens starring Leo Wu (吴磊), Lin Yun (林允), Baron Chen (陈楚河), Li Qin (李沁) and Xin Zhilei (辛芷蕾) is an adaption of the like-named online novel by novelist Li Hu (李虎).

The series is currently ranked second in both Baidu’s and Weibo’s top 10 most popular TV dramas and is scored a 7.8 at Tencent Video.

The story revolves around Xiao Yan, whose mother was killed when he was only nine years old. Even though he was born a genius child, he lost all of his powers. At age 15, his martial arts skills are still average until he accidentally meets You Chen. With the help of the old man, Xiao Yan makes fast advances in martial arts. When he finds out that he and his family are doomed, he decides to embark on a journey to revanche his mothers’ killer and eliminate forces of evil.

There are more than 551,000 fans following this series on its Weibo account right now.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#3 Story of the Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Yán xǐ gōnglüè 延禧攻略
Genre: Historical Drama
Directed by: Hui Yidong (惠楷栋) and Wen Deguang (温德光)
Episodes: 70, 19 July 2018, Zhejiang TV

This is the second production in our list (see: Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace) that revolves around emperor Qianlong, starring the very popular Wu Jinyan (吴谨言) as the main character. 

Story of the Yanxi Palace is currently holding second place on 360kan’s TV drama’s hotlist and also on iQiyi it is amongst the most popular series of this moment, getting a high score of 8.0.

According to SCMP, the high standards and meticulous research of the production team regarding highly authentic props and story lines that stick to the history are a major part of this drama’s succes.

Story of the Yanxi Palace tells the story of the young girl Wei Yingluo who enters the Forbidden City as a palace lady, aiming to find out the truth about her sisters’ death and seek justice. She develops a friendship with the empress, who helps her up the ranks in the imperial palace to become a strong court lady. But when the Empress dies, Wei Wei is facing danger from an unexpected place.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#2 Age of Legends (橙红年代)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Chénghóng niándài 橙红年代
Genre: Drama, Crime
Directed by: Liu Xin (刘新)
Episodes: 47, start 17 September 2018, Zhejiang and Dragon TV

Age of Legends starring William Chan (陈伟霆) and Ma Sichun (马思纯) is based on the like-named novel by Xiao Qixiao (骁骑校) and is currently ranked first in the iQiyi popular drama chart and scores an 8.5 at Tencent Video.

The drama follows the life of Liu Ziguang, who returns to his hometown after working overseas for eight years. He suffers severe memory loss of this period and wants to live a happy and simple life. He unexpectedly meets Hu Rong, a young female detective, and the two fall in love. But good times don’t last long as Liu finds himself entangled in a dangerous situation. Together they go on a hunt for the truth and justice.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#1 Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Xiāng mì chénchén jìn rú shuāng 香蜜沉沉烬如霜
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Romantic, Action, Suspense
Directed by: Zui Ruibin (朱锐斌)
Episodes: 63, 2 August 2018, Jiangsu TV, iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Youku.

Ashes of Love in an adapted screenplay from the like-named novel written by Dian Xian. The drama is starring two of China’s currently most popular actors Yang Zi (杨紫) and Allen (邓伦). The played each other’s lovers before, in the 2012 drama series Flowers in Fog (花非花雾非雾), leading to Allen’s breakthrough.

That the two main actors are a good match is proved by the immense popularity of these series. The drama series is currently ranked first on Sogou Video, and third at 360kan’s most popular TV dramas list. And also the users of Tencent Video show their appreciation of the series, scoring it with an 8.9.

Ashes of Love tells the story of the thousand-year romance between the flower deity called Jinmi, and the fire deity, called Xufeng. Right before Jinmi’s mother gives birth to a daughter, she finds out that her daughter will suffer a great love drama. To spare her daughter, she swallows a pill preventing her daughter from feeling romantic love. Not knowing true love, she gets involved in a relationship with Xufeng.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

Want to see more? Also check out our
Top 10 Chinese TV dramas of Summer 2018

By Gabi Verberg

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.

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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  1. Avatar

    Jiani

    October 25, 2018 at 4:59 am

    创业时代 didn’t make the list? 😮

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 10 of Popular Chinese Podcasts of 2019 (by What’s on Weibo)

What are Chinese podcast app users listening to? An overview.

Jialing Xie

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As the podcasting industry only seems to become more thriving around the world, What’s on Weibo tunes into China’s podcast market and selects ten of the most popular Chinese podcasts for you.

Ever since it first made its entrance into the entertainment industry, the podcast – a term coined in 2004 – has kept growing in listenership in most Western countries.

The same holds true for China, where podcasts are mainly concentrated on a couple of bigger online audio streaming platforms.

What are the most ear-catching podcast streaming services in China now? While various podcast apps have been competing with each other to attract users with their trending content, Ximalaya is one of the most popular ones as it offers the widest range of content of all major podcast apps in China. The app was first launched in 2013, and has been a top-scoring app ever since.

In terms of popularity, Ximalaya (喜马拉雅) is closely followed by DragonflyFM (蜻蜓FM), LycheeFM(荔枝FM), and a series of other podcast platforms with each implementing different business models.

How do we know what’s trending on these podcast apps? Based on user clicks and other metrics, Ximalaya has its own ranking lists of popular podcasts for five major categories: classics, audiobooks,crosstalk & storytelling, news, music, and entertainment.

DragonflyFM (蜻蜓FM) and other podcast apps also have their own rankings for even more narrowly defined categories, although these rankings often feature the same ‘most popular’ podcasts as Ximalaya and other apps.

To give you an impression and an overview of the kind of podcasts that are currently most popular in China, we have made a selection of trending podcasts across various audio apps, with some notes that might be useful for those tuning into these podcasts as learners of Mandarin (all of these popular podcasts use Mandarin).

Please note that this is not an ‘official’ top 10 list, but one that is compiled by What’s on Weibo based on various popular ranking lists in different categories. Guo Degang’s crosstalk and storytelling podcast, for instance, is ranked as a number one popular podcast on both Ximalaya and Dragonfly FM, which is why it comes in highest in our list, too.

What’s on Weibo is independent and is not affiliated with any of these audio platforms or podcasts.

 

#1 Guo Degang: Crosstalk Collection of 21 Years (郭德纲21年相声精选)

Link to podcast

Category: Crosstalk & Storytelling

Duration: 20-90 min/episode

About:

Guo Degang (郭德纲, Guō Dégāng) is one of the most successful crosstalk comedians in China. In 1995, he founded his own crosstalk society, Deyun Society (德云社, Dé Yún Shè), which aims to “bring crosstalk back to traditional theaters.” Guo Degang has succeeded in making the general public pay more attention to crosstalk (相声, xiàngsheng), a traditional Chinese art performance that started in the Qing Dynasty. Like many other traditional Chinese arts, crosstalk performers are expected to have had a solid foundation that is often referred to as “kung fu” (功夫, Gōngfū) before they can perform onstage. Among the many collections attempted to gather Guo Degang’s crosstalk and storytelling performance, this podcast is probably the most comprehensive attempt thus far to gather Guo’s crosstalk and storytelling – it lists Guo’s best performances throughout his nearly three-decade career.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

This podcast contains a lot of word jokes, special idioms, and cultural and historical context, making it more suitable for advanced Mandarin learners. But beginners, don’t be discouraged! Get your feet wet with Guo’s sense of humor if you like a challenge. Accent Alert: you will hear the Tianjin accent in Guo’s performance, which is also encouraged by the crosstalk & storytelling art genre.

 

#2 King Fafa (发发大王)

Link to podcast

Category: Talkshow & Entertainment

Duration: 1 – 2 hr/episode

About:

This podcast provides a glimpse into Chinese society through the lens of ordinary people and their own stories. These stories range from a Chinese mother going through struggles to give birth to her child in the UK as an immigrant, to the love-and-hate relationship between Chinese youngsters and marriage brokers. Or how about Huawei employees’ personal anecdotes, or a self-made millionaire’s confession on his sudden realization of the true meaning of life? Looking beneath the surface of people’s lives with a compassionate and sometimes somewhat cynical attitude, the talk show podcast Fafa King has won over Chinese podcast listeners.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Enrich your vocabulary and phrases bank with this daily-conversation based podcast. Suitable for medium-level Mandarin learners.
Accent Alert: you will hear mostly Beijinger accents from the two hosts.

 

#3 Chasing Tech, Teasing Arts (追科技撩艺术)

Link to podcast

Category: Technology & Art / Business podcas

Duration: 30 min -1 hr/episode

About:

This Doko.com podcast allows listeners to get new perspectives on technology, art, environmental protection, and business through the voice of aspiring Chinese youths from within China and abroad. Doko.com used to be a digital marketing agency but now describes itself as a “group of people passionate about the internet, a diverse, interesting and exciting place.”

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Doko’s podcast features interviews between the host and guests on topics mainly relating to art and technology in a semi-formal setting. Listen to learn how to discuss these topics in Mandarin. Accent Alert: you will hear the host speaking Mandarin with a slight accent and guest speakers with various accents of their origin.

 

#4 Let Jenny Tell You (潘吉Jenny告诉你)

Full title: Let Jenny Tell You – Learn English and Talk about America (潘吉Jenny告诉你-学英语聊美国), Link to podcast

Category: Education

Duration: 10 – 20 min/episode

About:

Let Jenny Tell You is one of the most popular podcasts around for Chinese listeners to learn English. Hosted by Jenny and Adam, the podcast offers quite rich and unique content, discussing various topics often relating to Chinese culture and news, and of course, diving deeper into the English language.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

As a language learning podcast, this podcast is actually perfect for intermediate learners of Chinese; it works both ways for Chinese-English learners as well as for English speakers who are interested in learning Mandarin. Because Adam speaks English, you always know what the podcast is about. Accent Alert: Jenny (the host) speaks fairly standard Mandarin with minor accents.

 

#5 Stories Across the Globe (环球故事会)

Link to podcast

Category: Society & Culture

Duration: 20 min/episode (length differs on Podcasts App Store)

About:

A skillful narrator digs into stories behind the news, examining various topics involving cultures, history, politics, international relations. This podcast, by China’s state-owned international radio broadcaster, often comes up as a suggestion on various platforms, and also seems to be really popular because of its news-related stories.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Well-paced speech with an intimate tone, this podcast is a good source for learning new vocabulary and improving your pronunciation if you are already an advanced learner of Mandarin. Accent Alert: the host speaks fairly standard Mandarin with a Beijing accent.

 

#6 Watching Dreams Station (看理想电台)

Link to podcast

Category: Interviews & Culture

Duration: 20 – 40 min/episode

About:

A fun and informative podcast with varied content coverage, this podcast has a refreshing tone and smooth transitions between narratives and (expert) interview footage. A great source to learn more about what Chinese ‘hipsters,’ often referred to as literary and arty youth (文青, wén qīng) care about with regular mentions of social media stories.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

This podcast has relatively slow-paced speech covering various topics, which helps to make you more familiar with new vocabulary and practice how to explain things in Mandarin. Accent Alert: you will hear hosts speak fairly standard Mandarin with minor accents.

 

#7 Black Water Park (黑水公园)

Link to podcast

Category: TV & Movies, Talkshow

Duration: 1 – 1.5 hr/episode

About:

Learn what’s commonly discussed among Chinese young adults about movies and TV shows through these entertaining conversations between the two good friends Ài Wén and Jīn Huā-er.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Suitable for medium-to-advanced-level Mandarin learners; highly engaging conversations involving lots of slang and colloquial expressions.
Accent Alert: the hosts speak with recognizable Beijinger accents, so be prepared.

 

#8 The Sketch is Here (段子来了)

Link to podcast

Category: Comedy

Duration: 45 min/episode

About:

With 5.426 billion user clicks on Ximalaya, this podcast featuring funny sketches is super popular and has become a household name in China’s podcast market. It offers a taste of humor appreciated by many Chinese, which is very different from what you’d get from a podcast in the West within the same category.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Great source to learn colloquial Mandarin and funny ice-breakers, but challenging as humor is intrinsically linked with inside jokes and word play. Accent Alert: the host has what’s considered a soothing voice and speaks fairly standard Mandarin.

 

#9 Ruixi’s Radio (蕊希电台)

Link to podcast

Category: Lifestyle & Bedtime

Duration: 10 min/episode

About:

One way to examine culture is to look at what people generally worry about the most. This podcast, that always starts with the soft voice of Ruixi (the host) asking listeners “Hey, are you ok today?”, focuses on a darker side of society and addresses the social and mental struggles that adults in China are facing. Ruixi’s Radio is one of those podcasts that enjoy equivalent popularity across several podcast platforms, which indicates strong branding. For many people, it’s a soothing podcast to listen just before bedtime.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

The slow-paced monologue using language easy to understand makes a great learning material for beginning learners. Accent Alert: Ruixi (the host) speaks fairly standard Mandarin with insignificant accents.

 

#10 Stories FM (故事FM)

Link to podcast

Category: Stories & Bedtime

Duration: 20 – 30 min/episode

About:

Described by the New York Times as a “rarity in a media landscape full of state propaganda and escapist entertainment,” Gushi FM was launched with the idea “Your story, your voice.” As one of China’s popular audio programs, Gushi FM features stories told by ordinary Chinese of various backgrounds.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

As a collection of monologues that detail stories, describe emotions, and argue ideas, this podcast suits advanced level learners. Accent Alert: in every episode, guests with speaking and telling stories in their own local dialects.

Want to understand more about podcasts in China? We’d recommend this insightful article on the Niemanlab website.

Because there are many more popular Chinese podcasts we would like to share with you, this probably will not be our only list. A follow-up list will also contain other favorites such as Two IT Uncles (两个IT大叔), BBPark (日坛公园), and One Day World ( 一天世界).

Want to recommend another Chinese podcast? Please leave a comment below this article or tweet us at @whatsonweibo, leave a message on Instagram or reach out via Facebook.

By Jialing Xie, with contributions by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©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

‘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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