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Top 10 Overview of China’s Most Popular TV Dramas February 2019

The top scoring TV dramas in China of this moment, winter 2018/2019.

Gabi Verberg

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

For newer articles on Chinese TV dramas, please check our overview here!

China 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 moment, 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.

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 (here, here, here), despite their ongoing popularity.

Most of these series are available for viewing online, some also with English subtitles. If you need a VPN to circumvent any geo restrictions, we recommend either NordVPN or ExpressVPN to do so. Note: also see our Top 30 of all-time classic Chinese TV Dramas here!

Here we go:

 

#10 Mystery of Antiques 古董局中局

China Mainland

Chinese title: Gǔdǒng jú zhōng jú 古董局中局
Genre: Suspense, Mystery
Directed by: Wu Bai (五百) aka Guo Shubo (郭书博), Yu Qing (余庆)
Episodes: 36, December 2018, Tencent Video

Mystery of Antiques is an adaption of the like-named novel by award-winning novelist Ma Boyan (马伯庸). The main character in the drama series is played by Xia Yu (夏雨), who previously won awards for acting at various film festivals from Venice to Beijing, and from Taiwan to Singapore.

The series currently ranks fourth on Baidu’s most popular drama list, and seventh on the 360kan most popular series rankings.

The drama tells the story of the ordinary small antique shop owner, Xu Yuan (Xia Yu), who comes from a family of antique traders. One day, a visitor coming to the shop brings Xu into a conspiracy that goes beyond his wildest dreams and links him to a legendary treasure. It is the start of a dangerous and tumultuous journey, in which Xu does all he can to clear his family’s name and change his fate.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 20.000 followers.

The show, in Chinese, is available on QQ.

 

#9 Forty Years We Walked 我们的四十年

China Mainland

Chinese title: Wǒmen de sìshí nián 我们的西十年
Genre: Coming of age
Directed by: Wang Zi (王梓)
Episodes: 60, November 2018, Jiangsu TV, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Sogou Video, Mango TV, LeTV, Fun TV, PP TV, Youku

This coming of age story, featuring beautiful images of Beijing, is directed by Hunan-born filmmaker Wang Zi. Wang was born in 1986 and started his career as an actor in 2008. Some say that this series is very much based on Wang’s own experiences in his journey to becoming a director.

The series is currently the second most popular series on Sogou Video.

Forty Years We Walked tells the life story of Feng Dou, who falls in love with television and film from the first time he ever sees a TV at his friend’s house. In middle school, he becomes well-known together with his friend for collecting old tv-parts and building “new” televisions from them. Feng continues to pursue his passion for tv, setting up several businesses. However, as he Feng gets older, he starts to question his purpose in life until he realizes what it is he was always intended to do.

On Weibo, the official account of the series is currently nearing 20.000 followers.

The show is available on AsiaTVSub here or on Youtube here with Chinese subtitles.

 

#8 Well Intended Love 奈何BOSS要娶我

China Mainland

Chinese title: Nàihé BOSS yào qǔ wǒ (奈何BOSS要娶我)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed by: Wu Qiang (吴强)
Episodes: 20, January 2019, Sohu Video TV, Mango TV

Well Intended Love, that features the youngest cast within this overview, including Xu Kaiwei (徐开骋, 1990) and Simona Wang (王双, 1991), tells the love story between a wealthy man and mostly unknown young actress. The series is currently the most popular drama series on Sohu Video.

The series revolves around undiscovered actress Xia Lin who is suffering from leukemia. To afford a surgery that can save her life, she gets involved with the wealthy CEO Ling Yizhou. At the same time, Xia continues to pursue her career as an actress. Ling and Xia eventually get married and live a happy life together in secrecy until Ling finds out that Xia has a hidden agenda.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 190.000 followers.

See the complete series including English and Chinese subtitles on YouTube here.

 

#7 The Legend of Hao Lan 皓镧传

China Mainland

Chinese title: Hào lán chuán  皓镧传
Genre: Costume Drama, War, Romance, Historical Fiction
Directed by: Li Dachao (李达超)
Episodes: 62, January 2019, iQiyi

The historical drama The Legend of Hao Lan, starring Wu Jinyan (吴谨言), Mao Zijin (茅子俊), and Nie Yuan (聂远), chronicles the rise of Li Hao Lan to become the Empress Dowager of the Qin dynasty, after a long drawn battle between Zhao and Qin, towards the end of the Warring States period (475–221 BC).

The series is currently ranked third most popular series on 360kan and fourth most popular on iQiyi. Viewers of the latter evaluate the series with an average of 7.0.

Its popularity shows that historical drama is still very much booming in China’s drama industry. Recently, state media critique on period costume dramas that focus on conflicts in the imperial court became a hot topic on Chinese social media. The criticism singled out Yanxi Palace in particular, a show that was then canceled on TV for its “negative impacts,” signaling heightened censorship on Chinese costume dramas.

For now, however, The Legend of Hao Lan is going strong – and it stars the same main characters (Wu Jinyan and Nie Yuan). It depicts the story of the brave woman Li Hao Lan, daughter of Imperial censor Li He of Zhao state, who gets framed by her stepmother and is sold as a slave to Lu Buwei. Lu later presents her as a gift to Sun Yiren, a Qin royal that resides in Zhao as a hostage. As Li and Lu arrive in the royal Zhao palace, they unite and start their battle for power.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 40.000 followers.

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

 

#6 Candle in the Tomb: The Wrath of Time 鬼吹灯之怒晴湘西

China Mainland

Chinese title: Guǐ chuīdēng zhī nù qíng xiāngxī (鬼吹灯之怒晴湘西)
Genre: Adventure, Suspense
Directed by: Fei Zhengxiang (费振翔), supervised by Guan Hu (管虎)
Episodes: 21, January 2019, Tencent Video

The Wrath of Time is the third season in the fictional Candle in the Tomb series, an adaption from the novels by Zhang Muye. The series chronicles the adventures of a gang of tomb raiders as they excavate the truth behind a mysterious curse. Previous seasons were Candle in the Tomb: Mu Ye Gui Shi (鬼吹灯之牧野诡事) and Candle in the Tomb: The Weasel Grave (鬼吹灯之黄皮子坟). Despite this series being the third season, it’s not really necessary to see the first series to understand the third season.

The series, starring Pan Yueming (潘粤明), Gao Weiguang (高伟光), and Xin Yulei, currently ranks third most popular drama series on Tencent Video scoring a 9.3, and fourth most popular serie on 360kan.

This third season of the Candle in the Tomb series is set in a time when the warlords are fighting for power and bring disaster upon the people. With the purpose of finding the ancient tombs from the Yuan dynasty, tomb raider Chen Yulou and warlord Luo Laowai embark on a journey to the Xiangxi Mountains. On their way, they meet Zhe Gushao, who is set on finding a pearl that will end the spell upon his clan. Despite the mutual suspicion of each other’s motives, Chen and Zhe rely on each other to get to their destination.

The third season does not have an official account on Weibo, however that the series is quite popular can be seen from the hashtag “Candle in the Tomb: The Wrath of Time” (#鬼吹灯之怒晴湘西#) which already got over 690 million views, and received more than 2.3 million comments on Weibo.

See the complete series including English and Chinese subtitles here.

 

#5 Behind the Scenes 幕后之王

China Mainland

Chinese title: Mùhòu zhī wáng (Mùhòu zhī wáng)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed by: Li Jun (李骏)
Episodes: 42, January 2019, Youku TV, Dragon TV, Beijing TV

Behind the Scenes, starring Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨) and Luo Jin (罗晋), is currently ranking second place on Weibo’s top ten most popular TV dramas, and third on Youku’s top 10 TV drama series.

The series revolves around ambitious student Bu Xiaogu and the famous producer Chun Yuqiao. Bu is thrilled when she is given the opportunity to work with the man she greatly admires. But she quickly discovers that he is nothing like she imagined. With her hopes and dreams shattered, Bu gets involved in an accident. Chun unexpectedly takes on the sole responsibility for the accident, setting off a special relationship between the two.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 80.000 followers

See the complete series including Chinese subtitles here.

 

#4 Spy Hunter 天衣无缝

China Mainland

Chinese title: Tiānyīwúfèng (天衣无缝)
Genre: Action, Detective
Directed by: Li Lu (李路)
Episodes: 48, January 2019, Zhejiang TV, Jiangsu TV, Tencent Video, Youku, iQiyi, Mango TV

Spy Hunter, starring Lu Yi (陆毅) as one of the main characters, currently ranks second most popular drama series on both 360kan and iQiyi.

This fictional story takes place in the spring of 1931 when the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is establishing logistic bases in several big cities. Two Special service teams try to establish a new secret underground route and depot. But one day, their secret base in Tianjin is exposed, and the life of agent Wan is sacrificed. In the name of justice, Wan’s brother goes looking for the truth behind his brother’s death.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has approximately 50.000 followers.

See the complete series including English and Chinese subtitles here.

 

#3 I Will Never Let You Go 小女花不弃

China Mainland

Chinese title: Xiǎonǚ huā bu qì (小女花不弃)
Genre: Costume Drama, Fantasy, Adventure
Directed by: Cha Chuanyi (查传谊)
Episodes: 51, January 2019, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, PPTV

I’ll Never Let You Go is an adaptation of the like-named novel by Zhuang Zhuang (桩桩). The series stars many famous actors including Ariel Lin (林依晨), Lin Bohong (林柏宏), and Zhang Binbin aka Vin (张彬彬).

On Tencent Video the series currently occupies second place in their most popular drama series hotlist, scoring an average of 8.2. And also on Weibo, Youku, and 360kan, the series holds a position in the top five.

I’ll Never Let You Go is a coming-of-age story revolving around a young with a unique gift, who wanders the world alone after her entire family was killed to protect the girl’s special gift. One day, the girl meets a courageous masked man who saves her life, after which they fall in love. But everything turned around when the girl discovers who the man she loves really is.

On Weibo, the verified Weibo page of the series has over 4.6 million followers, making it the most popular series on Weibo of this list.

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

 

#2 Anti-Japanese 荡寇


China Mainland

Chinese title: Dàng kòu 荡寇
Genre: Drama, War, History
Directed by: Jiao Xiaoyu (焦晓雨)
Episodes: 60, November 2016, Guizhou TV, iQiyi, Sohu TV, PP TV, Youku

This TV drama, that has the remarkable English title ‘Anti-Japanese‘ (the original Chinese title roughly translates as ‘sweeping away the enemy’) was first aired by Hunan TV in November of 2016. Since then, it was broadcasted by at least eight different television stations and platforms.

The most recent rebroadcast started on January 19, 2019, and the numbers show that people still can’t get enough of the drama. On iQiyi, the series currently ranks first place, and on Sohu and LeTV the series ranks second and fourth place respectively.

The TV drama is set at the start of the War of Resistance again Japan (1937-1945). When an intelligence team of the Communist Party finds out about a box with classified information regarding the development chemical and biological weapons that is sent out by the Japanese army, Yang Erhu is sent to stop their evil plans and to protect his country.

See the complete series including Chinese subtitles here.

 

#1 The Story Of Minglan 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦


China Mainland

Chinese title: Zhī fǒu zhī fǒu yīng shì lǜféi hóng shòu (知否知否应是绿肥红瘦)
Genre: Historical fiction, Family, Politics
Directed by: Zhang Kaizhou (张开宙)
Episodes: 73, December 2018, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, Youtube, Hunan TV

The fictional Story of Minglan, starring Zhao Liying (赵丽颖) and William Feng (冯绍峰) as main characters, is an adapted screenplay a novel by Chinese author Zheng Yi (郑怡) aka Guanxin Zeluan (关心则乱).

The series currently dominates the drama top charts, occupying the first place on Tencent Video, Youku, Baidu, Weibo, Sogou Video and 360kan.

The story of Minglan tells the coming of age story of an intelligent concubine daughter that has to grow up dealing with her unkind stepmother, an indifferent father, and unreasonable sisters.

Minglan learns to hide her skills and true intentions in order to survive until she meets Gu Tingyu, and the two fall in love. After Gu becomes a powerful official, and the two get married, Minglan rises to prominence.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has nearly 1.7 million followers.

See the complete series including Engish and Chinese subtitles here.

By Gabi Verberg

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

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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Pieter

    May 30, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Typo: Chinese title: Wǒmen de sìshí nián 我们的西十年

  2. Avatar

    kc

    September 21, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    great list thanks

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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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