What they’re watching in China

Historical drama fills gap left by SARFT cull

What they’re watching in China

Readers will recall that China’s TV regulator (SARFT) has ordered a primetime cull of racier (and popular) entertainment programmes (primarily dating and reality shows), which it deems detrimental to the nation’s moral fibre.

And it has got its way, reporting that the targeted shows on China’s 34 satellite channels dropped from 126 to 38 by year end.

SARFT’s preference is for cultural dramas, so the timing of the new ordinance couldn’t have worked out better for the producers of The Legend of Zhen Huan in the Harem. The historical drama is about court intrigue and has been broadcasting four episodes a night (on Beijing TV and Film Channel) since its launch in early December. Sina Entertainment says the 76-episode costume drama has been winning the ratings war, becoming the top drama on TV.

The series is based on a novel penned – remarkably enough – by a college student as an antidote to her studies. Wu Xuelan wrote it in 2006 and many say it recalls not only the Chinese classic The Dream of the Red Chamber (see WiC77) but also the writing of novelist Eileen Chang (author of Lust Caution, see issue 2).

Wu says she wrote the book because Chinese history is too often written about men. Her series seeks to dramatise female psychology instead – and the plot focuses on the concubines of the Qing imperial court.

Might SARFT have been outwitted here too? Sanlian Life Weekly reports that protagonist Zhen Huan becomes increasingly “calculating and ruthless” with each episode, as she eliminates her rivals “step by step”. Sounds a little like a reality show, perhaps? And even the focus on concubines has another spin: maybe it fills a little of the vacuum left by the demise of the dating shows?

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