What Can We Learn About China from Chinese TV?

It is important for us as citizens to learn as much as we can about today’s China, given that Our Betters seem intent on treating as an enemy the country that supplies us with so many essential manufactured goods we can no longer make for ourselves.

I checked out some of the lists of the most popular/highest recommended Chinese TV series. There are a lot of Chinese TV series! Surprisingly, most of them turn out to be romances of one type or another. At the risk of offending anyone, let me quote a person who worked in the US entertainment industry – “TV has become a female ghetto”. Certainly, most current productions from North America and Europe seem to be geared towards a female audience. Perhaps the same is true in China?

I watched the highest-rated show that did not appear to be a romance – the 2022 TV serial “Reset” (15 episodes, each about 45 minutes). It is a Groundhog Day type of fantasy about a 20-year old female college student and other passengers caught up in a time-loop on a bus that is destined to get destroyed one way or another, killing everyone on board. It seemed a little silly at the beginning, then rapidly developed into a compelling strong drama with unexpected twists. However, the need for a happy ending rather took the steam out of the drama in the final episode.

Much of my focus is on backgrounds rather than on the action itself. As would be expected, a TV program such as “Reset” shows much of the positive aspects of life in modern China – efficient clean public transit, gleaming new infrastructure, top rank emergency services and hospitals, a beautiful park, an internet hotel, the fun of Anime City, police driving in their shiny new Chevrolets. Yet it also shows some of the darker underbelly – the difficult lives of many Chinese people, poor housing, intrusive officialdom, the large police presence, the creepy extensive video monitoring. (Reportedly, China is second only to England in the number of monitoring cameras per head of population).

As a point of interest, the young actress (Jinmai Zhao) who plays the college student in “Reset” featured previously in the 2020 crime drama “Reborn”, in which she had what may turn out to be the best role of her career playing a vengeance-obsessed teenage girl intent on killing the police officer whom she blamed for the death of her gangster brother. I thought her outstanding performance in that drama was Oscar-worthy – but it seems the great Chinese audience was underwhelmed. Tellingly, that show did not have a happy ending.

What can we learn? That modern China is technologically advanced, far beyond the era of rickshaws and pigs wandering in the streets. That Chinese society, just like Western society, has its problems. That Chinese audiences, perhaps more so than Western audiences, like happy endings.