TV Drama in China

By Gong, Haomin | The China Journal, July 2009 | Go to article overview

TV Drama in China


Gong, Haomin, The China Journal


TV Drama in China, edited by Ying Zhu, Michael Keane and Ruoyun Bai. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008. xii + 276 pp. HK$395.00/US$49.50 (hardcover), HK$195.00/US$24.95 (paperback).

Despite the affinities between TV drama and film and the cross-fertilization between them in China, they attract different degrees of attention in the Englishspeaking academy. While scholarship in the field of Chinese cinema has achieved considerable prominence, studies of Chinese TV drama have remained rather scarce until recently. TV Drama in China, edited by three leading scholars in the area of Chinese TV studies - Ying Zhu, Michael Keane and Ruoyun Bai - is a timely contribution to this burgeoning field.

This collection takes TV drama in China as "a distinctive narrative form" (p. 2) that is distinguished from both film and Western TV drama by its "strong sense of seriality" (p. 4), among other things. This feature shapes its production, distribution and reception, and therefore its politics. The essays in this collection approach the popular medium of TV as a cultural forum in which social reality in contemporary China is articulated through ideological negotiation. These essays examine TV drama by situating it within the two frontiers that play a decisive role in transforming the ecology of the industry: state regulation and commercialization. Further, the interplay of globalization, regionalization and localization is also a main concern of the essays, as transnational/trans-border flow is becoming ever more extensive in TV drama industry.

The fourteen essays in this book are divided into four sections. Part I5 "Tradition, History, and Politics", focuses on TV dramas that "reflect ideology and continuity with the past" (p. 11). The opening chapter, "Yongzheng Dynasty and Totalitarian Nostalgia" by Ying Zhu, deserves special attention. Zhu reads the popularity of "Qing drama" against the political background of post- 1989 Tiananmen Square intellectual debates. She argues that revisionist Qing drama corresponds to the call for a strong government that is endorsed by the state and the intellectual camps of "neo-conservatism" and "New Left". It also resonates with the mass nostalgia for an uncorrupt society that is imaginatively warranted by a totalitarian state. Zhu's arguments are further expounded in her monograph, Television in Post-Reform China (2008).

Chapter 2, by Janice Xu, looks at family dramas within the trend of "cultural revivalism" (p. 34) and explores how this melodramatic subgenre negotiates traditional culture and contemporary values. Chapter 3 examines "clean official" dramas. Ruoyun Bai claims that this genre strategically sutures social ruptures and articulates the Party's hegemony by channeling the legal and institutional problem of official corruption into the "affective dimension" (p. 55) of the emotional and the moral. Chapter 4, by Li Zeng, studies the serial drama dealing with Chinese abroad and foreigners in China and focuses on the issue of local agency in the consumption of global images.

Part II, "Gender and Domestic Sphere", consists of three essays. Shuyu Kong's essay, "Family Matters", examines the family drama as a site where people make sense of social transformations. …

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