Wednesday, January 30, 2008

TV Dramas Shed Light on Ideal Values

one scene from Struggle: Lu Tao, middle, with his friends

Among hundreds of TV dramas aired across China in 2007, ten received the most reviews from blogs on, one of China’s largest blog sites, according to a
ranking released by Sina blog this month. It is interesting to see that many bloggers took the chance of reviewing these popular TV dramas to discuss values in the transitional society of today’s China.

These discussions indicate some Chinese people’s resentment of the money and material-driven values that are prevalent in today’s China. Meanwhile, they expressed their longing for some ideal and traditional values presented in the TV dramas.

At the top of the ranking is a show about a young man from the countryside, Xu Sanduo, and his experience as a soldier. Innocent, naive, clumsy, and lacking confidence, Xu Sanduo, regarded by viewers as the Chinese version of Forrest Gump, is persistent and always does things with his full heart. Eventually, beyond almost everyone’s expectations, he becomes a member of the elite special force of the army.

Netizens wrote about their love for the show and the character. One says that while too many TV dramas focus on the vileness and dirtiness of things like the money-power exchange, this one shows that “after all, there is such a clean aspect of human nature.” Some say the character is both realistic and idealistic, and that “we badly need people so simple as Xu Sanduo in reality.”

The second ranked drama is called “Struggle,” about the life right after college of a group of young people of the 1980s generation. The main character, Lu Tao, has two fathers. His biological father is a rich businessman who recently returned from Wall Street, and his stepfather, who raised him, is a government official who doesn’t have the money to buy his own house. Lu Tao worked hard and made his own fortune in real estate, but gave up the money to pursue his dream and true love. He also decided that his poor stepfather is the man he would like to call “father,” while his biological father has a lot of money but little love.

Many young people of the same generation love this show, praising it as portraying their real struggle for life, love and career. Still, they are very much into the idealism reflected in the drama, i.e. the classic theme of seeking true love over money.

One commentator says that after watching the drama, he realizes that “pursuing money is never as important as pursuing love, including love for family, lover and friends,” and that “if always listening to the rich father and looking at life with a businessman’s eyes, life will not have passion, but only profits.”

“We are in a society that is full of the taste of money and more and more people are being driven by money. Where is the direction? Don’t know. Where are our old ideals?” writes a blogger who claims to be a member of the 1980s generation and lays out a few thoughts drawn from the drama, among which is the statement that “money cannot control ideals.”

Another drama among the top ten is staged in a five-star hotel, involving business competition and family foes. In such a show, blogger
Jiang Xiaoyu sees “the universal values of the true, good and beautiful, which reflect Chinese people’s ultimate pursuit of civic character amid social transition.” The show features a group of honest, hard-working and simple people, who represent “the normal life that modern Chinese citizens dream about in this transitional period that loses key values and makes people feel insecure.”

Watching TV is a major form of entertainment for tens of millions of Chinese people and they love TV dramas, which sometimes satisfy viewers’ psychological need for an ideal world and maybe give them hope that living by ideal values could bring happiness and success. It is interesting to see how the Chinese public buys into such idealism, which, on the other hand, indicates people’s disappointment and dissatisfaction with reality. These blog discussions also reveal people’s awareness of the value change associated with China’s social transition, and that they are willing to uphold traditional, or main values like true love, honesty and hard work. At the same time, they also accept some new values represented by the younger generation, such as pursuit of personal dreams and fulfillment of one’s individuality.

See the post on China Digital Times