○ Known as the most daring anti-corruption TV series ever, In the Name of the People has distinguished itself with its relatively bold approach to sensitive political issues
○ Many people say that they gave up on the show when they first heard its name, but later decided to give it a chance after hearing others' recommendations
A poster for TV drama In the Name of the People. Photo: IC
An honest-looking middle-aged man, eating noodles in a rundown apartment, suddenly changes into a corrupt official paralyzed with fear after being discovered by anti-corruption investigators in front of a wall of cash he received as bribes.
This is one of many moments that have impressed viewers of the smash hit anti-corruption TV series In the Name of the People. Scenes showing the darkness bred by corruption have captured the imaginations of viewers, such as the murder of an anti-corruption investigator, collusion between officials and businessmen, and a violent demolition.
Known as the most daring anti-corruption TV series ever, the show had distinguished itself with its relatively bold approach to sensitive political issues which are usually touched on only superficially. Gathering fans of all ages, the series allows its audience a peep into not only the details of corruption and the psychology of corrupt officials, but also a fact-based look into China's political ecology in general.
"It showcases corruption and anti-corruption, but meanwhile, it warns members of the Communist Party of China and related departments," noted Yin Hong, professor at Tsinghua University's School of Journalism and Communication.
Footnote to reality
Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, the Party has made fighting corruption one of its top priorities. Since then, more than 100 officials at or above vice-ministerial rank have been punished for graft. In the last 10 years though, there have been no high-quality portrayals of this fight on the box.
But this is gradually changing. In October 2016, anti-graft documentary Always on the Road attracted nationwide attention by revealing the details of more than 40 corruption cases, including interviews with over 10 punished officials at the provincial level or above.
This January, another anti-corruption documentary, One Must Be Strong to Forge Iron, was broadcast to showcase the government's anti-graft achievements. But it was not until In the Name of the People, which would have previously been deemed too "daring" for broadcast, that people realized that a new wave of anti-corruption media had come to celebrate the Party's work.
"Since the Party's 18th national congress, the Party's anti-graft efforts have attracted worldwide attention. It was inexcusable that there was not a quality artistic work to reflect such a great thing in human history," Zhou Meisen, screenwriter of In the Name of the People, once told the People's Daily. He added that he had pitched the idea for the show for a long time but could not get it made due to people's timidity. "The resolution the Party shows in anti-corruption gives me hope again."
Initiated and sponsored by the TV and Film Production Center under the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP), China's top prosecutor, the series tells the story of SPP prosecutor Hou Liangping's investigation of the corrupt officials and political struggles of the fictional province of Handong.
It is clear to any viewers who regularly read the news that the show's plot lines are more or less ripped right from the headlines. As Zhou once told the media, he combined several national news stories to create one character in the show.
This faithfulness to reality is also demonstrated in its "daringness." While previous shows never went beyond telling the story of corrupt provincial-level officials, In the Name of the People is the first to portray a depraved national-level official. Besides, it reveals the dark side of China's political system and bureaucratic infighting, which is unprecedented.
Many quotations from the show, such as "In Chinese politics, the head has almost absolute power," and "In the past, the people didn't believe that the government could do wrong… Now they don't believe the government can do right," are cited by netizens and have circulated widely online.
This seeming sincerity had struck a chord with young netizens in China who used to ignore or even scorn TV series of this genre. Many netizens wrote on Sina Weibo that they "gave up on it [the show] when they heard its name," imagining it would be nothing but blatant propaganda, but later decided to give it a chance after hearing others' recommendations. "I never imagined before that I could be obsessed with such a show," a netizen named Luji posted.
Even though the punishments inflicted on corrupt senior officials regularly make headlines, people have had to rely on their imagination when it comes to the actual anti-corruption process and the details of corruption. So in the show more than 200 million yuan ($29 million) in cash appears suddenly and a corrupt official easily escapes arrest, audiences can do nothing but express their shock that such things go on.
"[I'm] so shocked after watching In the Name of the People. I did not know it is so hard to fight against corruption and build a clean government," netizen Yiren sighed on Sina Weibo.
According to Professor Yin, the corruption cases in the series are far less severe and complicated than those in real life.
"But the show systematically exhibits the process, and demonstrates to the audience why corruption happens. This was seldom touched on before and is very valuable," Yin told the Global Times, "It will make the anti-graft drive penetrate more deeply into people's minds."
An artful alert
Even as the show makes news, contemporary events show the truth of its plotlines. Two days ago it was announced that Xiang Junbo, Party secretary for the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, is suspected of having severely violated Party discipline and is under investigation. It was revealed on Wednesday that Yang Chongyong, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the Hebei Provincial People's Congress, is now being investigated for severe Party discipline violations.
Some media reports' headlines have read "How did [Xiang Junbo] turn from Hou Liangping (the honest SPP prosecutor in the show) to Gao Yuliang (a corrupt official in the show)?"
Against this harsh anti-corruption background, many see In the Name of the People as a warning to officials.
Noticing the educational message of the show, many netizens joked that watching the show should be made mandatory for officials and Party members and they should take notes to learn from it. A netizen using the name Suisuiqin won lots of likes online by posting pictures of her grandfather taking pages of notes while watching the series.
These light-hearted recommendations are not actually all that far-fetched.
On April 8, the Beijing branch of the China Construction Second Engineering Bureau told all its project leaders, business staff and financial officers to watch the series.
In Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu Province, a community Party branch has asked its members to watch In the Name of the People to learn how to stay clean.
"The show tells the audience that it remains a critical challenge to fight against corruption in China," said Yin. "Not all corrupt officials are bad guys originally. By showing why corruption happens and the complicated reasons for it, the series acts as a reminder and alert to officials and relevant departments."
"It is also educational for Party members, as to how to manage the Party better in the future," Yin added.
Echoes of reality
As Yin pointed out, In the Name of the People is so popular because it has provided people with a chance to discuss corruption and politics based on their own experiences.
More importantly, it reveals that everyone can relate to this topic because corruption has spread into many facets of Chinese society.
In one scene, the 10-year-old son of an anti-corruption official complained that "it is hard to get anything done without paying money." The boy said he had to pay extra money to kick a football in his own PE class, and the classmate in charge of supervising them accepts money to do favors.
A netizen named Seven Weichengnian exclaimed, "After watching the show, I often feel heartache. Look at what's happening around us, big or small, its all reflected in the series."
"Born in an ordinary family, I have to say that I admire such things [social privileges] … A classmate who got the same grade as me in the gaokao [college entrance exam] went to a top university using social connections, and I had to go to an unknown university inside my province," a netizen named Yijing revealed.
"After getting into college, I decided I would rely on myself instead of my parents and their relations. And I despised those who rely on connections. Now after graduation, I found that we are showing off our social connections even in our conversations and we are proud of it," posted netizen Yilia, "You could say we have become mature and realistic, but meanwhile we lost something precious."
According to Xia Xueluan, a professor of sociology at Peking University, when corruption moves from being a political concept to a feature of daily life, it shows that corruption has worked its ways into the "bones of society."
"It is hoped works like In the Name of the People could serve their role, and do its part in the fight against corruption and in cleansing the social environment," noted Xia.