Mainland drama Ode to Joy captures the hearts of overseas viewers

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-5-23 20:08:01

A growing number of Westerners are starting to watch modern Chinese TV shows to learn more about China.  Photo: IC

It may be hard to believe in the age of binge-worthy shows like Breaking Bad or House of Cards, but 34-year-old American Amanda Kynn said she has never been as obsessed with any TV show as she has for the last month with Chinese drama Ode to Joy.

"The show is excellent and does teach me some valuable lessons in life by telling an anti-fairy tale that pulls us into reality," said Kynn, who first discovered the show on YouTube, and has been hooked ever since.

"The real world sucks because our pretty fantasies are often brutally killed by everyday trifles of family, money and pride," she told Metropolitan. 

Ode to Joy, a 42-episode TV drama which centers around five young professional women who live in three apartments across from one another in Shanghai, has already been hailed as China's answer to Big Bang Theory or Friends.

By May 10, when the last episode was broadcast, the show's total number of views on YouTube had surpassed 50 million, making it the most popular Chinese show on the site, even hotter than Nirvana in Fire, which was previously the hottest Chinese show on YouTube, with over 20 million views.

According to a report on May 19 by Guangdian Dujia, the public WeChat account of the China Radio Film and TV magazine, new Chinese TV shows have been gaining increasing popularity worldwide, especially among young Internet users.

In addition to their entertainment value, the shows also offer a peek into Chinese modern life while opening up discussions about culture and social stratification.

Screen shots of Ode to Joy and Nirvana in Fire Photos: IC, CFP

Modern Chinese shows gain momentum

While Chinese TV has long been dominated by historical shows like The Legend of Miyue, which give both Chinese and foreigners the chance to learn about ancient China, shows about modern life in the Middle Kingdom are beginning to gain traction among Western viewers.

According to a January report by, the website of Guangming Daily, Cecile Synitch, a woman in her 20s living in Paris, is among them. In recent years, Synitch has become a loyal viewer of many Chinese shows - so many, in fact, that she estimates she's now watched more of them than South Korean shows.

Among her favorites is Love Me if You Dare, a modern detective show from China, which kept her in such suspense that at one point she even became anxious and depressed because she was so eager to see the new episodes.

Ode to Joy is the first modern Chinese show Kynn has ever watched. "Before, I was only interested in palace and historical shows like The Legend of Zhenhuan," she said.

"But this one [Ode to Joy] is really good and attractive."

One reason for this level of devotion to modern Chinese dramas, said Li Huabing, the circulation director of Daylight Entertainment, which co-produces Ode to Joy, in the Guangdian Dujia report, is the shows' depictions of day-to-day life, which is similar to that offered by shows like Friends and Sex and the City.

"The average views for each episode of Ode to Joy on YouTube are over 820,000 and 2,000 new comments are added each day," said Li.

"People see themselves in the show, especially professional women, and it's similar in China and the West."

These shows also have South Korea to thank for their popularity, as the country's world-famous dramas have served as a springboard for similarly styled Chinese newcomers, while their fans provide a ready-made market.

Additionally, many Chinese stars who developed their careers in South Korea are now returning to China, like Kris Wu, Lu Han, Huang Zitao and Victoria Song, which is also attracting the attention of South Korean TV show fans, the Guangdian Dujia report said.

According to Chang Jiang in the report by, a professor of journalism at Renmin University of China, South Korean pop culture enjoys a relatively high level of popularity in the wider realm of Asian pop culture, and boasts a substantial Western following.

Chang added that the Chinese shows that gain popularity overseas often have similar stereotypes as those used in Western shows, which helps Western viewers become engaged more quickly.

"However the root reason is China's fast developing economy and civilization," Chang said. "The popularity of modern Chinese shows reflects the increasing desire of other countries to cooperate and communicate with China, and they want to know more about Chinese people's daily lives."

Ji Erwei, a professional film producer and the CEO of Reach Glory, an entertainment marketing company, agrees with Chang. He has been living in the US for decades and in that time has witnessed the growing popularity of Chinese shows there.

"In the beginning, people could only watch Chinese TV shows by renting videotapes and DVDs in Chinatown, and afterward, a limited number were available online, which mostly didn't reach Westerners," said Ji in the report by

"However many Americans are starting to search for Chinese TV shows on sites like YouTube and (an American video streaming website that features shows, films and music videos from around the world), and they want to know more about China, which is a substantial change."


Many foreigners enjoy watching modern Chinese shows because they offer a peek into Chinese people's daily lives. Photo: IC

Getting a grasp on foreign preferences

Even some shows that have received only a lukewarm response in China have gotten a warm welcome overseas.

For example, The Lost Tomb, the Internet drama adapted from Nanpai Sanshu's tomb-raiding novel, received an average rating of just 3.6 points out of 10 on, a Chinese book, music and film review website, and more than 58 percent of viewers gave it only one point, the lowest possible rating. Chinese viewers cited the "shabby stage setting and the awful characters as well as the lame adaptation of the novel" as their reasons for disliking the show.

On, by contrast, The Lost Tomb received an average rating of 9.2 from enthusiastic Western viewers. One female viewer named "michellemasamoto" commented on "I've seen this drama and I have to say, this is a must watch. Beware some parts will give you nightmares! Overall the action and the intensifying moments is the best."

She isn't the only devotee - the Facebook page for The Lost Tomb features over 1,000 likes from viewers in one day, as well as pictures and gifs of the show posted by fans.

Many Chinese shows are also uploaded on YouTube, however as few have been officially authorized, most are illegal.

That's starting to change, though. Since 2012, some TV and film producers in China have been working to find legal ways of posting their work on YouTube, as they have started to realize that it offers a huge potential market.

"Putting our shows on YouTube and is a test and a kind of research to help us learn more about the aesthetic preferences of overseas audiences when it comes to shows," said Li in the Guangdian Dujia report.

He added that the viewer responses in the comment sections of these websites offer insight into the preferences of Western audiences when it comes to plot, action and pacing.

They've discovered, for example, that Western audiences dislike long, slow plots, and that overly complicated elements, or ones that are difficult to translate, can affect their interest. 

Producers can use this knowledge to make changes that will help shows succeed in the Western market, Li said.

For example, Nirvana in Fire will be edited from its original 54 episodes to a 13-episode version for YouTube. The shortened version will cut overly complicated historical references and culture-related plot points, while other key scenes will be concentrated to cater to the tastes of Western viewers.

Ji agrees with Li, but also thinks that Chinese TV shows should continue to make progress in terms of production and promotion, adding that making them more international with universal elements is the key to finding success in overseas markets.

Kynn said she would recommend Ode to Joy to her friends, saying it is like the Chinese version Gossip Girl.

"It helped me understand what social pressures are like in China, and how people are coping with it. It also teaches a few life lessons as well, which are applicable anywhere," she said.

"I can not wait to see more modern Chinese TV shows in the future."

Global Times - Agencies

Newspaper headline: Modern China on the tube

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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