Documentary TV series shows smart, cool side of modern China
Tales of happiness
Published: Oct 13, 2022 08:10 PM
Promotional material for Tales of Happiness in China Photo: Courtesy of Youku

Promotional material for Tales of Happiness in China Photo: Courtesy of Youku

Jia Sixie, author of China's first agricultural encycolopedia, could have never imagined that 1,500 years after the Northern Wei (386-534) people would no longer need to head to the fields to farm by hand. Instead, today unmanned drones and various machines are being widely used for all kinds of farm work. 

This is the focus of the first episode of the new documentary TV series Tales of Happiness in China, which debuted on Chinese streaming giant Youku on Wednesday, as it depicts what modern agriculture looks like in China today. 

"The past decade has witnessed rapid development in every industry in the country, bringing everyone a sense of happiness," Zhang Wei, the series' producer and content director for Youku, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"Such a great era was built by millions of us through hard work. No matter which field are you in, agriculture, industry, high technology… we harvest a sense of happiness while bringing it to people around us. That's what this series hopes to express, while allowing more overseas audiences to learn what modern China looks like," Zhang added.

Brains and heart 

Starting in the agricultural industry, the 20-episode series not only includes well-known people in industries like sports and culture, but also focuses on ordinary people who are devoting their life to works that help common people. Xu Dan is one of these ordinary citizens who has made contributions that aided the great achievements of the country over the past decade. 

After graduating from  Netherlands' Wageningen University, the agricultural entrepreneur introduced  smart agriculture to China, a revolutionary trend that relies on AI and automation for large-scale production. 

"I was so excited to see our down-to-earth work and research during the opening episode," recalled Xu. "We really hope that this series can help people get to know our new agriculture as well as show how cool it is, and how young our people are." Xu and his team, who are moving from lab-based research to application, have not only increased agriculture yields, but also brought a greater sense of happiness. 

"Seeing their parents, families and friends learn about what they have been working on is something remarkable that means a lot to these young people. The series will also inspire more young people to enter this cool industry. It  can really change the world."

Since agriculture plays such a fundamental role in people's lives, producer and director Wang Siqi put a lot of efforts into depicting the people who have been safeguarding the dining tables of the 1.4 billion people in China. 

Zhou Dehua, who has more than 25 years of farming experience, has witnessed the hardships that come with traditional farming. So seeing how advanced technology and machines such as drones can help with potentially dangerous work like spraying pesticides has been eye-opening for him. "'Happy' is the word that he said the most to me," recalled Wang. 

"It came from his heart after transitioning from the hardship of manual labor to hands-free automated machine work."

Creative model 

In order to attract more young viewers, a new mode combining art and technology has been introduced in the show that features dialogues between great ancient figures and modern people through new high-tech means like AI and XR (extended reality). A number of China's veteran actors like Wu Gang, Yao Anlian and Wang Luoyong have played these ancient greats, including Zhang Qian, a Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) diplomat who traveled to the Central Asia and bridged the East and West; Zhuge Liang, a Chinese statesman and military strategist from the Three Kingdom period (220-280); and Chinese philosopher Confucius.  

With their acting on these immersive stages, these ancient household stories known to all help support the show's exploration of the changes that modern people have experienced. Chinese Hong Kong actor Francis NG plays the part of Xie Chensheng, who devoted his entire life to the cultural relic preservation. 

Stories of young people 

The past decade has seen so many outstanding people such as Chinese snowboarder Su Yiming, who stunned the world by bagging gold at the Beijing Winter Olympics, and Zhao Lina, the on-the-ball goalkeeper who played a pivotal part in the China Women Football Team's Asian Cup win in February.

The following episodes will involve more stories about young people like one young Tibetan man who took part in the construction of the railway connecting Lhasa and Nyingchi in the Xizang Autonomous Region, a young French man who traveled to China along the path of the ancient Silk Road and an online celebrity from Thailand, who ran a startup company in China for years and is now introducing her experience back to her home country.

"Each theme is a horizontal part of our society and each story is a small pixel in the picture of our social development. These themes and stories support the progress and achievements that Chinese society has made over the past decade," added Zhang.  

"After watching the series, we can see that the pursuit of happiness is something that we have been engaged in for thousands of years," commented Zhou Kui, a scholar from the Communication University of China.