More high-quality Chinese TV dramas see success around the world
Going overseas
Published: Dec 22, 2022 08:48 PM
A Lifelong Journey Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

A Lifelong Journey Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Editor's Note:

As we are about to bid farewell to the year 2022, a year where we lived through happiness and accomplishments although life was accompanied by a pandemic, the Global Times staff of life and culture will share our observations on the cultural life of the whole year to offer a platform to remember what the country has accomplished in the cultural sector and the cultural life that we, the ordinary people, have enjoyed, and to help everyone get ready to embrace the New Year with hope and strength.

A Chinese viewer sees an ad for A Lifelong Journey, a TV drama that shows the transformation of Chinese society over five decades from the viewpoint of a factory worker, on an online video platform and decides to give it a watch before going to sleep. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a foreign viewer interested in the same show watches it on Disney+, which purchased the exclusive rights for overseas distribution of the show a month after it was filmed.

In 2022, China's TV industry continued to launch a number of high-quality works that explore more diverse themes such as China's funeral industry, targeting not only domestic but also overseas audiences across broad demographics.

Many successful TV dramas with great reviews have been emerging from the country. 

Minning Town Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Minning Town Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Programs telling stories about patriotism, China's poverty relief efforts and social development have especially been gaining high marks on Chinese media review platform Douban.

Besides being recognized by domestic audiences, these works showing real Chinese stories have been broadcast in more than 200 countries and regions around the world, according to data from China's National Radio and Television Administration.

"China's unique experience in developing the economy and maintaining people's happiness displayed in these TV dramas have attracted audiences overseas, while the plots based on these real stories are important references for other regions," Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, told the Global Times, noting that TV series are one of the best channels to allow the world to understand China and see its stories.

A dream of Splendor Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

A dream of Splendor Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Better stories

In 2022, issues such as education, poverty relief and environmental protection are still the main focuses for Chinese TV producers and viewers. 

A 40-episode TV drama, Dashan de Nüer (lit: The Mountain's Daughter), is adapted from the real story of Huang Wenxiu, 30, who gave her life in the fight against poverty in Baini village, once one of the poorest places in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The work has a 9.3/10 on Douban and some fans of the show in Beijing and Wuhan told the Global Times that Huang's story made them see the greatness of an ordinary member of the Communist Party of China.

Another realistic TV drama, The Examination for Everyone, follows senior high school students throughout China as they attend the college entrance exams, or gaokao, during the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic in 2020. The show's scriptwriter Nie Chengshuai told the Global Times that one of his most important goals was to remain close to reality when writing the story.

In 2022, Chinese TV series producers continued to find inspiration in traditional culture, producing hit works such as A Dream of Splendor and Love between Fairy and Devil.

A Dream of Splendor, which has an 8.3/10 on Douban, focuses on how three women in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) unite together to compete against a group of men to see who can make the best tea. Show director Yang Yang told the Global Times that to find the most suitable setting for the series, the production team explored 10 ancient Chinese towns in order to effectively capture the details of making traditional tea. The production team also invited Zhang Zhifeng, a representative inheritor of tea making, to give lectures to the film crew during production.

Besides guarding splendid traditions and showing great examples of Chinese successes in the new era, Chinese TV producers in 2022 have also been using their creativity. The time-travel and whodunnit series Reset, about a time loop on a soon-to-explode bus, has led to much discussion on Chinese social media because of its creative themes and interesting plot.

Global growth

In November 2022, the National Radio and Television Administration published a report about the international distribution of Chinese TV dramas, saying that in 2021 the export of Chinese TV series had returned to pre-pandemic levels. The export value of TV series for 2021 was $56.83 million, an increase of 118 percent year on year. China exported 714 TV dramas during the year.

Southeast Asia is the core market for Chinese TV dramas, and Japanese and South Korean audiences prefer Chinese TV dramas' realistic themes. Japan is the market with the highest international unit price (per hour price) for Chinese TV series. In 2021, the export of Chinese TV dramas to Japan amounted to $8.81 million, the report said. Exports to Central Asia, Middle East and Africa have also been increasing over the past year.

A drama inspired by a real-life poverty alleviation project, Minning Town, began airing in Egypt in December 2022 with Arabic dubbing. The drama is expected to earn even more Arab audiences after it expands to Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan.

The Examination for everyone Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

The Examination for everyone Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Works about Chinese urban life such as Beautiful Life and Ode to Joy have also gained large amounts of followers in overseas markets.

Zhang said that it has been a long time since Chinese TV shows started being introduced to other countries and the themes of these shows have expanded from costume dramas to more diverse genres and that the introduction of TV dramas with themes such as poverty relief should be further encouraged.