Rise to fame
Jiangmen: anti-corruption TV drama makes small city a star
Published: Mar 29, 2023 09:21 PM

Fans with famous lines of <em>The Knockout</em> displayed at vendor shops in Changdi district, Jiangmen

Tourists check in a shop in Jiangmen's Changdi historical area, where the popular TV drama The Knockout was shot. Photo: Zhao Yusha/GT

Jiangmen, once an obscure small city in South China's Guangdong Province, shot to fame after audiences learned that it was the shooting location of a hit anti-corruption TV drama. Over the past two months, the city's tourism revenue has doubled compared to same period in 2022, and tourism bookings for the upcoming May Day holiday have grown nearly fivefold from the 2022 holiday.

"I've never seen so many tourists in Jiangmen in my entire life," a 43-year-old taxi driver surnamed Li, who was born and raised in the city, told the Global Times. He said that the former nearly abandoned ancient streets in the old city are now swarming with tourists who have come from all over the country to check out the place where the popular TV drama, The Knockout, or Kuangbiao in Chinese, was shot.

The Knockout has dominated screens since its debut in January. It tells the story about a local police officer's arduous 20-year journey to combat the criminal underworld of gangsters and the corrupt officials who serve as the gangs' "protective umbrella." 

The show has won wide applause, and it stands out from most shows in the genre because it addresses the underlying issue that leads characters to different destinies. For example, it delves into a gang ringleader's background as a cash-strapped fisherman who gets into shady business dealings after struggling to support his family. 

The city received 3.34 million tourists in January and February and earned tourism revenue of 3.44 billion yuan ($500 million) during the past two months, a year-on-year increase of 67.89 percent and 124.32 percent respectively, according to statistics published by the Jiangmen government. 

Ancient but lively 

Part of the drama was filmed in Jiangmen's Changdi historical cultural area, which has ancient streets lined with arcade buildings, or qilou, and traditional diaolou, multi-story watchtowers, that blend Chinese and Western styles.

"They shot just outside of our shop, right here," Ma Yuan, a vendor in Changdi, said as she pointed out a crossroads in front of her shop to a group of tourists. 

"We watched them film every day. I never thought it would become such a hit," Ma told the Global Times.

A lack of confidence in the TV drama has not stopped Ma from seizing the business opportunity it has now created. Her shop used to trade small wholesale items, but now she has transformed it into a souvenir shop dedicated to The Knockout. Hand fans with classic lines from the TV show decorate her shop's entrance; posters for the show sit neatly on a counter inside the shop. 

Ma's husband, surnamed Wang, was busying writing lines on a hand fan with a writing brush. 

"In the best scenario, we can sell 100 fans. More people come during the weekend," Wang said, without even lifting his head. 

"It is not easy to write with a brush and you have to wait until the ink is dry [to sell the fan]. But everyone loves the originality of hand writing, plus our shop is where the drama was shot, which makes it memorable," said Wang.

Jiangmen is famous for its dried tangerines. Li, an owner of a dried tangerine shop in the Changdi area, said that he has sold more dried tangerines in the past two months than he had in the previous three years. 

"We are grateful for the TV drama, it has brought Jiangmen fame and opportunities for us," Li said.

Fans with famous lines of <em>The Knockout</em> displayed at vendor shops in Changdi district, Jiangmen

Fans with famous lines of The Knockout displayed at vendor shops in Changdi district, Jiangmen. Photo: Zhao Yusha/GT

Exploring deeper 

"The retro feeling of the city appealed to me as I watched this show. Now that I've come here, I find that it not only has historical buildings, but is also a lively city," a tourist from Jiangxi Province in East China told the Global Times. 

Jiangmen is more than just a shooting locale for The Knockout. It has traditionally been home to millions of returning overseas Chinese and has a large number of old streets filled with ancient Chinese and Western-style buildings. For example, after Jiangmen became a trading port city in 1902, the Changdi historical cultural area had developed into a major business and trade center in the Pearl River Delta region. The city also boasts Birds' Paradise, a 10,000-square-meter island covered by banyan trees that are more than 400 years old.

Jiangmen's popularity coincides with the tourism boost many places in China have seen after the country optimized its management of COVID-19. At this juncture, tourism departments nationwide are sparing no effort to attract tourists. From chief tourist heads cosplaying as historical figures to using short-video apps to advertise a city's specialties, cities are vying against each other to lure tourists and make up for the past three years of losses. 

Jiangmen's local government has also developed a special tour route that covers most of the shooting locales used for The Knockout. However, the show hasn't been a miracle cure for tourism as there is still work left to do. 

For instance, Chen Wenbo, owner of a hotel near the Changdi historical cultural area, told the Global Times that most tourists just come for one day. 

"They do not stay for the night so relevant industries such as hotels, restaurants and shopping have not benefited much."

Seeking to better capitalize on the popularity of The Knockout, the Jiangmen government has begun to draw up plans to convince tourists to stay longer. The local tourism department has begun advertising historical sites, special Cantonese food and ecological tours.

"The heat of The Knockout will eventually fade away. I think the next step for Jiangmen is to think of exploiting its own features to get tourists to stay longer and explore more of what the city has to offer," said Huang Jun, a local tour guide.