Contemporary Chinese historical television drama as a cultural genre

Production, consumption and state power

Authored by: George Dawei Guo

Routledge Handbook of Chinese Media

Print publication date:  May  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415520775
eBook ISBN: 9781315758350
Adobe ISBN: 9781317635925


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In the mid-1990s a wave of dramatic serials featuring the legendary figures of China’s bygone dynasties began to dominate dramatic programming on Chinese prime time television. The trend reached its height in the late 1990s and the early 2000s with saturation programming of palace dramas set in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), the last Chinese feudal empire. These historical dramas are characterised as a significantly different look from those of the 1980s, being more diverse in theme and style and more concerned with mass entertainment. Most importantly, they have popularised a rewriting or representing of well-known historical events and figures driven by the commercialisation process of Chinese media. For example, the 44-episode serial Yongzheng Dynasty (Yongzheng wangchao, 1998), produced by Beijing Tongdao Cultural Development Company, used more than 100 characters in more than 600 scenes to narrate the political struggles in the Qing Dynasty from the period of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722) to Emperor Yongzheng (1723–35). It drew upon historical allegories and historical rewritings to explore the history and power relations of contemporary Chinese society. Since the early 2000s more dramas dealing with historical figures and events from a range of periods in ancient Chinese history have been produced and aired nationwide in China.

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