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August 26, 2017

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Chinese TV dramas appealing to an international audience

IT’S not unusual for a popular Chinese TV series to be distributed overseas, but not many of them are hailed by foreign viewers.

But things have changed dramatically with the recent international broadcasting of the Chinese costume spy drama “Princess Agents” on YouTube.

Since it aired this summer with English subtitles, the TV series has been viewed more than 230 million times on the website.

Many foreign fans stay up late waiting for new episodes, which are about six hours after the release of the original Chinese version on Hunan Satellite TV and Chinese video-sharing websites.

So far, the series has received more than 30,000 online comments and reviews from foreign audiences.

About 500,000 foreign netizens have shared the videos on social media. Overseas viewers are mainly aged 18-44. Most are from the United States, Australia, Canada and Europe.

“Princess Agents” is one of the hottest Chinese TV productions shown in Western countries. Its huge popularity has surpassed that of “Empresses in the Palace,” which was condensed into a six-episode miniseries for Netflix in 2015.

The series’ IMDb rating has reached 8.4 out of 10. Its leading actress, Zhao Liying, has been crowned as “the best Chinese actress of this generation” by many foreign viewers.

Based on a hit online novel, the spy drama is set in a time of chaos during the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534).

It is an inspiring and touching story of a female slave, Chu Qiao, who grows into a brave general and military strategist.

Formerly, Chinese costume dramas are usually about intense political and royal family intrigue. Women in such dramas spare no effort to win the heart of the emperor.

But “Princess Agents” depicts an independent, courageous and strong young woman who pursues freedom, equality and true love.

Rao Shuguang, director of the China Film Critics Association, attributes the series’ overseas success to its spectacular martial arts and war scenes, as well as a story of universal appeal.

In his eyes, its in-depth portrayal of humanity and emphasis on freedom and equality have crossed cultural boundaries to appeal to Western viewers.

The series is produced by Ciwen Media, whose credits include fantasy series “The Journey of Flower” and tomb-raiding thriller “The Mystic Nine.”

Producers say the overseas distribution revenue of the series has already tripled that of “The Journey of Flower.”

Proper English translation of the subtitles is considered another reason for the series’ huge success in the West.

Many ancient Chinese adages and proverbs were translated into understandable English.

For example, “Moushi zai ren, chengshi zai tian,” a famous Chinese proverb from the 14th-century literary classic “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” by Luo Guanzhong, was translated into “Man proposes, God disposes.”

Some Chinese college students volunteered to do subtitles of varied languages for foreign viewers. The heat of the series also motivates many foreign youngsters to learn Chinese language and kung fu.

Netizen “Nerissa Gonzales” said on the YouTube: “I’m addicted on this drama. I am always watching raw and watching again if the English subtitle is good.”

Netizen “Save Kashmir save world” said: “From Pakistan I am watching a clip about this drama on Facebook. Then I search it on YouTube in three days. Now I am watching all episodes!”

The popularity of the series is also promoting Chinese culture abroad.

Zhao Bin, vice president of Ciwen Media, says it is very rare for a Chinese story to be so well received by young viewers in the West, especially in North America.

The company’s next production will be “Speed,” a youth drama about a talented young Chinese car racer. The company is also considering a second season for “Princess Agents.”

According to Askci Corporation’s industry report on China’s TV series market prospects, about 400 Chinese TV dramas have been distributed overseas as of the end of 2016.

The past few years have also seen a steady increase in the number of TV dramas exported to North America and Europe from Asia.

Overseas copyright revenue of Chinese TV dramas has reached over 400 million yuan (US$60 million).

Many hit series this year have been distributed to foreign viewers.

“In the Name of People,” a series on anti-corruption, was hailed by audiences in Southeast Asia, where there is a large ethnic Chinese population. Some viewers called it the Chinese version of “House of Cards.”

Foreign fans of the fantasy dramas “Ten Great III of Peach Blossom” and “Fighter of the Destiny” also volunteered to cooperate with veteran translating teams.

Exported Chinese series now cover a wider range of genres, including fantasy, urban romance, historical drama and martial arts. But compared with the high revenues from the Chinese market, overseas copyright sales are still low.

In China, usually several million yuan has to be spent per episode to purchase a hit series, but insiders say that overseas sales often amount to just several hundred thousand yuan an episode.

Many costume dramas have failed to attract Western viewers for their lengthiness, complicated plots and cultural differences.

Global cooperation is expected in scriptwriting, post-production and international copyright sales.

Professor Wu Gang, a TV expert from East China Normal University, notes that compared with American and British TV series, Chinese productions still need to improve artistry and imagination.


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