Saturday, July 1, 2017

In the Name of the People: a Chinese show on corruption

I've recently been watching China's new hit TV show, 人民的名义 (in the name of the people).
For those of you not in the know, the show focuses on corruption in Chinese politics. It is centred around a special squad of policemen trying to bust a ring of corrupt officials and businessmen in the fictional Chinese city of Handong.

As a Chinese TV show that is both popular and focuses on genuine social problems, 人民的名义 is probably a first. While it is no Prison Break the show is actually watchable, which for a Chinese TV show set in contemporary times is quite unusual. But what is more unusual is the sensitive issues that it portrays: it is certainly the first time I see a show in China that openly shows things like bands of thugs employed by developers pretending to be policemen while they go and demolish a factory and clear away the protesting factory workers.

For all that, the show is clearly an attempt by the government to spread its message on corruption and abuse of power in China: while they happen, the system is fundamentally good and working to rectify any problems and punish wrongdoers in the interest of the 老百姓, the common people. The government obviously considers it preferable to commission a TV show that talks about these problems openly in a way that it finds agreeable, rather than just not talk about them at all.

And while I do find the show watchable, mainly because it creates some real suspense, I find the star character, chief-inspect Hou Liangping, quite dislikable. He is supposed to be a role model, but comes across to me as arrogant, obnoxious and not really very credible. In fact, I find most of the policemen in the series to be quite unbelievable, probably because they are supposed to act as role models. On the other hand, I find some of the other characters much more believable and interesting, for instance Handong's Chief Party Secretary Li Dakang. I also can't help but take a liking for Chen Yanshi (who you can see pictured below), the idealistic retired official who really believes in "serving the people". I do believe that some such idealistic old party members actually still exist in China. I do have to doubt that in real life he would be allowed to take the lead in quelling a riot as he does in the show though, or that everyone would be so concerned with his opinion.

Anyway, if you are interested and know Chinese, you can watch the show on Youku with Chinese subtitles here.

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