Taking a New Look at Classic Stories
   2006-11-28 09:26:56       China Daily

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The Lecture Room TV show was first aired in July 2001, with an academic lecture by Nobel laureate C. N. Yang followed by an army of famed Chinese scientists and economists.

However, the TV show suffered setbacks with its ratings during the first few years, even after it was transformed into an academic talk show between famous scholars.

The situation took a turn for the better when Nie Congcong, the predecessor of producer Wan Wei, tailored the programme to cater to contemporary Chinese interest in history and classic literature.

In 2003, Nie invited a group of Chinese writers and scholars, including Wang Meng, Zhou Ruchang, Cai Yijiang and Zhang Qingshan, to share with the audience their interpretations of the "Dreams of the Red Mansion" one of the top four classic Chinese literary works.

This gave the show the spark it needed.

It was Yan Chongnian, an expert of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) history from Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, who first put the Lecture Room in spotlight.

In 2004, Yan's lecture series about the mysterious tales of Qing Dynasty emperors won sweeping accolades from TV audiences across the nation.

His book about the same topic became bestseller when it hit bookstands.

Since then, the ratings of the Lecture Room have been rising. It has become a hit programme that strays from the usual formula for prime time shows.

However, the show aroused much controversy when it aired lectures by renowned writer Liu Xinwu in 2005, and Yi Zhongtian, a Chinese language professor at Xiamen University in East China's Fujian Province, earlier this year.

The duo's reinterpretations of Chinese historical figures and classic literature invited a flurry of criticism from academic circles.

Scholars said Chinese writer Liu Xinwu's reinterpretation of Dreams of the Red Mansion was "inaccurate and misleading." Some scholars criticized Chinese language professor Yi Zhongtian's modern reading of Romance of the Three Kingdoms for "defacing traditionally portrayed historical figures and interpreting historical logics in a gaudy, utilitarian fashion."

Despite piles of criticism, the now high-rating Lecture Room has catapulted several lecturers, including Yan, Liu and Yi, to stardom, while their books, which mostly focus on the contents of their TV lectures, have become bestsellers.

Early this year, Yi Zhongtian's book about the Three Kingdoms was released with a run 550,000 copies.

Because of her popularity among audiences, Yu Dan has been nicknamed by some as the "female equivalent of Yi Zhongtian."

When asked if she is confident about the market performance of her new book, Yu declined to make any prediction.

"I believe those who love to watch my TV lectures might want to get a print edition as a souvenir," she said.

Yu confirmed that she is going to give lectures again early next January, when she will present her personal interpretation of Zhuang Tzu another world-famous piece of Chinese classic literature and a great philosophical work.

Six episodes of her lecture series about Zhuang Tzu have already been recorded in CCTV-10's studio, and four more recording sessions are scheduled for December, Yu said.

A book about her interpretation of Zhuang Tzu might be published after the lectures are aired, if the book about Confucius' words of wisdom fares well in the market, Yu said.



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