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Images and Memories- The Story of Television
    2008-10-10 17:01:22     CRIENGLISH.com

Today we are going to take you back in time to review the story of Chinese television. The flickering images on the small screen will guide us through time and space and to remember the bygone days over the past 30 years.



Our story of television begins in 1980.

It was a time when Chinese people still had to buy daily necessities with ration coupons. Watches, bicycles and sewing machines constituted the three major luxury items in an ordinary Chinese family's home. At that time a TV set, which was much more expensive than those three other 'luxury' items, was out of reach for ordinary Chinese people. In the early 80s, on average, every 1500 people in the country owned a television.

"I am from Zhangshuo, Jiangxi Province in eastern China. When I was little, there was only one TV set in the whole village. The village was often out of electricity. When that happened, a fellow who owned a truck would generate power through the engine so we could still watch that one television."

"I come from Yexi County in Anhui Province in east China. I still remember the time I stayed up late to watch TV at my neighbour's. I was reluctant to leave even when they were prepared to go to bed."


'Man from Atlantis'- first American TV series to be shown in China [Photo Source: baidu.com]

In 1980, 'The Man from Atlantis' was the first American TV series to be shown in China. This was the adventures of a man with amphibious abilities. Known as Mark Harris, the man was believed to be a survivor from the lost civilization of Atlantis.
It was around this time that an emphasis on scientific research and economic development began to emerge.

Through the popularity of the "The Man From Atlantis" the character of Mark Harris, and his distinctive swimming style, soon took over people's imaginations. People's styles and the ability of television to influence these styles increased. People started to learn the most fashionable instrument of the time - electric piano and bell-bottomed trousers and sun-glasses became popular fashion accessories among young people.

"Every little girl adored Mark Harris at that time."

"I now enjoy watching the science channel, CCTV channel 10, every day. I think my interest in science and technology came from the TV series, 'The Man from Atlantis'."

Yin Hong, a renowned scholar in the field of film and television study discusses the influence of foreign TV productions in China.

"At the initial period of the Chinese television, the forms and techniques of the Chinese TV industry borrowed extensively from foreign productions. Through these works, western cultures and values were introduced into China. This directly boosted the opening up of the country."

In 1983, the spring festival gala debuted on China's 'Central Television' network and became an immediate hit. The Gala is a variety show that features singing, dancing and comedy skits. Since then, the festivity has become a regular part of Chinese New Year's Eve celebrations.

The gala also promoted numerous entertainers on TV. In 1984, Hong Kong singer Zhang Mingmin won the hearts of numerous fans with the song 'My Chinese Heart'. That year, the sense of connection with the Chinese culture reached a peak among the Chinese people.


'Legendary Fok', the first HK TV program to be shown on China's mainland [Photo Source: baidu.com]

Following the popularity of that song was Hong Kong TV series "Huo Yuanjia", or 'Legendary Fok'. "Legendary Fok" will always hold a special place as it was the very first HK TV program to be shown on China's mainland.

The program retold the story of Huo Yuanjia, also known as Fok Yuen Gap, one of China's great historic martial arts figures. Set in the tumultuous pre-Opium War period, China was called the "Sickman of the East" and was described as a giant lion sleeping. It was heroic figures like Fok Yuen Gap who played a key role in China's gradual awakening and sense of patriotism.

"I still remember the theme song of 'The Legendary Fok'. It is rather encouraging and inspirational."

"When 'The Legendary Fok' was aired, the hairstyle the lead actors wore in the play prevailed as well. I remember when I imitated this style and wore my hair long enough to reach my collar, my teacher was really critical of it."

"The play was an early martial art hit. People never before saw a civilian hero who could conquer the world using Chinese Kung fu before. In the last two decades before china adopted the opening and reform policy, all people ever saw on TV were soldiers with weapons in their hands. There was a need for a new type of civilian hero."

Experts say the 1980s saw TV transformed from merely a propaganda tool to a form of mass media and mass entertainment. From then on, Chinese TV series' with real social impacts came into being.

As we entered the 1990's, Chinese people became more practical after an ideological liberation that accompanied the economic reforms. A sense of nostalgia also began to emanate. The 50-part television series, called "Aspirations," or "Kewang ()" as known in Chinese, caused a sensation in the 90s. The dawn of a new soap opera era in China had arrived.


Poster of Aspirations [Photo Source: baidu.com]

'Aspirations' began early in the Cultural Revolution in the 1960's, and traced the hardships, joys and sorrows of two families over 20 years. The program raised delicate questions about Chinese attitudes toward intellectuals and women.

A pretty, soft-hearted woman, Liu Huifang was a saintly figure in the series. She was selfless enough to break up her marriage with her intellectual husband Wang Husheng for the sake of a young waif whom she takes in as her own child.

Zheng Xiaolong, the director of 'Aspirations' reveals some interesting side notes.

"'Aspirations' was the most watched television series in history. Statistics provided by the police show that the crime rate dropped when the play was aired. For that reason, a party was held by the 'Ministry of Public Security' to honor the production team."

Zhang Kaili, the actress who starred as the character Liu Huifang recalls the time

"Sun Song who starred as the husband, Wang Husheng, was very upset. He said I played a good woman and got everything. He played the bad guy and was always in trouble. For example, when he went shopping for meat, he wanted the lean cuts but the butcher would always give him the fatty meat. He couldn't find a girl friend until he met a girl who had never watched the series."

'Aspirations' contained the hopes of the Chinese people in difficult times and showed people's aspirations for love, friendship and a better life. In 1990, there were about 800 million television viewers in China. Television had replaced film to become the primary means of entertainment in the country.


Poster of A Native of Beijing in New York [Photo Source: baidu.com]

"If you love him, bring him to New York for it's heaven;
If you hate him, bring him to New York for it's hell."

This music is taken from the TV series 'A Native of Beijing in New York'. In the fall of 1993, Chinese television tapped into the tremendous appeal of the United States when it launched its largest TV production ever and took a record number of viewers with it to New York City.

The play recalls the story of a Beijing native who migrants to America. Chinese musician Wang Qiming came to New York with his wife to pursue a better life. Wang achieved success but at the cost of losing his wife to his biggest business rival, a man named 'David'.

This was the first Chinese TV production to deal with the subject of migration. The play reflected the cultural disparities between east and west. It also explored areas such as divorce, extra-marital affairs, the education of second generation migrants and generation gaps. It is as much a textbook for individual struggle as a TV series.

New York based Chinese artist Chen Danqing speaks of his feelings towards the show.

"I felt really special about it. The play told the story a cellist who turns his attention to the fashion industry. This is the life which my friends and relatives in New York know so well."

The TV series instigated a wave of studying in or migrating to the United Stated. In the 1990s, Intensive English training classes blossomed in every corner of every Chinese city. For younger generations in China, the American dream still stands for a brilliant life experience and the recognition of personal values.

Yu Minhong is the President of the 'New Oriental Education and Technology Group'. Yu's training school, which was founded on the obsession for English study, has since helped hundreds of thousands of Chinese students get into US universities.

"There were students aged 20 to 30 in my class, all of whom wanted to get into American schools. As long as they could get a scholarship, it didn't matter which university or what major studied. This was the actual situation in the 90's."

Since the late 1990s, due to the increased variety of TV series, there has never been any TV series that had such impact on the society.

In addition to the soap operas, many new Television shows also appeared to cater to different groups of audiences, such as talk shows, entertainment, sports and even talent shows. Meanwhile, with the launch of digital TV, people now have access to numerous specialty channels, including some on music, movies, cartoons, automobiles, and fashion.

Yin Hong, is a scholar in the field of television study.

"Television is the most powerful and immediate medium of communication, and it has reflected incredible changes in china over the past 30 years. It also influences changes in social trends, political reforms, family ethics and our understanding of western culture."

A retrospect of television in China is a journey back through recent history. It records the joys and sorrows of our lives, expands our future possibilities and contributes to the collective hopes of a nation.

By CRI reporter Xing Daiqi

 

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