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Mainstream Culture RefocusedTelevision Drama, Society, and the Production of Meaning in Reform-Era China$

Xueping Zhong

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780824834173

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824834173.001.0001

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In Whose Name?

In Whose Name?

“Anticorruption Dramas” and Their Ideological Implications

(p.73) Chapter Three In Whose Name?
Mainstream Culture Refocused

Xueping Zhong

University of Hawai'i Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the anticorruption televisual subgenre, which enjoys a much wider viewership than its counterpart, the anticorruption novel. Many of the anticorruption novels by such writers as Lu Tianming, Zhang Ping, and Zhou Meisen have been adapted into television drama. In some cases, such as that of Lu Tianming, what was originally conceived as a television drama script became a novel. This genre crossing in popular representations of corruption was partially driven by the market and partially attributable to the fact that popular culture’s representations of anticorruption themes essentially functioned as popular expressions of discontent. The chapter examines the “formulaic” narrative style of the anticorruption novel and its mass culture adaptations by, first, fully acknowledging its melodramatic characteristics and, then, examining the melodramatic codes and the politics (and their historicity) within. More specifically, it explores the extent to which televisual representations of corruption and anticorruption activities pertain to some frequently evoked notions such as fa (law), fazhi (rule by law), fazhi (rule of law), quanli (power), and quanli (rights), and various structural, ideological, and sociocultural issues related to them.

Keywords:   Chinese television dramas, anticorruption drama, anticorruption novel, corruption, rule of law, power, rights

Since Heavens Above (Cangtian zaishang) was aired in 1995, anticorruption drama has been one of the most popularly received television subgenres in China.1 Between 1995 and 2005, anticorruption drama became a mainstay in programming on television channels at all levels, thereby periodically making corruption a publicly aired social problem on television.2 Since corruption has plagued the reform era in China and is generally believed to have gone from bad to worse, especially since the early 1990s, the popularity of such dramas is easy to understand. Jeffrey Kinkley’s recent study of the anticorruption or, in his words, “political novel” in “late socialist China,” offers a timely exploration of what “corruption” means in contemporary China, especially with regard to popular political novels and their implications.3 He insightfully observes that “the novels’ formal realism is debatable, but they were arguably the works of their day that ‘spoke truth to power.’ They gave the Chinese people stories about where their social and political problems came from, and these narratives resonated with familiar takes from Chinese history and literature. As a sanctimonious charge, these novels also made the decadent lifestyle of the rich and infamous fascinating. Corruption itself and the power struggles it causes were enshrined as popular culture” (italics original).4 Kinkley points out that this kind of political novel helps broaden the idea of corruption, which “is more a matter of linguistic usage and freedom of expression catching up with very old ideas of corruption as general social decay,”5 and that “‘anti-corruption fiction’ and its mass media adaptations” as a genre have been “a Chinese way of addressing a variety of fundamental popular complaints and protest and riots organized to express them.”6

This chapter focuses on the anticorruption televisual subgenre, which enjoys a much wider viewership than its counterpart in the form of the novel. As Kinkley points out, many of the anticorruption novels by such writers as Lu (p.74) Tianming, Zhang Ping, and Zhou Meisen have been adapted into television drama. In some cases, such as that of Lu Tianming, what became a novel was originally conceived as a television drama script.7 Other works, such as those by Zhou Meisen, tended to be snatched up for adaptation right away, and the author assumed an active role in the adaptations.8 This speedy genre crossing in popular representations of corruption was partially driven by the market and partially, as Kinkley notes, attributable to the fact that popular culture’s representations of anticorruption themes essentially functioned as popular expressions of discontent. Indeed, it would take the state’s censorship—in the form of new regulations issued in 2004—for the much more widely viewed and influential anticorruption television drama to disappear from prime-time broadcasting (from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.).9 But the blatant official censorship is indicative of the power (and related problematics) of this televisual subgenre. To expand on Kinkley’s findings, this chapter takes up what he dismisses as the “formulaic” narrative style of the anticorruption novel and “its mass culture adaptations” by, first, fully acknowledging its melodramatic characteristics and, then, examining the melodramatic codes and the politics (and their historicity) within. More specifically, I explore the extent to which televisual representations of corruption and anticorruption activities pertain to some frequently evoked notions such as fa (law), fazhi (rule by law), fazhi (rule of law), quanli (power), and quanli (rights), and various structural, ideological, and sociocultural issues related to them. By focusing on the dramas’ “melodramatic politics” in relation to these issues, we may be able to shed more light on what is underneath the “formulaic” narrative style of the anticorruption drama.

(Re)contextualizing the Phenomenon

To be sure, as a mainstream cultural phenomenon, anticorruption dramas—which have been simultaneously encouraged and censored by governmental authorities—have functioned vicariously as a way for the public to vent its discontent toward the rampant existence of corruption. At the same time, this function is also complicated by a changed and changing mainstream ideology and unstable “meaning negotiations” within that ideology. The potentially subversive nature of anticorruption dramas can, in turn, explain the uncertain fate of this subgenre on television. Such uncertainty is symptomatic of the tensions in cultural production in China when real social issues are tackled and mediated by such a medium as television. Ironically, therefore, on the one hand, televisual representations of corruption and dramatized struggles against it help foster and reinforce a public perception that the “state” (guojia) or the government (zhengfu) is on the side of ordinary people in wanting to tackle (p.75) the problem. On the other hand, the constant censoring, especially the regulations issued in 2004 that resulted in the removal of anticorruption dramas from prime time and in drastic cuts in granting licenses (issued to production companies that intended to make anticorruption dramas), are indications of a discomfort on the part of the state authorities toward the presence of such dramas. Anticorruption dramas inevitably serve as a constant reminder of the darker side of society or, worse (to the ambivalent state authorities), a major venue for expressing social discontent and criticism disguised as entertainment.

Cynical critics may not feel particularly surprised to see the official “push-back” on this cultural phenomenon, because those critics tended to doubt the social and political effect of the phenomenon to begin with. This “cool” reception echoes Lu Xun’s critical assessment of “exposé literature” of the late nineteenth century. He pointed out that such “exposé” literature often lacked a real understanding of underlying social and structural problems.10 Exposing the dark side of society, in other words, does not in itself entail a clearer understanding of the underpinning structural issues. The difference between the exposé literature commented on by Lu Xun and contemporary anticorruption dramas, however, is that, while some of the dramas do suffer from a similar problem of mindless melodramatic dramatization of violence and criminal activities, others nevertheless try to connect the abuse of power and uncertain definitions of such notions as power, rights, and rule of law to the problems of the existing power structure, and to represent them in ways that are not welcomed by those in power. The periodic success of such dramas and their impact is precisely why the making of anticorruption drama in China has never been free from the watchful eye of the state. As melodramas that inevitably aim at maximizing their entertainment value, they nevertheless push the boundaries in negotiating with different existing cultural and ideological legacies. A meaningful study of this cultural phenomenon, to echo Kinkley, must recognize that governmental control and censoring of anticorruption dramas, the popular reception of such dramas, and the critical suspicion and dismissal of their significance on the grounds they lack real political challenge, all constitute part of the tension and contradictions in the production and reception of the anticorruption subgenre on television in China.

If anticorruption as a subject matter for storytelling is “socially correct”—in that it emerged in response to rampant corruption viewed as a negative byproduct of the economic reform—its popularity as a shared social reaction is by no means represented, criticized, and judged in a uniform and monolithic manner. Recognizing the contradictions within televisual representations of anticorruption themes, I am interested, to echo a point made in my introduction, in the coexisting but different discourses, the “polyphony” or dialogism (p.76) and their ideological implications, in different anticorruption dramas. In whose name is anticorruption activity carried out, and who is said to benefit? How is corruption defined and represented? How do we recognize and understand the ideological tensions and implications within different televisual representations of anticorruption themes? To what extent are these representations informed by and do they inform the rise of a normative understanding of “law” and “rights,” and a particular kind of legalist language? In what ways, if any, do such popular cultural texts echo contemporary intellectual debates in China regarding China’s path to modernization and quest for modernity and the tensions within such debates? With these questions, I hope to explore the extent to which different cultural, historical, and ideological ideas, traditions, and legacies are evoked and struggle and negotiate with one another in the anticorruption drama’s textual representations. It is also my intention to speculate on both the ideological possibilities and the limitations of the different discursive appropriations of notions of “law” (fa), “rule by/of law” (fazhi/fazhi), “power” (quanli), and “rights” (quanli) in relation to some of the dramas’ critical representations of the abuse of power (quanli). Finally, I am also interested in the extent to which the complexities within such a “mainstream” popular cultural phenomenon tell us about the relationship between culture and social transformation in contemporary China. But before addressing these questions in the context of a few specific anticorruption dramas, I will offer a brief description of the development of this televisual subgenre between 1995 and 2005.

As mentioned, Heavens Above was the first anticorruption drama seen on television in which relatively high-level corruption—the abuse of power for self-interest and personal gain—was dramatized. In addition to representing high-level corruption, the drama also set a critical tone as coded in the name of the drama, cangtian zai shang, or “heavens above.” As the drama’s scriptwriter Lu Tianmin recounts, it took quite some time before his script was approved and the drama was produced. This fact alone makes one realize that such a “mainstream” cultural phenomenon did not emerge without rejection and censorship and that behind-the-scene tensions would set the tone for the production and the representations contained within anticorruption dramas. To put the drama in context, as China’s “market reform” was pushed further into high gear after Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 tour of the south, what had become a major source of discontent among ordinary people in the late 1980s was becoming even more of a blatant social problem in the 1990s and a (potential) political liability to the Communist Party–led Chinese state.11 Officially waged campaigns against corruption—openly acknowledging and indignantly calling for a struggle against it—were an indication that corruption in officialdom was implicitly becoming part of the legitimacy issue facing the ruling party. At the (p.77) same time, “anticorruption” also appeared to be a socially correct banner that the ruling party could uphold without necessarily having to confront its underlying structural problems or reformulate its “marketist” (shichang zhuyi) ideology.12

The success of Heavens Above marked the rise of anticorruption drama as a new televisual subgenre and helped set the “tone” (as in “main melody,” or zhuxuanlü) to promote a morally correct way of being an official, signaling that the state was interested in combating the increasingly rampant spread of corruption by way of yu jiao yu le (teaching through entertainment). This institutional propagandistic instinct and orientation reached a new high when, a few years after Heavens Above was aired, the film Shengsi jueze (A life and death choice, 2000) was promoted by the governmental machinery in an all-out campaign through organized screenings, viewings, and discussions.13 What has happened since then, however—corruption has continued unabated—reveals the lackluster nature of officially organized propaganda campaigns, especially with regard to corruption. Indeed, the officially organized public promotion of the film (a kind of organized public campaign that by the time A Life and Death Choice was aired had become rather rare) indicated the presence of underlying worries about the linkage between the government’s legitimacy and the rampant (and out-of-control) nature of corruption at all governmental levels and to the ineffectiveness of previous officially promoted moral lessons. Along with melodramatized “moral” appeals such dramas also always end with (the threat of) punitive consequences. The reality of the last two decades, however, has demonstrated that neither appealing to moral conscience nor the threat of punishment has accomplished much in terms of stamping out corruption. Corruption has remained as rampant as ever, if not more widespread, as power and economic interests and opportunities have become increasingly intertwined with one another. The only change, ironically, may well be a growing sense of cynicism that has permeated the populace. Today, official calls for stopping corruption sound hollow and beget more cynicism.14

At the same time, anticorruption television dramas are not produced in a uniform fashion without potential for critical engagement.15 Some of the well-received ones have not only functioned to keep the issue of corruption in the public view, but also and more importantly, they have taken time to probe and raise questions about the various social and structural aspects of the problem. Regardless of official censorship, of increasing market-oriented pressure that affects ways in which anticorruption stories are told, and of scorn on the part of critics, there are always dramas whose “serious” nature indicates a desire and effort to penetrate the surface of corruption-related crimes and violence and to examine the inner workings of officialdom and, either consciously or (p.78) unconsciously, question the nature of its power structure, underlying logic, and its changed and changing value system.16

Two main types of anticorruption dramas have evolved, one, represented by dramas adapted from (or scripted by) writers like Zhou Meisen, Zhang Ping, Zhang Chenggong, and Lu Tianming who tend not to orient their stories around the crimes related to corruption, and another that tends to be more crime-related and constitutes the main body of the subgenre. Of the first type the most notable dramas are those adapted from Zhou Meisen’s novels or scripted by him.17 Zhou Meisen dramas, as I call them, do not focus on actual acts of corruption and deal instead with the inner workings of officialdom. Because of this focus, Zhou has reportedly objected to the fanfu (anticorruption) label put on his novels and dramas, identifying them instead as zhengzhi xiaoshuo (political novels) or zhengzhi ju (political dramas). I will return to this point when discussing one of his dramas, but suffice it to say that Zhou Meisen dramas have indeed been one of a kind on television, with the result that the writer himself has become one of the best-known writers in contemporary China.18

The second type of anticorruption drama is crime-oriented, but within it one can make a distinction between more violent and less violent examples. The former sometimes spill over into a related subgenre—cop dramas, or jingfei ju/pian—and have exhibited a tendency to become increasingly violent. As a result, many such dramas tend not to be picked up by television stations and instead end up in video stores (or stalls of pirated copies sold by small-time vendors). The less violent ones are noted for their entertaining stories and interesting characters. Indeed, television drama has a generous amount of narrative time (and space) to tell a story, which encourages complicated plots and melodramatic stories. They also tend to be dialogue-oriented and character-driven.

In the last ten years, a large number of anticorruption dramas have been created.19 By my own account, at least forty of them can be identified.20 It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the combination of viewers’ interest and market forces made the decade between 1995 and 2005 a golden age for anticorruption dramas. But the recent official censorship has made the entire subgenre all but disappear from the public’s attention in the last two years.21 Such censorship indicates, as I have pointed out, that anticorruption dramas ought not to be readily dismissed as cultural texts merely manipulated by the state and the market.

With corruption and anticorruption activities as their central topic, dramas in this subgenre may choose to focus on different types of corruption and their related issues, with larger thematic issues such as “power,” “rights,” and “social justice” as part of the anticorruption discourse and its melodramatic renditions. Given contemporary China’s historical context, these renditions are informed (p.79) by a mixture of different historically and ideologically motivated social and discursive positions—and, by extension, different voices—that coexist in post-revolution and market-reform-era China, which are manifested, in this case, in the mainstream culture’s tackling of the corruption problem. In the anticorruption subgenre, such sociocultural particularity is in part manifested in the evocation of such familiar iconic terms as guojia (nation), renmin (people), laobaixing (ordinary folks), quanli (rights), and fazhi. But the question is from what perspective and with what clarity and what conviction are these terms evoked?

The dramas I discuss below are some of the most popularly received ones, including Guojia gongsu (Sued by the state), Hongse kangnaixin (Red carnations), Gongan juzhang (The police chief), and Hei dong (Black hole). I am not able to offer a comprehensive reading of each drama but will mainly focus on their shared melodramatic, but nevertheless different, renderings of the relationship between morality, law, and power. I will examine the ways in which each drama assumes its “moral” authority in its critique of power abuse. Exploring their implications, I will connect them to some of the most heatedly debated social and political issues in today’s China.

In the Name of the “People”? Sued by the State

Sued by the State (2003) is one of the Zhou Meisen dramas. It focuses on the uncovering of a network of corrupt officials, both at the city and the provincial level, all the way to a vice governor. The drama begins in a fictional city, Changshan, where a devastating fire destroys a well-known nightclub and kills more than 150 people. As the investigation proceeds, the case becomes increasingly complicated by attempts from certain corners of officialdom to cover up, interfere, or sabotage the investigation. Led by the district attorney Ye Zijing, the investigation persists under dangerous circumstances—indeed, the investigators themselves are some kind of “underground workers” (dixia gongzuozhe)—until their efforts succeed in uncovering (legally obtained and permissible) evidence that links attempts at sabotage all the way to Wang Changgong, the vice governor. Apparently, Wang has received bribes from people whom he helped to obtain major contracts, but, in order to prevent the bribes from being discovered, he goes all out trying to cover them up. The drama shows him going so far as to order a key witness to be killed by the city police chief. He tries to convince his lover, Zhou Meili, not to admit to their illicit relationship or provide information about the whereabouts of the money, but Zhou Meili eventually relents. With the information she provides, the investigators are able to obtain written documents directly linking money they have confiscated to Wang. Predictably, (p.80) Wang is arrested. Instead of ending at that point (as most anticorruption dramas do), however, the drama goes on with his trial. The trial ends the narrative but not without a long speech by Ye Zijing summarizing the case.

The skeletal plot line summarized here is a familiar one, identical to that in other (especially Zhou Meisen) dramas such as Zhigao liyi (In the name of the highest principle), and Juedui quanli (Absolute power). In their efforts to demonstrate how easily power is abused, these televisual serials raise and dramatize a major question regarding the relationship between power and responsibility, on the one hand, and power and self-interest, on the other. What is there in the existing power structure that can ensure the promotion of the former and limit the latter? While subtextually Sued by the State is unaware of the fundamentals of such a question in relation to its own story, textually, however, it does try to tackle the question of how to explain corruption and how to stop it. In addition to the overall melodramatically structured (mini)stories that indicate the struggle between “good” and “evil,” these textual attempts culminate with the very speech—narratively shown as a closing argument in court—made by Ye Zijing.

Indeed, as in the good old melodramatic tradition, the drama sets Ye Zijing up as the hero, the “good guy.” Dramatizing the extent to which she refuses to be frightened and succeeds in bringing Wang to court, the drama situates its moral center around this character, a female district attorney with moral courage and integrity. Like the “good” officials in similar dramas, Ye Zijing is represented in a way reminiscent of the “model cadres” (mofan ganbu) that the Chinese Communist Party used to promote and, as such, would strike anyone who is familiar with today’s Chinese society as too good to be true.22 But the familiarity of such a character and especially the idealism that comes with her representation in a rapidly changing but morally uncertain society can still evoke a response powerful enough to help suspend disbelief.

Framed as a closing argument, Ye’s speech in many ways sounds more like an extended editorial, anticlimatic in that the speech is no longer part of the story but a means to transmit an official pronouncement. It is interesting, however, to note the moral tone of this speech and the coexistence of ideological conviction and uncertainties within it. For this reason, I will quote a major portion of the speech:

This case is both Wang Changong’s personal tragedy and that of the people of [the city of] Changshan. … [And yet] Wang still wants to appeal to our conscience and consider his contributions to the city of Changshan. But where was his conscience when, while tens of thousands of mine workers in the South Mine [Nanbu Meikuang] were facing the possibility of being plunged into extreme poverty [jidu pingkun], he (p.81) received a bribe of as much as 4.8 million yuan, when he was willing to let wrongly accused workers be executed for a lesser crime, when he interfered with the investigation and went so far as to order the city’s police chief to murder an important witness? As a party official, do you have the conscience to face the ruling party [zhizheng dang] that you once were part of, the People’s Republic [renmin gongheguo] that gave birth to you and brought you up, and the five million kind-hearted ordinary people [wubaiwan pusu shanliang de baixing] in this city? I am afraid the truth of the matter is that you have never truly believed in the Party, the People’s Republic, and ordinary people.

Today [in court], the conscience of the People’s Republic has achieved a victory [albeit one] soaked in tears and blood. But what about the rest of us? Officials at all levels in the city must shoulder different responsibilities, including legal, leadership, and humanitarian responsibilities, for the deaths of 156 people in that fire. The state apparatus of Changshan has been running under weakened conditions. … As part of this gigantic operating machine [pangda he longlong yunzhuan de jiqi], have any of us asked ourselves whether or not we have contributed to its weakening and whether given [enough] power, we will also end up being corrupt? … [Despite success in prosecuting this case,] in the face of these questions, I remain heavy hearted.

As the speech is given, it is accompanied by grand orchestra music and images that cut between the Communist Party flag, the People’s Republic of China national emblem, the somber-looking courtroom, the judges and audience within it, and the solemn-looking Ye Zijing standing tall while making the speech. The visual cues are indeed formulaic, reminiscent of a party congress meeting rather than a wrapping-up session by a prosecutor in a courtroom.

Formally this speech is not unlike the ending of many traditional Chinese vernacular stories and novels in which the narrator inserts a moral warning after the end of a dramatic story, except this time the “warning” is rendered in a modern political discourse both visually and verbally. At the same time, however, given its context and larger implications in today’s China, packed within the seemingly familiar and old-fashioned political speech are not-so-subtle changes in official ideology and the uncertainties found within them. First, the speech, like most of the anticorruption dramas, makes a connection between corruption and the abuse of power, but it does so by evoking liangxin, or conscience. If liangxin implies a question of value, or jiazhiguan, the contour of the speech fails to lead to that end, an indication of both an assumption and an uncertainty about what values and ideals are worth upholding and for what reasons. Second, as a result, the speech makes a quick jump between liangxin and guojia, renmin, baixing (ordinary folks), and zhizheng dang (ruling party), thereby finding a moral high ground without indicating the need to explore (p.82)

In Whose Name?“Anticorruption Dramas” and Their Ideological Implications

Figure 3.1. A shot reverse shot of Ye Zijing making a speech in court with Wang Changgong as the defendant.

Sued by the State (Qilu Yingxiang Chubanshe)

why these categories remain significant and in what ways the existing power structure and its marketist ideology have significantly weakened the social and political importance of these categories within a (no-longer-so-naive) free-market-oriented modernization discourse.

The juxtaposition of the four categories in the speech is therefore indicative of an ideological uncertainty, if not complete confusion, within the mainstream culture. On the one hand, the linkage is a familiar one with an unquestioned conviction that the four categories belong to one single entity that is China. In the Chinese Communist Party’s revolutionary and socialist discourses, guojia is (p.83) closely identified with renmin or laobaixing: the founding of the People’s Republic was in many ways a major historical moment for the symbolic appropriation of the category renmin, by the winning party, to connect the newly founded nation-state with the Chinese “people.” Even though the term laobaixing did not become a more populist-sounding term than renmin until after the start of the reforms, both renmin and laobaixing were used to refer to major social and political forces in the revolution led by the Chinese Communist Party and subsequently comprised a positive political category in the party’s revolutionary discourse. Despite the capitalist turn in the post-1992 market reforms, these terms continue to be evoked in official discourse in today’s China, but in the context of that turn, which has profoundly changed social relations in China, the social and political content and therefore the meanings of these terms have also changed. Ye Zijing’s speech, however, does not demonstrate recognition of such changes and continues to assume that the state apparatuses and the people are one and the same. In this sense, one can say there are two levels of irony manifested in Ye Zijing’s speech.

On the first level, the irony lies in the question raised by the speech itself when Ye wonders aloud whether officials like Wang Changgong have ever believed in the words that stipulate the responsibilities of a Communist Party cadre to the ruling party, the People’s Republic, and ordinary people. Although the speech continues to mention these categories together, Ye’s references to these high-sounding terms fail to indicate that the connection between them has in actuality fallen increasingly apart in both the social and the political sense. They sound like mere moral embellishment not unlike shuojiao (preaching) words found at the end of traditional fiction, that is, they tend to sound clichéd. On the second level, the irony is that the speech, by way of attacking corruption and the lack of belief in the Communist Party’s (seemingly outdated) idealism, reveals the truth about one aspect of the social and political reality in China: many cadres and officials have joined the party not so much for its (stated) ideals or the responsibilities that come with power. Power is alluring because of its close proximity to self-interest.

At the same time, history amply demonstrates the possible rupture in meaning reconstruction; what is seemingly old and outdated can be made anew. Part of the reason that such a speech may still resonate with ordinary people (as evidenced by the popularity of all of the Zhou Meisen dramas) is that these terms can still conjure up the positive values promoted by revolutionary and socialist ideals and practices. What needs to be questioned in Ye’s speech, in this sense, is not so much the mere—clichéd—use of these terms but the lack of attention to such questions as Who are the laobaixing and the renmin? In what sense are they part of the guojia? Do they really have rights and a say in deciding what (p.84) guojia liyi (interests of the state) and renmin liyi (interests of the people) are? What is the relationship between the interests of the guojia and those of the laobaixing when the former are in fact becoming increasingly divided among and controlled by interest groups? How does one really speak of the difference between the quanli (power) of the state and the quanli (power) of the people within that context?

We may entertain the possibility that, even though these questions remain dormant in Ye’s speech, they are nevertheless indicative of the presence and memory of a value system and ideals (albeit many of which were unfulfilled and are presently marginalized or rendered illegitimate) that can be made anew, melodramatically, as a critical force in today’s China. One recognizes such possibility in the dramas themselves. When, for example, it comes to the rights of the workers—the tens of thousands of miners mentioned in Ye’s speech—Sued by the State raises the issue by contrasting Wang Changgong’s corruption with the dilapidated conditions of state-owned mines, with the lives of the workers who are now laid off and facing economic hardships, and also with one particular character, Huang Guoxiu, who happens to be Ye Zijing’s husband. Huang is the party secretary of the city’s bankrupt state-owned mine and is now nicknamed yaofan shuji, literally, “the party secretary who begs for food (on behalf of the miners).” Although much of this is in the background of the drama, Huang’s role in the story—by repeatedly bringing up the conditions of the workers and begging for funding—keeps as part of the narrative the fate of ordinary workers, the question of fairness, and the workers’ rights to enjoy the fruits of their labor and, by extension, their contributions to society. Indeed, why do miners in a state-owned mine have to lose their jobs, and why are they pushed to a level of poverty so quickly and without debate?

Ironically, however, limited by the melodramatic mode of expression, instead of realizing the potential to focus on such questions, the drama falls back on promoting “good/clean officials,” or qingguan, who are shown to be the ones concerned with the interests of the ordinary people, especially social groups like laid-off workers, migrant workers, and peasants. Similar textual practices can also be found in other anticorruption dramas. One ready example is a Huang Guoxiu type of character in Zhongcheng (Loyalty, 2001), also a Zhou Meisen drama. The character, Tian Liye, is represented (even more movingly as a character than Huang) as a good/clean official. Tian takes his responsibilities as an official seriously and disregards his own self-interest (for example, he forbids his sister to take a job offered on account of his position). In the drama, he ends up sacrificing his own life in order to prevent a possible ecological disaster from happening to both workers of a joint-venture chemical factory and people downstream of a river. The problem lies in the fact that, even though representations (p.85) of such “good” officials function to link the rights of workers, migrant workers, and peasants, their narrative function in the dramas tends to be more of a suture than critically deconstructive. Given the lack of real attention to the rights issues of those ordinary people, these morally upright officials are no more than “feel-good” elements that mainly function to suture the rupture caused by the unequal relationship between those in power and those without it, and to bridge the deepened and widened gap between the interest groups in the state and ordinary people in contemporary China. While the state continues to rely on the term “people” to claim its legitimacy and moral authority and while “people” can in turn demand the state to “serve the people,” the relationship between the two, both in Ye’s speech and in much official discourse, remains relevant but also unclear, abstract, and manipulatable.

In the Name of Rule of/by Law? Red Carnations

Like quanli (power) and quanli (rights) in Chinese, fazhi (rule of law) and fazhi (rule by law) are also homonyms. Scholars have criticized the legal system in contemporary China for putting emphasis on writing laws but little emphasis on establishing a genuinely independent legal system, and they identify this situation in China as “rule by law,” not a “rule of law.” In China, however, despite attempts by critics to clarify the two terms, they are often used interchangeably: hence my use of “rule of/by law” to refer to the notion of the two Chinese homonyms.

In most anticorruption dramas, fa, or law, is assumed to be a weapon against corruption, and legal professionals (lawyers, district attorneys, and policemen) are part of the anticorruption forces. With courts (as part of the setting) and lawyers (as major characters) becoming major components in many of the stories, anticorruption dramas appear to take on a normative legalist way of representing issues related to “law,” or, to echo Xingzhong Yu, they assume a “legal-fetishism” without fully recognizing why and in what ways law is the ultimate weapon for fighting corruption and, for that matter, the means for ordinary people to find protection for their own interests.23 Indeed, anticorruption dramas function as an advocate normalizing “law” and “rule by/of law” as a magic bullet to solve the problem of official abuse of power. Such a law-fetishism behaves not unlike the high moral stance claimed for the aura of the “state.” In this mind-set, the notion of fa is assumed to be part of the market economy and as such it remains not only blind to marketist ideology, but also functions to help normalize it. Meanwhile, “law” enters popular culture via dramas like this, adding meaning to the drama’s own melodramatic rendering of the notion of law.

(p.86) Red Carnations (2000) was popularly received when it was shown on television, hailed as a different kind of anticorruption drama. The drama tells its story through intriguing characters including Lan Sihong, the CEO of a large state-owned company, or SOE (state-owned enterprise), named Da Hua, and Zhou Ruobing, a lawyer. Both are women. The latter works for a law firm representing the company but later ends up working with the police to investigate what turns out to be a scheme to sell a major state-owned enterprise to a nonexistent German company (which means the sale is essentially a secret way of selling the enterprise to Lan Sihong and her cohorts, who are state officials appointed to run the enterprise). The exposed corruption in this case focuses on the real problem of the sale of state-owned enterprises by or to those who run them, a shockingly serious but underreported corruption-related problem since the 1990s. What is interesting about this drama is its focus on two levels of corruption of which the more immediate level—the acceptance of bribes by officials—exists only as the cover for the more serious and dangerous corruption, namely, the eroding or selling out, of state-owned capital (known in Chinese as guoyou zichan liushi),24 which is carried out via a complicated and carefully planned scheme. In this particular drama, the scheme is limited to Lan Sihong and her associates’ sale of the state-owned assets to a nonexistent foreign company set up by a relative who is in actuality a Chinese restaurant owner in Germany. As serious as the corruption and crime exposed here is, the narrative detail is nevertheless indicative of either censorship or ignorance on the part of the producers and fails to penetrate the real issue at hand, namely, that the real sell-out in China does not only take place at a low level. Nor does the sell-out, as the drama suggests, mean that those who carry out the corrupt transactions will benefit only through direct monetary gains. The real sell-out of state-owned capital in China has in fact comprised turning state-owned enterprises into rent-seeking activities by the powerful without much public knowledge, scrutiny, and understanding of what that means. The melodramatic use of a (female) lawyer as hero, therefore, reveals the limitation of such a narrative mode, especially when it tends to direct the public attention toward individual crimes and the seeming usefulness of the court (as opposed to revealing the structural and systemic problems that still await much-needed public debate). What is more, when the drama ends with a speech, further questions arise regarding exactly in whose name the anticorruption battle is waged.

The speech is given by Zong Ming, head of the anticorruption office, who is sent to investigate the Da Hua case, and is a good example of mainstream thinking about how to stop this kind of corruption. At a meeting (instead of a court) in the last episode, Zong, head of the team that has investigated this (p.87) case, discusses the “lessons” of officials like Lan Sihong who are placed in the position of managing SOEs. He begins by pointing out the change in Lan Sihong from a “good” person (who has spent years taking care of her bedridden husband, adopted a little girl she found on the street, and managed to turn a steel plant established in the 1950s into the Da Hua conglomerate trading company that has gone international [yu guoji jiegui]) to someone who unscrupulously schemed to steal tens of millions in state-owned capital. What, Zong asks, caused such a change in a good person? He goes on to argue that this has little to do with the failure of the party’s “thought work” (sixiang gongzuo) but everything to do with the issue of a problematic “mechanism” (jizhi) (which essentially means system). After quoting Deng Xiaoping, who allegedly stated that a good system can turn a bad person into a good one and a bad system can make a good person bad, Zong argues that Lan Sihong is a typical good person turned bad under an unreasonably established system (bu wanshan de jizhi). What needs to be improved, therefore, is the system. Zong concludes by offering three specific suggestions to amend the system:

First, the reward mechanism needs to be improved. SOE managers are still considered cadres and are compensated as state officials would be. No matter how well the enterprise performs, their compensations are not matched accordingly. This can affect these people psychologically. On top of that, when they are compensated the same way as officials whose enterprises are poorly run and lose money, there is essentially the problem of inequality, which can generate resentment and corruption.

Second, the retirement system is not well established. As a result, there is the “age fifty-nine phenomenon” in which a cadre close to that age [and even younger these days] would want to do something before he or she steps down to secure his or her years in retirement.

Third, and also most important, the supervising mechanism remains weak. When the factory-manager-responsibility system [changzhang zhi] was established, it was done for the purpose of improving management. When such a position is not properly checked, however, the system can be easily turned into one in which power is concentrated in one person [yizhang zhi]. Everything is decided by that person, one signature can sell out a huge amount of state-owned capital, and one word can decide the fate of thousands of workers. Sometimes, such a concentration of power in one person can become concentration of power in one family and even a mafialike organization. Power without supervision, or checks and balances, can be like an out-of-control wild horse, dangerously terrifying. Fortunately, this time, owing to two good lawyers and someone willing to sacrifice her own feelings for justice, we were able to solve this case. What we need, I argue, is a good management system for SOEs so that this ancient country of ours will one day stand up among the world powers.


In Whose Name?“Anticorruption Dramas” and Their Ideological Implications

Figure 3.2. Zong Ming gives a lecture after the trial that convicted Lan Sihong.

Red Carnations (Beijing Dianshi Yishu Zhongxin Yingxiang Chubanshe)

This speech is filled with contradictions. On the one hand, it appears to argue for the need to check power by establishing “proper” mechanisms. When it comes to the third point, especially, Zong is making a liberal argument appealing for power to be checked via a well-established system. He does not, of course, go on to explore how to establish such a system. On the other hand, the speech is littered with appeals to treat officials that manage SOEs like highly paid CEOs of private companies (owned by international corporations), using logic that represents a typical mainstream self-interest-driven argument for the “rights” of those in power. Within this logic, the problem with Lan Sihong is not so much her greedy desire to be compensated as the unfortunate fact that she does not go about it in a “correct” way. The “correct” way, according to Zong, is to systematically, and therefore legally, establish a reward system that compensates people in accordance with how much profit they help generate. The underlying logic is that such individuals ought to enjoy more “rights” for compensation. This is in fact a manifestation of the established logic in today’s China, where monetary rewards are viewed as the most meaningful forms of reward and acknowledgment. In many ways, this speech is a blatant advocation of the mainstream marketist ideology in today’s China, which has accepted, without question, the management-worker hierarchy based on the capitalist private corporate management model. The role of the workers and the issue of labor are rendered invisible within this logic and hence never mentioned in Zong’s speech.

Zong’s speech is particularly telling in light of the latest worldwide economic crisis, which originated in the United States and has been identified (p.89) as the worst since the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The speech is indicative of the increasingly dominant ideological position within the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government promoting the need to emulate the logic of the market economy, especially the kind in the United States that supports and rewards the power of capital (at the expense of labor). It is against this larger global capitalist context, in relation to the social and economic changes in China and the ideological tensions with regard to those changes, that we can better understand the difference between Zong’s speech and the earlier speech by Ye Zijing. Compared with the central argument in Ye Zijing’s speech, Zong’s skews the issue of moral authority away from iconic symbols such as guojia, renmin, or laobaixing into the abstract notion of jizhi, or mechanism, further blurring, diluting, or making invisible the social—class—content within these notions and the distinction between the relationship of power and self-interest and that of power and responsibility. While this drama—along with using a lawyer as the central protagonist and hero—ends with a call to establish a “fair” mechanism or system and therefore appears to be more legally oriented and practical, its notion of fa and its assumption of moral authority smack of law-fetishism based on a received marketist ideology. The concerns demonstrated here are aligned with the “rights” of those already in power. When it comes to Red Carnations, then, the difference between a “bad” lawyer and a “good” one is no more than that the former serves those in power stealthily, while the latter argues for a way to do it openly and “legally.”

Idealism as Specter? “Fallen Angels” in Black Hole, The Police Chief, and Other Anticorruption Dramas

Related to the layered implications of what is “good” discussed above, the “bad” or “evil” is also frequently represented in a less-than-clear-cut fashion. Indeed, the anticorruption discourse and its melodramatic manifestations are complicated by the ambivalent representations of what I call “fallen angels,” the major villains in many anticorruption dramas, and by the complex role played by “value,” or jiazhi guan, in relation to issues of corruption.

Examples of “fallen angels” include Zhou Mi in Daxue wuhen (Snow-covered traces),25 Nie Mingyu in Heidong (Black hole), and Zhong Liuyi in Gongan juzhang (The police chief) (and to a large extent, I might add, Lan Sihong in Red Carnations). All of these characters are middle-aged individuals who have become “successful” (or, to echo a trendy term in Chinese, chenggong renshi) but who have for different reasons turned into “villains.” The reason that I refer to them as “fallen angels” has to do with the fact that, both textually and subtextually, the dramas mix their past lives with their present ones, thereby offering a (p.90) collection of ambivalently represented villains. In so doing, the narratives raise questions regarding the relationship between specific changes in the postrevolution economic reforms and the quality-altering changes in these individuals: what has changed them? Can the crimes they have committed be explained away simply in legal terms by the lack of a systematic prevention mechanism that limits the relationship between power and personal gain and by the lack of a well-thought-out compensation mechanism? The representations of these “fallen angels” appear to answer both yes and not entirely.

Black Hole (2001) is a more violent story than the other dramas discussed above.26 Chen Daoming, one of the best-known actors in contemporary China, plays the major villain, Nie Mingyu, son of the mayor of the fictional city Tiandu and CEO of the city’s best-known business enterprise. The drama focuses on the power of “princelings”—the children of high-ranking officials—and their associates. The violence in this drama takes anticorruption dramas’ representations of corruption one step further by probing into the link between corrupt officials and mafialike groups, some of which are led by well-connected princelings. It dramatizes the extent to which such a linkage can lead to senseless crimes, while probing the implications of the loss of ideals and the rise of cynicism in postrevolution China on the part of those who grew up during the Mao era. Nie Mingyu is an “insider” whose cold-blooded cruelty and cynicism is said to have developed upon seeing how easily those in power can be corrupted. His cruelty, in other words, is blatantly linked to the death of an ideal. The residue of this ideal is symbolized in a peculiar manner by Nie’s playing the accordion with a group of men of his age—they play revolutionary music from the Mao era. It is also symbolized by the secret room built within the walls of his hypermodern office. This hidden room, in which Nie is periodically shown to sit, is supposedly a replica of the office of his army company leader, and it is in this room in which Nie ultimately commits suicide (I will return to this point shortly).

The drama goes so far as to show how Nie’s father, the mayor, though prevented from learning much about how his son has achieved his business “success,” eventually chooses to protect his son once he is confronted with the truth that the latter is in danger of being exposed. The “morally upright” individual in this drama is Nie’s adopted brother, Liu Zhenhan, who happens to be a police officer and who also happens to be assigned to investigate Nie’s case. The “coincidence,” needless to say, ensures the many melodramatic moments in the drama but also sets up a “good” versus “evil” dichotomy with subtextually significant turns and twists. Coming from a humble background and deeply indebted to Nie’s father, who adopted him as a child, and to Nie Mingyu himself for having once saved his life while they both served in the army, Liu (p.91)

In Whose Name?“Anticorruption Dramas” and Their Ideological Implications

Figure 3.3. Nie Mingyu playing the accordion in the secret room. And Nie Mingyu and Liu Zhenhan in the same room before the former commits suicide.

Black Hole (Xizang Yingxiang Chubanshe)

is a man struggling with himself. When chosen to investigate Nie Mingyu and his company for alleged smuggling, for running underground gambling parlors, and for murder, he has to struggle between his sense of responsibility and justice, on the one hand, and his sense of indebtedness toward Nie’s family, on the other.

Similar shades of ambivalence are echoed in other anticorruption dramas. Among them is The Police Chief, which addresses princeling-related corruption but does so in an indirect way—focusing on one of its victims-turned-victimizer. The drama tells the story of Zhong Liuyi, owner and CEO of a private company who is shown as someone on a mission of vengeance: he schemes to corrupt as (p.92)

In Whose Name?“Anticorruption Dramas” and Their Ideological Implications

Figure 3.4. Zhong Liuyi talking to an official with contempt.

The Police Chief (Qilu Yingxiang Chubanshe)

many officials as he can. Zhong makes reference to Jidushan bojue (Le Comte de Monte-Cristo) in this drama of vengeance, which has its origin in the fact that Zhong Liuyi, coming from a humble family, was once used and misused by a group of princelings who essentially sacrificed him when their illegal business activities were exposed.27 Zhong Liuyi had to go to jail in their place and, in return, he is given a short prison sentence and provided with seed money to start his own business after his release. Upon his release, however, he finds out that his mother worked herself to death trying to accumulate enough money for her son by collecting garbage, while disregarding her own health. This is not an unfamiliar narrative device employed to intensify the protagonist’s sense of injustice and to justify his sense of vengeance. Indeed, both his imprisonment and his mother’s death are “good” versus “evil” melodramatic elements with (p.93) strong subtextual implications that function as the prequel to this drama of vengeance in which unequal social relations between those in and not in power are accentuated and linked to the onset of economic and market reforms. Even though the drama sets up the police chief as the main hero who eventually succeeds in “defeating” Zhong, much of the narrative is about Zhong and is dramatized in a highly ambivalent manner. Closely identified with a major type of corruption, Zhong is represented as both victim and victimizer in the context of the economic reforms.

Nie Mingyu and Zhong Liuyi occupy opposite ends of the social spectrum in relation to power, but the dramas involving these characters hint that inequality became intensified and radicalized with the onset of market reform and by the enormous consequences of the direct link between power and the “rent-seeking” behavior of those in power. Their stories address the question of how to understand the changes in these individuals from Mao era youth with ideals to criminals intent to destroy. While the dominant view provides a ready conclusion—that these youth were cheated by the Chinese revolutionary ideals and the death of their ideals can only lead them to cynicism and nihilism—the way these dramas represent the characters’ connection with their idealist past does not answer the question in such a simplistic manner.

As mentioned above, Nie Mingyu in Black Hole and Zhong Liuyi in The Police Chief are both villainous characters and “successful” businessmen. At the same time, they are from opposite social backgrounds, and their criminal activities have seemingly different motivations. In Zhong Liuyi’s case, especially, his success is motivated by a desire for revenge, and his way of going about it is to corrupt as many officials as he can. There is a vigilante impulse in his schemes to take revenge against the powerful on behalf of the socially powerless like he and his mother were. Nie Mingyu is also intent on revenge of a sort. The drama repeatedly shows his seeming contempt for officials and his alienation from his high-ranking official family even though he actually benefited from it as long as his father remained in power (as the mayor of the city). Represented as a cold-blooded person who heads a mafialike company that runs underground gambling parlors and smuggles high-end automobiles, among other things, Nie also plays the accordion, sometimes with a band but most of the time in the secret room tucked away in his hypermodern office. The three narrative details—the accordion (which was a key music instrument during the Mao era), the music he plays, and the secret room—are all reminiscent of the socialist era, and they curiously connect him more closely to Zhong Liuyi. In Zhong’s story, Mao era references are made by evoking nineteenth-century European literature—especially that in the critical realism tradition—and a sense of class difference sharpened via his own experiences (p.94) in postrevolution and reform-era China. Like Zhou Mi in Snow-Covered Traces and Lan Sihong in Red Carnations, representations of these characters’ former lives share references to a less corrupt and more idealistic past. What is the “moral” in such references in relation to these “villains”? Nostalgia or something more complex than that?

Anybody who has watched Black Hole cannot but be struck by the coldblooded nature of Nie Mingyu and his associates nor can they forget the contrast between his past and present symbolized by the secret room in Nie’s office, which is a peculiar replica of a typical Mao era military officer’s room. The contrast and juxtaposition is peculiarly jarring within the context of what Nie’s company represents and the network of corrupt officials—the “black hole”—he has managed to establish throughout the provincial and city power structure. Tucked away in Nie’s hyperpostmodern-looking office, what does this replica symbolize? In many ways, it does not seem to symbolize anything other than a space occupied by the newly rich Nie Mingyu. But can Nie embody both eras in the way the drama shows him to—that there is a part of him that continues to harbor a desire for a more innocent time? Or does the drama subtextually indicate that while individuals in Nie’s position may find a way to reconcile the difference between the two eras, in actuality the two are not really reconcilable, and hence the replica is not a reminder of values, ideals, and passion from the past but rather suggests their death (along with the death of the army company commander and Nie’s suicide)? Indeed, every time this room is opened and occupied by Nie Mingyu, the space feels cold and lonely. Does the periodic focus on this space, with Nie in it, signify mourning of the past, or is it a cynical way of playing with the symbols of that past? The truth may lie somewhere in between, thereby revealing the uncertainty on the part of the producers as well as their censors and viewers about how to gauge that immediate past that is in many ways still part of those who grew up during the Mao era.

Nie Mingyu’s adoptive brother Liu Zhenhan, in contrast, though without an external space to attach to, may well symbolize the residues of the idealistic spirit of that era. The irony is that without occupying a physical space that juxtaposes and symbolizes two very different social and political imaginaries, Liu Zhenhan and his associates in the police force are represented as the “bodies” whose comings and goings around the city and its adjacent areas connect the rapidly changing society and the uneven meanings found in that change. Their pursuit of Nie and his cohorts function to show a setting in which all kinds of social elements coexist, some in search of survival and some seeking to comprehend the rapid changes taking place around and inside them. With a mix of characters, both “fallen angels” and “heroic” legal professionals, we find the specter of idealism still lurking, with tremendous uncertainty, in the fast-changing (p.95) social landscape of China. Within the same rapidly changing system, what historical, sociocultural, and political legacies, traditions, and ideals can continue to be evoked as more than a specter from the past?

Back to the Question: In Whose Name?

After watching Black Hole, a friend of mine remarked, dismissively, that he did not believe there could be policemen like Liu Zhenhan and others in his team in today’s China. They are too good to be true, he claimed, emphatically. Whether his claim is accurate is not the issue here. His assumption—that such shows are not realistic and therefore propagandistic—is echoed by many more sophisticated viewers and critics. To me, however, the seemingly unrealistic and melodramatic downside is an interesting narrative inroad into locating ambivalence and criticism of the “social reality” of contemporary China. Ambivalence and criticism are found in the different voices identified and discussed above. On the one hand, the stories in these dramas are about corruption in officialdom.28 On the other hand, they also demonstrate an array of perspectives and ideological positions that inform their specific representations. When seen together, these dramas touch upon a range of areas in which corruption is becoming rampant: officials whose power is essential to the formation of an extended network of power and corruption, officials of state-owned enterprises in relation to the loss of state-owned capital and bankruptcy, the rise of mafialike organizations and their deepening connection with officials, and more. At the same time, they also rely on the belief that there are always some idealists in both officialdom and the legal profession who will rise to the occasion and expose the corruption and thereby correct the wrong, rehabilitate the wronged, and restore order. Indeed, given the narrative structure of television dramas that requires a positive ending—that the “bad” are duly punished—it is not difficult to guess who in these dramas wins at the end. This is the basis of the shared theme in such dramas that anticorruption activities are made possible and fought for mainly by morally upright individuals—be that a district attorney, a lawyer, or a policeman. Like the use of qingguan, or good/clean officials, resting one’s hopes on fazhi, or rule by law, via “morally upright” legal professionals is another feature that helps these dramas to “suture” the rupture in their narratives: in the end anticorruption forces always prevail. This “good”-ultimately-triumphs-over-the-“bad” logic, in other words, tends to smooth over the ideological uncertainty displayed within them.

At the same time, the polyphonic nature of these representations indicates rapidly changing cultural logic as well as internal tensions. As such, contemporary anticorruption dramas do more than simply expose corruption (as Lu Xun (p.96) once observed). Anticorruption dramas offer up a range of complex issues that call for debate and discussion. Representations of corruption and anticorruption activities are related to some of the seminal issues facing China’s quest for modernity throughout its modern history and in this latest round of that quest in particular. These issues include questions regarding the nature of the “state,” the definition of “people,” who has the right and power to decide how wealth is distributed, the concept of “law” in relation to “traditional values” of morality and rights, and the relationship between social and personal interests.

It is in relation to these implications that I want to conclude by pointing out one glaring limitation of the anticorruption televisual subgenre as a whole. The subgenre displays a glaring absence of dramas that address the widespread struggles between ordinary people—peasants and migrant workers, especially—and corrupt officials. The absence of representations of this particular social reality further reflects the limitations of mainstream culture. Focusing on the struggles mainly between “good” and “bad” officials, these dramas continue to operate within the existing power structure without fully recognizing that the rights of ordinary people are the source of legitimacy that provides the right for the existing power structure to continue to exist.


(1.) Cangtian zai shang was written by Lu Tianming, already a well-known writer by then, who is also the script writer of the drama. It is said that it took quite some time before the script was approved and the drama was shot and produced. In addition to Kinkley’s writing on Lu Tianming and his works, see Lu Tianming’s blog for related information about the writer. Pieces in Chinese related to Heavens Above include “Fanfu zuojia Lu Tianming: wo jiushi yao xie zhege shidai de shiqing” (Anticorruption writer Lu Tianming: I insist on writing about things that happen in our own times); “Caifang Lu Tianming” (Interviewing Lu Tianming). See also Jeffrey C. Kinkley, “The Trendsetter: Lu Tianming’s Heaven Above.”

(2.) In 2004, the Guangdian Zongju (the State Administration of Broadcasting, Film, and Television) reportedly rejected 40 percent of the 308 crime-oriented television drama proposals and put out a new regulation that prohibited anticorruption dramas, cop dramas, and crime dramas from being shown in prime-time slots (http://www.people.com.cn/GB/yule/1018/2421436.html).

(5.) Ibid., 4.

(6.) Ibid., 8.

(7.) Some of my discussion in this chapter overlaps with Kinkley’s but I have a different perspective, mainly because much of the thinking in this chapter was developed independently before the publication of Kinkely’s book. I presented an earlier version (p.180) of this chapter at the conference “Towards an Age of Rights: Chinese and International Perspectives,” Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, February 1–2, 2008.

(8.) Some of Zhou Meisen’s novels are Zhigao liyi (The highest principle, 2000), Zhongguo zhizao (Made in China, 2001; renamed Zhongcheng, or Loyalty, when adapted for television), Juedui quanli (Absolute power, 2002), and Guojia gongsu (Sued by the state, 2003).

(9.) See Kinkley’s discussion of the “fall” of the anticorruption novel in the section “The Fall” in his introduction to Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China, 18–21.

(11.) For discussions of the social conditions of the late 1980s, see, for example, Wang Hui, “The Historical Conditions of the 1989 Social Movement and the Anti-historical Explanation of ‘Neoliberalism,’” in his China’s New Order, 46–77.

(12.) “Marketism” is a translation of the Chinese word “shichang zhuyi” used by contemporary Chinese intellectuals who argue that the notion of a “free market” is itself ideological. See, for example, Han Shaogong’s article, based on a speech at Suzhou University, “Lengzhan hou: wenxue yu xiezuo xin de chujing” (After the Cold War: new context for literature and creative writing).

(13.) The film was adapted from the novel Jue ze by Zhang Ping, one of the few writers in Zhou Meisen’s league with regard to writing about politics and the corruption of officialdom. For a discussion of Zhang Ping in English, see Kinkley, Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China.

(14.) Including a cynical realization that, instead of helping lessening corruption, the officially organized promotion of anticorruption films such as Shengsi jueze helped benefit the creators and producers of the film, illustrating that “socially correct” and politically acceptable cultural products can also enjoy market benefits. The box-office total from the film reportedly exceeded 1.165 hundred million RMB (http://ent.sina.com.cn/film/chinese/2000-10-14/19263.html).

(15.) It is a pity that, other than reviews and spontaneous online debates, which tend to be abrasive and not conducive to thoughtful discussion, most televisual texts do not receive adequate critical attention. In addition to a few books written in Chinese on the history of television drama, scholars like Yin Hong have begun to write more about the subject. See, for example, “Yin Hong, Yang Daihui: Zhongguo dianshiju yishu chuantong” (Yin Hong and Yang Daihui on the artistic tradition of Chinese television drama) (http://medial.people.com.cn/GB/5258393.html).

(16.) Indeed, I would argue that if aspects of these dramas were to be studied, examined, and discussed—critically analyzed—they could well function as cultural texts for furthering critical examinations of the social, political, and ideological issues in contemporary China. The fact that critics dismiss them as lowly popular cultural entertainment along with media’s promotion of such dramas as pure entertainment constitutes a Chinese version of hegemony that prevents the complexities of the issues in such dramas from being fully examined and discussed.

(17.) See Corruption and Realism in Late Socialist China for Kinkley’s discussion of Zhou Meisen, which is less extensive than his discussion of Zhang Ping.

(18.) It is interesting to note that the new regulation regarding the status of anticorruption dramas states as a criticism that some “anticorruption” dramas were really not (p.181) about corruption but about the inner workings of officialdom, treating corruption only as a tangible example of a problem (http://www.people.com.cn).

(19.) No official count exists. The unclear definition of related subgenres including cop dramas, crime-related dramas, and anticorruption dramas also makes it difficult to count.

(20.) Among these dramas, the best known include (1) several Zhou Meisen dramas such as Zhongcheng (Loyalty, 2001), Zhigao liyi (The highest principle, 2002), Juedui quanli (Absolute power, 2004), and Guojia gongsu (Sued by the state, 2003); and (2) crime-oriented dramas such as Daxue wuheng (Snow-covered, 2001), Hongse kangnaixin (Red carnations, 2001), Gongan juzhang (The police chief, 2002), and Hei dong (Black hole, 2001). Those of the second type were so popular that their successes generated imitations such as Lanse matilian (Blue lilies), Gongan juzhang II and Gongan juzhang III (The police chief II and III), and the so-called hei xilie, or black series—there are no less than ten dramas with the word hei (black) in their titles; examples include Hei jin (Black money), Hei fen (Black powder), Hei bing (Black drug), Hei qiang (Black guns), and Hei wu (Black fog). Many in the “black series” were penned by Zhang Chenggong.

(21.) There are still reruns of old anticorruption dramas outside the prime-time slots and mostly by local or satellite stations that are not watched by the majority of viewers.

(22.) For discussion of “good” officials in contemporary popular anticorruption narratives, see Kinkley’s book and Ruoyun Bai, “‘Clean Officials,’ Emotional Moral Community, and Anti-Corruption Television Dramas.”

(24.) There are numerous articles on issues regarding China’s SOEs. Some recent writings include Yashang Huang, Selling China: Foreign Direct Investment during the Reform Era, and Liu Rixin, “Guoyou qiye de guoqu, xianzai he jianglai” (SOEs’ past, present, and future).

(25.) Daxue wuheng has been translated into English under several titles including Pure as Snow by Ruoyun Bai and The Blizzard Leaves No Trace by Kinkley. My own translation, “Snow-Covered Traces,” though it has a different emphasis is closer to Kinkley’s in meaning.

(26.) This drama is based on a novel of the same title by Zhang Chenggong.

(27.) Jidushan bojue is both the Chinese title of the French novel Le Comte de Monte-Cristo and the name of its main character (the title of the book is also translated as Jidushan enchou ji). It is among the nineteenth-century French, English, and Russian novels popular with young Chinese growing up during the Mao era.

(28.) In addition to official corruption, there is a newly coined term in Chinese that refers to other kinds of corruption, ya fubai, or subcorruption (or derivative corruption). It usually refers to the abuse of power by those whose profession allows them to seek personal gain. They include those in the medical, teaching, and media professions.