Chinese political drama elevates content

Posted April 24, 2017


Amid an overwhelming amount of romantic dramas, a recent Chinese political drama, “In the Name of People” has injected new life into the usually monotonous Chinese television and revived the world’s largest audience’s long-withered expectations.

“In the Name of People” earned numerous fans (Photo courtesy of In The Name of People and

It is rare in China that a 55-episode political drama with a reasonably small ¥100 million (around $ 14.3 million) budget, void of famous actors or actresses, can dwarf other presumably popular romantic and comedic family dramas.

While the series is not available on English-language U.S. television so far, the first few episodes can be viewed with subtitles online. The political drama is certainly worth the attention of Western audiences as well

The plot of “In the Name of People” revolves around a prosecutor’s efforts to unearth corruption in a present-day fictional Chinese city.

The corruption is intertwined with the internal conflicts within the Chinese Communist Party, accompanied by rivalries among several major business corporations that rely on officials’ corruption.

To the Chinese audience’s surprise, the most corrupt figure is revealed to be an official at national leader level in Beijing, who manipulates everything behind the scenes.

“In the Name of People” sets a milestone for Chinese anti-corruption political drama because of its deep and merciless attack on bribery and corruption within the Chinese Communist Party. Compared with the Chinese first anti-corruption political drama “The Sky Overhead” in 1995, “In the Name of People” revealed corruption more harshly in terms of scale and depth. What’s more, “In the Name of People” marks the ending of a time when national level officials have been immune to criticism. In this new political drama, the convicted corrupt official is revealed to work at national level.

“The Sky Overhead” was the first anti-corruption political drama in China (Photo by Youku).

The TV series brings several real-life cases to the show that unveils dirty secrets within the party. In one episode of the show, a local officer who is in charge of the Office of Land Resources receives a bribe of more than ¥200 million (around $30 million).

Several days after the first episode of “In the Name of People” originally aired, the TV series received record-setting acclaim from audiences ranging from middle school students to retired seniors.

The success can be attributed to audience’s aesthetic boredom after numerous romantic dramas occupied TV channels and dominated the industry for about a decade.

Also, “In the Name of People” depicts the complexity of humanity, rather than simply stereotyping characters as absolute evil or morally correct.

Unlike previous political dramas in which audiences could immediately differentiate the wicked ones from the devoted officials because the former always wore evil facial expressions and demonstrated unappealing body postures, “In the Name of People” portrays all characters equally equipped with wisdom and knowledge, making audience involuntarily engaged in this political game.

Last, but not least, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the highest agency responsible for both investigation and prosecution in China, partly funds the anti-corruption drama. Thus, it lightens the intervention of the censorship and hence ensures the TV series’ boom.

The last reason behind the unexpected triumph of “In the Name of People” would trace back to China’s strict policy on regulating media content. The Chinese central government holds a conservative attitude on political sensitive material and always censors contents that the party deems unfriendly or threatening to its authority.

In order to pre-examine and manipulate the media contents that are about to enter the marketplace, the party sets a bureau called the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) to filter information and abridge unwanted substances.

SAPPRFT is an executive branch unit under the China’s State Council. Its main task is to administer and supervise state-owned enterprises engaged in the television, radio and film industries. However, SAPPRFT earns its notorious among Chinese audiences for censoring everything and forbidding everything. SAPPRFT sets these conservative standards and decrees that any media products vying to appear on market place need to be qualified.

Because of the censorship, Chinese media industries struggle to balance the audience’s interests with restricted content freedom permitted by the government.

Different from the United States, which welcomes various genres of television shows, Chinese television had more than a 10-year vacuum of political drama because, during President Hu Jintao’s administration, 2002-12, he was focused on economic development.

Because the previous administration discouraged media entrepreneurs from creating any content relevant to current Chinese politics and at the time, the most prevailing political genre TV series in China are dramas focusing on World War II against Japan and the Chinese Civil War.

Some Chinese critics compare “In the Name of People” to the American political drama, “House of Cards,” even though the former invariably glorifies the party’s supreme leadership.

The major differences between Chinese political dramas and the U.S. political dramas are the in-depth portrayals of political life and the attitudes towards female characters.

“The West Wing” depicted an insider view of working in the White House (Photo courtesy of The West Wing,

In the United States, the long-time political drama “The West Wing” impressed generations for its vivid depiction of politician’s lives and an insider view of operations of the White House.

Its portrayal of conflicts between political parties and the manipulation of political resources brilliantly reproduced the real-life politics.

“The West Wing” also disclosed the dark side of politics and people’s struggles whereas China lacks a political drama that visualizes national leader’s real life and struggles behind the scenes.

“In the Name of People” starts to touch the periphery areas that national level officials might work on, but it is still too gentle to strike out the hypocrisy and ugliness.

The most recent U.S. political drama “House of Cards” narrates a story about how individuals work their way up to the White House and it also vividly describes how politicians flexed their political muscles to attain their goals and how manipulations outweighed the importance of citizens.

“In the Name of People” can be compared to “House of Cards” in terms of the depictions of rivalries and conflicts among politicians.

“The House of Cards” provided a vivid account of individuals working their ways to the White House (Photo courtesy of The

The most significant difference between the Chinese and U.S political dramas is China’s lack of respect for female politicians.

In the U.S., “The Good Wife” is recent production that glorifies gender equality and women’s power.

It demonstrated how a former housewife started to pursue politics as her career and how she received recognition and became successful.

Unfortunately, Chinese political drama lacks a positive female protagonist.

Even in the latest political drama “In the Name of People,” the enormous biases against women are obvious. Seemingly successful women are either tools of men or they procured their power through sexual relationships with powerful officials.

“In the Name of People” is deemed a Chinese version of “House of Cards” (Photo courtesy of In The Name of People).

Up to now, it is known that two other anti-corruption political dramas will start air in China later this year. They are “Jiliang,” translated as “The Spine.” The other one is “Renmin Gongdi,” rendered as “The Common Enemy of the People.”

One thing that is worth of considering: the anti-corruption political drama ceased appearing on Chinese television screens for more than a decade and it was because the government policy restricting content associated with current politics.

The reappearance and applause for the merciless anti-corruption political drama is attributed to the President Xi Jinping’s administration that emphasizes anti-corruption.

Following that logic, do Chinese audiences want the same type of anti-corruption drama repeating on the screen until they get bored, similar to how they feel about anti-Japanese dramas? Will Xi’s administration ban all political drama when it shifts its major focus to economy or environmental protection?

“The Good Wife” glorifies women’s independence and wisdom (Photo courtesy of The Good Wife –


It is still the question people have been asking over and over again:

Can the Chinese government give back its people’s rights to receive information without the government’s prior censorship and determination?

Many years ago, the highly celebrated Chinese author, Lu Xun, once said “It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made.”

The optimism and hope underlying that statement may as well apply to the Chinese media industry. The industry is gently balancing the government’s restrictions and its audience’s interests. It takes time and effort and, hopefully, the Chinese entertainment media are marching on a path to achieve an ideal solution.

  • Name: 《人民的名义》“In the Name of People”
  • Director: Li Lu
  • Cast: Lu Yi/ Zhang Fengyi / Xu Yajun
  • Original Air Date: 2017/3/28
  • Episodes: 55
  • Time for Each Episode: About 50 minutes
  • Parental Guide: 8+
  • Rating: 9.3/10 (Chinese Douban Rating)
  • YouTube link to the episode one:
  • Name: 《苍天在上》“The Sky Overhead”
  • Director: Zhou Huan
  • Cast: Li Ming / Liao Xueqiu / Gao Ming
  • Original Air Date: 1995
  • Episodes: 17
  • Time for Each Episode: About 50 minutes
  • Parental Guide: 8+
  • Rating: Unknown
  • Name: “The West Wing”
  • Director: Thomas Schlamme
  • Cast: Martin Sheen / John Spencer / Bradley Whitford
  • The Broadcast Time: 1999.9.22-2006.5.14
  • Seasons: 7
  • Rating: 8.8/10 (IMDb)
  • Name: “The House of Cards”
  • Director: Beau Willimon
  • Cast: Kevin Spacey / Michell Gill / Robin Wright
  • Original Air Date: 2013
  • Episodes: 65
  • Time for Each Episode: About 51 minutes
  • Rating: 9/10 (IMDb)
  • Name: “The Good Wife”
  • Director: Robert King / Michelle King
  • Cast: Julianna Margulies / Chris Noth / Josh Charles
  • Original Air Date: 2009
  • Episodes: 156
  • Time for Each Episode: About 43 minutes
  • Rating: 8.3/10 (IMDb)