A television series depicting China's ongoing harsh campaign to crack down on corruption is fast gaining its word-of-mouth popularity among not only Chinese households but also some foreigners residing in the country.
The drama, called In the Name of the People, offers viewers, particularly foreigners, an opportunity to better understand China's politics and culture and also the nation's iron-fist resolve in the fight against corruption among the country's political and business elites.
REALISTIC AND HIGH QUALITY
The series tells the story of a prosecutor named Hou Liangping investigating and fighting against corrupt officials in a complicated corruption-related crimes network, including those at the ministerial level, to safeguard social fairness and justice.
The drama is an effort rarely seen in recent memory that carries the anti-corruption topic, the discussion of which is prevalent but mostly remains private in Chinese society, onto mainstream television, a medium social science that scholars categorize into public space
"I was quite impressed by the jaw-dropping scene where a deluge of cash hidden on a giant wall was found in a low-level official's house. It is a bribe he's accepted which is worth 230 million yuan (about 33 million U.S. dollars)," said Eric Ivarsen from Norway, a master's student majoring in the public management and social development at the University of Chinese Academy of Science.
"My subject has a very high requirement of knowledge about Chinese politics and culture. After watching the drama, I better understand China's political terms and taboos, for example, seats order according to official rankings, languages being used in a meeting, which is quite different from my country," Ivarsen added.
Ivarsen's classmate and compatriot Mads Nielsen found some true-to-life human elements in the various shades between black and white.
"Some people are good in some situations but bad in others. It's difficult to say who is good and who is bad. It makes the characters very real," Nielsen said after watching six episodes.
Television critics, however, tended to provide a more professional analysis by using what's known as a three-E parameter, which holds that television programs bear the responsibility to "enlighten, entertain and educate" the audience.
"If a television production does one, it is good; if two, it is fairly successful. In the case of this drama, it does all three," said Harvey Dzodin, TV commentator and former vice president of American Broadcasting Company.
"With a very good script and music, the drama captures people's feelings in an emotional way. I think what the series does is something few television dramas achieve," Dzodin added.
BRIGHTER THAN HOUSE OF CARDS
As its popularity grows, In the Name of the People is often discussed in parallel with the American drama The House of Cards and is regarded as the Chinese version of the multi-season U.S. series reflecting present-day politics in Washington, D.C., which has once gone viral on Chinese webs.
"Even with similar subject matters, the two popular dramas are both outstanding TV," Dzodin said, adding that the Chinese one digs into corruption with the depth more profound than all previous Chinese efforts shown in either dramas or documentaries, and exposes the dilemmas of corruption in an emotional while realistic approach.
"The House of Cards is more focused on the dark side of human nature," said Nielsen, "even the president is bad."
"In the Name of the People, the protagonist Hou Liangping refuses the gifts from many of his close friends. He sets a role model for government officials in the real world to follow, whom you could not find in the House of Cards," Nielsen said.
To Ivarsen, The House of Cards is focused on who is bad, while In the Name of the People is more focused on the process to find the bad guy.
MANIFESTING REAL-LIFE ANTI-CORRUPTION RESOLVE
Dzodin, who has been living in China for 14 years, said human beings are vulnerable to temptation that leads to corruption, and the fight against corruption usually comes with personal and social cost which sometimes can be life-threatening, as is shown in the drama.
"It is impossible to wipe out corruption because of human nature, but it' s possible to significantly minimize it," he said while hailing China's anti-corruption campaign at all levels in real life.
"A government brave enough to admit its mistake is considered honest in Norway," Ivarsen said, "The anti-graft campaign gives me a positive outlook on China. It makes me see that China is making huge endeavors to improve itself."