Anti-Japanese war dramas are a politically safe staple of Chinese television. They are like the daily rice bowl of entertainment–another day, another predictable drama about a heroic Chinese man vanquishing the imperial aggressor. But the Chinese public, with its increasing appetite for new types of media, is no longer satisfied with plain rice. So in a quest to woo back bored viewers, WWII dramas are increasingly upping their gore, sex, and style factors. However, not everyone is a fan of these sexier, modern interpretations, despite the increased ratings they may draw.
During the month of September, in order to commemorate and drum up enthusiasm for the newly established “Martyr’s Day”, Chinese TV stations were ordered to air shows with anti-fascist and patriotic themes, which is basically code for anti-Japanese war dramas. When the Japanese occupied China during WWII they committed numerous atrocities–most famously the Rape of Nanjing. Resistance shows showcase brazen young Chinese comrades in often fictional exploits in protection of the motherland. And during the month of September, they ran constantly. On every channel. Constantly.
However, these dramas are neither new nor unique to the month of September. According to The New York Times, in 2013 alone China produced 100 anti-Japanese films and 70 anti-Japanese TV series. Although the government certainly encourages these productions, studios produce them on their own dime. Why do studios produce so many movies and TV shows that have been done before and will be done again? According to the New York Times, it’s about profit. It simply makes better financial sense to produce media that is all but guaranteed to shoot quickly past the censors and get whacked onto TV sets.
However, the Chinese appetite for traditional war time dramas appears to be dimming. The same drama year-after-year does tend to get boring. And with more and more Chinese citizens gaining access to the internet and alternative forms of media, old war dramas are looking increasingly, well, old. In order to add some spice to these well-trod plots and lure back audiences, studios are increasingly including more sex, violence, and heart-throbs.
The over-the-top, ridiculous violence that characterizes many of these newer dramas is routinely mocked on Weibo. After all, it is a bit unlikely that numerous Japanese planes were downed with small hand grenades tossed by handsome Chinese resistance fighters casually smoking cigarettes. Most famously, and most amusingly, one WWII drama depicted a Chinese partisan ripping a Japanese solider in half with his bare hands. Blood gushed everywhere, but no internal organs were to be seen. Perhaps because the devils, as the Japanese are referred to in dramas, have no hearts?
However, it is the sexual aspects of these dramas that is increasingly getting the censors going. A recent editorial in the state run Chinese Youth Daily laments recent dramas’ emphasis on love triangles and stylish hunks. Trying to find a way, any way, to make a show stand-out in the incredibly crowded anti-Japanese media landscape is apparently disrespecting history. The censors are already uncomfortable with shows pushing sexual boundaries. But using nostalgic, propaganda pieces to do so is increasingly striking many as in poor taste.
Can sexy propaganda still be effective propaganda? Or is it disrespecting China’s painful WWII history? As is often the case with art, it’s all just a matter of taste.
Image via Weibo.