Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
Adapted from George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novel, “A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones,” season two of the television series by the same name landed in Mainland China in April 2012. Broadcast exclusively by Sohu, it continues with another wave of ratings following last year’s broadcast of season one. In less than two months episodes 1 through 10 have been ordered on-demand more than 250,000 times. At the same time, the Chinese versions of volume two of the series of novels, “A Clash of Kings,” and the third volume, “A Storm of Swords Part 1: Steel and Snow” have hit the Chinese market in April and June respectively.
Many Chinese readers and viewers have praised “Game of Thrones” for having “an historical flavor and a poetic artistic conception,” and enjoy its beautiful, atmospheric style. But even more viewers feel that this work is so full of Machiavellian struggles that it causes the romances between the characters to appear quite brutal in such a context, and that being “cruel” enough is the key to winning popularity.
Also in April, a Chinese power-play drama, “Empresses in the Palace,” premiered on television across the country and was enormously well-received. By the end of April, the total number of unique domestic video site hits for it had rapidly broken 1 billion. And on Shanghai Dragon TV it had the highest share of ratings at 9%, and the highest share of ratings nationally at 1.87%, the highest television ratings in history for China and Shanghai.
“Empresses in the Palace” was adapted from the novel of the same name by female author born in the 80s Liu Lianzi. Following the broadcast of the television series, animation companies have come knocking; an animated version of “Empresses in the Palace” began being serialized in a famous anime magazine.
The television series “Empresses in the Palace” got rid of the fictitious dynasty that was in the novel and was adapted from the history of Qing Dynasty in China. In the series, the heroine Zhen Huan is the daughter of an official , who is chosen to join the imperial palace as a concubine to the emperor. Both beautiful and intelligent, the emperor falls deeply in love with her; however, other concubines in the harem become jealous, and she is plotted against repeatedly. After Zhen Huan is made to fall out of favor, her father is implicated and imprisoned as well. In her despair, she decides to join a temple as a nun. But on her way there, she is tended with great care by the emperor’s younger brother, the Seventeenth Prince, and through trials and tribulations, real feelings grow between the two of them. But the Seventeenth Prince is given orders by the emperor, and sent out on patrol, where he meets with misfortune. News of his death is sent out by mistake, and in an effort to avenge him, Zhen Huan goes back to the palace, and begins planning her revenge on the emperor and the harem of concubines. Unfortunately, the romance between her and the Seventeenth Prince turns to tragedy in the end; even though the emperor dies in anger, and she defeats the harem of concubines, Zhen Huan remains lonely even when standing at the peak of her power, and this causes the audience to sigh with regret.
Compared to the West, with its relative lack of works about power-plays, power-play novels and television shows have long stood in the field of view by readers and audiences in China. Of these works, the context that appears most frequently, involves the historical life of the imperial palace’s harem.
As early as 2003, the Qing Dynasty imperial harem drama “War and Beauty,” produced by Hong Kong’s TVB network, was named “first ancestor” , and a classic among Chinese imperial dramas. All popular imperial dramas since then, including “Empresses in the Palace,” were influenced by it. Moreover, Chinese power-play dramas are often set in modern urban contexts, and power struggles between rich and powerful families are definitely another type of widely popular power-play drama. In 2012, Hong Kong’s newest television series, “Master of Play,” took the power-play struggle set in modern times to another level. Out of selfish desire, the father and son in the show act savagely toward one another, and join in the suspense to reveal the ugliness of human nature.
Although such television series as “Empresses in the Palace” and “Master of Play” lack the fantasy context of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the White Terrors in those stories created to take over power are equally terrible and equally complex, pulling at the nerves of the audience. Due to the popularity of “Empresses in the Palace,” many web users have even imitated the way characters from the series speak by using an antique tone in their blogs. These have been called “Zhen Huans,” and are popular on every major social network and BBS. But retorts have been heard repeatedly as well; they have been openly criticized in the “People’s Daily” that their mutually deceptive law of the jungle are misleading for young people, and votes have even been initiated in blogs as to whether or not imperial dramas should be banned. There are also people who think the many adaptations over the past couple of years of imperial dramas into online novels are tantamount to consciously falsifying history, and only having successes and failures, not right and wrong, plus the sheer amount of imperial dramas assaulting the television screens, are not having any positive influence on the audience at all. At the end of 2011, China’s Administration of Radio, Film, and Television banned imperial dramas from being broadcast at 8:00 during prime time, but their popularity has not subsided one bit. Many web users who support “Empresses in the Palace” think the essence of a TV drama is entertainment, and that it should not be hard-linked with the education of minors.