On the Way to a Better Life: Countryside themed romance in recent Chinese Television

Huike Wen (Willamette University)

Session 9.2: Romancing Chinese Worlds


Thousands of romantic stories are told in East Asian media landscape while few of them happen in a rural area. Romantic love seems only belong to the city folks, which probably because romantic love is highly embedded in metropolitan consuming culture and media audience’s imagination of a progressive, good, passionate and adventurous life. If media, as many scholars have argued, provide a fantasy for individuals’ imagination and pursuit of certain types of romance, the fact that rural space is underrepresented in Chinese TV romance speaks two issues: 1) the rural area probably can’t provide a space for people to imagine romantic love; 2) the rural area is ignored by the media producers who are mainly upper middle class metropolitan urbanites.
Tracing the history of the representation of rural romance in socialist Chinese media, in this paper, [Wen wants] to examine the representation of romantic love (or unromantic love) in countryside in recent Chinese television. From a gender studies perspective this paper is a critical analysis of the representation of romantic love in one of the most well-known countryside themed romances, Rural Love Story (Xiangcun Aiqing Gushi) series.
Initially released in 2006, the story has developed into nine serials and undoubtedly the most long lasting and viewed television drama that focuses specifically on rural people’s life. Based on the detailed examination of the beginning, developing, conflicting and temporary ending of the main protagonists’ love stories, [Wen argues] that Rural Love Story can’t imagine a romance in which heroines can find agency and freedom to love due to the duties and ethics to take care of not only their conjugal families and village but also as the symbol of a strong and progressive Chinese economy and subject embedded with neoliberalism ideology.

This representation of romance is rooted in the long tradition of using women as the symbols of national objectives. At the same time, unlike the romantic stories of and by metropolitan urbanites, which often reflects individuals’ struggles and anxieties, the stories in rural romance have to carry the double duties of simultaneously reflecting the urgency to change and catch up with the urban peers and the moral values of keeping traditional community values and remain that way. The double duties are not only self-contradictory but apparently conflict with the romantic adventure of modern love stories — to explore possibilities, enjoy freedom and focus on individual’s self-realization. But these stories also reflect a Chineseness that has been consistently reemphasized in the TV programs themed with romantic love in recent Chinese media
Pre-Socialist China – Leftist Movies

The Peach Girl (1931)

21st century

Cities are the ‘field of life’ and rural areas are ‘field of death’ (Yan Hanrong 2008)

  • Young students want to go to colleges in cities
  • Students want to get away from parents farms
  • Bachelor villages in southern china
  • Girls would rather go to city to look after children than marry and live in countryside

Tv drama. ‘Rural romantic love story’ (2006 – ?)

  • Has lasted 12 years so far
  • Depicting families in the rural areas
  • Showing relationships where woman stay in rural areas
  • All written / produced by men (driven by shortage of women due to one child policy)

Plots we might expect:

  • Most exiting – first meeting
  • Affair
  • Wife can’t get pregnant
  • Obstacles

Actual plots (more rural than romance):

  • Isn’t courtship – young people already know each other
  • Fathers will talk to each other, see how to save kids’ marriages
  • Fathers will discuss where to find best doctors to help daughters get pregnant

Rural love stories = romance of fathers’ utopian life (really it is a bromance between the fathers, along with rural propaganda). Romance is used in the title to show that it isn’t propaganda, even though it really is

  • Focus on men
  • Need to give the men jobs
  • Denial of reality of situation
  • Skip courtship, denial of women’s opportunity to express desires
  • Ending is people are happy when they have a successful business
  • People may arrive in town, but they don’t leave unless they are villains

The only female entrepreneur has tofu business (which is very feminine in Chinese culture, soft and tender), others are market gardeners, rabbit trappers etc – no viewpoint on female life.

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