This paper explores the discourse of cultural nationalism and its recent articulation in historical TV dramas (Lishi ju): TV serials set in the Chinese imperial past and depicting court politics and the private lives of imperial families. First, I briefly survey the recent resurgence of historical drama on the TV screen, especially comparing two different ways of representing history: “history light” (xishuo) and “history orthodox” (zhengju). While history light, a new genre strongly influenced by the costume dramas imported from Hong Kong and Taiwan, emphasizes the entertainment values of popular culture and adopts a postmodern attitude towards history, history orthodox renews the pedagogical tradition and the moralistic narrative of historical drama in modern China since the May Fourth enlightenment movement. I then focus on TV dramas in the history orthodox mode and their ideological messages, examining two representative works by Hu Mei: Yongzheng Dynasty (Yongzheng wangchao, 1999) and The Great Emperor Wu of Han (Hanwu dadi, 2005). While drawing attention to the various narrative strategies, intertextualities and audio-visual styles employed in these dramas to represent the glorious national history and portray a strong leader (the emperor) as national hero, I also provide a contextual analysis of the production and circulation of these two dramas as well as the critical and media response to them, to reveal the social agencies and social formation of these dramas behind the screen. I suggest that the revisionist reframing of the past in historical TV drama reflects a new nationalist historical consciousness and cultural identity borne out of China’s rapid rise and aspirations to become an economic and political superpower.
Chinese TV, cultural nationalism, empire
Guo, Yingjie, 2004, Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary China: The search for national identity under reform, London and New York: Routledge Curzon.
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