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China and Inner Asia
In Session: Chinese Television in the Postsocialist Era: A Modern Medium for Everyday Life
3: “China’s Game of Thrones": Historical Fantasy and the Spectacularization of Culture in Contemporary Chinese Television
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Wake Forest University, United States
Comparisons to big-budget Western television series such as Game of Thrones are seemingly inevitable in discussions on the current landscape of Chinese television. While such comparisons often serve as lazy clickbait or fatuous marketing, their ubiquity in domestic and foreign critiques of contemporary programming also suggests changing understandings of television production and reception. To call a show “China’s Game of Thrones” implies an aesthetics of spectacle at work, both in shaping popular engagement with Chinese history, politics, and culture, and as a key mode of engaging a global viewership. In this presentation, I take the claim of a Chinese Game of Thrones seriously, not to make derivative comparisons between Western and Chinese narrative motifs or production values, but as an attempt to consider the broader implications of televisual spectacle and the global circulation of historical fantasy. As case studies, I consider the recent blockbuster series (each of which has garnered numerous comparisons to Game of Thrones), Langya bang (Nirvana in Fire, 2015), Yanxi gonglüe (Story of Yanxi Palace, 2018), and Chang’an shiershichen (The Longest Day in Chang’an, 2019). Although each of these shows feature narratives rooted in Chinese history and follow in a long lineage of popular period dramas and martial arts series, they also signal a new stage in the growth of the Chinese television industry, with an emphasis on the cultivation of global distribution and fan networks, speculative rendering of historical narrative, and production of cultural spectacle.