Annie Wang at PostGlobal

Annie Wang

Shanghai, China

Annie Wang is a journalist, public speaker, and author who specializes women’s issue. She has published eight Chinese books and two English novels. Her English debut, Lili - A Novel of Tiananmen, (June 2001 Pantheon Books) published internationally to critical acclaims. A multi-layered novel, Lili, is a story of a "bad girl's" maturation and adventure in the Post-Mao Era leading up the Tiananmen Student Movement in 1989. Her most recent English novel, The People’s Republic of Desire (Harper Collins 2006) is a hilarious satire and an insightful portrait of China’s MTV generation, urban women, and cross-cultural relationships. It has been hailed as a cross between Sex and the City and Joy Luck Club. A child prodigy in her native China, Annie Wang studied mass communications at UC Berkeley and won the Berkeley Poetry Contest in 1996 with two poems, "Speaking to Mao Tse-tung, Tongue-in-cheek" and "A Woman from a Mountain Area". She has worked for high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, and then served in the Washington Post's Beijing bureau and the US State Department. In 2004, she returned to China and ran a fashion magazine in Shanghai. Currently, she lives with her husband and son and divides time between the U.S. and China. Close.

Annie Wang

Shanghai, China

Annie Wang is a journalist, public speaker, and author who specializes women’s issue. She has published eight Chinese books and two English novels. more »

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Emperors, Concubines and Politics Today

China learns from the outside world fast. There have been Chinese versions of the American Idol show, The Apprentice, etc. But if you ask what shows have been most popular, I'd say they have always been series and soap operas set in imperial China. At the moment, for example, it's the 80-episode TV series about the second emperor in the Tang Dynasty.

Nowadays, people enjoy talking about the Tang Dynasty as if China is in its second heyday, with the new administration and a strong economy, and China’s historic greatness is alive again today. Sure, this kind of show serves as patriotic propaganda to please nationalists and the central government. Yet it has also gained grass-roots support for its entertainment value.

Chinese audiences are obsessed with emperor stories. It’s true that communism is supposed to advocate egalitarianism. It’s true that the last emperor of the Manchu Dynasty was driven out of the Forbidden City at the beginning of the 20th century and China has been a republic ever since. It’s also true that Chinese’s desire for royalty has never died out. Why is that? There is a Chinese saying feng gu yu jin, “using history to mirror the current situation.” When you cannot talk about politics openly and freely, talking history becomes a means of expressing artfully what you wish to say about sensitive aspects of the present.

Imperial stories tend to follow standard formulas. First, the Emperor's concubines and courtesans fight each other to gain favor. With China’s fast-growing economy, the second wives phenomenon has been in existence for some time. Many young women would rather take the position of a rich man's mistress than be a poor man’s wife. Corrupt government officials now fallen from disgrace have often been found to have had many mistresses when they were in power. Viewers enjoy watching the cattiness of emperors' concubines. The jealousy is something modern women still relate to.

The second important element is the men, the ministers, the good ones and bad ones and their opposing factions. Emperors in soap operas tend to favor those of their followers who flatter them profusely. They may not get the job done, but they keep getting promoted because they have mastered the art of ass-kissing. The ones who tell the truth often end up being wronged. Factional infighting is also important. A minister is not evaluated based on his job performance, but rather based on "whose people is he?" This is still somewhat true in politics in all levels in China, including common office politics and positions of power.

Lastly, the emperors make all of the decisions, not the system. This is rule by the ruler, not the law. Again, the shows have something to say about an issue very alive in China today.

The bottom line: creators of such TV shows can express their political views or mock the current situation through historic figures without getting themselves into trouble. And whether they agree with the commentary or simply like the acting, the public watches them.

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