Fantasy history is a novel idea
Updated: 2012-04-05 07:36
By Xu Junqian (China Daily)
"During the past decade, time travel stories have grown, hit a peak and become part of the mainstream. However, time travel per se is no longer a topic, but merely a plot device," she said.
That opinion is shared by Teng Jing Shu, marketing manager of Tangren Film Studio, which produced the TV adaptation of Startling by Each Step. "The only thing that guarantees good ratings for a TV work is the story and a little help from the right casting, of course," she said.
Working as a sales director for a Global Fortune 500 company in the logistics industry, Xiao Chun is unwilling to reveal her real name, but her writing career is not a secret to her boss or colleagues. She quit her previous job four years ago and began a year-long road trip from Shanghai to Tibet and then on to Nepal, a journey that inspired her to write.
"It's inevitable that you will bring yourself into the story during the writing process, but making up a story doesn't mean that we are allowed to distort history at our sweet will," she said, noting that her novel has been described by readers as "more informative and factual than history books".
"Many writers are addicted to time travel themes because they already know the fine details about the period in question and believe they can change the facts. It may be OK for self-entertainment, but it could be dangerous if children and the impressionable actually believe that it is possible," she said.
Tragically, that may already be happening. In March, two 12-year-old girls in Fujian province committed suicide, leaving notes saying they wanted to travel back to the Qing Dynasty.
Similarly, a 19-year-old migrant worker in Liaoning province tried to travel to the Qing or Tang dynasties by paying 1,800 yuan ($286) for a bottle of "magic wine", after being told that it would enable her to travel through time.
Myths and weird plots
At the end of 2011, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television issued a guideline discouraging broadcasts featuring time travel themes because they "casually make up myths, have weird plots and use absurd tactics". The guideline was later upgraded to a full ban, prohibiting the shows from being shown or even made.
The ban has prompted heated discussion. Gong Danyun, a media commentator at the Shanghai-based Jiefang Daily newspaper, said that the remote control should be left in the hands of the audience and that the authorities should not be involved.
"As long as there is a market, there is a reason for it to exist," said Fang Zhiyuan, a historian from Jiangxi Normal University. "Our culture should be tolerant enough to embrace different tastes and choices."
Whatever the perception, some have been making a mint from the craze. Although the studios have been coy about their earnings from the genre, an upcoming sequel of Startling by Each Step, with exactly the same cast and title but a completely different story, suggests that it's very profitable indeed.
"Essentially, it's because there are few other forms of entertainment than TV, so people have little imagination," said Gu, the Fudan sociologist.
In 2011, 17,000 TV series episodes were produced, but it's estimated that only around 7,000 were actually broadcast. Therefore, to reduce the risk of joining the list of redundant shows, studios prefer to produce programs that have a high likelihood of being popular, so that television stations will buy and broadcast them. And, as industry insiders have pointed out, the safest way is to simply replicate earlier successful shows.