For a 2017 Routledge edition on Religion and the Media in China, I have been working on a chapter about the Confucian influences on the portrayal of women in contemporary Chinese television drama. The volume, that is edited by Stefania Travagnin, focuses on “the intersection of religion and the media in China, bringing interdisciplinary approaches to bear on the role of religion in the lives of individuals and greater shifts within Chinese society in an increasingly media-saturated environment” (Taylor & Francis 2015).

 

This chapter zooms in on the government-orchestrated journey the female protagonist in China’s popular entertainment has made: from woman warrior in nationalist war play, via red soldier in Maoist model opera, to the good Confucian housewife in prime-time soap drama.

In the early spring of 2013, Mainland China’s television drama Good Wife (Xianqi 贤妻) hit number one in the country’s popularity charts. This TV series, broadcast by Hunan TV, revolves around a Chinese mother and housewife who, despite being betrayed and bullied by her in-laws, remains virtuous, respectful, kind and patient, and does whatever it takes to save her marriage and keep the family together.

Television dramas such as Good Wife, focusing on marriage and family life, have become increasingly popular in China. Their narratives are built on Confucian key values such as the maintenance of hierarchical relations, preserving harmony and the fulfillment of one’s duties according to one’s role within the family or society.

The portrayal of the woman as an obedient wife, mother and daughter poses a stark contrast with popular representations of women during the first decades of the Republic and the Mao years, when they were not merely confined to their position as housewife or mother but took on a wide range of roles, from tractor driver to red soldier.

The growing popularity of television dramas such as Good Wife coincides with an overall resurgence of Confucian values since the end of the twentieth century. Party policymakers have been advocating a “revival of Confucianism” (Zhu 2008, 58-60), and since China is the biggest consumer of television dramas in the world, these series have become a vital channel to propagate ideological messages.

Here is the link to the volume.