China’s surprise television hit of the spring allows viewers to watch Xi Jinping’s corruption crackdown play out from the comfort of their own living room as crooked officials are caught with fridges full of banknotes and in bed with foreign mistresses.
“In the Name of the People” began airing on Hunan Television on March 28th. Bankrolled by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the national agency charged with investigating and prosecuting graft, the 55-episode drama stars a do-gooder anti-graft investigator going after corrupt officials — both “tigers” and “flies” — in a fictional Chinese county that is rotten to the core.
Despite the fact that the debut episode went up against a 2018 World Cup qualifying match, it managed to become a huge nation-wide hit, attracting more than twice as many viewers as the football match. It’s also available on various Chinese online platforms like Youku, iQiyi and Mango TV where it has racked up over 500 million views.
“In the Name of People” ranked #1 compared to other shows broadcast on various satellite stations on its debut night.
Because of its sensitive subject matter, the show has managed to generate a lot of buzz. It has become a trending topic on Weibo with the hashtag #人民的名义# (the drama’s Chinese name) being used over 313,000 times and tallying 400 million views.
It has also received glowing reviews online from some netizens. One web user remarked that the release of the corruption-filled drama signals a marked improvement in the Chinese government’s own openness. Another echoed this view, saying that “the fact that they are willing to face society’s flaws shows that our nation has grown.”
Though, of course, not everyone was a fan of this so-called “House of Cards with Chinese characteristics.” “I’m so disappointed in the Communist Party. How could they film such a horrible show?” one wondered. “While the show may include real events, it still leaves a lot out,” charged another.
The show’s main protagonist Hou Liangping: “If he is corrupt, he is anti-Party; if he is greedy, he must be captured.”
“In the Name of the People” is based on a novel of political intrigue by author Zhou Meisen, a former member of the government of a city in Jiangsu province. For his book, on local corruption in the Chinese system, Zhou was able to draw from a wealth of source material. In the second episode, a corrupt official is caught and arrested after a mind-boggling amount of money is found hidden inside his secret mansion [SPOILER ALERT!]. The camera shows piles of cash filling a refrigerator, covering a bed and hiding an entire wall. One web user joked that the show’s name ought to be “In the Name of the Chinese Yuan.”
The fictional corrupt official has drawn real-life comparisons to Wei Pengyuan, the infamous former vice director of the National Energy Administration’s coal department who was found to have concealed over 200 million yuan in cash in his flat — forced to resort to some creative interior design, removing all the furniture apart from a single bed to make room for all that money. At the time of Wei’s arrest, it was reported that investigators used 16 mechanical bill counters to count up all the cash, and four of the machines burned out from the herculean effort. He was given a suspended death sentence last year.
Wei Pengyuan on trial for corruption.
This isn’t the first time that the Chinese government has highlighted corruption on national television. Last year, the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection brought Chinese audiences a new type of reality show featuring some of China’s most notorious public officials taking to the screen to confess to their crimes in front of the nation.
The eight-part series was aired in the run up to the plenary session of the Central Committee in Beijing in October. With the 19th Party Congress meeting set for this fall, at which Xi Jinping will be able to reshuffle China’s top party leadership as he sees fit for his second term as leader, we can expect to see more of this kind of programming in the coming months.
Start watching the show below:
By Allison Ma
[Images via Weibo / Tencent / Baidu / Global Times]
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