Corruption-themed TV drama causes sensation in China

A poster of "In the Name of People".

A new corruption-themed TV drama, which is adapted from a novel by Zhou Meisen, has made a splash across China, where innumerable government and Communist Party of China (CPC) officials have been snared in a sweeping anti-graft campaign spearheaded by President Xi Jinping.

"In the Name of People", which is produced by the Film and TV Center under the country's Supreme People's Procuratorate, narrates its story through the fictional character of Hou Liangping, who is a procurator in the TV drama, which focuses on the investigation of corrupt officials at various levels in the fictional province of Handong.

The screening of the TV series comes as the CPC prepares for its 19th National Congress scheduled to convene in autumn, when President Xi will start his second term. And the TV drama, which stars many prestigious actors and actresses including Lu Yi, Zhang Fengyi and Zhang Kaili, has been sorted out as one of the top recommended TV dramas by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) in celebration of the successful opening of the 19th National Congress of the CPC.

The first episode of "In the Name of People", which premiered on the Hunan Satellite Television on March 28 and is also available on the online video streaming platforms, was viewed about 350 million times on all platforms, according to media reports. So far, the teleplay's verified account on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, has attracted over 200,000 followers.

Unprecedented government endorsement

The production of "In the Name of People" is done at the request of Fan Ziwen, deputy director of the film and TV center under the Supreme People's Procuratorate who invited Zhou, the famous political novelist, to create a TV drama on the theme of anti-corruption at the end of 2014.

Zhou, who initially turned down Fan's invitation due to concerns over China's strict censorship rules on films and TV shows, began writing the screenplay of "In the Name of People" in March 2015, after Li Jingsheng, the then head of the SAPPRFT's TV series unit, showed strong support to the creation of the TV drama, which Li said could give full scope to the national initiative to combat corruption.

China's anti-graft campaign has been growing vigorously since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, and with numerous "tigers" (referring to high-ranking officials) captured, a TV drama focusing on anti-corruption efforts is in urgent need of showing the country's achievements in combating corruption, Fan said in an interview.

In 2015, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the CPC's anti-corruption watchdog, issued an instruction asking the Supreme People's Procuratorate's film and TV center to produce more corruption-themed films and TV dramas, according to Fan.

The 2015 instruction put an end to a force-out period from 2004 to 2014, during which authorities banned TV shows with topics including corruption and terror from being aired at the prime time.

Zhou feels encouraged by the policy change given that censors asked him to make modifications in many of his novels before they could be turned into TV dramas.

In an interview, the novelist and scriptwriter, who was shocked by the rise of corruption between 2004 and 2014, refuted the notion that corruption-themed films and TV dramas would have negative effect on the society. "In fact, the restrictions on corruption-themed works would give free rein to corruption ... Corruption became more and more intense, even though there were bans on corruption-themed productions," Zhou said.

"In the Name of People" is the first of five anti-corruption TV dramas that the Supreme People's Procuratorate's broadcast department has been producing.

Mirror of anti-graft work

"We want to reflect a real anti-corruption ecology to the audiences. Skipping the point and making it ambiguous cannot help us produce a good corruption-themed drama," Li Lu, director of "In the Name of People", said in an interview.

The director hailed "In the Name of People" as a TV drama that breaks with the embarrassment, in which corruption-themed films and TV series failed to give a landscape of China's clampdown on corruption and were unable to reflect the great significance of the sweeping anti-graft drive.

Li admitted that some scenarios of "In the Name of People" come from the reflection on the real corruption cases, saying that the goal of shooting the TV drama is to "study the causes of corruption and offer a solution to the prevention of corruption in an artistic way".

In the first episode of "In the Name of People", there are similarities between the character of a corrupt official and Wei Pengyuan, former deputy director of the coal department at the National Energy Administration who had more than 200 million yuan in cash at his residence. Wei was found guilty of corruption and given a suspended death penalty in October last year.

"'In the Name of People' truly shows the complexity and difficulties of the anti-corruption work and plays an educational and disciplinary role," Du Jingrui, a procurator from central China's Henan province, said.

Peng Xinlin, secretary general of the international anti-corruption research center at Beijing Normal University, said that the hot broadcast embodies the "trend of the times" and "the CPC's confidence in its anti-corruption system" as well as the Party's determination to punish corrupt officials no matter what titles they hold.

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