Television shows

Soft Power: Chinese TV Shows Tell Stories From Home

Shows like “Idol Producer” provide a better understanding of what it means to be Chinese, writes columnist Valerie Wu. (Photo courtesy of IMDB.)

When I first started writing this particular article – initially meant to reflect on my relationship with Boba – I found myself wanting to delve deeper into why I wanted to write about arts and entertainment from a Chinese-American perspective. in the first place. In the previous episodes of “Soft Power”, I tried to deconstruct and clarify some dominant ideas about Chinese identity as manifested in movies, food and music. For me, these ideas have shaped my understanding of what it means to be Chinese.

Thinking about what new ideas I might bring to this column, I realized that I had never wondered why my Chinese identity was so important to me or dissected the connection it has to my love of the arts and entertainment. After careful consideration, the closest response I came to was Chinese TV. Specifically, how Chinese TV shows have shaped my life as a Chinese American.

In my household, Chinese TV shows are not just an extension of the house, but rather represent who we are. These are realizations of time spent together. They are deliberate representations of the people we choose to talk to, the stories we love to watch, and the culture to which we belong. My affinity with Chinese TV shows is why the arts and entertainment are so important to me. Yet, in many ways, they can also be considered the cause.

Growing up, watching Chinese TV shows was more than a way to “pass the time” – it was a way to understand myself through others. Yes, they made me laugh a lot, but they also brought me closer to a language, a country and an identity with which I have often questioned my connection.

The Chinese talent shows affirmed my belief that the Chinese were so incredibly bright, an idea that was largely overlooked in the popular talent shows that I grew up watching. Chinese dramas taught me that being Chinese and being the romantic protagonist are not mutually exclusive. The Chinese variety shows highlighted my favorite Chinese dishes and showed me that culture is not an intangible commodity, but a familiar and accessible way of living and learning. I learned Mandarin from watching TV, and I learned what my Chinese identity meant to me through her performances.

Sometimes it’s hard to express in words what my Chinese-American identity means to me. Instead of trying to articulate it, however, I think about it in fragments through the ways my family chooses to occupy our time: my father’s eager discussions at the dinner table of his latest Chinese TV series. My mom and I huddled together on the couch, a laptop between us because we want to know who will win the China Idol Producer Award. My Chinese family in America, laughing at jokes that only Mandarin speakers will understand. Chinese karaoke sessions with the aunts in our neighborhood, where we chat about the Chinese cinema celebrities we love around Jay Chou’s latest song.

These moments are how I define home. If entertainment reflects how we choose to spend our time, then my consumption of Chinese TV shows reflects my desire to understand myself as a Chinese American. In my own way, my response to television was inevitably shaped by my life outside of it. In return, I defined myself as Chinese through the stories and experiences I saw on screen.

Even now, despite the advancements in my language skills, a TV sketch in Mandarin could fly over my head. I would feel lost and confused and not really “Chinese” at all. My mom would bend down and translate, and I still didn’t quite understand.

Yet when I look back and think about those moments, I don’t think of the difficulty I had to understand, but of the smile on my mother’s face as she explains. I will think of the glow of the television screen. I may not know the words they say. I may not know who the characters are. At such times, however, I know what the house means.

Valerie Wu is a second year student who writes about arts and pop culture in relation to her Chinese-American identity. His column, “Soft Power”, is broadcast every other Monday.


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