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As televison dramas about China's war with Japan gradually become more farcical, many are forgetting the cruelty of war.
Last year, Chinese authorities approved 303 new TV shows. Altogether, more than half had a “revolutionary” theme, and of those the vast majority depicted anti-Japanese conflicts.
Many of these dramas do well financially. The shows Anti-Japanese Cometh and Indelible Designation, for instance, saw a 200 and 300 percent return on investment respectively.
However, these kinds of TV series also began receiving heavy criticism last year. Netizens listed three recurring problems in these dramas including overindulgence in martial arts, idolization of Chinese heroes and lack of humanization for Japanese soldiers.
These series have also been criticized by celebrities. Liu Chun (刘春), former executive director of Phoenix Television's Chinese channel, said that the screenwriters of these programs are terrible. "They turn a tragedy into a farce and describe all the Japanese soldiers as idiots," he said.
One key reason for concern over the popularity of anti-Japanese dramas is that they've been manufactured to have entertainment value for mass consumption. Some worry that they marginalize the true heroes of that era and trivialize serious historical events.
So why are there so many anti-Japanese TV series? In a nutshell, propaganda-oriented censorship makes them the safest bet for producers.
According to People's Daily, Gao Dayong (高大庸), screenwriter for a new reboot of "Journey to the West," said that with a safe theme and high ratings, it's no wonder that so many choose to produce anti-Japanese TV series.
"Costume dramas are limited and spy dramas aren't allowed to be broadcasted during prime time," said Zhou Weicheng (周伟成), general manager of Zhejiang Greentown Media. "What other choice do we have?”
But aside from censorship, some dark desires held by audiences play an underlying psychological role for the popularity of these programs.
Most anti-Japanese dramas have visually appealing action scenes. They include gun battles, martial arts, bloody fights and other graphic violence. Moreover, some programs depict women being sexually assaulted, which grabs viewers' attention and has a deep psychological impact.
Killing is also one of the most attractive elements. In these dramas, Japanese soldiers get killed easily and randomly. Many viewers, including war veterans, have joked that more Japanese soldiers are killed in a single program than were killed in the actual war.
This shows the bloodthirsty psychology of both screenwriters and the audience. It implies that we could kill people from other countries at will during a war, which is a very distorted view to have.
The anti-Japanese dramas can establish a sense of national pride, especially in the context of current Sino-Japanese tensions. However, we can't deny that Japanese soldiers, and even the Japanese nation, are oversimplified and demonized through these dramas.