Zhou Li, an employee of a Shanghai based electrical appliances company, says she has since early September declined all appointments or invitations staying home at night so that she can sit in front of the television in time for "Dae Jang Geum," a Republic of Korean TV series that has become a runaway hit this year.
Like a magnet, the seemingly common stories set in the Chosun Dynasty about 500 years ago demand every minute of her attention, as if they were "life experiences of my own," says the stylish 27-year-old.
She is just one of the millions of Chinese viewers fascinated by the ROK historical TV drama Dae Jang Geum since it debut on Hunan TV on Sept. 1.
According to a latest rating by CVSC-SOFRES Media, a Sino-French media research corporation, the audience rating of the series averages 3.15 percent in 31 large and medium-sized cities and is still climbing.
What's the magic spell behind the story of a female master chef in the royal palace who later became the only private doctor of the king?
TRADITIONAL VALUES REGAINED
Before it debuted on the mainland's screen, Dae Jang Geum had scored big in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
The series finale reportedly drew a record 3.2 million of Hong Kong's nearly 6.9 million potential viewers for Television Broadcasts Ltd., a local television broadcaster. Lee Young-ae, the star of the show, drew huge media attention when she visited Hong Kong in May.
"ROK dramas are often based on human-interest stories," says Chen Gang, vice president of Hunan Economic TV. "They capture details of everyday life and reveal the true meaning of life."
Chinese domestic producers, in contrast, tend to follow others' suit. "That's why TV viewers complain they often tune in the same historical drama on every channel for months," said Chen.
On the other hand, ROK TV dramas grip the viewers with everlasting themes that people never find boring, he says. "Dae Jang Geum, for example, focuses on Jang Geum's optimism and persistence. Such qualities are very much called-for in our personal development in the present-day society."
In the meantime, most Asian countries cherish such traditional ethical values as patriotism, loyalty, filial piety and brotherly love.
"Unfortunately, some of these values are fading as the Chinese society undergoes restructuring and competition heats up under the market economy," says Chen. "Dae Jang Geum has reminded the Chinese viewers of these values."
Many viewers have noticed the clear national marks born by the popular ROK TV series are the best adverts for Korean culture, costumes, cuisine as well as popular stars.
"The dramas win the Chinese audience's hearts with details of Korean family life: dainty home decorations, appetizing dishes and traditional costumes," says Chen Gang, who has long been studying ROK TV dramas," and pass the messages of national culture and oriental ethics with details and delicacies of everyday life."
And on top of it, the Korean culture and lifestyles ring a bell and are easily accepted by the Chinese, says Dr. Zuo Wen at the Chinese Department of Beijing Normal University.
"These TV series never involve violence -- they always tell beauty, truth and kindness through simple yet touching stories," says Zuo. "In this sense, they're much better than many of the much advertized 'blockbusters'."
Korean TV dramas that have been penetrating into the Chinese screen since the 1990s have undoubtedly helped Korean culture to take hold in China. Trendy Korean-style dresses and hairstyles are much sought after by the young people in China, teenagers in particular. The trend has been described as "hanliu", or a wave of Korean stuff, by the Chinese media.
CHINESE TV: STRIKING CHORD WITH THE WORLD
China has produced very good TV series of its own in the recent decade, particularly historical dramas that often boasted very high audience ratings. But few of them have touched the international audience.
"Even domestic viewers think these dramas are simply 'good', but are forgotten shortly," says Chen Gang, a seasoned TV producer. "Very few domestically produced TV dramas can spark heated arguments among the audience even when they're on show."
A recent survey conducted by sina.com also shows 53 percent of the 17,000 respondents enjoy Korean TV series, while only 16.6 percent of the people surveyed like homegrown TV dramas.
The ultimate goal, as well as the final way out for Chinese homegrown TV series, he says, is to tap the innermost feelings of the viewers and help them reestablish traditional values that were somehow shattered under the stress of a fast-paced society.
"When the viewers tune in a TV program, they need to sit back, relax and enjoy how people on the screen seek their respective goals in a persevering and free manner," says Chen.
(Xinhua News Agency October 17, 2005)