His latest work, My Sweet Home, a 20-episode TV series starring veteran actors Liu Peiqi and Li Liqun, won wide recognition at the 15th Shanghai Television Festival last month. The story is about the life of 45-year-old laid-off factory worker Luo Zhigang.
|Liu Peiqi (right) plays the lead in the 20-episode series My Sweet Home. [China Daily]
"The historical drama was popular because audiences were interested in the life of imperial families and splendid settings and costumes. But gradually, audiences have set their eyes on ordinary people and their daily lives, which are closer to themselves. It is easy to understand but still touching," Mai adds.
While the settings and characters in these TV series are native, the plot twists, coincidences and flair for the dramatic recall soap operas in the West.
To cater to the local TV-watching habits, Beijing television station broadcasts three episodes a night, which locks viewers to the TV set every evening.
"There are two types of audiences in China: the older generation which accepts various TV series themes, and the younger generation which loves modern romance," Zhang says.
"Elderly people are stable TV fans while the younger generation is enthusiastic about expressing its opinions on the Internet. Both of them have the power to drive the development of the Chinese TV industry."
Ever since the first major soap opera made in China, the sensationally popular 50-part series called Aspirations, audiences have got used to watch family story-based TV series.
First broadcast in 1990 and re-broadcast many times since then, Aspirations begins in the 1960s, and traces 20 years of hardships and joys shared by several families.
Another TV drama, The Happy Life of Gossip Zhang Damin, has had similar social feedback since it was first broadcast in 2001. Many Beijngers say the soap opera realistically portrays the lives of common people in Beijing's hutong. Most do not have phones in their homes, burn coal to cook and live in cramped conditions.
Today, due to the fast pace of economic development and foreign influences, foreign soap operas have also become popular.
Ten years ago, throughout Asia, The Jewel in the Palace and Winter Sonata were must-see television shows. Korean stars like Lee Young-ae from The Jewel in the Palace had a huge fan base in China.
In recent years, however, the popularity of Korean soap operas has cooled as audiences prefer to watch fast-paced American TV dramas. They buy DVDs of American TV series such as Sex and the City, Ugly Betty and Heroes and watch them all evening.
Actor Zhang says that though he has seen many American TV soap dramas, "none of my works have been seen by American TV makers".
"Watching soap operas is a good way to learn about a country's culture and the lives of ordinary people. Foreign TV series have influenced our viewers but not the other way."
According to Zhang, entering the global television market requires a lot of effort and cannot be achieved in a short period of time, as DVDs with English subtitles need to be made and media promotion has to be done.
"However, we are still lucky that China has such a big market and we have so many loyal TV fans," Zhang says.
(China Daily July 15, 2009)