想象一下大排场的英国历史剧《唐顿庄园》(Downton Abbey)的剧本含沙射影地讽刺特里萨•梅(Theresa May)的政府以及她处理英国退欧的方式，由此引发观众共鸣。
但你不能一直压住好剧不播。随着3月平安无事地过去，至少有一些剧陆续在网上播出——比如《白蛇传》(The Legend of White Snake)，这是一个关于爱情、心碎和毁灭的故事。
这些节目受到中国观众的热捧。长达70集的《延禧攻略》(The Story of Yanxi Palace)，成为去年在谷歌(Google)上搜索最多的电视节目——这还是在一个谷歌搜索引擎受到屏蔽的国家——并在80多个国家播出。根据播出该剧的爱奇艺（iQiyi，一家类似Netflix的平台）的数据，它平均每天播放3亿次，累计观看次数超过210亿次。
香港公开大学人文社会科学院(School of Arts & Social Sciences at the Open University of Hong Kong)讲师Lok-yin Law（他太太就是一名清宫剧狂热粉丝）表示，清宫剧的成功秘诀有两点。一是这些故事与当今职场生活存在共鸣——办公室里的背后中伤就像王朝后宫嫔妃间的勾心斗角一样寻常；二是它们重现了中国文化的辉煌之处。
与英国的历史剧一样，历史学家们抱怨称，它们为了收视率而牺牲了准确性。香港大学中文学院(School of Chinese, The University of Hong Kong)副教授宋耕表示：“在清朝，皇帝忙着处理政治和国家事务……他们不可能有时间应付这么多的嫔妃，还要在她们中间斡旋。”
因此，宫廷剧有望成为中国软实力“军火库”的一部分。中国文化未能在全球拥有太大影响力——与韩国流行音乐(K-pop)或日本动漫的影响力形成对比——这一事实，令中国国内的一些人感到沮丧。一位分析师表示：“《功夫熊猫》(Kung Fu Panda)由好莱坞出品是荒谬的。”
以下为此文英文原文：Political barbs of imperial era television dramas enthral Chinese viewers
Imagine the script of Downton Abbey, the lavish UK television period drama, tickled to launch subtle barbs at the administration of Theresa May and, say, her handling of Brexit.
Chinese costume dramas, equally lavish and likewise holding a nation in thrall, have added just such a layer of political piquancy to tales of intrigue and love in the Qing dynasty. Several platforms held off airing episodes of the shows during the politically sensitive month of March, when political meetings are held.
The self-imposed moratorium reflects history’s troublesome tendency to hold a mirror up to the present, even centuries later. Tales of dynastic emperors holding on to power, prompting revolts among those long-gone citizens, might be expected to chafe with a leader who has secured the ability to rule for life. As one academic delicately puts it, “[The government] doesn’t want people to think that they have the opportunity to replace the leader or to struggle with the power base or change it. This kind of idea, if it circulates in the countryside or the cities, would be a little dangerous.”
Elaborate hairstyles, sumptuous silks and life at Qing dynasty court, meantime, betray a decadence and moral laxity that sits uneasily with “core socialist values”. An editorial in the state-owned Beijing Daily railed against the imperial dramas’ proclivity to champion such pleasure-seeking above the “virtues of frugality and hard work”.
But you can’t keep a good story down. With March safely out the way, at least some — such as The Legend of White Snake, a tale of love, heartbreak and destruction — are coming online.
The shows are lapped up by Chinese viewers. The Story of Yanxi Palace, which ran to 70 episodes, became the most googled TV show last year and was shown in more than 80 countries — and this in a nation where Google’s search engine is blocked. According to iQiyi, the Netflix-like platform that hosts the show, it was streamed an average 300m times a day and has been viewed more than 21bn times.
The secret sauce of the imperial dramas, says Lok-yin Law, lecturer at the School of Arts & Social Sciences at the Open University of Hong Kong (and husband of an avid fan), is two-fold. The stories resonate with everyday life, in the court or today’s workplace — back-stabbing is every bit as common in offices as it was in dynastic harems — and they revive the glory of Chinese culture.
The everyday appeal goes beyond bitchy colleagues. Patriarchal power politics may be the reality, but Yanxi Palace boasts a female protagonist who is more conniving minx than demure doll, and has won legions of feminist fans.
As with British period dramas, historians carp that accuracy is sacrificed for ratings. “It’s impossible an emperor in the Qing Dynasty, very busy dealing with politics and affairs of state . . . would have time to deal with so many concubines and negotiate among them,” says Song Geng, associate professor at Hong Kong university’s School of Chinese.
That highlights another schism: any educational purpose of TV shows is at odds with the profit motive of producers. Dramas set in Imperial China — much like those based in Edwardian Britain or indeed the 1980s Texas of Dallas — go big on costumes, intrigue and wavering moral compasses. They are less occupied with instructing the nation’s youth in history and moral rectitude.
That, of course, is ultimately where their appeal lies: as escapist dramas rooted just enough in the enduring traits of human nature to ensure growing audiences. Several are finding popularity beyond China, particularly in Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong. Indeed, says Mr Law, he sees more chat about the shows in his Facebook social circles than among his friends on the mainland.
Hence the potential for the imperial dramas to become part of China’s soft power arsenal. That its culture has failed to hold much global sway — compare the reach of South Korea’s K-pop or Japanese anime — is a source of dismay within China. “It’s ridiculous that Kung Fu Panda was made by Hollywood,” harrumphs one analyst.
For Prof Song it’s a missed opportunity. “It could be . . . just like the K-wave,” he says. “For me this is good for China because it shows the influence of the culture.”