House of Cards has become a hit television show in the U.S., perhaps mostly, because it illuminates an unfortunate suspicion most Americans share. The suspicion that some of their representatives are in fact criminals. So it seems to be logical then that the show could become a major hit in a country that has a negative opinion of the U.S. government in general. That is exactly what is happening in Beijing right now, as House of Cards has become a major hit, and many believe, that unfortunately it is because of the low opinion of the U.S. government in China. It also seems that the show is especially popular with leaders of China’s Communist Party.
“For Chinese, America is the big bugaboo in the world,” says the Asia expert from the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Auslin. Auslin also says that any show dealing with power and criminal activities in Washington D.C. would undoubtedly be a popular concept for Chinese viewers. Auslin added that he does not think it is a positive step for China if this is the only side of U.S. politics their viewers are seeing. He said he wishes they could also watch C-SPAN, but added that it is “probably not realistic.”
William Wan, writing for the Washington Post, says that viewers in China have trouble with the many references to filibustering and also have a tough time with Frank Underwood’s southern draw, but are drawn to the “darkly cynical television show.”
Since the show was released in both countries on Friday, it has been the number one show streamed on Sohu (the Chinese Netflix.) beating out The Big Bang Theory. What is even more intriguing, or concerning, is that Sohu says that of the 24.5 million Chinese viewers of last season’s House of Cards episodes, the largest portion of viewers were “government-sector employees and residents of China’s capital Beijing.” This statistic may at first appear to be a throw away point, since Beijing is such a large city, bound to have lots of viewers, but when you consider that the nation’s capital is only the third largest city in China, and has more than eight million viewer inhabitants than Shanghai (only the nation’s second largest city) the parallels begin to add up.
Also, just as President Obama announced that he was a fan of House of Cards, Wang Qishan, who is said to be one of the “seven most powerful leaders in China,” is apparently very much enthralled by the show’s plot and characters.
At a recently held panel, headed by Sohu, researchers sought some answers from the people of Beijing as to why they loved this show so much. One fan said that it is especially intriguing because there could never be a show like this about the Chinese government. Many of the participants actually asked to be made anonymous because they feared they could disappear, just like in a scene from the show, if the Chinese government heard about their opinions.
Wan has a different take on the Chinese public however, he writes that the Chinese public sees their public leaders as mostly “unscrupulous” and they believe that their main goal is to “consolidate power and wealth.” No matter the reasons, House of Cards is just as much of a major hit in China as it is in the United States.
By Nick Manai