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Concretization crucial to promote traditional Chinese culture

WANG YUAN | 2018-06-21 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)


A group of youngsters participate in a themed calligraphy competition in Dalian, Liaoning Province, where they are required to choose one of four different styles of calligraphy, including regular script, clerical script, seal script or running script to write the Chinese character for “spring.”(CFP)


In recent years, a series of quintessential cultural TV programs have been broadcast, such as A Bite of China, Where I’m Coming From, Masters in Forbidden City and Chinese Characters Dictation Competition. While these home-grown programs have been well-received by the public, they share something in common: They have embarked on a path of concretization of traditional Chinese culture, pioneering an effective long-term way to spread China’s fine traditions under the new technological conditions and diversified social context.


New revival of traditional culture
Concretization of traditional culture is by no means a new invention. In the development of the television industry in China, it was, for a long period of time, the mainstream theme for TV programs. At the start of the new century, TV programming achieved creative breakthroughs with more diverse subject matter, while programs on traditional culture were labeled “old-fashioned” and “outdated” and thus took a back seat to newer forms of content.

This state of affairs turned around in 2012, when China Central Television (CCTV) aired its large-scale documentary series A Bite of China dedicated to the history of Chinese cuisines. It instantly became a hit, getting the green light for a second and third season. It features Chinese cuisine—from its rich history to the rarest dishes and wildest ingredients. This was the first successful innovation in terms of traditional cultural communication in domestic TV program production since the start of the new century. Afterward came more highly rated cultural documentaries, like Where I’m Coming From and Masters in the Forbidden City in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

These three TV documentaries shows the good intentions and grand design of CCTV in exploring the concretization of traditional culture. From tasting food to seeking roots, then to repairing cultural relics, the cultural connotations of the topics are fully communicated, presenting viewers from sensory experience, individual life memory to the national cultural heritage. Down the way, the traditional Chinese culture is no longer some dry descriptions from textbooks, but in the form of three-dimensional and vivid symbols, travelling from the long history to its modern vitality and provoking in-depth reflections among viewers.

At the same time, a series of TV shows highlighting Chinese language, such as Chinese Character Dictation Competition, Chinese Idiom Competition, and Chinese Poetry Competition, become popular. These cultural competition reality shows have managed to promote the essence of Chinese language and literature that the Chinese civilization accumulated over thousands of years. Language and literature is the gem of traditional culture where the Chinese spirit gets its inner strength. School education is certainly one way to pass the torch, but true inheritance needs the participation of all walks of life. The amount of attention that ancient poems, idioms, proses and stories get is far more intensive.

In this regard, these programs have presented a useful exploration of the socialization, popularization and communication of Chinese language and literature. To quote slogan of one of the programs, we are striving to “let all ordinary people get a taste of poetry.”

When the volunteer teacher read “Moss,” an obscure work from Qing Dynasty poet Yuan Mei, with his students from the remote mountainous region, many were in tears. It goes: “Moss blossoms, tiny as grains; Are in bloom as peony gains.” While encouraged by the unyielding strength of the tiny moss, the beauty of poetry and the wisdom of our ancestors were also the trendy topic. Therefore, it’s safe to say that on some level, these programs have succeeded in the task of delivering poetry to a larger audience.

From the end of 2016 to early 2017, Letter Alive and The Reader became new hits. These programs invite guests, including celebrities, to read letters. It aims to open a window to history with letters, to lead the audience into the vivid scenes of the times, life stories, and to touch the feelings of the characters and social objects that are still palpable, so as to understand the Chinese spirit and wisdom of life.


Innovative packaging
In the context of social diversity, information explosion, severe challenges facing traditional culture, modern communication is confronted with a tremendous undertake of inheriting and carrying forward the excellent traditional culture. Even with a small angel to dig into the theme of TV programs, presenting interesting and concrete images to audience remains a thorny issue for TV program design and production.

TV documentary is a special form of TV program, so its length is relatively free. Take A Bite of China as an example, each episode is 40 to 50 minutes, with a specific theme and some items or persons serving as the “protagonists.” As a result, the concrete existence of “object,” such as food, history and cultural relics, and subjective human emotion, experience and feeling become intertwined, unfolding a complete presentation of culture and striking a chord with audience. All these documentaries tend to use fragmented materials and break down the storyline and circle back, which marks an unorthodox maneuver of the structure and design of traditional TV documentaries.

For those programs featuring competition, the forms, rules, stage-setting and audio-visual effects all call for elaborate design, to perfectly complement intense competition and high-quality comments. In the end, these programs are both entertaining and full of knowledge, which are the key to making the list of a best-seller.

In addition, Letter Alive and The Reader are highly innovative cultural programs. The major issue in design and production is how to turn written words into a proper audio-visual presentation. Needless to say, the role of the “reader” is critical. The guests they invite either win the audience over with their personal charisma or succeed in relating to the audience with a story of their own. It is indeed a successful combination of celebrity effect and traditional cultural communication.


Cultural communication
With various forms, the aforementioned programs share a unified conception: a concretization of traditional culture, which serves as an effective boost to the social, cultural, and economic growth and an important means to carry forward the Chinese culture.

The cultural topics embedded in the TV shows ignite discussions among viewers of different ages. While, from the aspect of market efficiency and economic benefits, it increases program ratings, it also realizes effective communication, which falls under the purview of the agenda-setting function of the media. In this light, a series of popular cultural TV programs we talked about in this article have expanded the role of media agenda-setting to become a part of the public agenda, given the overall communication effect that they were able to achieve.

Interpersonal communication of the concretization of the fine Chinese traditional culture awakens the inner cultural genes of the audience, especially the younger generation who is still in their formative years. These TV programs stimulate and transmit cultural genes while they also help build a cultural identity.

In today’s era of globalization, the complicated and unprecedented collision between different cultures makes everyone vulnerable to the impact of different cultural ideas and traditions. Almost everyone’s world outlook, outlook on life and values may change at any time. In this process, a crisis of cultural identity has gradually emerged, posing a major issue that the world must struggle with.

The series of successful cultural TV programs in recent years offer a possible solution to that problem. Their creativity and originality are based on the rediscovery and appreciation of excellent cultural genes. Through appealing to the cultural identity and sense of pride of being Chinese, these programs are conducive to reducing the distance between individuals living in the internet era and inviting more to participate in the construction of national cultural identity.


Wang Yuan is from the Dongyue Tribune at the Shangdong Academy of Social Sciences.

(edited by YANG XUE)