Global Times: Chinese TV series ‘make big splash’ in Southeast Asian countries

BEIJING, Aug. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Praphaphan Thaingamsin, a 20-something Thai college graduate, has been immersed in a hit Chinese fantasy costume drama Till the End of The Moon recently, breathlessly waiting for new episodes to be released online every night.

The entangled love story of the drama is a big draw, but what captivated her most is its stunning portrayal of Chinese culture and aesthetic style, as well as the 1,600-year-old Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, a place located on the ancient Silk Road known for the convergence of the Eastern and Western cultures.

“It aroused my interest in Chinese cultural heritage. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I’m so obsessed that sometimes I have forgotten to eat and sleep. The last time I was so engaged was when I sat in front of the television every night to follow Chinese fantasy drama ‘Eternal Love, The Pillow Book’ in 2020,” Praphaphan told the Global Times.

Starred by Chinese actors Luo Yunxi and Bai Lu, the drama Till the End of the Moon was introduced by Thai online video platform True ID into the Thai market in May. The platform is set up by True Digital Group, one of the leading Thai tech companies under its parent company True Corporation.

Komin Aoudomphan, assistant director of True Digital Group which operates True ID platform, told the Global Times that the 40-episode TV series is now one of the most popular among the over 100 Chinese TV shows the platform has purchased. The series has been making such a big splash among the youth that it even made the two actors recognizable stars in Thailand.

The dramas’ growing fame comes amid strengthened bilateral cultural exchanges between China and Southeast Asia under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as Thai people’s growing appetite for Chinese TV series.

During talks with Thai youngsters at the Siam Square, one of the busiest commercial centers in the Thai capital of Bangkok, the Global Times noticed that a number of Thai students have proudly identified themselves as “fans of Chinese culture,” from food like spicy hotpot and barbecue and famous sightseeing spots like the Great Wall to dozens of Chinese TV dramas they have viewed. Some even recalled their childhood memory of watching the fantasy Chinese TV series Journey to the West.

In February, a video of Thai taxi drivers watching Chinese TV series The Knockout went viral on social media, another vivid display of the rising popularity of Chinese TV series in the Southeast Asia market.

Southeast Asia is the overseas market we entered quite early, so the results of overseas distribution have been quite fruitful so far,” said Li Huabing, executive vice president of the Daylight Entertainment, the company behind many popular Chinese TV dramas. He gave a number of examples of TV series such as Nirvana in Fire, Ode to Joy and Bright Future that all achieved desirable audience rating and positive market feedback in Southeast Asia.

Cultural ties between China and Southeast Asia have a long history. Centuries ago, Southeast Asia was an important node along the ancient Maritime Silk Road, which served as a conduit for cultural communication between Chinese and Southeast Asian civilizations.

The vibrant exchange nowadays is not only a continuation of such shared historical cultural bond, but also a result of enhanced efforts under the BRI.

At its 10th anniversary, it is believed that the BRI’s cultural significance will further serve as a basis for bridging people-to-people exchanges between China and Southeast Asia and help cement mutual understanding and trust, industry insiders noted.

Cultural root

Daylight Entertainment is not alone in enjoying success in Southeast Asia. The region has become the first stop in many Chinese entertainment companies’ overseas distribution for multiple reasons.

Zhang Liang, general manager of Artop International Co, told the Global Times that people in China and Southeast Asian countries share same or similar culture, tradition and custom, which is a precondition for Chinese TV series to be easily accepted and promoted in Southeast Asian countries. Artop started dual TV series distribution business in both Chinese and Thai markets since the 2000s.

According to executives from entertainment companies, China-produced costume drama is one of the most popular genres in Thailand as a result of cultural proximity.

Communication and exchanges between China and Thailand have been taking place since the Han Dynasty, according to experts.

“Costume drama is liked by the audiences in Southeast Asia because many of them have a certain level of understanding about China’s culture and history. In their perspective, Chinese ancient dynasties were prosperous, mysterious and glamorous,” Li explained. He added that costume drama is also a relatively unique cultural product of China which draws upon the country’s rich and long history.

The adoption of improved technologies into production, especially the advancement of computer graphic technology, has also made Chinese TV series more “developed and attractive,” Komin noted.

Industry insiders said that Chinese fashion drama is another genre that has wowed the audiences in Southeast Asia, partly because of the combination of delicate makeup, costume design and scene setting.

Li talked about the successful distribution of Ode to Joy in Myanmar in 2020, a story about five women who live on the same floor of an apartment complex in Shanghai. The drama was so popular that its leading actors Yang Zi and Qiao Xin were invited to attend a series of ChinaMyanmar cultural exchange activities in Myanmar’s capital Rangoon at that time.

Spoiled Love, which tells stories of romance in a straightforward way, is another category under the fashion drama genre that has been increasingly gaining favor in Southeast Asia, according to Zhang.

Thailand has produced a lot of ‘sweet love’ tales, so there’s no cultural barrier in understanding this kind of genre,” Zhang explained, giving examples of the successful exports of Chinese TV series Put Your Head on My Shoulder into the Thai market.

In 2021, the export of China’s TV series to Southeast Asia soared 154 percent year-on-year to $8.61 million, which accounted for 15 percent of the total export volume, according to a report issued by the National Radio and Television Administration last year.

Wider cooperation

Seeing higher potential for cooperation, Chinese and Thai companies have gone to great lengths in bolstering ties.

Thai company True ID told the Global Times that it has entered into cooperation with a galaxy of Chinese enterprises like Artop and video platform Youku. It started Chinese TV series acquisition three years ago, at a time when the Thai market was highly competitive due to the pandemic, which prompted the company to look for something new to draw the audience.

“At the beginning some of the content had performed very well, and that’s why we scaled up the effort then. In the future, we will try to acquire more exclusive broadcasting rights of Chinese TV dramas, and in the next three to five years we might look for co-production that could help strengthen our presence,” Komin said.

Likewise, Daylight Entertainment has opened the Vietnam Channel in its YouTube account, and it plans to open more such channels to target the Southeast Asian market to enrich and consolidate cultural communication.

The exports of TV programs are not a one-way street.

Thai soap opera Battle of Angels was broadcast on China’s Anhui TV in 2008. With its dramatic plot, the series immediately became a regional market hit at the time.

In recent years, more Thai films and TV dramas have gained prominence in what some industry insiders dubbed as a “Thai wave” that is sweeping across the world’s second-largest showbiz market. The famed Thai movie Bad Genius distributed in the Chinese market in 2017 has reportedly grossed over $42.6 million at the box office in China.

Sa-ngopkarn Moungthong, who has served as the first secretary at the Thai Embassy in Beijing, attributed the rise of this “Thai wave” in China to the BRI, which deepened cultural exchanges between China and Southeast Asia, according to a report by the Nikkei Asian Review.

Industry insiders said that TV dramas as well as other types of cultural exchanges play an important role in facilitating connectivity between China and Southeast Asia, a pilot demonstration zone for BRI implementation.

The transmission of TV dramas is an essential way for Chinese and Southeast Asian people to understand each other, Komin said. “Content [of TV series] is like the soft power that is more easily accepted by the audiences. People may be interested in the food and culture in the series … those would be among the topics for family discussion,” he noted.

And the shared interests and roots in culture will consequently generate a sense of goodwill for one another, serving as a catalyst for all-round BRI cooperation and seamless regional crossover in the next decade, industry insiders stressed.

Facilitated by the stepped-up exchanges, Zhang said that in the future, cooperation between China and Southeast Asia in terms of TV series production is poised to deepen and become more diversified.

Artop is making tentative attempts in localizing Chinese TV series in Thai market, which involves purchasing popular Chinese TV series’ intellectual property rights and remaking them with Thai actors and directors.