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House of Cards: A Winning Hand in China

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Asia Life

House of Cards: A Winning Hand in China

The American show peeks at China as the Chinese watch curiously.

The award-winning American political drama House of Cards is attracting an ever-growing Chinese audience with its gripping storytelling, spicy dialogue and “exotic” portrayal of China.

A month after the finale of the second season aired, the Netflix show still hovers near the top of Sohu, China’s leading streaming video service website. The show takes up two spots on the site’s “Five Most Viewed American Dramas” list.

House of Cards is far from the only American TV show gaining popularity in China. But there are two unusual facts about it: its wild popularity and the fact that is has somehow managed to escape China’s notoriously harsh censors.

The show has become so popular that it is no longer confined to video websites and BBS, the comfort zone of most foreign shows with a relatively small Chinese audience. It has gone viral on social media and started to gain coverage in mainstream traditional Chinese media, such as the People’s Daily.

The enthusiastic online discussion covers a wide range of topics: from debated political issues to the personal styles of certain characters and, of course, the sex scenes. On Douban, an online database and community for films and TV shows (as well as reading and music), the show is rated 9.3 out of 10. Among all the detailed, show-related discussions, one question is particularly loud. “Is the real America like this?” There are some variations on this question, such as “Is D.C. really this dark?” or “Is it that easy to become president of the United States?”

“Drama is spicy soup, reality is boiled water,” read the headline of an article published in Southern People Weekly about the myths emerging from the show.

“I am surprised how actively the show involves some pretty up-to-date disputes between China and the U.S. And it’s funny to see how shaken up the powerful American politicians get for the comically stereotyped Chinese in the show,” an international relations major at Beijing University surnamed Li told The Diplomat.

House of Cards has grabbed not only headlines, but also the attention of some top Chinese leaders. Perhaps the most surprising fact is that the show, heavily soaked in violence, sex and sensitive politics, has survived the strict censorship of the Chinese authorities over imported TV shows.

Charles Zhang, the chief executive of Sohu told CNN, “many Chinese people – including officials – are watching it now and we had no problem.”

A Chinese actor and producer, Guoli Zhang, however, has been outspoken about his problem with what he sees as a double standard.

“I myself am watching House of Cards and Homeland,” says the actor, who complained about the double standard of censorship towards imported shows and domestic shows.

Speaking at the annual People’s Political Consultative Conference (PCC) session on March 4, he asked, “Even if we could make a show as interesting as those, is there even a slight chance that we could get around the censorship?”