In a television industry saturated with over-the-top dramas, new Chinese TV show Readers might not seem to fit in. Yet the show, which invites people to read aloud excerpts from poems, essays, or books, has become a nationwide sensation, reigniting a cultural passion for literature in the everyday citizen.
As the Chinese film and television industry struggles to find itself among a bevy of camp dramas and shallow reality shows, Readers is a breath of fresh air, a sign that the Chinese people are ready for shows more tailored to the country’s own cultural DNA.
The first episode aired on state broadcasting network CCTV at the beginning of March 2017 and has already drawn quite a following. Three days after its premier, Readers had a rating of 9.2 out of 10 on Douban, a popular Chinese entertainment review site.
Each episode of the talk show features a single theme around which guests from all walks of life – some famous, some unknown – are invited to choose a personal story and piece of literature to read aloud on stage.
Director Tian Mei explains, “In each show, we will present a fascinating story about someone, and then we’ll find a piece of literature that matches it.”
The first episode was titled “Encounter” and saw eminent Chinese translator Xu Yuanchong, actor Pu Cunxin, Lenovo founder Liu Chuanzhi, and doctor Jiang Li share some of their favorite literature with viewers.
Reading aloud is somewhat of a lost art in China, and Readers is one in a series of cultural programs that seeks to bring it back to the forefront. Predecessors include the Chinese Poetry Competition, Chinese Characters Dictation Contest and Chinese Idioms Contest.
But Readers host Dong Qing believes that the entertainment industry still has a long way to go: “I don’t think it’s now the time to say that the spring for cultural shows has come because of the success of the Chinese Poetry Competition and Readers.” She continues: “In order to stand out among other variety shows, we need more efforts and changes in the overall environment. But the success of these programs is like a vane [that demonstrates] there is a huge public demand for cultural shows. In today’s television world where reality shows have dominated, this is very encouraging.”