Representations of History in Chinese Film and Television


Zou Xiang Gonghe


(TV-drama, PR China 2003)


The Chinese TV drama "Towards the Republic" (Zou xiang gonghe), originally in 60 instalments, then broadcasted in 59, made a stir in the People’s Republic of China when shown by China Central Television in April to May 2003. Mostly due to the topic but partly also due to the SARS crisis which was then on its heights, many people in China watched this TV drama. Because of its unconventional representation of the time-span 1890-1917, which was a very critical one in Chinese history, the TV drama sparked a heated discussion in the print media as well as in the internet and was ultimately taken off the program. The discussion revealed various attitudes prevalent in China today towards the way how one should or could "work" with history; what kind of relation is postulated between normative interpretations and artistic freedom; who has which stakes in upholding certain interpretations of historical facts or figures; the role of entertainment vs. the "duty" to educate the populace; the relation between scientific research, requirements by state politics and market economy etc.

These pages dedicated to this TV drama are substantially based on first drafts in German produced by Chinese and German students participating in my seminar on this TV drama in the spring term of 2005 at the University of Heidelberg. This work has been guided, (often substantially) revised, and edited by myself. We have checked with three versions of the TV drama: the script version (three volumes) which came out first, the 59-instalments version available on VCD (more or less the one broadcasted and – following the discussions – ever more censored and cut) and the less cut 60-instalments version (available on DVD) which continues to be viewed in and outside of China and therefore continues to influence (if not shape) historical consciousness. The 60-instalments version has been used as the standard especially for the last 10 instalments, where the 59-instalment version is cut more heavily and deviations between both filmed versions are most obvious. The section "Synopsis" lists the individual instalments with a short synopsis to give an idea, what it is all about and what kind of particular representations sparked the discussions; the section "Background" gives some information around the whole series, its production and its implications. For comments please contact us.

For making these pages possible, I first want to thank my students: Chen Xiaoru (first drafts of instalments 8/15/24/32/39/48/55), Deng Yuru (first drafts of instalments 3/16/21/28/37/47/ 53/60), Ulrich Flick (first drafts of instalments 6/12/22/29/35/42/50, songs), Ge Yanzhi (first drafts of instalments 1/9/19/25/33/41/49/57, lead cast), Sarah Lüdecke (first drafts of instalments 5/11/17/26/40/43/ 51/58, alphabetic list together with Zhang Jinjin), Miriam Seeger (first drafts of instalments 7/14/23/30/36/45/59), Yang Yan (first drafts of instalment 2/10/18/ 27/34/46/52), Zhang Jinjin (first drafts of instalments 4/13/20/31/38/44/56, alphabetic list with Sarah Lüdecke). A very special and heartfelt thanks goes to Jennifer Altehenger, who drafted the entire English translation of the original German texts, which we then reworked together.

The contents of these web pages together with more background information and an analysis of this TV-drama (NOT available online!) is available in the print version:

Gotelind Müller: Representing History in Chinese Media. The TV Drama Zou Xiang Gonghe (Towards the Republic). Berlin 2007, 224 pp., 19.90 EUR/34.95 USD, hardcover, ISBN 978-3-8258-0787-0.
The book can be ordered directly from the publisher: 87-0. (For the US market, the book is available via Transaction Publishers: http://www.

© 2006, update 2007 Gotelind Müller-Saini