TV shows, films can consolidate cultural bonds with Europe
I am thrilled by the avalanche of comments, re-posts and likes that I received within hours of the publication of my article on China Daily's weibo account on actor Jin Dong and his presence in the Belgian city of Antwerp to film Mr Right, a new TV drama. The popularity of the article can be partly attributed to Jin Dong, whose portrayal of different characters has won him the appreciation and love of millions of Chinese women of all ages.
But further reading of the online posts and comments reveals that the Chinese readers are also attracted to the description of Antwerp itself, and its reputation as a world-class center for beer, chocolate and fashion, its diamond trade, and its historic port and shopping streets.
The charms of Antwerp and Chinese people's love for the city make you realize how a TV drama can bring the people of Belgium and China closer.
This is not the first response of its kind. In recent years, among other things, Chinese TV producers have made a Chinese food series telecast on Belgian TV, which similarly piqued the interest of Belgians. Also, the life of Chinese-Belgian woman Qian Xiuling (1912-2008), who saved more than 100 Belgians from death at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, was made into a docufeature for TV; it was called Chinese Woman Facing Gestapo's Gun.
Antwerp or other Belgian cities are not the only ones to be highlighted in Chinese TV programs. London, Paris, Rome and other European cities regularly feature in Chinese films and TV series, with Prague becoming a new favorite of Chinese film and TV producers.
Parts of the 2015 romantic drama, Somewhere Only We Know－directed and acted by Xu Jinglei－were filmed in Prague. According to China's ambassador to the Czech Republic Ma Keqing, the magnificent architecture and landscapes of Prague have been filmed several times by Chinese filmmakers partly thanks to the continuously improving relations between China and the Czech Republic.
There are many meaningful topics that can be explored in the complex relationship between China and Europe, in order to satisfy the growing demands of movie-goers and TV audiences－history, current affairs, war, love, heroes, family and food, to name but a few.
More Europe-related stories in Chinese films and TV programs will lead to beneficial chain effects. China's middle-income group is expanding rapidly; it is expected to exceed the entire population of Europe in the near future. And since middle-income group people have a huge appetite for entertainment and spend vacations in places they are impressed by while watching a movie or TV program, the economic potential of presenting European cities in Chinese films and TV programs is immense. For example, the number of Chinese tourists to the Czech Republic is expected to increase to about 500,000 in 2017 thanks to the impact of Somewhere Only We Know on audiences.
That's why even shopkeepers in Antwerp, not to mention the mayor of the city, feel excited about the shooting of Mr Right－they expect the TV drama to encourage more Chinese people to visit not only Antwerp but also other parts of Belgium. Online, Chinese readers are already asking me which beer bar, chocolate shop, or diamond store the TV drama is being filmed at.
Cultural exchanges can be magical. So, when European film and TV producers and movie stars start filming in Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai or Shenzhen, the ties between China and Europe will become even stronger.
The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.