More than one Chinese Oprah to sing praises about

(China Daily)
2007-02-15 09:13
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When an American asks me about a major personality or cultural event in China, I cannot just click on wikipedia.com and show them a concise description. I don't have that luxury. Instead, what I use is a kind of cross-cultural profiling system to help Americans better understand our own celebrities.

More than one Chinese Oprah to sing praises aboutFor example, the classic fantasy novel Journey to the West (a.k.a. Monkey King) is China's equivalent of The Lord of the Ring and Harry Potter combined. A Dream of the Red Mansions? It has the minutiae of Jane Austin coupled with the grandeur of Shakespeare. I'm sure Cao Xueqin or the Bard did not know the other existed.

Nowadays we are hooked to the global village in the world of television. Supergirls is an imitation of American Idol, which in turn is an imitation of Pop Idol. Let's Shake It borrowed the concept from So You Think You Can Dance. Many more Chinese shows wanted to clone Friends, Sex and the City, Survivor, among others, but flopped.

Chinese people often ask me: Does America have a show like our Spring Festival gala? Well, I stumble: There is The Kennedy Center Honors, which highlights three stars instead of our line-up of 3,000. The New Year countdown at Time Square is certainly more densely populated, but the host Dick Clark is older than Zhao Zhongxiang and Ni Ping combined.

I heard that in the 1970s, when television sets were scarce in China, we always aired on Lunar New Year's Eve The White-Haired Girl, in which the evil landlord kills the poor farmer and is later killed by a bunch of revolutionary farmers. In the US, the perennial favorite on Christmas Eve is It's a Wonderful Life, about a man who wants to kill himself but is saved by an angel. If we had a comparable feel-good movie, we'd broadcast it repeatedly because we no longer advocate revenge against evil landlords or real-estate developers. We need harmony.

For a while, every Western newspaper would stick the label of "China's Oprah" to every high profile Chinese woman. That, to me, is professional laziness and cultural inertia. Hung Huang is not China's Oprah. The closest she will come to is China's Rosie O'Donnell. Chen Luyu of Pheonix TV must be fuming: She is the one who exchanged a weekly celebrity interview for daily dispensing of chicken-soup and warm fuzzy gossip.

Faye Wong has a certain resemblance to Alanis Morissette, among others, but with a longer shelf life. Supergirl Zhang Liangying is desperately taking on the mantle of Mariah Carey, not realizing how tacky the latter is. Her nemesis Li Yuchun is comfortably in the mode of k.d. lang.

Paris Hilton in the eyes of Americans is almost like what Sister Hibiscus is to Chinese even though they come from disparate family backgrounds. One was born with a silver spoon in her mouth, the other with a broken chopstick. One has a svelte figure while the other tries to fit into the S-shape. But they are both famous for being famous, with no tangible talent to back up their fame or is it notoriety?

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(China Daily 02/15/2007 page20)