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Nothing but Thirty: Analysis of new portrayal of women in Chinese TV series

By Zhang Yong | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-07-30 14:34
A poster of the TV series  Nothing but Thirty

A TV series called Nothing but Thirty, which mainly portrays the everyday life and challenges of three 30-something women living in Shanghai, has aroused heated debate and discussions among audience.

Generally, the traditional approach to portray the women in TV series and films has long been the contrast between the male and female characteristics.

In those films and TV series, compared with men, women were less important with lower social status, were closely associated with household work, and were forced to pay more attention to their appearance and looks rather than their contributions and capabilities.

Those tags put on women were almost transcultural and transracial, showing no essential distinction among different regions and peoples of the world. That was the image of Chinese women on the world stage.

A typical traditional Chinese woman should be tender, virtuous and family-centered. Their happiness should depend on whether they have a successful family, which means a devoted husband and a healthy child.

They would be regarded as a failure if they didn't reach those standards even if they had a very successful business or had personality. Since the beginning of the development of Chinese TV series, the image of Chinese women has been changing with the world's mainstream portrayal of women.

However, thanks to the increasing growth of per capita income in China, Chinese women's educational level and literacy rate have risen, their social status and value have thus grown steadily and continuously.

Therefore, Chinese TV series began to create new images which fitted with the women's roles in reality.

Breaking stereotype and shaping multidimensional women images

In Nothing but Thirty, one of the main characters, Gu Jia, is a full-time housewife. She, however, differs from stereotype of the housewife image (they were usually addicted to materialistic enjoyment and empty in mind) which were shown in traditional TV series.

Before going back to family and becoming full-time housewife, Gu Jia and her husband were the co-founder of their company, and therefore, she is the real contributor and decision-maker in her family and business.

She is not only a successful businessperson, as well as a tender wife, but also a strong mother.

Compared with other tough-minded images of women in previous TV series who normally gave up their family in order to devote themselves to their career or the other way round, the image of Gu Jia is more close to the reality in which women try to balance job and family. And of course, Gu Jia does a better job than the average woman in real life.

Facing the realities with courage and bursting the lock of patriarchy

For a long time women have been shown in TV series as growing up under the help of men whether it was a costume drama or a modern drama. It seems there was only one reason why a woman could succeed, that is, she was helped by a man beside her.

Nothing but Thirty, whereas, has changed the conventional storyline, and thus, precisely reflected the truth that women can achieve success in career and become independent economically through their own ability and diligence.

For instance, in Nothing but Thirty, Manni Wang (one of the three main female characters in the TV series), who has been struggling and working hard in Shanghai for eight years, was finally promoted as sales director because of her professional skills and the spirit of dedication.

Being decisive and smashing the shackle of traditional women images

China's conventional tags that were put on women are generally tender, tolerance and self-sacrifice. The women characters in Nothing but Thirty, however, abandoned all those tags by defending the rights that originally belong to them and therefore won lots of praise from audience.

For example, when Gu Jia's child is bullied, she answers violence with violence; when Manni Wang is framed by her colleague, she responds even more strongly; when Xiaoqin Zhong (the third female main character in Nothing but Thirty) is treated violently by her husband, she decides to him.

All those behaviors and actions set an example to modern women and give them courage to fight for their rights and benefits.

Despite all the strengths mentioned above, there are also some drawbacks within Nothing but Thirty.

In order to satisfy the female audience's pleasant sensation and to please more women, the independent elite women images are shaped by stigmatizing all the male characters who are closely associated with women in the TV series which is a bit going too far.

Compared with some Western TV series such as The Good Wife and Sex and the City, which mainly focused on the women's point of view, China's TV series should pay more attention to women from every segments of the whole society and to cover their true images in real life so that many more women story could be presented to audience.

The virtues including self-struggle, self-improvement and fighting against social biases presented by women are cross-regional, multi-racial, regardless of age and identities. The images of women in Chinese TV series, therefore, should be shaped more realistic and more multidimensional so that the world could find real and vivid Chinese women figures and hear their voices.

Zhang Yong, from the School of Communication of the Northwest Normal University. The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

 

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