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Warmhearted look at life in a cold climate evokes sweet memories of home

By LI YINGXUE | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-05-12 08:50
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I don't remember the last time a television series left me so deeply immersed in the fates of its characters.

The suspense drama The Long Season depicts the vibrant lives of people in Northeast China from 1997 to 2016, particularly those of my parents' generation. It offered me a glimpse of what my parents were like when they were young.

I was born and raised in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning, a province once known as "the eldest son of the People's Republic of China".

Fan Wei and Qin Hao, who play the lead roles of Wang Xiang and Gong Biao in the drama, are also from Shenyang. Watching their aged appearance and daily conversations in the show, I felt a strong sense of familiarity.

Qin Hao's character is similar to my mother's younger brother, who is warmhearted and always cheerful, but sometimes a little unreliable. On the other hand, Fan Wei's character is like my father's elder brother, who never panics and can fix almost anything.

The appearance of Huang Liru, Gong Biao's wife, with her permed hair, eyeliners and tattooed eyebrows, resembles that of aged aunts in the northeast.

In the series, Huang is a stunning lady in 1997, wearing a floral dress and red high heels, with a bright smile on her face. I feel that my mother and aunts must have been just as charming when they were in their 20s.

Several stereotypes have emerged for people from the northeast, linking them to humor, gangs, poverty and the region's long winters.

Xin Shuang, director of The Long Season, breaks such stereotypes by using 11 episodes of the 12-episode series to depict autumn in the northeast, which is bright and invigorating — but too short for shooting a film or TV series.

As a result, the drama was filmed in Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in southwestern China, which enjoys considerably higher temperatures than the northeast.

I particularly enjoyed the poem in the series written by Ban Yu, who comes from Shenyang. Ban, Zheng Zhi and Shuang Xuetao, also writers from Shenyang, are three representatives of the Northeastern Literary Renaissance in China.

In contrast to traditional writers, the three have found a good balance between literary and commercial interests, gaining recognition from prestigious literary journals such as Harvest, and seeing many adaptations of their works produced for films and TV. These adaptations give audiences a detailed picture of life in the northeast over the past 30 years.

Snow is frequently mentioned in books and films about the northeast, and is often linked to cold and sorrow. However, in The Long Season, Xin, who was born in Jilin province, uses snow to denote hope and an end to the autumn.

We northeasterners celebrate the snow, as we believe that the harder it falls, the better the harvest will be in the coming year.

Netizens have commented that the series is based on local people's lives in the northeast, and what touched me most was that it highlights their optimistic spirit.

The humor of northeasterners is not always reflected in the jokes or popular sketches used for the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala. Instead, it stems from their positive attitude toward life, in which they use optimism in the face of adversity.

Northeasterners once took pride in being workers making contributions to the nation's construction. They may feel lost when their jobs disappear, but they always strive to find their own way forward.

Such an approach is evident at the end of the series, when an elderly Wang Xiang tells his younger self: "Look forward. Don't look back."

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