An Ode to Shanghai’s Television Golden Age

Back in January 1995, every weeknight at 8:05 sharp, the Shanghainese-language TV show “Sinful Debt” would flicker on to television screens across the city.

One of the show’s young directors, Liang Shan, later told me how much he enjoyed taking his bike out at that hour, when almost no one would be on the streets. Passing tailors and barbershops, he would catch snatches of the theme song filtering out from open windows. He says it was one of his happiest times as an artist.

That sort of collective experience is rare today, partly because audiences now have far more choices. But there’s another reason, too. China’s television industry simply doesn’t make shows like “Sinful Debt” anymore, as programs grounded in local life and realism have largely disappeared from the airwaves. This is particularly noticeable when it comes to Shanghai, a long-favorite setting for producers.

Adapted from a Ye Xin novel, “Sinful Debt” tells the story of several young people, born of relationships between “sent-down” youths from Shanghai and residents of the remote southwestern province of Yunnan. After the Cultural Revolution ended, these sent-down youths returned to the city, leaving their kids behind. Years later, their children, now teenagers, team up to find their biological parents. The show cast local actors, and their spoken Shanghainese accurately reflects their characters’ age and class backgrounds, as well as the linguistic heritage of their ancestral hometowns. These subtle differences in pronunciation would have been enough to clue savvy local audiences into the characters’ thinking and motivations. Continue to read the full article here

– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone.