TV drama touches on sensitive past, honors Deng Xiaoping



A new TV series featuring China's late leader Deng Xiaoping has grabbed public attention after its portrayal of politically sensitive figures and events rarely seen on screen.

The 48-episode drama, who's title roughly translates to "Deng Xiaoping during a historic turning point", tells the story of Deng and China's historic transformation under his guidance between October 1976 when the "Gang of Four" was purged until 1984 when the country fully implemented the policy of reform and opening up.

Viewers of the series were caught by surprise after a portrayal of Hua Guofeng appeared on the show. Hua took power following Mao Zedong's death in 1976 and is known for announcing the downfall of the "Gang of Four," including Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, in the same year.

In one episode, a military truck pulls up to the west gate of Zhongnanhai, China's most prominent government headquarters, carrying troops from unit 8341 under secret orders to capture the "Gang of Four" during a heavy rainstorm.

Hua is depicted delivering a theatrical late night announcement hours after their capture.

"Today, on behalf of the fundamental interests and wishes of the Party, the army and the people of our country, we carried on Chairman Mao's unfinished work to bring an end to the Gang of Four who have now been arrested and are under examination," Hua's character announces on the show.

The downfall of the "Gang of Four" marked the end of the 10-year Cultural Revolution and the following years were widely viewed as a historical turning point for China.

"What impressed me most is that it shows sensitive issues which have never been made public before. This certainly is encouraging, especially in a time of reform and transition," said Twitter-like Sina Weibo user "Guangongyezhuidiaochan."

The openness was praised by media as well. An editorial by Global Times on Monday said the TV drama has made outstanding contributions to "politically desensitizing."

"It's become a consensus to reduce speech taboos among the ruling forces and the mainstream society, and every single release of sensitive issues will have a positive effect on the country's stability," it added.

The TV series, which took five years to make, began airing on prime time Friday for state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) in commemoration of the Deng Xiaoping's 110th birthday.

Different from former works about Deng, this biographical drama portrays the late leader in a more personal way by unveiling little-known details of his life.

In the first episode, Deng is in his 70s being shown taking care of his handicapped son Deng Pufang. During the episode, Deng is seen fetching hot water late at night during a rainstorm to bathe his son together with his wife.

"It's never an exaggeration to use the pre-modifier "historic turning point" before Deng as the drama's title does," said Wang Zhian, an investigative reporter of CCTV, on Sina Weibo, referring to Deng's introduction of the opening up policy more than three decades ago.

"History will treat this great man fairly and we'll forever remember him, though he chose not to have a tombstone."

The series was made by CCTV under the instruction of the literature research office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, and the Party committee of Sichuan Province, where Deng was born.

The release of the drama is part of an effort to commemorate the late leader on his 110th birthday which falls on Aug. 22.

In 1996, the CPC published a guideline detailing the standard procedure for commemorating late leaders based their rankings, at which level of department to hold commemorations, what kinds of anniversary activities should be given and who will attend.

The commemoration of Deng started with the publishing of a series of articles concerning Deng's thoughts run by state media earlier.

Study Times, launched by the Party School of the CPC Central Committee in 1999, has published four such articles since June, including Deng's requirement on official promotion, and an unreleased part of his well-known speeches made while touring south China in 1992.