Zheng Xiaolong: It was a tough time in US

Zheng Xiaolong

Zheng Xiaolong is the director of the Chinese TV drama Beijinger in New York. He worked as associate producer for TV drama Ke Wang (渴望) or Yearning in 1990. He directed the TV drama Golden Marriage in 2007 and the costume TV drama The Legend of Zhenhuan (后宫•甄嬛传) in 2011.

People say Zheng’s TV dramas reflected the realities of society and play an important part in helping people overcome emotional problems. Yearning brought down the rate of crime, Golden Marriage reduced the rate of divorce and Beijinger in New York made people aware of the hardships of living abroad. He was even awarded by the Ministry of Public Security for Yearning.

However, Beijinger in New York was Beijing Television Art Center’s first TV drama to be shot under the “responsibility” system, which meant that Director Zheng Xiaolong needed to raise the money by himself. The process was difficult but he finally managed to get an investment of $1.5 million. To Zheng’s delight, Beijinger in New York became the center’s first TV drama that had ever made a profit.

Divorce as a necessity

Zheng Xiaolong got the inspiration to shoot Beijinger in New York from Long Xinmin, the then deputy director of the Publicity Department of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee. Long recommended the novel Beijinger in New York to Zheng. After finishing the novel, Zheng visited the author Cao Guilin and bought the right of adaptation for 10,000 yuan. Then he started preparations for the shooting of the TV drama.

Wang Qiming is the lead male role played by Jiang Wen in Beijinger in New York. He and his wife Guo Yan don’t get divorced in the original novel, but Zheng Xiaolong added the divorce in his TV drama. “If you want to fight in the US, you have to lose a lot of things, even including your family. In addition, they must get divorced in order for the story can go on,” Zheng said.

Unlike an intellectual

Originally, Chen Daoming was chosen for the role of Wang Qiming, and his wife Du Xian for Wang’s wife Guo Yan. They did come to New York with the crew in 1992. Chen also worked as the driver for the crew. But they quit together despite the fact they had signed the acting contract.

Therefore, Jiang Wen took the place of Chen to play the role of Wang Qiming. Many people felt he was suitable to the role because he didn’t look like an intellectual.

The switch of actors proved successful, though. “Do all intellectuals have to look bookish with a pair of glasses?” Zheng prodded.

Coming home in silken robes

Zheng Xiaolong came to the US in 1991, where he talked to many Chinese people. He listened to their stories, happy or sad. “Your experience in China is not of much help in the US. You need to learn from the people living there and adapt. In the 1990s, there was no supermarket in China, let alone private cars and houses. The US was a lot wealthier than China then,” Zheng said.

However, it was not easy to live and succeed in the US. “Most people thought it was easy to live a good life abroad, but problems such as discrimination and inability to speak English were actually daunting to those early immigrants. Beijinger in New York just truly reflected their hard struggles,” Zheng said.

Zheng also said, “We Chinese people want ourselves to appear rich and successful when we return home from abroad. We save money to buy expensive stuff for our family members. We don’t want family and friends to know how hard our life is in other countries.”

Running a business in US

While shooting Beijinger in New York, Zheng Xiaolong started a company in the US in 1992 by the name of Beijing Television Art Center. They were distributing TV programs and dramas of more than 20 Chinese mainland TV stations including CCTV. “It was interesting to see that a program would become popular in the US if it was popular in China,” Zheng said.

“We thought we would earn a lot of money, but the number of Chinese people was still small and their TV stations couldn’t attract many advertisements. What’s more, piracy was a severe problem in the US at that time and video shops were filled with pirated videotapes.”

Beijing Television Art Center spent only $19 to start the company because all other expenses were paid by their partner. “China was poor at that time. Our center didn’t have enough money to pay staff wages, so how could they start a company in the US?” Zheng said.

(Edited by Billie Feng)

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