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Chinese addiction makes US TV shows a popular pastime

What does the May Sweep, the end of the season of the US TV shows mean to the Chinese? Believe it or not, it might just push some people over the cusp of the abyss that is boredom because they are faced once again with the question, “what am I going to do without Meiju (美剧 American TV show)?”

These fans of the American TV shows are called Meijumi (美剧迷) in Chinese. How many of them are there? Well, no one knows the exact number. But here is an indication. On Baidu Post Bar, or Baifu Tieba(百度贴吧), the largest Chinese online communication platform, there is a Meiju Bar, which has more than 24 million active accounts and over 3.3 million posts per month as of May 2013. If one account represents one person, then that is about 18% of China’s population, matching that of the entire population of Australia.

A collage of some of the most popular US TV shows in China based on our survey. Photo:

For the diehard fans, it is a serious problem when there is a shortage of shows that they can follow. “Meiju is like an addiction for me,” said a university student from Beijing Language and Culture University at Beijing’s Central Perk coffee house. “I watch four shows every week,” she said, “and then I read all the reviews in English. I discuss it with other fans online. Sometimes I write my own review if I feel like it. Four shows every week, that takes up a big chunk of my spare time. It's part of my life. You can imagine how hard it will be for me to get used to a life without it.”

Another fan at the coffee house, which is a gathering place for fans of the hit American sit-com Friends, said American TV shows to her is what dinosaur is to Ross. “I can’t get enough of it.” she said. So imagine Ross deprived of dinosaurs, that must be how the many Chinese "Meijumi"s feel this time of year. In an online survey conducted by, the majority of the respondents identify themselves as a "diehard fan" and expressed their shared emptiness during the time of the Meiju-void. One said, "Watching Meiju gives me the feeling as if I am high on drugs. I feel like there is something missing when I cannot watch them."

What do they do to kill time, then? Some choose to "revise" the shows that they love. Some look for new shows to "binge watch". And some would resort to other entertainment choices such as British TV shows or films to fill the void. One respond in particular admitted that she "degenerated" into "watching South Korean TV shows".

As for why the Chinese love Meiju so much, different people have different reasons. The superb screenplay, the star-studded cast and the splendid cinematography are among the many reasons that draw the Chinese to the American shows. Most people look to relax and have a good laugh, making comedy the most popular genre among the Chinese viewers. Some watch to learn about the American way of life and to improve their English. And for a surprising 34% of those who took part in the survey, the reason was simply because they think "the Chinese shows suck!"

The age at which the Chinese start watching American TV shows might be a big surprise for some. According to our survey, about 6% of the people began their Meiju watching in elementary school. This picture shows a little boy from a photocopy shop watching Friends. Photo: 

The English language class seems to be the place where most people get their first experience with American shows. And more than half of these English learners started watching the shows in university. However, Meiju is not the exclusive privilege of the English majors. People who took the survey have jobs in every possible line of work you can think of. For those whose English might not be up-to-par to understand the shows in their original language, they can still enjoy them thanks to the many volunteers who happily do the hard work of translating the subtitles and sharing them on-line.

There are several major Chinese video-sharing websites that specialize in Meiju. Their "workers" are mostly volunteers who do it out of their love for the shows. From the video providers to the translators to the technicians who sync the subtitles with the pictures and post the finished video on-line, all are doing it for free. Within hours of a new episode being aired in the US, the Chinese are able to watch it with Chinese subtitles. More importantly, their work is of high quality too. On Baidu Post Bar, there are always heated discussions on the witty subtitles. "The subtitles sometimes make the shows even more interesting." wrote one fan in a thread of discussion.

The majority of the American TV shows cannot pass the Chinese government's censors and be broadcast on TV. Therefore the Chinese can only resort to the Internet. According to the survey, more than half of the Chinese fans watch their favorite shows online where more and more Chinese video-sharing websites are now streaming licensed contents. But that accounts for only a small percentage of all the materials you can find, most of which is illegal. And there are still quite a lot of people, about 30%, who prefer to download their shows from various Bit Torrent websites, which almost always violate the copyright. Nevertheless, the ever-growing enthusiasm the Chinese have for the US TV shows means opportunities for the American television companies. Just offer the right thing, and you can have a ready audience in China always hungry for more.

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