Mon, Mar 18, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Local officials in a lather over soap opera ban in China

By Tsai Ting-I  /  STAFF REPORTER

In spite of China banning a Taiwanese soap opera as a threat to young minds, the program's producer, government officials and media observers in Taiwan have urged the Chinese government to respect the existence of a diversity within popular culture.

The Taiwanese soap opera Meteor Garden, based on the Japanese comic book by the same name, has been a hit with young people throughout Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and China in the past year.

But China has been the only government to ban the program.

"Every individual has his or her own unique life. I have doubts whether personal preference can be suppressed," said Tsai Chih-ping (柴智屏), producer of Meteor Garden, in an interview with the Taipei Times.

Meteor Garden centers on the romance between a poor girl and a member of a group of four spoiled rich kids at an elite high school in Taipei.

The four wealthy kids wear expensive designer clothing and pick on fellow students with impunity. It was first aired by Taiwan's CTS TV station early last year and has since become popular in China with Internet surfers.

According to Chinese Web sites, high school students have gathered at Internet cafes to watch the soap opera over the past two months.

One Web site, NetEase, said it was unusual for a soap opera to become popular on the Web without the help of a broadcast.

But the show's popularity has led to worries from Chinese parents and teachers.

Tsai said the soap opera's goal is to encourage young people to look for "true love" and remind them that money and power can't buy happiness.

Tsai said it was understandable for different countries to have different values when it comes to pop culture, but "China's ban is even unbelievable to the Japanese media, especially since the comic book was published in Japan six or seven years ago."

China's decision to ban the soap opera drew numerous com-plaints from teens on the Internet at chat room sites such as People.com.cn and NetEase.

According to NetEase, within 24 hours of the ban, more than 70,000 Chinese Internet users logged on to the Web site to discuss the government's decision and most of them urged the government to lift the ban.

Responding to China's accusation that the soap opera is a threat to young minds, one Internet user argued, "why can't parents and society's adults trust teenagers' judgment?"

"If Meteor Garden has to be banned, many of China's soap operas should be included," an-other message said.

According to media in China, the Chinese government had cut more than 330 minutes from about 800 minutes' worth of content from Meteor Garden, before China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced the program ban on March 8.

TV producers and media observers in Taiwan say Taiwan's expertise in creating soap operas heavy on romance would be com-petitive when attracting viewers in China's market.

"Creating romance is Taiwan's specialty compared with Hong Kong and China," said Lu Yu-chia (盧郁佳), a media observer, in an opinion page of a local Chinese-language publication.

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