“非诚勿扰”, The Best Show on Mainland TV: Analysis


I’ll be very blunt: part of the whole inspiration for this blog comes from this Mainland TV show and my unbridled love for it. My years of frustration failing to enjoy Chinese culture have come to an end as I have found China’s most watchable TV show.

“非诚勿扰” is simply put, a trashy guilty pleasure that proves to illuminate the dark corners of unspoken Chinese culture by voicing aloud that which was previously off limits. One of the dozen global franchises of the 2008 Australian dating show “Taken Out”, this Jiangsu TV quasi-reality show is often confused with the 2008 Feng Xiaogang film starring Ge You and Shu Qi of the same Chinese name and as such is sometimes referred to the same English title, “If You Are The One”.

“非诚勿扰” translated into English, loosely, can be called “don’t be honest and you won’t cause any trouble”; this is a reference to the show’s female contestants who are uncontrolably honest about their ideal of a husband-to-be as well as their their tactless and brutally honest rejections of the male contestants on the show.

“非诚勿扰” can be compared to trashy shows of the west like “The Jerry Springer Show” and “Desparate Housewives” in which people indulge in their weaknesses and vices; we as the spectactors revel in their ability to cheat, lie and manipulate each other and thrill vicariously through behavior that we as proper upstanding members of society would not simulate. However, “非诚勿扰” is not a western show; they people on this show follow different rules and customs.

Some background: western society is a guilt-based culture. If you do something bad like tell a lie or murder someone, because the emphasis of society lies upon the individual and his/her responsibilities and powers, this bad act will trouble your conscience and ultimately end with the individual accepting their actions as well as the ramifications (well, ideally). Eastern society is not guilt-based, but a shame-based culture. Losing respect amongst your peers is a powerful societal device, but it only works if you are caught doing something wrong.

Since results are more important than the method, and preserving “face” and maintaining respect is such an integral part of Chinese culture, it has become culturally acceptable to make bald-faced lies. When at the check-in at the airport in China, you are more liable to hear “Oh, the flight will be arriving very soon, maybe ten minutes from now” rather than ever be told the uncomfortable truth that your flight has been canceled outright. The most infamous example of this with regards to religion is the Taiyuan Massacre of the Boxer Rebellion, when Yu-Hsien, the Governor of Shanxi, promised safe passage to a group of hiding missionaries; once they emerged from hiding the Governor decreed the group, which included women and children, to be all beheaded.

I am not saying all Chinese people lie; this is untrue. However, I am saying that telling lies in public is perfectly acceptable. Not everyone does this, and this behavior only works if you are too gullible to accept it. As well, I should say this is not a condemnation of eastern or Chinese culture; western culture has its failings as well. It seems odd but routinely do we witness that an individual who has committed great failures or crimes can be completely redeemed and forgiven by the public at large if they come out and admit it. And so we have people like Hugh Grant and Marion Barry who persist in being famous or continuing to do the same things despite having shown to be “bad people”.

This is a bit of armchair philosophizing, but this is what I love about “非诚勿扰”: this trashy show give ordinary Chinese people an opportunity to “act honestly“. While that may or may not being the most glaring and enormous contradiction you’ll read today, if you know anything about China you will recognize that China is a land of contradictions. Getting the chance to act honestly for once is their lives is as entertaining to an audience as a bunch of shirtless, overgrown men talking in hyperboles and hugging each other on a canvas floor. Sorry to say, but “非诚无扰” is as fake as wrestling and just as entertaining; under the guise of a dating show, they can provide a platform to talk just about any societal topic.

China is a poor country, and despite its meteoric rise in recent years it still hasn’t shaken off the status of a third world country. Women in China have long been touted as the equals of men in the workforce (“办边天”, or “holding up half the sky”), but feminism and the power and influence of women have still yet to be seen. In entertainment women are still just used as flower vases (“花瓶”); a woman without a man for a husband isn’t taken seriously, and so women routinely give up careers for family.

Say what you will, but Chinese women still pine for a “strong, financially established taller man who can provide a sense of security”. This and the popular Chinese saying “the man is able and the woman is beautiful – the ideal couple” (男才女貌) just shows state of current gender politics. That is, until 非诚勿扰。

Previously, women are permitted to only pout and lout cute and not say what is on their minds; now with a show like 非诚勿扰, the teapot has overturned and the truth is pouring out.

But, what is the truth? In this well edited and well scripted show, what is the truth? These women say they want a rich husband and aren’t shy about saying it. Do they reflect society? Do they represent a majority of women who aren’t willing to make such public statements that reflect upon them?

The infamous statement made by 马诺 (Horse Promise) on the show goes something like:”I’d rather cry in a BMW than to be with you (on the back of your bicycle)”.

Tactless? Yes. Scathing? Yes. Revealing of a culture plagued with poverty and obsessed with money? An illuminating yes.

非诚勿扰is just like professional wrestling; no one gets hurt and everyone is entertained, and eventually someone goes home with the big belt made of solid (TV) gold.


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