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Anti-graft campaign gains ground through drama

Fugitives, undercover dissidents, fridges, beds and closets stuffed with dirty money — these are just a few of the scenes from a hit TV show about corrupt officials in China that has millions of viewers tuning in across the country.

“In the Name of the People,” a 55-part drama that debuted on Hunan Satellite TV a fortnight ago, focuses on the tense struggle among fictional provincial officials: the secretary of the political and legal affairs committee; an anti-corruption director with the procuratorate; and the chief of the public security department. It sheds light on Chinese politics and officialdom in the ongoing campaign against corruption, which was launched in 2012, and has won widespread acclaim as the show pulls no punches in the way it represents greed and power.

“In the Name of the People” was the most watched show on online streaming giant iQIYI. The first episode had clocked up over 1.4 billion views as of last Thursday. The show’s screenplay and its namesake novel were written by Zhou Meisen. The prime-time show was produced on a 120-million-yuan (about US$17.4 million) budget, and bankrolled by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

“I’ve been writing shows on the theme of corruption for years, but none have been as popular as this one,” said Zhou. “It’s a surprise that something so mainstream is popular among young people.” The TV series showcases the country’s efforts to pursue low-level “flies” and high-ranking “tigers” and has earned plaudits across social media.

“The popularity of China’s anti-corruption TV thriller ‘In the Name of the People’ shows how serious China is,” wrote Twitter user “Peggy Liu.”

“I’m hooked! Watching two episodes a night is far from enough,” wrote a user on Sina Weibo.

“Some have criticized the young for not taking the show seriously, but I really like their responses,” said Zhou.

What makes “In The Name of the People” remarkable is the candid depiction of misconduct.

According to the cast, some of the scenarios were based on real events. Moreover, this show was the first one to ever cast a morally corrupt deputy state-level official.

Factual narrative

The show starts with the discovery of 230 million yuan in cash at the home of a government official. This was based on a similar incident, but the real life case involved 644 million yuan at the home of a former vice mayor.

Just one week after the show debuted, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China announced that it had launched an investigation into chairman and Party chief of China Insurance Regulatory Commission Xiang Junbo.

Xiang is just the latest in a long list of officials who have fallen afoul of the authorities, which since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, have stepped up anti-corruption work.

Courts across the country concluded 45,000 graft cases implicating 63,000 people in 2016, according to the work report of the Supreme People’s Court.

“The TV show has garnered fans for its unabashed depiction of corruption by those in authority — this is a topic closely watched by the people,” said Li Yongzhong, former vice president of the Chinese Academy of Discipline Inspection and Supervision.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the top legislature, approved a pilot reform program last year to establish an integrated supervision system that will be more efficient.

Beijing Municipality and the provinces of Shanxi and Zhejiang were chosen to start the reform, which is the initial step toward establishing a national supervisory commission.

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