Mass Cultural Implications of the Affluent Class Characters Recreated in Chinese Dramas



Zongbin Yao, Hyunseok Lee


Dept. of Visual Contents

Graduate School of Dongseo University

Busan, South Korea,






<Ode to Joy, 2016> aired in 2016 caused a lot of social repercussions in China. Audiences have a great interest in the affluent class and polarization between the rich and the poor in the drama. In daily life, ordinary people hardly connect with the affluent class, which is the upper class in modern social stratum. However, TV drama is the media that the public is very easy to reach every day. On basis of social problems, TV dramas usually reproduce character images in order to meet the expectations of the public. Therefore, images of affluent class in the drama not only reflects the understanding of the public but is also the image that the media believes. Targeting at this, this paper examines the characteristics of affluent class in China and public understanding of them by literature research. Additionally, character images of the affluent class in <Ode to Joy, 2016> are analyzed in order to understand mass culture presented by TV dramas in China in the process of cultural reproduction. These results are expected to be baseline data needed to effectively reproduce the images of the affluent class in Chinese dramas depending on social needs or authorial intentions.


Keywords-the affluent class; dramas; character; mass culture


1. Introduction


Since the founding of new China, with the rapid growth of the country's economic strength, the affluent class has also grown rapidly. At the same time, the phenomenon of polarization between the rich and the poor has become increasingly serious and has become one of the main contradictions in today's society. The normal public cannot easily reach the world of the affluent class at ordinary times. Therefore, this curiosity turns into an attention economy, and the mass media naturally becomes the channel for the public to know more about the affluent class. Among all the mass media, television is more powerful than any other and is the most common learning environment for the public. Walter Lippmann once put forward an idea of “pseudo-environment”. In this idea, people will regard the mimetic environment presented by the media as an objective environment indeed, and audiences will be subtly influenced and changed by the things presented in the media [1]. So, TV dramas are not only a way of entertainment, but also an effective tool for conveying values. Through TV dramas, audience get exposed to the plot but more connected to the ideas, ideologies and implications delivered by the plot. Regrading to this, this paper examines the characteristics of the affluent class in China and public understanding of them in the way of literature research. In addition, character images of the affluent class in <Ode to Joy, 2016> are analyzed as well in order to understand mass culture presented by TV dramas in China in the process of cultural reproduction.


2. Theoretical Review of the Affluent Class


The affluent class is a new upper class based on economic wealth since the beginning of modern capitalism. Besides, it is a privileged class with a dominant position in social influence. Affluent class in modern society is not caused by hereditary bureaucracy in feudal age any more. Instead, they are ordinary people achieve economic success relying on their own efforts, who is also envied by the public.


2.1. Affluent Class in Modern China


Affluent class in modern China is the result of the social reform, and it is also changing and developing along with China’s political, economic and other national policies [2]. By examining the history of modern and contemporary development in China, this paper summarizes the development background and growth process of affluent class in China, which is shown in Table 1.


Table 1. The Social Background and Development of Chinese Affluent Class




National Policy


Public opinion


Early days of new China

1) Socialist planned economy

2) Cultural Revolution

1) Senior government officials

Be ashamed of wealth and be proud of poverty


Initial stage for the Chinese eco­nomic reform

1) The rich first pushing those being rich later

2) The establishment of special economic zones

1) Senior government officials

2) Business owners

3) Stock portfolio managers

Make money carefully


Mid-term of the Chinese economic reform

1) Determined the market economy

2) Joined the WTO

3) Private property began to be protected by law.

1) Senior government officials

2) Business owners

3) Stock portfolio managers

The public has begun to pay attention to personal wealth.


Deepening period of the Chinese eco­nomic reform

1) Scientific Outlook on Development

2) Chinese Economic Stimulus Program

1) Senior government officials

2) Business owners

3) Senior professional officers

Government en­courage everyone to get rich.


Through the investigation of the social background and growth process of affluent class in China, we can find affluent class in China mainly appeared after the reform and opening-up. Due to the incomplete policies at that moment, a proportion of affluent class used improper means to acquire wealth in the preliminary period of wealth accumulation. Therefore, the public has a negative impression over the affluent class. In 2007, Social Investigation Center of China Youth Daily carried out a questionnaire survey on the theme of Impressions for the Rich” towards 7,916 people. As shown in the result, negative factors like luxurious (57.1%), greedy (52.7%) and corrupt (45.0%) ranked in the top three, followed by smart (33.1%) and hard-working (31.7%). Meanwhile, 92.9% of the surveyed population hope to enter affluent class. This paper combines this survey result and <Chinese Mass Affluent Report, 2015> issued by Hurun Research, and makes the Table 2.


Table 2. Status Types and Characteristics of Chinese Affluent Class



Status types


Public impression


1) Businessman

2) Government


3) Professional workers

4) Star

1) Government officials are

   socially dominant

2) Most of the rich are self-made

3) General education

4) The Network Culture

5) Young

1) The general impression over affluent class is negative at present.

2) Oneself is possible to enter the affluent class.

Source: Hurun Report Inc. & Social Investigation Center of China Youth Daily, Chinese Mass Affluent Report, 2015 & Survey “Impressions for the Rich”


3. Urban TV Dramas


TV drama with urban theme roots in urban life and relies on the urban culture formed by value orientation, living philosophy and aesthetic preference of the citizen class. This type of drama allows the emotional experience of urban crowds as the main narrative [3]. In fact, the development of TV dramas is constantly evolving as the economy develops. With the acceleration of urbanization and the growth of citizen stratum, urban culture has gradually become an important part that influences ethos and cultural trends. In this trending, urban life TV series has become the main type in modern TV series. In modern urban life, affluent class is quite representative, so it naturally appears in urban-theme TV dramas so as to meet the expectations of the public.


Table 3. Characteristics of urban TV dramas





While the core in the process of TV production is making fictional stories, TV series is based on the real world. Therefore, even a fictional story cannot completely shake off the impact brought by real world. For the reason that TV dramas with urban theme reflects the lives of urban residents and expressing their emotions, this realistic fun leads to the resonance of audiences.


TV drama shows differences in rights, economy, status and other aspects between each other through the differences in professions. It is the difference that forms the contradictory structure necessary for TV dramas.


Based on the pursuit of economic interests, popular culture contains a commercial-based consumer character. As a concrete method, in order to obtain as high a rating as possible, the image of roles must fit the preferences of the public.


4. Analytical Tool


Table 4. Analytical Tool



5. Case Study


5.1. Chinese drama <Ode to Joy, 2016>


This TV drama uses quick switch and clear contrast among scenes to present “the Network Culture” in China, which means that affluent class must rely on social relations and the accumulation of social capital in the growth process. As the result, when Fan Shengmei is frowning for family disputes in rural, the affluent class, represented by Andi, Wei Wei and Tan Zongming, is worrying about intricate social activities (e.g., “Fig. 1”).



Fig. 1 Two scenes from <Ode to Joy, 2016>


As a role of affluent class in TV drama, Qu Xiaoxiao’s 1) social background and growth is the offspring of wealthy families, and her parents aged around forty or fifty years old, earning a large fortune from nothing. From the interaction between Qu and her parents we can see that, although Qu’s parents obtained excellent economic conditions, they cannot give “aristocratic” family education to their daughter. Their taste and way of education cannot keep up with the growth of wealth, leading to poor knowledge of Qu. She studies abroad in the United States, but only in an unknown community college. Uncontrolled restraint of parents makes Qu lack the necessary education, 2) Characteristics is be overweening, never consider the feelings of others and have self-centered behaviors. However, apart from these, she is generous and of loyalty to justice. In spite of the tag of well-off second generation, she is not a reckless spender and wants to gain her parents’ recognition through her own effort. Similarly, Bao Yifan’s 1) social background and growth is another silver-spoon kid. As the only kid in family, he starts to be the deputy general manager of his family group at a very early age. He is bent on converting family business into a listed company. 2) Characteristics is under the slightly frivolous appearance, it is an inner heart of doing things in a down-to-earth manner. All of these descriptions in detail make audiences slowly reduce their psychological defense, begin to accept and be fond of these sliver-spoon kids shown in drama.

On contrary, Andi’s 1) social background and growth is an orphan born at the bottom of society. Relying on the advantages of high IQ and higher education, she takes a senior position at an investment company in Wall Street. Later, because of the invitation from friend Tan Zongming, she returns to China and serves in Shengxuan Group as CFO. This certain kind of affluent class image represented by Andi meets public expectation that gain a decent life and dignity after education and one’s own efforts. In another words, Andi is an idealized projection delivered by the scriptwriter to audiences. Andi is much closer to Chinese audience’s desirable and ideal image of affluent class, which is independent, smart, self-disciplined and kind-hearted. Through these subtle changes, <Ode to Joy, 2016> lets audience slowly lower their psychological defense, accepts and even like roles of the affluent class.


5.2. The Result of Case Study


Table 5. The Result of Case Study




Objective image

1) Superior living conditions

2) Middle-aged affluent class that began to accumulate wealth in the 1990s

3) the Network Culture

4) Self-made young affluent class with excellent educational background

Audience's psycho­logical cognition

1) Visual satisfaction

2) Economic conditions are the result of their continuous efforts.

Ideology in dramas

1) Self-management and hard work alone can increase your competitiveness and increase your status

2) Weakening internal contradictions in society


6. Conclusion


<Ode to Joy, 2016> uses direct visual effects to present superior living conditions of the affluent class in a positive way, satisfying audience’s curiosity to the life of affluent class. The gap between the rich and the poor existing objectively in the real society is deliberately faded. Thus, audience slowly lowered their psychological defense and begin to be in favor of characters of the affluent class shown in the drama instead. Moreover, audiences accept the ideology hidden in this TV series. This shows that Chinese TV dramas, as a mass culture industry, also play a role in guiding the mainstream ideology in society.




[1]      Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion, 2rd ed., New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1998, pp. 15-30.

[2]      Lu Dan, Issue on Chinese New generational Rich Strata Under Strains from Alienation Relationship Between State and Society, Chinese Journal of Sociology, vol. 12, pp. 47-48, December 2004.

[3]      Yang Hongtao, “Several key words of domestic urban emotion drama,” China Television, vol. 10, pp. 84-88, October 2016.