‘House of Cards’ finds popularity in China

BY Zachary Treu  February 19, 2014 at 5:16 PM EST
The U.S. Capitol stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. A U.S. budget accord is on track to win passage in Congress largely because its most important accomplishment is pushing off automatic spending cuts that neither party likes. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

“House of Cards” is giving Chinese viewers a a grim look at the American capital. Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Netflix’s original series “House of Cards” follows main character Frank Underwood’s ascent to power from House Majority Whip to Vice President of the United States. The show’s plot line delves deep into the bitter heart of American politics, intensely covering subjects like campaign finance fraud and the threat of a government shutdown.

It can be difficult for even a politically aware U.S. citizen to follow the show’s twists and turns, but that hasn’t stopped millions of Chinese — including some leaders in the Communist Party — from tuning in. According to The Washington Post, “House of Cards” has been the most-watched show on China’s Netflix equivalent, Sohu, since it was made available on Friday.

“Of course people in China are curious, because you could never see this kind of show about the Chinese government. It would never get past the censors,” said one fan of the show Tuesday at a panel held by Sohu.

The show has been viewed 24.5 million times in China, the Post writes. Sohu says that the largest proportion of these numbers come from government-sector employees and residents of Beijing including Wang Qishan, “one of the seven most powerful leaders in China” and the head of China’s disciplinary committee.

“I was not aware that Chinese leaders are watching the show,” “House of Cards” writer Kenneth Lin told the Post. “I think that has a lot to do with the show’s ability to tap into something very true about power, ambition and human nature.”

Interestingly, this popularity has sparked in a country that recently banned an episode of NBC’s “The Blacklist” for featuring a Chinese villain and critiquing China’s family planning policies. Season two of “House of Cards” prominently features a corrupt Chinese businessman named Xander Feng who enters into an uneasy alliance with Underwood, and frequently focuses on American/Chinese relations.

“‘House of Cards’ is a show about power at the highest levels. If you want to tell that story with relevance today, you simply have to include China,” said Lin.

But the show has thus far escaped Chinese censorship.

“Many Chinese people — including officials — are watching it now and we have had no problem,” Sohu chief executive Charles Zhang said to CNN.

And the show’s dark depiction of the American political situation seems to encourage feelings of kinship among some Chinese viewers.

“After watching ‘House of Cards,’” wrote one Chinese social networking user, “I see that the U.S. is also very dark. It’s the same everywhere. Where there are people, there is struggle.”

Another wrote, “I’m just amazed that their propaganda ministry isn’t mad about this.”