A popular icon of Chinese history helps shape attitudes towards the role of justice in 21st Century China. In one of the scenes from Wide Angle’s ”The People’s Court”, Li Yao Quan, a farmer suing his neighbor for burning down his trees, cites a TV show to explain why he is pursuing legal justice:
Li Yao Quan : There’s a famous TV soap opera called “Justice Bao”, about a real court judge who’s always honest in his judgments. That’s what gave me the idea of taking my neighbor to court.
The legendary Bao Zheng (999-1062), also known as Pao Cheng, was a much praised judge who lived during the Song dynasty. Because of his renowned fairness, he remains a powerful icon in Chinese popular culture to this day, especially for the disenfranchised who seek justice. There are many legends and stories about Bao and his witty approach to solving mysteries and tough cases. His character has been dramatized in multiple stories in literature, opera and other media. He is often portrayed with a black face and a white crescent shaped birthmark on his forehead suggesting the impartiality and uprightness of an ancient Chinese official.
The first Justice Bao series was released in 1974 and produced by Chinese Television System in Taiwan. 350 episodes ran in total. A second CTS series followed in 1993 which was even more popular, not just in China but across Asia. In 1995 TVB in Hong Kong produced its own popular version. With 80 episodes, this too enjoyed great success. In this excerpt from the TVB series, pirates attack a ship on Taihu Lake. Justice Bao discovers evidence of the attack, and begins an investigation.