from Other Lisa, cross-posted at the paper tiger

Originally uploaded by Other Lisa.

It’s Supergirl! Or, more accurately, it’s “The Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Super Girl Contest.” Jim Yardley of the NYT asks if this knock-off of American Idol presages greater dem0cr@cy in China’s future:

The enormous public fascination with the independently produced show has stimulated a nationwide online discussion on issues ranging from dem0cr@cy to standards of beauty to whether Li is a lesbian. In a country where it is illegal to organize many types of public meetings, fans formed booster clubs and canvassed malls to court prospective voters. There were even accusations of voter fraud, as rabid fans circumvented the rule limiting each person to 15 votes.

“It’s like a gigantic game that has swept so many people into a euphoria of voting, which is a testament to a society opening up,” a social commentator, Zhu Dake, told state media.

No one is saying that the frenzy surrounding the show represents a threat to the ruling Communist Party or foreshadows the emergence of meaningful elective politics in China. But the degree to which the show resonated with people seems to have unsettled the government’s propaganda leaders. There is already speculation it will be canceled next year.

Not only that, the winner, Li Yuchun, stands in marked contrast to the typical “model worker models” usually seen on CCTV:

Tall and gangly, with a thatch of frizzy hair, the adjectives most used to describe her in the media were “boyish” or “androgynous.” Some commentators speculated that her fan base consisted of young girls who considered her to be their “boyfriend” because of her appearance.

Some speculate that the show also resonated with viewers because the contestants were recruited from the provinces, as opposed to the big city types more typically found on network TV.

Wow. Candidates representative of the people. Individualism over prefab beauty. Who’d have thought that would catch on?

UPDATE Laowai points out that “American Idol” is itself a rip-off of Britain’s “Pop Idol.” Of course, he’s right…I and Jim Yardley stand corrected.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

All this show demostrated to me was that you don’t need looks or talent to succeed in China’s music industry.

IMO, the girl who took third place should have been the winner.

Ming has covered this story a bit too.

September 5, 2005 @ 1:36 am | Comment

Yeah, I was wishing I could have seen it before writing about it. Note that I didn’t say “talent” won out anywhere!

September 5, 2005 @ 1:38 am | Comment

A one-on-one student of mine, a savvy young lawyer, echoed Yardley’s claim – many Chinese were caught up in the show because of the voting experience.

Reminds me of some of the recent anti-Japanese protestors who participated, not because they were all that racist, but just because they wanted to see what it was like to take part in a protest.

Careful what yer samplin’ there, kids. You can easily get hooked on that democracy-stuff! ๐Ÿ™‚

September 5, 2005 @ 2:24 am | Comment

I love the way almost everyone reporting on this show describes it as a ” knock-off of American Idol” or similar, as if the Chinese were somehow misappropriating an American invention.

American Idol is a knock off of the British show “Pop Idol”.

September 5, 2005 @ 3:28 am | Comment

And where did Pop Idol get its idea from? … (As far as I know) Japan started it all in 1997 with the contest that gave birth to the massive Hello! Project / Morning musume money-making empire…

This article made me smile. ๐Ÿ™‚

September 5, 2005 @ 5:01 am | Comment

China Daily:

China’s runaway summer hit, “Super Girl,” ended last weekend with a television viewership that eclipsed the combined populations of the United States and Canada. State news media reported that more than 400 million people had watched the finale of the show, …

400 million viewers? If true, that’s stark.

September 5, 2005 @ 6:36 am | Comment

There’s a capitalism spin on that nobody has mentioned yet: each vote on the mobile phone costs 1 yuan.

Now, as my wife put it, why do you think they spent so much time showing garbage about the girls personal lives? Because that provided more time for people to vote. More votes = more money.

September 5, 2005 @ 6:57 am | Comment

Don’t tell the Chinese but I think she might be a lesbian.

September 5, 2005 @ 7:44 am | Comment

I only caught a bit of the final on Sunday, but from what I saw Ms Li was singing well and stood out from the other girls because of her different looks.
Differences between Supergirl and Pop Idol (I’ve never seen American Idol or the Japanese original): in Pop Idol the contestants were of both sexes, but here they were only female – does anybody know why? And in Pop Idol the contestants lived in a joint house and were given singing training, but as far as I could tell the supergirls weren’t given any help.

September 5, 2005 @ 8:57 am | Comment

Gordon quips:

“There’s a capitalism spin on that nobody has mentioned yet: each vote on the mobile phone costs 1 yuan.”

You just stumbled onto an oh-so-sweet irony mate! Far be it from me to be nasty or anything, but it appears that democracy is A-okay in China as long as someone, somewhere is making money out of it!

Given this new money-making impetus, I’m sure that the CCP could think of a way of charging one-yuan-one-vote in a democratic political system. My god, it would be the most efficicent and democratic system in the world—with a 100% turnout guaranteed.

Unfortunately, most of the cadre’s kids probably wouldn’t be able to take part in the voting as they all have their Green Cards already and China doesn’t allow dual-nationality!

September 5, 2005 @ 10:42 am | Comment

Laowai, very good point re: Pop Idol, and I’ll correct that at once.

I should sleep before I post, honestly…

September 5, 2005 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

Don’t tell the Chinese but I think she might be a lesbian.

That’s funny, because as soon as I saw that photo, my first thought was “hmm, can you say lala (lesbian) … !”

Same feeling I had the first time I saw a photo of Chinese singer Han Hong – and I was right then, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sometimes gaydar does work across race/culture lines!

September 5, 2005 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

American Idol bought it’s copyright
Super Girl didn’t

September 6, 2005 @ 3:24 am | Comment

Yes Garnwraly, that’s a point I hear myself frequently pointing out in China. Mostly I receive the reply “But this is China”.

Still, I honestly thought that everybody knew that the idea and screening rights for American Idol were purchased from the UK. I was obviously wrong.

September 6, 2005 @ 6:19 am | Comment

I am so astounished to find that people take this seriously. It is a little game. It attracts 400 millions viewers because it is interesting. The winner looks boyish but it is not the the reason why more people like her. If you are in or you’ve been in China ,you might realize that Chinese women are not very feminine and a boyish girl is by no means special or attractive. 20 year old girls in China talk about lesbians but they do not really know what it is about.
ok, nothing about democracy, nothing about fantasy of a boyfriend, bothing about lesbian or tradition, and very little about music. OK? it is merely a TV show for fun.

and the girl ranks third is not and cannot be the champion, for her fans won’t bother to vote, while they spent too much time creating rumor and abuse other supergirls and the system; and this is a voting race.

and one text message cost 10cent instead of rmb 1.

I am Chinese. I love this game. and it is just a game.

September 12, 2005 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

Yuyu, one thing you have to understand about most 老外 in China is that they have absolutely no sense of perspective and absolutely no intellectual integrity of any kind.

If a man is beaten nearly to death in New York, say, or London it is a horrible crime. If a man is beaten nearly to death in Taishi, say, it is a horrible crime perpetrated by government!!!!!! They will then go on and on at length about how stupid the government must be for their “bad PR skills”.

In this case, you’re encountering another aspect of 老外 idiocy. When Supergirl charges money for a vote, it’s a horrible crime perpetrated by government!!!!!! When American Idol/Pop Idol/whatever does the same it’s a perfectly sane security measure to help cut down on voting fraud. Oh, and it makes a profit which is somehow not evil in America/Britain/whatever, but is evil here.

So, basically, Yuyu, just ignore the silly 老外 commentators as they blather on and on about things they know nothing of (or, worse, know better than to say). Enjoy your game. Enjoy the show. Leave the 老外 to pretend that they know everything. It’s what they’re best at.

October 11, 2005 @ 6:24 pm | Comment

I’m and Indian living in Britain who watched Supergirl for two weeks when I was in China just now. It was a great show so stop berating how the “government” is doing this that and the other…last year’s maiden edition was jsut as popular and the govt didnt shut it down – why would they now?

For me the most interesting thing about it was the success of androgeneity over conventional beauty. All the contestants were so thin…35 kgs apiece i would guess quite reasonably…and so white (virtually every facial wash and moisturing cream in the supermarket had skin-whitening elements as far as i could see).


ps the chinese government have the biggest budget surplus in the world in purchasing power terms…if they can make a huge ‘profit’ in this way (loosely used) why cant gameshow organisers? why is it then evil????

September 4, 2006 @ 3:56 am | Comment

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