I’m not even going to speculate…

Though I’ve seen plenty of pirate DVDs of Fox’s Prison Break in Beijing and Shanghai, I had no idea how popular the show was in China until I read this:

A television station in eastern China which flouted a national ban on U.S. drama “Prison Break,” said it aired the popular serial on its children’s channel for “English training” purposes, state media reported on Friday.

Like other shows with crime-related content, “Prison Break,” a drama about fugitives’ on the run after escaping jail, is banned in China, as part of a 2004 order “to protect the living environment of non-adults,” the Beijing Youth Daily said…

…An editor at Jinan TV, a station in China’s eastern Shandong province, said excerpts of “Prison Break” had aired on its children’s channel as part of a regular program called “Watch Movies, Learn English,” the paper reported.

“The program would show some scenes, then the host would explain the meaning of some of the words used and how they would apply in real life,” the paper quoted the editor surnamed Zhang as saying.

Okay, so I’m a really lame entertainment industry bureaucrat…I, um, haven’t ever seen this show. Anyone care to explain why it’s so popular in China? And whether it’s an appropriate “English Language Learning Tool” for children?

The Discussion: 23 Comments

It’s a very cool show.

All about breaking out of a prison kinda MacGyver-meet-Mission-Impossible style.

I’ve posted links to first and second seasons here

March 18, 2007 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

According to my students, Prison Break season one became popular in China because of the suspense it created. Given its banned status, I suppose someone at my university could be arrested because it is available on the university’s official FTP server. I would imagine, however, that content only appears if it has been pre-approved by at least one school censor. I can only assume that my university has obtained the permission of the government and Fox to use it for educational purposes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

March 18, 2007 @ 6:33 pm | Comment

Every student on campus at my uni knows about this show; it’s hugely popular. I would say that the dialogue is useful for learning new vocabulary in context and for improving students’ listening ability, but I would question the shows suitability as a learning tool for children.

There would certainly be more appropriate and useful materials available for youngsters in China.

Lame excuse by the leaders for banning the series, though.

March 18, 2007 @ 8:48 pm | Comment

The show is hugely popular among the young women in my office in Japan, the reason having little or nothing to do with English.

March 18, 2007 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

The plot twists and suspense generated at the end of every episode are what makes you want to keep watching it. It’s a continual plot arch, and although it focuses in on different people, you always feel like you’re watching one whole story rather than one for two weeks, then a second, a third, etc….

March 19, 2007 @ 1:38 am | Comment

anything that gets them to be interested in something other than basketball or CS is good.

March 19, 2007 @ 6:02 am | Comment

Isn’t Law and Order also banned in China? I’ve heard that because it shows how Law actually works in other countries it’s deemed threatening to the Public order. People might get BIG ideas about…well…Law and Order.
Prison Break I have not seen. I do look forward to a generation of Chinese Diplomats speaking in American prisoner lingo. I cannot wait the next President of China threatening to “Cap” his American counterparts ” Biyatch Ass” That will make for even better television.

March 19, 2007 @ 6:13 am | Comment

I agree with TBD, its a crying shame that these kids spend so much time spending english yet cannot use “shank”, “PO”, “proby”, “bitch”, “punk”, ” ‘Twan” or “lockdown” in a proper sentence.

March 19, 2007 @ 10:47 am | Comment

Never heard that Law and Order is banned? It might look boring compared to prison break.

nanheyangrouchuan, they surely can use F** word correctly and properly when they talk to you. Hope that will satisfy you.

March 19, 2007 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

fatbrick:

I beg to differ, some of the uses of fuck are downright humorous and it really makes some chinese mad when I LMAO while they are trying to insult me.

“Law and Order” is banned because of all that due process and rights crap, just like “The Simpsons” was considered then banned not because the episode where Selma adopts a chinese baby but because the show constantly and freely criticizes US society and belittles the US gov’t.

March 19, 2007 @ 12:47 pm | Comment

“Law and Order” is not broadcasted in China. It does not mean it is banned. Any evidence about this news?

Using native language to play foreigners, how classy.

March 19, 2007 @ 1:01 pm | Comment

I have never heard a guy talk about this show – every girl in my office in Beijing starts foaming at the mouth with lust at the mention of Michael Scofield. He is what is driving a lot of the interest.

March 19, 2007 @ 3:04 pm | Comment

As for presenting Prison Break as an educational tool, let us not forget that we Americans come from a country where such erudite programming as “Gilligan’s Island” and “Gomer Pyle, USMC” was defined as “educational” in order to enable broadcasters to meet their modest (and now totally scrapped) community service broadcasting obligations.

Of course, arguably, “Gomer Pyle, USMC” was higher quality viewing than most actual public service programming, but whether it was “educational” in any commonly accepted definition of the word is debatable.

Spongebob Squarepants, on the other hand, is like pure information beamed straight into my skull.

March 19, 2007 @ 5:02 pm | Comment

Check the p2p video services in the mainland and it’s been a top draw for a long time.

The first season was the highest rated English-language series on TVB ever, and I think the wide availability of the unofficial sources forced them to rush the second season to the screen before the customary 6 months to a year after the US season is finished.

March 19, 2007 @ 10:07 pm | Comment

Are you kidding, Prison Break is HUGE in China, or at least the major cities. I think it’s the suspense and plot twists as much as for the beefcake that’s on offer. And because it’s a million times more exciting than anything on CCTV!

But as an English teaching tool for kids, ouch, that is so far off the scale for appropriate material and yet not at all surprising to hear.

Most of my local friends here were downloading episodes days after they were broadcast in the US.

March 19, 2007 @ 10:18 pm | Comment

Prison Break is popular in China because it is a metaphor for Chinese politics. The average Chinese wants to escape the prison of Chinese politics in a MacGyverian-beefcake fashion. The warden and the police represent Hu Jintao and the CCP. It is all so obvious, isn’t it?

I was surprised that no one said this already — so I decided to say it. Anyway, that would probably be the interpretation of the BBC or Secret China.

March 20, 2007 @ 12:36 am | Comment

I’ll set aside the story and the political ramifications and go with the obvious reasons for the show’s Chinese success I’ve gleaned from conversations with students and friends: “Prison Break” is popular here because Wentworth Miller, as the protagonist Michael Scofield, is such terribly appealing man-candy for Chinese female viewers who spent their teen years cutting their teeth on Di Caprio during multiple viewings of Titanic. (He’s also managed to become the man-crush of several guys I know, both gay and straight.)

Unfortunately, the fans looking to learn English from “Prison Break” aren’t helped by the subtitling. The Chinese translations of the show are usually done on the fly by release teams one or two days after it hits the Western P2P networks,* but the speed of the translation and skill of the translators results in some pretty nonsensical “English instruction.” While they watch the show together one of my European friends constantly checks with her Chinese boyfriend to see if parts have been translated sensibly, and usually it’s not the case.

Given the up-down nature of Chinese tastes — ponder the flameout of Super Girls for a moment if you can stand it — I’m expecting the show won’t be so crazy popular next year, especially since the second season lacks much of the novelty of the first. But for now, “Prison Break” literally OWNS the attention span of 18-to-32 y/o Chinese.

* I know this because one of the Chinese English teachers I’ve worked with helps to subtitle and release the show for the Tianjin/Beijing BT/Emule networks and because of the lag time between when I can see the show and when my Chinese friends and students choose to watch it.

March 20, 2007 @ 1:39 am | Comment

88, your joke made my day.

March 20, 2007 @ 1:45 am | Comment

I’ll set aside the story and the political ramifications and go with the obvious reasons for the show’s Chinese success I’ve gleaned from conversations with students and friends: “Prison Break” is popular here because Wentworth Miller, as the protagonist Michael Scofield, is such terribly appealing man-candy for Chinese female viewers who spent their teen years cutting their teeth on Di Caprio during multiple viewings of Titanic. (He’s also managed to become the man-crush of several guys I know, both gay and straight.)

Aha. Someone’s got it.

March 20, 2007 @ 5:05 am | Comment

I think you’ll are underestimating the charms of Stacy Keach. What a fearless, wonderful, creative and fascinating character actor. He could make anything shine.

March 20, 2007 @ 7:34 am | Comment

Ah, yeah, Ting Bu Dong, props to Keach, Mike Effing Hammer himself.

March 20, 2007 @ 11:11 am | Comment

The reasons it might be inappropriate are the same reasons a show like 24 might be inappropriate. The list of inappropriate themes for children: murder, guns, shanks, drugs, prison abuse, torture, allusions to male rape, fighting, and other forms of violence. That being said, I’ve been watching this kind of stuff since I was maybe 10. I wouldn’t air it in a classroom, but I could imagine excerpts as being totally benign.

March 20, 2007 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

Why didn’t Oz catch on like this? Vern Schillinger was a fine piece O’ Man Meat and a good role model for the lil’ ones.

March 21, 2007 @ 3:44 am | Comment

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