A popular Chinese drama which has been dubbed ‘China’s Sex and the City‘ has won plaudits for shining a light on modern-day women’s issues in a country where attitudes towards sex and gender roles are rapidly changing.
Ode to Joy is breaking new ground by tackling subjects which are traditionally seen as taboo on Chinese television, such as sex, virginity and the range of challenges women face in male-dominated workplaces in China.
Glamorous and often provocative, the show explores the lives of five successful and attractive young woman who live on the same floor of a Shanghai apartment complex called Ode to Joy.
The series, which is currently planning for a third season, sparked huge discussion in China in May with an edgy storyline in which a boyfriend split up with one of the central characters after discovering she was not a virgin.
Such an issue may seem trivial in EastEnders or Coronation Street. However, the story touched a nerve with women across China who are often expected to take on particular roles in the socially conservative country.
Yuan Zidan, one of the soap opera’s screenwriters, said Ode to Joy’s success is built on its ability to capture issues concerning love, relationships and careers which affect urban middle-class women, but have previously been neglected in Chinese media and entertainment.
“Ode to Joy is an attempt to portray the modern Chinese woman in China’s big cities through the lives of five women,”she told The Telegraph.
“The life they are leading, the problems they are facing represent ordinary Chinese women, and I believe this sense of reality is the most important aspect of Ode to Joy, and the reason for its popularity.”
Ms Yuan said that as Chinese society has become more liberal, it was more common to see the topic of sex being discussed by ordinary women, although it remained “rare” for soap operas to tackle the subject.
Issues surrounding the challenges that Chinese women face in the workplace are also rarely portrayed on domestic television.
Traditional Chinese culture often hands women less of a say in family life, but attitudes are changing as divorce rates among younger couples soar.
In some Chinese provinces up to half of marriages between those who were born in the 1980s have broken up, state media has reported.
CREDIT: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP
Fans of Ode to Joy – who are usually women – say the series has helped them become more assertive in both their relationships and work.
Cheng Li, aged 27, a media worker from Beijing, said: “The program sends a message to us that women should not have to give anything up just to please men.
“It helps that the lives of people in the series are based on ordinary women, but obviously, Ode to Joy is more dramatic, which is why it is one of my favourite shows.”