Posted by Alice Xin Liu on Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 5:00 PM
Esquire magazine, February, 2010. Left to right: Xiao S, Kevin Tsai.
Xiao S (小S) has been in the Taiwan entertainment scene since 1993. With her elder sister, Da S (大S), they are two of the most famous female celebrities in Taiwan. On the mainland, they are arguably the most famous female celebrities from Taiwan. Xiao S's English name is Dee Hsu (her real Chinese name is 徐熙娣), but she goes by her more famous nickname. Her elder sister, who also goes by her nickname, is otherwise known as Barbie Hsu (徐熙媛), and she shot to fame for her lead role in the first Meteor Garden (流星花园), the 2001 "teen idol soap" (青春偶像剧) from Taiwan. They started out as a girl-band named SOS, later known as ASOS.
Conversely, Dee Hsu presents a flagship variety show, Kangxi is Coming (康熙来了), produced under the company Gin Star Entertainment (金星娱乐) and shown on Taiwan's Cti TV, Monday to Friday at 10pm.
Dee Hsu has been increasing in popularity since she started presenting Kangxi is Coming, after making the circuit of Taiwan variety shows (综艺节目), especially the program 100% Entertainment (娱乐百分百), which she hosted with her actress sister, Barbie. Taiwan TV programs have a tradition of propelling its variety show hosts to stardom. The king of presenters of variety shows is Jacky Wu (吴宗宪), who hosts the entertainment show Guess Guess Guess (我猜我猜我猜猜猜).
Kangxi is Coming has gained influence on the mainland and in recent years has attracted the pens of mainstream mainland media. Its presenters, Dee Hsu and Kevin Tsai (蔡康永) were on the cover of February's Esquire (时尚先生) magazine.
Chinese mainland bloggers and journalists have noticed the trend shown by TV shows from Taiwan, and Lu Ya (陆崕), a journalist and blogger on Sina and other portals, had a slight relevation about the state of mainland TV (closed-off, taboo-stricken) compared to Taiwan TV (liberal, where everything is discussed).
Although it's an over-enthusiastic post, it's still an insightful peek into the show and elaborates on its significance on the mainland.
So yellow it's close to green, but why it is so popular?by Lu Ya (陆崕)
Lately, the well-known Taiwan entertainment show Kangxi is coming interviewed the actors from the film The Message (风声), this is the first time that the program has interviewed so many mainland stars, and it’s thought-provoking.
Taiwan, on the other side of the straits, is only separated by the sea. However, for most people on the mainland, the place is very strange.
What kind of society is Taiwan society?
When I was at university, I sometimes wanted to find out more about Taiwan. At the time A-Bian (陈水扁， Chen Shui-bian) had just won his second term in office. Later one evening our advisor talked with us in our dormitories, asking everyone to maintain their rationality. This seriously made me want to know more, so from then onwards I started looking for things related to Taiwan on the Internet. But it was hard to find information, so what I knew became limited. Later on when I was employed in the entertainment industry, there was a show called Kangxi is Coming (康熙来了), a Taiwan program that entered into my line of vision. The program is placed on obvious spots on video websites, as if there was free publicity for it.
At the beginning I was unclear about where the name for Kangxi is Coming came from, but I later found out that this was a combination for the names of the hosts, Kevin Tsai (蔡康永) and Dee Hsu (徐熙娣). They talk ambitiously, so no wonder the ratings are high. In the past few years this program has become more and more liked on the mainland, one of the hosts, Xiao S (Dee Hsu), has become more and more famous in the mainland, and there are more and more events with her participating: she's so popular now that she's no longer "red," but purple1. Kangxi is Coming is probably the most popular program from Taiwan shown on the mainland.
It's been a total of 5 years since I've started watching the program. Whenever I have free time or if I'm bored, I always look for a TV program to watch, and often I would first think of Kangxi is Coming. In particular it's the interviews with the stars, they help me to get to know what public figures don’t want others to know. It’s for my curiosity, but also for the purposes of being entertained.
Of course, being entertained is only one aspect of why many people watch Kangxi is Coming. For most of the people on the mainland, Kangxi is Coming can entertain us but also help us get to know the different aspects of this group of people, and satisfy our curiosity, desire to know more, thus giving us much enjoyment.
The program is like a window into Taiwan society.
Therefore, what aspects of the program is related to the special characteristics of Taiwan, which makes us scramble after it?
First of all it’s the “sex,” and mainly it’s Xiao S, especially when she's so sexy it’s almost green2.
When watching Kangxi is Coming, her “dirtiness” gives people the deepest of impressions, and you can go so far as to say that that is where the essence of Kangxi is Coming is. How dirty is it? It is so dirty that it’s bones-baring, it’s so dirty you can’t help yourself but ask, how dirty can it get, how dirty can it challenge itself to be? The host uses dirtiness to be high in the clouds, absorbing the guests to surge and billow together and travel down the road of sexual openness.
First of all, in the program, you can discuss your personal sex life, your hobbies, what you like to do － the more you discuss, the better it gets. You can also talk about situations in married life, for example how you begin, what music you put on to get you in the mood, even what kind of positions you like, the degree of openness is enough to make you wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Apart from this, people are asked to share their experiences of watching pornography. Although many stars find this awkward, most of them honestly share their information, for example the date of when they first watched porn. Shotgun (Tuo Zongkang 庹宗康) even talked about when he would masturbate whilst watching pornography when he didn’t have a girlfriend. It is so open; everything is discussed.
In the end, the topic of sex is open for the young and the old, and every citizen accepts it. The hosts ask old people about sex, and they make jokes with old people, for example asking Lichun Lee (李立群, a famous Taiwan cross-talk performer), Lien Chan (连战, Chairman Emeritus of the Kuomintang and prominent politician) and Tsai Chin (蔡琴, a veteran pop singer) whether they still have sexual desire. From our point of view this is simply incredible.
Sex as a topic is taboo on the mainland, at least right now it’s half a taboo, we don’t talk about talking about it openly; it would still get people red-faced. But in Taiwan, it was long ago suitable to talk about for the old and the young. Too much closed-upness will only increase the stupid mystery and misunderstanding around it. But over-exposing could mean that it’s hard to dam it up again; it might be awkward but in Taiwan sex is not taboo and this is something that has advantages for the mainland. After all, people who talk a lot about sex are still normal people, their personality, character, morals aren’t directly related.
But, these kinds of "dirty" is far, far from the "dirtiness" of the main host, Xiao S. This is the special characteristic of the presenter as well as her favorite thing. It doesn't matter who he is, as long as he's handsome, as long as she likes him, her most conservative act is sit in his lap － she does this to Ma Ying-jeou (马英九, current president of Taiwan), and to Lien Chan. The most extreme is suddenly throwing herself into the arms of the guest, and raising her right leg, putting it against the leg of the guest, making sure that the lower half of her body is touching the lower half of the guest's body. The guest doesn't know what to do, whether to laugh or cry － this has happened to Andy Lau (刘德华), to Mark Zhao (赵又廷). If it's someone in the mid-range then she'd only get some advantages by touching their chest. Chang Chen (张震) let her touch him, but Demos Chiang (蒋友柏, great grandson of Chiang Kai-shek) wasn't careful and let Xiao S touch his chest, became a little panic-stricken and escaped from her. This was quite fun to watch.
Although this is bones-baring and wanton, but it's still not very "green". What is very "green" is Xiao S expressing her wish to copulate with the handsome men that she admires (at least if she has expressed this in words, then she has already cheated in her heart), or she asks other people whether they want to get on top of her, or she might just ask someone to get on top of her. The most obvious case was when she interviewed the cast for The Message (风声), which included (mainland China actor) Zhang Hanyu (张涵予). Because Xiao S admires Zhang Hanyu's manliness, when she asked what oath Zhang Hanyu uses when he's really angry, what do you think her reaction was? Unimaginably she said directly, in a loose way, "Such a good thing, why would go to go my mother? Come to (fuck) me! People didn't know whether to laugh or cry! At one side, Li Bingbing (李冰冰 another actress in the film) is completely shocked. Instances of brazenly "wearing a green hat" occurs not only once in this program.
However, relying only on sex would be like a tall tree without any leaves, lacking in the support of energy from life; although it would attract people, but it won’t keep doing this for a long time. But the reason Kangxi is Coming can maintain itself without getting old, and maintain its reputation amongst the audience, has a direct relationship to the other special characteristics of the program:
Entertainment. humor, relaxed, happy, limitless entertainment. Entertainment cannot be separated from gossip, and Kangxi is Coming is no exception. Whether it’s Xiao S asking whether Vic Chou (周渝民) regrets splitting up with her elder sister, Da S, whether he contacts her still, or it’s a guest saying that Andy Lau was acting like a big star when he came to Taiwan to put on a concert. Also about when paparazzi caught Cecilia Cheung (张柏芝) giving Jordan Chan (陈小春) a massage. In the episode where Cecilia Cheung is interviewed3, Xiao S started competing, dancing and singing with the actress, and also didn’t forget to argue for the sake of arguing, it was incredibly funny, laughing until my teeth were about to fall off.
Apart from this, there's the entertainment connected to the lives of the artists. For example which clubs they go to, how male stars chat up girls; otherwise about acting, about when a certain producer sent a text message to the guest of his program asking for sex. Or when Xiao S was learning ballroom dancing, she asked her teacher to come on the show to perform with her, which would help publicity, but also demonstrate her dancing skills with her teacher. She mentions the awkwardness when the student touches the teacher‘s crouch during practice sessions: she can discuss anything and there are no inhibitions. Apart from this, there is also politics and entertainment. This is eye-opening for mainland Chinese people, and also something that they find hard to believe － can you make fun of politics? Yes you can... in Taiwan.
The best entertainment is also the entertainment that is hardest to believe, and this of course comes from political entertainment. Whether it’s a top leader like Ma Ying-jeou, or the noble and prestigious Lien Chan, they have all been on Kangxi is Coming. Ma Ying-jeou, who at the time was the mayor of Taipei, was also given the test of embrace by the pregnant Xiao S, and was asked very personal questions about work and life etc, even asking about the secrets of his chambers, letting ordinary people to get to know the normal side of their political figures, it is especially intimate, but it’s also very entertaining. I think that even now Ma Ying-jeou, the lover of the masses, will still remember that particular incident with Xiao S. When he was once asked about this incident in an interview, he said that he couldn’t really feel nothing when a beautiful woman sits in his embrace (不能美女坐怀不乱), but the most important thing is to not let a beautiful woman sit in your embrace4, and this was just classic.
After shaking off the shackles formed by the KMT's politics when they were in power, Taiwan's energy was completely released. And the peak portrayal of this freedom is can’t be more than that of entertainment, and can’t be more than Kangxi is Coming.
One aspect of Kangxi is Coming that makes one lament, whether it be the guests or the hosts, apart from Kevin Tsai, is superstition. This superstition can simply be seen a copy of the mainland’s folk culture, as it can be traced to the same origin. Something that happened in my home town, or my village, descriptions and belief in superstition: it is completely outrageous. The actors will frequently refer to strange incidents that they have experienced in lifts, toilets, make-up rooms, whilst driving in the wild, in a hotel etc. I thought that it was only in my home town that everyone believes in everything; I didn’t realize that it’s the same in such a developed and open society.
I was completely shocked, this can only show that ancient “beliefs” have passed down through folk culture. What they mean when they talk about shadows hint at the spiritual and scary experiences, which can sometimes scare the people listening too. The other expression of superstition is fortune telling. Not only does the person who is getting their fortunes told believe in it, but the TV station also believes in it, even letting fortune-tellers onto TV to talk about it. Many people will start to predict what will happen the next year, for example for Ma Ying-jeou and other political figures, including what difficulties they might encounter, and how to prevent these difficulties. And the people who go on the show will talk about how they use Daoist rituals, and how they use the Eight Trigrams (算卦), and other methods for fortune telling. Once on Kangxi is Coming a certain guest even brought a lot of money onto the show in order that one prediction could be made [by a fortune teller].
I don’t know if it’s because of the attractions offered by Chinese culture or whether it’s because of their ignorance? Although there is so much phenomena that cannot be explained in the world, directly categorizing it as the work of ghosts and spirits or saying that there are no such things as spirits, both are a bit extreme. We can retain our judgment, and through the scientific development concept explain phenomena that we don’t understand. A red label is an unlucky sign, just as in the mainland during the cultural revolution
The ability to tolerate. People from Taiwan deeply refrain from using the word “China,” being really scared of other people labeling them as red. Because, just like calling someone a capitalist roader during the Cultural Revolution, once you are a capitalist roader, you are not far from your grave. But it’s OK, in Kangxi is Coming, Wang Lee-hom (王立宏, a American-Taiwanese pop star) said “We Chinese….” Even though Kevin Tsai added some talk in order to pale down what he said, the show featuring Wang Lee-hom wasn’t edited. As to whether he became more “red,” you have to ask the people of Taiwan. But at the very least, Kangxi is Coming is tolerant and forgiving. Apart form these topics, Kangxi is Coming is also tolerant of sexual minorities, for example respecting actresses who work in the pornography business. Perhaps it's because of Kevin Tsai5, but people of this kind are always appearing on the program. On the mainland this would an unimaginable disaster for both the subject and the TV station, but on their program this is so natural and normal. The presenter and the guest are so understanding and can look at it squarely in the face. You don't feel that there is anything out of the ordinary when you're watching the program, they even respect the subjects by adhering to what experts think.
There are aspects of Taiwan that is always being disputed by the people who live there, but it's usually only for people who are political figures or have to do with people who have political leanings, but many people in Taiwan still have tolerant minds.
Very Taiwan, “not” China but still very China. Very Taiwan because most of the guests avoid saying the word China. Of course this is good, many of the guests also will say how their work is going on the mainland, and what the mainland is like etc. An episode that gave me the deepest impression was an artist who was talking about the time when they saw a Korean hitting mainland staff, their distinctive and dramatic expression shows you that not every person in Taiwan deserves the name “The Compatriot from Taiwan.” This is not because they're numb, but even the blood relationship we have isn’t worth it.
The majority of guests on the show are extremely proud of the Republic of China and have a deep ideology for being from Taiwan. Speaking simply, they think that they are a “country,” but whether this “country” is Taiwan or the Republic of China, they have different ideas. On the program a phenomenon that is deeply surprising is the attitude they have towards the elderly. Although Taiwan has been especially internationalized and talks about equality, but many people, especially the young, are very respectful of their parents, and still treat their parents by adhering to very traditional ideas － most people are like this. This is where it’s traditional, where it’s Chinese.
The new generation of young people from the mainland face lesser political restraints, and are looking for more freedom. The reason that Kangxi is Coming has attracted so many mainlanders, is because of this transitional time. It’s easy to see from this that from now on, there will be more shared values across the two straits.
In this program, viewers can see the real side of many stars and public figures; they can see the spirit of grassroots entertainment and how lovely this is, and be entertained because of this. In the program, people can be open and happy, they can have fun, they will insert jokes into entertainment, or talk about pain, and expose secrets of other stars and get information for the first time. But at the same time, the program isn’t totally unscrupulous; although Xiao S is dirty, she has a bottom line, and self-discipline, she’ll stop when she should. Perhaps it’s because in Taiwanese society and in the minds of Taiwanese people, there is already a system for classifying what is too dirty; as for the secrets of the stars, how they are asked is determined by the situation at the time, and they will challenge the bottom line, excite the spirit but within reason. The other highlights of the program is the spirit of its humanity, its care-giving, and sympathy for the weak and disadvantaged. This total spirit makes the audience feel closeness, hope and love.
I think that this is source of the program’s life.
Of course, the fact that Kangxi is Coming can survive and develop is due to the social environment in Taiwan and its degree of acceptance. The reception of the audience, and official censorship is closely related to social progress. If it were on the mainland, I’m afraid it would have been killed a long time ago.
In conclusion, Kangxi is Coming takes sex as its main subject, and entertainment, finding out details as their sub subjects, and this is suitable for Taiwan. Dee Hsu and Kevin Tsai’s power have conquered more and more audiences inside and out of the island, especially on the mainland over the last few years. On the web portals in the mainland, there is more and more gossip about the female presenter, Xiao S. In one word, Kevin Tsai and Dee Hsu are becoming more and more famous on the mainland, so famous they are turning a purplish red.
But, speaking honestly, Kangxi is Coming is only suited for when you’ve got some leisure time, and when you need to be entertained. And you must also be an adult in order to watch it. Because when you watch the same program a second time, you will feel cold, and might ask why the people in the program so strange; when you watch it the third time, you will be sick of it, and will ask, why are there always the same questions? Can’t it be more sophisticated?
But no matter what, after watching this program for so many years, I realized that Taiwan society is after all, just like this. Doesn’t the program reflect society? If you want to understand Taiwan, then undoubtedly this is a very good window.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.