What accounts for China’s phenomenal interest in “House of Cards,” the fictitious show from Netflix that depicts Machiavellian politics playing out in Washington’s inner circle with the utmost in back-stabbing, cynical glee? The second season of the series was released on Feb. 14 and zoomed to the top spot in shows streamed by Sohu, the Chinese equivalent of Netflix, to Chinese customers. Those watching reportedly include an enthusiastic Wang Qishan, one of the Communist Party’s most powerful members who is running the latest crackdown on official corruption.
Could the rush to see the series be related to the fact that it has been spared Beijing’s relentless censorship, a standard burden for other imports? The distributor says a major part of the audience includes government officials and workers in Beijing searching for escapist entertainment. Some of the plot lines would seem especially sensitive to many Chinese leaders because they touch on such realities as Chinese cyberespionage, trade wars, currency manipulations and the rising tensions with Japan over the East China Sea. “Mao is dead, and so is his China,” the American vice president, Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, tells a corrupt Chinese businessman.
There’s no sign yet of a show built around China’s infamous Document No. 9, the memo that surfaced last year revealing how President Xi Jinping aims to silence democracy advocates and reinforce party discipline. It is far safer for the regime to offer American political flaws as a common denominator of all governments.
But wait : There are reports that a publisher plans a Chinese version of the novel upon which the series is based. Is some Chinese TV adaptation even imaginable? Will some upper-echelon Chinese official, paralleling the Underwood character, suddenly turn in mid-malfeasance for a Shakespearean aside to his Chinese audience, confessing to some dirty truth of dictatorial power? Stay tuned.