The cultural mechanisms for the export of Chinese television formats: professionalism, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism


This study aims to explore the cultural mechanisms for the export of Chinese television formats with case studies of The Amazing Magicians (chao fan mo shu shi) and Dunk of China (zhe! jiu shi guan lan). Both formats belong to the genre of reality TV, which has dominated format export in China in recent years. While the format of The Amazing Magicians has been successfully exported to Vietnam, the format copyright of Dunk of China has been purchased by Fox. Cultural mechanisms refer to the frequently occurring and easily recognizable causal patterns triggered under certain cultural conditions or with certain cultural consequences. In this article, we introduce the concept of cultural mechanism to analyze the cultural causes and rules for the export of Chinese television formats. In order to fulfill the aim, the authors conducted textual analysis of the original format programs by using Saussure’s syntagms and paradigms. The result was then verified and supplemented by in-depth interviews with producers of the two exported formats. The findings suggest that professionalism, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism are three cultural mechanisms that drive the export of Chinese television formats. Firstly, the exported formats place a high value on professionalism. The formats highlight the professional competition system, professional participants and professional comments instead of amateurism. Secondly, the exported formats tend to embody multiculturalism by selecting multi-national participants, staging their cultural conflicts and integration as well as exhibiting coaching and competition systems in different countries. Thirdly, the exported formats attempt to represent a cosmopolitan disposition through the introduction of international competition system, the interaction between diversified participants and their lines with cosmopolitan vision. Indeed, the three cultural mechanisms are interrelated. For instance, professionalism provides a competitive spirit multi-culturally shared, which is also the prerequisite for cosmopolitanism. Finally, the article summarizes the different cultural mechanisms for television formats export between East Asian countries. While the Korean television formats appeal to foreign markets by attaching importance to local sentiments, the Japanese formats deliberately suppress local and national cultural odour so as to make inroads into the international market. The exported Chinese television formats, however, try to attract the importers by focusing on how Chinese culture interacts with other cultures harmoniously in the competitions.