Back to the Country: Slow Reality Television Production and Rural Tourism In China


In China, the transition to an increasingly commercialised and competitive television environment has fuelled a search for innovative program formats. Reality television, borrowed or adapted from formats originated in Europe and North America, offered a ready-made option. The success of the adapted singing contest format -Super Girl and the popularity of the coproduced program–Go Brother confirmed the genre’s ability to engage mass audiences and established reality television as a central component in program planning. Alongside continuing adaptations of imported formats however, recent years have seen an increasing growth of formats that speak to national conditions and employ a variant of ‘slow television’. The original ‘slow’ format, developed in Norway and taken up elsewhere across Europe used an extended program length to record slowly unfolding action. The Chinese variants employ standard program lengths but features the ‘slower’ pace of rural life.

Rather than being filmed in the inhouse studio, these shows tend to be shot outdoors on location in the countryside and feature well-know people living in reconstructed modern rural houses and reproducing central features of peasant lifestyles against an idyllic landscape.

Back to the Field is one of the most significant and popular examples of this new genre with 6.41 billion views on the Mango TV online platform, and 19.33 billion posts on Weibo. The show’s popularity has boosted rural tourism with the three filming villages all becoming famous visiting places and the filmed cottages being turned to be commercial rural cottages for visitors.

This research takes Back to the Field as a case study. Drawing on in-depth interviews with the program producers and ethnography in the filming villages it explores the key elements informing the thinking behind the program, placing it in the context of current changes of completive television production, and the search for program innovations and collaborations with different social sectors that address the growing general popularity of rural tourism and lifestyle consumption.