How ‘The Walking Dead’ Prepares China for the Zombie Apocalypse

It’s spreading. The fourth season of The Walking Dead, a U.S. cable television hit about how to survive a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, has found a massive audience in China. Since launching Dec. 2012 on Youku, China’s YouTube, it’s become the most-watched season of any Western television show on that platform, with over 27 million views and a user rating of 9.4 out of 10 ...

Sina Weibo/Fair Use
Sina Weibo/Fair Use
Sina Weibo/Fair Use

It's spreading. The fourth season of The Walking Dead, a U.S. cable television hit about how to survive a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, has found a massive audience in China. Since launching Dec. 2012 on Youku, China's YouTube, it's become the most-watched season of any Western television show on that platform, with over 27 million views and a user rating of 9.4 out of 10 stars. China's largest news agency Xinhua reported that as of Aug. 7, all episodes of the show had received a combined 250 million views in China across all video sites. The show's Chinese title, "Traveling Corpses, Walking Meat," (xingshi zourou) frequently trends on Weibo, China's Twitter, when a new episode becomes available.

It’s spreading. The fourth season of The Walking Dead, a U.S. cable television hit about how to survive a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, has found a massive audience in China. Since launching Dec. 2012 on Youku, China’s YouTube, it’s become the most-watched season of any Western television show on that platform, with over 27 million views and a user rating of 9.4 out of 10 stars. China’s largest news agency Xinhua reported that as of Aug. 7, all episodes of the show had received a combined 250 million views in China across all video sites. The show’s Chinese title, "Traveling Corpses, Walking Meat," (xingshi zourou) frequently trends on Weibo, China’s Twitter, when a new episode becomes available.

Most Chinese-language reviews of The Walking Dead laud the show for its excellent acting and moving storylines. The Oriental Morning Post, a popular Shanghai-based daily, wrote on Nov. 1 that The Walking Dead "has gone beyond the boundaries of traditional zombie shows," tackling questions about "how human nature and society change in extreme conditions."

The show is especially attractive to Chinese fans because there’s no domestic equivalent on cable television. China lacks a ratings system for film or television, so shows with more violent content are rarer. Authorities have banned some television shows for being too violent for any viewer, and on Oct. 13, China Central Television, the state-run television network that often acts as a mouthpiece for government authorities, criticized the popular children’s cartoon Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf [sic] for excessive violence and adult language. With squeamish censors still worried about cartoon violence, a Chinese show featuring zombie gore stands little chance of getting produced.

China’s morbid fascination with the apocalypse is another likely factor driving The Walking Dead’s popularity. According to a May 2012 survey conducted by the global market research firm Ipsos, 20 percent of Chinese respondents said they believed that the world would end Dec. 21, 2012, compared to 12 percent of U.S. citizens and 4 percent of Germans. In Dec. 2012, a user on book and movie review site Douban wrote a short take-off of Max Brooks’ tongue-in-cheek book The Zombie Survival Guide that accounted for China’s "special characteristics." These included a lack of weapons (Chinese citizens are banned from carrying guns), a huge population, and environmental pollution.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, populous China would likely have it rougher than the United States. But with shows like The Walking Dead, at least both nations have a basic roadmap. 

Liz Carter is assistant editor at Foreign Policy's Tea Leaf Nation. She lived for several years in Beijing, China, where she wrote and translated three Chinese-English textbooks and studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University. Since returning to the United States, she has co-authored a book on subversive linguistic trends on the Chinese Internet and been interviewed about developments in China by the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, the Washington Post's WorldViews, and PRI's The World. Twitter: @withoutdoing

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