China’s largest reality dating show, Fei Cheng Wu Rao, otherwise known as If You Are The One and literally translating into “if not sincere please do not disturb,” has been on air since January 15th, 2010. Since then, it has achieved one of the highest ever ratings in Chinese television history, while also providing an environment that pushes the limits of social commentary in a state where television broadcasts are closely watched and highly regulated.
To summarize what the show is about: five male contestants take turns showcasing themselves in front of (or rather, allowing the scrutiny of) 24 female contestants through a series of videos showing different aspects of their lives and past relationships, as well as interactions with the female contestants and the MCs. The women then express their interest or rejection of each man by changing the color lighting of their podiums through a buzzer – but not before a series of honest, cutting, and sometimes sassy quips and questions. In a way, the men almost expect themselves to be playfully ridiculed and embarrassed in front of millions of audiences in good humour.
For a culture that honours traditional values, FCWR is shockingly blunt in its tone when addressing issues surrounding dating, marriage, and changing social values of China’s modern, young professionals. Opening of sexual attitudes, defying traditional gender roles in the family, demonstration of wealth and power, as well as philanthropy, are just a few of many broad ranged topics that this show touches upon.
I personally find the show especially satisfying to watch in terms of its demonstration of femininity. From “tomboys” who dress up in gender neutral clothing, to self-proclaimed feminists and PhD candidates, to women who conventionally qualify as strong, career women, to women who simply wish to become nurturing mothers and caring wives – FCWR does not shy away from displaying a broad range of female characters who are all searching for love in their own right while bravely, fiercely, embracing their respective identities at the same time. The reality show’s very rules allow women to dominate, to choose, question, and at times, even attack the conventions of society that have bonded them to behave in one way of another.
At times, FCWR does disappoint. Tomboy characters are often applied makeup and dressed up to appear more feminine in conventional means as they stay on the show for longer periods of time, while guest MCs also repeatedly, in the form of “caring advice,” have told female contestants with curvier body shapes to lose weight or exercise.
Yet, these flaws are shaped more by China’s wider cultural and social context rather than FCWR’s own dismissiveness of political correctness. In fact, FCWR is constantly standing on the verge to remain “politically correct” in the eyes of the state-controlled media while simultaneously broadcasting challenging, progressive views of the younger generation. In exchange, they have scrubbed clean of any political leanings. After warnings were issued in the early days of the show (in which the material were even more out-there), they also toned down mentions of extravagant wealth and overly explicit sexual content.
On the other hand, FCWR also maintains an international connection. They have broadcasted Special Shows that featured Chinese immigrants as contestants from close to a dozen different countries. At the same time, the show also frequently showcases foreigners working in China as contestants, both male and female, countries of origin ranging from all continents. The openness and normalization of inter-racial/cultural relationships is unheard of previously.