‘Funny and a little sad’: how Clarkson’s Farm won over Chinese viewers

To a Chinese reviewer, Jeremy Clarkson, is “a stupid old British man with too much money who farmed for a year without harvesting anything.” To another, he is “the British version of Li Ziqi,” a 33-year-old woman who is one of China’s biggest internet celebrities thanks to videos of herself farming and cooking in the idyllic Sichuanese countryside.

Clarkson’s Farm, the former Top Gear presenter’s tantalizingly popular reality TV show about his transition from car enthusiast to farmer, has been hugely successful in its home country and has become the most watched show on Amazon Prime in Britain. It is also a hit in China.

The show has a rating of 9.6 out of 10 on Chinese review website Douban, where nearly 80,000 people have left their overwhelmingly positive opinions of the show. The film has been viewed more than five million times on the Chinese streaming service BiliBili.

In an early episode, Clarkson makes one of his many blunders by leaving a load of seeds outside a shed, where they germinate and knit themselves – and the bag – into the ground.

A reviewer on Douban said this resonated with her rural childhood. “I often saw adults take out a bag of seeds that accidentally germinated early due to rainy weather, and look at it with regret. Seeds tend to be very expensive… When Clarkson’s Farm faced these types of problems, wheat production dropped and his income fell sharply. His face was full of disappointment and sadness. Anyone who has lived and worked in the countryside can understand the pain and sweat that comes with hard work.”

But for many fans, the appeal of Clarkson’s Farm comes from the fact that, unlike previous generations, the majority of young people who watch it have never farmed a day in their lives.

Zoe Mou, a millennial from the northern city of Dalian, discovered the show during Beijing’s Covid lockdown. “I was in my apartment, mostly just binge watching, playing video games, being depressed and drinking and video calling my friends… Watching [Clarkson’s Farm] took me outside that little circle… and taught me about agriculture.”

Mou said the show illustrated “the brutality of rural life… it requires a lot of hard work and I’m sorry, as a city person we are extremely uneducated about that”.

Mou’s ignorance of – and interest in – rural life reflects a trend of rural nostalgia that is becoming increasingly popular among Chinese city dwellers. Another hit show in recent years is Become a Farmer, a reality show that sends Generation Z city dwellers to work on a farm. The show has a rating of 9 on Douban.

The popularity of shows about city dwellers toiling in the fields can be expected to strike a different chord in China, where some 17 million young people were ‘sent’ to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution for forced labor and socialist re-education. . More recently, there have been calls in the official media for young people, facing high unemployment rates, to “roll up their sleeves” and work in rural areas. While the older generation was largely sent down involuntarily, many of today’s young generation “yearn for an imaginary and romanticized version of rural life, a rural life seen as an escape from the rat race in the urban jungle,” according to Ying Zhu , a scholar. of Chinese Media at Hong Kong Baptist University.

Clarkson’s Farm, however, is not exactly romanticized. In one particularly vivid episode, he tries to coerce a flock of disobedient sheep into copulation, with mixed results. In his first year of running the farm he ends up with a profit of £144. “It’s funny, it’s a bit sad, and it also shows me a different side of Britain that I never knew” , Mou says. “I had never seen British people swear like that until I saw the show.”

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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