Filming of Burma Epic to Screen in China Begins

By Patrick Boehler 16 March 2013

Filming has begun on the first ever television series jointly produced in China and Burma, bringing Burmese history to television screens across China before the end of the year.

The story of a Burmese prince travelling to the Chinese imperial court to perform a dance is scheduled to be aired during evening primetime on Chinese national television in the second half of the year, producers from Yunnan Television said in a statement last week.

“The Dancing Girl from the Pyu Kingdom” is a 40-part epic with a budget of 80 million yuan (US $ 12 million) that could boost tourism to China’s southwestern neighbour, just like a Chinese blockbuster movie on Thailand increased tourism to the country in January by up to 10 percent, according to a Thai government estimate.

In the series, non-Burmese protagonists re-enact the journey of the Burmese prince Shwenandaw in 608 A.D. to the Tang dynasty Chinese capital Chang’an, where his kingdom’s famed dance troupe performed for the emperor.

“There is some fiction in this drama,” said Wang Xiaofu, a Peking University historian specializing in Tang dynasty history. “I should say the story was true. It can be interpreted on the Tang-side as a tribute.”

The Burmese prince is played by Lin Gengxin, a 24-year-old TV heart throb with more than 10 million followers on his microblog. In the series, he falls in love with a female thief played by the South Korean actress Choo Ja Hyun.

China’s Dezong emperor is impersonated by Tang Guoqiang, a ethnic Hui Chinese actor who previously played Mao Zedong in the 2009 patriotic epic “The Founding of the Republic,” and several TV series. Taiwanese actor Winston Chao Wen-hsuan, who starred as China’s philosopher Confucius in a similar national propaganda epic in 2011, is to play the Burmese monarch.

Yunnan Television announced the beginning of the shoot in Ruili, China’s principal land border hub with Burma, on Feb. 24. The series will be filmed in Yunnan Province and in Burma’s ancient city of Bagan and Rangoon by July, the local Chinese daily Myanmar Golden Phoenix reported.

In April last year, a memorandum of understanding on its production was signed by Yunnan Television and Shwe Than Lwin Media, a company led by Kyaw Win, a former regime crony who paid nearly $50,000 for a sweater knitted by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a December auction, to ingratiate himself with the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy.

A Shwe Than Lwin Media representative, who declined to be identified, said that negotiations on the production were still ongoing and told The Irrawaddy not to report on the issue. The TV channel did not say whether the show will be broadcast in Burma by Shwe Than Lwin Media, which also broadcasts three Chinese state TV channels inside Burma.

“China needs to let more non-governmental actors conduct its cultural diplomacy,” said Pang Zhongying, an international relations scholar at Renmin University in Beijing. The democratization process in Burma had allowed “ethnic Chinese to introduce more Chinese cultural and linguistic programs.” But, he added, “China is still cautious in terms of cultural sensitivity.”

“China’s soft power approach is undercut in important ways by the bolstering of its hard power,” said John Feffer, a co-director at the Institute for Policy Studies, a liberal Washington D.C.-based think-tank.

With additional reporting by Aye Kyawt Khaing.