Popular drama about family life perturbs viewers
In Shakespearean drama, “all’s well that ends well.” But that isn’t the case with a Chinese TV drama entitled “All Is Well.”
The highly rated series has provoked heated debate online, fed by disgruntled viewers angry about an ending they call contrived and unacceptable.
The drama has been popular from the start, even tying in ratings with the iconic Spring Festival Gala aired on China Central Television on Chinese New Year’s Eve.
It tells the story of a Beijing woman named Su Mingyu, who overcomes gender discrimination at home and becomes a successful career woman. When her mother dies suddenly, Su is drawn back into the troubled family web of her father Su Daqiang and her two irresponsible elder brothers. The trio, seeing how successful she has become, try to milk her at every turn.
Viewers were appalled when the two parents showered all their attention and money on the two sons but refused to pay for Mingyu’s college fees. They were outraged when one of the brothers beat up Mingyu.
Then, just when viewers assumed that Mingyu would finally leave her toxic family for good, the denouement took a sharp turn. Her father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and Mingyu decides to put her career on hold, at least temporarily, and stay home to care for him. She forgives her parents for all their shortcomings, believing that they really loved her and did their best.
“All Is well” is adapted from a novel of the same name that was first serialized online before being published in 2012. The author, whose pen name is Ane, has declined to comment on the TV version, though the ending deviated from her novel finale.
In the original version, the father doesn’t lose his mind and Mingyu gets married but refuses to invite her family to the wedding. She leaves on her honeymoon in an emotional void, realizing that she doesn’t hate her family anymore but doesn’t love them either.
Yao Chen, the actress who portrays Mingyu, defends the end of the TV series.
“I don’t think it’s a ‘happy ending,’” she commented on Weibo. “Rather, it’s a tragic reality. Su Daqiang’s love for his daughter is only revealed after he loses most of his memory, and Mingyu realizes that she can love her father only when he can’t respond to her. This is all about missed love in life.”
Many fans, however, have no love lost for the finale.
On Douban, a large social networking site that offers a platform for movie, music and book reviews, commentators said the ending sets a bad example for gender discrimination in families.
“Now, abusive parents may be encouraged,” according to a comment posted by the screen name “EnjoyBeautifulTimes.” “I am a Su Mingyu in real life, and I hoped my parents might understand my pain after watching the show, but the truth is, next time they will probably use it against me.”
Another commentator, “SagittariusDemon,” said she found the ending devastating.
“If the writers wanted to tell people that blood ties are stronger than anything and you can do nothing to change that no matter how hard you try, then they succeeded,” she wrote on Douban. “It is just unreasonable that one small spark of softness can neutralize all the past mistreatment.”
Xu Peng, a psychologist and therapist, said many viewers were so angry because they identified personally with Su Mingyu. She struck a chord with people who struggle with family abuse and neglect but are still expected to be loyal and devoted.
“Many of my clients, especially women originally from the countryside, are now working in Shanghai,” Xu said. “They talk about maltreatment by parents who still expect them to shoulder family responsibilities. The ending of ‘All Is Well’ is very impractical. In real life, you can’t have such a major emotional change without actually changing anything.”
Even before the show was aired on TV, the topic of abusive parents was prevalent in online debate.
On Douban, a discussion group called “Anti-Parents: They screw you up, your mom and dad” attracted around 120,000 members until it was “locked” from public view by the platform in 2017, nine years after it started. The name came from a line in the Nick Hornby novel “A Long Way Down,” except that it substituted “screw” for the F-word in the novel.
Group members were largely young girls, who shared stories about how their parents hurt them in the name of love and discussed what could be done to escape the abuse. Some of the comments were very aggressive, expressing sentiments of suicide, self-injury and revenge.
After the group caught the attention of mainstream media, it was criticized as “too cynical in the extreme” and locked out from public viewing.
Although gender equality is a basic state policy in China, the legacy of its rural past has left its mark on today’s society. In some farming areas, the absolute authority of parents and gender discrimination still prevail.
“Children from abusive families, such as girls from families with gender discrimination, develop low self-esteem,” said Xu. “They believe that they can mend relationships with parents only by endlessly giving in, but that is actually not the case. When their parents’ behavior is based on gender, there’s not a lot they can change.”
He added, “They need to review their relationship with their parents and decide if their parents are worth their devotion.”