TV program on 'National Treasure' of cultural relics turns into huge hit

A TV program showcasing the history of many of China's cultural relics has become a huge hit.

A TV program showcasing the history of many of China’s cultural relics has become a huge hit.

The weekly program, “National Treasure” was first aired by China Central Television on December 3, with the opening episode showing three of China’s finest cultural treasures: the painting “A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains,” the Large Vase with Variegated Glazes and a stone drum.

Famed actors Li Chen, Wang Kai and Tony Leung played the “national treasure guardians” of each item, reenacting the history of each artifact through historical drama.

Wang played Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). During the emperor’s reign, China’s porcelain techniques were the finest in the world, with the era producing the Large Vase with Variegated Glazes.

One scene showed Emperor Qianlong explaining the history of the vase, and the unfathomable difficulties of its production, to a series of historical figures.

The vase has 17 kinds of glaze and 12 paintings, and had to be re-fired several times due to the many different glazes used in its production. 

Success in such a complicated process would be no more than 0.23 percent, making the vase a truly remarkable and rare object, according to Zhang Shen, a guide at the Palace Museum, during the show.

The show quickly went viral, scoring 9.3 out of 10 points on Douban, a popular movie rating platform in China, making it one of the most popular programs of its genre in the country.

The show also made a splash on social media and online platforms. On, one of China’s most popular video-sharing platforms, the first three episodes were viewed over 5 million times in total.

Museums are a key way for Chinese to learn about the country’s cultural relics.

China had nearly 5,000 registered museums nationwide as of the end of last year, receiving about 900 million visitors annually.

“China’s museums have entered a golden period of development and the numbers of collections and visitors keep growing,” said Shan Jixiang, curator of the Palace Museum, at the inauguration of the program. “But that is not enough. We need to bring the relics in our museums to life and display their unique beauty in more forms.”

The program production team spent two years researching and preparing for the show to ensure it gave a full picture of the relics involved.

“We want our audience to feel that the cultural relics are like people who weathered vicissitudes, and that they have their own personalities and lives,” said Yu Lei, producer and chief director of the program.

The 10 episodes will present 27 masterpieces from nine major Chinese museums.

A total of 27 celebrities and another 27 regular people in the program tell the history of the relics and their own stories about them. Curators from the nine museums also offer their expertise throughout the program.

“It takes cultural relics as a carrier to represent history,” said Yin Hong, a communications professor at Tsinghua University. “In doing so, the abstract conception of traditional culture was transformed into figurative expressions.”

“National Treasure” is not the first cultural TV program that has had significant success in China.

In 2013, the “Chinese Character Dictation Competition,” a Chinese literacy contest, was so popular it was extended for three seasons until 2015.

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