China's anti-graft campaign may be headed for a screen near you

The foreign mistresses, SWAT operations and a bed made of banknotes appearing in Chinese television series "In the Name of the People" would not be out of place in an American political drama like "House of Cards."

What truly raises eyebrows, however, could be that the show's main antagonist is a high-ranking government official.

One of the newest television dramas in China, "In the Name of the People" focuses on the work of anti-graft investigators whose job is to take down corrupt government officials, whether "tiger" (powerful bureaucrats) or "fly" (low-ranking officers).

The show, which debuted in China on March 28 on Hunan Television, is the first drama series to feature high-level government corruption as a central theme since 2004.

It also cost twice the amount to produce compared to other television series, China Daily reported. The 120 million yuan ($17.42 million) production was bankrolled by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, the national agency responsible for investigating corruption. A total of 56 episodes are expected to air.

It's also the latest development in President Xi Jinping's war on corruption which began in 2012. While the crackdown gained popular support after netting bribe-taking bureaucrats, media reports state that the campaign has hurt growth in the world's second-largest economy. China watchers also say that the anti-graft campaign is a means for Xi to consolidate power in the party.

Although formal regulations banning the broadcast of television shows about corruption have never been issued, Chinese producers have avoided the topic after a 2004 "recommendation" from the local media watchdog.

That recommendation suggested that works about anti-corruption not be broadcast during primetime hours to "protect the youth."

The recommendation has since been rolled back. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) told local media that it has commissioned at least two films and two television shows focusing on bribery each year, trade publication China Film Insider reported.

The series is based on a novel of the same name by Chinese novelist Zhou Meisen. The author was formerly a member of the city government in Xuzhou in the Jiangsu province, China Daily reported.

"It has some significance as a 'main theme' drama premiering before the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China," Yuchen Wan, an analyst at the China Market Research Group, told CNBC in an email.

The term "main theme" is often used to refer to productions, including films and television series, that feature similar overarching themes with government policies, Wan explained.

It is common in China to have television programs premiering in coordination with political events, Wan added, highlighting how another series called "Eastern Battlefield" was released in 2016 for the 95th anniversary of the Communist Party of China.

So far, reception to the show has been positive. The pilot episode of "In the Name of the People" was viewed 7.5 million times on streaming site iQiyi and 350 million times across all platforms, online media platform Quartz quoted reports as saying.

The show received a boost on social media site Weibo too. Lu Yi, the actor playing the show's main protagonist, has 24.9 million Weibo followers. He received at least 33,434 "likes" for a message he shared to promote the series on the day it premiered.

($1 = 6.89 Chinese yuan)

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