China's pandemic-themed TV drama faces online backlash over sexism

BEIJING • A Chinese prime-time television drama about the coronavirus pandemic has been slammed by social media users, who accused it of sexism for downplaying the role of women in battling the deadly outbreak at ground zero.

China has largely brought the virus under control since it first emerged late last year, though Beijing has rushed to reshape the official narrative following criticism that it mishandled its initial response and punished whistle-blowers.

But the new show, Heroes In Harm’s Way – first aired by state broadcaster CCTV last Thursday – has triggered a fierce online backlash for its depiction of women in the virus battle.

One controversial scene set in the virus ground-zero city of Wuhan showed female bus drivers being reluctant to volunteer for a delivery team due to family commitments – while their male colleagues did not hesitate.

Users on the Twitter-like platform Weibo reposted state media news reports praising real-life female bus drivers and volunteers and argued women had been vital in transporting supplies and medical staff around the locked-down city.

“Women have made such a huge contribution to fight the epidemic… The pandemic is still not over, but they rushed to smear women,” read one comment with more than 15,000 likes.

“This television series ignores female bus drivers’ contributions to fighting the epidemic. The implicit gender discrimination in these kinds of film and television works should be redressed,” wrote another user.

The Weibo hashtag “Boycott Heroes In Harm’s Way” was removed from social media last weekend, but another hashtag consisting of the programme’s title had been viewed more than 2.4 billion times by yesterday afternoon.

In reality, the majority of front-line medical workers during the outbreak in Wuhan were women, according to official data and media reports.

More than 90 per cent of the 28,600 nurses dispatched to Hubei province – of which Wuhan is the capital – were women, a health ministry official said in April.

In March, a People’s Daily report said of the more than 40,000 medical workers deployed to Hubei, two-thirds were women.

State broadcaster CGTN also ran a feature in April profiling a female chef and driver delivering meals to medics.

The show’s rating on Douban – China’s equivalent of American online movie database IMDb – was hidden by Monday, with the entire comments section censored.

Those responsible for the show have brushed off criticisms.

“Interpretation is a personal matter,” artistic director Bai Yicong was quoted as saying in local media last Friday.


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