The summer blockbuster movie Tiny Times (Xiao Shidai), a drama about four young women featuring a heavy dose of luxury brands, designer clothing, and splendid venues, is triggering debate in China on the materialism of Chinese youth.
Tiny Times, adapted from a serial novel written by Guo Jingming, shattered opening day box record in China and remained top of the box office charts since its release on June 27, 2013. Its sequel, originally slated for release in December, is now set to open in China on August 9.
The film follows the lives of four college girls who have been best friends since high school. With an overarching theme of the pursuit of success, love, and friendship, the storyline easily reminds the audience of American TV series Sex and the City and Gossip Girl or the film the Devil Wears Prada.
Guo Jingming, who also produced and directed the film, is China's richest author and has come to represent the country's younger ‘Me Generation’, the generation born after 1980 who grew up during China's rise in consumerism since the 1990's, because of his popular young adult fictions. Born in 1983 with modest family background and plain appearance, he began to enter into the public’s eyes with his first novel “The City of Fantasies” in his early 20's. He then dropped out the university and started his own publishing business. Last year, he climbed onto Forbes’ Rich Chinese List with a record annual income exceeding 27.6 million yuan [45 million US dollars].
He lives a luxurious lifestyle and never avoids public exposure. In a recent interview [zh] Guo said: “You cannot change society by yourself. But you can master the rules of the society, and use the rules to play against others.”
Despite being a huge box office hit, the movie has attracted a storm of criticism. The mainstream media, older generation writers, and directors have accounted for the majority of the attacks, who fiercely blast the film for its shallow and vacuous celebration of material abundance.
Popular film critic Zhou Liming (@周黎明) alleged that the movie goes too far in showing off wealth [zh]:
I cannot stand the movie anymore. Unlike the commercials in fashion magazines that base the material desire on beautiful imagination, Guo’s depiction of wealth and beauty is unhealthy, akin to those who have been starving for a long time who suddenly come across a table of food, a lack of calm with spontaneous happiness.
Playwright Maguashihang (@鹦鹉史航) echoed Zhou and even criticized the popular idol actors:
The Tiny Times only gets one thing right – the director chose the actors all of the same low level cast regardless of any actual acting ability
Both Zhou and Maguashihang's comments received backlash from fans of Guo Jingming as well as fans of the actors and actress in the film. Many wrote that the critics are too old to cope with the younger generation. Director Ning Caishen (@宁财神) criticized the “old-fashioned” critics:
Tiny Times is one of those easy idol dramas that clearly targets its young audience. I am just angry about the older ones like Zhou Liming and Maguashihang, etc. I can understand their anger, but it’s a trap of their own making to join the war without recognizing their situation, losing the battlefield and running into trouble.
The debate in Chinese social media was elevated after Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily entered the discussion and lashed out against the movie. While the newspaper’s criticism was not unique, it shifted the attention of the audience from attacking the film to combating the state media’s attempt to control ideology:
@”Senior student Beidao” Although I have not seen the movie and don’t expect that I will like it, the People’s Daily is making too much of a fuss to exaggerate the value of the film. The materialism and consumerism didn’t stem from the film. Rather than give away the responsibility of humanity's construction to the movie, People’s Daily should find out the primary reasons behind these social phenomenons.
Zhu Xuedong: An age that only allows for “Big Time” instead of “Tiny Time” is a horrible horticultural age. [If refers to the time when individuals were ruled and organized by an authority for agricultural activities. This term is appropriated by some to describe authoritative collectivism.] In a horticultural society, gardeners are always the authority who control the lives of the woods and grass. The society of gardening is human’s the biggest enemy.