Nova Wang, a 20-year-old sophomore in Wuhan, Hubei Province, is following the third season of a popular Russian comedy Interny, which made its debut in 2010. Broadcast on bilibili.com, a video website famous for its real-time comments, the show features comical stories about a doctor and his four medical interns. So far, he has watched over 100 episodes of the show.
Interny is not the first non-English language TV shows that Wang has enjoyed watching. Since last summer when he was first introduced to How I Became Russian (2015-), a Russian comedy featuring Alex Wilson, an American reporter who is sent to Russia to observe Russian reality, he opened the door of the world of non-English foreign language TV shows. The show gained a 9.1 rating by 14,217 viewers at douban.com, a social networking website.
"Compared with traditional British, American, Japanese or South Korean TV shows that dominate in China, TV shows in untraditional languages such as Russian, German and Italian are something new and exotic to me, as well as their cultures," said Wang.
Like Wang, with a better understanding of the countries and their cultures, and with more emerging TV works from these countries and the promotion of subtitle groups, more non-English language TV shows are becoming favored by China's young people. Some fans even went to Instagram or other foreign social networking platforms to interact with their favorite stars after watching the shows.
Wang thinks that every character in How I Became Russian has his or her own special personality like people in real life. "Especially Roman, a 'laosiji' (translated literally as 'old driver,' a catchword that means a person with experience in a certain field) and the oligarch, who is also adorable despite being stupid sometimes."
Through this show, Wang has also changed his perception of Russia and its people. Before, he thought that Russian people tended to be fierce and violent, but after watching the show, he found that they also have a more tender side. Except for not liking to smile, they are very enthusiastic, loyal and love sweets.
Aaron Guo, 23, who works in the advertising industry in Beijing, is also a fan of non-English language TV shows such as Bref (2011), a French show, and Knallerfrauen (2011- ), a German comedy series.
"I am very interested in the cultures and customs of those countries considered to have untraditional languages. Besides, their great works also have powerful and unconstrained imagination," said Guo.
Another driving force of their popularity is growing civil subtitle groups for untraditional language TV shows. As only a few such works have been imported by China, including How I Became Russian, the languages are not as familiar as English, fans have to rely heavily on subtitle groups.
Wang Zihao, 25, co-founder of Newa Group, which has been translating a lot of Russian shows including award-winning show Izmeni (2015) and Interny, recalled that back in 2013 he and a friend followed a Russian show but found that only one episode was updated a month, and then they decided to start their group. So far, they have translated over 400 episodes of Russian shows and over 10 documentaries and movies.
"Since the group was founded, followers have grown quickly. The current hot one is a Russian psychic reality show called Battle of Psychics (2007- ). The first episode got over 200,000 views on bilibili," said Wang Zihao.
Like him, Liu Bo also started Fix kunlun group in 2015, a German-based subtitle group, because at that time there were few bilingual video resources. Now they have over 40 members in the group and over 10,000 followers.
"In recent years, some Chinese students have gone to Germany for studies or work like me, and many people show interest in this country and the German language. Besides, we also see better production value in some of these works. This explains why we have seen a growing number of German show lovers," said Liu.
He said that popular works they have translated include Deutschland 83 (2015), Tannbach (2015) and Tatort (1970- ).
"As more excellent works are introduced and imported by subtitle groups and video websites, more Chinese will enjoy watching shows from countries with untraditional languages, as well as gain a better understanding of the countries," said Wang Zihao.