The Great Challenge – my autoethnography view


As a person who has special interest about Chinese culture and society and is learning Mandarin at the moment, Chinese TV shows are very good at getting my attention. After discussing, my classmate – Jessie Davis, and I decided to choose a completely new Chinese reality show to watch. We have searched and found “The Great Challenge”. According to Top 10 popular China TV shows in the first half of 2016 (Zhang 2016), “The Great Challenge” is the most famous Chinese reality show. Jessie and I have watched the first episode of the show and made a podcast to talk about our impressions. In this blog post, I am going to talk about subtitle in the show, ‘masculinity perspective’, harmony value and hard- working culture that I found out through the show and questioned my knowledge about Chinese society and culture.

First of all, as a Mandarin learner, I find it very interesting as the show is in Mandarin and has Mandarin subtitle. I have thought about the question then decided to use google translate. Through the website, I realise an essential point which explains my question. China is a very big country with various dialects but the common in language is that they share the same writing character. According to google translate, there are only traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese which make so much sense why the show has Mandarin subtitle. To confirm my ideas, I have done a few research online. My idea is supported by David Pan, former USAF officer (quora 2016). In his comment, he claimed that as the written language is the same regardless of Mandarin or Cantonese, subtitles allow all Chinese speaking people around the world can read and understand what they cannot understand through speaking.


Sinaweibo: the Great Challenge

Secondly, the show had 7 members in the past and now 6 members but they are all men. It made me think about the question why the producer only chose men. Is that because women are considered to be weaker than men in nature? I have done a reading written by Shen and D’Ambrosio. In chapter 6 ‘Chinese Cultural Resources for Feminism’, they explained the Chinese perspective of yin and yang which yin is a symbol for man and yang is for women. In this context, they believe that women are weak in nature and became oriented toward social roles such as a duty as a wife rather than ‘big business’ (Shen & D’Ambrosio).

Moreover, very different from other reality show, this show does not invite any guests, just purely the game between members. Sometimes, they split the team in a group of two and individual game, sometimes it is a team game. But, one interesting point is that even when they participated in individual game, they do not have that ‘attack’ spirit. They still work in cooperation and peace. They only try to create laugh through ‘pinching’ each other. One of the reasons can be this is just a show and they do not need to be too competitive when joining. However, I find out that the real reason is their own culture value: harmony and this value is under effect of Confucianism. Confucianism is Chinese dominant belief. It values harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty and filial piety (Zhang 2013). Harmony is Chinese most important core value. It has been proved through the history flows: the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence in the 1950s, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin’s speech during the visit to United States, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao’s speech at Harvard University in 2003 (Zhang 2013). To highlight this value inside the Chinese community, in Cultural Barriers to the Success of Foreign Media Content: Western Media in China, India, and Japan (Rohn 2009, p.317-318), it emphasises Chinese core value: harmony by looking at the rating of the reality show ‘Survivor’ (which the contestants become very competitive), it was a huge failure as it goes against the Chinese peoples’ values and does not match with the audiences.

Fourthly, the name of the show “the Great challenge” make me think about something very different, distinctive, but once I started watching I realised how close it is to our daily life. It can be a daily job such as car washing and I thought that it was not difficult. But through the lens of an audience watching celebrities do the job, I become more aware of the requirements of these jobs and appreciate more their hard-working. From this perspective, I learn to appreciate the professional of different jobs as no job is easy and it all requires training and work experience along the time. Moreover, along the show, the members are sometimes talking with the camera, which I believe that create the connection between audiences and the hosts. It makes me feel like they are talking and sharing their own stories with me.

But, why do they make a show about these people? This question follows directly after the conclusion of sharing the stories behind stages of these jobs that we sometimes think easy to do. One of the reason as I have mentioned above is the hidden message to appreciate the profession of all jobs. Moreover, I believe it is a part of Chinese culture: hard- working. It can sound very weird for some of you but as pointed out in  Khlystov’s blog post, who has been living in Beijing for the past ten years, China values hard- working and their normal work hour for office work is from 8am to 6pm, 5 days a week but no more than 44 hours per week and for customer- service industry it can even extend to late night.


In conclusion, I have discussed about a few interesting points that I have found out through watching the show such as Mandarin study, media practice in order to point out Chinese core values shown in the show. Jessie will provide another view about the show relating to production and consumption and internet and communication.


  1. Khlystov, Y. 2016, China’s hard work culture – do you love it?, Laowaicareer, web blog post, viewed on 15 October 2017, <>
  2. Pan, D 2016, Why does most Chinese TV movies have subtitles, Quora, viewed 9 October 2017, <>
  3. Rohn, U 2009, ‘Cultural Barriers to the Success of Foreign Media Content: Western Media in China, India, and Japan’, Peter Lang, pp. 317-320
  4. Shen, L & D’Ambrosio, P, ‘Gender in Chinese Philosophy’, Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy, viewed 10 October 2017, <>
  5. Zhang, L.H 2013, ‘China’s Traditional Cultural Values and National Identity’, Carnegie- Tsinghua Center of Global Policy, viewed 13 October 2017, <>
  6. Zhang, X 2016, Top 10 popular China TV shows in the first half of 2016¸Chinadaily, viewed 9 October 2017, <>

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