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Print Edition> Culture
UPDATED: December 23, 2013 NO. 52 DECEMBER 26, 2013
Behind the Scenes
A list ranking China's writers by income revealed that screenwriters earn much more than expected
By Bai Shi

Shi Zhongshan (CFP)

Gao Mantang (CFP)

Yu Zheng (CFP)

For a long time, screenwriters have been relatively obscure members of Chinese TV production teams. Most of them have low wages and have little public recognition. Recently however, the situation has been changing in line with the blooming domestic entertainment industry. Today, Chinese screenwriters are able to earn far more than they were even a few years ago.

On December 2, Huaxi Metropolis Daily, a newspaper based in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, released the 2013 Chinese Screenwriters Income List. The list consisted of statistic that reported the earnings for individual TV series and their screenwriters over the last five years. Gao Mantang, 58, edged out the rest of the competition to top the list, with a total combined income of 30 million yuan ($4.94 million) between 2008 and 2013.

Huaxi Metropolis Daily published an annual list of writers' incomes since 2006. The list was set up by well-known publisher Wu Huaiyao, but until this year the list has never included screenwriters.

"Usually, what decides the success of a TV show or a film is not the director or stars, but the screenplay," Wu commented. "But most people do not yet recognize the importance of a screenplay when making a film or TV show."

According to Wu, the screenwriter income list aims to offer a reference for those researching the status of China's TV and film industries. It also hopes to call on society to pay more attention to screenwriters, a relatively small and unknown group in the massive entertainment industry.

"Gao is relatively well-known. He tops the income list, showing the importance of screenwriters. I expect the list will help advance Chinese screenplays and stimulate the growth of young talented scriptwriters," said Wu.

Rapid growth

"Over the past 30 years, the Chinese TV industry has been growing so fast that I could not imagine [how it would be] today," Gao told Huaxi Metropolis Daily in an interview after the list was released.

Gao has been writing for TV since 1983. He has been involved in a total of 600 episodes over the past 30 years. Much of his work has received critical acclaim both at home and abroad. For example, the TV epic he wrote for—Brave Journey to Northeast China—received the highest ratings of any show in 2008 and won three separate awards at China's Golden Eagle TV Festival that year, The Seoul International Drama Awards (2008) and the China's Flying Apsaras Drama Awards (2009), the latter being the most prominent Chinese Government grant for the drama industry.

"In the 1980s, China's TV industry had just started. Now, it is unprecedentedly prosperous," Gao said.

"The scale of TV productions today are huge," Gao said. " Writers' incomes can not increase without the rapid development of the TV industry."

According to People's Daily, the Chinese mainland produced a total of 17,000 TV series throughout 2012, an increase of 13.77 percent compared to 2011, ranking first around the world in terms of TV drama production.

Zhang Haichao, Vice President of China International Television Corporation, gave more detailed statistics for Chinese TV dramas. In an interview with Beijing Evening News, he said, "The Chinese market is vast and demand is strong, which stimulates robust growth for TV dramas."

Watching TV programs has become an important part of everyday life for many Chinese. About 75 percent of Chinese TV audiences like to watch TV dramas during prime time everyday. All satellite TV channels in China combined broadcasted about 8,000 TV series in total last year, Zhang said.

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