The Running Man Show: Is it good for China’s youths?

Ever since first aired in 2014, the Chinese Running Man Show, or known as Bēnpǎo Ba Xiōngdì (奔跑吧兄弟), has been one of the most popular game shows in China right now, if not the most popular. It is based on the original South Korean game show series Running Man, where the MCs and guests (all celebrities) complete missions at different landmarks to win a race.
Thanks to my family and friends, I have watched every single episode of this show, since season 1. I have to admit that some aspects of the show can be entertaining initially, but as I continue to watch this show, I started having more problems with this show. For example, an MC from Hong Kong, Wang Zulan, has been poked fun at by his fellow MCs or the guests for his height in almost every single episode.

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(Wang Zulan’s height has been brought up almost every single episode for the past 4 seasons.)

I asked my friends and family what they thought of it, and some dismissed it lightly, “Well, he’s probably used to it”, or “I don’t think it’s a problem at all”. Some others hold a view that I can understand more, “He’s in the entertainment industry. He won’t be psychologically damaged by mean remarks and mockery so easily. He’s stronger than that.” But no matter what he is, entertainer, MC, actor, or whatever, he is still human, and he deserves respect from his friends and coworkers like the rest of us do. I have watched an interview with this certain MC. He said he had very low self-esteem growing up because of his height. I do not understand how everyone can be so cruel and continue to make fun of his height even when he has openly expressed such a thought.

Similarly, comedy actress Jia Ling recently went on the show as a guest in an episode in season 4, and she was partnered up with Chen He in a 2-people team. Chen He (a male MC) jokingly expressed his disgust at Jia Ling’s appearance and complained why the director couldn’t assign him a more physically attractive girl.

The other guest celebrities that joined the game in that round were He Sui (Victoria Secret model) and a few other similar female celebrities. Again, one may argue that since Jia Ling is a comedian, she should be comfortable with jokes related to her weight and outer appearance since many comedians make fun of themselves to entertain their audience.

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(In season 4 episode 2, Wang Zulan was teamed up with He Sui, a VS model.)

This may be true, but I still think that the extent of Chen He’s mockery is a bit inappropriate. I’m especially worried about the kind of message it will send to a younger audience in China. They may find it acceptable to make fun of the classmates who are overweight or short. From personal experience, I think this is a problem already in China.

I remember when I was in high school in Pittsburgh, I weighed 130lbs and 5’5’’, and when I returned to Shanghai, my hometown, relatives and friends constantly commented on how I’ve become “fatter” since I went to the States.

Having been raised in America, I’m not used to these kind of comments at all. At the time, it was hurtful to hear them say that in front of me. I lost self-confidence and felt like I took up too much space on planet earth. Even now at 120lbs, I still occasionally hear remarks about how I’m “big”. Fortunately, now that I’m older and have developed a mindset of self-acceptance, I am no longer bothered by these comments. For one thing, I am certain that my BMI is completely normal.

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(Zhen Kai joked about Wang Zulan’s height, saying that he can pretend to be a cane, since He Sui is so much taller next to him.)

But as a result of these Asian standards for physical traits such as thinness and paleness of the skin, I do have to admit that I feel a bit pressured when hanging out with my friends in or from China. Everyone constantly talks about how to lose more weight or how to become paler. When I do not join them in the discussion, I feel completely left out of the circle. In a way, entertainment shows like Running Man do not correct these extreme standards, but promote them. Out of all the MCs in the show, I cannot help but sympathize with Wang.

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(In the same episode, Chen He appeared to be happy and excited as he started to unveil his teammate.)

Everyone constantly talks about how to lose more weight or how to become paler. When I do not join them in the discussion, I feel completely left out of the circle. In a way, entertainment shows like Running Man do not correct these extreme standards, but promote them. Out of all the MCs in the show, I cannot help but sympathize with Wang Zulan, who is the least popular MC in the show (according to Sina Weibo voting system). Instead of focusing on his talents and personality, people are distracted by his height. In a sense, that is unfair because height is something that he cannot change about himself.

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(Jia Ling, a female comedian, appeared to be Chen He’s teammate.)

All that having been said, the show is not without its positive sides. In order to win the competition in each round, people have to work in teams, so one can argue that it can teach kids the importance of teamwork. Also, the show can be entertaining for some people. After all, it is a game show. I just wish that those who make and monitor what goes on in the show can be a bit more sensitive to viewers who may be offended by certain content, and also a bit more understanding and respect to everyone involved, attractive or not.

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(Chen He looked devastated when he saw he was partnered up with Jia Ling.)

Xiao Fu

Xiao Fu

Xiao Fu is a writer and English teacher based in New York City. You can contact her at xiaofu@post.harvard.edu.

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