Year of the Snake is over – but for Sherlock it's just the start

Review of the Chinese year, Part 1: 'Sex God' Cumberbatch wins where David Cameron failed

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:17 ON Tue 28 Jan 2014

SHANGHAI - China's newspapers, as a rule, pay the UK scant regard. Premier League football is one exception. Media-savvy 'Brand Beckham' is another, and when a suited-but-not-sufficiently-booted David skidded painfully onto his backside while displaying free–kick skills to youngsters in muddy Wuhan at the start of The Year of the Snake, he effortlessly bent Chinese media attention his way, as did Victoria’s successful promotion of her fashion line Beijing in June, and her appearance on the cover of Vogue China in August. 

Prime Minister David Cameron’s three-day mission to China in December, intended to promote the very best of British culture, snared fewer column inches than he might have hoped for – despite a fruitful wheeze that will see British farmers exporting pig semen to the Middle Kingdom in a deal worth £45 million a year.

During Cameron’s China jaunt, it was reported that he dined at a hotpot restaurant in the south-western city of Chengdu. (Unlikely, then, that his advisors had read of the rat/fox/mink/critter-meat hotpot scandal reported in May.) 

On 6 December, the Shanghai Daily pointed out that the eatery in question, recognising a tasty if tacky business opportunity, had begun offering a special set-meal deal for 888 Yuan (eight being the luckiest of numbers in China; and rather neatly equating to £88) including all the dishes the PM had been served.

Diners willing to fork out an additional £100 would be tended by Cameron’s waitress, named Cao Jing, for the evening. “Coriander-mixed meatballs was the favourite dish for Cameron," Cao said, adding that her Conservative customer had liked things spicy.

In a robust editorial at the time, the Chinese government-controlled Global Times tabloid dismissed the UK for being geopolitically and economically irrelevant to China. “Just an old European country apt for travel and study,” the Times sneered in its editorial pages. “This has gradually become the habitual thought of the Chinese people.”

Ah, but then, to wrap up the Year of the Snake in style, Blighty dramatically rolled out its big guns. Their names? Holmes and Watson.

Hours after the first episode in the third series of the BBC’s baffling television phenomenon was broadcast in the UK on New Year’s Day, it was shown before sunrise on a regular working Thursday in China via Youku.com – a domestic video-hosting service like YouTube (YouTube being – can you guess? – banned in China). 

Within 24 hours Youku was able to announce that Sherlock  - with swiftly added Chinese subtitles - had already been viewed more than five million times, becoming the website’s most voraciously devoured programme in the world’s most-populous country – ever! The media blitz began immediately.

'Sherlock China’s New Sex God' gushed a headline in the Shanghai Daily. 'Synchronous Sherlock Excites Chinese Fans' bellowed the China Daily. 'Tense plot, bizarre story, exquisite production, excellent performances,' offered the People’s Daily, which is generally accepted to be the most authentic mouthpiece of Chinese Communist Party policy.

Even the Global Times reined in its customary anti-British bombast, stating that, in the inscrutable face of Sherlock, 'China’s Insipid Television Programs Leave Younger Generation Cold'.

Online Sherlock fan clubs were attracting “thousands of members enthusing over Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones”, the Times writer added, blasting homegrown Chinese dramas for their “cardboard sets, shoddy writing and recycled plots”.        

Still some life left in the old British hound yet, then. 

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