It's that quiet time before sunrise. All is silent in the tranquil Chinese village until gunshots and screams ring out through the air. Terrified villagers flee in all directions, before being gunned down by bloodthirsty Japanese soldiers.
It's a fairly typical scene, often repeated in the many Chinese TV shows and films loosely based on the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).
These films tend to climax with the heroic efforts of the Eighth Route Army, led by the Communist Party of China during the war.
With the themes of violence, heroes and most importantly, the war between China and Japan, they are well suited to the tastes of certain elements of the public, leading to strong ratings. Among the 150 casting teams at the Hengdian studio in Zhejiang Province in 2011, the largest film studio in China, 48 were involved in shooting TV shows or movies related to the war and 60 percent of the 300,000 extras, according to data from the studio, have played the role of Japanese soldiers.
Faces of evil?
Shi Zhongpeng, one of the extras at the Hengdian film studio, recently became popular online, because in roles as a Japanese soldier he dies eight times a day.
Shi said his secret for being chosen was to appear as sleazy as possible to fit the stereotypes of a Japanese soldier, the Hangzhou-based Qianjiang Evening News reported.
In contrast, Kenichi Miura, 50, a Japanese actor who became well-known in China after roles ranging from Japanese spies to commanders, isn't usually the "typical" Japanese soldier.
Those soldiers are typically portrayed as tubby, simple-minded oafs, waiting to be defeated by the Chinese army. Miura tends to play the scheming puppet-master behind the scenes.
Yang Xiaohui, a scriptwriter who has worked on many shows about the Japanese invasion, told the Global Times that there are certain principles when developing Japanese characters.
"For example, when we write about a young Japanese man who loves painting and wants to be an artist, that's not bad, but he would only paint with human blood," Yang said.
Yang said that most scriptwriters don't refer back to the historical facts when writing. Scriptwriters even portray Chinese soldiers as kung fu heroes, unharmed amid hails of bullets.
Faced with the contrast between Chinese and Japanese portrayals, Miura said a professional actor should not care too much about nationalities, but he was uncomfortable with some of those depictions.
"I refused several invitations to act in works about the Nanjing Massacre, because some of the Japanese figures were exaggerated way too much," he said.
Prisoners of war
But for scriptwriters like Yang, these are what sell. "There is a market for them.
Television stations set the direction for how a story should go, and require the scriptwriter to follow that."
Data from the CSM Media Research Company showed that many famous TV series about Chinese resistance against Japanese aggression, such as the Little Soldier Zhang Ga, Depot 51 and Use a Sword to Cut Off the Heads of Japanese Invaders have helped the television stations that screened them surge in ratings. But according to a producer from a Hunan Television Station, who spoke to the Global Times on condition of anonymity, many other topics are restricted.
TV shows based on espionage between the Communist Party of China and Kuomintang, and popular time travel shows were criticized by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT).
"But the war theme is quite mainstream, with fewer limitations, and is likely to be screened in the more profitable primetime slots," he said.
Zhou Xueying, a historian from Nanjing University, said that many Chinese today could not forget the painful memories left by the war and that is also one reason why such films, though repeated many times, still have many viewers.
"Some Japanese people did something terrible and made no apology, and maintained an unchanged attitude toward many political issues, so it is not strange that many people would like to vent their anger, sometimes mixed in with their dissatisfaction with reality, by watching those movies. The films answer blows with blows and beats hatred with hatred," Zhou said.
The movie City of Life and Death, or Nanking Nanking, led to public fury when a Japanese soldier let go of two Chinese people because he felt guilty.
In many provinces of China, primary school students are given free cinema tickets for such movies. "It is a very important part for our patriotic education and history lessons," Lei Zhongyong, deputy director at the office of basic education at education department of Guizhou Province, told the Global Times.
Watanabe Eiko, 46, a Japanese editor who lived in Beijing for almost five years, worries about the attitudes of children who grew up with these shows.
"I know many Chinese people and their only knowledge of Japan comes from these kinds of TV series. That is not good for non-governmental exchanges between the two countries," Eiko told the Global Times.
In Japan, people tend to talk less about World War II and barely produce any movies about that war, according to Miura, who hopes to change perceptions through his acting. "I found the biggest difference between Chinese people and us is that we tend to forget the unhappy things but here people remember and reenact their suffering."
Yin Hong, professor at Tsinghua University, who has been observing the TV and film industry in China, said that although history can't be erased, people should remain rational.
"Many of those productions are too emotional and even encourage people to curb violence with violence. It's not anti-war," Yin told the Global Times, adding that the shows would not help Chinese people reflect on the reasons for war, and children in particular might be misled.
Yin also said that he hopes in future, bloody and violent scenes may become less common as people consider history in a more rational light, and said he hopes SARFT will allow a wider range of entertainment for producers to focus on.