In 2013, the Netflix-produced political drama House of Cards (hereafter HoC) was a hit in China. Rather than entering the country via illicit streaming, it became the most-watched American TV show on Sohu, one of China’s largest internet service providers. Season Two, which features a corrupt Chinese bureaucrat, not only remained online uncensored; it attracted eight times as many Chinese viewers as the first one. Its fans even included several high-ranking officials.
Euro-American journalists are quick to speculate that the Chinese Communist Party may be using HoC to instruct the perils of US democracy. Yet many Chinese viewers call the series "Legends of Empress Zhen in the White House," seeing it as an American version of the popular court drama set in imperial China. Quite a few viewers, in fact, are less interested in the show’s depiction of procedural democracy than its provision of useful lessons for career advancement.
This reception corresponds to Joe Conway’s reading of HoC as proffering "a wholly depoliticized version of politics” in which “government is simply a symbolic arena for a family’s private ambitions." Netflix’s tracking of user information in catering the series to its audience base, which for Conway offers consumers an illusory “command” over content creation, is frequently celebrated in China, especially by those eager to replicate the show’s commercial success. HoC, symptomatic of this global depoliticization of politics that centers more on the individual consumer than on the nation-state, thus prompts us to more rigorously consider the political entanglement of the two "superpowers."