Chinese (Pseudo)Archaeology on Television: A Daomu Biji Case Study

Stevens, E. Charlotte (2024) Chinese (Pseudo)Archaeology on Television: A Daomu Biji Case Study. In: Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Media in the 21st Century. Routledge. ISBN 9781032105970

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This chapter argues for the significance of the Chinese novel series Daomu Biji (盗墓笔记), particularly through its television adaptations. Known as Grave Robbers’ Chronicles for its English publication, and arguably the most-watched transmedia franchise about archaeology today, Daomu Biji was serialised online from 2006, has sold more than 20 million copies (Variety, 2016), and has been credited with ‘strengthening public interest in archaeology’ in China (The Economist, 2021). Nearly all the books of Daomu Biji proper have live action television adaptations, beginning with The Lost Tomb (iQIYI, 2015); animated, comic book, and film adaptations have also been produced.
Daomu Biji is a compelling franchise, not in the least because of the intensity of its pace of adaptation, and its place within a global streaming television context which is similarly undergoing rapid change. At the same time, it is a localisation of what is ultimately Victorian imperialist pulp literature that has been iterated through Hollywood blockbusters and videogames, and which presents an uneasy subversion of imperialist tropes. The political constraints of contemporary Chinese media production result in winking claims to scientifically-plausible pseudoarchaeology, but also in presenting tomb raiders who carefully explain that their interest is in the preservation of antiquities, even as they dynamite a tomb to escape the aforementioned plausible tomb-dwelling creatures. Tomb traps show off the ingenuity of ancient people whose descendants exist within PRC borders, or just beyond them, in an affirmation of ethnic diversity within a Han-dominant sense of nation. Overall, this representation of sanctioned and experienced defenders of Chinese tangible cultural heritage paints a heroic – if inaccurate – picture of contemporary archaeological practice.

Item Type: Book Section
7 February 2023Accepted
12 June 2024Published
Subjects: CAH20 - historical, philosophical and religious studies > CAH20-01 - history and archaeology > CAH20-01-03 - archaeology
CAH24 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01-05 - media studies
CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-04 - cinematics and photography
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham School of Media
Depositing User: Charlotte Stevens
Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2023 15:17
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2024 16:19

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