First American TV shows I watched in China

In a previous post I mentioned the Western books I read as a child. A friend, after reading the post, asked me when I first watched American TV shows. (Here is a confession: I usually don’t watch TV series, but I love “Game of Thrones” and cannot wait for Season 7.)

That happened in the early eighties.

By then, China and the U.S. had established full diplomatic relations, after a strategic exchange referred as Ping-pong Diplomacy and the visit of President Nixon. Translated books from the U.S. and other Western countries poured into China. So, though to a lesser degree, did their TV programs and movies.

On our 14-inch black and white TV (it was made in Shanghai and the brand was “Gold Star”), we, joined by our neighbors, watched NBC’s “Man from Atlantis” and ABC’s “Garrison’s Gorillas.”

“Man from Atlantis” started the trend of wearing labaku(喇叭裤), wide-legged pants, and hamajin (蛤蟆镜), aviator sunglasses among the urban youth, making them the symbols of troublemakers. One of the young men in my mother’s work unit donned such attire and was often subjected to ridicule.

“Garrison’s Gorillas” swept through China like a tornado, a far cry from all the ‘educational’ movies and TV programs the Chinese were used to. It became a sensation.

When “Garrison’s Gorillas” was on, everyone was riveted to the screen and the streets were deserted. All the boys admired the Chief, played by Brendon Boone, and mimicked how he talked. They practiced knife throwing, the Chief’s signature specialty, with home-made daggers. Two of my brothers were the Chief’s loyal fans and did their dagger-throwing practice dutifully after school every day. The TV show had such a powerful impact on young people that the Chinese government later suspended it, fearing that it would corrupt the country.

In the following years, more American TV shows debuted in China, but nothing seemed as popular among children as  “Garrison’s Gorillas.”