Game of Hunting

Game of Hunting (猎场), China’s latest TV series, is like a cyclopedia of contemporary Chinese business culture.

The highly acclaimed television drama is about China’s recently emerged executive recruitment business, written and directed by legendary Jiang Wei (姜伟), stars China’s great actor Hu Ge (胡歌) and supported by some China’s best actors and actresses.

The story tells how a young university graduate tried to establish his own business through constant setbacks and horrific failures.

Hu Ge, who played the leading character in Nirvana in Fire, proves himself as one of the greatest actors in the world with his accurate, delicate and multidimensional interpretation of a modern Chinese businessman.

Zheng Qiudong is an ambitious young university graduate and fancies to become a successful businessman to make quick and big money in a short time, a rather unique and phenomenal “China dream” that has been cherished by many and realised by quite a few in the recent decades.

One day when Zheng Qiudong was paid to speak in a factory, motivating the employees to love their jobs, a worker jumped to his death.

An incident like this isn’t uncommon in China in the recent decades. 13 young workers plunged to death just in one factory in Guangdong owned and administered by people from Taiwan.

A desperate Zheng Qiudong has been tricked into an illegal pyramid scheme.

As a gifted business promoter, he quickly rises to the top of the train, making big money by recruiting other desperate urban residents and villagers to join the scheme.

Pyramid scams mainly prey on those unfortunate yet greedy people living in China’s less developed regions.

In August this year, the key members of a large pyramid organisation, that controlled the members’ finance even personal freedom, were arrested in Langfang in Hebei Province near Beijing.

For being a key member of a major pyramid scheme, Zheng Qiudong has been arrested and sentenced to five and half years in jail.

This is a typical courtroom in China. Instead of sitting in a box alone, the accused seats in a chair on the front row with a court officer intimidatingly standing behind.

There is no jury panel but judge to hear the case. And lawyer (except business lawyer) is not an overly respectable occupation in China, and never was.

Traditionally, Chinese called lawyers 讼棍 (litigation thugs). Confucius famously said that “in hearing litigation, I am not wiser than anyone else; what I am striving to achieve is to cause the people to have no litigation. (听讼, 吾犹人也. 必也使无讼乎)”, because “if the people be led by laws, they will try to avoid the punishment with no sense of shame; If the people be led by virtue, they will discern right from wrong. (道之以死, 齐之以刑, 民免而无耻; 道之以德, 齐之以礼, 有耻且格.)”

In prison, Zheng Quidong met a former top headhunter with a PhD from a US ivy league school, a victim of miscarriage of justice, and from him he studies subjects on human resource, finance and English.

He successfully obtained Masters Degrees in Human Resource and Finance and became a teacher to other inmates, for which his sentence has been reduced to four years.

Chinese prisons are not a paradise, far from it. And they shouldn’t be a paradise anyway, which is unfair to the victims of the crimes and not helpful to the perpetrators. But Chinese prisons are neither forced labour camps as portrayed by some Chinese writers and Western journalists.

They are not a confined holiday resort like in some European nations, but in general are more education-oriented and less violent than those in the United States.

Zheng Qiudong didn’t realise the harshest punishment for his crime is not imprisonment but after his release from jail as a former inmate. He was discriminated, humiliated and sometimes harassed. All the doors to job opportunities are shut in his face.

In despair, he used an id of a deceased PhD candidate to apply for jobs and quickly received an offer as the payroll manager at a top-ranking company in Beijing.

With a false identity, Zheng Qiudong as the payroll executive in a big company works hard and performs well. For a while everything seems okay and his future looks promising.

Then one day a young woman approaches him, claiming she is the former girlfriend of that deceased PhD candidate and demanding him to pay her 200,000 RMB if he does not wish his true identity exposed.

Despite he paid hefty amount to the extortionist, his true identity still has been exposed. His old photos posted online by his friends in early years were discovered by the company.

He is fired.

Zheng Qiudong has no choice but to apply for his own ID with a criminal record.

In China without an ID card, you are nobody and can do nothing, not even aboard a train or reserve a hotel room, let alone to rent a flat or apply for a job.

After two weeks, Zheng Qiudong has eventually got his ID card. Upon receiving the document, the officer asks him if he wants to apply for unemployment benefit or gets unemployment insurance cover.

“I’m not unemployed,” Zheng Qiudong responds spontaneously. Although his job prospect is dim, living on the dole has never been his option.

When Zheng Qiudong was serving his time in jail, the girl he deeply loves became a mistress of a powerful minister, a man old enough to be her father, and completed her transformation from an exhibition guide to the president of a major media company.

She is treated in Beijing business circle like a royalty. Yet deep down she still loves Zheng Qiudong.

When she learned Zheng’s dreadful situation, she delivers him a bag of cash, encouraging him to start his own business elsewhere.

Zheng Qiudong decided to leave Beijing and picks his new home by throwing a dart at a map.

The first dart falls in the ocean, which is not a valid option since he is not a fish; and the second hits the remote region in Mongolia, that is also out of question as he has no plan to become a sheepherder.

Fortunately the third dart strikes Hangzhou in the map.

So, alone, he goes to the beautiful lake city to turn over a new leaf.

Now in his early 30s, Zheng Qiudong resumes his old profession and opens a small job agency.

His business venture soon is joined by an inexperienced male assistant and a very experienced female recruitment agent.

Their major business is of helping those from rural areas to fill in the positions with no requirements on skills and experiences, such as nannies, housekeepers, factory workers and security guards in hotels.

Like most job agencies in China, they would charge a job seeker 50 to 100 RMB when sending her/him to an interview with personal ID, and returns the money to the client if he/she fails to obtain the position.

They also use software to spot job vacancies in hotels and factories and detect business liquidation information to locate the human recourse.

ollowing the custom of the modern Chinese business culture which is very different from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, but heavily influenced by some aspects in traditional Chinese business culture and the Western business culture, the three people in the tiny company all acquire a mighty title: Zheng Qiudong is Chairman of the Board (董事长), his female business partner is General Manager (总经理) and his male assistant is Secretary to Chairman.

They address each other not by name but surcame plus the title.

After work, however, the three mighty business people would turn their office into a canteen, having a hot pot together.

Zheng Qiudong’s recruitment business goes well, yet he’s not satisfied with being a recruiter for the jobless – he wants to be a headhunter for the top talents.

The biggest hurdle to realise his dream is his resume. His working history is full of sham: An illegal medicinal herbal collector, a pyramid scheme member, a prison inmate and an identification chief.

So he seeks help from another recruitment company which is quite experienced in manipulating and covering the gaps in resume.

With their help and his MBA qualifications in Finance and Human Resource, he receives a job offer as a financial planning manager at a multinational bank.

It doesn’t take long for Zheng Qiudong to realise that the recruitment company’s help comes with a hefty price tag – soon he is required to steal bank customers’ information, for which he is promised to get 180,000 RMB reward for a 5-minute-long video clip taken with his smart phone.

He struggles to decline the offer. But he does need that job and need money. However, in the last minute, he tells himself he can’t afford to have another brush with the law, and his vision for his long term future overcomes his desire for a short term success.

He resigns from bank and returns to his own recruitment company again.

Zheng Qiudong received a project to help a top Chinese headhunting firm to persuade a high official in Beijing to work for a private company in Shenzhen, in southern Chinese province Guangdong.

In the past two decades or so, China starts to head hunt top Chinese talents worldwide to work in various levels of government or state-run research institution and organisations, which includes the well known 1,000 Talents Scheme.

However, so far the movement of the talents is largely one direction – from private business to government office.

Traditional Chinese culture views the attainment of a senior position in government as the ultimate success of a man’s career, as it is regarded as serving the public and the nation instead of just doing works for making money. Such mentality is still quite prevail in Chinese community today, therefore it is rather difficult to convince an official to take a position in private sector. Beside, power can be addictive for most men and women.

His target, the vice chief in a Beijing district, rejected offer previously, thus Zheng Qiudong spent days to observe and study the official and his family from a distance.

After days of close observation and study, Zheng Qiudong made a breakthrough discovery: the relationship between Beijing’s air pollution and the hobby of the official’s daughter.

The 11-year-old girl is a golf addict – a new pastime replacing Mahjong for China’s get-rich-quick people and officials who are keen to present themselves as elites – yet her health condition does not allow her to be exposed in Beijing’s highly polluted outdoor environment as frequently as she wishes, while Shenzhen in southern China is among the cities in the world with the best air quality.

Hence before talking to the official, Zheng Qiudong contacted his wife and daughter and found a teaching job for the wife, a senior English translator, at Shenzhen university.

Zheng Qiudong then goes to visit the district vice chief’s office and told him the rumour he said he learned from a journalist: he has no chance to be promoted as chief.

The rumour is true and the official knows that. He is struggling between his political aspiration and the reality, even though he keeps saying to others that he is pretty happy to be placed on any position to serve his people.

A secret meeting is arranged.

When the official learns his wife and daughter are all happy to make the move and that he has no hope for a promotion, he decides to jump ship.

His decision also helps Zheng Qiudong to establish himself not just being a job agent but a qualified head hunter.

One of the major multinational headhunting firms has secured a big project: to help convince an investment genius to work for a Chinese private equity company as its portfolio manager.

The package includes 6 million RMB annual salary and a large number of company shares. Yet the genius, who obtained his PhD and working experiences in America, has already earned enough money in the past 20 years to support the rest of his life and now he just wants to spend time with his father dying from cancer.

After being repeatedly rejected, the headhunting team sends out a sexy young female member to seduce the financial genius and develop their relationship further into an extramarital affair.

The affair between the headhunting staff and the financial genius taken place in a hotel room has been recorded by a camera hidden inside a smoke detector fixed on the ceiling.

The headhunting firm is going to use the video to coerce the genius to take the job in the private equity company.

The sinister scheme has been discovered by the rivalry headhunter Zheng Qiudong. He decides to do something to defend the integrity of Chinese headhunting business.

* Comments: Comparison of British and Chinese businesses in their treatment of human resource

Upon investigation, Zheng Qiudong figured out the female headhunter has genuinely fallen in love with the financial genius. So he arranged a secret meeting with the girl.

In the meeting, he warns her that the videotape could not only ruin the marriage and family life of the man she loves, but may even cause him to commit suicide.

The girl collapses. The love for the man overtakes her ambition for career success. She agrees to help Zheng Qiudong.

Zheng Qiudong confronts the head of the hunting team, the master of the sinister scheme, and informs him that the female headhunting member, who conducted extramarital affairs with the financial genius, actually audio recorded her conversation with her boss, therefore if the video is published on weixin, the audio will also be published online. As a result, the genius may lose his face but the headhunter will lose his freedom and spend years in jail.

The headhunter has no choice but to give up his plan and resign from the firm.


Links to view the full-length episodes aired so far:

1) with English subtitle:
2) without English subtitle:

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