Why China's 'YouTube' Loves Forbidden Hunting And Shooting

It’s 66 years since Chairman Mao prohibited shooting and hunting in China, but despite (or perhaps because of) the ban, the Chinese appetite for watching fieldsports videos has reached fever pitch.

Just 18 months after it launched on Youku (the Chinese version of Youtube), UK-based Fieldsports Channel’s shows have been watched more than 10 million times. The channel produces weekly TV programs about hunting, shooting and fishing.

“Mao may have banned bloodsports in 1949 but ‘the British Adventure Channel’ as we are called in China has captured the Chinese imagination,” says www.fieldsportschannel.tv owner and presenter Charlie Jacoby. His programs are second only to Downton Abbey in the Chinese ratings for UK-made series.

Besides the thrill of the chase, the British Adventure Channel enables Chinese people to brush up their English. Shows are subtitled rather than dubbed, so viewers can practice saying “Shoot!” or “Tally-ho!” as the action unspools, with occasional misconceptions: ‘warthog’ translates as ‘bastard’ in at least one dialect.

Pheasants are native to China, adding to the attraction for Jacoby, who has visited several times and taken part in hunts. He has found that the law is broadly ignored, although hunting and shooting is certainly not widespread. One trip included a disappointing day on an island off the East Coast of China, during which they shot three tame rabbits.

“China won the most shooting medals at the London 2012 Olympics, so there’s clearly a gun culture,” says Jacoby as we sit in the East India Club in London’s Mayfair, surrounded by oil paintings of colonial bigwigs. “The big difference between Western and Chinese shooting is that in the West, it’s all about hunting the heroic rogue animal and getting a trophy, whereas in China it’s all about food.”

On another hunt, the party shot a brace of crake, five pheasant and a pigeon. “Then we ate them all, at once, liberally washed down by something labelled Martell VS Cognac. The Chinese are much more in touch with what they eat than we are in the West.”

Fieldsports Channel began in 2009 when Jacoby and his business partner, TV producer David Wright spotted a gap in country sports coverage on TV and a way of undercutting advertising rates in specialist consumer magazines. “Our monthly viewership is more than 20 times the circulation of any of the UK monthly hunting magazines, and we don’t have to pay a print bill,” he points out.

Bloodsports have been abdicated by both terrestrial and satellite broadcasters. There remains a media taboo surrounding hunting and shooting, despite a palpable global appetite. The channel gets 1.1 million monthly views on YouTube and is available on a dozen other platforms including Tumblr, DailyMotion, LiveLeak, on cable channels in Portugal and San Diego. Jacoby has just sold two series about clay pigeon shooting and fishing to satellite sports network Setanta Ireland.

“We’re paid a four-figure sum every month for the preroll ads but 95 per cent of our income is from product placement,” Jacoby reveals. “The lovely thing about YouTube and Youku is that you get the views you deserve.”

He has refined the art of using certain makers’ guns and other equipment without resorting to cheesy endorsements.

In fact his persona is closer to Jeremy Clarkson of UK motoring show Top Gear, giving the impression that any old stuff is OK, as long as it does the job and kills birds and animals.

Harking back to a distant past, Jacoby summons the ghosts of ancient hunters: “If you’re sitting around a camp fire, everyone’s talking about who shot the mammoth, not who saved it. Fieldsports Channel is an exciting story – it’s a question of democratisation. It’s people making choices and clicking on what they want. And in China, it’s something they’ve not had before.”

The channel demonstrates the ability of online content – particularly on YouTube and its various equivalents – to circumvent national jurisdictions. Where Chinese national TV broadcasters would be forbidden from showing bloodsports, or would self-censor, no such restriction have yet to inhibit Jacoby and his channel.

In its way, Fieldsports Channel is not only extending the democratic principles of viewers watching what they like, but eroding the grip of a once totalitarian state through high grade entertainment and well-presented information.