Game of Hunting - a cyclopedia of contemporary Chinese business culture

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

The story is about China’s recently emerged executive recruitment business, written and directed by legendary Jiang Wei (姜伟), starring China’s top-ranking actor Hu Ge (胡歌) and supported by some of China’s best actors and actresses.

The story tells a young university graduate’s endeavour of trying to establish his own business through constant setbacks and horrific failures, and his struggle between the traditional Confucius business ethics and contemporary business practice.

Hu Ge, who played a leading role 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.

Game of Hunting - Zheng Qiudong promoting new health products for a store

Zheng Qiudong is an ambitious young university graduate and fancies becoming 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 recent decades.

A factory worker jumped to his death

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 early 21st century. 13 young workers plunged to death just in one factory in Guangdong owned and administered by people from Taiwan.

Zheng Qiudong motivating the pyramid scheme members

Zheng Qiudong motivates the pyramid scheme members

A desperate Zheng Qiudong was tricked into an illegal pyramid scheme.

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

Pyramid scams main 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.

Zheng Qiudong facing the court for his pyramid scheme activities which is illegal in China

Zheng Qiudong in a Chinese courtroom

For being a key member of a major pyramid scheme, Zheng Qiudong was arrested and sentenced to five and a 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 them.

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

Traditionally, the 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 guide 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.)”

Zheng Qiudong studying Human Resource and Finance from a former guru headhunter in prison

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

Zheng Qiudong becomes a teacher to other inmates in prison

He successfully obtained Master’s Degrees in Human Resources 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.

Generally speaking, they are more education-oriented and less violent than those in the United States.

As a former inmate, Zheng Qiudong is harassed by police and hotel staff

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

Zheng Qiudong get a job with a fake identity

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

Zheng Qiudong is harassed by a female extortionist

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.

Zheng Qiudong is harassed by a female extortionist

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

He is fired.

Zheng Qiudong applying for his new personal ID

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 board a train or reserve a hotel room, let alone rent a flat or apply for a job.

Zheng Qiudong takes a photo for his new ID

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

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

Zheng Qiudong's ex girlfriend becomes a Chinese high official's mistress

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 the Beijing business circle like 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 opens a job recruitment office in Hangzhou

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

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

Fortunately, the third dart strikes Hangzhou on the map.

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

Zheng Qiudong is joint by a female business partner and a male staff

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.

Zheng Qiudong's recruitment company

Their major business is of helping those from rural areas to fill in positions with no requirements on skills and experience, 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 a 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 human recourse.

Boss and staff members have dinner together after work

Following 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 of traditional Chinese and Western business practices, 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 by surname 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 works as a financial consultant

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 shams: An illegal medicinal herbal collector, a pyramid scheme member, a prison inmate and an identity thief.

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

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

Zheng Qiudong is about to take photos of the bank's confidential information

Zheng Qiudong is about to take photos of the bank’s confidential information

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 a 180,000 RMB reward for a 5-minute-long video clip taken with his smartphone.

He struggles to decline the offer. But he does need that job and needs money. However, at 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 short-term success.

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

Zheng Qiudong observing the vice district chief in a canteen

A canteen in a Beijing local government building

Zheng Qiudong has 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 the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

In the past two decades or so, China starts to headhunt top Chinese talents worldwide to work at various levels of government or state-run institutions and organisations, which include the well-known 1,000 Talents Scheme.

However, so far the movement of 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 since it is regarded as serving the public and the nation instead of just doing work for making money. Such mentality still quite prevails in the Chinese community today, therefore it is rather difficult to convince an official to take a position in the private sector. Besides, power can be addictive for most men and women.

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

A Chinese hospital in Beijing

A Chinese hospital in Beijing

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 to 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 family and found a teaching job for his wife, a senior English translator, at Shenzhen university.

A Beijing district chief's office

A Beijing district chief’s office

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

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

A VIP room in a Beijing golf club

A VIP room in a Beijing golf club

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 as a qualified headhunter.

A Hangzhou medical nursing facility

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 a 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.

A Japanese style bar in Hangzhou

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.

A smoke detector in a Hangzhou hotel guestroom

The affair between the headhunting staff and the financial genius, which took 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 rival headhunter Zheng Qiudong. He decides to do something to defend the integrity of the Chinese headhunting practice.

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

A pavilion on a hilltop in Hangzhou outskirts

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 drive him to commit suicide.

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

A corridor in a Hangzhou hotel

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.

A mountain village in Zhejiang Province

After years of hard work, Zheng Qiudong’s small recruitment firm developed into a medium-sized headhunting partnership company after being joined by a top headhunter and received investment from that financial genius.

The top headhunter admires Zheng’s integrity displayed on the occasion when he refused to steal data from a bank he worked at, and the financial genius is grateful for Zheng’s wisdom and courage to save him from a potentially explosive sex scandal.

Now Zheng is working on a big assignment for a leading cosmetic company to find a replacement chief officer for its highly sensitive Competitive Intelligence Department.

But this is only part of the assignment. The old man wants them to investigate the current chief.

The guy is dating the business owner’s only daughter, the heir of the company.

“You disapprove of their relationship so want him to go?”

“No, I suspect he uses my trust and my daughter’s affection to steal our product research information to help a rival company in Shanghai.”

So Zheng Qiudong travels to the current chief’s birth village to dig up the truth.

Zheng Qiudong talking to village head and village teacher over tea

Zheng Qiudong and his assistant seek help from the village head, a university graduate, and the village teacher to learn the current intelligence chief’s past.

Nowadays in China, there are many university graduates working as a village head as their first job in a career in the public sector.

While village teachers, although lowly paid, are traditionally the most respected and knowledgeable people among the locals.

Upon investigation, Zheng learned the intelligence chief grew up in a poor single-parent family as his father die young. He used to be a good student but was very ill with a severe heart condition.

Soon after his story was broadcasted by the county radio station, he received a heart transplant operation with the cost paid by a local businessman and the heart donated by the businessman’s son died in a traffic accident.

Since then, he became the adopted son of the businessman who is no other but the owner of the rival cosmetic company in Shanghai.

Zheng Qiudong's office

Now the owner of Hangzhou cosmetic company and his daughter are forced to confront the truth: the guy who worked as their intelligence chief for ten years has been conducting industrial espionage activities against them by revealing formulas of new products to his adopted father’s company in Shanghai.

An anonymous hacker promoting his business online

The intelligence chief is an online hacking genius.

With the help of an anonymous hacking group that can be hired by anyone with money, he is able to hack into the office building’s CCTV security system and observe the meeting between his boss, his girlfriend and Zheng Qiudong.

A troubled and depressed Zheng Qiudong

Ever since he fell in love with his boss’ daughter, the intelligence chief’s weak heart was torn between the loyalty to his adopted father and his girlfriend.

When he observed how his true identity was exposed before his beloved girl and how the girl fell into despair, his borrowed heart that has already reached the expiring date, broke.

His death strikes hard on the daughter. Her nervous system broke down and she lost all her memories.

Zheng Qiudong is deeply troubled and distressed over the unintended consequences that his revelation has brought.

Zheng Qiudong lying in a hospital ward

With the generous support of his girlfriend, Zheng Qiudong plays a role as the late intelligence chief dying slowly from heart failure in the hope to reconnect that girl’s memory loss due to her beloved man’s sudden departure and unanswered question over his true feeling for her.

Many years ago when Zheng was freshly released from prison, he pretended to be a deceased guy for his own benefit – to get a job.

Now he pretends to be a deceased guy again. Only this time he does so to save a woman, to save her father, to save a business and to save the jobs of the company’s thousands of employees.

On his “deathbed” in a hired hospital ward, as his girlfriend and the doctor watch on, Zheng Qiudong cuddles the dead guy’s girlfriend, and kisses her, and tells her how much he loves her, and urges her to live to full for their unborn child and for herself after his death.

With love and hope, that daughter’s memory has recovered.

It was torture for his girlfriend to watch him cuddling and kissing another woman. But deep compassion for fellow human beings and a firm trust in her man make their relationship stronger.

A winter scene in Hangzhou resort

The business world today is cold and ruthless that turns people into a group of hungry and bloodthirsty wolves fighting over resources and profits.

But Zheng Qiudong’s endeavour and struggle may inspire people to rediscover the value in the traditional Confucius Merchandise culture and the possibility to develop a more civilized business practice.

Links to the full-length episodes:

1) with English subtitle:

2) without English subtitle:

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