Binge-worthy: Chinese drama Under The Microscope makes tax accounting engaging

Chinese actor Zhang Ruoyun plays a mathematics genius chasing down tax discrepancies in Under The Microscope. PHOTO: IQIYI

Under The Microscope

iQiyi International
4 stars

Is there any way tax accounting can be riveting? Actually, yes, as Chinese drama Under The Microscope has shown.

The 14-parter stars actor Zhang Ruoyun (Joy Of Life, 2019) as Shuai Jiamo, a mathematics genius in the Ming dynasty who discovers a major tax discrepancy in his county’s finances.

He goes on a journey to right the error, but gets tripped up by bureaucracy and stumbles into a complex web of corruption and lies.

Here are three reasons to watch the series.

1. Refreshing look at ancient China

The series is based on Chinese author Ma Boyong’s book of the same name, which used rare archival records to look at six real cases of crimes and grievances that occurred during the Ming dynasty.

Under The Microscope is adapted from the first case: a peasant revolution that was caused by unfair taxation.

When Shuai discovers that his county, Renhua, and its taxpayers have mistakenly been burdened with paying a mysterious “silk tax“ that should have been shared among all eight counties under its prefecture, he and his buddy Feng Baoyu (Fei Qimeng) decide to file a formal complaint.

But they encounter bureaucracy and corruption at every turn. At one point, they are even told that they have to pay for paper and ink that the courts have approved of in order to submit the complaint.

Not only is Shuai a refreshingly down-to-earth protagonist, but the obstacles he encounters also highlight the reasons behind Ming’s eventual fall: peasant rebellions and economic crises.

2. Engaging lead

Shuai is easy to root for. He is often described by others in the story as a “nut job“ with an incomparable talent for numbers.

Zhang portrays Shuai as an autistic savant: The character is unable to read social cues, has few friends and is seemingly interested only in numbers.

The actor also imbues his character with a childlike determination. Whenever Shuai is asked why he insists on exposing the taxation mistake – a risky endeavour that has minimal personal benefit to him – he answers: “Since the numbers are wrong, it has to be corrected.“

3. Rich characterisation

Wayne Wang plays a glib-tongued lawyer in the Ming dynasty in Under The Microscope. PHOTO: IQIYI

Everyone in the story, including the villains, brings a different perspective to the “silk tax” case.

There is Cheng Renqing (Wayne Wang), a lawyer who says he is loyal only to whoever pays him. He works for a dangerous, corrupt official and repeatedly thwarts Shuai, but behind his unscrupulous facade lies a tragic backstory of crushed dreams and injustice.

There are also the various county leaders who vehemently oppose Shuai’s plan to split the “silk tax“ among the eight counties. Even they have a legitimate concern: Many of their people may have to starve or live in poverty if taxes are raised further.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.