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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 5 Chinese TV Dramas Summer 2017

Not a day goes by without television dramas becoming a trending topic on Chinese social media. Some Chinese hit TV drama’s took over 17 years of preparation, others have over a billion views – this is an overview of the five dramas that are trending this summer.

Manya Koetse

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Not a day goes by without television dramas becoming a trending topic on Chinese social media. Some Chinese hit TV drama’s took over 17 years of preparation, others have over a billion views. This is an overview of the five dramas that are trending this summer by What’s on Weibo.

The popularity of Chinese television dramas continues to grow – not just within China, but also internationally.

Xinhua News recently featured a story about Vietnamese youth getting hooked on dramas from the PRC. But many people from other countries outside of China are also getting more addicted to Chinese television dramas. On various online video platforms, such as Viki.com, thousands of drama fans volunteer to subtitle dramas to make them accessible to people who don’t understand the language.

A continuing trend over the last decade is the huge popularity of Chinese costume dramas. What is noticeable is that TV dramas relating to the Sino-Japanese war, previously one of the most popular historical genres, now seem to have become less popular.

Based on the popularity charts on Weibo, Sohu TV, and Baidu, these are the five hottest Chinese TV drama this summer.

 

#1. Princess Agents 楚乔传

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Historical drama, romance, action
Broadcast start: 27 December 2016, Hunan TV
Episodes: 58
Starring: Zhao Liying aka Zanilia Zhao 赵丽颖/ Lin Genxin aka Kenny Lin 林更新 / Dou Xiao aka Shawn Dou 窦骁 / Li Qin 李沁 / Wang Yanlin 王彦霖 / Niu Junfeng 牛骏峰

The recent popularity of Princess Agents in China is enormous. Not only is the series constantly in the top trending lists on Sina Weibo, it also received over 2 billion views on Youku alone this month.

Princess Agents (楚乔传 Chu Qiao Chuan) is adapted from a novel written by Xiao Xiang Donger (潇湘冬儿). The story takes place during the time of the Western Wei (535-557), a period of chaos, where ordinary citizens are kidnapped and turned into slaves.

One of these slaves is the young and rebellious girl Chu Qiao, played by the pretty Zanilia Zhao. The story starts with Chu Qiao, suffering from amnesia, finding herself in a group of young female slaves who are used for entertainment for the rich lords. Dropped on a field exposed to a group of wolves, they become hunting targets in a rich man’s game.

After a bloody battlefield, in which she puts up a fight against wolves and arrows, the fierce Chu Qiao is the only one to survive. She is brought into the powerful family of Yu Wenyue (Lin Gengxin) as a maid. Her sister already serves in this household, and Chu vows to rescue her sister and flee from the situation.

The story follows Chu throughout her brave journey to keep herself and the people she loves safe from harm, and to destroy the injustice that is taking place in the world around her. She will do anything to reach her goals – even if it means becoming a spy.

Princess Agents has everything fans of Chinese dramas usually like; it is a story full of love, action, and conspiracies, in a historical setting with lush costumes and a lavish set, along with plenty of special effects that make the scenes more spectacular.

On Weibo, the topic of Princess Agents has received over 4.8 billion views. Many netizens praise Zanilia Zhao for her acting skills, and the fact that a fierce woman has the main role in this drama is something that many drama lovers seem to appreciate.

Available for viewing on YouTube with English Subtitles.

 

#2. Midnight Diner 深夜食堂

Drama Origin: Mainland China, previously also released in Japan and South-Korea.
Genre: Human drama, comedy, food
Broadcast start: 12 June 2017 (network Beijing TV, Zhejiang TV)
Episodes: 40
Starring: Huang Lei 黄磊 / Zhao Youting aka Mark Chao 赵又廷 / Hai Qing 海清

Midnight Diner previously came out as a Japanese TV drama in 2009 (Shinya Shokudo), and later was remade in South-Korea. Now it is time for China’s adaptation of the drama, which revolves around the happenings at a special restaurant that is only open in between midnight and 7am. The restaurant owner, played by famous actor Huang Lei, does not like to talk much – but he does love to cook while his customers share their personal stories.

The series is a popular topic on Sina Weibo, where netizens have heated debates about it. They compare the drama to the previous adaptations, and share their own restaurant stories and recipes from the Midnight Diner kitchen.

Despite its popularity, the drama is also receiving a lot of criticism for its “exaggerated acting” and “awkward lines.” Many fans say that the restaurant owner in the Chinese version is making weird food choices and they also complain that the show is not ‘Chinese’ enough.

 

#3. Rush to the Dead Summer 夏至未至

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Romance, Youth drama
Broadcast start: 11 June 2017
Episodes: 46
Starring: Chen Xuedong aka Cheney Chen 陈学冬 / Zheng Shuang 郑爽 / Bai Jingting 白敬亭 / Xia Zitong 夏梓桐 / Chai Biyun 柴碧云 / Pang Hangchen 庞瀚辰 / Wang Yuwen 王玉雯 / Chao Zhang 张超 / Zhengge Huizi 郑合惠子

Rush to the Dead Summer (夏至未至) is a TV drama based on the novel by Guo Jingming (郭敬明) that follows a group friends during a time span of ten years as they go from their highschool life and each start their own life in society.

Many fans have been waiting a long time for this TV drama to come out, as its airing was already announced in the summer of 2016. By now, its official Weibo account has well over 1.6 million followers.

The theme song of the TV drama (video above) is also very popular. The song, titled “First Memory” (最初的记忆) is by Taiwanese singer Lala Hsu.

 

#4. White Deer Plain 白鹿原

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Contemporary historical drama
Broadcast start: May 10 2017, Anhui TV, Zhejiang TV
Episodes: 85
Starring: Zhang Jiayi, He Bing, Qin Hailu, Liu Peiqi, Li Hongtao, and more.

The preparation and production of White Deer Plain was certainly not rushed; it reportedly took 17 years before this TV drama finally went on air. The drama plot is based on the award-winning Chinese literary classic by Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实) of the same name from 1993.

This work’s success in China has previously been compared to that of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. White Deer Plain was previously also turned into a movie (2011).

The historic epic follows the stories of people from several generations living on the ‘White Deer Plain,’ or North China Plain in Shanxi province, during the first half of the 20th century. This tumultuous period sees the Republican Period, the Japanese invasion, and the early days of the People’s Republic of China.

The drama has received an 8.9 star review from netizens on Douban.

 

#5. The Legend of Dragon Pearl 龙珠传奇

Drama origin: Mainland China
Genre: Costume, romance, idol drama
Broadcast start: 5 May 2017, Anhui TV
Episodes: 90
Starring: Yang Zi aka Andy Yang 杨紫/ Qin Junjie 秦俊杰/Shu Chang aka Jennifer Shu 舒畅

The Legend of Dragon Pearl (龙珠传奇) is the second palace drama in this top 5, which shows that the genre of traditional drama, particularly costume drama, is still very popular – arguably even more popular than before.

This Chinese television drama tells the story of the unlikely romance between the Princess Zhu Yihuan (Yang Zi), a martial arts talent and the last princess of the Ming dynasty, and Emperor Kangxi (Qin Junjie), who is the young emperor of the Qing dynasty. Their love story is not without hurdles, because the Kangxi court is actually hated by Zhu’s family as the Ming dynasty, by the Han people, was overthrown by the Manchurians who established the Qing Dynasty.

This love story gets even sweeter when you know that main players Andy Yang (Yang Zi) and Qin Junjie are also a couple in real life.

On Youku, the drama has received a total of over 2.2 billion views by now. Many fans on Weibo share their favorite scenes and share their drawings and other art works based on this successful drama.

By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Society

The Concept of ‘Involution’ (Nèijuǎn) on Chinese Social Media

Nèijuǎn (involution) has become a commonly used term on Chinese social media, but what is it?

Manya Koetse

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Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited an ongoing debate about the problem of ‘involution’ in Chinese society today.

A scene from the Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited online discussions on the concept of nèijuǎn 内卷, “involution,” which was also a top buzzword in China in 2020.

A Love for Dilemma is a 2021 TV drama directed by Zhang Xiaobo (张晓波), who also worked on other hit series including Nothing But Thirty. This season’s popular TV drama A Love for Dilemma is themed around family, parenting, and China’s competitive education system.

In the series, two stepsisters compete against each other over the school results of their children. The family’s ‘grandpa’, played by famous actor Zhang Guoli (张国立), tries to create harmony around the dinner table between his daughter and stepdaughter, but the rivalry between the two and how they raise their children intensifies nevertheless.

Scene from A Love for Dilemma.

While stepsister Tian Yulan urges her little son to work hard in school and focus on his grades so that he can go to the best high school and university, sister Nan Li places more emphasis on the general development of her children and wants them to enjoy their childhood. Both mothers, however, question their own choices when facing challenges with how their children perform at school.

The specific scene that has ignited current discussions is a dialogue between the husbands of the sisters, who sit outside to talk about the education system and how it sometimes feels like everyone is in a theatre watching a show together until one person stands up from their seat. This makes it necessary for other members of the audience to also stand up, until everybody is standing.

The dialogue continues, with the two talking about how it does not stop at the people standing up. Because then there are those who will take it a step further and will stand on their seats to rise above the others. And then there are even those who will grab a ladder to stand higher than the rest. But they are still watching the same show and their situation has actually not changed at all – except for the fact that everybody is now more uncomfortable than they were before.

Many netizens found it striking how this dialogue explains how the term ‘involution’ is used in China nowadays. After the show aired, the hashtag “How to commonly explain involution” (#如何通俗解释内卷#) became a trending topic in the week of April 19, receiving 260 million views in a few days.

 
What Is ‘Involution’?
 

As explained by Jialing Xie in this top buzzword article on What’s on Weibo, involution describes the economic situation in which as the population grows, per capita wealth decreases. Since recently, this word has come to be used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings in China where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking.

The term ‘involution’ and how it is used today comes from a work by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz titled Agricultural Involution – The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963). In this work, Geertz explores the agricultural dynamics in Indonesia during the colonial period’s Cultivation System, where a radical economic dualism existed within the country: a foreign, Dutch economy and a native, Indonesian economy (p. 61-62).

Geertz describes how the Javanese faced a deepening demographic dilemma as they saw a rapidly growing population but a static economy, while the Dutch, who organized Javanese land and labor, were only growing in wealth (69-70). Agricultural involution is the “ultimately self-defeating process” that emerged in Indonesia when the ever-growing population was absorbed in high labor-intensive wet-rice cultivation without any changing patterns and without any progress (80-81).

When Geertz used the term ‘involution’ to describe the dynamics in Indonesia, he built on the work of another American anthropologist, namely Alexander Goldenweiser, who also used the term to describe “those culture patterns which, after having reached what would seem to be a definitive form, nonetheless fail either to stabilize or transform themselves into a new pattern but rather continue to develop by becoming internally more complicated” (Geertz 1963, 81).

 
The Involution Concept in the Chinese Context
 

The popular use of the Chinese translation of ‘involution’, nèijuǎn 内卷, started to receive attention in Chinese media in 2020. It is deviating from the original use of the term and is meant to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class.

As suggested in the article “‘Involution’: The Anxieties of Our Time Summed Up in One Word” by Zhou Minxi (CGTN), the popularity of the term comes from “a prevalent sense of being stuck in an ever so draining rat race where everyone loses.”

China’s ever-growing middle class is now facing the question of how they and their children can remain in the middle class in a situation where everyone is continuously working harder and doing all they can to rise above the rest. Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University, is quoted by Zhou:

The lower class still hopes to change their fate, but the middle and upper classes aren’t so much looking upward, and they are marked by a deep fear of falling downward. Their greater fear is perhaps losing what they already have.”

The term ‘involution’ often comes up together with criticism on China’s ‘996’ work system (working from 9am-9pm, 6 days a week). Although Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 12-hour working day a “blessing,” the system is a controversial topic, with many condemning how Chinese (tech) companies are exploiting their employees, who are caught in a conundrum; they might lose their sanity working such long hours, and might lose their job and future career prospects if they refuse to do so.

But the term also comes up when discussing China’s education system, where competition starts as early as kindergarten and the pressure on children to succeed in the ‘gaokao’ college entrance exam starts many years before it takes place.

This image shows the “juan” 卷 character from ‘nei juan’ (involution) changing into a person on their bike with laptop. Image via http://www.bajieyou.com/new/431e6ef39aac4a6da232671122f66ff4

This discussion also came up with a now-famous image of a student riding his bike while also working on his laptop, using every moment to study. This was then also called “Tsinghua Inversion” (清华内卷), referring to one of China’s top universities, where competition is so vicious that students must double their efforts to catch up with others.

 
‘Involution’ Discussions on Chinese Social Media
 

By mid-2020, ‘involution’ attracted the attention on Weibo when popular academic accounts started discussing the term. Recently, ‘involution’ is used so often on Chinese social media that it has already gone beyond its original context, leading to many people discussing its meaning.

“We are forced to work overtime and are unable to resist, and yet it seems that everyone is doing it out of free will,” one Weibo user says, with another person adding: “The abnormal state of inversion has already become our normal state.”

A popular legal blogger (@皇城根下刀笔吏) on Weibo writes:

It is an internal bottomless vicious cycle of competition. For example, everyone used to work eight hours per day, five days per week. Then one company comes up where people work twelve hours per day, six days per week. Then this company will have major competitive strength in the market economy. But the outcome is that other companies are also compelled to do the same in order to compete. As time goes by, all companies will shift to a twelve-hour workday, six days a week, and job applicants entering the market can’t find any eight-hour workday positions for five days a week anymore. So, if another company wants to beat its competitors, it will have to introduce a seven-day workweek. And then other companies will need to follow in order to make a living. That is involution.”

By now, there are various images and memes that have come to represent the meaning of ‘involution’ in present-day China, such as one cram school sign saying: “If you come we will train your kids, if you don’t come, we will train the competitors of your kids.”

“The society’s resources are in short supply and to obtain the limited supplies, people are all madly practicing their skills to obtain them – regardless if they need them or not,” another Weibo user says.

Most comments relating to the discussion of ‘involution’ on Chinese social media express a sense of fatigue with an ongoing rat-race in the education and employment market.

On the interest-based social networking platform Douban, there are even some support groups for people who feel stuck in ‘involution’ and are looking for a way out. The “Center for Victims of Involution” (内卷受害者收容中心) group has over 3000 members, with smaller groups such as “Let’s Escape Involution Together” (我们一起逃离内卷) having a few dozen participants.

The generation that is mostly affected by this sense of socioeconomic stagnation is the post-90 generation. In 2020, a record high of 8.74 million university graduates entered the job market, but their chances of finding a job that suits their education and personal expectations are slim; many industries are recruiting fewer people than before in an employment market that was already competitive before the COVID19 pandemic. It leaves them facing a troubling Catch 22 situation: they will be stressed and pressured if they do not find that top job, but when they do, they are often also stressed and pressured.

It is a recurring topic on social media. Five years ago, a song by the Rainbow Chamber Singers (彩虹室内合唱团) titled “The Sofa Is So Far” immediately became a hit in China. Many young Chinese recognized themselves in the hardworking and tired people described in the lyrics, which started with: “My body feels empty / I am dog-tired / I don’t want work overtime.”

How to get away from the involution rat race is also a much-discussed topic on Weibo, where the hashtag page “How can young people resist involution” (#年轻人如何反内卷#) has received over 280 million views.

Some suggest the answer to ending the vicious cycle is to find a way to get rich fast, others suggest that not getting married and staying child-free is also a way to alleviate the pressure to participate in this zero-sum game.

Tech blogger Sensai (@森赛), who has over 2 million followers on Weibo, advises young people to find their true interest and to invest in it before the age of 30. Doing something that sparks joy, such as learning a new language or working on art, might start as a hobby but could turn into a valuable side business later, Sensai says.

For some, however, that goal seems unattainable. “I am already working 15 hours a day, how could I ever do that?!”

“This is just bringing us into a whole other level of involution,” others write.

In order to watch A Love for Dilemma (小舍得), the show that started so many of these discussions this month, you can go over to iQiyi or YouTube.

By Manya Koetse

References

Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Zhou Minxi. 2020. “‘Involution’: The anxieties of our time summed up in one word.” CGTN, Dec 4 https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-04/-Involution-The-anxieties-of-our-time-summed-up-in-one-word-VWNlDOVdjW/index.html [20.4.2021].

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Movie “Sister” Stirs Discussions on Traditional Family Values in China

The movie ‘Sister’ has sparked online discussions on whether or not personal values should be prioritized over traditional family values.

Manya Koetse

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Mainlaind Chinese drama My Sister (我的姐姐, also known as ‘Sister‘) was just released in theatres and is sparking online discussions on family relations and the role of women in China.

After the hit movie Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) received praise earlier this year for focusing on the role of mothers within Chinese families, this film zooms in on the role of older sisters.

My Sister, directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), revolves around the story of An Ran, an 18-year-old daughter who is unexpectedly facing the major responsibility for her 6-year-old brother after the tragic loss of their parents. While trying to find her own path in life, she suddenly has to step into the role of caregiver for her younger sibling. But does she want to take on this role?

Actress Zhang Zifeng (张子枫) is playing the main lead in this movie, which touches upon the issue of dealing with traditional family values and personal dreams and ambitions. Sister reveals the difficulties women face within the traditional Chinese-style family structure and the sacrifices they make for their parents, their children, siblings, and their husbands; and how the roles and tasks that are expected of them also clash with their own ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

For An Ran, the relationship with her little brother is troublesome. As a young girl, she had to pretend to be disabled in order to allow her parents to have a second child, preferably a son (under the One Child Policy, families with children with disabilities were allowed to have more children). Now, as a young adult, she once again has to sacrifice her own individual freedom in order to let her brother thrive.

The renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) dedicated a lengthy post to the movie on her Weibo account, where she called the film “fascinating” and “thought-provoking.”

Li suggests that multiple social issues play a role in this film. First, there is the conflict between individual-oriented values and traditional family-oriented ethics. While traditional Chinese ideas about family require An Ran to put her brother first and move personal self-fulfillment to the backseat, An Ran is a young woman who grew up in a rapidly modernizing China where women are more empowered and independent. Why should she sacrifice her personal education and career in order to devote herself to raising her brother?

Another social topic that plays a major role in this film is the deep-seated cultural preference for sons over daughters. An Ran literally had to make herself weaker in order for her brother to be brought into this world – and in doing so limiting the possibilities for her future career, – with these patriarchal practices prioritizing the thriving of sons over the happiness of daughters. An Ran’s anger and resistance show that traditional ideas about male superiority clash with modern-day Chinese society, where profound changes within gender relations are already taking place.

“Sisters do not dislike their little brothers,” one Weibo commenter wrote: “What they dislike is the hidden meaning behind their brother.”

Another female blogger responded: “Within my family, from my grandpa’s generation up to myself, it is actually the women who discriminate against women. I think these are deeply rooted ideas that can’t be changed. Look at my second elder aunt; she had seven children, all girls, and only four were left. The others were given away. However, my grandfather has always been good to me, and has never made me feel any less than the boys. Yet my grandma and my mother sometimes make me doubt about my life.”

Under the hashtag “How to Evaluate the Movie My Sister” (#如何评价电影我的姐姐#), which attracted 150 million views on Weibo, many ask the question of what they would do if they were An Ran. Would you take care of your little brother? Or would you leave his care up to other family members and choose your own path in life?

“If it were me, I’d raise my brother. Although it’s actually the parents’ problem, the little brother is innocent.”

“If it were me, I wouldn’t raise him,” another commenter writes: “Although the little brother is innocent, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my life for him. And it might be a better choice to leave him with other family members than with me.”

These discussions also triggered the hashtag “Should Personal Values Be More Important Than Family Values?” (#个人价值必须高于家庭价值吗#). One top commenter raised the issue of ‘what if this was about a little sister instead of about a little brother,’ again provoking the idea that existing gender roles and the preference over sons play a major part in these discussions.

“These traditions no longer suit this era of a developing society. Let me ask you this question: would the little brother also take care of his sister once she grows old?”

“Personal values should always have priority. If you are not happy yourself, how could you ever take care of your family?”

“I have the perception that the family-oriented concept is deep-rooted. Although there consistently are new values and personal-oriented viewpoints, when it comes to real problems, most people will still be family-oriented.”

One commenter wrote: “What are ‘values’? What is the family in modern-day society? What does it mean to prioritize something? If we don’t first clarify this, the discussion becomes meaningless.”

Meanwhile, all the online discussions on Sister have boosted the film. By now, the movie has already become a box office hit and defeated the American Godzilla vs. Kong.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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