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China’s Top TV Dramas to Watch This Winter 2017/2018

China’s top television dramas to binge on this winter – by What’s on Weibo.

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From historical dramas to military series – a list of the latest, most-watched television dramas in China shows that Chinese television dramas are not just hot & happening – they are also diverse when it comes to themes and genres.

It has been over 27 years since China’s first television drama aired and caused a national craze. Although China’s media industry has greatly changed through the times, one thing has remained the same: Chinese TV viewers still love watching television dramas – a dominant form of media entertainment. In fact, the Chinese TV drama industry is booming and among the most vibrant in the world, with no signs of slowing down.

As the days are getting colder and darker, it is time to curl up on the couch to do some tv drama (binge) watching. China has seen a myriad of new television dramas this year, with some of the more popular ones airing this winter.

This is a top 10 of most popular new dramas according to Weibo’s charts and the Sohu hot charts at the time of writing. We have added various links on where to watch these series, but they might change overtime – please post relevant links in the comment section below.

Some dramas are only licensed for certain regions. For those who wish to switch between regions on their desktop or mobile, you can use a VPN. Our friends at NordVPN offer excellent services (check out here).

From the Game of Hunting (l) and The Legendary Tycoon.

For weekly updates on the top online ratings of Chinese television series, check out Cdramabase.com, an excellent website run by Alice Craciun providing insights into the world of Chinese drama.

#10. Peacekeeping Infantry Battalion #维和步兵营#

Genre: Military drama
Release date: October 10, 2017 (35 episodes)
Network: Jiangsu TV
Directed by: Ning Haiqiang (宁海强), Yi Xiang (翌翔)

‘Peacekeeping Infantry Battalion’ is a different military drama than the mainstream series within this genre; it is not focused on Sino-Japanese War, but on modern-day conflicts. This drama has received much praise from Chinese experts.

Its airing comes at a time when China’s role in UN peacekeeping is becoming increasingly crucial, not just as a contributor of troops, but also as a financial provider. The drama, attracting large audiences across China, plays an important role in the current shaping of the image of China’s peacekeeping troops.

The drama was co-directed by director Ning Haiqiang, who is also known for multiple military productions such as The Hundred Regiments Offensive (百团大战), and aims to show how Chinese peacekeeping forces are selected, trained, and go abroad. The drama mainly focuses on the tumultuous story of people in the Peacekeeping Infantry Battalion, who are risking their own lives to evacuate citizens from Libya during a dangerous mission. And, of course, it would not be a proper Chinese drama without some romance amidst all the military developments.

To check out the drama (in Chinese) see this YouTube channel.

Starring: Du Chen (杜淳), Jia Qing (贾青), Xu Honghao (徐洪浩), He Da (何达), Liu Runnan (刘润南), Shen Hao (沈浩).

#9. Detective Dee #通天狄仁杰#

Genre: Costume drama, detective
Release date: August 21 2017 (46 episodes)
Network: Beijing TV, Anhui TV
Directed by: Xie Zhaoyi (叶昭仪)

This is a large-scale costume drama that was already produced back in 2014. It focuses on the main character Di Renjie, which is played by actor Ren Jialun, who also starred in the drama Noble Aspirations (青云志).

Drama blog DramaPanda describes Detective Dee as a “Chinese equivalent to Sherlock Holmes” who actually lived during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian (624-705). He’s become a widely fictionalized character.

The drama shows the trials and tribulations of Di Renjie, as he is falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and then discovers he has special talents for solving cases.

Watch it on CCAsian here.

Starring: Ren Jialun (任嘉伦, also known as Allen Ren), Kan Qingzi (阚清子), Jiao Junyan (焦俊艳), Chen Yi (陈奕), Miao Junjie (缪俊杰).

#8. Green Love 青恋

Genre: Romance, family, rural
Release date: October 18, 2017 (26 episodes)
Network: CCTV-1, Zhejiang TV (where it started airing October 31st)
Directed by: Ma Jin (马进)

‘Green Love’ (Qinglian) is the only tv drama in this list that is themed around rural life in China – although it is about urban youth at the same time. It tells the story of the 28-year-old man Lin Shen (starring Guo Jingfei) who returns to his hometown of Yunshe village after establishing his own company in Shanghai.

As described by Cdramabase, he is not the only one turning to this village after building on a career in the big city. Investor Chen Ling (by Che Xiao) wants to escape the busy city and visits Lin Shen’s village, where she learns to appreciate Chinese village life.

Starring: Guo Jingfei (郭京飞), Che Xiao (车晓), Una You (尤靖茹).

#7. The Legendary Tycoon #传奇大亨#

Genre: Period drama
Release date: October 9, 2017
Network: Zhejiang TV, Tencent, iQiYi, Youku
Directed by: Zhuang Xunxin (庄训鑫)

With 110 million views on Weibo #传奇大亨#, this is a popular Chinese drama and a quite original one because it is based on a real-life story.

This drama takes place in Shanghai during the 1930s, when the brothers of the ‘Gu family’ join the movie industry. Gu Yanmei, played by actor Zhang Han, is the youngest brother, who follows his older brother Gu Ruoxia to Singapore to start their own film business there. When war breaks out, the brothers decide to move their film production base to Hong Kong – the start of a tumultuous and flourishing career.

The Legendary Tycoon is based on the story of the Shaw Brothers, of whom the youngest, Run Shaw, passed away in 2014, at the age of 107 (Find a short history of the Shaw Brothers & Chinese cinema here).

See the first episode of this drama here (in Chinese), or through Viki with English subtitles here.

Starring: Zhang Han (张翰), Jia Qing (贾青), Chen Qiao’en (陈乔恩), Song Yi (宋轶) Tan Kai (谭凯), Liu Changde (刘长德) Guo Ziqian (郭子千) Yao Zhuojun (姚卓君) Sun Wei (孙玮).

#6. Xuan Yuan Sword: Legend of the Han Clouds #轩辕剑之汉之云#

Genre: Fantasy, sci-fi, costume
Release date: August 8 2017 (58 episodes)
Network: Dragon TV
Directed by: Pan Wenjie (潘文杰), Jin Sha (金沙)

‘Xuan Yuan Sword: Legend of the Han Clouds’ is set during a fantasy era and revolves around three opposing kingdoms and the heroic accomplishments of the young protagonists. That these kinds of fantasy spectacles are still very popular amongst netizens can be viewed on this drama’s Weibo hashtag page, which had received 2,2 billion views by the time of writing.

The show can be viewed with English subs on Youtube here or through Viki.

Starring: Zhang Yunlong (张云龙), Yu Menglong (于朦胧), Guan Xiaotong (关晓彤), Zhang Jiazhu (张佳宁).

#5. My! Physical Education Teacher #我的!体育老师#

Genre: Romance, comedy
Release date: 11 November 2017 (38 episodes)
Network: Hunan TV
Directed by: Lin Yan (林妍)

The pretty Wang Xiaomi had always dreamed of being treated like a princess by her future husband. The much older Mark (Zhang Jiayi), who is facing a mid-life crisis, is her ideal candidate. But dealing with her new stepdaughter and restless husband is not the pampered life Wang had hoped for.

The drama comically features the generational differences between those born in the post-70s, post-80s, post-90s, and those born after 2000.

The drama can be watched online through CCAsian here.

Starring: Zhang Jiayi (张嘉译), Wang Xiaochen (王晓晨), Wang Weiwei (王维维), Zhang Zijian (张子健), Zhao Jinmai (赵今麦)

#4. Ordinary Person #凡人的品格#

Genre: Urban drama, workplace
Release date: October 28, (45 episodes)
Alternative title: Ordinary Person Character
Network: Jiangsu TV, Zhejiang TV
Directed by: Xu Zongzheng (徐宗政)

This drama’s narrative follows the story of several people who work together at a media company. While war reporter-turned-producer Zhan Dapeng (played by Lin Yongjian) is facing a crisis both in his working and personal life, the pretty industry newbie Chang Ge (Jiang Xin) is an admirer of Zhan. The two encounter many challenges while working on a new program together – they’re both partners and enemies at the same time.

Check it out (in Chinese) on Youtube here.

Starring: Lin Yongjian (林永健), Jiang Xin (蒋欣), Tong Lei (童蕾), Liang Zhenlun (梁振伦), Bai Zhidi (白志迪).

#3. The Endless Love #路从今夜白#

Genre: Romance
Release date: 11 November 2017 (32 episodes)
Alternative title: The Journey from Tonight is White
Network: Hunan TV, Mango TV
Directed by: Gu Yunyun (顾贇贇)

This drama, that is based on a novel by Mo Wu Bi Ge, revolves around the love story of the talented painter Gu Yebai (played by Chen Ruoxuan) and the amiable Lu Youyan (An Yuexi). When Gu is getting ready to prepare for a major art competition, psychological problems are challenging his journey. A new love blossoms when Lu Youyan helps him overcome his problems, but their relationship faces more obstacles as the drama unfolds.

This drama can be watched through Viki.com with subtitles (if it is licensed for your region).

Starring: Chen Ruoxuan (陈若轩), An Yuexi (安悦溪), Wei Miles (魏哲鸣), Luo Yutong (罗玉通), Clinton Kuang (匡牧野).

#2. ER Doctors ##急诊科医生##

Genre: Hospital drama
Release date: October 30, 2017 (43 episodes)
Network: Dragon TV, Beijing TV
Directed by: Zheng Xiaolong (郑晓龙), Liu Xuesong (刘雪松)

The television drama ‘ER Doctors’ (#急诊科医生#) is not just one of the highest-ranking tv dramas this winter, but also one of the most viewed and discussed topics on Weibo.

ER Doctors is a realistic drama that centers around a group of doctors at a hospital’s emergency department.

It tells the story of the ER room head doctor of the emergency department He Jian Yi (Zhang Jiayi) and the new Ph.D. advisor, who just returned from America, Jiang Xiaoqi (by Wang Luodan). At first, these two are wary of each other, but they come to understand each other and rescue not only patients side by side but also themselves in the end (Cdramabase).

According to Shanghai Daily, director Zheng attached great importance to the details in every scene, which is why he visited a Shanghai hospital with the drama’s cast to learn basic ER training.

Starring: Zhang Jiayi (张嘉译), Wang Luodan (王珞丹), Jiang Shan (江珊)

#1. Game of Hunting #猎场#

Genre: Romance, workplace
Release date: November 6, 2017 (52 episodes)
Alternative title: Hunting Ground
Network: Hunan TV, Youku, LeTv and more.
Directed by: Jiang Wei (姜伟) (also screenplay)

The Game of Hunting is the absolute number 1 of this list, currently topping the top lists of most popular dramas on Weibo and Sogu, and receiving a 9.0 rating from viewers.

The drama’s narrative revolves around headhunter Zheng Qiudong (played by Hu Ge) as he struggles to climb up in the financial world – a “hunting ground” full of enemies and immoral characters. When his business falls apart, he has to start anew with the help of this new alliances.

The show is heavily sponsored by One Plus (一加手机), one of China’s most popular domestic smartphone brands.

Game of Hunting can be watched online through multiple channels, including YouTube.

Starring: Hu Ge 胡歌, Chen Long 陈龙, Sun Honglei 孙红雷, Zhang Jiayi 张嘉译, Zu Feng 祖峰.

Want to know more? Also see
Top 5 Chinese TV Dramas of Summer 2017
Top 10 Chinese Television Dramas Early 2017
Top 10 TV dramas in China 2016

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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

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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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Linda Carr

    May 24, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    The Endless love is just a lovely series that I love to watch. In the beginning, I was just thinking that Chinese just rely on K-dramas and their shows are not as good as Koreans but now, I can understand they have a good drama industry. I am also watching some Chinese dramas here ( http://drama3sonline.com/ ).

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China Arts & Entertainment

Living the Dream: Chinese Architect Designs Stunning Six-Story Communal Living Space

This architect from Guangzhou turned her dream of living together with friends in a creative workspace into reality. The building is a hit on Chinese social media.

Gabi Verberg

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While living together with your best friends in one big house might be a dream of many people, this Chinese architect turned the idea into reality by transforming an old factory into a modern museum-like work- and living space. Through her work, the architect aims to change views on China’s urban living spaces.

Guangzhou architect “Michelle” (米歇尔 or Mi Xiao 米笑) and most of her friends work in creative industries. A few years ago, they found that their work and lifestyle required a more flexible and multi-purpose living space; a place where they could live and work together as a small community while also showcasing what they do.

In 2012, the six friends found a workshop in an old abandoned sugar factory, built in the 1950s, located in Guangzhou’s Panyu district. More than five years later, they had succeeded in transforming it into a modern six-story work- and living space.

news story and a video of the building are now attracting major attention on Chinese social media. On Weibo, the hashtag “Six Friends Transform a Building” (#6个好友改造一栋楼#) has been viewed more than 250 million times.

The communal living space, that has been named Boundless Community (无界社区), covers about 1500 square meter and has six completely separate rooms. Originally, the building was made up of only three stories, each with a ceiling height of six to nine meters high.

With the reconstruction of the building, the architect reportedly “wanted to break with the traditional urban types of dwellings,” where many people live behind locked doors in small spaces. Michelle intended to design the space as a small “village,” where people share their living space.

At the same time, the space also allows people to be creative and share their work with the outside world. All of these ideas resulted in a transparent “museum building.”

The building itself is almost like a museum by allowing people from outside to look into the various studios.

The popular architect is not the only one who is in favor of sharing a living space with her friends. A recent poll on Weibo shows that more than 90% of respondents would also like to live together with their friends; only 10% of the people prefer privacy over a communal living space with good friends.

 

“This is my dream!”, many commenters say, with others calling it “simply magical.”

To read more about changing attitudes on home and living in China, also check out this article by What’s on Weibo. 

By Gabi Verberg

Images via https://sjz.news.fang.com/open/31234746.html.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Marketing & Advertising

When Ad Breaks Get Weird: Branded Content in Chinese TV Dramas Is Ruining It For the Viewers

China’s ubiquitous inserted ad marketing is alienating viewers from their favorite TV drama characters.

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Ad breaks can be annoying, but when it’s the main character of your favorite historical drama promoting the latest smartphone, it can actually ruin the viewer experience. In recent online discussions, China’s ubiquitous ‘Inserted Ad Marketing’ (中插广告), that goes beyond product placement, is being attacked by netizens and media.

A 2017 Ad Age article on the high levels of branded content in China’s online TV argues that Chinese viewers generally do not mind embedded marketing. They have allegedly become so used to to all kinds of branded distractions in TV shows, dramas, and films, that it is just “another part of the entertainment” (Doland 2017). But recent discussions on Chinese social media signal that the general sentiments regarding inserted sponsored content are changing.

On January 6, Chinese author Ma Boyong (@马伯庸, 4.5 million followers) posted an article on Weibo in which he criticized the phenomenon of inserted ad content in Chinese television series, saying the marketing style often does not suit the characters and is making the actors less credible.

Although Ma does not oppose to embedded marketing per se, he argues it hurts the credibility of TV dramas and the viewer’s experience when it does not blend in with the style of the TV drama and its characters.

One of the TV dramas where the sponsored segments ‘hurt’ the show, according to Ma, is Mystery of Antiques (古董局中局, 2018) that is based on one of the author’s novels. The actor Qiao Zhenyu (乔振宇), who plays the leading role, allegedly “looks like a fool” because of the inserted ad.

The type of advertising, that is central to this recent discussion, goes beyond product placement; it is the type of ad that appears inside (online) TV shows in which the actors, in character, straightforwardly promote a certain brand and product, sometimes in a scene dialogue (‘storyline ads’), but also often while looking directly into the camera (see example here or here, Chinese term: zhōngchā guǎnggào 中插广告).

The hashtag ‘Ma Boyong Roasts Inserted Ad Marketing’ (#马伯庸吐槽中插广告#) had received more than 50 million views on Weibo by Sunday night, with the overall majority of people supporting the author’s stance.

“Finally someone says this,” one commenter said: “When it just started out, it was new, and I could endure it, but now it just really annoys me.” “It is really disruptive,” others agree.

 

A New Kind of Money-Making Machine

 

China’s history of TV advertisement is not a long one; it wasn’t until 1979 that China’s first TV commercial was aired. Since then, the industry has blossomed, and branded content has become ubiquitous; the first TV drama incorporating product placement was broadcasted in 1991 (Li 2016).

Product placement is known as a powerful marketing tool since it is inescapable, has a long shelf life, is inexpensive, and unobtrusive (Huan et al 2013, 508). But as China’s product placement has been turning into ‘branded entertainment’ within the settings of the show, it is losing its ‘unobtrusiveness.’

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time this type of advertising receives criticism. In 2017, various Chinese media, such as People’s Daily, noted the rise of inserted product ads, stating that TV dramas were “shooting themselves in the foot” with these ad campaigns.

China’s popular ‘inserted ad breaks’ remind of the weird and obvious product placement mocked in The Truman Show (1998).

When the protagonist of a dynastic costume drama suddenly promotes a new smartphone app during an inserted ad break, he falls out of character, and the entire drama loses credibility. Do you remember those weird ad breaks in the famous American movie The Truman Show? Even Truman did not fall for that!

Cartoon by People’s Daily

In China, this particular type of advertising can be traced back to the 2006 TV drama My Own Swordsman (武林外传), in which the characters suddenly turn to the camera in promoting a “White Camel Mountain” medicinal powder (watch the famous segment here).

Although that scene was for entertainment purposes only (the product was non-existent), it became reality in 2013, when the TV series Longmen Express (龙门镖局) first started using this kind of ‘creative’ advertising. Many online dramas then followed and started to use these inserted ads, especially since 2015 (Beijing Daily 2017). The promoted products are often new apps or money lending sites.

In the beginning, many people appreciated the novel way of advertising, and as the online video industry rose, so did the price of such advertisements. In a timeframe of roughly two years, their price became ten times higher. These type of ‘ad breaks’ have become an important and relatively easy money-making machine for drama productions (Beijing Daily 2017). In 2016 alone, Chinese TV drama productions made 800 million rmb (±116 million USD) through this marketing method – a figure that has been on the rise ever since.

 

The V-Effect: From Vips to Verfremdung

 

In China’s flourishing online streaming environment, one of the problems with inserted ad campaigns is that even ‘VIP members’ of popular video sites such as iQiyi cannot escape them, nor ‘skip’ them, even though they pay monthly fees to opt out of commercials (similar to YouTube Premium).

“The reason I signed up for a VIP membership is to avoid ads, and now we get this,” many annoyed netizens comment on Weibo.

Although that is one point that many people are dissatisfied with, the biggest complaint on social media regarding the inserted ad phenomenon is that it breaks down audience engagement in the show they are watching, and alienates them from the character, which is also known as verfremdungseffekt, distancing effect, or simply the ‘V-effect,’  a performing arts concept coined by German playwright Bertolt Brecht in the 1930s.

The “direct adress” of Frank Underwood in House of Cards is one of the reasons the show became such a hit.

The Brechtian “direct address” technique, one of the characteristics that made the American TV series House of Cards so successful, is employed to “break the fourth wall” – the imaginary wall between the actors and audience  – and serves a clear purpose: it makes viewers less emotionally attached to the characters and the narrative, it makes them more conscious and less likely to ‘lose themselves’ in the show they are watching, and is meant to provoke a social-critical audience response.

But this is exactly the faux pas China’s ubiquitous ‘creative inserted ads’ make in letting popular TV drama characters promote a new app or soda; it is not meant to provoke a social-critical response, it is meant to advertise a product. But by alienating audiences from the show for a commercial and non-meaningful purpose, they actually reach the opposite effect of what their marketing objective is. Audiences become annoyed, less engaged, and ‘exit the show’ (in Chinese, the term ‘出戏’ [disengage from the performance] is used).

“These kind of ads make the entire drama seem so low,” a typical comment on Weibo says. “What can we do? As long as people pay for it, they’ll do it,” others say.

Despite the recent attack on China’s ‘branded entertainment,’ there is no sign of a change in these marketing techniques. Perhaps, if critique persist, this might change in the future. For now, disgruntled viewers turn to social media to vent their frustrations: “These ads completely make me lose interest in the story, they need to be criticized. I’m happy someone stood up to say it.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Beijing Daily (北京日报). 2017. “创意中插广告泛滥,唯独缺了创意” [The Overflow of Creative Inserted Ads, Only They’re Lacking Creativity] (in Chinese). Beijing Daily, Oct 18. Available online http://bjrb.bjd.com.cn/html/2017-10/18/content_183998.htm [Jan 6th 2019].

Doland, Angela. 2017. “China’s online TV pushes product placement to crazy levels. Even crazier: Viewers don’t mind.” Ad Age, May 16. Vol.88(10), p.0030.

Huan Chen , En-Ying Lin , Fang Liu & Tingting Dai. 2013. “‘See Me or Not, I Am There’: Chinese White-Collar Moviegoers’ Interpretation of Product Placements in Chinese Commercial Movies.” Journal of Promotion Management, 19:5, 507-533.

Li, Hongmei. 2016. Advertising and Consumer Culture in China. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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