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Chinese TV Drama ‘The Imperial Doctress’ Brings 15th Century Female Doctor Tan Yunxian Back to Life

Top TV drama ‘The Imperial Doctress’ (明代女医师) brings the most famous female doctor of the Ming Dynasty to the TV screen. Tan Yunxian (谈允贤), who lived from 1461-1554, has become a recurring topic on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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Top TV drama ‘The Imperial Doctress’ (明代女医师) brings the most famous female doctor of the Ming Dynasty to the TV screen. Tan Yunxian (谈允贤), who lived from 1461-1554, has become a recurring topic on Chinese social media.

T an Yunxian (谈允贤) was a female physician during the Ming Dynasty in China, a time when Confucian ethics played a crucial role in everyday life and women had a low status in society.

‘The Imperial Doctress’ (明代女医师), also known as ‘Ming Medicine Woman’, is a costume drama produced in mainland China in 2015 and aired daily since February 13th 2016 on Dragon TV (东方卫视) (19:30, 50 episodes total). The drama is directed by Li Guoli, Zheng Weiwen and Lu Zeliang (李国立、郑伟文、卢泽良).

The costume drama tells the story of the Tans, a family that has the doctor profession in its bloodline – even its past ancestors were imperial doctors. But when the family is set up by a grudgeful enemy, the royal court no longer allows them to practice medicine. Young daughter Tan Yunxian, played by Liu Shi Shi (刘诗诗, a.k.a. Cecelia Liu) secretly learns the art of medicine from her grandmother and helps to cure plagues and illnesses among the common people. The drama follows her as she grows up and struggles with her pursuit to become the doctor she wants to be. Emperor Zhu Qi Zhen (actor Wallace Huo) comes to play an important role in fulfilling her destiny (Viki 2016).

Tan Yunxian lived from 1461-1554. Her great-grandfather was a physician, as was her grandmother and grandfather, who passed their knowledge on to her. Tan Yunxian was a wife and a mother of four children, and combined these roles with learning to be a doctor. She started practicing medicine by treating her own children, and checking her diagnoses with her grandmother. She later on treated others, only women, for different illnesses (Ebrey 2009, 231).

Tan Yunxian became the first known female doctor in China to write about her work. Her writings have recently been translated by Lorraine Wilcox and Yue Lu in Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor (2015 – Amazon link). The book consists of one volume with 31 different cases.

As explained in the book’s synopsis about Tan Yunxian: “Tan Yunxian primarily treated women in her practice, and these records reflect insights into the pathology of female patients that male practitioners might not have been privy to. At this time, a wealthy woman could not see a male doctor without having a male relative such as her father, husband, or son present. Modesty was the utmost female virtue. The male doctor questioned the husband, not the woman herself. He might not be allowed to see her face. He needed to ask for permission to feel her pulse. Therefore, because Tan was a woman, she was allowed by her female patients to do things that a male doctor could not, and this intimacy in turn led to a better diagnosis of the patient’s problems.”

Tan Yunxian lived to be 93 years old.

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The TV series about Tan has already become a great success; it is currently one of most popular TV dramas in China according to Baidu charts. On Sina Weibo, netizens seem mostly very positive about the show. Under the hashtag of ‘Imperial Doctress’ (#女医明妃传#), fans share their love for the series with hearts and smiling emoticons.

In a world were female doctors were extremely rare, and women had a low status and were not expected to go out and be ambitious, Tan Yunxian could definitely, as the World of Chinese says, be described as a “Badass Lady of Chinese History”.

– By Manya Koetse

References
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. 2009. “East Asia: A Cultural, Social, and Political History, Volume II: From 1600.” Boston & NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

©2016 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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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Robert

    August 8, 2016 at 5:50 am

    It was a great movie if it had more real life parts in it. like she had 4 kids,but movie show’s 1 but died. Not enough of history here. doesn’t go with the real life of the history when u read up on it. Some women not shown their names. the Abbess not sure her name. So much missing here. writer made a love story more than on the real people.

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    M.E. Perez

    August 20, 2016 at 5:03 am

    I just started watching tv drama in Chinese The Female Imperial Doctor; very interesting but I don’t speak Chinese and I would like to know if the movie is available in English so I can rent it; it seems like a beautiful history

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Chinese TV Dramas

No ‘Novoland’: This Really Is a Tough Year for Chinese Costume Dramas

After the sudden cancellation of the much-anticipated ‘Novoland’ premiere, Chinese fantasy costume dramas are facing grim prospects.

Manya Koetse

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With 1,4 billion views on its Weibo page, the Chinese fantasy drama Novoland: Eagle Flag was one of the most-anticipated series of the year. This week, the show was suddenly canceled twenty minutes ahead of its premiere. The incident is indicative of recent tensions within China’s TV drama industry, where some costume dramas have apparently failed to win the support of official regulators.

Just a week ago, What’s on Weibo reported about the Chinese fantasy drama Novoland: Eagle Flag (九州缥缈录, Jiǔzhōu piāomiǎo lù) being one of the most anticipated TV dramas in China this summer. On June 3rd at 21:40 CST, however, just twenty minutes before the drama’s much-awaited premiere on Tencent, Youku, and Zhejiang TV, the show was suddenly canceled.

Novoland: Eagle Flag, which has been called China’s answer to Game of Thrones, is a costume drama that tells a story of war, conspiracy, love, and corruption in a fantasy universe called Novoland. It is based on a popular web fantasy novel series by Jiang Nan (江南), and produced by Linmon Pictures. Production costs reportedly were as high as RMB 500 million ($72 million).

Why was the show’s premiere suddenly canceled? The only reason given for it on June 3rd was that there was a ‘medium problem’ (“介质原因”).

China’s English-language state tabloid Global Times reported on June 4th that their official sources also did not know the reason for the withdrawal, although they did admit to having received an order from “higher level,” which would come from China’s National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA,国家广播电视总局).

In March of 2018, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television (SAPPRFT), the former top regulatory body overseeing television productions, was officially abolished and replaced by three different state administrations in the ideological sector.

The NRTA is responsible for media control on radio and TV, and falls directly under the State Council. It is led by Nie Chenxi (聂辰席), who is also the deputy director of the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China. This appears indicative that the Party now has more direct influence over this industry, as also recently suggested by Global Policy Watch, SupChina, and Variety. Under the NRTA, the regulation and censorship of Chinese TV dramas are as strict, and arguably stricter, than under the SAPPRFT.

 

Costume dramas: not enough “spiritual guidance”?

 

The strict control of the NRTA over China’s TV industry is especially visible this year. As reported by CCTV News, China’s regulatory body started to severely crack down on the rising popularity of Chinese costume dramas (古装剧) in March of 2019.

Regulatory rules were supposedly issued for costume dramas with ‘themes’ (题材) such as martial arts, fantasy, history, mythology, or palace, stating that they should not air or were to be taken down from online video homepages. The strictest crackdown would allegedly last until July.

From early on in 2019, it was already rumored that Chinese costume dramas would face a tough year.

On January 28 of 2019, Beijing Daily, the official newspaper of the CPC Beijing Municipal Committee, published a critical post on its social media account listing negative influences of court-themed TV dramas (宫廷剧).

The critique included arguments such as that the imperial lifestyle was being hyped in these dramas, that the social situation of the dynastic era was being negatively dramatized, and that these productions are just aimed at commercial interests while weakening China’s “positive spiritual guidance.”

In February of this year, two weeks after the Beijing News post, Eduardo Baptista at CNN.com reported on the abrupt cancelation of the planned rebroadcasting of two costume dramas that were also targeted by Beijing News, namely the super TV drama hit Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略) and period drama Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿传).

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace

Other costume dramas such as iQiyi’s The Legend of White Snake (新白娘子传奇) or The Longest Day in Chang’an (长安十二时辰) were also withdrawn (or postponed) in March. Investiture of the Gods (封神) was replaced by another drama on Hunan TV this month.

“Historical dramas in many cases twisted the narrative of the country’s past and the image of historical figures,” TV critic Shi Wenxue was quoted by Global Times recently: “[they are] having an adverse effect on teenagers who may regard such fictional stories as real history.”

 

A state and marketplace collusion

 

With China being the world’s largest consumer of TV dramas in the world, the drama industry is a powerful channel for spreading Party ideology.

The political and cultural agenda is especially apparent in those TV dramas that are official propaganda productions. But since the TV drama industry has become increasingly commercialized and TV dramas became more market-oriented in the 1990s, their programming is no longer a mirror reflection of ‘Party narratives.’

The number of profit-driven productions has grown over the past 25 years and has skyrocketed with the arrival of video streaming sites such as iQiyi or Tencent Video.

Although non-official productions are ultimately still regulated and overseen by the relevant state departments, they also have to compete for viewer ratings in a highly competitive (online) media environment.

There are many visible trends in China’s TV drama industry. There have been peaks of popularity in those TV dramas depicting rural struggles or urban family life, for example, but historical costume dramas (especially dynasty dramas) have consistently been popular and rising since the mid-90s.

One reason for the growing popularity of these historical or fantasy costume dramas is that official censors initially had different standards for them than for more contemporary storylines, resulting in more creative freedom for scriptwriters (see Zhu et al 2008, 7).

Yongzheng’s Dynasty (1999)

There also have been many popular Chinese dynasty dramas that were commercial successes while also serving as propaganda tools.

As pointed out by Shenshen Cai in her work Television Drama in Contemporary China (2017), for example, TV drama serials such as Yongzheng Dynasty (雍正王朝) or The Great Han Emperor Wu (汉武大帝) promoted the ideal of strong central government, harmonious relations between the fatherly ruler and his devoted people, or the exemplary ruler cracking down on corruption – these narratives contributed to the leadership agenda in “stabilizing and re-energizing the dominant moral order” (Cai 3-4; also see Schneider 2012).

But more recent historical dramas have taken a fantasy route that, apparently, resonates with viewers but does not successfully appropriate the official propaganda apparatus.

The sudden withdrawal of new costume dramas is actually not about costume dramas at all. It just shows that although China’s TV drama industry is no longer the propaganda machine it once used to be, it still needs to adhere to those narratives that are in line with Party ideology.

‘Novoland: Eagle Flag’ (2019)

Even if their scripts and productions were apparently given the green light in earlier stages, the official supervision bodies still have the power to intervene until the last moment before airing – even if that, apparently, means that moment is twenty minutes ahead of the grand premiere.

 

“Things don’t look too optimistic”

 

For Chinese drama fans, the recent cancellations have been a real slap in the face. The Novoland: Eagle Flag TV serial was super popular before it even aired: its hashtag page has a staggering 1.4 billion views on Weibo.

“I cried,” one ‘Novoland’ fan comments: “Why such a sudden and abrupt withdrawal?”

“When can we finally see this show?” others wonder.

For now, the show’s premiere has officially been “postponed” and is “waiting for specific broadcasting time.” Whether or not the 55-episode series will be allowed to broadcast after June is still to be seen.

On Twitter, the fan account of Liu Haoran (刘昊然), one of the show’s main stars, writes: “You’re going to see rumors of tentative dates flying around this week, but note that it’s more of a deadline to get things sorted, not an air date. As of right now, things don’t look too optimistic. We’ll just have to be patient!

More: For an overview of all of our articles on Chinese TV Dramas, please check this list.

By Manya Koetse

References

Cai, Shenshen. 2017. Television Drama in Contemporary China: Political, social and cultural phenomena. London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Schneider, Florian. 2012. Visual Political Communication in Popular Chinese Television Series. Leiden and Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV.

Zhu, Ying, Michael Keane, Ruoyun Bai (eds). 2008. TV Drama in China. Hong Kong University Press.

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©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 Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Shoppers Are Going Absolutely Crazy over UNIQLO x KAWS Collection

Everybody wants KAWS – Chinese shoppers were even spotted fighting in front of a UNIQLO store today.

Manya Koetse

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The Chinese sales of the UNIQLO KAWS collection are so crazy that the craze itself has become an online hit. “I don’t even like UNIQLO, I just like to compete,” some shoppers say.

Chinese shoppers are going completely crazy over the latest collection sold by Japanese fashion company UNIQLO (优衣库) today. The summer collection is a cooperation between UNIQLO and the renowned American artist and designer KAWS (Brian Donnelly).

It is not the first time for the American street artist to partner with the Japanese chain: they previously also collaborated on a Sesame Street-themed collection.

The current collection first started selling in mainland China stores in the early morning of Monday, June 3, and soon became a top trending topic on social media.

The online sales reportedly were sold out in seconds.

Photos and videos circulating on Weibo show people fighting to get into UNIQLO stores, pulling clothes off the shop mannequins, and buying piles of clothes from the stores (see embedded tweet below):

The hashtag “Everybody KAWS” (#全员kaws#) had received 140 million views on Weibo by Monday evening, China time.

Many netizens on Weibo are confused about the big hype surrounding the latest UNIQLO selection, with some wondering who KAWS is, and why people are so eager to wear his design.

Some commenters joke that it actually is not really about the KAWS collection at all, but more about the competition between shoppers on who can score the most clothes from the special product line.

The topic has set off various memes and online jokes, with some people saying: “I don’t think there is any need to learn self-defense skills. I only need to wear UNIQLO KAWS clothes, and no one will dare to touch me. They will all know that I can not only fight very well but also run very fast!”

Some memes suggest that KAWS sales have been so successful that everybody on the street or at work will walk around in the same t-shirts this week.

A meme that’s going viral saying: “Entering the office on Monday and seeing my colleagues…”

“I finally understand now,” one Weibo user writes: “What I love is not UNIQLO, nor KAWS – what I love is to rush and clash with all these people!”

The online sales of the UNIQLO x KAWS collection will start on June 6 in Europe. Its American sales started on Monday 10 AM ET.

Meanwhile, in China, the T-shirts that were bought for RMB 99 ($14) today are being resold online for four-five times their original price.

This is not the first time the Japanese UNIQLO brand becomes a viral hit on Chinese social media, albeit for different reasons. In 2015, the brand became the talk of the week when a naked girl and a man recorded an adult video in the fitting room of their Beijing flag store.

Also read:
* Chinese Kid Destroys Lego Sculpture Within Hour After It Is Displayed
* Kidnappers? Crazy Fans? No, It’s Chinese Parents on Their Kids’ First Day at School

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

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

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