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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.

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.

  2. Avatar

    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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China Arts & Entertainment

“Love the Motherland” – New Moral Guidelines for Chinese Performers Come Into Force

New “Self-Disciplinary Measures” for performers in China come into force on March 1st.

Manya Koetse

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On February 5th of 2021, the China Association of Performing Arts (中国演出行业协会), which is run by China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, officially released new guidelines for Chinese performers in order to promote the idea that Chinese performers should abide by rules of ‘social morality,’ stating they could face a permanent ban from their profession if they fail to comply.

The guidelines, that come into force on a trial basis starting from March 1st, are meant to “promote the healthy development of the performer industry” (“促进演出行业健康发展”). It is the first time for the Association, which was established in 1988, to introduce “clear regulations” in this way.

The regulations are presented as being “self-disciplinary measures” for actors, musicians, dancers, opera performers, acrobats, and any other people engaged in performing within China.

Part of the article presented by the China Association of Performing Arts includes the “practice norms”, which stipulate that performers, among other things, should abide by national laws and regulations, should honor their contracts and comply with copyright laws. The article also lists other things. For example, performers should:

 

  • “..love the motherland, and support the Party’s line and policies” (“热爱祖国,拥护党的路线方针政策”)
  • “..persevere in the orientation that literature and art should serve the people and socialism” (“坚持文艺为人民服务、为社会主义服务的方向”)
  • “..actively uphold a positive image” (“积极树立正面形象”)
  • “..actively participate in social charity events, help the development of public welfare undertakings, consciously put social responsibility into practice” (“积极参与社会公益活动,助力公益事业发展,自觉践行社会责任”)

 

Another part describes what performers are not allowed to do. Among other things – of which some seem obvious, such as ‘do not violate the basic principles of the Constitution’ – they include things like ‘performers may not..’:

 

  • “..jeopardize national unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, endanger national security or damage national honor and interests” (“危害国家统一、主权和领土完整,危害国家安全,或者损害国家荣誉和利益”)
  • “..encite hatred against ethnic groups, discriminate against ethnic groups, infringe the customs and habits of ethnic groups, insult ethnic groups or undermine national unity” (“煽动民族仇恨、民族歧视,侵害民族风俗习惯,伤害民族感情,破坏民族团结”)
  • “..organize, participate in, or promote illegal activities regarding obscenities, pornography, gambling, drugs, violence, terrorism, or criminal elements etc” (“组织、参与、宣扬涉及淫秽、色情、赌博、毒品、暴力、恐怖或者黑恶势力等非法活动 “)
  • “..violate national religion policies, promote cults or superstition” (“违反国家宗教政策,宣扬邪教、迷信”)
  • “..do lip-sync in professional performances, deceive the audience by fake playing instruments etc” (“在营业性演出中以假唱、假演奏等手段欺骗观众”)

 

The punishment for going against these regulations is an industry-wide boycott of one year, three years, five years, or even a permanent ban depending on how serious the case is.

By stressing that art should serve the people, the China Association of Performing Arts reiterates President Xi Jinping’s views on the arts, which he previously shared at a symposium of prominent artists and writers in Beijing in 2014, and where he also said that “the arts must serve the people and serve socialism.”

As discussed by Chinese author Murong Xuecun in the New York Times in 2014 (‘The Art of Xi Jinping’ link), President Xi’s comments reminded of the famous Yan’an talks by Mao Zedong in 1942 where he prescribed the new direction for art and literature in China, saying they should serve the ‘people’ – the workers, peasants, and soldiers – and not the petty bourgeoisie or intellectuals.

The Beijing comments by Xi signaled that the Chinese government fixed its sights on literature and the arts, with Murong Xuecun already predicting that it would be the start of new lists of forbidden films, broadcasts, and publications. Those lists may now also include banned performers.

 

“Idols should be a good example for others”

 

The China Association of Performing Arts also has a Weibo account (@中国演出行业协会) where they posted about the new regulations.

“I support this, idols should be a good example for others,” one top commenter reacted to the regulations.

Others suggested that there should be a blacklist of performers engaged in illegal activities in order to “warn the industry.”

But there are also voices, such as some on Q&A site Zhihu, expressing that the current regulations are too vague, as they include stipulations that are already part of the law. Some argue that there should be a clearer description of the consequences artists will face when they violate industry guidelines or when they engage in acts that are illegal.

“Surrogate pregnancies, insulting China, taking drugs, evading taxes, etc etc – this should be banned forever,” another person said.

The ‘surrogate pregnancy’ comment refers to the controversy involving Zheng Shuang (郑爽). It already is the biggest celebrity controversy of the year in China. The 29-year-old famous Chinese actress dominated all trending topics in January of 2021 when news came out that the actress and her husband Zhang Heng (张恒) had separated and that she had left behind two children born out of surrogacy in the United States. Surrogacy is not legal in China.

Since the controversy, Zheng Shuang was dropped by the brands she represented, she was shut down by China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, and her honorary titles were revoked by Huading Awards.

Among all Weibo comments on the new regulations, there also many mocking them – especially the rule that stipulates performers should not lip-sync and deceive their audiences. “What about the Spring Festival Gala?”, multiple commenters say, referring to the biggest live televised state media event, that is often criticized for lip-synced performances.

 

“Can Zheng Shuang still make a comeback?”

 

The recent regulations come at a time when Chinese celebrities have enormous influence in popular culture due to the blossoming of various social media platforms – some of Weibo’s top celebrities have over 120 million fans.

At the same time, the past decades have seen a higher grade of commercialization of Chinese media, with entertainment and celebrities being a major driving force behind the success of hundreds of Chinese television stations. This has only further accelerated the influence of China’s top performers.

Loved by millions of fans, the power of Chinese celebrity artists is often also used by authorities to promote Party ideology and policies. This is done in myriad ways. In 2017, a group of Chinese celebrities praised China’s “New Era” in a song supporting Xi Jinping Thought; in 2019, influential pop stars sang about the importance of social credit.

In this thriving celebrity culture, Chinese authorities are tightening control on the culture & entertainment content that reaches millions of fans within the country. In 2019 there was a crackdown on the rising popularity of Chinese costume dramas. In 2017, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) issued a notice that Chinese television stations should refrain from broadcasting TV dramas “focused on entertaining” during primetime. These are just minor examples of ways in which authorities are shaping a popular culture environment that is not just about the entertainment alone – it should also serve the Party’s goals.

As the “self-discipline management measures” have now gone into effect, some discussions on social media are focused on whether or not these measures should be applied retroactively, and if Chinese celebrities could still be affected now for past behaviors.

In a previous interview with Xinhua News, The Secretary-General of the China Association of Performing Arts Pan Yan (潘燕) stated that previous actions or situations will not be taken into account when it comes to the current guidelines.

“Does this mean Zheng Shuang can still make a comeback?”, some netizens wondered.

Pan Yan also said that the Association has an ‘ethics committee’ which will be involved in the process of assessing whether or not artists have violated the practice norms.

 
By Manya Koetse

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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 Celebs

Chinese Comedian Li Dan under Fire for Promoting Lingerie Brand with Sexist Slogan

Underwear so good that it can “help women lie to win in the workplace”? Sexist and offensive, according to many Weibo users.

Manya Koetse

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Popular talk show host and comedian Li Dan (李诞) has sparked controversy on Chinese social media this week for a statement he made while promoting female underwear brand Ubras.

The statement was “让女性轻松躺赢职场”, which loosely translates to “make it easy for women to win in the workplace lying down” or “make women win over the workplace without doing anything,” a slogan with which Li Dan seemed to imply that women could use their body and sex to their advantage at work. According to the underwear brand, the idea allegedly was to convey how comfortable their bras are. (The full sentence being “一个让女性躺赢职场的装备”: “equipment that can help women lie to win in the workplace”).

Li Dan immediately triggered anger among Chinese netizens after the controversial content was posted on his Weibo page on February 24. Not only did many people feel that it was inappropriate for a male celebrity to promote female underwear, they also took offense at the statement. What do lingerie and workplace success have to do with each other at all, many people wondered. Others also thought the wording was ambiguous on purpose, and was still meant in a sexist way.

Various state media outlets covered the incident, including the English-language Global Times.

By now, the Ubras underwear brand has issued an apology on Weibo for the “inappropriate wording” in their promotion campaign, and all related content has been removed.

The brand still suggested that the slogan was not meant in a sexist way, writing: “Ubras is a women’s team-oriented brand. We’ve always stressed ‘comfort and wearability as the essence of [our] lingerie, and we’re committed to providing women with close-fitting clothing solutions that are unrestrained and more comfortable so that more women can deal with fatigue in their life and work with a more relaxed state of mind and body.”

Li Dan also wrote an apology on Weibo on February 25, saying his statement was inappropriate. Li Dan has over 9 million followers on his Weibo account.

The objectification of women by brands and media has been getting more attention on Chinese social media lately. Earlier this month, the Spring Festival Gala was criticized for including jokes and sketches that were deemed insensitive to women. Last month, an ad by Purcotton also sparked controversy for showing a woman wiping away her makeup to scare off a male stalker, with many finding the ad sexist and hurtful to women.

 
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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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