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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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China Arts & Entertainment

‘First Lady of Hong Kong TV’ Lily Leung Passes Away at Age 90

Chinese netizens pay their respects to veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (1929-2019), who passed away on August 13.

Manya Koetse

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Lily in 1996, image via Sing Tao Daily.

While the Hong Kong protests are dominating the headlines, the death of Hong Kong veteran actress Lily Leung Shun-Yin (梁舜燕) has become a top trending topic on social media site Sina Weibo under the hashtag “Hong Kong Actress Liang Shunyan Dies from Illness” (#香港演员梁舜燕病逝#).

Lily Leung, image via http://www.sohu.com/a/333418087_161795.

The actress was born in Hong Kong in 1929. She starred in dozens of television series, including the first TV drama to be locally broadcasted. She became known as “the first lady of Hong Kong TV.”

Leung acted for TVB and other broadcasters. Some of her more well-known roles were those in Kindred Spirit (真情) and Heart of Greed (溏心风暴).

Leung, also nicknamed ‘Sister Lily’ (Lily姐), passed away on August 13. According to various Chinese media reports, the actress passed peacefully surrounded by family after enduring illness. She was 90 years old.

“I’ve seen so much of her work,” many Weibo netizens say, sharing the favorite roles played by Leung. “I always watched her on TVB while growing up, and will cherish her memory,” one commenter wrote.

Another well-known Hong Kong actress, Teresa Ha Ping (夏萍), also passed away this month. She was 81 years old when she died. Her passing away also attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media (
#演员夏萍去世#).

Many people express their sadness over the fact that not one but two grand ladies from Hong Kong’s 20th-century entertainment era have passed away this month.

“Those people from our memories pass away one by one, and it represents the passing of an era,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Two familiar faces and old troupers of Hong Kong drama – I hope they rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Fashion & Beauty

The Mulan Makeup Challenge: Traditional Chinese Makeup Goes Trending

Recreating the Mulan make-up look was the biggest beauty challenge on Chinese social media this July.

Manya Koetse

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Will traditional Chinese make-up make a comeback because of Disney’s Mulan?

Since Disney released the official trailer for its live-action Mulan movie earlier this month, Mulan is recurringly appearing in the top trending lists on Chinese social media.

Among all the different topics relating to the upcoming Mulan movie, the Mulan make-up challenge is one that jumps out this month.

The Disney live-action trailer showed a scene in which Mulan, played by Chinese American actress Crystal Liu Fei (刘亦菲), has a full face of betrothal makeup. The original animated Disney movie also features a full makeup Mulan.

Although there was also online criticism of the ‘exaggerated’ makeup, there are many people who appreciate Mulan’s colorful makeup look.

On Weibo, many showed off their skills in copying Mulan’s makeup look this month.

By now, the hashtags “Mulan Makeup Imitation” (#花木兰仿妆#) and “Mulan Makeup Imitation Contest” (#花木兰仿妆大赛#) have attracted over 300 million views.

Makeup such as lipstick has been used in China as far back as two or three thousand years ago.

Makeup vlogger Emma Zhou explains more about Tang Dynasty (618-907) makeup customs here; the skin would be whitened with rice flower, followed by the application of ‘blush’ (pigment of strong-colored flowers) to the cheeks and eyes in a round shape, to emphasize the roundness of the face.

A floral-like decoration would be placed in between the eyebrows.

The yellow forehead, as can be seen in the live-action Mulan, is also known as “Buddha’s makeup,” and was especially popular among ladies during the Tang Dynasty. A yellow aura on the forehead was believed to be auspicious (Schafer 1956, 419).

Although contemporary Chinese makeup trends are much different than those depicted in Mulan, traditional makeup seems to make somewhat of a come-back because of the Disney movie, with hundreds of Chinese netizens imitating the look.

Beauty bloggers such as Nico (@黎千千Nico, image below) receive much praise from Weibo users for their makeup look. Nico wrote: “I even opened the door for the delivery guy this way!”

It is not just girls imitating the look; there are also some boys showing off their Mulan makeup.

Although many still find the Mulan makeup look exaggerated and even “laughable,” there are also those who think it looks really “cool” – of course, depending on whether or not the application is successful.

Want to try it out for yourself? There are various amateur tutorials available on Youtube (in Chinese), such as here, here, or here.

The Mulan make-up hype will probably continue in 2020; the Mulan movie will come out in late March.

To read more about Mulan, please see our latest feature article on Mulan here.

By Manya Koetse

References

Schafer, Edward H. 1956. “The Early History of Lead Pigments and Cosmetics in China.” T’oung Pao, Second Series, 44, no. 4/5: 413-38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4527434.

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