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Overview of China’s 2017 Top TV Dramas

These are the Chinese TV dramas you should’ve seen in 2017.

Manya Koetse

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China has one of the most booming TV drama industries in the world. As millions of drama fans tune into their favorite show, What’s on Weibo has compiled a list of China’s top TV dramas of 2017.

Note: Also see China’s top tv dramas to watch winter 2017/2018

Nothing is trending more often on Chinese social media than TV drama. What is the best drama, who is the hottest star, how will that nerve-wracking cliffhanger end? It is all part of the daily discussions on Sina Weibo.

The Chinese TV drama industry is booming and among the most vibrant in the world, with no signs of slowing down.

We have compiled this Top 10 of 2017 Chinese TV dramas by checking the February 2017 top ranking TV drama’s on Sina Weibo and Baidu, and netizen blogs. We have also taken into consideration a Weibo poll of the ‘most-anticipated TV dramas of 2017’ that had over 10,000 votes.

Chinese TV dramas are becoming more popular across the world, with thousands of people volunteering to do subtitles for them in their own language. A great website to watch Chinese dramas is Viki.com, but most are also available on YouTube and of course on their native sites such as iQiyi or LeTV.

Viki has a great selection of Chinese dramas with subtitles, some have geo restrictions.

Depending on where you live, these sites might have geo restrictions. You can circumvent this with a VPN to change your IP geo-location. We recommend ExpressVPN for this, as it is known for its fast streaming of online video content online (see our top 3 of recommended VPN here).

Keep in mind that many of China’s big TV drama productions are launched in the period around Chinese New Year – a time when TV drama fans are looking forward to seeing their favorite shows. It’s around this time to spot the TV dramas you can binge on later in the year.

What is remarkable about the 2017 year’s list (check out our lists of 2016, 2015, and 2013) is that it does not include any historical genre television dramas themed around the history of the War of Resistance against Japan.

China’s war dramas previously always made it to the top ranking TV dramas. In 2015, China’s official censorship bureau spoke out against war-themed TV dramas that are “overly entertaining.” One popular war drama this year is Brothers in the Fire of War (战火中的兄弟), but it did not make it to this list.

Brothers in the Fire of War (战火中的兄弟).

What is also noteworthy is that this year’s top 10 tv drama’s are all made in mainland China. Last year, the number one TV series was a South-Korean tv drama.

There are no series in this year’s list that revolve around any ‘risque’ topics. Last year, the gay-themed TV show Addicted was pulled offline by censors when TV dramas that ‘exaggerate dark side of society’ were banned from TV. Off-limit topics included homosexuality and adultery.

Here is our top 10 of China’s most popular TV dramas of this moment:

UPDATE: Don’t forget to also check out our top 10 of best dramas in winter 2017/2018!

 

#1. Eternal Love 三生三世十里桃花

(Photo provided by @irilight).

Genre: Fantasy, martial arts
Other title: Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms
Directed by Lin Yufen (林玉芬), 58 episodes

Within a week after its first episode on January 30, this TV drama already attracted over 29 million comments on Sina Weibo, and ranked number 1 drama in both the Weibo and Baidu ‘most popular’ lists. It is also one of most-anticipated dramas of 2017.

From gods and demons, from reincarnation to never-ending love affairs – nothing is impossible in Chinese fantasy drama. This drama evolves around the High Goddess and the Crown Prince played by Yang Mi and Mark Chao, who were once lovers in another world and another lifetime. According to Dramafever, this fantasy story shows that love goes beyond worlds and lifetimes.

The success of this TV drama is partly linked to its timing; like many dramas in this list, the first episode was aired in the middle of the Spring Festival.

Starring: Yang Mi, Mark Chao, Zhang Zhiyao, Dili Reba (also known as Dilraba Dilmurat), and Gao Weiguang (杨幂, 赵又廷, 张智尧, 迪丽热巴 高伟光). The show is broadcasted every day on Dongfang and Zhejiang TV, as well as on Youku, Tencent, iQiyi, LeTV, Sohu and PPTV.

 

#2. Rush to the Dead Summer 夏至未至

Genre: Romance, Youth
Directed by Chen Mingzhuang (陳銘章), 40 episodes

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 as they go from their highschool life and each start their own life in society. The main actors are Zheng Shuang, Chen Xuedong (Cheney Chen), and Bai Jingting.

Many fans have been waiting 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 a million followers.

 

#3. Love, Just Come 爱来的刚好

Genre: Urban drama, Romance
Other title: Perfume Woman
Directed by Wang Lianping (王连平), 60 episodes

Love, Just Come (爱来的刚好) first aired in late January. Its main cast includes actors Han Dong, Jiang Kaitong, Li Wei, Zhang Xiyuan, Wang Wei, Liang Aiqi (韩栋, 江铠同, 李威, 张熙媛, 王伟, 梁爱琪). The drama revolves around an orphan girl (Jiang Kaitong) with an absolute sense of smell, who dreams of becoming a successful perfume maker. The series follows the struggles she faces on the road to reaching her dreams, during which, of course, she finds love. The show can be viewed here.

 

#4. Fighter of the Destiny 择天记

Genre: Fantasy, Martial arts, costume/period drama
Directed by Zhong Shujia (钟澍佳)

This series ranked number one in the Weibo poll of most-anticipated TV dramas of 2017, as netizens have been talking about this series for months.

Fighter of the Destiny is based on a novel by the same name of author Mao Ni, and involves the timetravelling adventures of the young man Chen Changsheng (Luhan) who leaves his master (Eric Tsang) in search for a cure to his terminal illness.

 

#5. Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace 如懿传

Genre: Costume/period drama
Directed by Wang Jun (汪俊), 90 episodes.

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace tells the story of the marriage of the Qianlong Emperor and Ulanara the Step Empress during the Qing dynasty. The drama, broadcasted by Dragon TV and Jiangsu TV, features major leading roles by Zhou Xun and Wallace Huo. Read more about this TV drama at the Cfensi blog.

 

#6. Double Happiness 双喜盈门

Genre: Comical drama, Rural comedy
Directed by Han Zhao (韩兆).

This successful drama has famous leading actors Pan Changjiang, Ding Ziling, Xiao Guangyi, and Zhang Dajing. Especially Pan Changjiang (1957) is a famous as a skit actor and a recurring performer at the CCTV New Year’s Gala. This comical drama focuses on a big rural family and follows their ups and downs. The show is available on YouTube (no subtitles).

 

#7. City Still Believe in Love 北上广依然相信爱情

Genre: Romance
Directed by Li Jun, Mou Xiaojie (李骏, 牟晓杰), 44 episodes

This drama that stars Zhu Yawen and Michelle Chen revolves around the relationship between a Taiwanese woman who has arrived in Beijing to work and her temperamental boss. Despite their misunderstandings, their professional relationship eventually is bound to become personal.

 

#8. The Glory of Tang Dynasty 大唐荣耀

Genre: Fantasy, Costume
Directed by Liu Guonan, Yin Tao (刘国楠、尹涛), 60 episodes

The series is about the ups and downs in the life of Shen Zhen Zhu (played by Jing Tian 景甜), a exceptional beauty living in the royal court during the most turbulent period of the Tang dynasty, that is challenged by rebellion, unrest and opposing forces.

 

#9. Ode to Joy 2 欢乐颂2

Genre: Urban drama, Romance
Directed by Jian Chuanhe, Zhang Kaizhou, 52 episodes

This is one of the only shows in this list that has not been broadcasted yet – it is planned to air in May of this year. It is the sequal to Ode to Joy, a highly popular 2016 Chinese TV series produced by Dragon Television (here with subtitles). It is about five single, independent career women who live in the Ode to Joy apartment building together and try to find the balance between love and career, looking for their personal happiness.

For Liu Tao, a leading actress in this TV drama, Ode to Joy is not her first hit TV drama. In 2013, the series Good Wife (贤妻) was also a major success.

 

#10. The Starry Night, The Starry Sea 那片星空那片海

Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Directed by Wei Hantao and Deng Yancheng (卫翰韬 邓衍成)

This mainland drama that stars Feng Shaofeng, Bea Hayden, Wang Zixi, Huang Ming and Sunny Wang (冯绍峰, 郭碧婷, 王梓薇, 黄明, 王彦霖), premiered on February 6 2017 on Hunan TV. It is based on a book by the same name by the Chinese contemporary novelist Tong Hua (桐华), whose previous novels were also turned into television series.

The story revolves around girl-next-door Shen Luo who moves from the big city to a small island cottage, where she meets the mysterious Wu Julan – a man wirh mystical powers that help Shen yo overcome her obstacles. The show can be viewed on Viki, where fans graded the drama with a 9.7.

Want to read more? Check out:
Top 10 of TV Drama in China 2018
Top 5 of Best Drama Series Winter 2017/2018
Best TV Dramas in China Summer 2017
Most Popular Television Series in China in 2016
Top TV Drama 2015

– By Manya Koetse
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What’s on Weibo is an independent blog. Want to donate? You can do so here.

©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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13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bernice Ponce

    February 27, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms Cdrama -MOST watched drama online 2017..here in the Philippines..BRAVO! YANG MI and MARK CHAO…BEST MUSICAL THEME..LOVE IT..

  2. Avatar

    mingirim

    April 15, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    It’s great! Eternal love and Rush to the dead summer being at the top of the list! My fave actors and actresses now becoming more popular internationally. If only there could be Eternal love season 2, or a new drama where Yang Mi and Mark can be the lead again! Their chemistry is one of a kind. ????
    – Fan from PH

  3. Avatar

    Christina

    April 18, 2017 at 12:31 am

    Eternal Love (Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms) is absolutely the best historical drama ever made with good casts, sound tracks and scenaries. After watching 3 years of Korean dramas, I have decided to watch a few Chinese and Taiwanese dramas. This particular blew my mind and the OTP is tops! Mark Zhao’s acting really nailed the emotional parts and I cry each time I come to the same scene. I completed the drama within 3-4 days and I am rewatching it again. Highly recommend it to any one who wants a beautiful romance though there are some heartbreaks in between the 3 live times.

  4. Avatar

    Alejandra

    April 27, 2017 at 4:49 am

    Les faltó poner “General and I” que super buen drama y del año pasado The princess Weiyoung como mención honorífica. <3
    absolutely Eternal Love is the best of all the chinese dramas , we can not forget every character 'cause presents some unique every time . I normally see k dramas and the first c drama that I saw was The Princess Weiyoung , so I wanted more about this new experience and "surprise" … this year I fall in love Eternal Love . My number two in the c drama by this year is General and I .

  5. Avatar

    kfan

    May 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    who is left in the poster? nice plastic surgery nose.

  6. Avatar

    Lea Granada

    May 23, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I love the Drama Eternal Love (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms) It was worth watching and the acting was great with the actor and actress. I been watching K-drama but this Chinese Drama caught my attention and I was engrossed and instantly loved it from the first episode. Hope that they could have season 2 or another Romance fantasy drama with Yang Mi and Mark. They had a good screen chemistry.

  7. Avatar

    Lea Granada

    May 23, 2017 at 10:03 am

    I love the Drama Eternal Love (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms) It was worth watching and the acting was great with the actor and actress. I been watching K-drama but this Chinese Drama caught my attention and I was engrossed and instantly loved it from the first episode. Hope that they could have season 2 or another Romance fantasy drama with Yang Mi and Mark. They had an excellent screen chemistry.

  8. Avatar

    Joyann

    May 31, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Haven’t watched any Chinese serial dramas for a long time and finally decided to watch Eternal Love. Couldn’t stop watching and completed the series without 3-4 days! Mark Chao and Yang Mi were fantastic and I was totally mesmerised by Yue Hwa (Mark Chao). Have to re-watch now because it feels so strange not to see Mark Chao’s character anymore. Love his acting and every aspect of him ????.

  9. Avatar

    Iriaka Maraea

    June 3, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Ten miles of Peach Blossoms is the best drama I have ever watched, and I have watched hundreds. It is one that will forever remain at the top of my list. Mark Chao and Yang Mi were absolutely amazing in this, I can see their careers sky rocketing and they have at least one fan here in New Zealand. I also have to mention the music score…. absolutely fabulous! As for the script, I do wish a wedding had been included. I also hope a second series is made for Shifu and Dijun. It is incomplete.

  10. Avatar

    TinHie

    June 5, 2017 at 11:35 am

    I wasn’t going to watch eternal love at first because the trailer looked a little boring but I gave it a try and I’m so glad I did. The plot and actors were amazing. Definitely give it a try because it was ranked #1 for a reason.

  11. Avatar

    Ludovina Rosado

    June 10, 2017 at 5:17 am

    Yang Min and Mark Chao great couple on screen. Eternal Love serie is my first Chinese drama. I could not stop watching. I saw the video where Mark Chao says he was not confortable with the long hair. But, he looked gorgeous with it. The setting of the drama, specially the peach tree blossom setting was fantastic. And, what can I say about the love scene? OMG awesome. Mr. Chao, keep it up as a good actor and also try to give us good dramas as this one (Eternal Love), which I just finished.

  12. Avatar

    Emma Parker

    July 16, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Its quite difficult to watch china shows globally as they also banning different VPN IPs. I’ve tried 4 brands and out of 2 brands were able to connect with China servers and one of them was unable to connect after 4-5 days. Recently, I connected via purevpn and its working find till now, not sure till when it will work for me.

  13. Avatar

    Wizarion

    May 7, 2019 at 10:24 am

    I’m a huge fan of Chinese TV, it’s just so bizarre sometimes. Anyway, I always use Surfshark which is actually one of the cheapest services but it consistently works in China. Here’s more details: https://medium.com/@evanlovel/top-vpns-still-working-in-china-test-results-updated-every-week-f009e83949d

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China Arts & Entertainment

Zheng Shuang, Zhang Heng, and ‘Surrogacy Gate’: A Timeline

One celebrity couple breakup, two children born through surrogacy: this sad and messy topic has exploded on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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A celebrity surrogacy scandal is dominating discussions on Chinese social media, with one hashtag on the case attracting over 3 4 billion views. The scandal is triggering discussions on the topic of surrogacy in China.

Her name is Zheng Shuang (郑爽, 29), his name is Zhang Heng (张恒, 30). They’re both celebrities in China; she is a super famous actress, he is a well-known producer.

This week, it is not their work that made them go viral on Chinese social media, but a surrogacy scandal taking place in the United States that is dominating all trending lists on Weibo.

Zheng and Zhang in happier times.

The social media storm started on Monday, January 18, when rumors surfaced on Weibo and Wechat that the celebrity couple had separated. Some netizens had located a ‘dissolution’ case concerning the couple through the public access of the US federal court system.

Subsequently, news and rumors began circulating that the couple had two children in the US through a surrogacy arrangement, but that actress Zheng Shuang refused to have them because she and Zhang had broken up – even though her name was on their birth certificate.

The topic soon became known as the Zheng Shuang ‘Surrogacy Gate’ (郑爽”代孕门”).

Chinese media outlet Netease Entertainment published images of the children’s birth certificates and confirmed through sources close to producer Zhang Heng that he was stranded in the United States with the two babies, unable to bring them back to China with him since Ms Zheng allegedly did not cooperate with the necessary legal procedures.

It was Zhang Heng himself who spoke out about the situation on his Weibo account (@张恒KN) on January 18. He wrote the following post:

“Hi everyone, I’m Zhang Heng. Long time no see. As everyone has seen, I again hit the hot search lists recently. Since the past year or so, there has been baseless slander, disrespect, and endless online violence against me on the internet. My family is also frustrated, helpless, and mentally exhausted because of my problems. There’s no way to lead a normal life or to socialize normally. We’re unable to reunite because of this. I really feel so, so bad.   

I realize I can’t bury my head in the sand any longer. Because it’s not just me facing everything; it’s also my cherished family members. I’ve decided to speak up, for my family and for myself, and to set the record straight. 

The online rumors about me committing fraud, borrowing from loan sharks, evading debts, taking funds and slinking off to America, etc –  they’re all rumors and I swear I’ve never done these things, nor would I ever do them. It is true that I am in America, but my family and I have been in the United States for over a year because we had to take care of and protect our two young and innocent children. We had no choice but to remain here.

I have hired a lawyer to handle related matters, and I believe the actual facts will be restored by the American and Chinese courts. Finally, I hope the media and righteous people can recognize the truth in this matter, and will not be blinded by internet rumors.” 

The children caught up in this scandal are one girl, born on January 4 2020, registered in the state of Nevada; and a boy, born on December 19 2019, registered in the state of Colorado. The birth certificates that were leaked to Chinese media show both Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang as the legal parents of the two babies.

Also leaked to Chinese media is an older audio recording in which Zheng, Zhang, and both of their parents allegedly discuss what to do with their unborn babies. In the voice recording, Zheng’s side argues that the children should be given up for adoption, with Zheng herself even complaining that the babies could not be aborted because the surrogate mothers were already seven months pregnant.

On January 19, Zheng Shuang herself also responded to the matter on Weibo (@郑爽SZ), where she did not address the matter directly but said that this is “a very sad and private matter that I did not want to discuss in front of everybody.” She further wrote that legal teams in China and the US “never gave up defending the legal rights of me and my family since last year.”

Zheng Shuang, image via Sohu.

Of the two former partners, Zheng is the most famous celebrity. Born in Shenyang in 1991, she rose to fame when she starred in a popular TV series in 2009 (Meteor Shower 一起来看流星雨). She became an award-winning actress and was chosen as one of the most bankable young actresses of the post-90s generation. On her Weibo account, she has over 12.4 million followers.

 

‘Surrogacy Gate’: The Timeline


 

While this case is unfolding in front of netizens’ eyes and through their own research, more and more details are coming up.

Money plays a major role in the falling-out between Zheng and Zhang, and a private lending dispute – involving no less than 20 million yuan (around 3 million dollars) – seems to be one of the reasons for their break-up.

Since the story is somewhat messy and complicated, we will attempt to reconstruct a timeline of events here.
 

TIMELINE:

2018, May
• Zheng and Zhang meet on the set of the variety show This Is Fighting Robots (这就是铁甲), where Zhang does the show’s production. Weeks later, intimate photos of the two surface online.

2018, August
• The couple officially announces their relationship status and start a company together.

2018, November
• Ms Zheng allegedly loans Mr Zhang 20 million yuan ($3 million).

2019, January 19
• Zheng and Zhang ‘secretly’ get married in the United States on January 19 of 2019. Zheng’s dog, “Wolfberry Kris” (@枸杞kris), has its own Weibo account where some ‘wedding photos’ of the joyous occasion are shared on this day.

2019, Fall/Winter
• Zhang and Zheng both appear on the TV show Meeting Mr. Right (女儿们的恋爱).

• An annual report of Zhang and Zheng’s entertainment-meets-tech company, a joint business venture named Shanghai Whale Valley AI Tech (上海鲸谷座人工智能科技有限公司), shows that Zheng Shuang invested over 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) while Zhang – the company’s legal representative – only contributed 200,000 yuan ($30,800).

2019, September
• In a Weibo post of January 2021, Zheng Shuang claims that Zhang cheated on her in September of 2019, which is why she left the US and went back to China.

2019, October 31
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang go viral on Chinese social media when Zhang writes a love song for Zheng, and publicly announces his love for her (#张恒给郑爽写歌#).

2019, December 18
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang announce their breakup, and rumors suggest that the two are caught up in a dispute over money.

2019, December 19
• The son of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Colorado.

2020, January
• The daughter of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Nevada on January 4.

• Zheng Shuang files a lawsuit in Shanghai, suing Zhang Heng for borrowing 20 million yuan from high-interest loaners under her name to invest in personal business ventures.

2020, November
• Shanghai Jing’an Court rules that Mr. Zhang needs to pay back 20 million yuan ($3 million) plus overdue interest to Ms. Zheng. Zhang Heng appeals the case, arguing the money involved was never a loan but a financial compensation and advance payment for invested labor, since Zhang also acted as Zheng’s manager while they were together.

2020, December
• Zheng Shuang quits as a mentor on the Shine! Super Brothers (追光吧!哥哥) variety TV show after a clip exposing her gossiping about the past relationship of two co-stars circulated online.

2021, January 18
• Zhang posts his story on his Weibo account, stating he is stranded in the United States to take care of his two young children, implying Zheng has abandoned the babies. He also posts a photo of him with the two children.

• A voice recording in which Zheng talks about what to do with her unborn children surfaces in Chinese media, along with the birth certificates. The topic explodes on Chinese social media.

2021, January 19
• Zheng Shuang posts a reply to the matter on her own Weibo account, in which she is vague and evasive about the issue concerning the children. She implies that Zhang has “ulterior motives.” She later adds that Zhang cheated on her in the fall of 2019.

• In light of all controversy, Italian fashion brand PRADA cuts ties with Zheng Shuang, with whom they had a cooperation agreement. Zheng was announced as one of the brand’s new Chinese ambassadors earlier in 2021.

• London jewelry brand Lola Rose deletes all content including Zheng from their social media.

• Harper Bazaar deletes a feature on Zheng Shuang from their social media.

• Chinese cosmetic brand Chioture also posts a statement on Weibo saying it has terminated its contract with Zheng Shuang, who formerly was a spokesperson for the company.

• The second hearing of the Zheng versus Zhang lawsuit takes place in a Shanghai court over the disputed loan. Zhang and Zheng are both represented by their lawyers. (No news on outcome yet).

• State broadcaster CCTV condemns surrogacy in a post on Weibo.

• Zheng Shuang appears in public in Beijing, where she is followed by paparazzi. She does not respond to any questions, but her appearance still goes viral on social media with over 640 million views (#郑爽风波后首现身#).

2021, January 20
• Huading Awards announces it will revoke the honorary titles of Zheng Shuang, renouncing Zheng’s former awards as best actress and favorite TV star. Over 2.2 million people ‘liked’ this update on Weibo (#华鼎奖取消郑爽荣誉称号#).

• China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television officially shuts out Zheng Shuang.

• The Weibo hashtag “Birth Certificates of Zheng Shuang and Zhang Heng’s Children” (#郑爽张恒孩子出生证明#) reaches a staggering 4 billion views.

2021, March 22
• The hearing for the supposed dissolution of Zheng and Zhang’s marriage is scheduled to take place in Denver, US.

 

Surrogacy Abandonment


 

Although the timeline of events leading to the current situation might suggest that Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang are both at fault for handling matters in an irresponsible way, it is Zheng’s “surrogacy abandonment” that mostly triggers the public’s anger on social media.

Many people feel that Zheng Shuang is lacking morals for abandoning her children and call her “cold-blooded.” There are also those who think the actress has serious mental problems. Despite all backlash, Zheng still has a strong fan base with people who still support her.

The scandal has sparked more discussions on the issue of surrogacy in China, which already was a big topic earlier in January when a story came out on a baby born through surrogacy who had no birth certificate and no legal registration (link here).

Although surrogacy is officially not legal in China, there is a flourishing underground surrogacy market, and many couples who are struggling with fertility issues travel overseas for surrogacy arrangements. It is not clear why Zheng and Zhang used surrogates to have children.

On Weibo, many people speak out against surrogacy practices, arguing that having children is not a business and surrogacy puts vulnerable women at increased risk of exploitation.

The hashtag “Firmly Oppose All Forms of Surrogacy” (#坚决反对一切形式的代孕#) received over 290 million views and thousands of comments.

One person commented: “Children are not a commodity you can buy, sell, or return. They’re a life-long responsibility, they are the future of our society.”

 
This story will be updated following the latest developments.
 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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China Arts & Entertainment

“Not Just a Style, But a Mission” – China’s Online Hanfu Movement

What started with a 2003 internet sensation grew into a massive movement – Hanfu is booming on Weibo and beyond.

Things That Talk

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Chinese traditional clothing trend named Hanfu 汉服 first became noticeable as a popular social phenomenon in mainland China. Throughout the years, Hanfu has gone from a fashion style to a full-fledged movement that is flourishing on Chinese social media. Koen van der Lijn reports.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

This last Christmas, Hanfu was once again a trending topic on Weibo. Enthusiasts of the traditional Chinese clothing trend posed online in their Christmas inspired Chinese clothing.

It was yet another development in the Hanfu Movement, which has been a hot topic with hundreds of hashtags and thousands of pictures, videos, and stories on Weibo, with the official Weibo Hanfu @微博汉服 account boasting a whopping 1.8 million followers and a Weibo ‘supertopic’ on Hanfu being joined by nearly half a million fans.

“You can also wear Hanfu during Christmas,” post and images by @弥秋君 on Weibo.

One example of the manifold of Hanfu content on Weibo is a video recently posted by Chinese actress Xu Jiao (徐娇). In the short video, which is an advertisement by the e-commerce platform RED (小红书), the actress wears Hanfu in various settings while talking about the meaning behind the fashion. Xu Jiao, being 23 years of age, is part of Generation Z (mid-1990s – early 2010s), who are adept users of social media and make up the mass of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Screenshot of video posted by Xu Jiao 徐娇

Though Hanfu enthusiasts seldomly go out on the streets whilst wearing the clothing style,1 Hanfu sales have been increasing a lot over the past few years.2 Possibly linked to the popularity of Chinese costume dramas, many Chinese youth have started to wear Hanfu in the past two decades. However, it is not just a form of cosplay or a new clothing style. As Xu Jiao says herself in the video: “It’s not just a style, it’s a mission.”

 

Background of the Hanfu Movement


 

It was November 2003 when Wang Letian walked the streets of Zhengzhou in Hanfu. News of his action rapidly spread over the internet through websites such as hanminzu.net.3

Besides online discussions, an article was also written about Wang Letian’s bold move in the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, helping spread word about the young man’s actions. This moment was seen as the start of the Hanfu Movement.

Wang Letian in the Lianhe Zaobao of November 29, 2003.

Now, roughly twenty years later, the wearing of Hanfu has developed into a true movement, with many young Chinese participating in the wearing of the traditional Chinese dress. Especially on college campuses, the trend is very much alive.

In its most basic idea, the Hanfu Movement can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. The emphasis on the Han ethnicity is of importance here. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population in China, accounting for more than 90% of China’s total population. However, aspects famous outside China for being typically Chinese, such as the queue, are actually of Manchu origin.

The Manchus are an ethnic group from Northeastern China, showing cultural similarities to the Mongols, who ruled China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Their clothing style has influenced foreign perceptions of China, due to the fact that the Manchus were the ruling class in the last Chinese imperial dynasty.

Image via https://shop60421556.taobao.com/.

Hence the emphasis on the Han ethnicity. Central to the Hanfu Movement is the idea that ethnic Han clothing, as worn during Han Chinese ruled dynasties, such as the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD), the Tang dynasty (618-907), and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), has much value in its own and should be worn and appreciated by contemporary Han Chinese, just as the ethnic clothing of China’s minorities is appreciated in contemporary China.4

 

The Mission


 

On 4 December 2020, blogger Mi Qiujun posted a video with the hashtag #How to make the world understand Hanfu?#, (#如何让世界了解汉服#), gaining many likes and comments. Showing clips of herself wearing Hanfu in Egypt, the United States, France, and Japan, she tells how she became determined to make people around the globe understand China’s traditional culture after her clothing being wrongly identified as a Japanese kimono at her first stop in Nepal.

Mi Qiujun discusses an important aspect of the Hanfu movement. Hanfu enthusiasts feel that their ethnic clothing is not understood well enough by others, and showing the rest of the world their clothing is a true mission.

Hanfu enthusiasts have found themselves in online quarrellings about what can be defined as Hanfu, and what cannot be defined as Hanfu. It is worth noting that some scholars have disputed the existence of a uniform Hanfu throughout Chinese history.5 Instead, Hanfu is seen to have been popularised by students through the internet, without strong knowledge of Han Chinese clothing traditions.6 This makes it difficult to assess what does and what does not count as Hanfu.

Online quarrelings have therefore become part of the Hanfu Movement. In November 2020, for instance, Chinese netizens found themselves in an online discussion with their Korean neighbours. That month, Chinese actor Xu Kai (许凯) posted a photo of himself in traditional costume from the set of the Chinese drama titled Royal Feast (尚食), which is set in the Ming Dynasty.

A controversial selfie.

After South Korean web users pointed out that the traditional costume worn by Xu resembled Korean traditional clothing named Hanbok, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng (于正) posted a response on social media in which he firmly stated that this clothing was not Hanbok but Hanfu, adding that Korea was a vassal state of China at the time and that only “uncivilized people” would call it ‘Hanbok.’

 

A Nationalist Movement?


 

These kinds of discussions also show another side of the Hanfu Movement. For some Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu is more than a mission to let others understand Han ethnic culture; instead, it is a way to construct a purified Han Chinese identity, free from foreign influence.7

Girl dressed in Hanfu while visiting the Forbidden City. Photo by Manya Koetse.

This foreign influence is often linked back to the Manchus once again. ‘Uncivilised practices’ in contemporary Chinese society are attributed to the Manchus. This rhetoric reinforces the belief of Han supremacy, which has existed long before the invention of the internet, where the ‘civilized’ Han Chinese believe themselves to be superior to the ‘uncivilized’ barbarians, such as the Manchus.

This rise in Han Chinese nationalism started in the past few decades.8 The Hanfu Movement thus has followers who are a part of this new turn, where Han Chinese want to restore the glory of their past and turn away from Western and Manchu influences.9

These hardcore Han nationalists are but a small part of the movement. The Hanfu Movement encompasses a large and diverse group of people, who all share a certain belief that Hanfu should gain more appreciation in China and abroad. These are, for instance, some of the comments under Xu Jiao’s video:

– “(…) Xu Jiao speaks for Hanfu!!” (@怪物与约翰)

– “Do not be afraid to doubt, never forget the original intention, Hanfu is a style, it’s a mission, it’s culture, and it’s an attitude.” (@打翻废纸篓)

– “I am so thankful we have you! I really like your work and your attitude towards Hanfu!” (@小瓦肯Shail)

What connects most Hanfu enthusiasts then? Hanfu enthusiasts take pride in wearing Hanfu, and they wear Hanfu simply because they like wearing it. Moreover, they believe it to be important to make others, both in and outside China, gain a deeper understanding of Han Chinese ethnic culture. Hanfu is more than a fad. It is a subculture, it is a style, and for Xu Jiao and many others, it is their mission.

 
By Koen van der Lijn

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. A story focused on the background of the Hanfu Movement and objects associated with this movement has previously been published on Things that Talk, go check it out!
 

Notes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Buckley, Chris, and Katrina Northrop. 2018. “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe.” New York Times, Nov 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/china-hanfu-gowns-clothing.html [Jan 16 2021].
2 Zhou Xing 周兴. 2020. “Report: Hanfu turnover on Taobao platform exceeded 2 billion yuan in 2019 [报告:2019年淘宝平台上汉服成交金额突破20亿元].” Dianshangbao, August 2 2020 https://www.dsb.cn/124836.html [Jan 16 2021].
3 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
4 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
5 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
6 Zhang Xian 张跣. 2009. “‘Hanfu Movement’: Ethnic Nationalism in the Internet Age [“汉服运动”:互联网时代的种族性民族主义].” Journal of China Youth University for Political Sciences (4): 65-71.
7 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
8 Dikötter, Frank. 2001. “Nationalist Myth-making: The Construction of the Chinese Race.” Human Rights in China, 27 April https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4573 [16 Jan 2021].
9 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Featured image: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

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