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Overview of China’s 2016 Top TV Dramas

These are the 10 most popular TV dramas in mainland China in 2016.

Manya Koetse

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The titles of Chinese TV dramas consistently pop up in the daily top trending lists of Sina Weibo. After featuring an overview of the most-watched Chinese TV dramas in 2015, What’s on Weibo has now compiled a list of 10 popular TV dramas in mainland China in 2016. These are the most-watched and most-discussed dramas according to Weibo and Baidu charts of March 2016.

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Update: Also Read Our Top 10 of China’s 2017 Top TV Dramas Now!

(Note: Depending on where you live, the websites where these series are listed might have geo restrictions. You can circumvent this with a VPN to change your IP geo-location. We recommend NordVPN for this, as it is known for its fast streaming of online video content online.)

 

#1 Descendents of the Sun (太阳的后裔/태양의 후예)

top10dramanumber1
War & Romance Drama / 2016 South Korea
Aired since February 24 2016 / KBS2 / 16 episodes
Directed by Li Yingfu / Lee Eung-Bok (李应福)

The number one of this list is the only drama out of these ten that was not produced in mainland China; it was made in South Korea, and it is a huge success both in Korea as in the PRC.

‘Descendents of the Sun’ tells the story of the unlikely romance between special forces captain Shi-Jin (Song Joong-Ki) and surgeon Mo-Yeon (Song Hye-Kyo). After their initial love-at-first-sight encounter, Shi-Jin and Mo-Yeon soon discover they have very different outlooks on life.

While out on a military mission, Shi-Jin has to fight and hurt people in order to protect his people, whereas Mo-Yeon does all she can to keep people alive – no matter what ethnicity, religion or culture they have. But despite their strong differences, Shi-Jin and Mo-Yeon cannot let go of each other.

A large part of this drama was filmed in Greece. The series can be viewed on Viki.

 

#2 The Imperial Doctress (明代女医师)

whatsonweiboming
Costume Drama / 2016 Mainland China
Aired since February 16 2016 / Online Drama / 50 episodes
Directed by Li Guoli (李国立), Zheng Weiwen (郑伟文) & Lu Zeliang (卢泽良)

‘The Imperial Doctress’, also known as ‘Ming Medicine Woman’, brings the most famous female doctor of the Ming Dynasty to the TV screen. Tan Yunxian (谈允贤) lived in the Ming Dynasty from 1461-1554, and was a female physician in a time when Confucian ethics played a crucial role in everyday life and women had a low status in society.

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).

 

#3 Legend of the Qing Qiu Fox (青丘狐传说)

foxspirit
Costume & Fantasy Drama / 2016 Mainland China
Aired Since February 8, 2016 / Hunan TV / 40 episodes
Directed by Lin Yufen (林玉芬), Gao Linbao (高林豹) and Xu Huikang (徐惠康)

‘The Legend of the Qing Qiu Fox’ aka ‘The Legend of the Nine Tails Fox’ is a drama that consists of different supernatural stories and folktales about fox spirits and ghosts, based on work by Pu Songling.

Pu Songling was a Qing dynasty writer. His most famous work is the classical Chinese Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales from a Make-do Studio), a collection of stories about ghosts, spirits, and other extraordinary phenomena.

The drama can be watched through Viki.

 

#4 Far Away Love (远得要命的爱情)

yuande
Urban & Family Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired March 1 / 36 episodes
Directed by Niu Le (牛乐) and Zhu Shimao (朱时茂)

‘Far Away Love’ tells the story of the romance between Shen An (沈岸, played by Korean actor Park Haejin) and Meng Chuxia (孟初夏, played by Li Fei’er).

Meng Chuxia is a kind-hearted and optimistic single 28-year-old ‘shengnu’ (‘leftover woman’) who takes care of the son of her long lost sister. Shen An is a businessman who has returned to China from overseas to start a new company. When Shen An and Meng Chuxia meet, they are both not expecting to find love. Shen An is engaged to be married and Meng Chuxia is struggling to raise her teenage nephew. But despite their life situations, different (hidden) pasts and prejudices, you can probably guess what happens..

AsiaStarz writes that this drama was already produced in 2013, but was only aired now due to the strict Chinese TV censorship policies.

This drama is popular in both China and Korea because of the lead played by Park Haejin, who is very popular in South Korea and mainland China. The actor also stars in the Korean television series “Cheese in the Trap,” which is also extremely popular in China. The series were sold to Chinese video platforms Youku and Tudou for $125,000 per episode – the highest price ever paid for a Korean cable drama according to the Korea Herald.

 

#5 Because of Love (因为爱情有幸福)

yinweiaiqing
Love & Family Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired February 24 / Hunan TV (湖南卫视) / 70 episodes
Directed by Liu Junjie (刘俊杰)

‘Because of Love’, also known as ‘The Love of Happiness’, revolves around Lu Xiaonan (by Tang Yixin aka Tina Tang), an independent and strong woman who has just married to Kevin (William Chan), who has returned to China from America. As the newlyweds form a new family, Kevin gets reconnected to his roots as he finds the family he lost when he was young. But the reconnection with his family does not bring the anticipated happiness as memories from the past resurface, making Xiaonan and Kevin having to face difficulties in their young marriage.

The first episode can be viewed here.

 

#6 The Three Heroes and Five Gallants (五鼠闹东京)

threeheroes
Costume Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired February 17, 2016 / Anhui TV / 42 episodes
Directed by Wu Jiatai (吴家骀)

Based on the work by the 19th century Chinese writer Shi Yukun, this drama tells the 11th century story of the loyal knights who supported the legendary judge Bao Zheng in his fight against crime and corruption.

The first episode can be viewed here.

 

#7 The Legend of Mi Yue (芈月传)

miyue2

Costume and Historical Drama / 2015 Mainland China
First aired November 30, 2015 / Dongfang & Beijing TV / 81 episodes
Directed by Zheng Xiaolong (郑晓龙)

‘The Legend of Mi Yue’ tells the story of the first influential stateswoman of China, who lived over 2000 years ago. Just like the ‘Imperial Doctress‘, this drama also tells about the trials and tribulations of a strong female figure from China’s history.

Mi Yue, daughter of King Wei of Chu, was the first stateswoman in the history of China. The drama details her turbulent life, as Mi Yue becomes a concubine, gets separated her from first love Huang Xie, is banished, and eventually rises to power as the first Empress Dowager in China’s history (wiki). For more about Mi Yue, also read this article from the Women of China website.

The role of Mi Yue is played by renowned actress Sun Li (孙俪), who has previously won awards for best actress of China.

 

#8 The Lover’s Lies (爱人的谎言)

airende
Love & Family Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired February 24, 2016 / LETV / 50 episodes
Directed by Yu Zhonghe (余中和) and Lin Hongjie (林宏杰)

When Tong Sijie (童四季) becomes an orphan at an early age, she struggles and has to work different jobs to take care of her siblings. Then she meets the rich Yiyi – a love that seems to written in the stars. Just when Sijie and Yiyi decide they want to stay together forever, Yiyi’s dominant mother interferes in their relationship, spreading lies that drift the two lovers apart.

Check out the opening tune and the first episode here.

 

#9 Nirvana in Fire (琅琊榜)

nirvanainfire
Costume & Historical Drama / 2015 Mainland China
First aired September 19th, 2015 / Beijing TV / 54 episodes
Directed by Kong Sheng (孔笙) and Li Xue (李雪)

Nirvana in Fire‘ takes place in fourth century China, during the war between the feudal Northern Wei and Southern Liang dynasties. The story revolves around Lin Shu, the 19-year-old only child of General Lin Xie who is fighting in this war and does all he can to seek justice for him and his family. The series is based on the work by author Hai Yan.

The drama has won several awards.

 

#10 Addiction (上瘾)

上瘾
Gay Love Drama / 2016 Mainland China
First aired January 29th, 2016 / Beijing TV / 15 episodes
Directed by Ding Wei (丁伟)

This popular drama, that is also known under the English name of ‘Addicted’ or ‘Heroin’, is about the special bond that evolves between two young men Bai Luoyin (Xu Wei Zhou) and Gu Hai (Johnny Huang Jingyu). Bai, who lives with his father and grandmother, gets connected to Gu Hai when Bai’s mother remarries to Gu Hai’s father. Gu Hai harbors a deep grudge towards his father since his mother’s death, and the two men, both dealing with their family situations and personal conflicts, start to develop feelings for each other.

The show became big news in late February when media reported that the drama was taken offline by Chinese censors for showing “abnormal sexual relationships and behaviours”.

Although the drama was taken offline, it is still in the best-watched ranks.

– By Manya Koetse

©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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    China Arts & Entertainment

    Oh, the Drama! Chinese Opera Performance Turns into Stage Fight as Drunken Man Attacks Actors

    This local traditional opera performance unexpectedly turned into a stage fight.

    Manya Koetse

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    On October 9 in Zhejiang’s Lishui city (Laozhu Town), a theatrical performance unexpectedly turned very dramatic when a drunken man stormed on stage to fight with the performers.

    A video showing the Chinese opera performance being disturbed by the drunkard, turning it into a chaotic stage scene, is gaining major attention on Chinese social media.

    The incident occurred Friday night around 9 pm, when the Laozhu Theatrical Troupe was performing.

    Videos of the incident that are circulating online show how one man comes on stage, attacking one of the actors. The scene escalates into a big fight when others try to intervene. The police were quick to arrive at the scene.

    Various news reports suggest the man started to act out after getting into an argument with one of the ‘Huadan’ (花旦) performers of the troupe. In traditional Chinese opera, the Huadan characters are young female roles, often seductive in appearance and quick with their words.

    Local police posted on Weibo that the chaos was caused by a 33-year-old local who started to become aggressive after he had too much to drink. The man is charged with disorderly conduct and is currently detained.

    The case received even more attention on social media when it turned out that the 33-year old troublemaker is the son of the head of a neighboring village.

    Many Chinese netizens feel that the man is spared by Chinese news media outlets, which only report about a “drunken man” who was “causing trouble.” They insist that the real story should be properly reported.

    “The son of the village chief took liberties with a huadan actress who rejected him, and then he kicked her, causing her to lose consciousness. He then beat up other actors,” some commenters explain.

    “He is not just a ‘drunkard’, he’s the son of the village secretary.”

    “What an explosive performance it was!” one Weibo blogger writes.

    By Manya Koetse

    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.

    ©2020 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

    Rotten Girls: China’s Thriving Online Boys’ Love Culture

    It is an online subculture that has been around for more than a decade, and it is not likely to die out any time soon.

    Manya Koetse

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    They are mocked, hated, and misunderstood, yet China’s so-called ‘Rotten Girls’ are at the core of an online subculture that has been thriving for years.

     
    This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China (forthcoming), see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
     

    China’s ever-buzzing social media sphere sees trends, topics, and movements pop up every single day and then fade away quickly when their novelty is gone. But there are some trends that turn into something bigger, bringing forth communities and online subcultures that keep on thriving for years, with the participants building their own spaces in the online environment.

    One such space belongs to those who, with some self-mockery, define as “Rotten Girls” (fǔnǚ 腐女), derived from the Japanese fujoshi. In the Chinese context, ‘Rotten Girls’ are young women with a passion for fictional stories, drama series, and manga (comic books) featuring gay male erotica and romantic relationships called ‘yaoi.’

    ‘Rotten girls’ do not just consume these stories, primarily written by and for women, they also create and share them with others to discuss.

    In Chinese, the gay erotica known as yaoi is also called ‘danmei’ (耽美) or ‘BL’ (for ‘Boys’ Love’) – all umbrella terms for contents of male-male homoerotic fiction. The genre plays a major role in various corners of the Chinese internet. It is an online subculture that has been around for more than a decade, and it is not likely to die out any time soon.

    Media and technology both play a big part in the sharing of fǔnǚ fantasies. These fantasies can range from boys holding hands to more pornographic ones, but the main point of the imaginary is love and intimacy (Galbraith 2011, 213).

     

    Always Another BL Trend

     

    There is always something different trending in the world of Rotten Girls. This summer, for example, the release of the Japanese 18+ games ‘Lkyt’ by BL game brand Parade received a lot of attention. A previous game by Parade, ‘Room No. 9,’ is also still popular among BL fans in China. The game revolves around two young men, long-time friends, who get locked inside a room where they are subjected to a behavioral analysis experiment. The two have to make some taunting decisions, including possibly being forced into sexual activity with each other, in order to make it out alive.

    Another major topic that went trending within the Rotten Girls community some years ago, even attracting the attention of western news media, was the British crime drama Sherlock. Many Chinese viewers in the BL scenes were convinced that detective Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his sidekick Watson (Martin Freeman) were not just professional partners, but a romantic couple. This practice of imagining a relationship between two characters is also known as ‘CP,’ an abbreviation for “coupling” or “character pairing.”

    The ambiguous relationship between Holmes and Watson – and the very fact that they are not explicitly homosexual – suits the fantasies harbored by China’s fǔnǚ. There are countless examples of how BL fans photoshopped Sherlock images into homoerotic scenes, making up their own stories and endlessly discussing the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

    Fanart: Holmes and Watson share a passionate kiss

    BL fans are active in various online spaces. There are Rotten Girls communities on Chinese literature websites, discussion boards, and on ACG-focused platforms such as Bilibili (ACG is a popular abbreviation of “Anime, Comic and Games”). Boys’ Love is practically everywhere: short stories, web novels, manga, anime, games, and series are all actively created, consumed, and shared within the BL fandom.

    The Chinese Jinjiang Literature City site (1998) is one of the earliest and most influential websites for the danmei genre, where some top channels receive millions of clicks. The Chinese web novel author ‘Priest’ is among one of the most successful authors (some translations in English can be found here).

    But besides the special BL fiction forums, there are also many fǔnǚ accounts on the more mainstream social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. Under Weibo hashtags such as “Fǔnǚ Daily” (#腐女日常#), “BL Webtoons” (#bl条漫#), “BL Manga” (#bl漫画#), “Original Danmei” (#原创耽美#), and many more, Rotten Girls discuss their favorite danmei works and the latest news on a daily basis.

    Although the Rotten Girls have been increasing their sphere of influence, it hasn’t been without controversy. Not only are they often looked down upon for their love for male homoeroticism, some LGBT people also criticize them for silencing the voices of actual gay men or erasing real-life gay experiences.

     

    From Japanese Toy Boys to Chinese Danmei

     

    Where did this all begin? China’s BL subculture finds it roots in Japan. The popularity of danmei came up with the growing influence of Japanese popular culture in China.

    In the early 1990s, Japanese manga and anime titles started flooding the Chinese market, often as unauthorized (pirated) copies. With this wave of Japanese entertainment products hitting the Chinese market, there were also those belonging to the genre of BL.

    In Japanese fiction and manga, the theme of male-male romance intended for a female audience emerged as early as the 1970s but did not really rise to popularity until the early 1990s, when Japanese mainstream media saw a ‘gay boom’ and representations of male homosexuality became in vogue.

    The year 1993 truly was a ‘gay year’ in the Japanese media and entertainment industry. In “Producing Gayness” (1997), Sho Ogawa describes how one Japanese magazine even offered readers a “Gay Toybox”: full color paper gay dolls to cut out, including matching clothes from jackets to sports uniforms and even leather bondage gear. Instructions that came with the paper dolls encouraged readers to play with them, “give them a lovely name” and “imagine a campus love affair” between them.

    It was also in this same year of 1993 that many Chinese young women first discovered the genre of Japanese Boys’ Love, mainly through the dissemination of pirate manga, novels, and magazines in Chinese bookstores.

    Throughout the years, the Chinese genre of danmei has become much more than just an imported entertainment genre from Japan, and it is also somewhat different from the subgenre of ‘slash fiction’ in the West.

    Danmei literally means “to indulge in beauty,” and it has developed its own characteristics, taking a predominantly literary form while also strongly resonating with Japanese visual culture (Madill et al 2018, 5). Since the first Chinese BL-focused monthly magazine appeared in 1999, the genre has mixed with various local and other foreign media and celebrity cultures (e.g. that of South Korean and Thailand), and has become a truly Chinese fan culture phenomenon (Chen 2017, 7; Yang & Xu 2017, 3).

     

    Safe, Subversive, and Pure Love

     

    Those outside the danmei subculture often wonder what makes ‘Boys’ Love’ so appealing to so many young women. There are various explanations and interpretations of why female fans enjoy writing and reading about male homoeroticism.

    Chen Xin, who studied the topic of Boys’ Love at the University of British Columbia, offers “safety” as one explanation for the popularity of danmei, as it gives its readers, mostly straight women, the freedom to fantasize in a way that is removed from their own romantic lives. This is also reiterated by other scholars, who argue that BL provides a safe fantasy where female fans can avoid the objectification of women while exploring the boundaries of their own sexuality.

    The concept of ‘pure love’ is one of the funü’s greatest attraction to BL. According to them, it is the most romantic type of love because it transcends the boundaries of gender. The male protagonists in these stories do not identify as gay, but fall in love with other men nevertheless. “It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, I just love you” and “It’s not that I am gay, I just love a man” are classic sentences within Rotten Girls’ fiction (Dai 2013, 34).

    Zhang Chunyu (2016) also highlights the genre as an outlet for female writers and readers to explore sexuality and pleasure in a “subversive” way. Rotten girls position males as the objects of female desire, and in doing so, they challenge traditional gender stereotypes and appreciate gender fluidity.

    China’s Rotten Girls subculture is also ‘subversive’ in another way. Because of its focus on homosexuality and eroticism, danmei fandom is subject to online censorship. According to China’s cyberspace regulations, online content should adhere to the “correct political direction” and “strive to disseminate contemporary Chinese values.” Over the past few years, there have been various moments when displays of homosexuality were targeted by censors.

    An anti-pornography campaign of 2014 resulted in the shutdown of hundreds of websites and social media accounts. Throughout the years, dozens of danmei authors have been arrested and many sites were closed or deleted for creating and distributing homoerotic content (Chen 2017, 9; Madill et al 2018, 6; Zhang 2016, 250).

    Despite the strict internet control, fǔnǚ and BL content are still going strong. In order to circumvent censorship, the words and images used are often coded or nuanced enough not to get deleted – but BL fans will still understand and enjoy the subtext.

    Over the past years, China’s Rotten Girls have grown from a niche community to a force to reckon with on the Chinese internet. They have become a phenomenon that is often discussed in the media and is even researched by many academics.

    “We’ve become professionals now,” one ‘Rotten Girl’ joked on Weibo recently.

    Another commenter replied that the rise and possible fall of the danmei community is, eventually, intrinsically linked to how much room is given by China’s internet regulators. Although the past decade has demonstrated that Rotten Girls are not easily scared away by censorship and shutdowns, their future eventually does depend on the online accessibility to BL media and forums.

    “If there is no relaxed online environment, it doesn’t matter how professional we are,” one commenter writes: “We might come to a standstill.”

    What the future will hold for China’s Rotten Girls remains to be seen. Whether met with controversy or censorship, for now it seems impossible to put the Rotten Girls back into the closet they came from.

    By Manya Koetse
    Follow @whatsonweibo

     
    This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
     

    References

    Chen, Xin. 2017. “Boys’ Love (Danmei) Fiction On The Chinese Internet: Wasabi Kun, The Bl Forum Young Nobleman Changpei, And The Development Of An Online Literary Phenomenon.” MA Thesis, University of British Colombia https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Boys%27-Love-(Danmei)-fiction-on-the-Chinese-internet-Chen/63e7b494653bc1d849461b7a8f3d57aad05be452 [Aug 30, 2020].

    Cohane (阿扣-绝赞爬墙中). 2020. “第二章 中国内地BL文化发展历史整理 [Part Two: A History of Development of Mainland China BL Culture Development]” (In Chinese). Weibo Article, Aug 8, https://weibo.com/ttarticle/p/show?id=2309404536531036799045 [Aug 26 2020].

    Dai, Fei 戴非. 2013. “腐女心理 [Funu Psychology]” (In Chinese). 大众心里学 Popular Psychology (12): 34-35.

    Galbraith, Patrick W. 2011. “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan.” Signs 37 (1): 211-232.

    Larigakis, Sophia. 2017. “Boys’ Love: The Gay Erotica Taking China by Storm.” Sophialarigakis.com, Nov 6 https://www.sophialarigakis.com/writing/boys-love-china [Aug 29, 2020].

    Madill, A., Zhao, Y. and Fan, L. 2018. “Male-male marriage in Sinophone and Anglophone Harry Potter Danmei and Slash.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 9 (5): 418-434.

    Ogawa, Sho. 2017. “Producing Gayness: The 1990s “Gay Boom” in Japanese Media.” PhD Dissertation, University of Kansas.

    Yang, Ling and Yanrui Xi. 2016. “Danmei, Xianqing, and the making of a queer online public sphere in China.” Communication and the Public 1 (2): 251-256.

    Yang, Ling and Yanrui Xu. 2017. “Chinese Danmei Fandom and Cultural Globalization from Below.” In: Lavin, Maud, Ling Yang, and Jing Jamie Zhao (eds). 2017. Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols – Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, page 3-20.

    Zhang, Chunyu. 2016. “Loving Boys Twice as Much: Chinese Women’s Paradoxical Fandom of “Boys’ Love” Fiction.” Women’s Studies In Communication 39 (3): 249–267.

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