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Top 10: Overview of China’s Most Popular TV Dramas of Summer 2018

These are the top-scoring TV dramas in China of this moment – and they are all produced in the PRC.

Manya Koetse

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Tong Liya in 'Patriot'

Turn on the airconditioning and get ready for some binge watching; these are the top trending TV dramas in China to watch this summer.

Note: also see our Top 30 of all-time classic Chinese TV Dramas here!

China still has one of the most booming TV drama industries in the world, with dozens of new dramas being released every month, drawing in millions of viewers through the country’s most popular online video streaming platforms.

We’ve compiled a top ten of most popular Chinese TV dramas based on the current popular charts of the leading websites in Chinese online video, including Tencent Video, iQiyi, Sohu, Youku, LeTV, 360kan, Sogou Video, along with Baidu’s and Weibo’s popular TV drama charts.

Like fashion and music, TV drama trends constantly change with the times and seasons. This summer, Chinese viewers are mostly into dramas that are themed around (historical) love stories and suspense. What is noteworthy is that the often very popular fantasy & martial art series, Sino-Japanese war dramas, and the ever-popular South-Korean tv dramas are not making it to the list of top-watched series this time; the current top 10 series are all produced in mainland China.

This list has been compiled by combining the top ranking lists of this moment to make sure we have all the current top-scoring TV dramas in China included. Please note that some of these series are currently still airing and have no English subtitles available at this time. Some links we provide here (such as those to Viki) have content restrictions depending on location. To circumvent you could consider purchasing a vpn (read more).

These are the dramas Chinese netizens are watching the most right now:

 

#10. Shanghai Women’s Manual (上海女子图鉴)

Mainland China
Genre: urban, romance
Directed by: Cheng Liang, 程亮
Episodes: 20, start May 8 2018, by Youku

Chinese video platform Youku released Shanghai Women’s Manual (or Women in Shanghai) last May, following the series Beijing Women Manual; both series are adapted from 2016 popular Japanese drama series Tokyo Joshi Zukan.

This successful TV drama, that currently ranks number 5 in Youku top 30, stars actress Wang Zhen’er (王真儿) as Luo Haiyan – a small-town girl who tries to make it in the big city.

Following Luo Haiyan’s life from college to corporate world.

The series revolves around career and romance in Shanghai, following Luo’s life from the days of university graduation to her first struggles and successes in the corporate world. Throughout Luo’s career path, her university sweetheart Zhang Tianhao (played by Taiwanese actor Li Chengbin 李程彬) keeps on playing an important role in her life.

Two pluspoint aspects of this series; the scenery is enjoyable (nice images of Shanghai streets and aerial views), and some of the music used in the episodes is great. The TV drama can be watched here (no subtitles, if you know of where to watch with English subtitles please leave comment).

 

#9. On Fire (走火)

Mainland China
Genre: suspense, crime
Directed by: Li Xiaoping 李小平 and Li Xiaoting 李小亭
Episodes: 40, start June 6 2018, by Zhejiang TV

Ranking no.4 in Weibo’s current most popular charts of the day and no.6 in Youku top 30, On Fire or Flame (走火) is a TV drama about a group of young police officers facing complicated and serious cases.

 

#8. White Deer Plain (白鹿原)

Mainland China
Genre: Contemporary historical drama
Directed by: Liu Jin 刘进
Episodes: 77, start July 16 2017

Currently ranking first in Baidu’s popular drama charts and number two in LeTV top 10, White Deer or White Deer Plain is a succesful tv drama that is based on the award-winning Chinese literary classic by Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实) from 1993.

The preparation and production of White Deer Plain was certainly not rushed; it reportedly took 17 years before this TV drama finally went on air.

This work’s success in China has previously been compared to that of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. White Deer Plain was previously also turned into a movie (2011).

The historical epic follows the stories of people from several generations living on the ‘White Deer Plain,’ or North China Plain in Shanxi province, during the first half of the 20th century. This tumultuous period sees the Republican Period, the Japanese invasion, and the early days of the People’s Republic of China.

The series is great in providing insights into how people used to live, from dress to daily life matter. The scenery and sets are beautiful. Some Youtube channels work on providing subtitles for this show, but we couldn’t find one channel with complete English subtitles yet.

 

#7. Great Expectations (远大前程)

Mainland China
Genre: Period drama, romance
Directed by: Xie Ze and Chen Xitai 谢泽、陈熙泰
Episodes: 48, start April 1 2018, by Hunan TV

Scoring number one position in the LeTv popular dramas chart, Great Expectations is set in Shanghai in the early 20th century.

The drama follows the story of Hong Sanyuan (played by Chen Sicheng 陈思成), who has come to Shanghai from a small town in search for a better life together with his mother and close friend Qi Lin. The new life in Shanghai does not come easy, however, and Hong gets wound up in political affairs and power struggles as he transforms from a street hooligan to a revolutionary.

Fun fact: besides starring in this TV drama as the main actor, Chen Sicheng is also the screenwriter and producer of Great Expectations. Drama is available through Viki here.

 

#6. Dr. Qin Medical Examiner 2 (法医秦明2清道夫)

Mainland China
Genre: crime
Director: Li Shuang, Chen Jiahong 李爽、陈嘉鸿
Episodes: 20, June 15th 2018, Sohu TV

This series is currently ranking number one in the Sohu hot drama charts. It is the sequel to one of the most successful network dramas on Sohu TV: Medical Examiner Dr. Qin (法医秦明), an adaptation from best-selling novels by Chinese forensic expert Dr. Qin Ming.

The series sheds light on the profession of forensic doctors, following their hardships and professional working attitudes, and stars Eric Liu Dong Qin, Liu Chang, and Yu Shasha. The original series is now available on Viki with subtitles.

 

#5. Patriot (爱国者)

Mainland China
Genre: Historical drama
Directed by: Gong Chaohui (龚朝晖)
Episodes: 50, June 9 2018, Jiangsu

Zhang Luyi (张鲁一) and Tong Liya (佟丽娅) star in this 50-episode drama that is curerently number two in Weibo’s popularity charts, getting a 7.1 rating at Sogou Video.

As the only series in this list, it is set at the time of the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945), and tells the story of underground Communist party member Song Xiaqiao on a secret mission, who has to deal with spies and traitors. His love interest is played by the beautiful Tong Liya.

The marketing posters for this TV drama really stand out; they are original and quite stunning. Available to watch on YouTube (Chinese).

 

#4. Love Won’t Wait (如果,爱)

Mainland China
Genre: Urban, family drama
Directed by: Zhang Zheshu (张哲书)
Episodes: 47, May 27 2018, Mango TV and others

After 40 years of hard work, Wan Shicheng (Zhng Shuangli 张双利) has succeeded in establishing the biggest restaurant in the city. Despite his success, his family and daughters are facing many struggles – one of them, played by Cecilia Cheung (张柏芝), is caught in an abusive relationship while the other becomes pregnant after a one-night stand.

Love Won’t Wait is the top scoring tv drama in iQiyi charts at time of writing, and is ranking number 4 in Weibo’s popularity charts. The series can be viewed here (no English subtitles, let us know if available.)

 

 

#3. The Way We Were (归去来)

This is the number one show at 360kan and Youku, and top scoring show in Tencent Video this week.

Shu Che (Luo Jin 罗晋), Xiao Qing (Tiffany Tang 唐嫣), Liao Ying (Amelie Xu 许龄月) and Ning Ming (Tim Yu) are Chinese children from rich households living in the US. The TV drama follows the trials and tribulations of these students and their elite lives – facing challenges in love and legal battles.

The Way We Were is available for viewing on Viki or through Youtube (above) with subtitles.

 

#2. Summer’s Desire (泡沫之夏)

Mainland China
Genre: Youth drama, romance
Directed by: Yu Zhonzhong (于中中)
Episodes: 36, May 8 2018, by Zhejiang TV, iQiyi and others

The number one hottest tv drama at Sogou at time of writing, also ranking number three at Weibo’s weekly best-rated tv drama’s, is “Summer’s Desire.”

The popular TV series is based on the 2007 novel Summer of Foam by Ming Xiaoxi. It stars Zhang Xueying (张雪迎), Qin Junjie (秦俊杰), Madina Memet, and Huang Shengchi (黄圣池) and focuses on the love story between female protagonists Yin Xiamo and Ou Chen and Luo Xi.

 

#1. Lost in 1949 (脱身)

Mainland China
Genre: Suspense, historical drama
Director: Lin Ke (林柯)
Episodes: 47, June 11 2018

Lost in 1949 is the number one TV drama on Weibo’s popularity charts this week, along with the top scorer on iQiyi, and scoring a 8.8 rating on Tencent’s Video.

The stars of this spy drama are Chen Kun (陈坤) and Wan Qian (万茜). Chen actually plays two different roles in this drama.

The story is set in early 1949 at the time of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Huang Liwen is on her way to Shanghai to mourn her lost husband when she runs into Qiao Zhicai, who has been released from prison and is on a mission to find the person who framed him. In a coincidence meting, the suitcases of Qiao and Huang get mixed up. Huang’s suitcase contains an important item she needs to deliver to the underground organization of the communist party. It is the beginning of their adventure and lovestory, in which the protagonists’s devotion to their country plays an important role.

Want to read more? Check out:
Top 10 of TV Drama in China 2017
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

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    labarron

    June 19, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Can someone recommend good VPN for streaming China’s TV dramas?

    • Avatar

      ralph

      June 19, 2018 at 6:28 pm

      Nordvpn is the one to go 🙂 An excellent and reputable provider! Here is a coupon code 75OFF to save some $

    • Avatar

      admin

      June 20, 2018 at 4:26 pm

      Hi Labarron, we recommend NordVPN or ExpressVPN. NordVPN currently has a very good deal, check it out: See https://www.whatsonweibo.com/best-vpns-for-china-summer-2018/.

  2. Avatar

    bren

    June 21, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Great article! Lots of new shows to check out.

    Just a small note, I think 白鹿原 takes place in 陕西, which is usually written as Shaanxi.

  3. Avatar

    Chris

    November 29, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    Hi,

    I found Love won’t wait with English subtitles here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJof90AYsK8&feature=youtu.be

    Have a good one

    Chris

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

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This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On Zhihu.com, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

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China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse

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This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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