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

The top scoring TV dramas in China of this moment – and they are almost all available with English subtitles.

Gabi Verberg

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From beautiful costume series to suspenseful war-themed productions – these are the most popular TV dramas in China of this fall, an overview by What’s on Weibo.

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 the most popular Chinese TV dramas of this fall, 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.

This fall, Chinese viewers are mostly into dramas that are themed around (historical) love stories and suspense. What is noteworthy is that the often top-rated South-Korean tv dramas are not making it to the list of top-watched series this time, and that the current top 10 series are all produced in mainland China.

Please note that this list has been compiled by combining the top-ranking lists of this moment. And we have chosen to exclude popular drama series that already made it in our previous top-ten lists, such as White Deer Plain (白鹿原), despite their ongoing popularity.

Most of these series are available for viewing online with English subtitles. If you need a VPN to circumvent any geo restrictions, we recommend either NordVPN or ExpressVPN to do so.

 

#10 All Out of Love (凉生我们可不可以不忧伤)

Mainland China
Chinese title: Liáng shēng wǒmen kěbù kěyǐ bù yōushāng 凉生,我们可不可以不忧伤
Genre: Romance
Directed by: Liu Junjie (刘俊杰)
Episodes: 70, start 17 September 2018, Hunan TV

All Out of Love is based on the novel Liang Sheng, Can We Not Be Sad by Le Xiaomi (乐小米, also known as 纪伟娜). The TV series stars, among others, Wallace Chung (钟汉良), Ray Ma (马天宇) and Sun Yi (孙怡).

The series ranked fifth in the Weibo top ten most popular TV dramas and sixth position in the Youku top 10 TV drama series. Tencent Video ranked the series with an 8.2.

Growing up in rough times and poverty, Jiang Sheng and her adopted brother Liang Sheng are inseparable. Throughout the years, their greatest happiness lies in being by each other’s side. They eventually both develop feelings for one another, but despite them not being blood-related, they ignore their feelings. One day Liang mysteriously disappears, and Jiang is unable to find him. Years later, when Jiang is married, Liang suddenly comes back, and Jiang needs to face what is perhaps the most important decision of her life.

On Weibo, the official account of the series is nearing 375,000 fans right now.

See here the complete series including Chinese subtitles. Also available on Viki (incl. English subtitles).

 

#9 Battlefield Gun King (战地枪王)

Mainland China
Chinese title: Zhàndì qiāng wáng 战地枪王
Genre: War
Directed by: Li Yin (李印)
Episodes: 40, start 30 September 2018, Tianjin TV

Battlefield Gun King is the sequel in the ‘Gun King’ series following up The King of Guns (绝地枪王). However, it’s not really necessary to see the first series in order to understand this sequel.

Battlefield Gun King is currently ranking third place in the Sohu hotlists, and fifth place on the Youku most-watched lists. On iQiyi, the series scores a 7.1.

The TV drama tells the patriotic story of a family from China’s northeast, military hero Lu Yinghao, and the Chinese Communist Party’s fighting against the Japanese aggressors. It is 1945, and Lu Yinghao returns to China from the Soviet military base to celebrate his father’s birthday. At his arrival, he discovers that the Japanese military killed his family, mostly doctors, and other medical staff, to occupy the hospital. He decides to take revenge.

On Weibo, the official TV series account has approximately 22,000 fans.

See here on iQiyi the complete series with Chinese subtitles (no English).

 

#8 Mother’s Life (娘道)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Niángdào 娘道
Genre: Drama
Directed by: Guo Jingyu (郭靖宇) and Ju Xingmao (巨兴茂)
Episodes: 76, start 5 September 2018, Beijing TV and Jiangsu TV

Mother’s Life, starring Yue Lina (岳丽娜) and Yu Yi (于毅), tells the story of a young woman in times of China’s political turmoil around 1945.

The drama series is currently ranked first in the Sohu TV top ten, ranked seventh in the Weibo’s top 10 most popular TV dramas and is amongst the most popular series on Tencent Video.

Ying Gu is a young lady from a wealthy and influential big family. In the eight years she is married to her husband Long Jizong, they have three daughters. But when their third daughter is labeled a misfortune bearer, Ying Gu and her husband Xu Zhi are forced to move. Shortly after, Xu Zhi dies, leaving the pregnant Ying Gu all alone, which causes her to marry an opium addict out of desperation. One day, her new husband sells her third daughter to provide him with drugs. By taking out her rage, Ying Gu ends up in prison, where she thinks of a plan to reunite with her children.

See here the complete series including Chinese subtitles (no English).

 

#7 Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿传)

China Mainland
Chinese Title: Rúyì chuán 如懿传
Genre: Historical Drama
Directed by: Wang Jun (汪俊)
Episodes: 87, 20 August 2018, Tencent Video

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is an adaption from The Story of Empress Ruyi (后宫·如懿传) written by Liu Lianzi (流潋紫). In total, the book consists of six volumes which mainly tells the follow-up story of Empress in the Palace (后宫·甄嬛传) which subsequently was also made into a drama series in both 2011 and 2017. The 2017 production did not make this selection, however, it is currently ranked the most popular TV drama on LeTV.

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace starring Zhou Xun (周迅) and Wallace Huo (霍建华)  is currently ranked number one most popular series on 360kan, and number six on Baidu’s most popular drama list.

This fictional historical drama chronicles the marriage of Emperor Qianlong and his childhood friend and lover Ruyi. As Ruyi is a descendant of the Ulanara clan, she is only granted the position of consort. With the Empress Dowager as her sworn enemy, and dealing with the other consorts’ jealousy of her relationship with Qianlong, Ruyi faces many hardships in the palace. However, she is determined to become Empress Dowager of the Middle Kingdom.

With more than a million followers on the drama’s official Weibo account, it is one of the more popular TV series on social media in this list.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles, or watch on Viki.

 

#6 Martial Universe (武动乾坤之英雄出少年)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Wǔ dòng qiánkūn zhī yīngxióng chū shàonián 武动乾坤之英雄出少年
Genre: Fantasy, History, Martial Arts
Directed by: Zhang Li (张黎), assistant director Han Xiaojun (韩晓军)
Episodes: 40, 7 August 2018, Dragon TV

Just like Battle Through the Heaven, Martial Universe is based on a novel by author Li Hu (李虎), and was only published online.

This series starring Yang Yang (杨洋), Zhang Tianai (张天爱), Claudia Wang (Wang Likun/王丽坤), and Chun Wu (吴尊), is currently second most popular TV drama on Youku and third most popular series on Sogou Video.

This fantasy drama tells the story of Lin Dong, who, by coincidence, comes across a talisman with magical powers. After this encounter, his life will never be the same. Lin travels the world, and through his often very dangerous adventures, he gradually improves his skills as a martial artist. But will it be enough to face evil and save the world from demons taking over?

See here the complete series including English subtitles.

 

#5 Eagles and Youngster (天坑鹰猎)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Tiān kēng yīng liè 天坑鹰猎
Genre: Youth, Adventure, Suspense
Directed by: Cheng Zhichao (成志超)
Episodes: 40, 30 August 2018 on Youku, 25 September at Dragon TV

Eagles and Youngster is a coming-of-age story, adapted from the novel with the same name written by Zhang Muye (张牧野).

The series is currently ranked first in the Youku TV drama charts and ranking fourth in the Weibo’s top 10 most popular TV dramas.

With main characters played by Karry Wang (王俊凯) born in 1999, Vicky Chen (陈文淇) born in 2003, and supporting actress Jiang Yiyi (蒋依依) born in 2001, the cast of Eagles and Youngsters is the youngest amongst this list.

Eagles and Youngster revolves around city boy Zhang Baoqiang, who goes on an adventure with his two friends to find medicine to save their mentor’s life. On their way, Zhang accidentally finds an egg that hatches into a majestic white eagle. The creature ignites a series of events that put the young heroes in danger, and they begin to understand the meaning of life and deepen their understanding of the relationship between humankind and nature.

The series currently has 1,2 million fans on its official Weibo account.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#4 Battle Through the Heavens/Fight Break Spheres (斗破苍穹)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Dòu pò cāngqióng 斗破苍穹
Genre: History, Martial Arts, Fantasy
Directed by: Yu Songguang (于宋光)
Episodes: 45, start 3 September 2018, Hunan TV

Battle Through the Heavens starring Leo Wu (吴磊), Lin Yun (林允), Baron Chen (陈楚河), Li Qin (李沁) and Xin Zhilei (辛芷蕾) is an adaption of the like-named online novel by novelist Li Hu (李虎).

The series is currently ranked second in both Baidu’s and Weibo’s top 10 most popular TV dramas and is scored a 7.8 at Tencent Video.

The story revolves around Xiao Yan, whose mother was killed when he was only nine years old. Even though he was born a genius child, he lost all of his powers. At age 15, his martial arts skills are still average until he accidentally meets You Chen. With the help of the old man, Xiao Yan makes fast advances in martial arts. When he finds out that he and his family are doomed, he decides to embark on a journey to revanche his mothers’ killer and eliminate forces of evil.

There are more than 551,000 fans following this series on its Weibo account right now.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#3 Story of the Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Yán xǐ gōnglüè 延禧攻略
Genre: Historical Drama
Directed by: Hui Yidong (惠楷栋) and Wen Deguang (温德光)
Episodes: 70, 19 July 2018, Zhejiang TV

This is the second production in our list (see: Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace) that revolves around emperor Qianlong, starring the very popular Wu Jinyan (吴谨言) as the main character. 

Story of the Yanxi Palace is currently holding second place on 360kan’s TV drama’s hotlist and also on iQiyi it is amongst the most popular series of this moment, getting a high score of 8.0.

According to SCMP, the high standards and meticulous research of the production team regarding highly authentic props and story lines that stick to the history are a major part of this drama’s succes.

Story of the Yanxi Palace tells the story of the young girl Wei Yingluo who enters the Forbidden City as a palace lady, aiming to find out the truth about her sisters’ death and seek justice. She develops a friendship with the empress, who helps her up the ranks in the imperial palace to become a strong court lady. But when the Empress dies, Wei Wei is facing danger from an unexpected place.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#2 Age of Legends (橙红年代)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Chénghóng niándài 橙红年代
Genre: Drama, Crime
Directed by: Liu Xin (刘新)
Episodes: 47, start 17 September 2018, Zhejiang and Dragon TV

Age of Legends starring William Chan (陈伟霆) and Ma Sichun (马思纯) is based on the like-named novel by Xiao Qixiao (骁骑校) and is currently ranked first in the iQiyi popular drama chart and scores an 8.5 at Tencent Video.

The drama follows the life of Liu Ziguang, who returns to his hometown after working overseas for eight years. He suffers severe memory loss of this period and wants to live a happy and simple life. He unexpectedly meets Hu Rong, a young female detective, and the two fall in love. But good times don’t last long as Liu finds himself entangled in a dangerous situation. Together they go on a hunt for the truth and justice.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

 

#1 Ashes of Love (香蜜沉沉烬如霜)

China Mainland
Chinese title: Xiāng mì chénchén jìn rú shuāng 香蜜沉沉烬如霜
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Romantic, Action, Suspense
Directed by: Zui Ruibin (朱锐斌)
Episodes: 63, 2 August 2018, Jiangsu TV, iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Youku.

Ashes of Love in an adapted screenplay from the like-named novel written by Dian Xian. The drama is starring two of China’s currently most popular actors Yang Zi (杨紫) and Allen (邓伦). The played each other’s lovers before, in the 2012 drama series Flowers in Fog (花非花雾非雾), leading to Allen’s breakthrough.

That the two main actors are a good match is proved by the immense popularity of these series. The drama series is currently ranked first on Sogou Video, and third at 360kan’s most popular TV dramas list. And also the users of Tencent Video show their appreciation of the series, scoring it with an 8.9.

Ashes of Love tells the story of the thousand-year romance between the flower deity called Jinmi, and the fire deity, called Xufeng. Right before Jinmi’s mother gives birth to a daughter, she finds out that her daughter will suffer a great love drama. To spare her daughter, she swallows a pill preventing her daughter from feeling romantic love. Not knowing true love, she gets involved in a relationship with Xufeng.

See here the complete series including Chinese and English subtitles.

Want to see more? Also check out our
Top 10 Chinese TV dramas of Summer 2018

By Gabi Verberg

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.

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Jiani

    October 25, 2018 at 4:59 am

    创业时代 didn’t make the list? 😮

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China Society

The Concept of ‘Involution’ (Nèijuǎn) on Chinese Social Media

Nèijuǎn (involution) has become a commonly used term on Chinese social media, but what is it?

Manya Koetse

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Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited an ongoing debate about the problem of ‘involution’ in Chinese society today.

A scene from the Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited online discussions on the concept of nèijuǎn 内卷, “involution,” which was also a top buzzword in China in 2020.

A Love for Dilemma is a 2021 TV drama directed by Zhang Xiaobo (张晓波), who also worked on other hit series including Nothing But Thirty. This season’s popular TV drama A Love for Dilemma is themed around family, parenting, and China’s competitive education system.

In the series, two stepsisters compete against each other over the school results of their children. The family’s ‘grandpa’, played by famous actor Zhang Guoli (张国立), tries to create harmony around the dinner table between his daughter and stepdaughter, but the rivalry between the two and how they raise their children intensifies nevertheless.

Scene from A Love for Dilemma.

While stepsister Tian Yulan urges her little son to work hard in school and focus on his grades so that he can go to the best high school and university, sister Nan Li places more emphasis on the general development of her children and wants them to enjoy their childhood. Both mothers, however, question their own choices when facing challenges with how their children perform at school.

The specific scene that has ignited current discussions is a dialogue between the husbands of the sisters, who sit outside to talk about the education system and how it sometimes feels like everyone is in a theatre watching a show together until one person stands up from their seat. This makes it necessary for other members of the audience to also stand up, until everybody is standing.

The dialogue continues, with the two talking about how it does not stop at the people standing up. Because then there are those who will take it a step further and will stand on their seats to rise above the others. And then there are even those who will grab a ladder to stand higher than the rest. But they are still watching the same show and their situation has actually not changed at all – except for the fact that everybody is now more uncomfortable than they were before.

Many netizens found it striking how this dialogue explains how the term ‘involution’ is used in China nowadays. After the show aired, the hashtag “How to commonly explain involution” (#如何通俗解释内卷#) became a trending topic in the week of April 19, receiving 260 million views in a few days.

 
What Is ‘Involution’?
 

As explained by Jialing Xie in this top buzzword article on What’s on Weibo, involution describes the economic situation in which as the population grows, per capita wealth decreases. Since recently, this word has come to be used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings in China where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking.

The term ‘involution’ and how it is used today comes from a work by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz titled Agricultural Involution – The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963). In this work, Geertz explores the agricultural dynamics in Indonesia during the colonial period’s Cultivation System, where a radical economic dualism existed within the country: a foreign, Dutch economy and a native, Indonesian economy (p. 61-62).

Geertz describes how the Javanese faced a deepening demographic dilemma as they saw a rapidly growing population but a static economy, while the Dutch, who organized Javanese land and labor, were only growing in wealth (69-70). Agricultural involution is the “ultimately self-defeating process” that emerged in Indonesia when the ever-growing population was absorbed in high labor-intensive wet-rice cultivation without any changing patterns and without any progress (80-81).

When Geertz used the term ‘involution’ to describe the dynamics in Indonesia, he built on the work of another American anthropologist, namely Alexander Goldenweiser, who also used the term to describe “those culture patterns which, after having reached what would seem to be a definitive form, nonetheless fail either to stabilize or transform themselves into a new pattern but rather continue to develop by becoming internally more complicated” (Geertz 1963, 81).

 
The Involution Concept in the Chinese Context
 

The popular use of the Chinese translation of ‘involution’, nèijuǎn 内卷, started to receive attention in Chinese media in 2020. It is deviating from the original use of the term and is meant to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class.

As suggested in the article “‘Involution’: The Anxieties of Our Time Summed Up in One Word” by Zhou Minxi (CGTN), the popularity of the term comes from “a prevalent sense of being stuck in an ever so draining rat race where everyone loses.”

China’s ever-growing middle class is now facing the question of how they and their children can remain in the middle class in a situation where everyone is continuously working harder and doing all they can to rise above the rest. Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University, is quoted by Zhou:

The lower class still hopes to change their fate, but the middle and upper classes aren’t so much looking upward, and they are marked by a deep fear of falling downward. Their greater fear is perhaps losing what they already have.”

The term ‘involution’ often comes up together with criticism on China’s ‘996’ work system (working from 9am-9pm, 6 days a week). Although Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 12-hour working day a “blessing,” the system is a controversial topic, with many condemning how Chinese (tech) companies are exploiting their employees, who are caught in a conundrum; they might lose their sanity working such long hours, and might lose their job and future career prospects if they refuse to do so.

But the term also comes up when discussing China’s education system, where competition starts as early as kindergarten and the pressure on children to succeed in the ‘gaokao’ college entrance exam starts many years before it takes place.

This image shows the “juan” 卷 character from ‘nei juan’ (involution) changing into a person on their bike with laptop. Image via http://www.bajieyou.com/new/431e6ef39aac4a6da232671122f66ff4

This discussion also came up with a now-famous image of a student riding his bike while also working on his laptop, using every moment to study. This was then also called “Tsinghua Inversion” (清华内卷), referring to one of China’s top universities, where competition is so vicious that students must double their efforts to catch up with others.

 
‘Involution’ Discussions on Chinese Social Media
 

By mid-2020, ‘involution’ attracted the attention on Weibo when popular academic accounts started discussing the term. Recently, ‘involution’ is used so often on Chinese social media that it has already gone beyond its original context, leading to many people discussing its meaning.

“We are forced to work overtime and are unable to resist, and yet it seems that everyone is doing it out of free will,” one Weibo user says, with another person adding: “The abnormal state of inversion has already become our normal state.”

A popular legal blogger (@皇城根下刀笔吏) on Weibo writes:

It is an internal bottomless vicious cycle of competition. For example, everyone used to work eight hours per day, five days per week. Then one company comes up where people work twelve hours per day, six days per week. Then this company will have major competitive strength in the market economy. But the outcome is that other companies are also compelled to do the same in order to compete. As time goes by, all companies will shift to a twelve-hour workday, six days a week, and job applicants entering the market can’t find any eight-hour workday positions for five days a week anymore. So, if another company wants to beat its competitors, it will have to introduce a seven-day workweek. And then other companies will need to follow in order to make a living. That is involution.”

By now, there are various images and memes that have come to represent the meaning of ‘involution’ in present-day China, such as one cram school sign saying: “If you come we will train your kids, if you don’t come, we will train the competitors of your kids.”

“The society’s resources are in short supply and to obtain the limited supplies, people are all madly practicing their skills to obtain them – regardless if they need them or not,” another Weibo user says.

Most comments relating to the discussion of ‘involution’ on Chinese social media express a sense of fatigue with an ongoing rat-race in the education and employment market.

On the interest-based social networking platform Douban, there are even some support groups for people who feel stuck in ‘involution’ and are looking for a way out. The “Center for Victims of Involution” (内卷受害者收容中心) group has over 3000 members, with smaller groups such as “Let’s Escape Involution Together” (我们一起逃离内卷) having a few dozen participants.

The generation that is mostly affected by this sense of socioeconomic stagnation is the post-90 generation. In 2020, a record high of 8.74 million university graduates entered the job market, but their chances of finding a job that suits their education and personal expectations are slim; many industries are recruiting fewer people than before in an employment market that was already competitive before the COVID19 pandemic. It leaves them facing a troubling Catch 22 situation: they will be stressed and pressured if they do not find that top job, but when they do, they are often also stressed and pressured.

It is a recurring topic on social media. Five years ago, a song by the Rainbow Chamber Singers (彩虹室内合唱团) titled “The Sofa Is So Far” immediately became a hit in China. Many young Chinese recognized themselves in the hardworking and tired people described in the lyrics, which started with: “My body feels empty / I am dog-tired / I don’t want work overtime.”

How to get away from the involution rat race is also a much-discussed topic on Weibo, where the hashtag page “How can young people resist involution” (#年轻人如何反内卷#) has received over 280 million views.

Some suggest the answer to ending the vicious cycle is to find a way to get rich fast, others suggest that not getting married and staying child-free is also a way to alleviate the pressure to participate in this zero-sum game.

Tech blogger Sensai (@森赛), who has over 2 million followers on Weibo, advises young people to find their true interest and to invest in it before the age of 30. Doing something that sparks joy, such as learning a new language or working on art, might start as a hobby but could turn into a valuable side business later, Sensai says.

For some, however, that goal seems unattainable. “I am already working 15 hours a day, how could I ever do that?!”

“This is just bringing us into a whole other level of involution,” others write.

In order to watch A Love for Dilemma (小舍得), the show that started so many of these discussions this month, you can go over to iQiyi or YouTube.

By Manya Koetse

References

Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Zhou Minxi. 2020. “‘Involution’: The anxieties of our time summed up in one word.” CGTN, Dec 4 https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-04/-Involution-The-anxieties-of-our-time-summed-up-in-one-word-VWNlDOVdjW/index.html [20.4.2021].

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Movie “Sister” Stirs Discussions on Traditional Family Values in China

The movie ‘Sister’ has sparked online discussions on whether or not personal values should be prioritized over traditional family values.

Manya Koetse

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Mainlaind Chinese drama My Sister (我的姐姐, also known as ‘Sister‘) was just released in theatres and is sparking online discussions on family relations and the role of women in China.

After the hit movie Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) received praise earlier this year for focusing on the role of mothers within Chinese families, this film zooms in on the role of older sisters.

My Sister, directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), revolves around the story of An Ran, an 18-year-old daughter who is unexpectedly facing the major responsibility for her 6-year-old brother after the tragic loss of their parents. While trying to find her own path in life, she suddenly has to step into the role of caregiver for her younger sibling. But does she want to take on this role?

Actress Zhang Zifeng (张子枫) is playing the main lead in this movie, which touches upon the issue of dealing with traditional family values and personal dreams and ambitions. Sister reveals the difficulties women face within the traditional Chinese-style family structure and the sacrifices they make for their parents, their children, siblings, and their husbands; and how the roles and tasks that are expected of them also clash with their own ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

For An Ran, the relationship with her little brother is troublesome. As a young girl, she had to pretend to be disabled in order to allow her parents to have a second child, preferably a son (under the One Child Policy, families with children with disabilities were allowed to have more children). Now, as a young adult, she once again has to sacrifice her own individual freedom in order to let her brother thrive.

The renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) dedicated a lengthy post to the movie on her Weibo account, where she called the film “fascinating” and “thought-provoking.”

Li suggests that multiple social issues play a role in this film. First, there is the conflict between individual-oriented values and traditional family-oriented ethics. While traditional Chinese ideas about family require An Ran to put her brother first and move personal self-fulfillment to the backseat, An Ran is a young woman who grew up in a rapidly modernizing China where women are more empowered and independent. Why should she sacrifice her personal education and career in order to devote herself to raising her brother?

Another social topic that plays a major role in this film is the deep-seated cultural preference for sons over daughters. An Ran literally had to make herself weaker in order for her brother to be brought into this world – and in doing so limiting the possibilities for her future career, – with these patriarchal practices prioritizing the thriving of sons over the happiness of daughters. An Ran’s anger and resistance show that traditional ideas about male superiority clash with modern-day Chinese society, where profound changes within gender relations are already taking place.

“Sisters do not dislike their little brothers,” one Weibo commenter wrote: “What they dislike is the hidden meaning behind their brother.”

Another female blogger responded: “Within my family, from my grandpa’s generation up to myself, it is actually the women who discriminate against women. I think these are deeply rooted ideas that can’t be changed. Look at my second elder aunt; she had seven children, all girls, and only four were left. The others were given away. However, my grandfather has always been good to me, and has never made me feel any less than the boys. Yet my grandma and my mother sometimes make me doubt about my life.”

Under the hashtag “How to Evaluate the Movie My Sister” (#如何评价电影我的姐姐#), which attracted 150 million views on Weibo, many ask the question of what they would do if they were An Ran. Would you take care of your little brother? Or would you leave his care up to other family members and choose your own path in life?

“If it were me, I’d raise my brother. Although it’s actually the parents’ problem, the little brother is innocent.”

“If it were me, I wouldn’t raise him,” another commenter writes: “Although the little brother is innocent, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my life for him. And it might be a better choice to leave him with other family members than with me.”

These discussions also triggered the hashtag “Should Personal Values Be More Important Than Family Values?” (#个人价值必须高于家庭价值吗#). One top commenter raised the issue of ‘what if this was about a little sister instead of about a little brother,’ again provoking the idea that existing gender roles and the preference over sons play a major part in these discussions.

“These traditions no longer suit this era of a developing society. Let me ask you this question: would the little brother also take care of his sister once she grows old?”

“Personal values should always have priority. If you are not happy yourself, how could you ever take care of your family?”

“I have the perception that the family-oriented concept is deep-rooted. Although there consistently are new values and personal-oriented viewpoints, when it comes to real problems, most people will still be family-oriented.”

One commenter wrote: “What are ‘values’? What is the family in modern-day society? What does it mean to prioritize something? If we don’t first clarify this, the discussion becomes meaningless.”

Meanwhile, all the online discussions on Sister have boosted the film. By now, the movie has already become a box office hit and defeated the American Godzilla vs. Kong.

By Manya Koetse

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