Top 10 Overview of China’s Most Popular TV Dramas of Fall 2018 | What's on Weibo
Connect with us

China Arts & Entertainment

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

Published

:

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.

print

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.

Advertisement
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jiani

    October 25, 2018 at 4:59 am

    创业时代 didn’t make the list? 😮

  2. Pingback: An Oriental Odyssey starts out strong but does not place among established Chinese Dramas

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China Arts & Entertainment

How The Golden Horse Awards Turned Dark after Taiwan Independence Speech

The annual Golden Horse Film Gala has been overshadowed by political controversy over Taiwan issue.

Published

:

The festive atmosphere at the 55th edition of Taipei’s Golden Horse Awards was overclouded by political remarks on stage about both an independent Taiwan and a unified Taiwan. The Film Festival’s ‘Taiwan independence’ controversy has become the talk of the day on Chinese social media.

The annual Taipei Golden Horse Film Awards (台北金馬影展) have been shrouded in controversy since Taiwanese director Fu Yue (傅榆), who won an award for the best documentary, expressed her hopes for an “independent Taiwan” in her acceptance speech, followed by a remark by Chinese mainland actor Tu Men (涂们), who expressed his joy over coming to “China, Taiwan.”

During the live-televised event, cameras often zoomed in on the audience. After the remarks by Fu Yue and Tu Men, the divide between Taiwanese and mainland guests became painfully clear from their mixed reactions – with people showing both support and disapproval.

Fu, whose documentary Our Youth in Taiwan focuses on the 2014 Sunflower Movement, was visibly emotional during her speech, which she concluded by saying that she hoped “the country can be regarded as truly independent entity one day” and that this was her “biggest hope as a Taiwanese.”

Although her speech received some cheers and applause from the audience, some shots of the audience also showed people clearly disapproving by not clapping or smiling at all.

Famous Taiwan director Ang Lee (李安), who chairs the Golden Horse committee, could be seen hesistantly smiling, frowning, and holding his hands together without clapping – an image that has since become a meme on Chinese social media.

Later on in the show, actor Tu Men from mainland China struck back at Fu Yue by saying he was honored to present an award in “China, Taiwan” (“很荣幸来到中国台湾”) and that “both sides were one big family” (“我感到两岸一家亲”).

That remark was followed by some audible gasps from the audience, with some people immediately showing their support by clapping and laughing, with others showing stern faces.

The live streaming of the awards received thousands of live comments on Youtube, with people saying things as: “We want our our Taiwan Island, give Taiwan back to us and give us independence” and “I’ll never support Taiwan independence, Taiwan will always be a province of China.”

But that was not all – the controversy further grew when leading Chinese actress Gong Li, chair of the jury , declined to stand on stage with Ang Lee at the end of the ceremony to present the award for Best Feature Film. According to the programme, the mainland actress was supposed to present the award together with Ang Lee, but when Li asked Gong to come up on stage with him, she did not respond.

Although it is not entirely clear what the context of this incident is – Ang Lee later explained that it was because she wanted to sit together with the other jury members – most netizens assume Gong’s move was a political one in response to the remarks on an independent Taiwan.

The hashtag “Gong Li Refuses to Confer Award” (#巩俐拒绝颁奖#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 1,8 billion views on Weibo at time of writing. “Ang Lee responds to Gong Li Refusing to Confer Award” (#李安回应巩俐拒绝颁奖#) received 110 million views.

Reporter Simon Zhou posted a photo of the post-festival event on Weibo, showing empty chairs, saying that many mainland actors and actresses had refused to join the celebrations after the controversial event, even though Zhang Yimou, one of mainland China’s most acclaimed directors, took home the most awards for his film Shadow.

Since the end of the 55th edition of the Golden Horse Festival, the night’s events have been snowballing into a larger issue. According to the BBC, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen spoke out after the festival, saying that Taiwan “never accepted the phrase ‘China, Taiwan’, and never would, because Taiwan is Taiwan”.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media (People’s Daily, China Daily) have been promoting the hashtag “China Can’t Become Smaller” or “Not Even a Bit Can Be Removed from China” (#中国一点都不能少#) on social media, which is a slogan that was first used during the South China Sea arbitration in 2016.

The past year, discussions on the ongoing Taiwan Strait Issue have flared up multiple times. In August, Taipei-born actress Vivian Sung (宋芸樺) attracted thousands of comments on Weibo for a comment she made about Taiwan being her “favorite country” in an older interview.

In the same month, Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen paid a visit to a Los Angeles chain of Taiwanese 85°C Bakery Café (85度C) while on her United States trip. The occasion, captured on photos, triggered major controversy among mainland netizens, who tied the event to the 85°C Bakery supposedly supporting Taiwan independence.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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

Continue Reading

China Arts & Entertainment

Top 30 Classic TV Dramas in China: The Best Chinese Series of All Time

This year marks 60 years of Chinese TV drama. These are the best Chinese TV dramas of all time.

Published

:

First published

They might have aired 30 years ago, but some TV dramas just never get old. We have listed the greatest classic Chinese TV dramas of all time, that, either because of their high-production value or historic ratings, are still talked about today. A special overview by What’s on Weibo, as China celebrates 60 years of TV drama this year.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Chinese TV drama since the airing of the very first (one-episode) drama A Mouthful of Vegetable Pancakes (一口菜饼子) in 1958 – the same year in which the very first Chinese television station started broadcasting (Bai 2007, 77).

The drama, live broadcasted by Beijing Television, sent out a message of frugality, as one young girl warns her sister not to waste food by remembering her of their difficult past and brave mother, who died of hunger while even refusing to eat the last bit of food, a vegetable pancake.

A Mouthful of Pancakes aired in 1958.

Much has changed within those sixty years. After a time when the production of TV dramas practically came to a standstill during the Cultural Revolution, the late 1970s and early 1980s saw a boom in the popularity of television dramas, along with a spike in households that owned their own TV. From 1980 to 1990, the number of household television sets in China increased from 5 to 160 million (Wang & Singhal 1992, 177).

Since the 1980s, mainland China has gone from a country where most television dramas were imported from outside the country, to one that has the most thriving domestic TV drama industry in the world.

Some TV dramas in this list have become classics through time, some are fairly new but have already become classics within their genre.

This list has been fully compiled by What’s on Weibo, based on popularity charts on Chinese search engine Sogou’s top tv drama listings of all time, together with ranking on Douban, a big Chinese social networking service and influential media review website, and also based on academic sources that note the importance of some of these TV classics.*1 We will list a recommendation list of relevant books at the end of this article.

Most of these series will have links redirecting to available versions on Youtube or elsewhere – unless written otherwise, they do not have English subtitles. Please share English subtitled versions in the comment section if you found them, we’ll add them to the list.

This article is focused on those classics that have been important for the TV drama industry and audiences of mainland China. Although several of them were produced in Hong Kong or Taiwan, the majority is from the PRC. These dramas are listed in chronological order of appearance, not listed based on rankings.

Here we go!

 

#1 The Bund / The Shanghai Bund (上海滩)

Year: 1980
Episodes: 25
Genre: Action
Produced in Hong Kong

Noteworthy: “The Godfather of the East”

This TV drama became such a sensation across China in 1980, that it also became known as the Chinese equivalent to the classic Godfather series.

Actors Angie Chiu and Chow Yun-Fat star in this Hong Kong drama, that is set in the underworld society of 1920s Shanghai, and revolves around the tumultuous love story between Feng Chengcheng and Xu Wenqiang.

The series has become such a classic that it still plays an important role in popular culture of China today, with newer films and TV dramas also being based on the original series (the 2007 mainland China TV series Shanghai Bund, for example, is a remake of the 1980 original). If you ever go to karaoke, you’re probably already familiar with the shows’ famous theme song ‘Seung Hoi Tan’ (上海滩) by Frances Yip (see here).

 

#2 Eighteen Years in the Enemy’s Camp (敌营十八年)

Year: 1981
Episodes: 9
Genre: War Drama
Watch the first episode here on Youtube.

Noteworthy: “The first TV drama produced by CCTV”

Eighteen Years in the Enemy’s Camp is somewhat of a cult classic in China. Despite the fact that the TV drama itself was somewhat poorly produced, it still gets high ratings on sites such as QQ Video or Douban today.

At a time when the Chinese TV drama market was still dominated by imported television series (from Hong Kong, US, and other places), Eighteen Years in the Enemy’s Camp was the first drama series made by CCTV (Bai 2007, 80), directed by Wang Fulin (王扶林) and Du Yu (都郁).

The story revolves around the Communist Party member Jiang Bo (江波), who spends 18 years undercover in the “tiger’s den” (虎穴), the enemy’s camp, as a National Army officer, thwarting the Nationalists’ plans until the 1949 victory of the Communists.

Fun fact by Ruoyun Bai (see references): despite the fact that the entire show is about the Nationalists Army, not a single Nationalist Army uniform could be found for the cast. The uniforms that were used, were not up to par: the main character had to leave his coat’s collar unbuttoned because it was too tight, and always has his hat in his hands because it was actually too small to fit his head (2007, 80-81).

 

#3 Ji Gong (济公)

Year: 1985
Episodes: 12
Genre: Fantasy
Directed by Zhang Ge (张戈)
All episodes can be watched here on YouTube.

Noteworthy: “Influenced by Charlie Chaplin”

This popular TV series is centered around Ji Gong, the folk hero and Chan Buddhist monk who lived in the Southern Song and, according to legend, had supernatural powers and spent his whole life helping the poor.

The main role is played by renowned Chinese artist and mime master You Benchang (游本昌). In an interview with CRI, the actor once said that he was heavily influenced by his idol Charlie Chaplin for this role, sometimes even imitating some of Chaplin’s gestures.

 

#4 Chronicles of The Shadow Swordsman (萍踪侠影)

Year: 1985
Episodes: 25
Genre: Wuxia/Martial
Directed by: Wang Xinwei (王心慰)
Produced in Hong Kong
Episodes available on Youtube here.

Noteworthy: “Perfect Chemistry between Leading Actors”

This classic TV drama features actors Damian Lau as Zhang Danfeng and Michelle Yim as Yun Lei, whom are often praised by drama lovers for their perfect chemistry in these series. Of the many adaptations there are of Liang Yusheng’s wuxia novel Chronicles of The Shadow Swordsman, many say this is their favorite.

 

#5 New Star (新星)

Year: 1986
Episodes: 12
Directed by: Li Xin (李新)

Noteworthy: “A drama anyone over 50 will remember”

This CCTV mini-drama, based on the novel by Ke Yunlu (柯云路), tells the story of a young Party secretary fighting against corruption. Before Heaven Above (later in this list), it is thus one of the very first dramas to focus on corruption as a theme, and it also caused a buzz at the time for doing so – most people over 50 in China today will probably remember this TV series today.

 

#6 Journey to the West (西游记)

Year: 1986
Episodes: 25 for season one, 16 episodes for season 2
Directed by Yang Jie (杨洁)
Watch on Youtube (with English subtitles!) here.

Noteworthy: “Shot with one camera”

This is an all-time favorite TV series in China that is still rated with a 9.5 on the TV drama database of search engine Sogou. It has been an instant classic from the moment it was first broadcasted by CCTV in October of 1986.

Journey to the West (Xīyóu jì 西游记), published in the 16th century (Ming dynasty), is one of the most important classical works in the history of Chinese literature, and tells the story of the long journey to India of the Tang Monk Xuánzàng, who is on a mission to obtain Buddhist sutras. He is joined by three disciples, the pig demon Zhū Bājiè, the river demon Shā Wùjìng, and Sūn Wùkōng, who is better known as the Monkey King in the West.

The Monkey in the series is played by Zhang Jinlai (章金莱), also known as Liu Xiao Ling Tong, who recently recalled in an CGTN article that: “it was 30 years ago and we’d got only one camera. We walked around China’s picturesque areas and took 17 years to make 41 episodes. 17 years equals Monk Xuanzang’s pilgrimage for the Buddhist scriptures.”

 

#7 “The Dream of Red Chambers” (红楼梦)

Year: 1987
Episodes: 36
Directed by: Wang Fulin (王扶林)
Watch with English subtitles on YouTube here.

Noteworthy: “The first entry of Chinese tv drama into the global market”

Even today, this CCTV TV series from 1987 is still rated as one of the best Chinese television series of all time on Sogou, where viewers rate it with a 9.6.

Like other series in this list, this is an adaptation from a classic literary work; Dream of the Red Chamber (Hónglóumèng), one of China’s Four Great Classical Novels, which was written by Cao Xueqin in the mid-18th century during the Qing.

In June of 1987, this TV drama became the first Chinese television series to be exported to Malaysia and West-Germany, making it “the first entry of Chinese tv drama into the global market” (Hong, 32).

 

#8 The Investiture of the Gods (封神榜)

Year: 1990
Episodes: 36
Genre: Fantasy/Costume Drama
Directed by: Guo Xinling (郭信玲)
The first episode is available on YouTube here.

Noteworthy: “Based on the classical novel Fengshen Yanyi

This TV series is based on the classical novel Fēngshén Yǎnyì (封神演義), also known as Investiture of the Gods or Creation of the Gods), written by Xu Zhonglin and Lu Xixing. Famous Chinese actor and painter Lan Tianye (蓝天野) was praised for his role as Jiang Ziya in this drama.

The (female) director Guo Xinling (1936-2012) was a Party member who worked on many televised works during her career.

Just as many others of the series in this list based on classic novels, there are remakes of these series in recent times.

 

#9 Yearnings / Kewang (渴望)

Year: 1990
Episodes: 50
Genre: Family drama
Directed by Lu Xiaowei (鲁晓威) and Zhao Baoguang (赵宝刚).

Noteworthy: “China’s first soap opera – a national craze”

Yearnings is also known as China’s real first soap opera, which caused a sensation across the nation – sales of TV sets surged, and streets were empty when it aired.

The story’s time spans from the Cultural Revolution until the 1980s reform period. The series, set in Beijing, tells the story of working-class woman Liu Huifang and her unlikely marriage to the middle-class Wang Husheng, a university graduate who comes from a family of intellectuals. When Huifang finds an abandoned baby, she adopts it against the will of her husband.

As the first TV series that focused on the hopes and dreams of ordinary Chinese people, the success of Yearnings was unprecedented, and it formed the beginning of Chinese television drama as we know it today.

 

#10 River of Gratitude (江湖恩仇录)

Year: 1989
Episodes: 20
Genre: Wuxia/Martial
Directed by: Mao Yuqin (毛玉勤)
Watch first episode on Youtube here

Noteworthy: “A true classic – it’s nostalgia!”

One of the main stars in this series is actress and producer Wenying Dongfang (东方闻樱), who also starred in A Dream in Red Mansion (1987).

By commenters on Douban, this series is described as a “cult classic.” Although some say the quality of the series, now, looking back, is somewhat substandard or silly, according to many, the nostalgia of seeing it in the early 1990s and being excited about it seems to play a major factor in why people still grade this one as a true classic – it’s nostalgia!

 

#11 Wan Chun (婉君)

Year: 1990
Episodes: 18
Produced in Taiwan

Noteworthy: “The first Taiwanese TV series filmed in mainland China”

Wan Chun is a 1990 Taiwanese television series about a girl named Wan Chun and her three adoptive brothers, that is based on the 1964 novel “Wan-chun’s Three Loves” (追尋) by Taiwanese writer and producer Chiung Yao, and which is set in Republican era Beijing.

This is the first cross-strait co-production, as a Taiwanese TV series filmed in mainland China. Wan Chun was followed up by the 1990 Taiwanese television drama series Mute Wife based on Chiung Yao’s 1965 novelette of the same name.

 

#12 The Legend of Qianlong (戏说乾隆)

Year: 1991
Episodes: 41
Genre: Imperial drama
Produced in Taiwan (Taiwan-mainland co-production)
Watch on Youtube here

Noteworthy: “The beginning of a genre”

In today’s TV drama environment of China, dramas that focus on life during the imperial era are ubiquitous, with titles from the Imperial Doctress to Story of Yanxi Palace being everywhere.

But when this drama aired in the early 1990s, it was something quite new. The Legend of Qianlong, also known with the English translation A Fanciful Account of Qianlong, tells the (fictional) stories of the Emperor Qianlong’s Tours of Southern China.

It was the beginning of a drama genre that turned out to be hugely popular, with many new television series focusing on emperors and empresses in their youth or their tumultuous lives during the height of their power (Barme 2012, 33). Perhaps, this 1991 series will always be a classic just because it was one of the first within its genre.

 

#13 The Legend of the White Snake (新白娘子传奇)

Year: 1992
Episodes: 50
Genre: Fantasy
Produced in Taiwan

Noteworthy: “One of the most replayed TV series”

As many of the classics in this list, this hit TV series is also based on a folk legend, namely that of Madame White Snakee, a mythical snake-like spirit who strives to be human, which is a source for many major Chinese operas, films.

The 1992 TV series stars Angie Chiu and Cecilia Yip. In 2016, it was still one of the most replayed TV series. Even on IMDB, it is rated with an 8.2.

 

#14 Beijinger in New York (北京人在纽约)

Year: 1993
Episodes: 21
Watch: YouTube
Buy novel (in English): Beijinger in New York

Noteworthy: “The first Chinese-language TV show to be shot in the United States”

The TV series Beijinger in New York, also known as A Native of Beijing in New York, based on the novel by Glen Cao (Cao Guilin), was a hit when it was first broadcasted broadcast nightly on CCTV and watched by millions of Chinese.

The story follows the immigrant life of cello player and Beijinger Wang Qiming (王起明), who arrives in New York in 1980 together with his wife, and begins working as a dishwasher the next day.

The TV series marks a first in several aspects. It was the first Chinese-language TV show to be shot in the United States, but it was also the first time ever for the production of a Chinese TV drama that a bank loan was used in order to make it possible (Bai 2007, 83); in other words, it also marks the start of a more commercialized TV drama environment. FYI: the bank loan that was used was a total of US$1.3 million.

 

#15 I Love My Family (我爱我家)

Year: 1993
Genre: Comedy
Episodes: 120
Directed by Ying Da (英达) et al
First episodes on Youtube here.

Noteworthy: “First Mandarin-language sitcom”

I Love My Family (Wǒ ài wǒjiā) is one of China’s first popular sitcoms, and the first Mandarin-language and multi-camera sitcom, that aired from 1993 to 1994. It has since been rerun on local channels countless of times.

One of the show’s central stars is Wen Xingyu (文兴宇), who was a popular comedian and director in mainland China.

At the time of I Love My Family, sitcoms were mostly characterized by their low production cost; three episodes were made within five working days (Di 2008, 122).

 

#16 Justice Pao (包青天)

Year: 1993
Episodes: 236
Genre: Historical drama
Produced in Taiwan
Some episodes on Youtube here.

Noteworthy: “From 15 to 236 episodes”

This series is themed around Bao Zheng (包拯), a government official who lived during China’s Song Dynasty, from 999 to 1062, and who was known for his extreme honesty and uprightness. Award-winning Taiwanese actor Jin Chao-chun (金超群) plays this role.

The series was originally scheduled for just 15 episodes, but was received so well when it aired on Chinese Television System, that it was eventually expanded to 236 episodes.

The story of Justice Bao is still a recurring topic in the popular culture of mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. There was the 2008 Chinese series Justice Bao, and the 2010 New Justice Bao, that also starred Jin Chao-chun.

 

#17 Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义)

Year: 1994
Episodes: 84
Genre: Historical drama
Directed by: Wang Fulin (王扶林)
Buy original novel here: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Some episodes available with English subtitles here.

Noteworthy: “400,000 people involved in the production”

This is another classic TV series produced by the CCTV, and that is also adapted from a classical novel (same title, written by Luo Guanzhong). Its director, Wang Fulin (王扶林), also directed the CCTV’s first TV drama Eighteen Years in the Enemy’s Camp, and A Dream of Red Mansions.

The production of Romance of the Three Kingdoms is especially noteworthy because the productions costs broke all kinds of records at the time; the production of the 84 one-hour episodes took four years, total costs were over 170 million RMB (±US$25 million), and around 400,000 people were involved – the larghest number of people involved in a production in the history of Chinese television. THe show has been watched by some 1,2 billion people around the world (Hongb 2007, 127).

 

#18 Heaven’s Above (苍天在上)

Year: 1995
Episodes: 17
Genre: Corruption drama (or ‘anti-corruption drama’ 反腐剧)
Directed by: Zhou Huan (周寰)

Noteworthy: “First drama about high-level official corruption”

In late 1995, the CCTV drama Heaven Above (Cāngtiān zài shàng) debuted on Chinese TV as the first TV series about high-level official corruption in the PRC.

It would certainly not be the last, as ‘corruption dramas’ became wildly popular – it is the entire focus of the 2014 book Staging Corruption by scholar Ruoyun Bai.

 

#19 Foreign Babes in Beijing (洋妞在北京)

Year: 1995
Genre: Urban drama
Episodes: 20

Noteworthy: “Foreign women in Chinese dramas”

Foreign Babes in Beijing (Yáng niū zài Běijīng) was one of the new kinds of dramas that featured foreigners in China. This series focues on two Chinese men and two American women, of which one seduces one of the Chinese (married) men. The show was a big hit in the mid-1990s.

One of the show’s actresses, Rachel Dewoskin, later wrote the recommended book Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China about her experiences of playing in the show and her life in China at the time.

 

#20 My Dear Motherland (我亲爱的祖国)

Year: 1999
Episodes: 21
Genre: History/War
Directed by: Liu Yiran (刘毅然)
Watch on Billibilli here, QQ, or on Youtube.

Noteworthy: “Rated with a 9.1”

This 1999 series is still rated with a 9.1 on Douban today. The series tells the experiences and hardships of three generations of Chinese intellectuals during the tumultuous (war)history of China’s 20th century, starting during the May Fourth Movement in 1919.

Chen Jianbin (陈建斌) is one of the famous actors starring in this TV drama as Fang Xuetong.

 

#21 Yongzheng’s Dynasty (雍正王朝)

Year: 1999
Episodes: 44
Genre: History/Costume

Noteworthy: “Qing drama as export product”

Yongzheng Dynasty is one of many so-called “Qing dramas” – TV dramas that focus on palace life during the 1644-1911 Qing Dynasty. According to scholar Zhu (2008), one of the reasons that dynasty dramas such as these became so enormously popular in mainland China is that (1) certain social and political issues can be discussed in the shape of stories and settings that are very much removed from modern-day China, allowing for more relaxed censorship policies on storylines and dialogues, and (2) that the reconstruction of “history” allows room for artistic interventions (22).

This epic TV drama was loosely based on historical events in the reigns of the Kangxi and Yongzheng Emperors, and became one of the most watched television series in mainland China of the 1990s. Also outside of China the show became very popular, making the so-called ‘Qing dramas’ an export product.

 

#22 Towards the Republic (走向共和)

Year: 2003
Episodes: 59 (one hour per episode)
Genre: Historical drama
Directed by: Zhang Li (张黎)
Watch on Youtube , buy on Amazon with English subtitles.

Noteworthy: “59 hours of historical drama”

This is one of the most important TV series in this list. On Sogou ratings, Towards the Republic, which is also known as For the Sake of the Republic (Zǒuxiàng gònghé), is one of netizens’ top all-time favorite series, rated with a 9.7.

The CCTV TV drama tells the story of the historical events in China from 1890 to 1917 – the time during which the Qing Dynasty collapsed, and the Republic of China (1912-1949) was founded. Important historical events such as the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), the Hundred Days’ Reform (1898), the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and the Xinhai Revolution (1911) are all featured in this epic drama, that mainly focuses on the lives of Li Hongzhang (Chinese general in late Qing), Empress Dowager Cixi, Sun Yat-Sen, and Yuan Shikai.

The historical drama was not without controversy, and some parts of it have been censored in mainland China. The original series had 60 episodes, which was later brought down to 59. The TV drama has also been a fruitful topic for scholars for its representation of history. In the 2007 book Representing History in Chinese Media: The TV Drama Zou Xiang Gonghe (Towards the Republic) by Gotelind Mueller, the entire series is analyzed in how history is portrayed and narrated.

 

#23 Crimson Romance (血色浪漫)

Year: 2004
Episodes: 32
Genre Youth drama
Directed by: Teng Wenji (滕文骥)
Watch on Youtube here.

Noteworthy: “Romantizing the Cultural Revolution”

There are almost 40,000 netizens ranking this 2004 TV drama on Douban, where it scores a 8.7.

The TV drama, which is also known as Romantic Life in English, dramatizes memories of the Cultural Revolution, focusing on a group of friends, their hopes and dreams, and their romantic life. It is set in Beijing in the late period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

 

#24 Fu Gui (福贵)

Year: 2005
Episodes: 33
Genre: Family drama
Directed by Zhu Zheng (朱正)
Original novel: To Live: A Novel
Watch on Youtube.

Noteworthy: “Based on the novel To Live

Chuang Chen (陈创), Liu Mintao (刘敏涛), and Li Ding (李丁) star in this family drama, which is ranked with a 9.4 on Sogou, and 4,5 stars or a 9,4 on Douban (more than 5500 voters).

The drama is based on the 1993 novel by Yu Hua (余华) To Live (活着), which focuses on the struggles of the son of a wealthy land-owner, Xu Fugui, amidst the tumultuous times of the Chinese Revolution. The story became well-known by the movie of the same title by Zhang Yimou, which became an international success.

 

#25 Ming Dynasty in 1566 (大明王朝1566)

Year: 2007
Episodes: 46
Genre: Historical drama
Directed by: Zhang Li (张黎)
Available with English subtitles on Youtube

Noteworthy: “Scoring a 9.7 on Douban, rated by 55,000 users”

Ming Dynasty in 1566 (Dàmíng wángcháo), starring Chinese actor Chen Baoguo (陈宝国), is a Chinese television series based on historical events during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor (1507-1567) of the Ming dynasty. It was first broadcast on Hunan TV in China in 2007.

On Douban, more than 55000 people have reviewed this movie at time of writing, coming up with a score of 9.7, one of the highest in this list. The drama was also broadcasted in other countries, such as South Korea.

 

#26 Dwelling Narrowness (蜗居)

Year: 2009
Episodes: 35
Genre: Urban Drama
Directed by: Teng Huatao (滕华涛)
Watch on Youtube here.

Noteworthy: “Focusing on China’s urban real estate bubble”

Also known as Snail House, this TV drama was all the rage back in 2009 for its focus on the crazy housing market in urban China and the lives of ordinary Chinese who are struggling to survive in the city while living in small spaces. Dwelling Narrowness, based on a novel by the same name, tells the story of two sisters with very different lifestyles who are looking to find a home in Shanghai (or actually, the fictional city of Jiangzhou, that basically represents Shanghai), and improve their quality of life, each in their own way.

The real estate bubble is a major theme throughout these series, and the TV drama was much-discussed within the frame of Chinese urban dwellers becoming “house slaves” (房奴). In the year of its broadcast, Wall Street Journal featured an article dedicated to the series and the discussions it triggered online.

 

#27 The Red (红色)

Year: 2014
Episodes: 48
Genre: War drama
Directed by Yang Lei (杨磊)

Noteworthy: “Patriotism as its key theme”

War drama The Red (Hóngsè) receives a 9.2 on Sogou, showing its success over the last four years.

Edward Zhang (Zhang Luyi 张鲁一) stars in this drama as an ordinary worker in Shanghai who gets caught up in underground circles at the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, and unexpectedly becomes part of a decisive moment in Chinese modern history. Perhaps unsurprinsginly, ‘Patriotism’ is a key theme throughout The Red.

 

#28 Moral Peanuts – Final Season (毛骗 终结篇)

Year: 2015
Episodes: 10 (in this season)
Genre: Crime/Suspense
Directed by: Li Hongchou (李洪绸)
Watch on Youtube here.

Noteworthy: “A gang of friends who con people out of their money”

Rated with a 9.6 on Sogou and a 9.6 by more than 26,000 people on Douban, this TV drama has already become somewhat of a classic in the few years since its airing.

Moral Peanuts is a multiple season series (started in 2010), that follows a gang of five young friends who live together and earn their living in a fraudulent way. The series is characterized by its cliffhanger endings and its ‘grey’ portrayals of its characters.

 

#29 In the Name of the People (人民的名义)

Year: 2017
Episodes: 55
Genre: Corruption drama
Directed by: Li Lu
Available with English subtitles here.

Noteworthy: “The Chinese ‘House of Cards'”

In the Name of the People is a 2017 highly popular Chinese TV drama series based on the web novel of the same name by Zhou Meisen (周梅森). Its plot revolves around a prosecutor’s efforts to unearth corruption in a present-day fictional Chinese city by the name of Jingzhou.

In 2017, this TV drama became a true craze on Chinese social media and received a lot of coverage in (international) media for being comparable to the American political drama House of Cards. The BBC described it as “the latest piece of propaganda aimed at portraying the government’s victory in its anti-corruption campaign.”

 

#30 White Deer Plain (白鹿原)

Year: 2017
Genre: Contemporary historical drama
Episodes: 85
Directed by: Liu Jin (刘进)
WAtch with English subs at New Asian TV here.

Noteworthy: “The epic TV drama took nearly 17 years to prepare and produce “

This TV drama has consistently been ranking number one in Baidu’s and Weibo’s popular drama charts last year, and is now ranked with an 8.8 score on sites such as Douban. Although it is somewhat tricky to call such a present-day drama a ‘classic’, we’ll take the chance.

White Deer Plain is based on the award-winning Chinese literary classic by Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实) from 1993. The preparation and production of this series reportedly took a staggering 17 years and a budget of 230 million yuan (US$33.39 million).

The success of the novel this TV drama is based on, has previously been compared to that of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. White Deer Plain 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 Book Recommendations Based on This List:

 

* Chinese Television in the Twenty-First Century: Entertaining the Nation (Routledge Contemporary China Series Book 121)

* Staging Corruption: Chinese Television and Politics (Contemporary Chinese Studies)

* Television in Post-Reform China: Serial Dramas, Confucian Leadership and the Global Television Market (Routledge Media, Culture and Social Change in Asia)

* TV Drama in China (TransAsia: Screen Cultures)

* Media in China: Consumption, Content and Crisis

 
Want to know more? Check out our various Top 10s of popular Chinese TV Dramas from 2013 to present here.
 

By Manya Koetse

*1(We kindly ask not to reproduce this list without permission – please link back if referring to it).

References

Bai, Ruoyun. 2007. “TV Dramas in China – Implications of the Globalization.” In Manfred Kops and Stefan Ollig (eds), Internationalization of the Chinese TV sector, 75-99. Berlin: LIT Verlag.

Bai, Ruoyun. 2014. Staging Corruption: Chinese Television and Politics. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Barmé, Geremie. 2012. “Red Allure and the Crimson Blindfold.” China Perspectives, 2012/2, 29-40.

Di, Miao. 2008. “A Brief History of Chinese Situation Comedies.” In Ruoyun Bai, Ying Zhu, Michael Keane (eds), TV Drama in China, 117-129. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Hong, Junhao. 2007. “The Historical Development of Program Exchange in the TV Sector.” In Manfred Kops and Stefan Ollig (eds), Internationalization of the Chinese TV sector, 25-40. Berlin: LIT Verlag.

–. 2007b. “From Three Kingdoms the Novel to Three Kingdoms the Television Series: Gains, Losses, and Implications.” In Kimberly Besio and Constantine Tung (eds), Three Kingdoms and Chinese Culture, 125-143. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Zhu, Ying. 2008. “Yongzheng Dynasty and Totalitarian Nostalgia.” In Bai R, Keane M, Zhu Y. (eds), TV Drama in China, 21-33. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; 2008

Wang, Min and Arvind Singhal. 1992. “Kewang, A Chinese Television Soap Opera With A Message.” Gazette 49: 177-192.


Directly support Manya Koetse. By supporting this author you make future articles possible and help the maintenance and independence of this site. Donate directly through Paypal here. Also check out the What’s on Weibo donations page for donations through creditcard & WeChat and for more information.

 

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Facebook

Advertisement

Follow on Twitter

Advertisement

About

What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

Contribute

Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor? Email us as at info@whatsonweibo.com.
Advertisement