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Top 10 Overview of China’s Most Popular TV Dramas February 2019

The top scoring TV dramas in China of this moment, winter 2018/2019.

Gabi Verberg

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

For newer articles on Chinese TV dramas, please check our overview here!

China 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 moment, 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.

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 (here, here, here), despite their ongoing popularity.

Most of these series are available for viewing online, some also with English subtitles. If you need a VPN to circumvent any geo restrictions, we recommend either NordVPN or ExpressVPN to do so. Note: also see our Top 30 of all-time classic Chinese TV Dramas here!

Here we go:

 

#10 Mystery of Antiques 古董局中局

China Mainland

Chinese title: Gǔdǒng jú zhōng jú 古董局中局
Genre: Suspense, Mystery
Directed by: Wu Bai (五百) aka Guo Shubo (郭书博), Yu Qing (余庆)
Episodes: 36, December 2018, Tencent Video

Mystery of Antiques is an adaption of the like-named novel by award-winning novelist Ma Boyan (马伯庸). The main character in the drama series is played by Xia Yu (夏雨), who previously won awards for acting at various film festivals from Venice to Beijing, and from Taiwan to Singapore.

The series currently ranks fourth on Baidu’s most popular drama list, and seventh on the 360kan most popular series rankings.

The drama tells the story of the ordinary small antique shop owner, Xu Yuan (Xia Yu), who comes from a family of antique traders. One day, a visitor coming to the shop brings Xu into a conspiracy that goes beyond his wildest dreams and links him to a legendary treasure. It is the start of a dangerous and tumultuous journey, in which Xu does all he can to clear his family’s name and change his fate.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 20.000 followers.

The show, in Chinese, is available on QQ.

 

#9 Forty Years We Walked 我们的四十年

China Mainland

Chinese title: Wǒmen de sìshí nián 我们的西十年
Genre: Coming of age
Directed by: Wang Zi (王梓)
Episodes: 60, November 2018, Jiangsu TV, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Sogou Video, Mango TV, LeTV, Fun TV, PP TV, Youku

This coming of age story, featuring beautiful images of Beijing, is directed by Hunan-born filmmaker Wang Zi. Wang was born in 1986 and started his career as an actor in 2008. Some say that this series is very much based on Wang’s own experiences in his journey to becoming a director.

The series is currently the second most popular series on Sogou Video.

Forty Years We Walked tells the life story of Feng Dou, who falls in love with television and film from the first time he ever sees a TV at his friend’s house. In middle school, he becomes well-known together with his friend for collecting old tv-parts and building “new” televisions from them. Feng continues to pursue his passion for tv, setting up several businesses. However, as he Feng gets older, he starts to question his purpose in life until he realizes what it is he was always intended to do.

On Weibo, the official account of the series is currently nearing 20.000 followers.

The show is available on AsiaTVSub here or on Youtube here with Chinese subtitles.

 

#8 Well Intended Love 奈何BOSS要娶我

China Mainland

Chinese title: Nàihé BOSS yào qǔ wǒ (奈何BOSS要娶我)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed by: Wu Qiang (吴强)
Episodes: 20, January 2019, Sohu Video TV, Mango TV

Well Intended Love, that features the youngest cast within this overview, including Xu Kaiwei (徐开骋, 1990) and Simona Wang (王双, 1991), tells the love story between a wealthy man and mostly unknown young actress. The series is currently the most popular drama series on Sohu Video.

The series revolves around undiscovered actress Xia Lin who is suffering from leukemia. To afford a surgery that can save her life, she gets involved with the wealthy CEO Ling Yizhou. At the same time, Xia continues to pursue her career as an actress. Ling and Xia eventually get married and live a happy life together in secrecy until Ling finds out that Xia has a hidden agenda.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 190.000 followers.

See the complete series including English and Chinese subtitles on YouTube here.

 

#7 The Legend of Hao Lan 皓镧传

China Mainland

Chinese title: Hào lán chuán  皓镧传
Genre: Costume Drama, War, Romance, Historical Fiction
Directed by: Li Dachao (李达超)
Episodes: 62, January 2019, iQiyi

The historical drama The Legend of Hao Lan, starring Wu Jinyan (吴谨言), Mao Zijin (茅子俊), and Nie Yuan (聂远), chronicles the rise of Li Hao Lan to become the Empress Dowager of the Qin dynasty, after a long drawn battle between Zhao and Qin, towards the end of the Warring States period (475–221 BC).

The series is currently ranked third most popular series on 360kan and fourth most popular on iQiyi. Viewers of the latter evaluate the series with an average of 7.0.

Its popularity shows that historical drama is still very much booming in China’s drama industry. Recently, state media critique on period costume dramas that focus on conflicts in the imperial court became a hot topic on Chinese social media. The criticism singled out Yanxi Palace in particular, a show that was then canceled on TV for its “negative impacts,” signaling heightened censorship on Chinese costume dramas.

For now, however, The Legend of Hao Lan is going strong – and it stars the same main characters (Wu Jinyan and Nie Yuan). It depicts the story of the brave woman Li Hao Lan, daughter of Imperial censor Li He of Zhao state, who gets framed by her stepmother and is sold as a slave to Lu Buwei. Lu later presents her as a gift to Sun Yiren, a Qin royal that resides in Zhao as a hostage. As Li and Lu arrive in the royal Zhao palace, they unite and start their battle for power.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 40.000 followers.

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

 

#6 Candle in the Tomb: The Wrath of Time 鬼吹灯之怒晴湘西

China Mainland

Chinese title: Guǐ chuīdēng zhī nù qíng xiāngxī (鬼吹灯之怒晴湘西)
Genre: Adventure, Suspense
Directed by: Fei Zhengxiang (费振翔), supervised by Guan Hu (管虎)
Episodes: 21, January 2019, Tencent Video

The Wrath of Time is the third season in the fictional Candle in the Tomb series, an adaption from the novels by Zhang Muye. The series chronicles the adventures of a gang of tomb raiders as they excavate the truth behind a mysterious curse. Previous seasons were Candle in the Tomb: Mu Ye Gui Shi (鬼吹灯之牧野诡事) and Candle in the Tomb: The Weasel Grave (鬼吹灯之黄皮子坟). Despite this series being the third season, it’s not really necessary to see the first series to understand the third season.

The series, starring Pan Yueming (潘粤明), Gao Weiguang (高伟光), and Xin Yulei, currently ranks third most popular drama series on Tencent Video scoring a 9.3, and fourth most popular serie on 360kan.

This third season of the Candle in the Tomb series is set in a time when the warlords are fighting for power and bring disaster upon the people. With the purpose of finding the ancient tombs from the Yuan dynasty, tomb raider Chen Yulou and warlord Luo Laowai embark on a journey to the Xiangxi Mountains. On their way, they meet Zhe Gushao, who is set on finding a pearl that will end the spell upon his clan. Despite the mutual suspicion of each other’s motives, Chen and Zhe rely on each other to get to their destination.

The third season does not have an official account on Weibo, however that the series is quite popular can be seen from the hashtag “Candle in the Tomb: The Wrath of Time” (#鬼吹灯之怒晴湘西#) which already got over 690 million views, and received more than 2.3 million comments on Weibo.

See the complete series including English and Chinese subtitles here.

 

#5 Behind the Scenes 幕后之王

China Mainland

Chinese title: Mùhòu zhī wáng (Mùhòu zhī wáng)
Genre: Drama, Romance
Directed by: Li Jun (李骏)
Episodes: 42, January 2019, Youku TV, Dragon TV, Beijing TV

Behind the Scenes, starring Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨) and Luo Jin (罗晋), is currently ranking second place on Weibo’s top ten most popular TV dramas, and third on Youku’s top 10 TV drama series.

The series revolves around ambitious student Bu Xiaogu and the famous producer Chun Yuqiao. Bu is thrilled when she is given the opportunity to work with the man she greatly admires. But she quickly discovers that he is nothing like she imagined. With her hopes and dreams shattered, Bu gets involved in an accident. Chun unexpectedly takes on the sole responsibility for the accident, setting off a special relationship between the two.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has over 80.000 followers

See the complete series including Chinese subtitles here.

 

#4 Spy Hunter 天衣无缝

China Mainland

Chinese title: Tiānyīwúfèng (天衣无缝)
Genre: Action, Detective
Directed by: Li Lu (李路)
Episodes: 48, January 2019, Zhejiang TV, Jiangsu TV, Tencent Video, Youku, iQiyi, Mango TV

Spy Hunter, starring Lu Yi (陆毅) as one of the main characters, currently ranks second most popular drama series on both 360kan and iQiyi.

This fictional story takes place in the spring of 1931 when the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is establishing logistic bases in several big cities. Two Special service teams try to establish a new secret underground route and depot. But one day, their secret base in Tianjin is exposed, and the life of agent Wan is sacrificed. In the name of justice, Wan’s brother goes looking for the truth behind his brother’s death.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has approximately 50.000 followers.

See the complete series including English and Chinese subtitles here.

 

#3 I Will Never Let You Go 小女花不弃

China Mainland

Chinese title: Xiǎonǚ huā bu qì (小女花不弃)
Genre: Costume Drama, Fantasy, Adventure
Directed by: Cha Chuanyi (查传谊)
Episodes: 51, January 2019, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, PPTV

I’ll Never Let You Go is an adaptation of the like-named novel by Zhuang Zhuang (桩桩). The series stars many famous actors including Ariel Lin (林依晨), Lin Bohong (林柏宏), and Zhang Binbin aka Vin (张彬彬).

On Tencent Video the series currently occupies second place in their most popular drama series hotlist, scoring an average of 8.2. And also on Weibo, Youku, and 360kan, the series holds a position in the top five.

I’ll Never Let You Go is a coming-of-age story revolving around a young with a unique gift, who wanders the world alone after her entire family was killed to protect the girl’s special gift. One day, the girl meets a courageous masked man who saves her life, after which they fall in love. But everything turned around when the girl discovers who the man she loves really is.

On Weibo, the verified Weibo page of the series has over 4.6 million followers, making it the most popular series on Weibo of this list.

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

 

#2 Anti-Japanese 荡寇


China Mainland

Chinese title: Dàng kòu 荡寇
Genre: Drama, War, History
Directed by: Jiao Xiaoyu (焦晓雨)
Episodes: 60, November 2016, Guizhou TV, iQiyi, Sohu TV, PP TV, Youku

This TV drama, that has the remarkable English title ‘Anti-Japanese‘ (the original Chinese title roughly translates as ‘sweeping away the enemy’) was first aired by Hunan TV in November of 2016. Since then, it was broadcasted by at least eight different television stations and platforms.

The most recent rebroadcast started on January 19, 2019, and the numbers show that people still can’t get enough of the drama. On iQiyi, the series currently ranks first place, and on Sohu and LeTV the series ranks second and fourth place respectively.

The TV drama is set at the start of the War of Resistance again Japan (1937-1945). When an intelligence team of the Communist Party finds out about a box with classified information regarding the development chemical and biological weapons that is sent out by the Japanese army, Yang Erhu is sent to stop their evil plans and to protect his country.

See the complete series including Chinese subtitles here.

 

#1 The Story Of Minglan 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦


China Mainland

Chinese title: Zhī fǒu zhī fǒu yīng shì lǜféi hóng shòu (知否知否应是绿肥红瘦)
Genre: Historical fiction, Family, Politics
Directed by: Zhang Kaizhou (张开宙)
Episodes: 73, December 2018, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, Youtube, Hunan TV

The fictional Story of Minglan, starring Zhao Liying (赵丽颖) and William Feng (冯绍峰) as main characters, is an adapted screenplay a novel by Chinese author Zheng Yi (郑怡) aka Guanxin Zeluan (关心则乱).

The series currently dominates the drama top charts, occupying the first place on Tencent Video, Youku, Baidu, Weibo, Sogou Video and 360kan.

The story of Minglan tells the coming of age story of an intelligent concubine daughter that has to grow up dealing with her unkind stepmother, an indifferent father, and unreasonable sisters.

Minglan learns to hide her skills and true intentions in order to survive until she meets Gu Tingyu, and the two fall in love. After Gu becomes a powerful official, and the two get married, Minglan rises to prominence.

On Weibo, the official account of the series has nearly 1.7 million followers.

See the complete series including Engish and Chinese subtitles here.

By Gabi Verberg

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

©2019 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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Pieter

    May 30, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Typo: Chinese title: Wǒmen de sìshí nián 我们的西十年

  2. Avatar

    kc

    September 21, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    great list thanks

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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 

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