Historical Chinese dramas to binge

Chinese dramas offer alternative to popular Korean dramas

Many teenagers have probably binged popular Korean shows like “Crash Landing On You,” “True Beauty,” “Squid Game” and “Extraordinary You.” Fans are drawn to their incredible love stories, fighting scenes, music derived from K-pop bands, and of course, the actors and actresses.

Chinese dramas offer a whole new world of films to watch. More specifically, historical dramas, split into wuxia, xianxia, and many more, are fantastic pieces of work.

Wuxia dramas focus on action and martial arts, and the choreography for these can be incredible. Some of the best wuxia dramas are “Word of Honor” (2021), “Nirvana in Fire” (2015) and “Princess Agents” (2017). These dramas are ideal for viewers who love action movies, such as those in the Marvel or shounen anime series. The actors’ moves and cinematography fit perfectly together and audiences can almost feel the power of the moves come slicing through the screen.

Some dramas also do deep research into Chinese history. “Luoyang” (2021), set during the Tang dynasty, has some incredibly ornate and historically accurate scenes.

Xianxia dramas focus on fantasy and deal with gods, immortals, demons, and ghouls. Although some xianxia don’t have the best CGI, others use just the right effects, costume details and background elements to enrich scenes. Some well-produced xianxia include Ten “Miles of Peach Blossoms” (2017), “The Untamed” (2019) and “Ancient Love Poetry” (2021).

Gong dou dramas offer glimpses into fantastical imaginations of imperial China. These shows have caused a surge in visits to the Forbidden City in recent years. They often focus on politics and hidden dangers in the life of a concubine in the imperial harem. Although many are not approved for viewing in China at the moment, due to old values like concubinage and harem-fighting being viewed negatively with the Chinese Communist Party, they can still be viewed in the United States.

One of the best gong dou dramas is “Empresses in the Palace,” or “The Legend of Zhen Huan,” (2011) made famous by its marvelous acting. In recent years, “The Story of Yanxi Palace” (2018) and “Ruyi’s Royal Love” (2018) have been huge hits as well.

Nirvana in Fire (2015)

“Nirvana in Fire” is a story that revolves around Lin Shu, under the alias of Mei Changsu, who seeks revenge and justice for his family and 70,000 soldiers labeled as traitors. Over two years, he pits two palace-factions against each other and leads them on to their demise while building a power base to support the prince he follows. During this process, he also suffers from an illness that is more dangerous to treat than to live with.

Most Chinese drama fans say this is the best show the genre has ever produced, and it is often called “the Chinese Game of Thrones.” The story focuses on politics that intertwine the harem with people on the far reaches of the empire, incredible sets, and revenge. The characters are highly developed and all well-written, leaving no one as a 2-dimensional sheet of paper. If you are a fan of highly-developed stories that use dialogue to move the plot forward, “Nirvana in Fire” will not disappoint.

Story of Yanxi Palace (2018)

C-drama “Story of Yanxi Palace” was the most Googled show in 2018, streamed more than 15 billion times. The plot follows a poor palace maid during the Qing dynasty on her way to become Emperor Qianlong’s most favored consort. At first, her main reason for being there is to seek vengeance for her sister’s murder, but later a romance begins to blossom.

Although most of the plot can be spoiled by a quick internet search about real-life Empress Xiaoyichun, the drama is not always a word-for-word history. The riveting, trench-deep scheming of its characters more than makes up for the flaws associated with extending facets of history into fiction.

Some argue that the clothing and sets are not accurate to the show’s historical era, but in an absence of artifacts from the time period, the studio had little to work with. Still, the show attempts to feature what artifact-based accessories it has access to: ronghua and tian-tsui hair pins, as well as finger guards, to name a few.

Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms (2017)

This drama is perfect for romance viewers. “Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms” tells a story about a fox spirit, Bai Qian, who one day falls into the mortal realm after a war and falls in love with the Crown Prince of the Heavenly Realm. Eventually, she finds her way back home, but with her memories wiped out, it’s up to the Crown Prince to help her regain what was lost between them. Unbeknownst to them, their love was fated from the start, and they face a series of tests as the series progresses.

It may sound a bit mushy at first, but once you start, you’ll understand that there’s a lot more plot behind the scenes than meets the eye. It’s the type of drama that would leave a viewer with boxes of tissues and the soundtrack playing 24/7. The show is also a solid mix of everything dramatic, from evil concubines and horrible exes to political plots and hidden identities.