Costume Dramas (Almost) Banned on the Chinese Internet

Cover image: Tencent Video series ‘Ruyi’s Royal Life in the Palace’

2018 was tough enough for China’s film-television industry — this second strike could kill a lot of production companies.

Have imperial period costume dramas — once a staple of Chinese prime time TV — joined hip hop, time travel, and Winnie the Pooh in supposedly being banned from China’s entertainment mainstream? That seemed to be the case following an especially terse government proclamation earlier this week, but then the plot thickened….

Ancient costume dramas have long been an important part of evening prime time in China, from 18th-century literary epic Dream of the Red Chamber to martial art chivalry shows — dramatic performances adapted from works by literary martial arts masters such as Jin Yong. More recently, the time-traveling TV dramas Jade Palace Lock Heart and Treading On Thin Ice, which premiered on Hunan TV in 2011, have led an upsurge of TV series telling stories about a modern protagonist accidentally traveling hundreds of years backwards in time, and being forced to survive in the midst of a capricious emperor and envious concubines.

Another type of costume drama — known as “palace drama” (宫斗剧) in Chinese, and typically involving competition between queens and concubines — gained a prominent position in contemporary pop culture for its intrigue-filled and suspenseful plot lines. 2011 series Empresses in the Palace is one of the best in this sub-genre, and launched its lead actress Sun Li towards an Emmy nomination in 2013. Read the full article on RADII.


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