Tired of 2020? Try the 1020s, Say Chinese Period Drama Fans

Viewers have mostly given a thumbs-up to the Song dynasty drama “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.”

Period dramas have long been a staple of Chinese television, and now there’s a new one on the block: “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.”

But has the series, set in the Song dynasty, been able to win over audiences? The reactions have been mixed.

After the series premiered on April 7 — aired simultaneously on Hunan TV and streaming site Tencent Video — the online chatter has been dominated by the depiction of the Song dynasty (960-1279), which is regarded as a renaissance and economic revolution in ancient China. While some have praised the plot and rich production elements including costumes, makeup, and locations, others have complained about the show’s glacial pace.

Over the span of 69 episodes, “Serenade of Peaceful Joy” tells the story of the political life of Emperor Renzong of Song, the fourth and longest-reigning emperor of the Song dynasty. The emperor ruled for about 41 years from 1022 to 1063.

A still frame from the TV series “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.” From Douban

A still frame from the TV series “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.” From Douban

Zhang Taisu, a professor at Yale Law School and self-proclaimed Song dynasty history buff, started discussing the series with his like-minded friends immediately after watching it last week. He told Sixth Tone that he considers the show to have interpreted the traditional literati and scholar-officials well, while also showing a nuanced understanding of historical events.

“(It) pays careful attention to presenting details of various etiquette, systems, and clothing,” Zhang said, adding that he feels at ease when watching the show.

“For those who like Song history, the slow pace is also enjoyable,” he said. “Because I don’t just watch the drama to see the plot, but to immerse myself in a historical world that I like.”

Online, the show has received mixed reactions, with some saying the plot is “too lengthy,” while others have weighed in on the costumes and cuisines popular 1,000 years ago.

On microblogging platform Weibo, a hashtag for the show had received more than 2.5 billion views as of Thursday evening. Many of the site’s users said they have appreciated the characters standing against the Chinese painting-like backdrop in the show’s promotional posters in particular, calling them “elegant.”

Meanwhile, the show has scored 7.9 out of 10 on Chinese review site Douban.

A still frame from the TV series “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.” From Douban

A still frame from the TV series “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.” From Douban

Zhang said he and his friend circle have been discussing whether the famous historical figures, as well as the bureaucratic system, have been accurately represented in the series. Several renowned politicians and literati in the Song dynasty including Ouyang Xiu, Yan Shu, Han Qi, and Fan Zhongyan appear in “Serenade of Peaceful Joy.”

Despite his fondness for the show, Zhang has been quick to point out some flaws. He said there were a few inaccuracies when referencing the political system and political titles, as well as some plot holes. For example, the politician Lü Yijian was referred to as Lü Xiang — a courtesy title for his position as prime minister, “Zai Xiang,” in the feudal system — before he was even appointed.

“It’s one part serious political drama, one part palace romance,” he said. “The screenwriter seems to want to keep both parts but has blended them together without clear focus. So the pace (of the story) becomes a bit messy.”

With 500 million views on Tencent Video alone, “Serenade of Peaceful Joy” is the latest period drama to attract a large audience. In late 2018, the historical drama “Story of Yanxi Palace,” which revolves around a young woman’s quest to catch her sister’s murderers, was hugely popular among both domestic and overseas viewers, becoming the most Googled TV show of the year.

And last year, the Tang dynasty drama “The Longest Day in Chang’an” also became a hit, depicting two protagonists entrusted with fending off the invaders who had infiltrated the Tang capital of Chang’an.


– This article originally appeared on Sixth Tone