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Much drama overseas about Chinese costume and romance TV shows

Recently, when I was doing a story on the "Chinese Alphabet," I came across the term "C-dramas," which I had never heard of before.

Apparently it refers to Chinese TV dramas that are broadcast overseas, mostly costume dramas.

Foz Meadows, the Australian writer and poet I talked to for the "Chinese Alphabet" story, listed some of her favorite C-dramas, which included "The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty" (成化四十年), "Nirvana in Fire" (琅琊榜) and "Word of Honor" (山河令).

Her highlight mention was "The Untamed," or "Chen Qing Ling" (陈情令) in Chinese, which was an adaptation of the novel "Mo Dao Zu Shi (literally meaning "The Ancestral Master of the Demonic Path").

It is a xianxia (a Chinese fantasy genre that was influenced by Chinese mythology, Taoism, Buddhism and martial arts) story that focuses on the bromance – or romance, if you look very carefully – between two men.

"Nirvana in Fire" is a well-received Chinese TV drama.

Apparently C-dramas have developed a fandom all over the world. On platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr and Archive of Our Own, you can find people from Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, the United States and many other countries creating fan fictions and arts based on these costume dramas.

Meadows explained to me why she loved "The Untamed" so much.

"Western TV tends to be bad at romance plots," Meadows told me. "Hollywood loves romantic movies, but because most TV shows are meant to run for as long as possible instead of being just one or two seasons, you end up with a lot of 'will-they, won't-they' tension without an actual dedicated romantic through-line.

"So romantic TV shows as a genre, or one-season shows that also contain a complete romance, aren't really a thing in the West. Which is ridiculous, because romance is great!"

"The Untamed" is probably the most popular C-drama in the world.

I have to admit that I haven't watched either of those, and actually don't remember the last time I watched a domestic costume drama.

What's more, online comments on Chinese social networking services, such as Weibo and Douban, show that some of the dramas were not positively received: "The Sleuth of the Ming Dynasty" received 5.5 out of 10 on Douban, yet 8.6 on IMDB; "The Untamed" received 7.7 on Douban while 9 on IMDB.

Meanwhile, Chinese audiences seem to be more lenient on most foreign shows. Take the genre show "Supernatural" for example. Its last season, which aired in 2020, received on average 8 on IMDB, and the score of the finale dropped to 6.3, yet the season received 9.2 on Douban.

Maybe we all have a certain sense of xenophilia, that is to say, no matter if we are from China, or Southeast Asia or North America. Yet again, the trendy C-dramas may open a new gate for cross-cultural communication. After all, who can say no to a good story that strikes a chord with the heart?

Liu Qi

Authors from Leone: Liu Qi!

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