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To be or not to be: the dilemma of Chinese drama Story of Yanxi Palace

By Xian Jiangnan (People's Daily Online)    09:19, April 16, 2019

The official poster for Story of Yanxi Palace (Photo/

Beijing, April 16 (People's Daily Online) – While the premiere of the eighth and final HBO flagship series Game of Thrones aroused high expectations and heated discussion from its global audience, its Chinese counterpart, Story of Yanxi Palace, was quietly pulled from TV screens across the country.

The Chinese period drama, Story of Yanxi Palace, intrigued audiences both home and abroad in 2018, becoming the most googled TV show on the planet. To date, the 70-episode drama has been streamed more than 18 billion times on iQiyi, China’s Netflix-like streaming platform.

However, months after the Story of Yanxi Palace first aired, it was pulled from China’s TV stations after a state media article criticized the show as “having a negative social impact”.

The record-breaking drama has since been on a roller coaster journey, becoming an intriguing combination of praise and blame.

Former glory

Thai social media star Sine Benjaphorn recreates the look of the lead in Story of Yanxi Palace. (Photo from Sine Benjaphorn's Instagram)

The record-breaking drama has found its way to more than 80 countries, enjoying popularity around the world, especially in Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.

The drama has won scores of fans in Thailand, one such example being Sine Benjaphorn, a Thai social media star with over 77,200 Instagram followers, who recreated the look of the lead in the TV show, using spoons, lace, and handwoven plastic bags.

The overnight sensation also swept through Vietnam faster than expected. Vietnamese website Zing TV aired a pirated version of the drama with Vietnamese subtitles, uploading nine episodes earlier than the official Chinese site. "So many memes have come from it. You’re considered out of touch if you haven’t watched it,” one Vietnamese drama fan explained on

The show, a royal court drama, follows the story of a girl with a humble background who outmaneuvers other concubines to win the heart of the Emperor. The show is said to be so popular as it gives the audience a sense of relief in the hustle and bustle of city life, comforting their emotional needs for happiness and success. “The show centers on the relationship between people, namely competition and game. Therefore, the story resonates with people, who could apply the storylines to daily life,” said Luo Ting, associate professor at the Communication University of China.

It seems no accident that Chinese period dramas are successful in these countries. Except for the gripping storylines and sophisticated costumes, there are the deeply rooted cultural similarities that these countries share with China.

Falling from grace

A state media Beijing Daily criticizes the show as “having a negative social impact” for promoting luxury and intrigue. (Screenshot/Beijing Daily's official weibo account)

Just months after Story of Yanxi Palace was first aired, it was pulled, after state media criticized the show as “having a negative social impact” for promoting luxury and intrigue.

People’s Daily Online contacted the National Radio and Television Administration, but at time of press had not received a response.

In response to doubts that historical dramas would be banned in China, Luo suggested that the worry is unnecessary. “Our society values diversity. Authorities only serve as a guide in terms of social value. TV stations receive a quota for different genres, but the public can watch the dramas online,” Luo told People’s Daily Online.

Besides quotas, the removal reflects the self-examination of Chinese authorities on the content of TV dramas, according to Professor Li Danlin, director of Department of Law from the Communication University of China, noting that “some dramas focus too much on affairs and schemes, and show insufficient respect for human value and dignity.”


(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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