Illustration: Yao Yao
The melodramatic writings of Qiong Yao have inspired a whole slew of slushy satire

At some point, we’ve all come across someone who seems to think life is a soap opera—and they’re the star: Every breakup, minor setback, and work spat calls for drama and despair.

Fortunately, there’s a handy to stop them from chewing the scenery too much. Next time your friend has an emotional outburst, try asking:

Why are you suddenly so Qiong Yao?

Nǐ zěnme túrán Qióng Yáo qǐlái le?


Known as the “Godmother of Romance,” Taiwanese author Qiong Yao (Chiung Yao) is not just one of the bestselling romance writers of all time; she’s also a cultural phenomenon. Born in 1938, Qiong Yao, whose real name is Chen Zhe, published her first novel at 25 and has produced over 60 works since, most famously Princess Pearl, the basis of the hit 1998 TV series. In 2018, the series was rebroadcast by Hunan TV and, even 20 years after its premiere, once again became daytime TV’s top-rated show, as viewers relished the nostalgia of Qiong Yao hallmarks—melodramatic plots, love triangles, and most importantly, sappy dialogue.

The Barbara Cartland of Asia’s personal style is so familiar that the author’s penname, meaning “precious jade,” has become a byword for sentimentality. Thanks to mass media, dialogue from Qiong Yao’s works have become widely spread and parodied online as “Qiong Yao-style lines.” Take the following scene from Princess Pearl, in which the lovers Fu Erkang and Xia Ziwei share honeyed words:

Ziwei: I’m begging you, could you please stop being so dashing?

Wǒ qiúqiu nǐ, búyào zhème shuàiqì hǎo ma?


Erkang: I’m begging you too, could you please stop being so sweet?

Wǒ yě qiúqiu nǐ, búyào zhème wēnróu hǎo ma?


In most real-life romance, overhearing such a conversation would make one’s flesh crawl; but between friends, this exchange can be sarcastically used to express a false depth of gratitude for some routine favor:

A: Here, I picked up your package for you.

Nǐ de kuàidì, wǒ bāng nǐ lǐng le.


B: I’m begging you, could you please stop being so nice to me?

Wǒ qiúqiu nǐ, búyào duì wǒ zhème hǎo xíng ma?


Of course, romance is not only about sweet words. Even (or especially) the closest couples quarrel occasionally. When this happens, take note of the clever way that Ziwei deals with a jealous outburst from Erkang:

Z: You’re overreacting!

Nǐ hǎo guòfèn o!


Z [shyly]: But I like your overreaction very much.

Dàn wǒ hǎo xǐhuan nǐ de guòfèn.


Another mushy Qiong Yao hit is Romance in the Rain, the 2001 TV adaptation of which starred the same principals as Princess Pearl. In one of its most well-known scenes, heroine Lu Yiping reunites with the hero, He Shuhuan at the railway station when the latter returns from war. Now, even if just meeting a friend for a movie, there’s no reason why you must stick with a conventional greeting—instead, like Yiping, why not shout from a distance?

Shuhuan, don’t come to me! Let me fly to you!

Shūhuán, nǐ búyào guòlái, ràng wǒ fēibēn guòqù!


Besides dramatic reunions, Yiping and Shuhuan are known for their many verbal clashes in the course of their (probably emotionally abusive) amour fou. When the two decide to point fingers at each other, they show no mercy:

S: You’re heartless, you’re cruel, you’re unreasonable.

Nǐ wúqíng, nǐ cánkù, nǐ wúlǐ qǔnào.


Y: Are you not also heartless, cruel, and unreasonable?

Nà nǐ jiù bù wúqíng? Bù cánkù? Bù wúlǐ qǔnào?


S: How am I heartless? How am I cruel? How am I unreasonable?

Wǒ nǎli wúqíng? Nǎli cánkù? Nǎli wúlǐ qǔnào?


Y: How aren’t you heartless? How aren’t you cruel? How aren’t you unreasonable?

Nǐ nǎli bù wúqíng? Nǎli bù cánkù? Nǎli bù wúlǐ qǔnào?


OK, enough: The debate goes on for another half-page, but luckily, the exchange is so iconic that, as long as you include the three key phrases, most people will immediately get the reference:

A: I am sorry, but I have to take a rain check on our dinner.

Duìbuqǐ, wǒmen chīfàn zhǐnéng gǎitiān le.


B: You are heartless, you are cruel, you are unreasonable.

Nǐ wúqíng, nǐ cánkù, nǐ wúlǐ qǔnào.


It seems that writing quarrels is Qiong Yao’s secret to inflating her page count. In Princess Pearl, Ziwei and Erkang also have a long, repetitive fight.

Z: She says you went to see the snow and the stars and the moon together, and talked [about things] from poetry to song to philosophy.

Tā shuō nǐmen yìqǐ kàn xuě kàn xīngxing kàn yuèliang, cóng shīcí gēfù tán dào rénshēng zhéxué.


Z: But I’ve never seen the snow and the stars and the moon with you, nor talked from poetry to song to philosophy.

Wǒ dū méiyǒu hé nǐ yìqǐ kàn xuě kàn xīngxing kàn yuèliang, cóng shīcí gēfù tán dào rénshēng zhéxué.


E: It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have gone to see the snow and the stars and the moon with her, nor talk from poetry to song to philosophy.

Dōushì wǒ de cuò, wǒ bùgāi hé tā yìqǐ kàn xuě kàn xīngxing kàn yuèliang, cóng shīcí gēfù tán dào rénshēng zhéxué.


E: I promise, from now on, I will only see the snow and the stars and the moon, and talk from poetry to song to philosophy with you.

Wǒ dāying nǐ jīnhòu zhǐ hé nǐ yìqǐ kàn xuě kàn xīngxing kàn yuèliang, cóng shīcí gēfù tán dào rénshēng zhéxué.


Like life, love is full of ups and downs: Qiong Yao’s lovers inevitably experience various vicissitudes in life—accidents, separation, and even death—yet always manage to inject their misfortunes with pathos. In one episode of Princess Pearl, Ziwei becomes temporarily blind, and weeps to Erkang, who is himself seriously injured and comatose:

How can a shattered me save a shattered you?

Yí gè pòsuì de wǒ yào zěnme zhěngjiù yí gè pòsuì de nǐ?


So next time someone asks for a favor but you are busy with your own issues, simply reply:

“Sorry, but a shattered me cannot save a shattered you.”

Duìbuqǐ, dàn yí gè pòsuì de wǒ wúfǎ zhěngjiù yí gè pòsuì de nǐ a.


Yiping, on the other hand, is better at talking than writing. When her boyfriend Shuhuan returns to his hometown, she vents her to diary:

Day 1 after Shuhuan left: Miss him.

Shūhuán zǒu de dì yī tiān, xiǎng tā.


Day 2 after Shuhuan left: Miss him, miss him.

Shūhuán zǒu de dì èr tiān, xiǎng tā, xiǎng tā.


Day 3 after Shuhuan left: Miss him, miss him, miss him.

Shūhuán zǒu de dì sān tiān, xiǎng tā, xiǎng tā, xiǎng tā.


And so forth: Qiong Yao’s heroine may not be good writer (albeit, she is a fine mathematician), but this template is pretty useful. Two years ago, when Kobe Bryant retired, one of his fans wrote on social media: “It’s day one after Kobe left. Miss him.”

Though Qiong Yao’s success in romance writing is unmatched, her works are frequently criticized for promoting the wrong values, with moral guardians even labeling some of her lines as literary “poison.” In Fantasies Behind the Pearly Curtain, the heroine Ziling falls in love with her sister Lüping’s fiancé Chu Lian, and they have an affair. Chu decides to come clean to Lüping, but before he can do so, Lüping, a dancer, loses her leg in a car accident.

Chu then marries Lüping out of guilt, and when she finds out the truth, Lüping takes revenge on the whole family. At this point, Ziling’s husband Fei Yunfan calls out Lüping in one of Qiong Yao’s most notorious lines:

You just lost a leg, but what about Ziling? She lost half her life! Not to mention the love she threw away for you.

Nǐ zhǐbuguò shì shīqù le yītiáo tuǐ. Zǐlíng ne? Tā shīqù le bàn tiáo mìng! Gèng búyào shuō tā wèi nǐ gēshě diào de àiqíng.


This line is usually quoted as evidence of Qiong Yao’s “incorrect” views on love and life. In the show, Lüping becomes speechless in the face of such impassioned criticism. But perhaps, she should have just replied: “You are heartless, you are cruel, you are unreasonable!”

Bad Romance is a story from our issue, “Vital Signs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine.


author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

Related Articles