They were once the most popular shows in China—until censors turned against them.
Now “concubine dramas,” such as Yanxi Palace, Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, and The Legend of Mi Yue may be allowed back on mainland screens—but only if their female leads display “positive energy,” according to a new editorial.
Yanxi Palace was China’s most popular show in 2018, accumulating 15 billion views on iQiyi, a Netflix-style streaming site. But when the state-backed Theory Weekly criticized concubine dramas in January for their “negative impacts,” Yanxi Palace and its imperial ilk were abruptly dropped.
Now a new commentary, published in the influential quarterly Misty Truth, is offering beleaguered producers a possible lifeline. “Rather than competing and feuding for glory, it is better that these concubines promote historical truth and traditional values for women,” the anonymous editorial advised. “So-called ‘palace dramas’ should emphasize the factual harmony of harem life, and not blindly pursue celebrity in depicting Western-style opulence.”
In order to transmit “positive energy,” the writer continued, future series of Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace could depict concubines as virtuous and diligent in carrying out their duties, such as bearing children.
Patriotic fans have welcomed the directive, with many tweeting ideas for how the scriptwriters could bring the shows in line with modern principles. “A villainous mistress could decide to defy the emperor after reading about feminism,” one netizen suggested. “Only to tragically fall down a well.”