Chinese period dramas are climbing the list of audience favourites to watch. Imagine the beautifully-detailed costumes, interesting accessories, backstabbing politics and ultimate schemes. Many storylines of Chinese period dramas are easy to follow, despite the tricky initial synopses. C-drama is creating a new cultural wave that’s going to take the world by surprise, just as K-Drama did before.
The Chinese period drama Scarlet Heart opens up in the 21st century, where we meet Zhang Xiao and see how she unwillingly travels back in time to the Qing Dynasty. In old times, Zhang Xiao’s name changed to Ma’er’tai Ruoxi, and she soon found herself fighting on more than one side, the most significant of which was a battle for the Chinese throne. Upon meeting the emperor’s sons, Ma’er’tai is entangled in a battle of love, friendship, loyalty, and betrayal.
Historical era: Qing Dynasty and the 21st century.
Love Between Fairy and Devil
This C-drama tells the story of Dong Fang Qing Can, known as the Lord Devil, who wreaks havoc, slaughters entire clans, and wipes out his enemies with the help of his demon army. As punishment, the gods curse and sentence the Lord Devil to imprisonment in the magical tower for eternity. When a young woman from a wiped-out clan is reborn as a fairy named Xiao Lan Hua, she unintentionally sets the Lord Devil free.
Even though the Lord Devil is free, he and Xiao Lan Hua hit a wall when they discover the spell that switches their bodies. Then, the fairy and the devil must work together for each can return to their original body. Along the journey, emotions start to swirl and love sprouts between them.
Historical era: fictional era.
Story of Yanxi Palace
This Chinese period drama is an unrelenting chase of love and revenge. Our protagonist, Wei Yingluo, is a palace maid in Emperor Qianlong’s court. Wei had a secret agenda prior to joining the palace maids; she sought to avenge her sister and capture her murderer. During her quest, Wei draws the attention of two men. The first is Fuca Fuheng, one of the imperial guards who she initially suspected, and the second is Emperor Qianlong himself.
Historical era: Qing dynasty.
The Legend of Qin
This loved Chinese period drama is based on an animation series called Qin Moon, which follows the protagonist, Jing Tianming, as he changes the face of history. The backdrop of the story is the transition from one era to another during the Qin dynasty. During his journey, Tianming meets his mentor, who takes him in and protects him from the emperor’s guards. The drama brings us history, mythology, and fantasy woven with epic fighting and swordsmanship.
Historical era: Qin Dynasty.
Who Rules the World
This Chinese period drama is based on the wuxia or martial heroes’ genre of Chinese dramas. We follow the story of two heroes, Hei Fengxi and Bai Fengxi, a prince and a princess from opposite states who are disguised as skilful warriors. As they face off in defence of their states and fighting ensues, love begins to find its way into their hearts. Hei and Bai work hard to conceal their true identities amidst political warfare, infighting, and betrayal that pave the way to the imperial throne.
Historical era: Qing Dynasty.
Ever Night is a Chinese period drama showing how love and evil intertwine. After witnessing the savage murder of his family, the protagonist uses his wits and knowledge to escape and survive in the woods. He crosses paths with a beautiful girl who is trying to hide that she is the incarnation of an evil being whose mission in life is to bring chaos. This C-drama boasts perfected action scenes, impressive fight choreography, and gripping character development.
Historical era: Tang Dynasty.
The King’s Woman
This Chinese period drama weaves tales of love triangles, revenge, betrayal, and the intriguing life of the imperial court. When Gongsun Li, the granddaughter of one of the military commanders, takes an irreversible decision to marry China’s first emperor, Ying Zheng, and founder of the Qin dynasty, to save her childhood love, she steps into the sly world of the imperial palace’s harem. The plot thickens when the emperor finds his wife is with child, but he pledges to raise the baby as his own. Gongsun Li’s heart fills with admiration towards the emperor but only contradicts her feelings for the child’s father.
Historical era: Warring States Era
The Sword and the Brocade
The Sword and the Brocade is a Chinese period drama that brings us the story of an arranged marriage between a cold-hearted military general and a concubine’s daughter. Shi Yi Niang finds herself forced to fulfil a promise she made to her dying sister, by which she is betrothed to General Xu Ling Yi. Shi Yi has many obstacles to overcome in her new life but most significantly, her husband’s cold heart. As a little change from most C-dramas, The Sword and the Brocade is full of optimism and female empowerment, which is why it made it to our list.
Historical era: Ming Dynasty.
Ashes of Love
Set in a magical imaginary realm, Ashes of Love is a C-drama that shows us what happens when a cheerful grape fairy, who is also the heiress of the Floral Realm, crosses paths with a self-centred phoenix who seeks the throne of the Heavenly Realm. As delightful as the setting sounds, the couple goes through a tide of unfortunate events, and we see heaven and earth combine in a light-hearted tale of unplanned love, greed, and revenge.
Historical era: Ancient China.
Eternal Love brings us the ultimate love story between two deities whose love must stand against the test of time. Set over three lifetimes, this Chinese period drama begins when Bai Qian disguises herself as So Yin, a male immortal and the God of War. For the first 20,000 years, So Yin fights, trains, and causes trouble with other realms. The following 70,000, Bai Qian is back to her original self and is living in solitude in Qing Qiu until an unfortunate event transforms her into an immortal form. Along the way, she meets Ye Hua and the two struggle to save themselves and their love.
Historical era: Dong Yue Dynasty and modern times.
Legend of Dragon Pearl
This C-drama brings the intertwin of two dynasties. When it’s time for young emperor Kang Xi to ascend to the throne, he’s found too young, and a regent takes over. Over time, Kang Xi meets the last princess of the Ming Dynasty, Yi Huan. The regent keeps an eye on and plots against Kang Xi, whose bond with Yi Huan strengthens over time. With the help of Yi Huan, Kang Xi is able to spot the plots the tyrannical government is weaving against him and starts to weave plots of his own.
Historical era: Qing Dynasty.
Fights Break Sphere
Derived from a novel called Battle Through the Heavens, this Chinese period drama shares with us the story of Xiao Yan, a smart child who is unable to reach his full potential in martial arts due to a curse on his mother’s magical ring. Defeated and his family slaughtered, he roams the land until he meets Yao Lao, who helps him unlock his potential. The strange man helps him see the truth about his family’s assassin. This drama is about unlocking hidden superpowers, seeking revenge, and saving the world.
Historical era: Ancient China.
Legend of Lu Zhen
Le Zhen is a strong-headed woman with impeccable pottery-making skills. She decides to enter the royal court and can ascend speedily from rank to rank. However, the crown prince notices Le Zhen and entraps her in an impossible love story made impossible by her low social status and the prince’s political enemies. At a standstill, Le Zhen trades love for the second-highest position in the country, the prime minister, and defies the court’s enemies to become the first female prime minister in China’s history.
Historical era: Northern Qi Dynasty.
The Imperial Doctress
Set over the course of 50 years, this C-drama tells the story of Tan Yun Xian, the strong-willed woman who seeks to continue the legacy of her family of court physicians by being a female practitioner. Tan Yun faces strong opposition from the predetermined roles of women set by society, but she decides to fight and keep her practice secret. When Tan Yun’s bonding with the emperor deepens, matters begin to take an unexpected turn.
Historical era: Ming Dynasty.
Colourful Bone introduces us to the ancient art of painting faces. After the Kingdom of Chu fell in ruins under the leadership of Feng Ru Ge, the crown prince sought the right time to claim his kingdom back. Feng Ru Ge is unaware that his goddaughter, Jing Chu, can paint faces and has been helping people for the past fifteen years. Unexpectedly, as Jing Chu trades faces and lives, she lands the face of the savage soldier, Lue Ying, whose mission is to kill the crown prince.
Historical era: Southern Song Dynasty.
Love Like the Galaxy
This heart-wrenching C-drama narrates how two cruel parents abandon their daughter, Cheng Shao Shang, to go to war. Even though they entrusted her to her aunt and grandmother, they offer no compensation for the lack of love given by her parents. Armed with insecurity and fear, Shao Shang cautiously faces the world and attempts to get over the distance between her and her parents. After their return from war, Shao Shang tries to reconcile with her parents, but the void proves difficult to fill alone.
Distraught and searching for solace, Shao Shang crosses paths with Ling Bu Yi, the emperor’s adopted son. They dislike each other at first, as they both act cold and arrogant. However, fate continuously brings them together, and warmth begins to melt their cold exteriors. In a captivating combination of love and politics, love fiddles with the young couple’s hearts.
Historical era: Han-like Dynasty.
General and I
“General and I” is a C-drama that highlights the struggles a heated love story goes through amid the war of the four kingdoms. The hearts of Bai Pingting, a princess from the Kingdom of Yan, and Chu Beijie, the God of War from the Kingdom of Jin, are fighting for their love to survive. When loyalty to their kingdoms calls them, the couple faces political enemies and uncanny schemes.
Historical era: Ancient China.
Sound of the Desert
Jin Yu is an orphan girl who finds herself living among wolves in the desert. The wolves have to give her away to a Han Chinese who adopts her, and she moves to live in the city. Unfortunately, luck parts ways with Jin Yu when her adoptive father is killed due to political differences. Without a home, Jin Yu returns to her pack of wolves. After many years, Jin Yu is brave enough to venture into the city again, but she meets two men who boggle her mind.
Historical era: Han Dynasty.
This Chinese period drama throws us back to one of the darkest times in Chinese history when anyone could find themselves enslaved. Chu Qiao uses her wits and sharp thinking to flee with her village from the rich lords haunting them. Chu Qiao escapes the fate of her companions only to fall into the hands of Prince Yan Xun, who enslaves her in the royal court. She follows the teachings of the palace’s training masters and excels in martial arts.
The brutal fighting over power in the royal palace derives Chu Qiao to attempt to run away, but her trials fail. Chu Qiao plays a risky game, as she uses the attention she garners and Prince Yan Xun’s heart, to solidify her position at the royal court. With royal princes gathering at the imperial palace, Chu Qiao learns to persevere in navigating political and romantic relationships. When other royal princes meet Chu Qiao at court, their hearts flutter, but Chu Qiao has no intention of surrendering.
Historical era: Northern Wei Dynasty.
Nirvana in Fire
Nirvana in Fire is a Chinese period drama that retells the story of chaotic times in Ancient China. As the feud between the Northern Wei and Southern Liang dynasties rages, in-house betrayal shreds the Southern Liang dynasty. Lin Xie, commander of the Liang forces, is able to defeat the Wei soldiers with his powerful Chiyan. The emperor later orders the execution of all Chiyan and the crown prince on allegations of plotting treason. The only survivor is Lin Xie’s son, Lin Shu, who escapes and faces an unknown destiny.
After twelve years, Lin Shu arms himself with his vengeance to restore his family’s name, avenge all the unjustly-executed soldiers, and push his cousin Prince Jing’s plan to ascend to the emperor’s seat.
Historical era: 6th century China.
Our list of Chinese period dramas will transport you to other realms and lifetimes, where reality intertwines with imagination and magic fills the air.