Will 2020 be the year of female ensemble dramas?

Zhou Xun, Kara Hui and Angie Chiu have already finished filming 24-episode webdrama The Imperfect Woman 不完美的她 (lit.), a remake of Japanese drama Mother.

It might have started in early 2018, when a tweet proposing a Chinese drama featuring female friends whose lives aren’t revolving around romance and kids got millions of retweets as women across China (and overseas) shared their wishes to see more female characters with diverse aspirations and female friendships not tied together by their common rivalry for a man.

In the year since then, companies seem to have picked up the hint as one after another modern female ensemble dramas began production this year. The dramas range from women fighting their place in college (Unfazed at Twenty ) to women dealing with mid-life crises to women seeking to find a new meaning in life in old age (Good Times).

Here’s a look at some of the announced upcoming female ensemble dramas, which one are you looking forward to the most?

First trailer for Jiang Shuying, Tong Yao, and Mao Xiaotong’s Nothing But Thirty

Review: Love and Destiny questions the trope of reincarnated love

If the same soul grows up with different experiences and memories, are they still the same person?

Fated romances are one of the most common tropes in Chinese drama, so much so that many series take for granted that one will always love the same person in every lifetime. Xianxia drama Love and Destiny 宸汐缘 is a rare rejection of the assumption, instead questioning the ideas that the soul is the sole entity of human identity and that one’s life is necessarily bound to that of one’s past lives. In one of the most morally ambiguous battles in a recent drama, a chapter climax of the series has the male leads fighting for different reincarnations of the female lead. One male lead is determined that the human reincarnation of the female lead dies on time so her soul will return to heaven; another wants to try and save her current mortal self. The former believes that it’s important to save her soul so that she lives on, but the later believe that each life is a new person and they can’t sacrifice one of her lifetimes for that of another.


Mid-series review: Novoland: Eagle Flag

Novoland: Eagle Flag is a show that attempts to chronicle the journey of three young heroes who go from naïve youngsters to rulers in their own right. I say attempt only because at the time of writing this review, the one character that seems to be getting a proper and logical growth arc is Ji Ye (Chen Ruoxuan), and even his arc is written in such a way that the character takes one step forward and two steps backward. Lv Guichen (Liu Haoran) is still the just and benevolent savior, though his resurrection should help drive the character forward. That being said, I still find the show riveting enough to watch every single episode, which doesn’t happen very often these days.


Mid-series review: The Longest Day in Chang’an

The first half of The Longest Day in Chang’an is mesmerising, and has a very meaty setup – Zhang Xiaojing (Lei Jiayin), former police detective (buliangren) and currently a prisoner on death row, is given the near impossible mission of uprooting a terrorist group within twenty four hours. He sacrifices close friends and subordinates and willingly puts himself in mortal danger in order to save the people of Chang’an, yet is easily thrown under the bus by those in power when things get out of control.


Drama Review: Goodbye My Princess

Funnily enough, the drama premiered on Valentine’s Day, and ended on Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day).

Goodbye My Princess is yet another example of the typical Chinese drama that starts off as a pretty engaging show, starts falling apart in the middle, and can barely hold itself together by the time it reaches the finish line.


Sinology Sunday: How do Chinese names work?


While Wang Kai’s leading role in the Held in the Lonely Castle is most well-known as Song Renzong in Chinese,  his last name is Zhao and first name is Zhen.  Instead, Song Renzong is his temple name that translates into Emperor Renzong of Song.

Even for fluent speakers, watching an ancient drama can often be confusing because of how many names everyone has.   Here’s a mini-guide to the different parts of a Chinese name, starting with simpler modern names and moving onto complicated historical names. There’s also some information on non-Chinese names and how we at Cfensi translate names.

Chinese names are grouped into two – 姓(xing)氏(shi) and 名(ming)字(zi) . You can think of 姓氏 as last names that you inherit, and the later as given names. Nowadays , they’re shortened into  your last name 姓(xing)   and  your first name 名(ming).  Historically,  they were once distinct.

Xing 姓 (family name)

The character for xing is composed of woman 女 and birth 生.  Most historians believe the character originally meant to indicate which woman gave birth to you.  However, by the time historical records existed, most of China has been patriarchal millenniums in the making.

Many of the oldest existing last names started as xing, and you can usually tell which ones they are by a female sign -姜 Jiang (Jiang Wen’s Jiang, not Jiang Shuying’s Jiang 江 nor Jiang Xin’s Jiang 蒋)、姚 Yao (Yao Chen, Yao Ming)、姬 Ji、嬴 Ying ( Ying Zheng)、姒 Si、妘 Yun、媯 Gui、and 姞 Ji .

Ming  名  (given name)

The character for ming is  a mouth and a ear, so it’s the name you’re called by. In modern Chinese names, it’s just your first name. This is traditionally one or two characters of your parents’ choice, although recent trends have made three character ming popular (ex. Yi Yangqianxi).

Some families require the first character of a  ming to be a certain character or character family common to all males of a certain generation, although nowadays many families have abandoned the rules and/or extended it to female descendants.  Rules are often determined by a respected ancestor or friend of the family.  The most famous example of this is the descendants of the Four Sages (Mencius, Zengzi, Yan Hui, and Zisi the grandson of Confucius), who all use the same generation rule usually decreed by the head of state at the time.

Ex. Actor Kong Chuinan 孔垂楠 ‘s  垂 Chui is a part of the ming of all male 79th generation descendants of Confucius (minus a small group in Korea) and was chosen by the Emperor Qianlong in 1766. He is of the same generation as Korean actor Gong Yoo (Gong = Kong), a descendant of a Confucius family member who accompanied a princess to Korea in 1351 and became the only Kong family line outside of China until modern days.

The last time the Kong family needed new generation names, it was approved by the Republican government.  I wonder if there’s going to be a fight for which government gets to approve it when they run out since one head of the family is in mainland and the other is in Taiwan.

Actor Kong Chuinan shares the “Chui” in his name with almost all 79th generation descendants of Confucius.

Shi 氏 (clan name)

As clans began to diminish under a central government during the Qin dynasty, the two last names began to be blended together to merge into one. Although there are no exact recordings of how this happened, by the end of the Qin dynasty, people only used the xing.  However, many chose to use their shi or title as their xing. For example, descendants of Confucius use the xing Kong, which was originally his Shi.  His actual xing at the time is 子 zi . It’s extra confusing because he’s called Kong Zi 孔子 in Chinese, but it is because  子 zi is also an honorific and not because people are called by their Xing and Shi together.

Zi 字 (Courtesy name)

Zi is a name given upon reaching adulthood or upon going to school. This is usually only given to higher-class individuals.  Once you have a zi, this is the name most acquaintances will call you by. Your zi can be combined with your last name or stand alone. Zhaoyao of The Legends is an example of a character who goes by her zi, Zhaoyao.  Liu Rushi (I highly recommend her bioepic Threads of Time) is one who goes by a combination of her xing, Liuand her zi, Rushi. Because she came from a courtesan background, she gave herself a zi.

One rare group of artists who also use the generation rule for zi are some xiangsheng actors.  For example, Guo Degang’s disciples all have the first character in their zi  from the phrase “云鹤九霄,龙腾四海”  –   Yue Yunpeng, Zhang Yunlei,  Zhang Jiuling, Yang Jiulang, Wang Jiulong. Their disciples in turn all have the first character 筱 in their zi.

Zhaoyao of The Legends is an example of a character who goes by her zi, Zhaoyao.

Hao 号 (Art name)

The hao is a name that one picks themselves to go by. It’s usually used by artists and writers to refer to themselves. Few famous historical figures are mostly known by their hao.    The most famous example is Song dynasty poet, politican, and gastronome Su Dongpo, and that’s partly thanks to the famous Dongpo Pork dish named after him.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, many emperors are known mostly by their era names. For example, the Yongle Emperor in upcoming series The Imperial Age .

Miaohao 庙号 (Temple Name) 

The Temple name is the name of an emperor used to honor them in ancestral temples.   All the Emperors in the Song Dynasty are mostly called by their temple names (Song Zhenzong, Song Renzong, Song Huizong)

A temple name almost always consists of only two characters, with the first being an adjective praising the emperor, and the second one being either   (祖) or zōng (宗) (both mean ancestors) to indicate they are an emperor.   (祖) is usually reserved for founding emperors.  For example, the Emperor Renzong of Song means that he was a 仁 or kind and forgiving emperor (his advisors would argue so hard with him that he would get spit from their tirades).

Nianhao 年号 (Era Name)

Ming and Qing-dynasty emperors such as Jiajing and Kangxi are all most widely known by their era names or regnal titles chosen by the Emperor. It can be used to count the years and can mostly be anything the Emperor wants.   It’s the Chinese equivalent of “in the year of our lord”. ex. 1669 = The 8th year of Kangxi’s Reign.

Before the Ming dynasty, many emperors had multiple era names so we rarely refer to them by their nianhao.   In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, every emperor only used one era name, which is why they are often called by their era names such as Emperor Kangxi instead of their miaohao. The Republic of China still uses this system somewhat, with the era name being just The Republic 民国.

Shaolin Popey’s lead Ashton Chen goes by the name Shi Xiaolong, with Shi being  a name used by all disciples of the Han Buddhism. The film is produced by a company ran by ex-triad member Wu Dun, who went by 鬼见愁 or “Ghosts are Worried When Seeing Him” in real life jianghu.

Jianghu names in Wuxia 

In wuxia novels and dramas and for real-life gangsters, many characters would have a name they go by that usually indicates their abilities. It’s usually a cool-sounding nickname that either you come up with yourself or others give you. In real life jianghu,  a cool nickname is 鬼见愁 or “Ghosts are Worried When Seeing Him”  Wu Dun, a film major graduate turned triad member turned government assassin who now almost exclusively produces wuxia adaptations like the upcoming Handsome Siblings. Wu Dun worked under “dry duck” Chen Chu-li, the father of actor Chen Chuhe.

fa ming 法名  (Dharma Name)

Chinese Buddhists and Daoists are given new  xing and ming equivalents by their teachers upon joining. In novel Journey to the West, each of the monk Sanzang’s  four disciples are given new names that follow the same generational patter –  Wukong, Wuneng,  and Wujing. Sanzang himself is often called just Tang Sanzang, which means Sanzang of the Tang Empire.

Right now, all disciples main branch of Buddhists all take on the last name Shi, short for Siddhārtha.   So I read that Shi is reserved for people who actually become monks, but martial arts actor Shi Xiaolong uses this last name so I’m not sure what the exact rule is.

Some translators also translate Catholic Saint names into fa ming 法名 .


For Hui Chinese like Ma Tianyu, their last name Ma is short for Mohammad.

Sinicization of names

Both Han Chinese and other ethnic groups are often “awarded” last names by the ruling class at the time. Others adopted last names to fit in.

For example, historical records show that the Kaifeng Jews were awarded the last names  Ai, Shi, Gao, Gan, Jin, Li, Zhang, and Zhao by a Ming Emperor.

Other minorities adopt the first character of their last names as their Han name. For example, Xibo actress Tong Liya and Manchu actor Tong Dawei’s last name Tong is  a common name for descendants of the Jurchen clan Tunggiya hala.  Many Muslims in China have the last name Ma (ex. Ma Tianyu) , which is short for a Chinese translation of Mohammad.  Bonus fact:  Madina Memet’s last name, Memet, is also a translation of Mohammad.

Dilraba or Dilireba? We don’t know, neither.

How does Cfensi translate Chinese names?

For celebrities, we usually follow standard convention for the region unless they’re already widely known by another name.  For Chinese names from the mainland, we use the pinyin system with Lastname Firstname (ex. Yi Yangqianxi) unless they have consistently promoted abroad using a different name (ex. Jane Zhang), in which case we use their preferred name in the title but Englishname Lastname Firstname in the posts in case Chinese speakers don’t recognize their English names. This includes non-mainland artists who debuted in mainland without other names (ex. Chinese-Canadian Song Yiren). Translations elsewhere sometimes separate the characters of the first names (ex. Yi Yang Qian Xi), but that’s confusing since it combines two translation systems, and makes it difficult to tell last and first names apart. Outside of mainland, we use whatever name they seem to use (ex. Jolin Tsai, Wang Ta-lu, Angelababy).

For historical figures in film and TV, we use whatever names they’re using in promotional items, synopsis, etc.

For translated names, we use whatever official ones they seem to be using based on either their weibo name or what collaborators call them in events. Sometimes they send mixed signals ( Dilraba or Dilireba? ) and we just go with whichever one comes first on Cfensi in a search.

Review: The Legends is a fast-paced wuxia rom-com with two great female leads

Featuring two female leads with character flaws and character growth, The Legends has one of the best written female friendships of late.

The Legends 招摇 might be the best wuxia-ish drama with a female lead out yet (I know, low bar), and the three leads might have my favorite drama lead dynamic since The Disguiser.  The currently-airing drama is still a funny, cute rom-com at heart, but it’s one of the few wuxia that treats its female leads’ ambitions no different than a male lead.  It  reminds me of Wicked the musical with its polar-opposite female leads who share a room and who change each other for good. One of them is pushed into wickedness after being called so by the leader of the land, but the other believes in her even after the world has deemed her wicked. The romance plot reminds me of The Disguiser, with the male lead being in love with not just the female lead but her visions for the world.

update: You should stop watching the moment Zhaoyao explodes because that is when the series also explodes as they go into original content. Everyone becomes out of character and the plot is a mix of cringe+boring+??? after that. 

Zhaoyao (Bai Lu) starts off as a young girl fed naive visions of helping her people “become good” by her mentor and first crush. Yet when he condemns to death an innocent youth prophecied for evil, she is horrified and rebels against him.  Her mentor ends up killing her grandfather while she saves the youth. After being told repeatedly she’s wicked by everyone, Zhaoyao chooses to become wicked. She sets out to build a ruthless empire, killing both her mentor and her old dreams along the way.

Five years later, the “righteous” sects gang up on her and she is killed. The youth she saved, Li Chenlan (Xu Kai), takes over her sect and rebuilds it in her original vision. When she magically returns from death, she finds that her acres of traps and torture equipment have all been converted to pastures and tools for the villagers. Enraged by this sign of betrayal, she goes back to her sect undercover and spends every day trying to seduce and/or kill Li Chenlan.  All this happens in the first five episodes! 

Zhaoyao: Who would be so shameless as to want to care for the most wicked person alive? Zhiyan: I’m that shameless.


Review: The Wandering Earth is an imaginative spectacle that launches Chinese films into the space age.

The Wandering Earth is the historical breakthrough Chinese sci-fi has been waiting for a long time.

Faced with the threat of the sun swallowing up the Earth, humans chose to embark on a 2500 year journey to find a new place in the universe for their home, Earth. The ambitious plan involves three hundred years of scientists around the world building ten thousand propellers around the Earth, stopping the  Earth’s rotation, and then finally propelling the Earth into its long journey into the dark night. But first, they must get out of the solar system by escaping Jupiter’s gravitational pull.

The almost as ambitious film The Wandering Earth 流浪地球 is half disaster film, half space thriller,  and a full classic holiday film about the importance of going home for the holidays. While not nearly as polished as Hollywood blockbusters (and with a fraction of the budget), the film offers uniquely Chinese visions of the future that makes it stand-out.  Despite its clear flaws,  the Frant Gwo-direct film has a solid plot, suspenseful and well-shot action scenes for both its earth disaster and space scenes, plenty of scenes that appeals to your inner holiday spirit,  and solid CGI combined with imaginative setups that makes this the historical breakthrough Chinese sci-fi has been waiting for a long time.

imax trailer for the film: 


Sinology Sunday: The Forbidden Palace launches their own iPhone game

The artwork and music are so gorgeous that you can just enjoy it as an interactive animated film

Inspired by The Thousand Li of Mountains and Rivers by Song Dynasty artist Wang Ximeng as well as creatures from The Classic of Mountains and Seas , The Forbidden Palace‘s  first app (in collaboration with Netease) is now available for free on Apple app stores world wide.

The click-and-point adventure game takes the player through four paintings, each exploring a different theme with a different legend. Despite simple gameplay, the artwork and music are gorgeous that you can just enjoy it as an interactive animated film.   Several of the stories are also quite creative. There’s also a mini-story for many of the story elements where you can learn about the objects and creatures and their legends. Plus, the translations are solid.

Search for “Ink,Mountains and Mystery” or 妙笔千山 in your app store. iPhones link here.

The premise of entering a painting is actually perfect for this particular painting. Painted by the then eighteen-year-old Wang Ximeng for the Song Emperor Huizong. His outrageous demands was appeased by the emperor earlier on, but eventually he angered the emperor and was sentenced to death. Before his execution, he asked to be left alone with his painting one last time. He entered the room that house the painting and was never seen again. Rumors has it he entered the world of his painting, and lives there still.

On top of that, the game also collaborated with several hanfu companies to release limited edition outfits based on the characters.