Strengthen Your Mandarin Skills through TV Shows
Television often gets a bad reputation. It's not considered as cultural as reading or going to the theatre but when you think about it, television is a legitimate art form and many of today's greatest art works and performances are created through the medium of TV. In the English speaking world we can see TV shows like Game of Thrones, The Rings of Power and Stranger Things with record breaking budgets and viewing figures. They've become culturally iconic, household names and the topic of conversation almost everywhere you go and Chinese television is no different.
With increased investment in the entertainment medium over recent years, the Chinese TV industry is pumping out high quality shows for us all to enjoy. Not only do these shows offer up a way to immerse oneself in Chinese culture, they're also a great way to familiarise yourself with natural Chinese speaking and improve your Mandarin comprehension! Check out this list of some of our favourite Chinese TV shows. We've tried to include as many genres as possible so there's something for everyone!
Secret of the Three Kingdoms
Secrets of the Three Kingdoms is a semi historical TV drama based on one of the four most famous novels in China: The Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义. This novel follows the story of famous generals over the course of China's feudal history as various clans battle it out for overall control.
Set in the late Han Dynasty, the series starts with the birth of twins fathered by the current Emperor and one of his concubines. Jealous of their new children, the Emperor's wife poisons the concubine and she dies. One of the twins is raised by his grandmother to become the new Emperor and the other is cast out from the palace to live as a commoner.
Many years later, when a power struggle emerges between the Emperor twin and a powerful warlord named Caocao (one of the key players in the aforementioned novel), the commoner twin is summoned back to the palace to help. Unaware of his royal origins he faces struggles and the series follows the events that unfold as a result.
Loosely based on real historical events, this show has many twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged. A gripping storyline, 3 dimensional characters and well choreographed action all add up to make this an easy show to get into. The relation to the famous Chinese novel also adds an element of cultural understanding to the mix - You will struggle to find a native speaking Chinese person who's unfamiliar with these characters!
The King's Avatar
The King's Avatar was released in 2019 on Tencent Video's online streaming service. It quickly gained popularity amongst Chinese netizens and made its way to Netflix in the Western world.
Based around the world of multiplayer E-gaming in China, the story follows various teams as they compete to become the best at a game called Glory. The protagonist Ye Xiu is widely known as the best in the world but finds himself kicked out of his professional team and has to resort to becoming the manager at an internet café.
After a while he finds himself a new team and launches himself back into the game, vowing to become the best once again. His years of experience set him up well but does he have what it takes to climb back to the top of the mountain? You'll have to watch to find out!
Full of beautiful visuals and choc full of interesting characters, this show is easy to love. Popular with young people all over the Chinese speaking world it features many elements of Chinese culture you wouldn't be privy to in textbooks or on the news. It's a great talking point for discussions with your Chinese friends and it's inclusion on Netflix's roster means it's gaining popularity in the West too. Along with other popular Asian Netflix shows such as Squid Game, we hope The King's Avatar can help to spread the wonders of Asian television to a wider audience!
Where Are We Going Dad?
Where Are We Going, Dad? actually originated in Korea but a Chinese version was created following its initial success. The premise is very simple, 5 fathers take their children to different rural areas across the country, explore and learn about local culture and customs.
The fact that this is a reality show adds an extra element for those wishing to become more familiar with Chinese culture - nothing is scripted or glamourised, what you see on screen is real people interacting in real ways.
In addition to this, the show is designed to be a way for people to explore rural China and understand its culture so you can learn about hundreds of different places, foods and customs without even leaving your room.
Attracting more than 75 million viewers per episode, the show has become a big hit in China and has even been adapted into 2 films so if you finish all the episodes you still have something to look forward to! We hope you have as much fun exploring rural China as we did!
Fighting Youth is a Taiwanese drama following the story of Zhang Xiao Yu and her journey in gaining the respect of her sales director Lin Rui. Working at a huge international cosmetics company isn't easy and we watch as the office politics begin to unfold - rivalry, betrayal and opportunity are all on the cards.
Despite all that's going on at work, Zhang Xiao Yu does manage to lead a successful love life with romance being a common theme throughout the show.
This show not only gives some insight into the modern Taiwanese way of life, it also helps us to understand work culture, interpersonal relationships and the importance of one's career in Asian society. The Chinese used is casual, conversational Mandarin and more advanced learners may even notice the subtle differences between terminology used in Taiwan and mainland China.
All round entertaining and very watchable, Fighting Youth is definitely one to add to the list, especially if you plan to visit Taiwan!
Eternal Love, also known as Ten Miles of Peach Blossom, was released in 2017 and is based on a novel written by Tang Qi Gong Zi in 2015. It's a fantasy drama following the stories of various deities, gods and goddesses.
Full of magic and mystery, this show is incredibly addictive. The plot is interesting but in all honesty can be hard to follow, especially for those unfamiliar with Eastern philosophy and fables. This however, does not detract from the experience of watching Eternal Love as one easily finds themselves engrossed in the interpersonal relationships of the main characters.
In addition to being very watchable, this show is also incredibly beautiful. Shots of cherry blossoms and impeccable traditional dress, makeup and hairstyles portray elements of both Chinese historical and Chinese fantasy culture, much in the way Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter does for the English speaking world.
For the reasons above and more, this show was so widely enjoyed in the first year of its release, it became the world's most watched television series ever. If that's not a reason to check it out, we don't know what is!
iPartment is one of China's most popular comedy shows and undoubtedly their most successful sitcom. It's often referred to as China's answer to Friends and it follows the daily lives of a group of young people who live together in an apartment.
This show was one of the first shows in China to portray a relatively Western outlook to Chinese life, with drinking games, one night stands and relationship troubles all forming key plot lines. The language used is also very casual and typical of the younger generation of Chinese speakers. Don't feel bad if you don't understand all the language at first, you will pick it up in time and it will be a great study tool for you in the long run!
Viewers looking for history, traditional storytelling or martial arts would be advised to look elsewhere, but if you want a genuine look into the fashion, friendships and lifestyles of young Chinese speakers then this is the show for you. You might even have some laughs along the way!
The Voice China
The final show on our list is a reality show popular amongst all generations of Chinese speakers. Most countries have some version of this show, which essentially sees talented contestants battle it out to win the show by singing their hearts out.
It's not often spoken about but music and singing is a huge part of Chinese culture. It's quite normal for all ages and genders to sing publicly and it's generally not seen as something to be embarrassed about, even if you're bad! That being said, the experience seems to mean China has an abundance of very talented singers, many of which can be seen in this show.
From a language learning perspective The Voice China is great for 2 reasons. Firstly listening to singing in Chinese can be easier than listening to speech as tones are far less important in song. Secondly, the language used in the show is very conversational, every day language that you may not get a chance to pick up elsewhere. As with Where Are We Going, Dad?, this show doesn't follow a script, just real people using the words that come to their head naturally.
Finally, as with any country, The Voice is often the topic of conversation at work or round the dinner table. It's a great thing to discuss amongst friends and gives you an insight into Chinese celebrity lifestyle and culture.
Now you have loads of Chinese TV shows to check out it might be helpful to brush up on your Mandarin language skills!
Luckily for you we offer group and private courses for all levels! You can take these courses either online or in person at our London offices where you'll meet lots of like-minded Mandarin learners and fans of Chinese culture!