Are you tired of watching Chinese dramas that follow the same trope? Same here!
The shy, clumsy female lead seems to always fall for the successful and attractive male co-star.
As a Chinese learner, I started watching C-dramas because it is an easy way for me to practice my listening and understanding outside of the classroom. But I quickly realized how often the female characters fell flat and lacked nuance.
I don’t watch Chinese dramas to get my dose of feminist theory or inspiration. But I think it’s fair to say that most C-drama female leads fall below expectations.
From “Meteor Garden” to “A Love So Beautiful,” it often goes like this:
The main female character is a “傻白甜” (shǎ bái tián) — shy, naive and a bit clumsy.
The male love interest is the most attractive, intelligent and wealthy person around the female lead. By falling in love with her, he seemingly rescues her from her own misery.
But below, I have provided a list of the top five Chinese dramas that are continuing to expand the Chinese drama feminist genre. They are sure to leave you feeling inspired.
1 All Is Well《都挺好》(Dōu Tǐng Hǎo)
“All Is Well” is a modern drama centered on familial ties.
The female lead Su Mingyu is the family's youngest daughter and is more successful than her two older brothers. She's a powerful character with an unwavering moral compass.
In the beginning, she appears cold and indifferent (especially to one of her brothers and their father). Then the drama explores how her childhood trauma and mental health made her the way she is.
Throughout the entire drama, she remains strong while dealing with her family's problems. She doesn't let herself get discouraged or go running to one of her brothers to deal with it.
2 Accidentally in Love《惹上冷殿下》(Rě Shàng Lěng Diàn Xià)
“Accidentally in Love” is a romantic musical comedy based on a hate-to-love story.
The female protagonist is a quirky young woman, Chen Qing Qing.
She runs away from her wealthy grandfather and an unwanted marriage. When her grandfather's employees pursue her, she goes on a series of adventures using disguises and fake names.
Chen Qing Qing invites the audience on a rebellious and lively adventure as she connects with the male lead, Situ Feng.
Situ Feng is an arrogant, cold, top musical star named who is ambivalent about fame.
Chen Qing Qin's character encompasses feminist inspiration as she combats familial expectations and her romance with the famous Situ Feng!
3 Nothing But Thirty《三十而已》(Sānshí Éryǐ)
"Nothing But Thirty" tells the story of three 30-year-old urban women who encounter challenges and pressure at a crucial stage in their lives.
The story chronicles the life of the women as they leave behind their innocent and carefree 20s and officially enter adulthood in their 30s.
The women all have different backgrounds and personalities.
Gu Jia is both an ambitious mother and a capable businesswoman.
Wang Manni is an urban white-collar worker who is confident and rebellious in Shanghai. She is confident in her appearance and ability.
Zhong Xiaoqin is an ordinary office worker. She is content with an average life and a husband who has a steady job.
The series reflects women's struggles and pressure in reality.
Watch how the three main characters deal with all kinds of problems in life. It is sure to leave you inspired and empowered.
4 Begin Again《从结婚开始恋爱》(Cóng Jiéhūn Kāishǐ Liàn'ài)
“Begin Again” is a story about a successful female CEO and a kind-hearted doctor who turn a fake relationship into a real one out of necessity.
Lu Fanning is a woman who has it all. She is talented, beautiful and rich. She is the general manager of Luning Group, a large corporation in the business of home furniture.
But nearing her thirties, Lu Fanning succumbs to family pressures and decides that she needs a husband to have a child with.
Coincidentally, surgeon Ling Rui appears. He is blessed with both good looks and an angelic heart.
Lu Fanning schemes her way into his life, and they finally become husband and wife. But she eventually realizes the error in her ways. She strives to be better in her work and personal life while dealing with the pressure of an impending marriage.
Lu Fangning's character gives insight into being a woman in the workplace battling the forces of discrimination, inequality and harassment.
5 Delicious Romance《爱很美味》(Ài Hěn Měi Wèi)
“Delicious Romance” recounts the stories of three women — Liu Jing, Fang Xin and Xia Meng. They all have vastly different personalities, experiences and lifestyles.
The series follows them as they navigate relationship issues, harassment, and discrimination.
“Delicious Romance” focuses on diversity by focusing on women from different backgrounds. It offers viewers insight into different facets of the female experience.
Liu Jing doesn't allow herself to be defeated, and she refuses to settle down despite family pressure.
Fang Xin doesn't back down from workplace harassment and keeps her head high throughout her difficult divorce.
Xia Meng doesn't force herself to conform to societal expectations or repress who she truly is in her pursuit of excellence both academically and professionally.
Though they are plagued by internal contradictions and nuanced experiences, the women are never pigeon-holed. The show ensures they never become just accessories to the men in their lives.
This drama upsets the tropes from traditional Chinese feminist girl boss narratives.
These five C-dramas are paving the way for dynamic female characters in media. But there is still room for improvement.
Many dramas feature independent and "girl boss"-like characters. But the dramas depict these figures as extreme, hyper-professional characters who lose femininity and nuance.
My challenge for Chinese dramas is to illustrate complicated and dynamic female leads and move beyond the trope of the female girl boss.
They should signal to audiences worldwide that you shouldn't have to be a strong female lead to be worthy of being seen, heard and respected.
Chinese dramas should continue their path of realism to create characters that resonate with women's ups and downs of life.