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5 Popular Chinese TV Shows to Immerse You into Chinese Culture

JINNA WANG | MAY 02, 2017

Looking for a fun, easy, and authentic way to get a sneak peek into Chinese life and culture? What if you could improve your Chinese listening skills at the same time?

Sounds like a win to me.

TV shows are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Chinese culture without actually living in China (just like people in China watch western TV shows to learn about western culture).  You can see what life is like as a Chinese student, peek into the life of a white-collar worker in a major Chinese city, or even fly back in time to visit historical China. You’ll certainly pick up on some new vocabulary words along the way.

TV shows usually have more up-to-date language and slang that Chinese native speakers actually use, and you’ll be more "in the know" about Chinese celebrities and pop culture. You certainly don’t need to be an expert in Chinese to enjoy these awesome shows, and all of the shows on our list can be found on Youtube.

Without further ado, here are five popular Chinese TV shows that are great resources for tapping into Chinese culture.

1.  杜拉拉升职记 (Dù lā lā shēng zhí jì) - “Go Lala Go”

Brief Synopsis:

Ever wonder what it's like to work in a Chinese office?  Du Lala is a "白领 (bái lǐng)" - a "white-collar" employee who by chance lands an entry-level job at a Fortune 500 company. Along the way, Lala has to deal with bad managers, office politics, surviving the "Chinese business dinner," and unsupportive coworkers. However, through her constant efforts to improve, Lala eventually reaches the management level of the company.

Du Lala is a character who is super relatable for young Chinese people. She comes from an average family and has an average education, and has to work extremely hard for every ounce of success she earns at work. Even though she might not do everything perfectly, she never gives up. This TV show has essentially become a must-watch “workplace survival skill tutorial” for young white-collar workers.

You should watch this if: 

-  You want to learn Chinese office lingo

-  You love a good underdog story

Watch an episode here:

2. 还珠格 (Huán zhū gé gé) -“My Fair Princess”

Brief Synopsis:

My Fair Princess is a period drama that launched the careers of some of China’s most famous "明星 (míng xīng)" or "bright stars" - celebrities including Zhao Wei and Fan Bing Bing. In the show, the tomboy orphan Xiao Yan Zi runs into the emperor’s illegitimate daughter Zi Wei. Through a series of miscommunications, the emperor thought Xiao Yan Zi was his daughter and crowned her Princess Pearl. Zi Wei was later recognized by the Emperor as well. Together the two princesses have to figure out how to navigate the rules of the palace.

Will Xiao Yan Zi and Zi Wei find love in the palace? How will they escape from the evil queen’s wrath? Watch and find out.

You should watch this if: 

- You love period dramas, and ancient Chinese culture. 

- You love a good cinderella story. 

- You are a fan of Zhao Wei and Fan Bing Bing and want to see what they were like 20 years ago!

Watch here:

3.  蜗居 (Wō jū) - “Dwelling Narrowness”

Brief synopsis:

The name “蜗居 (wō jū)” literally means “snail house,” a term used to describe a cramped living situation. In this 2009 TV shows, two sisters struggle with the difficulty of buying an affordable home in the fictional city of Jiangzhou. Both sisters must make some difficult decisions along the way about what they are willing to give up for a spacious residence.

This show shed light on the difficulties of young couples establishing their own homes in modern China. Many women and their families now demand that a potential suitor to have a house and a car before they can even think about getting married.

You should watch this if:

-  You want to understand the craze behind the Chinese "房地产泡沫 (fáng dì chǎn pào mò)" or "real estate bubble" 

-  You love a good dark drama 

- You enjoy commentary on contemporary social issues

Watch here:

4.  流星花园 (Liú xīng huā yuán) - “Meteor Garden”

Brief Synopsis:

Scholarship student Shan Cai attends a private school for the sons and daughters of the elite, where she accidentally gets into a fight with the leader of the F4, four boys who rule the school based on their family connections. The leader of the F4, Dao Ming Si (above photo: center) develops feelings for Shan Cai, and she to him. But the two have many obstacle to overcome if they want to be together. 

Dao Ming Si is the typical "坏男孩 (huài nán hái)" or brooding "bad boy" turned good. But if he isn’t your type, maybe one of the other three could be? Some fans loved the brooding artist Hua Ze Lei (above photo: right), but some other fans love the jokester, Xi Men (second from left).

You should watch this if: 

- You are a sucker for cheesy, sappy romances 

- You like a light hearted story with a happy ending 

- You love boybands! (F4 is played by actual Taiwanese boyband F4)

Watch here:

5.  步步惊心 (Bù bù jīng xīn) -“Scarlet Heart”

Brief Synopsis:

A young woman from the 21st century suffers a near-fatal accident. Instead of dying, she is instead transported back in time to the Qing dynasty as one of her previous incarnations. She is drafted to life in the emperor’s palace, and begins to have romantic feelings for Yinzhen and Yinsi, two of the emperor’s sons. She has to make the right decisions to keep herself safe amidst constant power struggles, but she also has to make the right decisions for her heart.

Will she pick the "英俊 (yīng jùn)" and "迷人(mí rén)" - "handsome and charming" - eighth prince? Or will she entrust her heart with the "诚实 (chéng shí)" and "稳定 (wěn dìng)" - "honest and stable" - fourth prince? Watch and find out.

You should watch this if: 

- You’ve always imagined yourself traveling back in time to save the day 

- You love gorgeous ancient Chinese costumes 

- You like keeping track of complex plot lines

Watch here:

There you have it, five fantastic Chinese TV shows to help you learn Mandarin. One thing to note: it is important to use active listening when you are watching Chinese TV shows, with the goal of improving your Mandarin Chinese. Watch these TV shows with subtitles, and make sure to write down any vocabulary words that you are unfamiliar with so you can look them up later without missing any action.

Have you seen any of these before? Which other TV shows have you watched and loved? Let us know in the comments below!