The Chinese period drama “Story of Yanxi Palace” is the most Googled TV show of 2018, according to the search giant’s rankings of the year’s trending topics, released Wednesday. The 70-episode series edged out Netflix’s sci-fi hit “Altered Carbon” and Thai romance “Love Destiny” to claim the top spot.
Google’s by-region analysis shows that netizens in Singapore showed the most interest in “Story of Yanxi Palace,” followed by their counterparts in Malaysia, Brunei, Macao, and Hong Kong. The search engine cannot be accessed on the Chinese mainland without a proxy server.
A large part of the show’s appeal comes from its protagonist: Actor Wu Jinyan plays the role of Wei Yingluo, a young woman on a quest to catch her sister’s murderers. Unlike the submissive, ultra-feminized Mary Sue archetype prevalent in many Chinese period dramas, Wei is a strong character who relies on a combination of determination and ferocity to triumph over adversity and endear herself to fans. The series has been viewed over 15 billion times on iQiyi, China’s Netflix-like video site.
The Chinese drama also made an indirect contribution to a list of the country’s top slang terms of 2018, published Thursday by the Chinese search engine Baidu. A popular “bullet screen” comment — one of the user-generated messages that scroll across the video as it plays — referred to the Yanxi emperor and the other bumbling, indecisive male characters on the show as “big pig’s trotters.” Other netizens have repeated and widely popularized the phrase since.
Since its release in mid-July on iQiyi, “Story of Yanxi Palace” has been well-received, with many viewers admiring the realistic-looking sets, as well as the characters’ elegant costumes and picture-perfect makeup. Unlike many of China’s abundant period dramas, “Story of Yanxi Palace” is known for its attention to historical details. For example, the wives and concubines on the show wear three earrings, as was the custom among Manchu women who lived during the 18th century Qing Dynasty, when the show is set. The actor Wu’s makeup is even done according to a real portrait of a historical figure.
As a ripple of the show’s sweeping success, “Yanxi colors” — the distinctive pastel shades of the artwork featured in the series — have seen an uptick in popularity in Chinese fashion, even giving rise to their own hashtag on microblogging platform Weibo. The costumes worn by the actors come in warm, soothing colors such as ash blue, rust, and ivory. Some netizens have drawn parallels between Yanxi colors and the palette famously used by the 20th century Italian painter Giorgio Morandi.
While wildly popular in China, the show also has its die-hard fans overseas. “There aren’t many tear-jerker scenes, and [the plot is] not slow. I really enjoy watching it; ‘Story of Yanxi Palace’ is the best Chinese costume drama I’ve ever seen,” an office worker in Vietnam told online news outlet Pear Video. Another Vietnamese fan said she couldn’t tear her eyes from the “very thrilling story” and claimed to spend five to 10 hours of each day binge-watching the series.
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A still frame from the TV series ‘Story of Yanxi Palace.’ From @电视剧延禧攻略 on Weibo)