Subscribe to our newsletter

     By signing up, you agree to our Terms Of Use.


    • About Us
    • |
    • Contribute
    • |
    • Contact Us
    • |
    • Sitemap

    China’s TV Hit of the Year Is a Drama About Kazakh Nomads

    Set in China’s remote northwest, the mini-series “To the Wonder” is a smash hit with domestic viewers — and a rare example of a Chinese drama winning international recognition.

    The mini-series “To the Wonder” has become China’s breakout TV hit of the year, with the eight-episode drama sparking a massive reaction on social media since its debut last week.

    Filmed in Altay Prefecture — a remote region in China’s far northwest — the series appears to have caught the imaginations of young Chinese yearning to escape the grind of life in the country’s major cities.

    On social media, viewers have gushed over Altay’s spectacular scenery and labeled it the latest destination for jaded millennials to drop out, or “lie flat.” Hashtags related to the series have received well over 500 million views on the microblogging platform Weibo.

    But “To the Wonder,” produced by online streamer iQiyi, is more than a piece of simple escapism. On the review site Douban, where users are famously picky, the show has an average rating of 8.7, the highest score of any Chinese drama released this year. Last month, the series also became the first made-in-China drama to be included in the official selection for the prestigious Canneseries festival.

    The show has won praise for its nuanced portrayal of life in Altay, which has a large ethnic Kazakh population that traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle. It’s also a rare example of a Chinese drama produced by a female director — 39-year-old Teng Congcong — with many viewers saying they were particularly impressed by the show’s handling of female characters.

    Based on an award-winning essay collection by the writer Li Juan, “To the Wonder” follows the journey of Li Wenxiu — a young woman from Altay who is forced to move back to her hometown after failing to establish herself as a professional writer in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

    Li moves back in with her mother, who runs a convenience store in a small town in Altay, and tries to find a new direction for herself. As she readjusts to life in Altay — the place she once longed to leave behind — she comes to see the region and its inhabitants in a new light.

    Initially, Li struggles to understand her neighbors’ traditional mindset. But under the influence of her mother — who has had to rebuild her life following the death of her husband — Li comes to appreciate their resilience and reverence for nature.

    It’s far from an idealized portrait of Altay. One major storyline involves the struggles of an ethnic Kazakh woman who wants to leave her alcoholic husband but faces opposition from the family.

    Despite its darker edges, netizens have described watching the show as an almost spiritual experience, akin to “inhaling oxygen” or “lying under the baking sun.” One fan of the show, surnamed Yang, told Sixth Tone she was struck by the natural flow of the narrative and the way the characters carefully develop.

    “In an era when short videos and melodramatic plots have become mainstream, this series unfolds a slow-paced world of the past in a way that’s rarely seen on screen,” Yang told Sixth Tone.

    Yang added that it was refreshing to watch a series that puts female characters front and center. Like many viewers, she believes that director Teng Congcong did well to preserve the nuances of the characters in the original essay collection in the onscreen adaptation.

    “There’s this safe feeling … that comes from the women being treated as the subject rather than the object of someone’s gaze,” said Yang.

    Meanwhile, the show already appears to be triggering a spike in tourism to Altay, which sits near the Russian border. Searches for homestays in Altay tripled in the week following the airing of the first episode of “To the Wonder,” according to accommodation rental platform Tujia.

    “To the Wonder” is the latest in a growing number of Chinese TV dramas catering to viewers’ wanderlust. The romance “Meet Yourself,” about a young woman who quits her white-collar job to move to Dali in southwest China’s Yunnan province, has reportedly led to a surge in visitors to the famously picturesque, laid-back city.

    (Header image: A still from “To the Wonder” shows the heroine running on grasslands in Altay Prefecture, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. From Douban)