A woman wearing Song Dynasty (960-1279) clothing stands on a raft as she uses a long bamboo pole to row along the river of an ancient watertown.
Three women unite together to compete against a group of men to see who can make the best tea. A popular folk activity during the Song Dynasty, the entire process of the tea ceremony, such as heating the tea cup and grinding the tea leaves, are shown in detail.
These scenes from the new series A Dream of Splendor have stunned Chinese netizens since the show's debut on June 2 on Chinese streaming platform Tencent Video.
The series directed by Yang Yang has been enjoying a warm reception among audiences, earning an 8.3/10 opening on Chinese media review platform Douban.
With Zhang Wei as the script writer, the series also stars Liu Yifei, Chen Xiao, Lin Yun and Liu Yan. The story was adapted from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) play Saving a Prostitute by Guan Hanqing, which focuses on three women who unite together to fight against society's unfair treatment toward women.
Yang compared the three women's struggles to run a business to the struggles of women in megacities today. "In the series, many stories of women who possess a modern awareness can be seen. I'm using this fictional period series to talk about modern life and try to make a good combination of these two aspects," she noted.
Foundation of friendship
Zhao Pan'er (Liu Yifei), who runs a teahouse in Hangzhou, finally receives the good news that her fiance Ouyang Xu has ranked third in the imperial examination, but she is abandoned by the man as he is dissatisfied with her family background. Unwilling to accept her fate, she vows to go to Dongjing, the capital, to seek justice.
On her way there, she has to rush to rescue her sister Song Yinzhang (Lin), who was cheated on and abused in her marriage. She also saves Sun Sanniang (Liu Yan), who had unfortunately tried to commit suicide because of her miserable married life.
When Ouyang learns that Zhao has come to the capital, he tries many ways to drive her out. But Zhao, Song and Sun decide to defy him and stay in Bianjing, relying on their own abilities to earn their fortunes. After experiencing difficulties and various tribulations, the three women finally manage to turn a small teahouse into the largest restaurant in the capital.
The series has aired 14 episodes so far. One of the parts of the show most discussed by netizens has been the friendship between Zhao, Song and Sun as well as their refusal to bow to unfair fates, which has struck a particular chord among female viewers.
"This is a drama that focuses on the inspirational theme of female growth, so that many women can recall their own growth process and resonate emotionally with it," Liu Yan told the Global Times.
Liu thinks that the three women's joint business is founded on long-time trust and sisterly affection, while the three partners each have their own advantages, which also leads to their success.
Chen, who plays Zhao's love interest Gu Qianfan, told the Global Times that he admires the connection and unity of the three women as this unity can become a source of power that helps them overcome difficulties.
In scriptwriter Zhang Wei's eyes, the women in the original story created by Guan show a modern spirit of bravery, kind-heartedness and wisdom.
Through the series, she hopes to show that no matter how difficult life becomes, women can appreciate each other and help each other, and the spirit of fighting for the same ideal and goal can still be a great power.
Dedication to authenticity
The exquisite scenes in the series showing life during the Song Dynasty has also attracted audience attention and received many compliments in reviews.
The director said that to find the most suitable settings for the series, the production team explored 10 ancient Chinese towns, including Xiangshan county in East China's Zhejiang Province, to restore ancient society.
All of the makeup and clothing fits with the time period as well. Yang noted that she tried to make it so that when the performers appear in a scene they blend harmoniously with the scenery.
During the Song Dynasty, tea culture in China reached a peak, so the series displays drinking tea as a grand occasion by using the teahouse as a backdrop.
To show the details of a tea making technique called chabaixi, an intangible cultural heritage, the production team invited Zhang Zhifeng, the representative inheritor of this intangible heritage, to give lectures to the whole crew during production.