Where Dreams Begin/The Youth Memories (2023) 梦中那片海
Summary: Set in Beijing during the 1970s, 6 youths meet at the ice rink at Shi Cha Hai where their lives are intertwined. Xiao Chun Sheng ft Xiao Zhan leads his group of guy friends in Beijing and they meet the beautiful and talented He Hong Ling ft Cao Fei Ran and the quiet but resolute Tong Xiao Mei ft Li Qin. This drama follows these youths as they set off on their journeys to follow their dreams all they way through to the 21st century.
Total Episode Count: 38
Initial Airing Date: June 1, 2023
*Note – English translations may not match official translations
Initial rating [after 8 episodes] 7.5/10: A charming drama with relatable and well-rounded characters, Xiao Zhan is a ray of sunshine as Xiao Chun Sheng in this group drama that is elevated with this Beijing setting.
Final Rating: 7.7/10 – A thoughtful drama about growth and persistence while staying true to oneself. This drama saw strong viewership on network television and online, breaking popularity records on Tencent. A strong cast and screenplay made this a thoroughly enjoyable chase for June.
xiao chun sheng 肖春生
xiao zhan 肖战
The leader of his group of friends, he cares deeply for all of his relationships in his life. His dream is to join the army
tong xiao mei 佟晓梅
li qin 李沁
Daughter of a deputy commandant, she is quiet but resolute in her dream of becoming a doctor
ye guo hua 叶国华
liu rui lin 刘芮麟
Childhood best friends with Xiao Chun Sheng, he falls head over heels in love with He Hong Ling at first sight
he hong ling 贺红玲
cao fei ran 曹斐然
A headstrong young woman with wonderful musical talent that takes care of her ailing mother.
ye fang 叶芳
zhao xin 赵昕
Xiao Mei’s best friend and Ye Guo Hua’s sister. She is overly logical and likes to plan her life
chen hong jun 陈宏军
cui hang 崔航
A close friend of Xiao Chun Sheng and Ye Guo Hua. He loves Ye Fang but his ambition led him to go astray.
qi tian 齐天
lu nuo 鲁诺
A local leader of “gangs”, he becomes fast friends with Xiao Chun Sheng after their first “fight”
xiao yan qiu 肖艳秋
Zhang ling xin 张龄心
Kind-hearted older sister of Xiao Chun SHeng
I was initially hesitant to start this drama because the setting is not something I am too familiar with. This era of Chinese history (70s) is not one I spent too much time studying and I suppose would primarily resonate with a native Chinese audience who saw their parents dress and act like this or else an older generation who experienced this themselves first hand. I’m also not sure how well received this would be for a western audience given the heavy portrayals of the Chinese Communist party but it is a great opportunity to learn something new.
Regardless, this is a charming drama chalk full of interesting details and relatable characters. One does not have to fully understand the intricacies of the aftermath of the cultural revolution to understand some of the challenges and hardships these youths face. But this drama is about the journey for these individuals that transcends generations and cultures.
Given the Beijing setting, the drama makes painstaking efforts to portray Beijing during that era, from the costumes, to food, and even the Beijing accent. My gosh, the strong Beijing accent and even slang that’s in the drama is so fun to listen to. Xiao Zhan is not a native Beijing person, in fact he is from Chong Qing where they have their own dialect, but it’s obvious that he spent a lot of time trying to nail down the Beijing accent. It’s not perfect, especially when paired with a few co-stars who have that accent from birth, but it’s not too noticeably off and does elevate the drama.
Xiao Zhan’s star power is helping with reception as there are a ton of trending topics on Weibo discussing the drama. Often times online buzz doesn’t always translate to tv ratings but initial airing statistics are reasonably good which means this drama is appealing to the masses. I’m interested in seeing if this will match Li Qin’s ratings for Miles to Go or not as the drama progresses but fingers crossed because that be a huge career win for both Xiao Zhan and Li Qin.
This drama overall had a very good run. It broke 2% for CCTV8’s television ratings and became drama with the highest viewership in 2Q. It also broke 30,000 in TengXun’s online streaming platform popularity index, the only drama to do so since TengXun (Tencent) changed its popularity algorithm. There are dozens if not hundreds of trending topics for this drama regarding Xiao Zhan and most of it was praise while The Youth Memories also began airing on no less than 3 additional network stations shortly after starting its run on CCTV8 which means that these stations believe they’ll get strong ratings as well. So, this is a success for Xiao Zhan and Li Qin as it seems the general public (older fans) and online users (younger fans) all enjoyed the drama.
I thoroughly enjoyed chasing this drama and it completely changed my view of Xiao Zhan. I’d always been a “lu ren fen” or a passing by fan of his even after watching him in dramas with Li Qin and The Untamed but dang, his turn as Xiao Chun Sheng really made me view him differently. He brought Xiao Chun Sheng to life with his megawatt smile and high level energy during his youth and then somehow became even more attractive with the more mature and dependable aura in middle age. He looked so good in those turtle neck sweaters! All I can say is, if Xiao Chun Sheng exists and is single, please come find me!
As for Li Qin, this is quite a win for her as well. Her other drama, Miles to Go 人生之路, actually saw tv ratings break 3% which is higher than this drama and she is the only female lead this year to have 2 dramas break 2% on network television. I am extremely proud of her because she doesn’t have much online presence anymore but seems to be picking great projects. She was ridiculed heavily for choosing these two projects last year so it’s great to see that she didn’t need to listen to online criticism. I personally loved the character of Tong Xiao Mei in this drama. Quiet but resolute, she didn’t need to have much screen time in the first several episodes to ensure a strong presence in the drama. Her fans are currently rather critical that she has not marketed the hell out of herself for this drama but I think this is actually a smart choice. She has been burned too many times by her association with Xiao Zhan, even though they are good friends. Can you imagine the online hatred she’d receive if she marketed her on screen romance with him too much? It would be devastating. Instead, she’s been happy to stay in the background to allow the drama to progress. She’s been in group gatherings and interviews but has not publicly posted anything that would open herself to attack. That I think is incredibly smart but also a sad reflection of how vengeful the online world is.
Overall, I commend the screenwriters and the director, RIP Director Fu who passed away before this drama aired, and the rest of the cast for creating such a thought provoking, heartful and touching show.