The Long River (2022) 天下长河
Summary: After experiencing torrential downpours that resulted in disastrous flooding, Emperor Kang Xi ft Luo Jin in the 15th year of his reign (roughly 1677) decides that controlling the Yellow River would be a paramount project during his rule. He enlists the aid of Jin Fu 靳辅 ft Huang Zhi Zhong and Chen Huang 陈潢 ft Yin Fang on this monumental task.
Total Episode Count: 40
Initial Airing Date: Nov 11, 2022
Platform: Mango TV
A departure from the palace dramas focused on romance and the imperial harem, The Long River is a strictly history and policy driven drama. It has done well from a viewership perspective and has gained an 8.2 rating on douban which speaks to the high quality production value of this drama and top notch acting by both seasoned and relatively unknown actors/actresses. It is evident from the get go that painstaking work was done to create a realistic drama.
While there are certainly creative licenses taken to drive the story along, this is a drama that will push most watchers down a wiki/baidu rabbit hole as most all characters in the drama are actual individuals in history. Set during the reign of Emperor Kang Xi, we follow not only the men tasked by Kang Xi to 治河 or regulate the monstrous Yellow River, but we also follow the Emperor and his court ministers as they go through important periods of Kang Xi’s reign. The most notable events include quelling the revolt of the three feudatories, and regaining Taiwan. There are court factions, foreign adversaries, corruption, and of course, treasury funds to contend with.
This drama is a welcome change from the perhaps saturated period romance dramas we’ve seen of late. It’s all work and very little romance here in The Long River. The most important woman in the drama is actually the Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang or Kang Xi’s grandmother whom Kang Xi goes to often for advice. The primary focus of this drama is the work, passion and vision needed to get a monumental goal done but also the obstacles that can deter even the brightest and hardworking minds, namely power and greed. For me, this is not only an interesting drama from a historical perspective, but it also shows the fallibility of individual human beings. This drama highlights the theme that it can take just one or two individuals to create ever lasting change, but also that it takes one or two individuals to make it all come crashing down. Oh and the benefits and detriments to having an authoritarian ruler. A lot of economic and government policy lessons could be taken away from watching this drama.
It’s also appreciated that we focused now more on Kang Xi’s court and his political deeds rather than the chaos of his sons which was the subject of several prior dramas. The latter is so 2011.
I can see where viewers may not be intrigued by this drama. The subject matter can be heavy (lots of death by flooding), the political jargon can make some of the content confusing/dry/dense, and there really isn’t a beautiful/handsome cast on screen. I, however, still found this to be a very powerful drama.
I don’t know if there will be english subtitles for this drama unfortunately. It is available on Youtube in the US and on Mango TV.
Chen Huang 陈潢 – Yin Fang 尹昉
Young failed imperial exam hopeful, Chen Huang has vast knowledge of weather patterns and is passionate about river regulation. After chance encounters with Jin Fu and the Emperor, he dedicates his life to helping establish long lasting regulation of the rivers in China.
Jin Fu 靳辅 – Huang Zhi Zhong 黄志忠
Han governor official that manages the river systems. He is passionate about river regulation and a kind and caring official to the people. Contrary to most other officials, he remained uncorrupt in his pursuit to affect actual change. With the backing of the Emperor, he roles up his sleeves with his friend Chen Huang to create a sustainable and well regulated river system.
Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang 孝庄太皇太后 – Xi Mei Juan 奚美娟
The formidable grandmother to Kang Xi and subject to many dramas/books in her own right, Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang guides the Emperor with a firm but kind grip.
Suo E Tu 索尔图 – Liang Guan Hua 梁冠华
A trusted minster to the Emperor, this gregarious fellow is well connected at court. He spends his time managing the Emperor and fighting against his rival, Ming Zhu.
Ming Zhu 明珠 – Gong Lei 公磊
Another powerful court minister, Ming Zhu is similarly well connected in Kang Xi’s court and was integral in supporting him in many of his political endeavors but, like many others, ran afoul of the Emperor later in life.
There have been many dramas and books about Kang Xi’s life and many dramas where the Emperor is bothered by flood waters but this is the only drama out there where river regulation is THE main character. The drama is slow to start but really picks up in the 6-7 episodes.
Why you should watch the drama:
- Historical focus: If you’re into Chinese history, I highly recommend watching this show. This drama is a fantastic portrayal of Kang Xi era history from the characters, the events, the clothes, all of it. I spent hours on Baidu as I was watching this show to try to read up on what was portrayed on screen and I’m glad I got to meet different individuals of Chinese history that are not as prominent as the Emperor and his court. The in depth discussion on river regulation and the new technology and ideas Chen Huang and Jin Fu enacted show just how much care the drama put into understanding the subject matter. But not only that, the drama tied in many pursuits Kang Xi took during his reign that relied on a working river system so you do learn of his many accomplishments. My key takeaway here was that wow, Kang Xi was an extremely busy and capable man during his reign. He must have been a master of time management to have been able to do all of this during his lifetime. And something trivial is that I really appreciated the longer hair the men had after working out in the field. The rugged dirty look really showed that trying to tame the Yellow river is a monumental task!
- Character depth: The large cast of characters on screen felt exceptionally alive and nuanced. The Emperor exhibits his boyish excitement, the pressure on his shoulders as ruler and his suspicion that almost leads to disaster. His court ministers Suo E Tu and Ming Zhu are both impactful but also greedy and often times hilarious. Jin Fu is exceedingly capable yet rigid and a workaholic that neglects his family. Chen Huang is your passionate but untamed individual while his friend Gao Shi Qi 高士奇 has a wicked sense of political acumen. Meanwhile, the third of their trio, Xu Qian Xue 徐乾学 falls into the trappings of court life.
- While the viewer may not agree with each person’s actions on screen, the drama is a character study on what it takes to create change but also the pitfalls that prevent great things from happening. At its core, these events happen because of individual human beings. You see how two people, Jin Fu and Chen Huang, led they way for river regulation but that had to be supported by the Emperor and several others. Subsequently then those great plans can come crashing down due to the Emperor withdrawing his trust as well. I walked away from this drama both impressed with how much these people accomplished while also lamenting what more could have been done if humans weren’t such flawed creatures.
- Phenomenal acting from a great cast: Much of the character depth described above could not be achieved without the superb acting of the cast. Each actor or actress brought about their own understanding and nuance to the screen and it was highly enjoyable to watch. Luo Jin aka Kang Xi/the Emperor is perhaps the most handsome and well known of the cast but he holds his own as Kang Xi. He’s experienced some criticism since other portrayals of Kang Xi are more iconic but I thought he did a fine job. Huang Zhi Zhong as Jin Fu is as powerful as ever on screen. He and Yin Fang aka Chen Huang did not hesitate to get dirty for the role which must have been challenging to film but the realistic result is much appreciated. The rest of the cast were also all delights to watch. Plus, no voice dubs so each person used their own voice. That impressed me especially considering the long monologues of river regulation jargon that Jin Fu and Chen Huang had to recite, for example. And while Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang did not have too much time on screen, she was captivating in each scene she had.
Some hesitations for this show:
- Heavy and involved subject matter: Sometimes you’re just in the mood to watch something light and beautiful with perfect endings. This is not it. While there are some laugh out loud moments, the Long River is not going to be the easiest watch. The emphasis on river regulation as well as the nuanced characters mean there’s lots of death, despair and anguish involved on screen. The show is not gruesome but can be triggering and infuriating at moments.
- Furthermore, because this drama is so history heavy it’s going to be challenging to get through a lot of the titles, names, locations etc. While the focused manner of the show helps with keeping the constant flow of information tight, it can still be overwhelming even with subtitles.
- Little emphasis on romance: There is literally no female lead in this drama. If there is, it’s the Empress Dowager Xiao Zhuang. Instead, this drama is very clear that this is a male dominated show focused on it’s key storylines. It’s all work and little play for this drama so if you’re hoping to see a romantic storyline that will tug at your heartstrings, it’s best to look elsewhere. I honestly was slightly surprised by the tight focus of this show but it worked for me!
Let me know what you think of this drama!