Intro To the Drama

Joy of Life Intro to the Drama



Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.


Woooo! We are now kicking off our discussion of the highly popular drama, Joy of Life or Qing Yu Nian. It currently has 2 seasons out. The first season started airing on November 11, 2019 and the second season started airing on May 16, 2024. A whopping 5 years in between. But season 2 was one of THE, if not THE most anticipated Chinese dramas to date. You can click to say an am waiting to watch this drama or 预约 and before season 2 aired, that number grew all the way to 18 million people. The highest number ever.


If you have any comments or questions, feel free to reach out to us on instagram, or email or you can comment on our website. I already wrote up a full drama review for season 2 that you can check out but we will most definitely be elaborating more on this podcast. We will also be publishing all of our episode transcripts on our website so that you can reference it as well. 


My recommendation is that listeners to this podcast go and watch the drama first. There are going to be spoilers for this drama and we are going to be talking about it as if you have watched it before. 



General plot


In the drama, the story is actually the live adaptation of an essay that a modern day student is writing in order to enter a competition. The student, played by Zhang Ruo Yun,says he wants to create a story that revolves around a modern day young man who is very ill but wakes up in the body of a young baby in a historical time period. The baby keeps all of his modern day knowledge as he lives in this new world.  This world is entirely fictional and is explained further in the drama so there is no historic basis for this. For our podcast series, we usually try to pick or discuss a drama set in a certain dynasty that is relatively historically accurate. But this time, there’s enough lore and interesting things going on in the drama world itself that it warrants a deep dive. Interestingly enough, there’s actually a lot of modern Chinese slang or cultural components injected into the drama that I think we’ll need to explain to audiences as well because non-native Chinese speakers probably won’t understand the joke. On the flip side, there are certain phrases, poems etc that are important in Chinese history that are injected into the drama that we will discuss as well. 


Anyways, the modern day young man is given the opportunity to live another life without his ailments and starts his journey as a child. The story begins with one of his mother’s servants, Wu Zhu, taking the baby to Dan Zhou, specifically the Fan family. The baby’s name? Fan Xian. 


Fan Xian grows up in Dan Zhou as a ‘bastard” child of Fan Jian but has his “uncle” Wu Zhu and teacher Fei Jie as well as Grandma Fan that help raise him. When turns 18, he heads to the Capital city of the Qing kingdom. There, he experiences various aspects of life and we see how the modern way of thinking contrasts with the feudalistic society. This drama involves romance, friendship, family connections, political intrigue as well as martial arts. The first season had a grand cast and the second season is even bigger. 



Season 1 is 46 episodes and season 2 is 36 episodes long. They are on Youtube with English subtitles, at least season 1 is.  It is based off of a book by Mao Ni who began publishing chapters all the way back in 2007 on a Chinese website called 起点中文网 and was finally completed in 2009. There is actually a translation into English, which I haven’t read but you can check it. I read the original text during covid because I had the time. It’s LONG with 826 chapters split into 7 volumes so just be warned that it’s gonna be quite the endeavor! 


The genre of the book in Chinese is called 男频 or books of the male gaze. These books are more popular with male readers.  The story unfolds around a main male character and typically, the main character is focused on his career. This means, as the male character doesn’t have many restrictions in society, the main character is allowed to meet more people, have unhindered interactions, and in general, have a more epic story. The main male character also doesn’t encounter many hardships and often has a harem. Love is just a mere sprinkle. In a Chinese word, this is very 爽 or satisfying for male readers. This is why the 男频 genre has gained so much popularity. It basically plays to a male fantasy. 


In general terms. the tv shows that are adapted from these 男频 books are what you think of as your dramas that completely revolve around a male character or in chinese, 大男主剧. These can take the form of historical dramas, martial arts or Wu Xia dramas, or fantasy dramas and tell the story of this “legendary character. The best examples these adaptations are actually Joy of Life, Sword Snow Stride, Douluo Continent , My Heroic Husband


There’s many more differences between these 男频 books vs the 女频 books and I’ll save that for another podcast episode.


The broad strokes of the drama are the same but there are several notable differences in the drama. For one, the Chinese government banned the use of 穿越 or time travel which is actually what happened in the book. The main character time travels to live out his life again as a child. In the drama, we are just seeing this as an essay that a modern day student is writing and we follow along with what is written. 


We’re going to now introduce some characters and their respective actors and actresses. For this intro episode, we’ll give a general overview and as we continue to introduce the drama, unpeel the layers of each of the characters. 


范闲 – 张若昀 – as we mentioned earlier, 范闲 is introduced to us as the illegitimate child of 范建 who retains all of his memories as a young man from modern day 21st century. He learns the way of martial arts and politicking as he attains more power in Nan Qing. 


张若昀 is the actor. Born in 1988 in Beijing, China, 张若昀 studied at the Beijing Film Academy. His father is also a noted producer and screenwriter who is well known in Beijing entertainment circles. There’s a whole lot of drama between 张若昀 and his father but we’ll discuss that another time. He started acting when he was 16 in a drama called 海的誓言. He turned heads for his roles in WuXin:The Monster Killer 无心法师 and 麻雀 Sparrow and has a filmography that is quite diverse, from idol dramas, to family dramas, to period dramas, to spy dramas. He’s also quite popular on the variety show Who’s the Murderer. I would say that he finally got his big break with Joy of Life as the leading man and since then has firmly planted himself in these leading man roles with 2021’s Sword Snow Stride and Joy of Life 2. 


He began dating 唐艺昕, who audiences will know as 祺贵人 from Empresses in the Palace, all the way back in 2010. They didn’t officially confirm their relationship until 2017 though and got married in 2019. They have a baby girl who was born in 2020 and it’s quite well known that 张若昀 is a doting father. He’s the one cooking at home, and in general, is quite wholesome! He lost a LOT of weight between season 1 and season 2. I recall that part of this was the result of him losing weight when his wife gave birth and they ate healthier food together to lose weight. There’s another joke that because 张若昀 never really went the idol route, he wasn’t often a subject of discussion for these couple discussions. Now that he lost weight, he can be in all of these fan cuts with his wife’s period dramas!



林宛儿 – 李沁 – The female lead of the drama, Lin Wan’Eri s the “bastard“ daughter of the Princess Li Yun Rui and the Chancellor Li Lin Fu. Her title is 郡主 or also like a princess. Higher than Duchess but lower than an actual Princess. There isn’t a good equivalent in English. Hidden away in the palace because of her birth situation and poor health, she never really got to experience the world or eat what she wanted. Therefore, she is caught eating chicken legs because she wants to try that oily food her caretakers don’t want her to eat. 


She is portrayed by Li Qin, one of my favorite actresses. Born in 1990 in Su Zhou, she studied Kun Opera before being called to act in 2008’s version of Dream of the Red Mansion. She then shifted her focus to acting and has since been in a number of unique and different roles over the years. Fun fact, Li Qin is best friends with Zhang Ruo Yun’s wife, Tang Yi Xin. When season 1 came out, there were rumors spreading around of course around Zhang Ruo Yun and Li Qin but Li Qin put a stop to those rumors by posting that Zhang Ruo Yun and Tang Yi Xin are getting married. Li Qin was also one of Tang Yi Xin’s bridesmaids in her wedding, which goes to show how close the group is. For season 2, Li Qin and Zhang Ruo Yun were marketing in Chong Qing and guess what. Li Qin posted photos on her social media of her and Tang Yi Xin enjoying the sights and hot pot with Tang Yi Xin and Zhang Ruo Yun’s daughter. Tang Yi Xin and Li Qin were in ads together where they actually jokingly kiss so there are jokes online that Li Qin is the only actress to have kissed both the wife AND the husband of this group. Hahaha. 


庆帝 – 陈道明 – He is the mysterious Emperor of the Qing Kingdom. Exceptionally cunning, he has a fascination with weapons that we see throughout the drama. He’s generally tinkering with weapons when he meets with his court officials. Qing Di is played by the renowned actor Chen Dao Ming. Born in 1955, so a whopping 69 years of age this year, Chen Dao Ming is an incredibly well respected actor, having portrayed many iconic roles over the years. The first drama I ever watched him in was as 东方朔 in Da Han Tian Zi 20+ years ago. Elementary school, I could not understand why my favorite actress at the time Jia Jing Wen’s Nian Nu Jiao would want to give up marrying the Emperor Liu Che and go with Dong Fang Shuo but now, as an adult, I’m like, that makes sense.


Chen Dao MIng  earned critical acclaim with the role of Emperor Kang Xi in 康熙王朝 KangXi Dynasty in 2001. Even today, his portrayal of Kang Xi is considered a classic and very few people are able to compete with the gravitas he brought to the role. Therefore, he, in my opinion, was cast perfectly in this drama, Joy of Life, as the Qing Emperor. The Qing Emperor is mysterious as he is lethal and very few actors would have been able to take on this role because there is significant nuance to it.



陈萍萍 – 吴刚


Chen Ping Ping is the director of 鉴查院 or the Overwatch Council and one of the most feared men within Nan Qing. He is cunning, ruthless, and extremely mysterious but he spares no expenses in ensuring Fan Xian receives a proper education worthy of his mother’s legacy. As a young man, he was crippled by the Bei Qi spy 肖恩 and lost the use of his legs. He can only travel in a special made wheelchair. 


吴刚 is the actor. Born in Beijing in 1962, he attended the Beijing People’s Art Theatre and began acting in plays in 1986. Over the years, he’s been nominated and has won numerous prestigious awards including Best Actor for the Golden Rooster Awards in 2009, Shanghai Magnolia Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2017. What’s interesting to me is that despite being born in Beijing, his accent is a very proper mandarin rather than having a Beijing accent. Contrast his accent to that of 张若昀’s, who you can definitely hear has the slight Beijing accent in his roles. Wu Gang also has such a unique voice that REALLY fits the character of 陈萍萍 that since watching the first season of Joy of Life, I always get pulled out of whatever other drama he’s in such as last year’s the Knockout. This isn’t a knock, haha on the actor, it’s just his voice is just so notable!


Ok! Those are the 4 main characters that we wanted to introduce for this episode. 


Ratings wise, Joy of Life performed extremely well in 2019 and 2020 but by extremely well, it was in the Top 10 or top 5 of dramas. I was scouring online to see the different types of rankings and saw one that seemed quite accurate. The drama scored 5.5B views across the two platforms placing it 7th that year.  It began airing online on Tencent and iQiYi in November of 2019 and began airing on ZheJiang tv in late January 2020. 


The drama also scored several nominations and accolades in 2020 during the Shanghai Film Festival including Best Drama, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Support Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won. Having read the book, yes, it’s a remarkable adaptation. 


I’m currently in China and have been seeing the Joy of Life everywhere! I’ve been seeing many people watching the second season on their phones at the airport, on the plane, on TV, on billboards! It’s definitely one that people are watching!


I went on my own little Joy of Life excursion this trip! I was in the city of Jiaxing earlier in my trip to visit some family and my dad, of all people informed me that Joy of Life 2 filmed their library scenes right at the Jia Xing Culture and Arts Center! He’s chasing the drama too and hilariously was the one who asked if we wanted to stop by to take some photos! So yes! We all went. I’ll post the photos on social media and add them to our review online. The library is within the Culture Center and a visual treat. This location has since been a destination for folks to take pictures. I went during a holiday and was surprised that the library was rather empty. I guess no one wants to be at the library for a vacation, which is quite understandable. The library itself is 4 floors but the main reading area is the common area that is shown in the drama! 


And that’s a wrap for our intro to the drama episode! We’re excited for this drama because we can discuss history, modern pop culture, and the book! So please join us on this journey! 

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