Books or movies, which are better for learning Chinese? Why not use both!
Is the book or the movie better? Most Harry Potter fans passionately argue in favor of books. However, as someone who has only watched the Harry Potter movies, I think they are great too. In the world of modern Chinese novels, a TV-drama adaptation is actually an emblem of a novel’s success. Chinese TV shows are the ultimate marker of a book’s popularity.
Moreover, these TV-novel pairings are a great way to practice your Chinese! Working with one serves as a primer for enjoying the other afterwards; if you read the book first, then you’ll get to relax, practice your listening skills, and watch the cinematic adaptation having already done the hard work of learning any new vocabulary. In reverse, if you watch the movie first, then you’ll be able to tear through the book at a much faster pace, using pleasure reading to learn. Below are five works whose cinematic remakes, in my opinion, emulate the quality of the novels and are great for learning Chinese.
Top 5 Novel Adapted Chinese TV Shows
This book is better described as a collection of love essays than a romantic novel. The author, 乔一 (Qiáo yī),is not a professional writer. Instead this novel began as a response to a question posted on Weibo, the top social media platform in China. Qiao Yi’s answer to “How did you and your boyfriend become “official”?” received thousands of likes and became one of the most popular ones on the thread. By chance, a publisher came across her post and curious, she clicked onto Qiao Yi’s Weibo homepage where Qiao Yi shared little stories of her interaction with Mr. F, her husband. The posts, book, and TV drama capture the slow, mundane daily joys of how Qiao Yi and Mr. F met, fell in love, and keep their passion for each other alive. Their stories are so sweet that the book and TV drama will leave readers yearning for their one true love. Viewers and readers won’t be able to turn away from the wholesome story.
To give a one-sentence synopsis of the novel, two of the most popular students (系花 and 系草) in the computer science department at the same college meet through an online game and begin dating in real life. The author, 顾漫 (Gù màn), writes with a comical and light-hearted tone, weaving together the virtual world of gaming and the real world. Reading this novel will teach you a ton of Chinese internet slang. Even better, the drama adaptation does a great job at portraying both the online and the game world by using cosplay and non-cheesy special effects. Many of 顾漫 ’s other novels have also been adapted into dramas including 杉杉来了 (杉杉来吃) and 何以笙箫默. If you like Love 020, then you will definitely be a fan of these other two stories!
Another author who has had many of her novels adapted into dramas, 赵乾乾 (Zhàogāngān) is a master of puppy love in school. A Love So Beautiful, a story that tracks the love between two childhood friends from high school into adult life, is the first of her novels to be produced as a drama. The adaptation was so successful that it has led to the production of 致我们暖暖的小时光 (Put Your Head on My Shoulder) in 2019 and 致我們甜甜的小美滿 (The Love Equations) in 2020. All these three storylines are sweet, romantic, and easy on the heart. They are a great way to brighten your day.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like if you and your TA fell in love? The adaptation of Somewhere Only We Know tells the story of how a language major falls for a physics PhD student after he becomes her substitute teacher in her Russian elective class. Through a beautiful narrative, the author, 木浮生 (Mù fúshēng), captures the throbbing feeling of the first love and brings readers back to their bright college years. This is one of the best Chinese TV shows out there right now – it might even be better than the book!
Unlike the previous four recommendations, Joy of Life is not a romantic novel told from the perspective of the female protagonist. Instead, Joy of Life belongs to the genre “alternative history” or “alternative reality”. It is set in Ancient China, in the fabricated Qing nation (庆国). The male protagonist 范闲 (Fàn xián) travels back into the past, and the novel documents his journey of growth and unfolds the undulating decades of the Qing. Fun fact: Due to the Chinese government ban on time-travel TV dramas, the scriptwriters had to alter the beginning of the novel for the drama. This drama is cleverly crafted as a story within a story. The protagonist, 范闲, is a historical fiction writer himself and begins to tell, from his perspective, the story that he has written. This angle allows for the use of modern phrases in a historical drama and makes Joy of Life more accessible to less-advanced Chinese language learners. The Joy of Life TV adaptation is confirmed for three season and the final episode of the first season aired in January 2020.
All five shows are available on either Netflix or YouTube. For more Chinese TV show recommendations check out MSG’s picks for best Chinese TV shows on Netflix for Mandarin learners. Let us know in the comments below if you’d like more book or TV show reviews. As always, if you liked this post please make sure to share it, pin it, or tweet it!
Ying Zheng grew up speaking Chinese with her family and has always been an avid reader of Chinese novels. She studied abroad during her freshman summer in college at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China where she focused on classical Chinese and academic writing. Though she was an Economics major, her favorite classes at Yale were in the East Asian Languages & Literature and East Asian Studies departments. Fun fact: Ying has probably read more Chinese novels than English novels in her free time.