The Song Dynasty was a prosperous era of cultural and artistic flourishing, and in recent years, there has been an increasing number of dramas set in the Song Dynasty. However, the Song dynasty trend depicted in "Serenade of Peaceful Joy" and "Palace of Devotion" failed to gain momentum.
The only drama that consistently dominates the screen is "The Story of Ming Lan", which, although drawing references from Song Dynasty costumes and artifacts, is still a "Song-like drama" with a blurred portrayal of the historical era. Currently, the creation of Song Dynasty dramas is still on the rise, and it is expected to reach a small peak in the next two years.
Firstly, the adaptation of "Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival" into a drama has received close attention, with Zhang Songwen leading the cast. This has also brought a wave of popularity to "Along the River During the Qingming Festival". It tells the story of Zhao Buyou, a minor official in the Xuanhe period of the Northern Song Dynasty, and his family's involvement in solving numerous extraordinary cases. Filming began in October last year and is still in progress.
Another drama set in the background of Emperor Renzong's reign in the Northern Song Dynasty is "Perfect Match", which is scheduled to start filming this month. It is a female ensemble drama that tells the story of Lady Li, a wealthy resident of Luoyang, and her five daughters' entrepreneurial journey and search for marriage in Bianjing.
The former is labeled as a "life suspense" drama, while the latter is self-defined as a "common people's marriage comedy". The commonality between these two dramas is that they do not involve the palace or martial arts, but rather focus on portraying the lives of ordinary people in the Song Dynasty.
Choosing to focus on the slice of life aspect may be the result of years of trial and error in Song Dynasty dramas. As a symbol of accumulated poverty and weakness in history textbooks, the Song Dynasty lacks grand narratives and fails to evoke a sense of excitement, resulting in fewer historical dramas. Moreover, stories like "Water Margin," Jin Yong's martial arts novels, and folk legends like "Yang Family Generals," "Yue Fei," and "Judge Bao's Cases" have already been adapted numerous times.
In fact, the turning point for Song Dynasty dramas occurred in 2022. "A Dream of Splendor," set in the Northern Song Dynasty, broke new ground and sparked a discussion about the customs and traditions of the era. The portrayal of tea ceremonies, tea competitions, and tea performances in the drama helped popularize tea culture. The entrepreneurial journey of the female protagonist, who opens a tea house and runs a restaurant, also reminds people of the open-mindedness and flourishing commerce of the Song Dynasty. This is something that has not been seen in dramas set in other dynasties.
In 2023, "Romance on the Farm," set in the Southern Song Dynasty, offered a refreshing narrative with its focus on agricultural activities. The depiction of farming, local trading, and Mid-Autumn Festival ancestral worship provided a vibrant and somewhat fairy-tale-like glimpse into the lives of the common people during the Song Dynasty.
It is not difficult to understand why the lives of the common people in the Song Dynasty presented such an open and relaxed scene, as it was the first dynasty to abolish the curfew. To some extent, the state of life for the ordinary people in the Song Dynasty during a time of peace coincides with the relaxed and indifferent philosophy that people nowadays admire, such as the lying flat ideology.
Furthermore, after several years of various dynasties adopting Hanfu as the popular clothing style, people suddenly discovered that the aesthetic of the Song Dynasty is the most compatible with modern tastes. The Tang Dynasty had a sense of uninhibited beauty, while the Song Dynasty leaned towards elegance, simplicity, rationality, and gracefulness. The Song-style Hanfu was lightweight and suitable for travel, providing a potential foundation for the integration of Song Dynasty aesthetics in film and television works.
In the future, Song Dynasty dramas can make efforts in several aspects. Firstly, focusing on women and entrepreneurship, expanding into female ensemble dramas or modern dramas with strong female leads in business. "Perfect Match" can emphasize the sense of excitement in the career line, rather than limiting it to the romantic storyline.
Secondly, delving deeper into the folk stories of the Song Dynasty, revitalizing old stories in new ways. "Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival" was adapted from Ye Wenbiao's novel of the same name, which drew inspiration from the painting "Along the River During the Qingming Festival". Meng Yuanlao's "Dongjing Meng Hua Lu" provides ample imaginative material for storytelling from the perspective of the common people.
Thirdly, packaging modern stories with Song Dynasty aesthetics and folk customs. The distinctive fashion and makeup of the Song Dynasty would be an excellent starting point.
Adapting web novel IPs set in the Song Dynasty into film and television is still a largely untapped market because of the complexity of Song Dynasty official positions, which can easily lead to inaccuracies. Fans of the novels have pointed out that setting the background in the Song Dynasty for adaptations is a risky endeavor. Therefore, creators need to be meticulous in their selection.
The rise of Song Dynasty dramas is also supported by technological advancements. Zhouzhuang, the filming location for "Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival," is currently building a Song Dynasty scenic base. Its goal is to create the largest Song Dynasty scenic base in China, with "Qingming Shanghe Tu" as its centerpiece. Transplanting the values of modern stories to the Song Dynasty may not have the same sense of alienation as with other dynasties. The sense of relaxation that is often elusive in real life may very well be found in the people of the Song Dynasty from a thousand years ago.