This year, I’ve enjoyed a summer of love — if, by love, you mean the love portrayed in Taiwanese Idol Dramas. I got hooked sometime in June on Down With Love. Before I knew it, I tuned in for parts of Romantic Princess, Sunshine Angel, Miss No Good, They Kiss Again and even Taiwan’s version of Honey and Clover.
The more I watched, the more I realized these shows have something to say about love in China. Here are five things I noticed.
1. Marry a guy with money. Most of the male leads in these shows come from high society — such as heads/CEOs/heirs to large corporations (Dao Mingsi from Meteor Garden), lawyers (Xiang Yuping from Down With Love), and celebrities (Bian Dang from Marry Me!). Contrast that with the female leads — poorer backgrounds (Shan Cai from Meteor Garden, Yangguang from Sunshine Angel, Jia Di in Why Why Love?), and often with only one or no parents (Yang Guo from Down With Love).
Now, I love a good Cinderella “he rescued me” fantasy as much as the next girl. But when I see this happening over and over again in most of these series, I can’t help but think of the current China marriage culture of house-car-money (in the guy’s case) equals wedding.
2. Sex is serious stuff. There’s plenty of city here, but practically no sex. Instead, the characters — especially the women — have the kind of virginal, never-been-kissed (or barely-been-kissed) feel to them you’ll never find on Beverly Hills 90210.
The fact you don’t see one-night stands and casual sleeping around simply reflects the dating reality in China — that people usually only sleep with someone they’re serious about (think: heading towards marriage).
3. It’s hard to say “I love you” in Chinese. When a lead in a Taiwanese idol drama finally confesses love, you might be surprised by the choice of words: wo xihuan ni (我喜欢你, I like you).
Why not wo ai ni (我爱你，I love you)? That puzzled me for the longest time, until I realized how, over the years, my Chinese husband never once said “I love you” in Chinese. After all, in Chinese culture, love is better expressed through actions, not words.
4. Chinese parents have a say. How many times I have seen the wealthy parents — usually his — stand in the way of marrying the poorer female lead? Of course it makes for good drama. But on the other hand, it’s a reminder that Chinese parents still love to have an opinion on who you date — and sometimes even stand in the way.
5. Ends with a proposal and marriage. For the most part, these men like it and, in the end, put a ring on it (Meteor Garden II, Down With Love, Sunshine Angel, Miss No Good, It Started With a Kiss and many more). These are love stories, and it’s the natural conclusion. Yet, given how many Chinese date with the intention of marriage, it seems even more fitting.
What about you? What do you think Taiwanese Idol Dramas have to say about love in China?