The Imperial DoctressMay 23, 2016
Cecilia Liu returns as the female lead in one of Tangren’s latest drama productions, The Imperial Doctress. This story combines one of Ming Dynasty’s well-known female doctor and Empress Hang into one character and puts the struggles of gender inequality in ancient China at the forefront. Read on in my review of The Imperial Doctress to see what I thought of this drama.
The Tan family spans many generations of doctors, with many past ancestors who were imperial physicians. But when powerful enemies frame their family, the royal court passes a ruling that future generations of the Tan family are forbidden from practicing medicine. The kind, intelligent and talented Tan Yun Xian secretly learns the art of traditional Chinese medicine from her grandmother and helps to cure plagues and illnesses among the common people. Yun Xian overcomes many societal obstacles in her passion and pursuit of medicine. And when she meets Emperor Zhu Qizhen, he wields a great deal of influence in Yun Xian fulfilling her destiny to become the first female physician of the Ming Dynasty.
- Strong and motivated heroine
- Good character growth for certain characters
- Elegant costumes
- Pace was dragging
The Imperial Doctress is interesting to me because of the focus on societal pressures for women and gender inequality in ancient China. Married women were expected to be housewives whereas men were expected to provide for the family. Girls were expected to remain in the home and not wandering outside, especially not with a man, in order to keep her purity for a good marriage and reputation for her family’s honor.
In this mostly male-dominated society, the practice of medicine was also reserved for men; women who knew a thing or two about medicinal herbs and healing were often ridiculed. The story starts off promising with Yun Xian’s first experience healing people with acupuncture and herbal medicine, as taught by her grandmother. She’s not supposed to use it to prevent drawing attention but to Yun Xian, saving a person’s life is most important. I really enjoyed seeing this aspect of her character. Unfortunately, it became a double whammy for her — a girl who wants to become a doctor is clearly at a disadvantage in this society. There were many scenes demonstrating how unfair some of these rules were and yet they were obeyed because they were the norm. If your wife was dying but you couldn’t call a doctor because you didn’t want a man you didn’t know to touch your wife (to examine her), what would you do? If the only way to save your wife was to call a female doctor, one who’s famous for her medical skills, but whose skills you didn’t believe in simply because of her gender, would you rather have your wife die instead of being treated for a possible chance of recovery? This was just one example out of many shown in this drama about how terrible the gender inequality was — there’s just no logic to it. I honestly don’t know how strongly these customs were enforced in ancient China but it certainly seems to be a bit exaggerated in this drama. It really makes me think of the many customs and norms of our modern society and how many are actually wrong but yet we stick to them because it’s the norm.
But despite all this, Yun Xian perseveres and in the process, meets two men of royalty — Qi Zhen, the Emperor Yingzong, and his brother Qi Yu, both of whom she falls in love with. And of course, she eventually has to choose one and become a royal concubine. This was the part where the story started to take the wrong turn as the doctor elements became a side story and the brothers’ power struggle was the main focus. It felt like the story didn’t really know what it wanted to do at this point.
So throw in love interest number three, Ye Xian of the Oirat tribe. Through a number of situations, Yun Xian joins the emperor on his military outing and they all get held hostage by the Oirats. The addition of Ye Xian’s love for Yun Xian has made her more clear about the person she really loves. I guess that was the point of this story arc. But honestly, I felt that they put too much focus here and the story just dragged on and on…
I enjoyed seeing the characters of Yun Xian and Qi Zhen grow and mature. Whereas the rest of the characters grew in the opposite direction. Most worthy of note is Empress Dowager Sun who was manipulated to no end by everyone around her. I honestly don’t even know what she wanted to do as she was unhappy with Emperor Yingzong and wanted to appoint the brother as emperor but yet she was still unhappy after that.
Overall, I felt that there were many plot points that were not necessary and were used merely to spice up this drama. I would’ve liked if they continued to keep medicine as the main theme of the drama as that sort of got put on the back burner for a while before making a re-appearance near the end of the story.
The Imperial Doctress started off very interesting but ended up as the usual palace love triangle story. My favorite part was all the scenes when Yun Xian had to heal people and I feel that was its strongest point. If you’re into palace-concubine stories, I wouldn’t say those bits were good, either. It’s really a shame that with such good actors and good budget, the story was just mediocre.
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