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First Episode 67: 东方朔

Li Shen

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A part of the Grand First Episode Project -- See this thread for more info.

CCTV - Ku6 - Emule

Language Level: Intermediate

The eccentric 东方朔 wants to become a great official, but his inability to subordinate himself gets in the way.


The story takes place during the Former Han, under a young 汉武帝. Emissaries from the 匈奴 arrive, and demand a Han princess in marriage. Otherwise they will invade China! However, the young emperor cannot bring himself to give them the princess, since the Xiongnu are using them up at an alarming rate.

The emperor ignores the protests of Chancellor 窦婴, but it looks like his grandmother, 窦太皇太后 and the real power behind the throne can force him to give in. Wudi complains about this to his mother, 王皇太后, but she just tells him to wait until he can rule himself.

In order to distract himself from his unpleasant duties, Wudi decides to visit the market incognito. There, he meets a magician, 东方朔. During his performance, Dongfang Shuo claims to be more clever than the emperor. Fortunately for our hero, the imperial guard arrives and exposes the emperor. Dongfang Shuo escapes together with his Friend, 卫青, amid the confusion.

Now that the emperor has seen him blaspheming, Dongfang Shuo thinks he can't realize his dream of becoming an official, and wants to burn the books he wanted to use to impress the emperor.

Fortunately, Wei Qing is a stablehand of the emperors sister, the widowed 平阳长公主, and his Wei Qings sister 卫子夫 is one of her maids. This way, Dongfang Shuo gets an audience with the princess, where he proposes a way to solve the emperor's conflict with the Dou-clan.

The next day, Wudi announces that he will give a princess to the Xiongnu. However, since he is childless, he will adopt a daughter from one of his ministers and give her to Xiongnu. Since no one is willing to make that sacrifice, Wudi "reluctantly" decides not to give them one anyway.

The Dous are impressed by the emperors cleverness, but think that the plan was created by the Princess of Pingchang. Their solution is simple: send the widow Pingchang to marry the Xiongnu! The princess is devasted, but eventually, Dongfang Shuo thinks of another trick to save her... to be revealed in Episode 2.


A Chinese show that manages to be funny without undue slapstick with a serious plot underneath it! If you can stomach 古装 dramas at all, I definitely recommend it.

I'm really bad at estimating language levels, but apart from a few really basic court related words, the language seems quite simple. There are a few Chengyus, but they're mostly for flavor and easy to understand in context.

I'll try to add a short word list here sometime, hopefully, eventually...


Edited by renzhe
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Thanks! I actually took one of yours as a template :lol:.

Also, I forgot to mention that the CCTV site also contains quite easily readable summaries of all episodes.

Everybody in the series is an actual historical personality (as usual in this kind of drama...) but, as I'm told at least, the differences to their actual lives are quite large. It shouldn't matter that much though, since it's more of a personal story and great historical events don't really feature at all, at least so far.

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  • 2 weeks later...

About a year or two ago, I thought these dynasty period dramas were the only thing on Chinese tv. The thought of using them to learn Chinese was tremendously unappealing. But I’ve learned through the First Episode Project that there is certainly some variety in Chinese tv and that even these period type pieces can be fun. Li Shen is right - the show injects some humor that makes it more interesting. And the humor is mostly based on banter, which is enjoyable from a learner’s perspective, as long as you can understand it. As far as difficulty, I actually had a tough time keeping up with some of the plot points and definitely needed help from the summary above. Not sure if this one makes my to-do list, but I’m glad I watched.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I actually don't think the language is easy to understand. Some more colloquial dialogue is interspersed with (pseudo-)Classical language, full with chengyu and archaic expressions.

But other than that, I agree, it can get quite funny at times. Also quite surprised that CCTV would allow to have a prostitute as a main role (though it's no Rome :wink: )

Here's a vocab list (with some unclear expressions) from the first episode:

單於 chán yú Chanyu, ancient chief of the Xiongnu 单于

望穿秋水 wàng chuān qiū shuǐ to eagerly await (idiom)

親上加親 qīn shang jiā qīn to cement old ties by marriage, such as a marriage between cousins, etc. (idiom) 亲上加亲

揣摩 chuǎi mó to try to figure out, to rack one's brains

秋高馬肥 qiū gāo mǎ féi In autumn, horses are fat 秋高马肥

成何體統 chéng hé tǐ tǒng What a scandal!, Whatever next? 成何体统

丞相 chéng xiàng the most senior minister of many kingdoms or dynasties (with varying roles), prime minister

勸阻 quàn zǔ to advise against, to dissuade 劝阻

水德 shuǐ dé 古代阴阳家称帝王受命的五德之一。谓以水而德王。

無為而治 wú wéi ér zhì Inaction, 无为而治

水土不服 shuǐ tǔ bù fú not acclimatized

續弦 xù xián remarry after the death of one's wife 续弦

頂嘴 dǐng zuǐ to talk back, to answer back 顶嘴

忍氣吞聲 rěn qì tūn shēng to submit to humiliation (idiom); to suffer in silence, ㊁ to swallow one's anger, ㊂ to grin and bear it 忍气吞声

傀儡 kuǐ lěi puppet

亭長 tíng cháng ? 亭长

披荊斬棘 pī jīng zhǎn jí to hack one's way through difficulties, ㊁ to cultivate land as a pioneer, ㊂ to travel through thick bushes and dense jungles 披荆斩棘

銖 zhū twenty-fourth part of a tael (2 or 3 grams) 铢

古道熱腸 gǔ dào rè cháng considerate and warm-hearted (of behavior) (idiom) 古道热肠

償命 cháng mìng to pay with one's life 偿命

名花有主 míng huā yǒu zhǔ ?

駙馬 fù mǎ emperor's son-in-law 驸马

金枝玉葉 jīn zhī yù yè born of royal blood 金枝玉叶

玉璽 yù xǐ Imperial seal 玉玺

人環 rén huán the human world 人环

笑納 xiào nà to kindly accept (an offering) 笑纳

塞外 sài wài beyond the Great Wall

馬廄 mǎ jiù barn, stable

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