Chinese TV Shows to Learn Chinese (for 2021)
When it comes to learning Chinese, Chinese TV shows is a huge resource.
How many times have you complained that you can read or write Chinese okay (which is no small feat!), but still have a hard time understanding what’s being said to you?
Don’t worry, this is normal and you are definitely not alone.
To help you get started with tackling the problem of Chinese listening comprehension, we’ve compiled a list of 5 popular Chinese TV shows.
We made sure to include TV shows from different genres so you can have your pick.
So, get a bowl of popcorn and let’s get started!
The Best Chinese TV Shows For Learning Chinese
Chinese TV Shows – Reality, Competition and Panel Shows
Chinese TV Show #1 – Keep Running
Chinese TV Show #2 – Informal Talks
Chinese TV Show #3 – Idol Producer
Chinese TV Show #4 – If You Are the One
Chinese TV Shows – Dramas
Chinese TV Show #5 – iPartment
Chinese TV Show #6 – Princess of Pearl
Chinese TV Show #7 – Eternal Love
Chinese TV Show #8 – Ode to Joy
Chinese TV Show #9 – Meteor Garden
Chinese TV Show #10 – The Bad Kids
Chinese TV Show #11 – Go GO Squid
Chinese TV Show #12 – The Untamed
Chinese TV Show #13 – Love O2O
Chinese TV Show #14 – Empresses in the Palace
Reality, Competition and Panel Shows
Chinese TV Show #1 – Keep Running (奔跑吧 bēn pǎo bā)
For those who enjoy reality shows but finds it hard to keep up with the Kardashians, Keep Running might just be what you need minus all the drama.
The show has popular Chinese celebrities participate in competitive games against each other.
The celebrities are tested on their physical strengths as well as brain power. Winners are rewarded and losers punished.
Despite the competition, this Chinese reality TV show is friendly, fun and often hilarious.
What makes the show a favourite among Chinese views is the engagement of pedestrians on the streets, whose participation can often change the course of the game.
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Chinese TV Show #2 – Informal Talks (非正式会谈 fēi zhèng shì huì tán)
Ever wondered what happens when you put a group of millennial from different countries and cultures together in the same room?
This Chinese talk show has the answer. Informal talks gathers a group of eleven guests from different countries and cultures to discuss trending topics and current events that you and I care about.
Topics they have discussed ranged from “should you hide social media updates from your parents” to “what would you do if today is the last day of your life”.
You would be surprised what each guest has to say.
This Chinese TV show is informal (duhh), international, multicultural, and entertaining, perfect for those who are looking for some intellectual stimulation in a friendly and relaxed context.
Chinese TV Show #3 – Idol Producer 偶像练习生 Ǒuxiàng liànxíshēng)
Idol Producer, also known as Youth with You is a hugely popular Chinese dance and singing survival competition.
One hundred “trainees” compete against each other to get into the final 9 of the competition. The final 9 then become a group and start releasing songs, music videos etc. together.
The decision of who remains in the competition is decided by the viewers who vote for their favourite trainee that they want to see in the final 9.
During the course of the show the trainees all live together and attend daily training sessions.
As the name suggests the aim of the show is to create the next Chinese pop idols, with the one hundred trainees all dreaming of achieving stardom.
Many of the contestants will already be represented by major companies in the Chinese music industry, however independent contestants can also join.
The series first aired on the Chinese streaming platform iQIYI in January 2018 and there have been a total of three seasons so far.
Read our full review of Idol Producer
Chinese TV Show #4 – If You Are the One (非诚勿扰 fēichéngwùrǎo)
Most people will probably already be familiar with the concept of the Chinese dating show If You Are the One as it’s based on the Taken Out/Take Me Out format.
For those who don’t know it’s a dating show where there are 24 female contestants who each stand behind a numbered podium with a light on it.
Single men are then invited one at a time onto the stage and the female contestants will indicate if they are interested in him by leaving their light on or turning it off if not interested.
The show started running in 2010 and was an instant hit, it has now been running for over 10 years!
However, the show has had some controversy. The biggest being when a female contestant declared “I would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle” (宁在宝马车里哭，也不在自行车上笑 níng zài bǎomǎ chē lǐ kū, yě bùzài zìxíngchē shàng xiào).
Contestants come from all over China so this is a great show to practice your listening and become familiar with different Chinese accents.
Read our full review of If You Are the One
Chinese TV Show #5 – iPartment (爱情公寓 ài qíng gōng yù)
Often referred to as the Chinese version of the popular American TV show “Friends”, iPartment is a light Chinese TV show to practice Chinese listening comprehension while having fun at the same time.
Like the show “Friends”, iPartment it’s also a story of the day to day life of a group of friends living inside the same apartment.
Although the idea is similar, the characters, plot, acting and almost everything else about this successful Chinese TV show cannot be more different.
The first season of the show aired more than 10 years ago. The final and fifth season aired at the beginning of 2020 on iQIYI.
If you are planning to binge watch this show (because it’s that good), be sure to start from season 1.
Chinese TV Show #6 – Princess of Pearl (还珠格格 huán zhū gé gé)
This is a classic Chinese TV show many Chinese millennial grew up watching. The first version aired in 1998.
It’s one of those TV series that an entire Chinese family would gather around the TV and watch together.
It’s so influential almost everyone in China has either watched or know about.
The story is based on a historical fiction about a lost princess of Emperor Qian Long (乾隆) that took place in the Qing Dynasty. The lost princess was given the title of Returned Pearl (还珠).
But it’s not happily ever after from here; that’s just the beginning. The princess is met with an evil queen who is always putting her in trouble.
She is picked on and sometimes even tortured.
The show has been remade multiple time since the first version in 1998, but the best one is still the original one by Ruby Lin and Vicki Zhao.
Also, check out this hilarious dubbing clip from Conan.
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Chinese TV Show #7 – Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花 sān shēng sān shì shí lǐ táo huā)
As the name suggests, this is a love story across time and space. If that’s too vague, what about a story of unrequited love between the descendant of Nine-Tail White Fox and the Prince of Cloud Nine.
Not only is the couple both gorgeous, their beauty beyond the earthly-realm, they are also both endowed with magical powers that makes them almost invincible.
The story is based on a fantasy novel of the same name. It’s got the heart-wrenching quality of a k-drama, an extensive cast, and complex plot to keep you interested.
I must warn you that this Chinese TV show is highly addictive and there are 58 episodes.
Chinese TV Show #8 – Ode to Joy (欢乐颂 huānlè sòng)
Cited by many as the Chinese version of Sex and the City, Ode to Joy follows the lives of 5 women in their 20s and 30s who live on the same floor of an apartment block in Shanghai.
The 5 main female characters in the show are all from different economic backgrounds so you are able to see the struggles that face a a variety of women in modern China.
Being such a modern drama makes it great for learning Chinese slang phrases and modern colloquialisms that you probably haven’t learnt in the classroom.
First released in 2016, there are currently two seasons of Ode to Joy with a third rumoured to be in the works.
Read our full review of Ode to Joy
Chinese TV Show #9 – Meteor Garden (流星花园 liú xīng huā yuán)
Available to watch on Netflix, Meteor Garden is an extremely popular Chinese TV Show both in China and internationally.
The show centres around Dong Shancai who is accepted at China’s top university. Unlike many of the other students who attend the college, she is from a modest family which doesn’t have lots of money.
She soon encounters the F4 who are the most popular kids at school and are all super rich and spoiled. However, Dong Shancai has a strong personality and soon finds herself getting in trouble and clashing with them.
This is definitely a must watch for anyone who loves lots of drama, twists and turns in their TV shows!
Read our full review of Meteor Garden.
Chinese TV Show #10 – The Bad Kids (隐秘的角落 yǐnmì de jiǎoluò)
Sparking it’s own meme (一起爬山吗？yīqǐ páshān ma?) The Bad Kids was one of the biggest hit Chinese TV shows of 2020.
Unlike most other Chinese dramas this web mini-series has a much darker tone and shows some of the grim realities of living in modern China.
Many viewers have said it feels more similar to a US or UK drama rather than a Chinese one.
The Bad Kids follows the consequences of what happens after three children accidentally end up filming a murder. What starts as a seemingly straight forward blackmail story soon takes an even darker turn.
It will leave the viewer questioning the morality of the characters and perhaps even the truthfulness of the ending itself…
No spoilers though, if you want to find out more about the show read our full review of The Bad Kids.
Chinese TV Show #11 – Go Go Squid (亲爱的，热爱的 qīn’ài de, rè’ài de)
The main character in Go Go Squid is the super talented Tong Nian who isn’t only a computer genius with a super high IQ but also a popular internet singer. She finds herself falling for the equally talented computer genius and e-sports star Han Shangyan.
They seem like the perfect match on paper, but of course things are never that simple! Any romantic drama fans will love this show and will definitely be shipping the two main characters.
Read our full review of Go Go Squid
Chinese TV Show #12 – The Untamed(陈情令 chén qíng lìng)
One of the most popular Chinese TV shows of 2019, The Untamed picked up nearly 8 billion views by the end of the year.
This is a show for any martial arts fans as it’s set in a fantasy martial arts version of Ancient China. The land is ruled by five sects, however the Wen clan dominates over the other four.
The story focuses on two heroes as they travel the land solving mysteries and fighting evil. Despite being from different clans and complete opposites: one carefree and spontaneous, the other disciplined and obedient, they soon become close friends.
However, when they discover a hidden secret they will find themselves with more trouble than they bargained for.
Read our full review of The Untamed
Chinese TV Show #13 – Love O2O (微微一笑很倾城 wēiwēi yīxiào hěn qīngchéng)
The concept behind Love O2O is quite an interesting one as it revolves around an online role playing game called A Chinese Ghost Story. The main protagonist, Bei Weiwei, is an avid player of the game which she is very skilled at.
She is a computer science major and spends most of her spare time playing the game alongside her in-game husband. But things take a turn when he dumps her for another player!
However, her luck soon changes when she is approached by top player Xiao Nai who wants to team up with her to enter a competition.
The idea of a series based around an online role playing game may seem strange to some, but it proved to be a huge hit getting over 25 billion views online!
Read our full review of Love O2O
Chinese TV Show #14 – Empresses in the Palace (后宫甄嬛传 hòugōng zhēnhuán zhuàn)
Last but by no means least we have the Chinese period drama Empresses in the Palace which is set during the Qing dynasty.
As you may guess from the name you can expect lots of palace intrigue, plotting and back stabbing from this extravagant costume drama. Our lead protagonist is the beautiful concubine Zhen Huan who becomes a favourite of the emperor’s.
But this makes her the number one target of the Empress who is extremely jealous and will not stand for any other concubine to threaten her power. The Empress decides that she must get rid of Zhen Huan at all costs…
Read our full review of Empresses in the Palace
Chinese TV Shows – In Need of More?
So if you want to start watching, be sure to stock up on plenty of popcorn first.
If you are after even more Chinese TV Shows, do NOT fear because we are the fountain of all knowledge when it comes to stuff like this!
Here’s 8 more of the best:
… and to wrap it all up for you:
BONUS – discover how to watch Chinese Movies online with Campbell!
Learning Chinese is about enjoying it, matching it to a hobby… we hope we can help you with that!
There you have it, a list of 5 Chinese TV shows to supplement your Chinese learning journey. Which one are you most excited to watch?
Chinese TV Shows – FAQ’s
Can I actually learn Chinese watching TV?
Sounds crazy but it’s actually a brilliant way to learn Chinese and immerse yourself.
It’s great for your understanding but with Chinese, it’s essential you talk from the beginning stages of learning, so you’ll want to find someone to discuss things with to really kick on.
Will my Chinese improve with the usage of Netflix, Apps etc?
Absolutely, but with Chinese, talking is important so although you’ll be absorbing lots of information, it’s good to talk about it with a native speaker.
This is where an Online Chinese Tutor is essential if you want to take your Chinese to the next level. Alongside watching Chinese TV/News/Movies, this will help you hugely.
Can I watch TV with two sets of subtitles?
You can with a great Chrome plug-in we discovered called Language Learning with Netflix.
See our video demo below to see how easy it is to install and use.
My Chinese isn’t great, should I still watch TV even though the level is much higher?
It’s never too early to learn Chinese but be sure to pick your program wisely.
Perhaps ask a Chinese friend or seek advice online. Some shows will indeed be very tough to follow if you are a beginner but that shouldn’t stop you from listening, using subtitles and absorbing the language.
Does China have it’s own “Friends” TV show?
The TV show 爱情公寓 (ài qíng gōng yù) iApartment is often referred to as the “Chinese friends” due to their many similarities (i.e. six young adults finding their way in life, three male, three female, romantic twists etc).
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