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Series / Joy of Life

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From left to right: Chen Pingping, Fan Xian, and the Emperor.

Joy of Life (Chinese: 庆余年; pinyin: Qìng Yúnián), also known as Thankful for the Remaining Years, is a 2019 Chinese drama starring Zhang Ruoyun, Li Qin and Chen Daoming, based on the novel series of the same name by Mao Ni.

In the modern day, a young man with a terminal illness dies, only to be reborn in imperial China with all his memories intact as the illegitimate son of Fan Jian, the assistant financial minister to the Emperor, and Ye Qingmei, a woman who was assassinated under mysterious circumstances soon after his birth. Now named Fan Xian, he is raised in the countryside province of Danzhou at his grandmother’s estate where he completes an apprenticeship with Fei Jie, a master of poisons and medicines, and learns martial arts from his mother's former servant, a blind man named Wuzhu, until one day, an attempt on his life and a summons from his father lead him to journey to the capital. There, despite his best efforts, he is soon drawn into the political plots revolving around the royal family and a powerful organization answering only to the Emperor known as the Overwatch Council.

Part political drama, part comedy, and part science fiction, the series follows Fan Xian’s journey as he navigates imperial court and world politics even as he insists that all he wants is to simply use this second chance at life to live as well as possible, unraveling along the way the secret behind the world he’s in and his arrival in it, the mystery of his mother’s murder, and what it truly means to live a life of fulfillment.

The first season, with 46 episodes, can be watched with English subtitles on Youtube, with a second season stated to air in China on May 16, 2024.

This show contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Applies to Ye Ling’er, Haitang Duoduo, and Si Gujian’s unnamed disciples, all who know martial arts.
  • Adaptation Deviation: The cliffhanger end of season 1, where Fan Xian is stabbed by Yan Bingyun, does not happen in the books.
  • Anachronism Stew: A deliberate example. Although the setting is mostly based on imperial China, it has a few oddities. People have dogs, but don't know what wolves are; wheelchairs exist; some clothing and decor doesn't fit the time period. This is because the series actually takes place in the future, after the world was decimated by an ice age that wiped out most of recorded history and technology.
  • Arranged Marriage: Between Fan Xian and Lin Wan’er, which, despite their initial hesitations due to several miscommunications, is quickly welcomed by both.
  • Assassination Attempt: What kicks off the story, and continues to happen several times, to several different parties during the show.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Fan Xian is taken off-guard when the diplomatic negotiation he attends between Southern Qing and Northern Qi is filled with these.
  • Badass Long Robe: Given that most characters in the show are wearing robes, some characters count as this.
  • Batman Gambit: Used frequently in the show. Fan Xian is especially fond of this and uses it to great success.
    • An example of this is when he single-handedly orchestrates Shen Zhong's downfall in Northern Qi by first manipulating Shang Shanhu into pledging to the Empress Dowager, then using Shen Zhong's loyalty to his country against him and disfavoring him in the eyes of the court.
  • Battle Butler: Eunuch Hong for the Empress Dowager and Li Yunrui's primary servant.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: The royal family is this, with the large number of wives the Emperor has, the relationship between the Crown Prince and the Second Prince being downright homicidal, and the Emperor himself seeming to relish in the infighting. And once it's revealed that Fan Xian is actually also one of the Emperor's sons, the web only grows larger and more screwed-up.
  • Blended Family Drama: In the early series, played for laughs. Later, it simmers down as Fan Xian is accepted by his stepmother and half-brother and they become a functioning family unit.
  • Brain Uploading: Fan Xian's "reincarnation" is actually due to his past consciousness being uploaded into a newborn baby.
  • Bureaucratically Arranged Marriage: Fan Xian and Wan'er's match was personally arranged by the Emperor rather than by either of their parents as a political manoeuvre by the Emperor to transfer control of the imperial treasury from Wan'er's mother, Grand Princess Li Yunrui, to Fan Xian.
  • Central Theme: What does it mean to live a fulfilling and joyful life?
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Ye Qingmei's lockbox, Fan Xian finds a literal one of these. As of the end of season one, it has not yet gone off.
  • Cliffhanger: The first season ends on a huge one of these.
  • Costume Drama: A staple of Chinese historical dramas.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: Happens a couple times.
    • At the start of the show, Fan Xian beating Teng Zijing in combat leads to the beginning of their beautiful friendship.
    • Fan Xian's fight with Haitang Duoduo also leads to them becoming friendly acquaintances.
  • Decadent Court: The entirety of the imperial palace. Only a handful of people refrain from scheming.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: One of the underlying conflicts in the story is Fan Xian's 21st century ideals clashing with those of the current era. Particularly when it comes to equality and class, Fan Xian struggles to make people understand why Teng Zijing's death is important even though he's 'just' a bodyguard.
  • Double Agent: Unsurprisingly for a political drama, there are a great many of these in play.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: When Wang Qinian returns home late to retrieve supplies for a mission, his wife shouts at him and hits him hard enough to leave a mark. Entirely played for laughs.
  • Earth that Was: Fan Xian was not reborn in the past, but instead thrust far, far into the future, to a time when the earth had undergone another ice age and all of human civilization as we know it has already been wiped out to start anew. This is why the "past" isn't quite like how Fan Xian remembers it should be.
  • Fakeout Escape: Fan Xian and Wang Qinian do this to Shen Zhong. When enemy soldiers barge into the inn they're staying at, Fan Xian leaves a pile of dust, leading the soldiers to think they've escaped through the roof. In actuality, they're both hiding under the bed.
  • Fake Relationship: Fan Xian briefly has one with Haitang Duoduo in order to pull off his schemes in Northern Qi.
  • Family Honor: As typical of dramas in similar settings, family honor is a Big Deal and people come close to blows over perceived slights to it often.
  • Forged Message: The letter Teng Zijing receives with the orders to kill Fan Xian on behalf of the Overwatch Council was actually written by Li Yunrui.
  • Gambit Pileup: In a series filled with chessmasters, this is inevitable. Happens most obviously whenever Fan Xian is up against another one of the series' many chessmasters.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Arguably, most of the villains of the show are "villains" only because they are working against Fan Xian’s goals or have hurt Fan Xian’s friends or family, but whether or not they are actually “bad guys,” or whether even Fan Xian himself can really be counted as “good,” can be up to debate.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans: Fan Xian occasionally does this, reinventing things like a humidifier and soap, but to his surprise, when he tries to patent some of these "new" inventions, his father tells him his mother had already invented these things. This is because Ye Qingmei was also a "modern" person.
    • Also the gun Ye Qingmei brought from the "Temple".
  • Hazy-Feel Turn: Yan Bingyun literally backstabbing Fan Xian at the end of season 1.
    • Also, the reveal that Chen Pingping and the Emperor forced Fan Xian to go on the trip to Northern Qi as the culmination of their twenty-plus year long plan to get Xiao En's secret, at the risk of Fan Xian's life.
  • Hope Is Scary: This idea is used by both Fan Xian and the Emperor in their gambits to gain information from their targets.
    Fan Xian (Episode 17): You will understand one day. Hope is the scariest thing in this world.
    The Emperor (Episode 41): In the end, what torments a person the most? It's not a threat. It's hope.
  • In the Hood: The Shadow and Ku He wear dark, hooded robes.
  • It's Personal: Fan Xian was going let everything that happened to him in the capital go and return back to Danzhou to live out a peaceful life after getting the engagement with Wan’er straightened out, but then Teng Zijing is killed protecting him from yet another attack on his life and he stays to get revenge on the perpetrators.
  • Justice by Other Legal Means: Fan Xian can't directly get Li Yunrui for the murder of Teng Zijing, his friend, because to many people, the fact that Teng Zijing was a lowborn nobody means that his death is insignificant, so instead he exposes her for meddling with the Overwatch Council, thus revealing that she broke the Emperor's cardinal rule and getting the Emperor to exile her far from the capital.
  • Kangaroo Court: The court in which Fan Xian is tried for the assault of Guo Baokun is clearly this, with the judge flip-flopping on his verdict every time another member of the royal family walks in to "spectate" on the judging. Then the Emperor simply shuts the whole thing down and declares Fan Xian innocent regardless, even though he's actually very much guilty.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Happens several times, between several parties.
    • Xiao En is convinced that Chen Pingping withdrawing his protection from Fan Xian's diplomatic party is a trick to get him to kill Fan Xian who he suspects based on hints of information fed to him by Chen Pingping is his grandson, stolen away and brainwashed to be an Overwatch Council agent. It's really a trick to help convince him that Fan Xian is his grandson, thus tricking him into spilling his secret to Fan Xian.
    • In Northern Qi, Shen Zhong thinks Fan Xian's plan to loop Northern Qi into an embezzlement scheme with the Qing imperial treasury is an attempt to scam them. It's really an attempt to ruin his favor with the Empress by manipulating him into loudly voicing disapproval of a publicly popular venture.
  • Keeper of Forbidden Knowledge: Ku He and Xiao En are the only two people who know the secret of the Temple's location, and how Ye Qingmei arrived in their world.
  • Keeping the Enemy Close: Chen Pingping does this to some Overwatch Council members suspected of treachery.
  • Killing in Self-Defense: Fan Xian does this to some of the people who try assassinating him.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: When Zhu Ge’s treachery is revealed, Chen Pingping gives him a dagger to kill himself with, to spare him the shame of being dragged back to the Emperor in chains to face justice.
  • Light Is Not Good: Crown Princess Li Yunrui wears mostly white despite being the main villain of the first half of season 1.
    • Subverted during the confrontation with Wan'er, when she's wearing a black dress to contrast with Wan'er's white one.
  • A Little Something We Call "Rock and Roll": At one point, Fan Xian is roped into a poem competition during which he simply copies down from memory "Climbing High" (登高), a famous ancient Chinese seven-verse poem by the Poet-Sage Du Fu, thus winning the competition and receiving wide-spread acclaim.
    • Later, at an imperial banquet where he is accused of plagiarising "Climbing High" as part of another plot by Li Yunrui, he gets drunk and starts reciting hundreds of classic poems from memory, thus earning for himself the nickname "Poet-Sage".
    • As a child, he'd written letters to his younger sister Ruoruo telling her the story of Dream of the Red Chamber (红楼梦), one of the four great Chinese classical novels, only to find out when he gets to the capital that she'd distributed his letters to many of the other noble ladies in the city and it had become extremely popular.
  • Lonely at the Top: Implied to be how the Emperor feels, given his reaction to the poem Fan Xian recites. The poem also resonates with Li Yunrui, who even takes it as a threat.
  • Long Game: In spades, given the amount of chessmasters in this show.
    • First there's the scheme to flush out the traitors within the Overwatch Council itself, with Yan Ruohai pretending to be entertaining ideas of a coup against Chen Pingping in order to trick Zhu Ge, the real traitor, into revealing himself.
    • Then, and most notably, the entire scheme to get Xiao En to reveal his secret, starting from even before Fan Xian was born, with Chen Pingping slowly feeding false information to the imprisoned Xiao En over the course of more than twenty years to trick him into coming to the conclusion himself that Fan Xian is his grandson, then riding off of Li Yunrui's attempted assassination to get Fan Xian back into the capital, all in order to get Xiao En to tell Fan Xian the location of the Temple.
  • Lost in Translation: There are many puns, jokes, and cultural references that will only make sense to fluent Chinese speakers. See Joy of Life Jokes Explained for more.
  • Meet Cute: Or, perhaps, Meat Cute. Fan Xian and Wan’er’s meeting, with him running into her hiding under a table in a temple eating a chicken leg could count as this.
  • The Mole: Someone in the Overwatch Council is spilling secrets to Li Yunrui, in direct violation of the rule that states no member of the royal family (excluding the Emperor) may interfere with the Council's affairs. It’s Zhu Ge.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Li Yunrui’s solution of choice regarding her unwanted future son-in-law.
    • The Overwatch Council is also a big fan of this.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Lord Shadow, Chen Pingping, and his Black Knights.
  • No Name Given: The Emperor, who is literally only ever referred to by his title. Also applies to Lord Shadow and Miss Shen.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Li Yunrui when she realizes her and Zhu Ge's plan to kill Yan Ruohai has been exposed, and so has her meddling with the Overwatch Council.
    • Fan Xian at the very end of the season when Xie Bi'an shows up with the Second Prince's "message" for him.
      • And then, of course, when Yan Bingyun stabs him.
  • One True Love: Fan Xian and Wan'er are like this for each other.
  • Opposed Mentors: Chen Pingping and Fei Jie get into a fight over Fan Xian having to go to Northern Qi, with Fei Jie believing that going is too risky and Chen Pingping believing that he must go in order to gain more skills.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Towards the end of season one, Fan Xian and Yan Bingyun both must grapple with the question of whether it's okay to let corruption run unchecked if it means maintaining order.
    Fan Xian: In order to prevent chaos, you're willing to let corruption continue?
  • Parental Substitute: Fan Xian gets a lot of "father figures", but Wuzhu and Fei Jie get special mention for taking care of and raising him during his childhood in Danzhou.
  • Pocket Protector: The mysterious key that used to belong to Fan Xian's mother manages to save Fan Xian's life by blocking an arrow from Yan Xiaoyi when he's caught sneaking out of the palace.
  • Punny Name: The show is rife with these. See the Characters page for specifics.
    • The name for the royal treasury is a homophone for "underwear" in Chinese.
  • Reincarnation: The story starts with Fan Xian being reborn with all his memories of modern life still intact.
  • Revenge: The reason behind why Fan Xian chooses to stay in the capital.
  • Royal Harem: Of the more realistic variety. The royal harem is a distinct political entity, and anyone who wants to get ahead could stand to make a few alliances with the women of the court.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Used both by Fan Xian and the villains to get off scot-free from various legal violations ranging from assault to murder and even treason.
  • Secret Test of Character: The initial attempt on Chen Pingping's life, leaving him, Fan Xian, Wang Qinian, Si Lili, and the Shadow seemingly trapped in the Overwatch Council's dungeons with no chance of escape, is revealed to be this for Fan Xian (the Shadow suggests that Fan Xian kill Chen Pingping himself so that the rest of them may live to see if Fan Xian would take the suggestion or choose to try and protect Chen Pingping by fighting).
    • Many of the things Fan Xian has to go through in season 1 are all basically this from either the Emperor or Chen Pingping in order to see if he really has what it takes to control both the imperial treasury and the Overwatch Council.
    • Less dramatically, Wang Qinian also frequently subjects Fan Xian to this with a variety of "innocent" questions.
  • Show Within a Show: Fan Xian’s entire story is framed as a book a university student is writing for his science fiction professor.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Throughout the series, many people play go and other strategic board games to indicate a character's intelligence and cunning.
  • Stalling the Sip: Occurs a few times within the series.
  • State Sec: The Overwatch Bureau. Although they're also responsible for more mundane things as well, the narrative focuses mostly on their spy network. Many of the members are trained from childhood. Lead by Chen Pingping
    • First Bureau: In charge of the capital city. Led by Zhu Ge until he is killed for treason.
    • Third Bureau: Specializes in poisons and gadgets. Led by Fei Jie.
    • Fourth Bureau: In charge of everything outside of the capital, including foreign espionage. Led by Yan Ruohai.
    • Fifth Bureau: The armed division. AKA, the Black Knights. Led by Hei Qi.
    • Sixth Bureau: The assassination division, lead by Lord Shadow.
    • Eighth Bureau: Publication of books. Led by Xuan Jiu.
    • The second and seventh bureaus have not yet been appeared.
  • Tragic Bromance: Over the course of Fan Xian's initial trials in the capital, he and Teng Zijing become close enough to regard each other as brothers. Teng Zijing dying to protect him from an attempt on his life marks a big turning point in the story, forcing Fan Xian to realize that there are people in this world he truly cares about and keeping him in the capital to enact revenge on all parties who had a hand in Teng Zijing's death.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: The world as it was suffered one, at some point after Fan Xian's first death and before his "reincarnation" into the current timeline.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Inevitable in a series filled with chessmasters.
  • Using You All Along: Fan Xian suspects Chen Pingping of this after the reveal about the Xiao En plan.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Chen Pingping and the Emperor's justification for the Xiao En gambit, because they suspect the Temple holds the secret to immortality.
  • Voiceover Letter: Happens when Fan Xian finds and reads the letter his mother left to him. Occurs again when he reads the Second Prince's letter.
  • Vulnerable Convoy: Fan Xian's convoy to Northern Qi is attacked several times on its way there.
  • We Can Rule Together: Both princes effectively offer this to Fan Xian to try and get him on their side.
  • We Have Ways of Making You Talk: Happens to Si Lili when she's being questioned after being captured.
  • We Help the Helpless: Part of the reason behind the establishment of the Overwatch Council, as is written in its purpose statement carved on the stone tablet outside the Council headquarters' gate.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The attitude that most of the cast regarding Teng Zijin's death.
    Ye Ling'er: The person who died was just a guard!
    Fan Xian: Everyone says this. That's what makes me the angriest.
    Ye Ling'er: Did I say anything wrong? Does that guard have another identity?
    Fan Xian: He doesn't. He's just a guard. The world thinks he's not important. I don't like it.
  • Wintry Auroral Sky: One is seen by Xiao En and Ku He when they travel far north and discover the God Temple.
  • Wire Fu: The staple of Chinese drama martial arts combat.
  • A World Half Full: Arguably, this world, with its inequality, corruption, sexism, and lack of concern for the lives of those deemed "insignificant" is this, something that Fan Xian initially feels like he can't change, but then eventually decides he's willing to try to change. This is also what Ye Qingmei, Fan Xian's mom, created the Overwatch Council to try and fix, though ultimately at the cost of her own life.
  • Wuxia: Contains elements of this.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: The Emperor and Chen Pingping seem to be playing this all the time, much to Fan Xian's displeasure.
  • Xanatos Gambit: The plan to get Xiao En to spill his secret was so carefully thought out that every possible twist and turn was accounted for.
  • Your Favorite: Fan Xian bringing chicken legs for Wan'er to eat.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Fan Xian's initial plan to get his engagement with Lin Wan'er broken off due to his Love at First Sight with the mysterious chicken drumstick girl from the temple.