Review: The Bond [China]

THE SHORT VERDICT:

The Bond is basically a sprawling slice-of-life family drama, that is showcased in a pretty condensed sort of format.

Show does a very good job of making its characters feel like real people with real flaws and real struggles, and one can’t help but be interested in the lives of these characters, as a result.

Our cast is strong, in the sense that you don’t really feel like these are actors putting forth their best performance; you just feel like these are real people, with some flaws more glaring than others, all trying to do their best, with their varying lots in life.

A solid watch, particularly if you enjoy everyday insights into Chinese culture and China’s modern history.

THE LONG VERDICT:

I have to admit that I would probably never have gotten around to picking up this show, if Shahz and everyone else over at Patreon, hadn’t been so enthusiastic about singing this show’s praises on the Drama Exchange, while they were watching it.

In the end, I’m glad that curiosity got to me, and I started watching this one too. In the end, even though I admittedly don’t love it as much as Shahz and JJ do, this has felt like a really good experience for me, in more ways than one (which I’ll elaborate on shortly).

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review. I personally thought the OST was well-done and well-applied, in that it worked nicely to amplify and lift my watch experience.

In terms of a favorite, I think Track 1, Life should always face the light, is the one that tends to stay with me, even though there are also other tracks that I enjoy. To my ears, the stirring vibe of this song fits perfectly with Show’s chosen tone, of encouraging us to always strive to live well, by having its characters do the same.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:

1. Show can feel rather meandering, in its slice-of-life approach.

2. Show leaves certain details vague.

3. I think the most useful lens, in watching this show, is the one where you think of this family as your neighbors. You live next door, and therefore you are privy to a great deal that happens in their household. However, ultimately, because you’re just a neighbor, you don’t have access to certain details of their lives.

4. Another useful lens, is to think of the central family of this drama world as a microcosm for China’s development, from the 1970s to the early 2000s. This also helps to reconcile us to the fast passage of time that we tend to get, in this story world.

STUFF I LIKED: A MACRO OVERVIEW

1. The small but detailed insights into Chinese culture

One of the things that Show does really well, is give us a peek into Chinese culture, in an everyday sort of way. In particular, I thought Show’s insights into what life was like for the average Chinese in the 1970s, were very poignant.

Here’s a look at a couple of insights that I found, in our early episodes.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3-4. Basically, casually naming children was A Thing, among the poor.

Essentially, most people were too poor and too uneducated to pick pretty, meaningful names for their children. Mom had a friend whose name literally meant Twelve (十二), and not even because he was the twelfth child.

He was named Twelve because his brother before him had been named Eleven – and that, because that brother had been born with eleven fingers instead of ten.

This means that Dad’s casual naming of Qiqi (Seven seven), because it was the year 1977, is not something particularly terrible; it was just the way a lot of people arrived at names for their kids.

Also, there’s that beat in episode 1, where, when Aunt protests at Dad’s naming of the baby, Dad sneers at Aunt, that he’s not as scholarly as Qi Zhiqiang, her husband. With the context that I’ve just provided, doesn’t this remark make a lot more sense?

It’s because Qi Zhiqiang is more educated, that he’s able to select nicer names for his children. And his own name indicates that his own parents have some education, or at least, had the means to pay someone to choose a good and meaningful name for him.

The whole adoption arc, where Dad and Aunt arrange for Simei to be adopted by that childless scholarly couple, is quite a poignant one. I don’t see Dad as being heartless, for giving Simei up for adoption, in the sense that he really does seem to believe that Simei will have a better life with that couple, than with him.

From what I’ve heard from Mom, it was common in those days, for poor families to give their children away, if they could not afford to feed them all. This wasn’t an act of rejection; it was an act of care. This was the only way poor parents could have the assurance that their children would have a better life.

Perhaps because this was relatively common practice back then, the family doesn’t even seem to react so strongly, when Dad informs everyone that Simei is to be adopted. And Simei herself even appears quite happy about the new life that awaits her – until she eventually runs away and comes back home.

[END SPOILER]

2. The story’s unexpected personal connection with my own family history [SOME HIGH LEVEL SPOILERS]

When my mom started watching this show, she couldn’t stop talking about it, right from episode 1. I’d shushed her after a while, asking her not to tell me too much, because I planned to watch this show too, and didn’t want spoilers.

It was only after I’d watched the first two episodes for myself, that I finally understood why Mom couldn’t stop talking about it.

You guys. This isn’t just any regular drama, for me or Mom. This – at least Show’s initial episodes – is basically Mom’s childhood, translated into drama format.

Mom didn’t grow up in China, but the scenes depicted in this show, of the small neighborhood, with many households close together, living in shabby conditions, some households better off than others, and everybody attuned to everybody else’s business, because there just wasn’t any space for privacy, is very, very close to what Mom experienced, growing up here in Singapore, in the 1950s.

I’ve heard so many of Mom’s stories over the years, that even though I didn’t live through the same things she did, watching all these scenes unfold before my eyes, was like watching Mom’s stories come to life. It feels.. uncanny, surreal and strangely poignant.

I felt literal tears burgeoning in my eyes as I watched this show, because for the first time, I felt like I was seeing Mom’s childhood with brand new eyes.

Mom isn’t the eldest child, but she was the most sensible child, and the eldest girl, and therefore, watching Yicheng basically raise his siblings in the absence of his parents, made me feel like I was watching Mom raise her siblings too.

And, seeing how stressful, and difficult, and exhausting it is for him, made me want to cry, because it must have been just as stressful and difficult for Mom.

As for Dad, even though I know that many viewers regard him with contempt, I just wanted to say, that even though I completely agree that his actions are wrong, and no child should have to deal with a parent like that, in my eyes, he kind of lands as an archetype.

I’ve heard such similar stories, of fathers like this, from my mom’s own kampung (colloquial term, from Malay, for small village), that I’m not even surprised at Dad’s actions.

There were absolutely men like this, in Mom’s stories, who gambled or drank all the time, and beat their wives, and didn’t provide well for their families. And there absolutely were heavily pregnant women who had to walk to hospital, because that was the only way they’d get there.

The thing is, I think that’s the point of Dad’s character. I think he’s meant to be an archetype, and as much as his actions are reprehensible, I feel like he’s mostly there to be the catalyst to our story.

The Chinese title of this show is 乔家的儿女 which literally translates as “The Sons and Daughters of the Qiao Family.” This tells me that although the spotlight is on the Qiao family, the main point of our story, is what goes on among the siblings, rather than what goes on in the family as a whole.

As a result of this, I find myself not reacting so strongly, when Dad does something irresponsible. It’s almost like, yes, that’s exactly the kind of thing fathers like him would do, in those days. And that’s exactly how the kids would have to manage, on their own, often without adult supervision.

My grandpa wasn’t a gambler like Dad is, in this show, but he was drunk a lot of the time, and my grandma wasn’t very present, because she was mostly either trying to make a living, or catching up on lost sleep, so Mom and her siblings often had to fend for themselves, much like the Qiao siblings have to fend for themselves.

And much like how it is for the Qiao siblings, food was scarce, and when available, painfully simple. The Qiao siblings have plain rice porridge with a bit of pork lard, while Mom and her siblings had plain rice porridge with a bit of soy sauce and chillies. Same same, but different.

According to Mom, it was a common sight, to see 5-year-olds walking around with an infant on their hip, because kids were expected to help raise their younger siblings.

The tears of the kids, when their pet chicken had to be killed, reminds me of the story Mom told me, of the chicken they’d raised because my great-grandmother had given them a chick. They’d named him Percy, and when he was eventually slaughtered for the dinner table for Chinese New Year, Mom couldn’t eat him (my aunt apparently had no qualms eating poor Percy, though).

The scene of Dad taking Sanli to have dumplings, reminds me of my grandpa taking Mom out to breakfast, on the rarest of occasions, when he wasn’t drunk, and had enough money, and he’d take her to the coffeeshop, and buy her a slice of toast, which came with a thin slice of butter on it, and sugar sprinkled on top.

It was the rarest of treats, much like those soup dumplings are such a rare treat, for Sanli and her siblings.

See how this show really is hitting close to home for me and Mom?

Watching this show’s early episodes, in particular, was a weird, emotional and rather discombobulating experience, but I’m glad for it, because I feel like this show was a special chance for me to understand my parents better.

3. The broad overview of China’s development through the years

China went through a great deal of development during the time span of our story, and while it’s not the primary focus of our story, it provides a very rich, textured sort of backdrop.

Like how our central family starts our story being really poor, and then, slowly but surely, you see them enjoying more material comforts, as the years pass by.

You don’t have to purposefully pay a great deal of attention to it, to pick up the various nuggets that Show serves up, and I thought this was pretty great.

4. The child actors in our early episodes

We spend the first couple of episodes with the child versions of our characters, and I just wanted to say, the young actors are truly excellent. I’m particularly impressed with the two young actors who play Yicheng, Guo Zi Ming and Huang Yi.

[SPOILER] E1-2. I’m especially blown away by the scene where young Yicheng starts to crack under pressure, and Uncle (Zhu Yong Teng) then comes and has that talk with him, which is when Yicheng starts to bawl. Augh. Such a raw, open-wound sort of delivery. I felt that, so much, and I’m floored that the actor who gave us that scene, is so young. [END SPOILER]

5. The Qiao siblings together

This is literally the highlight of the entire show, I feel.

We see our characters go through all kinds of life situations and obstacles, but through it all, these siblings continue to be there for one another, in big and small ways, and that’s one of the most heartwarming takeaways that Show has to offer.

Here’s a small example, from episodes 9 & 10.

[MINOR SPOILER]

It’s so very heartwarming, to see everyone pitch in to get Yicheng (Bai Yu) a new outfit for his new job. It’s extra touching, because we know that each of them doesn’t have a lot of money, and yet, together, they’ve managed to get Yicheng a full suit, including new shoes, so that he’ll look presentable for his new job. That’s so lovely, honestly.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH: ALSO A MACRO OVERVIEW

1. Show can feel meandering at times

Unlike most dramas that I’ve watched, where the central narrative is a clear driving force, our story in this drama, is less focused.

On the upside, it feels like real life, but on the downside, it can feel meandering and unfocused, and this took some getting used to.

2. The way Show keeps certain details vague

Typically, in most dramas, the audience gets insight into key moments in our characters’ lives and relationships. We get to see how characters react to various developments, so much so that it feels like we are experiencing the whole thing vicariously.

That’s not this show’s approach. Instead, there are time when key things happen, and certain characters’ reactions are skipped over almost entirely (sometimes literally entirely).

I found this difficult to get used to, and in the end, chose to use the neighbor lens, which I talked about earlier, to deal with it. It’s still not my favorite thing about Show, though.

3. The passage of time is really fast

Time passes really fast in our drama world, and that’s probably out of necessity, since Show is covering a span of more than 30 years, in just 36 episodes.

I found this a little hard to get used to as well, because sometimes it felt like we were rushing through important character milestones.

Additionally, Show isn’t very specific, most of the time, about how much time has passed. You kind of have to do some guesswork and calculations, based on circumstantial evidence, like the date on a calendar, a key event in the story (that actually did happen in history), &/or the ages of the children in our drama world.

SPOTLIGHT ON CHARACTERS & RELATIONSHIPS

Bai Yu as Yicheng

Bai Yu does an excellent yet understated job of portraying Yicheng, who’s the Big Brother of the family.

Because Yicheng carries the weight of the world upon his shoulders, he tends to keep a lot of his thoughts and emotions bottled up, but yet, we can still regularly see glimpses of Yicheng’s inner struggle and turmoil.

Another thing that I thought was very well done, is how Yicheng ages so believably, over the course of our story. Sure, I did find it a bit of a stretch to think of Bai Yu as college-aged Yicheng, but aside from that, the general aging of Yicheng, all the way through his twenties and thirties, was very believable, I thought.

As a character, there were more than a few times when I found Yicheng frustrating. However, at the same time, I also found him very sympathetic, because of how much of himself he’s given up, for the sake of his family. For this reason, I always felt more sorry for him than anything, even when he was at his most frustrating.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1-2. My heart goes out to all the kids, but it goes out to Yicheng extra, because he’s the one who ends up shouldering all the responsibility for his siblings, and he’s the one who ends up parenting everyone.

It made my heart ache, to see such a young child have to learn to make such specific demands from his father, on the household expenses and other needs, because Dad is too wrapped up in his own world to know or care.

My heart truly goes out to Yicheng, as I see him being both mother and father to his siblings. The way he talks to the teacher, and vouches for Erqiang’s innocence, sounds just like what a parent would do. He’s grown up way too fast, and yet, as I’ve learned from Mom’s stories, this was just how it was, for the elder children.

E3-4. Yicheng wanting to go to university, and Dad telling him not to study such long hours, so as not to waste electricity, reminds me so much of what Mom went through, back when she’d wanted to go to university.

Like I’ve shared, the family was very poor, and didn’t have the money for school fees and such. It was common for kids to drop out of school so that they could start earning a living and start contributing to the household finances.

My uncles (Mom’s brothers) dropped out of school to work, as did my aunts (Mom’s cousins). But Mom was good at her studies, like Yicheng is, and she did well enough to go to university, like Yicheng did.

Like Yicheng, Mom needed a solution that would take care of her school fees. Yicheng chooses to go to a teacher-training college, because the school fees are taken care of, and he’s guaranteed a job after graduation.

There wasn’t such an arrangement here in Singapore back when Mom was getting ready to go to university, but Mom managed to get a scholarship from the Teochew Association.

Mom’s Teochew, and did well at the interview, which is how she got that scholarship. The best thing Grandpa ever did for Mom, was tell her the name of their village back in China, before that interview, because the interviewers were impressed that Mom knew it, when they asked.

Mom’s scholarship was a rarity, made even rarer by the fact that she was a girl, since girls were generally discouraged from furthering their education, back in the day.

Similar to Yicheng, Mom also actively looked for ways to earn extra money, while in university, because she had to make up for the fact that she was not earning an income. If she’d dropped out of school, she would have at least earned money as a factory worker or telephone operator.

So she gave tuition – kinda like Yicheng – in order to have that money to give to Grandma (Mom’s mom). This way, as far as the household was concerned, it was as good as if Mom had dropped out of school and gotten a job. And this way, no one could fault Mom for not dropping out of school, and going to university, while her family was so poor.

E5-6. This set of episodes, it becomes clearer than ever, that Yicheng is the one who parents his siblings. He looks upon them as his responsibility, and they look to him as the ultimate authority in their lives. It’s bitingly clear, that neither Yicheng nor his siblings have any expectations of their father, when it comes to parenting stuff.

It’s Yicheng who goes to Simei’s school to talk with her teacher, when she gets into trouble for hanging out with her troublemaker crush. And it’s also Yicheng who rearranges his entire schedule, so that he can chaperone Simei on her way to and from school. I mean, that’s exactly the sort of thing I’d expect a parent to do.

E7-8. It’s about this point in the story, that I became more cognizant of just how big of a chip on his shoulder Yicheng has.

It’s hurt him since young, when others had gossiped about his family, and now, it’s manifested in this burning need, to not be the subject of ridicule or gossip, at all costs. The rough and stern way he talks to Erqiang is evidence of this, I feel.

He’s so blinded by shame, from overhearing other people gossip about Erqiang, that he doesn’t have the mental or emotional capacity to even try to understand what Erqiang thinks or feels.

E9-10. Yicheng’s no help when it comes to helping Sanli and Yiding work through Sanli’s trauma from being sexually assaulted. I don’t exactly blame Yicheng, because I feel that he’s not equipped to talk about such things, especially since it has to do with softer things like emotions and wounds.

Yicheng’s always been the doer and protector of the family, and all he’s had headspace for, all these years, is the mechanics of survival and problem-solving. Aside from what I mentioned, that this isn’t the sort of culture where touchy-feely things like emotions are talked about in-depth, Yicheng himself is less emotionally aware than the average Chinese person, it feels like.

I feel that he’s actually rather stunted, when it comes to the emotional side of things. And, I believe that has a lot to do, not only with the fact that he largely grew up without his mother, but also, that he had to parent his younger siblings from a very young age. He was in heightened survival mode for so long, it feels like he had no time to explore his emotional side.

Yicheng’s almost always in default parent mode when it comes to his family.

Dad might grumble about who’s the real parent in the family, but the truth is, Yicheng does function as the parent in the family.

And there’s no scene quite so telling of this fact, as the one where Dad announces that he’d like the kids to give him spending money now, and Yicheng’s counter-proposal of the various amounts from each sibling, is take as law, while Dad’s proposed amounts are nothing more than an initial discussion point.

E15-16. I’m finding Yicheng quite temperamental, of late. We see him flare up easily at his siblings, and then later, he even flares up at Xiaolang, because he assumes that Xiaolang had known about Xiaomo’s illness, when she’d introduced her to Erqiang.

I rationalize that there’s some stress at play, since his father-in-law’s been asking for money, and it looks like Yicheng’s borrowed money from Weimin, in order to fulfill his promise to his father-in-law.

At the same time, I do think that he’s got a complex, when it comes to his siblings. He always talks to them as if he’s right, and he knows everything and has a solution to everything, but the manner in which he talks to them, is typically rough and disapproving.

He sounds like an exasperated parent almost all the time, and I feel bad for the other siblings, who look up to him so much, and who mostly just want his approval, like in Erqiang’s case.

I know that a lot of this comes from having given up so much of his childhood, in order to parent them, and perhaps there’s a sense of resentment somewhere in there too, that they are the reason that he’d had to grow up way too fast, and give up so much.

I also think that it has to do with him having been in charge, when times had been so hard, and the family’s options, so few. I think that as a result of this, Yicheng’s hardwired himself to always look for the most practical solutions, personal passion be damned.

I don’t think that Yicheng’s going to be able to shake off this kind of thinking very easily, but I do hope that he will eventually be able to be less brusque and impatient with his family.

[END SPOILER]

Yicheng and Weimin

One of Yicheng’s key relationships, to my eyes, is his love-hate relationship with his cousin Weimin (Li Jia Hang).

There is a lot of emotional baggage between these two – albeit more on Yicheng’s side than on Weimin’s – and I often felt like the tension between them was such a wasted opportunity, for these two equally bright young men.

At the same time, I appreciated that when push comes to shove, these two cousins are able to put aside their differences, for bigger and more important things. The conversations between them, when the guards come down, and raw honesty comes to the surface, were definitely some of the brighter spots of my watch.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5-6. In that scene where Wei Min’s crying over his father’s death, Yicheng looks really sad too, and this is the first time that I recall him actually letting down his prickly guard around Wei Min. Given that Yicheng’s clearly been jealous of Wei Min practically his whole life, this is a big concession, and it makes sense that it’d be over the death of someone that they both treasure and look up to.

E7-8. I believe that it’s a sense of shame and inferiority that’s driving Yicheng’s antagonism towards Weimin. The thing that Yicheng keeps saying, more or less, is that it’s easy for Weimin to care, and easy for him to say certain things.

I think that boils down to how Yicheng sees Weimin as having had an easier lot in life; ie, it’s easy to be indulgent and kind, when your situation isn’t squeezing you dry for your last drop of sweat and blood.

E11-12. I’m slightly surprised that Aunt is getting remarried, but not as surprised as I am to see Yicheng and Weimin actually have an open and amiable talk about things, up on the roof. Yicheng’s been so prickly towards Weimin for so long, that I’m pleasantly surprised to find that underneath it all, there’s a pleasant sort of kinship that endures.

For someone who has so much difficulty stepping back and having empathy for his own family members, Yicheng sure is able to point out where and how Weimin should show love and filial piety to his mother, just like his father had requested.

It really is much easier to see things objectively, when you’re not in the center of it. Also, what a good piece of perspective that Yicheng provides, that gossip will eventually disperse. That’s very true.

[END SPOILER]

Yicheng & Xiaolang [SPOILERS]

The relationship between Yicheng and Xiaolang (Zhou Fang) feels like it comes out of nowhere, almost.

Yicheng’s relationship with Xiaolang progresses so quickly, that I feel like I blinked and missed the part where she went from being an acquaintance, to being his girlfriend.

The thing is, I’m not even sure if Yicheng himself is clear on when that transition happened, because all I see is her pushing the boundaries, bit by bit, and then, suddenly – ta da! – they’re past the “just friends” stage of things, almost without anyone realizing.

If I had to squint really hard to look for it, I’d guess that it’s that moment in the canteen, at around episode 11-12, where she cries, and he hugs her and pats her back. I guess that kinda-sorta would count as taking their relationship to the next level..? It’s just all so vague and subtle, though.

The thing is, though, I never felt super on board with this relationship, from the very beginning.

From the minute Xiaolang steals Yicheng’s work, and then wheedles her way out of it, without giving what I feel is an actual sincere apology to Yicheng, I had a bad feeling about her.

And she proves my instinct right, by lying to Yicheng regularly, throughout their relationship and marriage, to the point of getting an abortion, but passing it off as a miscarriage. Dang. That’s cold.

At the same time, I can see why Yicheng would have chosen to throw caution to the wind, and believe everything that Xiaolang says.

The way I see it, she gets him out of his head, and in so doing, gets him to taste, experience and feel new things, and it feels new and liberating to Yicheng, who’s only ever lived for his family. His smiles, when he’s with her, are genuine; he really is happy when he’s with her. I think that’s why he chooses to turn a blind eye to all the red flags.

I do feel sorry for Yicheng, for how this marriage turns out. The moment Xiaolang left, I’d had a feeling that she wouldn’t be coming back. In fact, they even get divorced without her ever stepping foot back in China again.

That said, I’m glad that the divorce happens, because this relationship was never a good one, to begin with.

[END SPOILER]

Yicheng & Nanfang [SPOILERS]

I personally think Nanfang’s a much better match for Yicheng, in that she’s sincere, and has genuinely good intentions, and a real appreciation for Yicheng and his family. And, even though she’s from a more well-to-do family than Yicheng, she has no airs, and carries herself in a very down-to-earth manner.

Unfortunately, Yicheng’s emotional baggage, and his desire to be the strong tower that solves all problems on his own, proves to be detrimental to his marriage. I mean, how can Nanfang truly feel like she’s part of his family, if he doesn’t tell her stuff? It’s no wonder she feels alienated and isolated.

I’m actually rather disappointed that Nanfang’s job posting out of Nanjing lasts for such a long time. It just feels unwise, to put distance between her and Yicheng, when they’re still in the midst of trying to hash out their communication problems.

It doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but it is clear that Yicheng and Nanfang grow rather distant, because of her job posting. Show isn’t clear how long she’s gone, but it’s easily a few years.

I’m mollified that Nanfang eventually comes back to Nanjing to be with Yicheng, but I have to confess to feeling rather disappointed, that it took a major health scare, to make that happen.

That said, I do believe that Yicheng and Nanfang can last for the long haul, after all that they’ve been through.

[END SPOILER]

Zhang Wan Yi as Erqiang

I have a huge soft spot for Erqiang, because he’s such an earnest character. Also, the way Zhang Wan Yi plays him, there’s a softness and nuance about his gaze which I really like.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Erqiang starts our story as a bit of a troublemaker, not doing well in school and getting in with the wrong crowd. But, the moment he actually stops school and starts working, we start to see a very different side to Erqiang, which I liked very much.

After his more rocky days while still in school, it’s really nice to see him applying himself to things that he’s actually good at. I love the detail that he’s such a great cook, and cooks delicious things for his family to eat, based on the recipe notes that Mom had left behind.

He’s always been good with his hands, so it’s good to see him doing well at the factory, and showing a good attitude, the moment he gets assigned to his Master (Zhu Zhu).

When Erqiang’s allowed to be in his preferred space, instead of trying to fulfill other people’s expectations of him, he tends to be sensible, hardworking and down-to-earth, so each time Erqiang got to follow his heart a little bit more, I felt really happy for him.

[END SPOILER]

Erqiang & Xiaomo [SPOILERS]

I feel that Erqiang tries to do the “right thing” that he keeps being told to do, in episodes 13-14, that he keeps being told to do, and move on from his obsession with Master, in agreeing to be set up with Xiaomo (Sun An Ke), but that just turns into a disaster in almost no time at all.

After all, all Erqiang does is meet Xiaomo for a few walks, and suddenly, everyone around them is acting as if they are engaged to be married. This was so startling to my eyes, that I stopped to count the years since our story started.

This.. is surprisingly old-fashioned, considering that we are in the 1990s, in our story. I guess that just goes to show how things evolved at a different pace, in China, back then.

I really feel for Erqiang through the entirety of his marriage to Xiaomo, because he tries so hard to honor Xiaomo, but at the same time, I feel like in doing so, he loses himself.

During that scene when Erqiang visits Xiaomo’s house, where all her relatives are gathered to meet the presumed incoming new member of the family, I feel like I’m watching an innocent deer in headlights, walking right into the slaughter because of all the familial pressure suddenly being exerted on him. 😭

The thing is, though, Erqiang remains patient, sweet and kind, in relation to Xiaomo and the wedding, even though it’s clear to see, that it’s still Master Ma who rules his heart. Yet, he really goes above and beyond, to be a dependable and considerate partner to Xiaomo. I’m impressed that it doesn’t look like Erqiang’s faking it, either.

I feel like I’m seeing genuine kindness in his eyes, as he talks to Xiaomo, and also, when he takes care of her, after she has a seizure.

On top of this, Xiaomo is unfaithful to Erqiang, in carrying on with Manager Chen (Huo Ya Ming), even after her marriage.

In episode 21-22, I do think that Xiaomo asks for the divorce on impulse, and I don’t think she actually expected to actually have that demand be taken seriously. However, I’m relieved that Erqiang does manage to get out of what is essentially a toxic marriage.

[END SPOILER]

Erqiang & Master [SPOILERS]

Master is altogether lovely, so it’s not much of a surprise, that Erqiang immediately starts nursing a crush on her, from the moment he’s assigned to be her apprentice.

Their growing connection starts out innocently, I feel, despite Erqiang’s hyperawareness of her. It’s just unfortunate that their interactions get completely blown out of proportion, causing Master to quit the factory and leave Nanjing, leaving Erqiang suddenly adrift.

What moves me, though, is how Erqiang essentially continues to hold Master dear to his heart, regardless of the fact that he doesn’t even know where she is. He’s just that steadfast in his love for her, and over time, his crush really does evolve into something much deeper and more mature.

Xiaomo asking for the divorce was the catalyst Erqiang needed, in order to actually take action to follow his heart. I actually liked seeing him get a job at that restaurant, because he’s finally going to do work that he enjoys, and that taps into his passion and talent.

I think what surprises me, is that we soon see Master Ma visiting Yiding in hospital, and Sanli and Simei greeting her in a rather familiar manner. This indicates that Erqiang’s relationship with Master has deepened, and without Show actually spelling it out, we can conclude that Erqiang and Master are officially dating now.

I mean, in a drama world where people get pregnant, married and divorced in the blink of an eye, this isn’t exactly surprising. But I do wish that we’d gotten a little more insight into Master’s reaction, for example, when she realized that Erqiang was getting divorced for real, and wanted to be with her.

That said, I’m so glad that Erqiang eventually gets married to Master, and lives happily with her. In a drama world where all his siblings have relationship problems, Erqiang’s relationship with Master is one of the steadiest, most grounded things.

Most importantly, they look so content, together, and that feels really precious. Erqiang was always serious when he’d said that he loved Master, and now, he’s finally getting to live the dream.

It’s just such sweet icing on the cake, to see Master’s son Zhiyong (Yuan Ruo Hang) eventually come to embrace Erqiang as his father too. ❤️

Rachel Momo as Sanli

I also have a soft spot for Sanli, because of how sensible she is, as Big Sister to Simei (Song Zu Er), and how gentle and clear-headed she tends to be, in general.

Among the siblings, I feel like she’s the most balanced. She’s smart, not only in being able to analyze situations, she’s also empathetic, and able to pick up on other people’s feelings. I like that about her, a lot.

I also think that Rachel Momo looks like a legit doll, playing Sanli. I just liked looking at her, with her dainty features and beautiful big eyes. 🤩

[SPOILER ALERT]

The thing that most concerned me about Sanli’s personal arc, was her determination to never get married, which stems from the fact that she’d been targeted for sexual assault, when she’d been younger.

That whole thing had been swept under the carpet for the most part (which, from what I understand, isn’t so unusual for the times, and in particular, for families without finances or influence), but the scars remain, and Sanli seems to have a phobia towards even the idea of a romantic relationship.

It’s hugely difficult for Sanli to face her fears and work through this, but in the end, I’m glad that she manages to overcome her trauma enough, to open her heart to Yiding (Jeremy Qu).

[END SPOILER]

Sanli and Yiding [SPOILERS]

By and large, I was very much taken with the developing relationship between Sanli and Yiding.

Given how wary Sanli’s been of anything that smells like a romantic relationship, her connection with Yiding feels quite perfect for her. Yiding is such a decent, awkward, earnest sort of guy, he’s just the sort of person who might help Sanli put her guard down and actually consider a relationship.

Plus, he’s so quick to read Sanli’s hesitation around certain things, and he’s fast to react as well.

Like when that neighborhood dude tries to force a relationship on Sanli and she’s spooked afterwards, Yiding backs down quickly and without question, when Sanli asks him not to come near her.

What I’m trying to say is, Yiding is the kind of guy who’s able to make Sanli feel safe, and that’s what Sanli needs the most, in a romantic partner, honestly.

It was hard to watch Sanli continue to struggle with her trauma, even with Yiding being as patient and understanding as humanly possible, and I was a little bit afraid, that they would end up being separated forever, when Sanli chooses to break up with him, after realizing that she cannot bear the reality of any sort of physical intimacy.

When they finally get back together again, my joy was short-lived, because of Yiding’s overbearing and manipulative mother, whose behavior is completely unreasonable and selfish.

While it’s completely frustrating to see that Yiding doesn’t say no to his mother’s unreasonable demands, I can see where this is coming from.

In Chinese culture, one is expected to honor one’s parents, and a parent’s word is (traditionally speaking anyway) pretty much law. It would be considered unfilial of Yiding to refuse Mom’s request, even though Mom’s request is completely unreasonable.

Yiding is such an upright sort of guy, who wants to do the right thing, that I’m not even surprised, really, that he gives in to Mom.

I did love the scene in episodes 21-22, where Sanli navigates that conversation with Yiding’s mom, in such a calmly bold fashion, like there’s nothing that Mom can do or say, that would faze her. It feels to me, that this might well be Sanli’s maternal instincts kicking in; she’s doing what she needs to do, in order to protect her baby – even if it means putting her foot down, with her mother-in-law.

Gosh, where did this strong, calm, eloquent Sanli come from? It’s still her, but it’s like the grown-up, unafraid version of her, and I think she’s awesome. 🤩

Later on in our story, I found it hard to watch Yiding lash out at Sanli, because of his frustration with his injury (which I conclude to be erectile dysfunction, after the accident at the factory). It’s completely startling and jarring, to see the previously sweet-tempered Yiding shout at Sanli, and say such mean things to her. 😭

Kudos to Sanli for being able to see past his anger, to recognize what’s going on, on the inside, and address that, instead of his terrible words.

I feel like Sanli really has the patience of a saint, when it comes to Yiding. There are so many times in this stretch of the drama, where she answers in gentle, encouraging tones, when he’s just lashed out at her in an angry, impatient manner.

I’m just glad that these two manage to weather all of their troubles with such resilience, and never truly gave up on each other, even when the going was really, really tough.

[END SPOILER]

Song Zu Er as Simei

Among the siblings, I feel like Simei is the possibly the most frustrating one – while also managing to be the most admirable one.

As Merij dubbed her in The Bond discussions over on Patreon, she really is a bit of a chaos muppet. She chooses the rules that she wants to play by, often making up her own rules as she goes, and nobody can really do anything about it.

The thing is, though, Simei makes it a point to follow her heart, always. For this reason, even though this sometimes leads her through heartache and heartbreak, she’s admirable, for never compromising on her dreams. She lives with her heart so fully invested in everything that she does, that you just know that she’ll be able to look back on her life without regrets.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5-6. Unlike her siblings, Simei comes across as blithely carefree. From way back when she’d upped and left her family when she was told she’d be adopted, to the present, when she just grabs the chance to go to Beijing in order to watch her favorite singer in concert, Simei really seems to have a very simple outlook on life.

I do think that this has to do with being the younger child. The bulk of responsible thinking is taken care of by Simei’s older siblings, and so she’s free to be silly and nonchalant about life in general.

To be honest, this reminds me of stories that Mom told me of when she was growing up.

Being the elder daughter, Mom was conscious of tight family finances, and never even thought to ask for little luxuries like a raise in her pocket money (which was 10 cents a day, at the time), or to order chocolate milk for recess, which was A Thing, back then.

Kids could place orders for chocolate milk, and the milk would be delivered to their classrooms each day in glass bottles, only for those who had placed the orders.

My Aunt, on the other hand, who’s several years younger than Mom, never thought to restrict herself. I think it just.. never occurred to her. I remember Mom telling me that Aunt didn’t even hesitate to come home and announce that she wanted to order chocolate milk.

In case you’re wondering, I do think that my Grandmother did manage to squeeze some chocolate milk out for Aunt, out of the meager household finances, but the point I’m trying to make is, Aunt never thought to consider the family circumstances.

And, I think that’s pretty similar to where Show is placing Simei. She’s younger, and therefore more carefree. She’s younger, and therefore more outspoken about blurting out what she likes and wants. I am sure that Sanli would never consider borrowing money to go to Beijing for a concert, because she’s acutely aware of how that money could be more responsibly used elsewhere.

In a similar sort of vein, Simei allowing her feelings to grow willy-nilly for that handsome troublemaker of a boy, is completely in character, to my eyes. It’s because, to her, her feelings exist in a vacuum; there is no context, where she considers the implications, in the present or in the future. She just.. likes him, and acts on those feelings.

E7-8. Simei really strikes me as the ditzy, exasperating one that you just can’t seem to stay angry with, even though you really do want to throttle her.

I think a lot of that comes from being the de facto youngest, because Qiqi doesn’t live with the family. She really is the baby of the family, and even though Yicheng doesn’t speak to her for 2 months after her Beijing debacle, he eventually gives in, because of how she ultimately ingratiates herself to him.

[END SPOILER]

Simei & Chenggang [SPOILERS]

I have to confess that I was completely thrown by Simei and her instant crush on Chenggang (Hou Wen Yuan) – just because he looks handsome in his soldier uniform. That.. honestly just looks like a disaster waiting to happen. 😝

After all, she barely knows him, and yet, enthusiastically embarks on a long-distance relationship with him, with him looking quite confused over the whole thing. There were legit times when I wondered whether Simei even had a relationship, from the way Chenggang didn’t even reply to most of her letters.

And yet, she takes marriage leave, and takes off to Tibet to visit him, believing that they’ll be able to get married at his army base. Wow, right? I mean, she does all this, when he doesn’t even know that she’s coming to see him!

In episodes 21-22, when Chenggang shows up after being discharged dishonorably, I’m actually rather stunned at how.. advanced their relationship feels. After all, they’ve barely spent any time together, and haven’t exchanged that many letters.

In true Simei fashion, she throws herself into this relationship and insists on marrying Chenggang, and for a hot second, I actually though that these two would be happy together.

Unfortunately for Simei, Chenggang shows that he has a distinct ladies’ man streak about him, and that he just can’t seem to help himself, when a nubile young lady crosses his path. I hate that he cheats on Simei not once, but twice – and then cheats on her again, after she and Yicheng clear up his mess.

UGH. I really wanted to slap him upside the head, at this point. If there were ever a poster child to serve as a warning to not marry a handsome man, Qi Chenggang would be it.

I do think that it’s the right decision that Simei makes in the end, to divorce Chenggang. He’s proven time and again, that he just isn’t able to change. He might slap himself silly, for giving in to temptation, but when temptation calls, he’s putty in its hands.

What strikes me most, is Simei’s loving attitude towards him, to the end. Even after she’s made up her mind to divorce him, she doesn’t shout or scream, and neither does she make any kind of scene.

In fact, she takes him out to dinner, and almost babies him, like he’s her child, ordering him food that will be good for his health, and making sure that he eats. It makes me wonder if she’s partially adjusted the way she sees him in her mind’s eye, to something akin to a mother-child sort of relationship, so that it’ll hypothetically hurt less, to think about him with another woman?

Regardless, I am very much struck by the gentleness and grace with which she breaks the news to him, that she wants a divorce. Typically, that kind of communication is fraught with tension, anger, and animosity. But in Simei’s case, she continues to be affectionate towards Chenggang, even as she tells him that she’s decided that she doesn’t want to live with him anymore.

It’s quite beautiful, honestly.

[END SPOILER]

Zhou Yi Ran as Qiqi

Even though Qiqi is the 5th child of the Qiao family, he doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time. Most of the time, when he is brought back into the story, it almost feels like an afterthought.

I mean, I like the idea that Show wants to give us a change to get to know Qiqi, but I do have to admit that I feel a sense of disconnect from him, because he’s been living with Aunt (Liu Lin) all this time, and has barely spent any time with his siblings.

Perhaps that’s the whole idea, though. Perhaps our sense of disconnect, is supposed to mirror the sense of disconnect that he and the rest of his siblings might feel, since they’ve spent all this time, mostly apart.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Despite my efforts to rationalize Qiqi’s positioning in our story, I still find his arc rather whiplashy.

I mean, one minute he’s doing poorly in school, and then suddenly, he’s got a girl pregnant, and suddenly he’s getting married and getting ready to become a father. And then just as suddenly, his wife ups and leaves town to pursue her dreams in Shanghai, then comes back to divorce him, and leaves him to care for their daughter.

Like I said, whiplashy much? 😅

I do like the arc in episodes 29-30, though, when, because of the SARS quarantine, the family camps out together at the family home, including Qiqi.

I’ve always felt like Qiqi’s been something of an expendable appendage to the family – and to our story. He’s never felt truly part of the family, due to how he’d been farmed out to Weimin’s family from such a young age. This is the first time that we’ve seen him spend quality time with his family, and it felt heartwarming and important.

I especially liked the bonding conversation between him and Erqiang, where Erqiang talked about the times when he’d tried to take care of Qiqi as a baby. So precious.

[END SPOILER]

Liu Jun as Dad

I actually didn’t dislike Dad, as a character, even though we see him act in selfish, self-serving ways through much of the show.

Like I mentioned earlier in this review, I saw him more as an archetype, than anything else.

He’s not particularly bad, compared to other fathers of his generation. He’s just an example of what a good number of fathers might do, in his situation. Sure, there would be good fathers in his generation too, but what I’m trying to say is, Dad’s actions weren’t that out of the ordinary.

Here are just a couple of observations that I had, about Dad, while watching this show.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E5-6. This set of episodes, the idea of education features a fair bit, which is why I thought I’d share something that Mom said to me, after she watched these episodes.

Mom says that education was prized among the poor, because people were cognizant of the fact that education was one of the ways out of poverty, for their families.

Meaning, if one of their children managed to become well-educated, that child would be able to get a better paying job upon completing their studies, and that would help the family pull themselves out of poverty.

At the same time, people were very pragmatic about this, in the sense that if a child wasn’t cut out for studying, parents were quick to accept that, and also quick to have that child get a job, so that they would be able to start contributing to the household income. After all, when you’re painfully poor, even a few extra dollars each month, can make a difference.

In this sense, Dad’s various reactions to Yicheng’s and Erqiang’s situations make complete sense.

When Yicheng had still been studying for his exams, Dad had nagged at him not to study so much, because it was a waste of electricity.

And then when Yicheng managed to get that place in a teacher-training college, where school fees weren’t an issue, Dad is pleased, because this starts to look like the family’s ticket out of poverty, with no extra strain on the family finances due to school fees and such.

On the other hand, Dad takes Erqiang’s failure at school in quick stride. He doesn’t even pause to think about whether Erqiang should repeat the year; Dad’s immediate instinct is to help Erqiang find a job, so that he’d not only be able to learn a trade, he’d also be able to start contributing to the family finances.

All this to say, Dad’s reactions aren’t anything particularly terrible; this is just how most people approached things, back in the day. Yicheng’s own reluctance to have Erqiang drop out of school can be put down to a more progressive way of thinking, as well as a generation gap, I think.

E7-8. The way Dad gets all territorial about food, and takes the chicken soup for himself, when the girls had prepared it for Erqiang, is objectively terrible and not at all a fatherly sort of act.

However, I have to also say, that there are elements of Dad’s behavior that remind me of my own dad. Not that we’ve had a similar situation at home where my dad took chicken soup for himself that was meant for someone else, but.. my dad has a hyper-focus on food that I’ve found rather bemusing, over the years.

And watching this scene actually made me think about the fact that both my dad and the Qiao kids’ dad grew up hungry. Perhaps the hyper-focus on food has to do with that lack, and it’s become ingrained into their consciousness, such that the hyper-focus on food remains, even though their circumstances have become better?

And, while it’s objectively awful the way Dad pushes Simei’s bowl of rice off the table and won’t let anyone pick it up, it’s clear that this goes back to the fact that he’s being laid off at work, and is concerned about the costs of living, going forward.

Is it a good way to deal with his stress? Certainly not. But at least I can see where it comes from, ie, he’s not just throwing his weight around and shouting at everybody, just for the heck of it.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

Chang Long as Song Qingyuan

I just wanted to say that I really, really liked Song Qingyuan as a character.

Qingyuan manages to be a good friend to Yicheng, even while he sees very clearly, the truth of the situation, and the realistic outcomes that Yicheng can expect. He sees it, and helps where he can, but he doesn’t ever try to push his perspective on Yicheng.

He might nudge Yicheng sometimes, but he’s always cognizant of the fact that this is Yicheng’s life, and Yicheng’s decisions to make. He’s pretty darn awesome.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E11-12. I like how Qingyuan’s sharp to observe things, but also draws a clear line in terms of what he should or should not say, and whether he should or should not get involved. When Yicheng tells him that he’s getting married to Xiaolang, it’s clear that Qingyuan has some reservations.

However, he doesn’t overstep his boundaries. All he does is ask Yicheng whether he’s thought it through carefully, and whether Yicheng’s even met Xiaolang’s family.

Yicheng is quick to dismiss it all, saying that he’d probably already decided, the moment he’d first met Xiaolang, and Qingyuan doesn’t attempt to interfere. He recognizes that this is Yicheng’s life and Yicheng’s decision, not his. Somehow, this thing about Qingyuan really appeals to me.

E27-28. Qingyuan is SUCH a good friend. He truly has Yicheng’s best interests at heart, defends Yicheng wholeheartedly when the need arises, and provides encouragement that carries no hint of personal agenda, ever. And, he always avails himself so cheerfully, whenever Yicheng has any kind of need.

And all this, without ever acting or speaking in a manner that could be construed as interfering.

I LUFF him. Which makes me want good things for him. I kind of wish Show had done more toe develop his character, because I’d like him to be the lead in his own story, if only for a little while.

[END SPOILER]

Liu Lin as Aunt

I also wanted to give Aunt a shout-out, for being such an awesome surrogate mother of sorts, to the entire group of Qiao siblings. She really proves to be a steady rock for them, in a world where they can’t depend on their own parents.

I just really appreciate how steadfast she is, in looking out for their best interests.

THEMES / IDEAS

Here are a few themes and ideas that come to mind, when I think about this show:

1. You can weather any storm in life, if you have the support of people whom you love, and who love you.

2. Love can take many shapes and forms, and is often seen in the small, daily things.

3. You might make mistakes in life, but you can also make a fresh start.

4. You need to learn to find a balance between caring for others, and taking care of yourself and following your own heart.

5. Home is where the family is.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODES [SPOILERS]

E33-34. We are getting to the end of our story, and this set of episodes, I find myself feeling most sorry for Yicheng. He looks so worn out, and his health is suffering, and I can’t help thinking that he’s neglected himself, all these years, in favor of looking after his family.

I also want to slap him upside the head, for not heeding the doctor’s advice. From what we’re shown, it seems that Yicheng is studiously avoiding the doctor’s advice, and just carrying on with life as usual. That’s so foolish of him, honestly. I know he doesn’t want to worry his family, but.. won’t he worry them more, if he just collapses one day..?

On that note, I have to say that Bai Yu does a really effective job of reflecting Yicheng’s increasingly poor health.

Over these two episodes, I feel like I can see Yicheng growing weaker and more wan, over time. Plus, there’s how he requests not to have family meetings over smaller issues that can be settled over the phone. He’s never said anything to that effect before, and that alone tells me how much of a toll life is taking on his body.

As for the arc with Master, I have to say, I felt a little underwhelmed at how that whole arc was treated.

I mean, one minute she’s gone, and before Erqiang can properly go and search for her, she comes back. To be clear, I think she has every right to change her mind, and I do absolutely want her to be with Erqiang. I just.. find it a rather oddly written arc. It could happen in real life, sure, but for a story arc, it feels rushed, as a result.

Still, kudos to Xiaomo for coming clean that the kid isn’t Erqiang’s, and refusing to take his money, even though he was offering to help support the child.

Overall, I’m just relieved that Erqiang and Master are still together, and that they successfully overcome this and other challenges. They are turning out to be, quite possibly, the most stable and happy, among the various couples in our story world.

What a curiously interesting little nugget that Show introduces, that Xiaozhi has autism, and so does Qiqi.

That’s something that I didn’t expect to be told to us, this late in the story. But perhaps that’s the whole point; that lots of people on the spectrum go undiagnosed for years, and it affects their lives without them even realizing it. It’s likely why Qiqi’s always been so reticent, and not so great at his studies.

The thing that takes up the biggest chunk of screen time this set of episodes, is Dad’s relationship with Aunt Qu, and how that all unfolds.

I do think that Dad is lonely in his old age, and with Aunt Qu being so nice to him, I’m not surprised that he allows himself to fall for her charms and want to marry her.

As we see later, though, Aunt Qu has a systematic plan to bring not only herself, but also, her son and daughter-in-law into the Qiao household.

I was discussing this set of episodes with my mom, and Mom’s take, is that Aunt Qu hadn’t exactly set out to usurp the Qiao house. It’s more like she came to the city to better her life, and when the opportunity presented itself, she took it.

In Mom’s words, a woman in Aunt Qu’s position doesn’t have many options, when it comes to wanting to better her life. It’s kinda like palace stories where all the concubines can do is scheme against each other to win more of the Emperor’s favor for themselves. I thought that was a pretty great comparison, honestly.

I personally don’t see Aunt Qu as an evil person, even though she’s clearly got her own agenda. But of course, Simei is right to be highly suspicious of her and her every move, from the get-go.

Ultimately, it feels like Aunt Qu’s plan backfires on her, at least a little bit. Even though her son and daughter-in-law now have a place to live in the city, she is stuck caring for an invalid on a long-term basis, and it is thankless work.

Also, I’m so glad that Master is by Erqiang’s side, to help him manage Aunt Qu’s efforts to have her son wriggle his way into a potential partnership on Erqiang’s restaurant.

I’m pretty sure Aunt Qu decided to approach Erqiang instead of Yiding, because Erqiang’s easier to manipulate. Even though Yiding and Erqiang are cut from similar cloth, Yiding’s married to Sanli, and Sanli is a daughter of the Qiao family, and thus would have lots more to say that Erqiang himself, in a similar situation.

Those little moments when Master steps in to help steer things along, so that she and Erqiang are still cordial, without falling into the trap of having to take Aunt Qu’s son as a partner, is pretty masterful. She’s not called “master” for nuthin’. Heh.

Aunt Qu is definitely growing weary of taking care of Dad, and as my mom pointed out, not only is she not as nice to him as before (like the way she won’t let him finish the banana, in case he poops his pants), Dad actually doesn’t say anything to protest.

The old him would definitely have had many words to say about that. It looks like Dad is cognizant of just how dependent on he, on Aunt Qu.

I do have to wonder, though, whether Aunt Qu will continue to take care of Dad for the long haul.

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

Well, we’ve come to the end, and I feel glad to have met these characters, and also, satisfied to leave them to continue living their lives without me as a fly on their walls. I think that sums up my relationship with this drama pretty well. It’s good, and solid, but I don’t wish for more of this journey; I’m happy where Show leaves us.

This last couple of episodes, we spend the most screen time with Dad and Yicheng, individually, but also, together, somewhat.

I’m actually rather startled at how convincingly Show manages to portray Dad’s physical deterioration. I think that’s credit not only to the makeup folks, but also, Liu Jun’s portrayal. I could really believe that Dad had become that weak and that debilitated, over time.

Although Dad’s never been a great father, I still find myself feeling rather sorry for him, when he ends up bedridden and completely dependent on Aunt Qu, who smoothly takes advantage of the situation, because she knows that he needs her.

Dad looks so utterly miserable and forlorn, that I find my sympathies going out to him, even though he’s done some terrible things in his time. I think this also has to do with the fact that, in the last little while, with all the kids grown up, he’s mellowed out quite a bit, and has struck me as being rather.. harmless, for lack of a better word.

I think that the way Dad ends up being forced out of his own bedroom and into the living room, is pretty sad. Also, I think it’s cruel of Aunt Qu to leave him in the living room, even after Simei moves out, and she herself moves into Simei’s bedroom.

Surely she could have allowed Dad to sleep in the bedroom too, since that had been the arrangement, before they’d moved out of the master bedroom?

In the end, I feel like Dad was much more keenly aware of what was going on, than he let on. From the way he sneaks the property deed to Yicheng through Weimin, and gets that list of money transfers to Yicheng through Qiqi, it seems that Dad knew that these would become useful to his family, after he was gone.

Also, it honestly feels to me, like Dad had thrown himself off the bed on purpose, to die, so that there wouldn’t be time for Aunt Qu to force him to legally make her his wife. I found that pretty heartbreaking, honestly.

Sure, Dad had been a frustratingly self-centered father, but that’s still a really horrible position for him to be in, and I don’t think he deserved to have to die like that. Also, that scene of Yicheng taking himself out for dumplings, on Dad’s behalf, and making peace with Dad after Dad’s passing, is so deeply, sharply poignant.

I’m really quite impressed with how Yicheng handles Aunt Qu, in the wake of Dad’s death. He doesn’t get angry and he doesn’t raise his voice. He remains completely reasonable, while patiently showing her that she and her son and daughter-in-law had no choice but to move out, whether they liked it or not.

That said, however, I am not at all pleased with Yicheng and his secretive approach to his illness. UGH. It was so frustrating to watch him try to hide it, while still trying to be the rock for his family.

In terms of why Yicheng was so stubborn about wanting to hide his illness from everyone, I think a lot of it has to do with him not wanting to worry his family. He’s always seen his role to be a helper, provider and supporter of the family, and I think he just could not accept that he be anything else to them – least of all, a worry and a burden.

Aside from that, I also think that it has to do with his expectations of himself. Since he’s positioned himself as the family’s strong pillar for so long, I think he expects himself to be invincible, and I think that’s why he stubbornly just keeps on going, even when his body grows noticeably weaker.

On that note, I have to say, I’m rather disappointed that nobody noticed Yicheng’s growing frailty. Most of all, I’m surprised that Nanfang didn’t notice anything amiss with Yicheng’s health, when he went to visit her.

Of all the people in his world, she ought to be the one most in tune with his health, because, she doesn’t see him often at all, and therefore any change in his physical state would be most starkly obvious to her, than to someone who sees Yicheng daily.

Plus, Nanfang’s always been positioned as a bright and perceptive person, so I’m even more disappointed, that Show doesn’t allow her to at least pick up on Yicheng’s waning energy levels and wan disposition.

Of course, this is all in service of our finale arc, where Yicheng collapses and everyone gets into a panic when they realize belatedly, how seriously ill he is. Fine, fine.

I’m relieved that Yicheng gets that kidney transplant in the end, after refusing to accept Qiqi’s kidney so vehemently. I mean, I get that he feels like he has no right to receive it, because he hasn’t done for Qiqi what he’s done for his other siblings.

I’m glad he comes around, when Aunt comes to talk to him, and Qiqi tells him plainly, that he does have the right to receive his kidney, because Yicheng’s his brother, and he just doesn’t want to see him die.

The way Yicheng weeps in response is really poignant, I feel. It’s such a rare moment of vulnerability, from the Big Brother who’s always demanded only strength and resilience from himself, for his family. This felt like a huge breakthrough moment for Yicheng, honestly.

Thereafter, I was pretty happy with how Show wraps up, with everyone returning to the old family home for one last New Year gathering, before the house is demolished for redevelopment.

Yes, I want to give a bit of the stink-eye to Show for toying with our feelings, what with people talking as if Yicheng was maybe-possibly dead, but thankfully, that doesn’t drag out for too long, and the closing feels are warm and strong enough to offset the bad joke.

It’s a little bittersweet, that the old house where they grew up will no longer be around, but as Yichengs puts it so aptly, “the house is the outer shell; home is where the family is.”

And I can totally see this family continuing to rally around one another, through thick and thin, as they have always done. Be well, Qiao family. Thank you for allowing me to be a fly on your walls, for a season. I know you will make it through everything that life throws at you, because you’ve got one another. ❤️

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Solid, slice-of-life family goodness.

FINAL GRADE: B++

TRAILER:

MVs:

WHERE TO WATCH:

You can check out this show on Viki here.

GETTING AROUND GEO-RESTRICTIONS

If you’re geo-restricted, a VPN service would help you get around that. Not only does it provide online safety, it also gives you access to lots of great geo-restricted content.

I personally use NordVPN. You can find my review of NordVPN here.

You can use my affiliate link (here!) to enjoy up to 60% * off, with prices starting as low as US$3.29 per month.

* This used to say 73%, but because NordVPN’s changed the way it calculates the discount, it now says 60%. BUT, it’s the same great price, starting from US$3.29 a month!

An article on why it’s not illegal to use a VPN to access legal streaming content can be found here.

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of The Bond, is Uncle. I’ve taken an initial look, and the warm family feels that this one promises, seems right up my alley!

Here’s an overview of what I’m covering on Patreon right now (Tier benefits are cumulative)!

Foundation Tier (US$1): Happiness (bonus show!)

Early Access (US$5): +Our Beloved Summer

Early Access Plus (US$10): +The Red Sleeve

VIP (US$15): +Uncle

VVIP (US$20): +Bad And Crazy

Ultimate (US$25): +The King’s Affection

Ultimate (US$25): +Hellbound (bonus show!)

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

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Julianne
Julianne
1 month ago

Also another point of context for Aunt Qu is how closely “household registration” or “hukou” (which is inherited) matters in China. Like your “hometown” is an official governmental registration that is VERY difficult to change. This is heavily linked to treatment and distribution of stuff for special government programs. i.e., if the government wants to kick off any poverty relief programs (or prevent ppl from flooding major cities and migrating out of large pockets of rural areas) — it matters where you’re registered so they can account for population, rations, resources, differences in policy etc. And this isn’t like, “permanent residence” in the states/west where you just have to submit some forms/appointment to change. This is like, a very stubborn status that you’re tied to barring very specific circumstances. It’s like… a very strict census. It makes migration very difficult. This ties into things like, where can you permanently live and setup home. If you’re from the country and you end up doing well for yourself in like, Shanghai, you can’t just decide to take up permanent residence and have kids in Shanghai unless you basically marry into a local Shanghai family.

This ends up creating inevitable “caste-like” implications and connotations to “where you’re from”. It gives more social status for you and your family to be registered in the one of the major cities, for example (Shanghai, Beijing). This status is very difficult to change and the easiest route is through marriage.

For chinese dramas like here in The Bond, you have plot arcs regarding “marrying well” for all the reasons we generally think, but with the additional context of where you’re registered. For Aunt Qu, she’s registered in like, literally the countryside. So it’s like, an extra layer of importance to her to marry Dad because that’s the only way her children will be “officially registered” to a better province/town/region. It’s why she talks about not just bringing her kids over but “registering” them here, where the Qiao family lives. They not only get better opportunities, but also it literally ups their status, and in the future their kids are also officially better off, not just monetarily.

beez
1 month ago
Reply to  kfangurl

@julianne – ditto. Thanks so much!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
1 month ago
Reply to  Julianne

Thanks for this info Julianne!

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
4 months ago

Thanks for the post and for covering this on Patreon. I enjoyed this immensely over on Patreon as I looked forward to Mom’s comments. Her added insight made the whole drama more personal and special so please thank her!

I felt the relationships in the family is what made this so special. I really felt the love. Also, I did appreciate that Yicheng made his anger and frustration (with him) known to his father. I felt that he had that right, as he shouldered all the burdens for so many years. That felt completely real and organic to me. Bai Yu is such a good actor. Also, Liu Jun who played Feckless Father showed his great acting chops in this. He plays this type of role so well.

Great post Fangurl!

beez
4 months ago

@kfg – I had written my thoughts on Show and on how happy I was because I had waited impatiently for your review and it was finally here. But my phone ate everything I’d written when I opened a new tab to check the spelling of a word.😕 I’ve been having tons of problems with my phone in all aspects lately and a call to AT&T yesterday resulted in the rep telling me “it’s had two good years so…”

So just know that I loved your review – oh! And I mentioned how I loved hearing of your Mom’s context/connection…

Anyway – loved this show and its production value. It felt like a film unlike most of the other Chinese shows set in 20th-21st Century that I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to watch/enjoy.

Antonio
4 months ago

I’m watching it after reading about it here. It is truly poetic and emotional. The songs are really beautiful. Go Ahead also thrilled me a lot, but this is even better.

The thing I really can’t stop amazed at is the fact that such genuine and heartfelt works come from a dictatorial and murderous State. While the alleged leading democracy of the “free world” does nothing but endlessly repeat the usual useless nihilistic plots devoid of morality and understanding of the human soul.

Watching even just 5 minutes of the ridiculous sequel to Sex and the City is truly enlightening to understand what I’m talking about.

reaper
reaper
4 months ago

I agree with almost everything you said. Nice one!
Just The Bond is already quite a sad story to me and you adding your moms story made it even more sad….

beez
4 months ago
Reply to  reaper

@Antonio – Show doesn’t leave you depressed. I’m not saying it’s happily-ever-after-K-drama style, but it feels like watching a family’s life with its ups and downs and in the end, you’re left feeling satisfied. At least, I was.

beez
4 months ago
Reply to  beez

No idea why my comment landed here instead of under Antonio’s comment

pickleddragon
pickleddragon
4 months ago

Thanks for the review! I followed the early episodes of The Bond keenly, but didn’t enjoy it as much and dropped it quickly, without regret. I don’t think I could have sat through this! But I really appreciate the personal story you have described in this piece – it makes the story come alive in more ways than I could have imagined.

The show was certainly a poignant (and well-produced!) depiction of a time and era that is now gone. These are real lives that people led, not many decades ago, in different parts of the world (and in some places, may still be the case). That reminder always humbles me and places a lot of things in perspective.

As a show spanning a similar period, I thought “The Last Goodbye to Mama” did an exponentially better job, at least in sustaining my interest through. If you ever want to watch another saga story, I’d recommend this show!

JJ
JJ
4 months ago

Awwwww, I am sorry you didnt love The Bond as much as Shahz and I did. Sniffle. I am glad though it was a good experience for you. I loved following along on your episode notes on Patreon throughout the Show. I am so glad Mom shared so much information that you shared with us 🙂 Felt as if we were all bonding just that much more throughout the Show.

The Show ended too soon for me and would have loved more years with this Family. 🙂

Nati S
Nati S
4 months ago

“A solid watch, particularly if you enjoy everyday insights into Chinese culture and China’s modern history.”

🙋🙋🙋🙋🙋

manukajoe
manukajoe
4 months ago

I’m still trying to find a new Chinese show to like. I’ve got close. 暴风眼 seems solid although the language is quite technical and ugh organized crime. 变你的那一天 is cure but so tropey, and they wasted the female actress. I really want to watch the trashy 爱情公寓 but I can’t find eng subs for seasons 1 or 2. 司藤 is gorgeous I just the writing was better. 夜空中最闪亮的星 is not really my demographic. 里指派的生活 feels too fake.

beez
4 months ago
Reply to  manukajoe

– I wish I knew what you were saying about which shows.

manukajoe
manukajoe
4 months ago
Reply to  beez

暴风眼 (Storm Eye) seems solid although the police language is quite technical and ugh organized crime (I’m over it). 变你的那一天 (The Day of Becoming You) is cute but so tropey, and they wasted the female actress by making her act as a cold guy. I really want to watch the trashy 爱情公寓 (iPartment) but I can’t find English subtitles for seasons 1 or 2. 司藤 (Rattan) is gorgeous I just wish the writing was better. 夜空中最闪亮的星 (The Brightest Star in the Sky) is not really my demographic, too young. 里指派的生活 (The Rational Life ) feels too fake. Is that clearer?

Last edited 4 months ago by manukajoe
beez
4 months ago
Reply to  manukajoe

– Thanks so much! I’ve been branching out to Chinese drama recently and it’s always good to have options to check out. Thanks again.

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
4 months ago
Reply to  manukajoe

– I agree with you on Rattan.

manukajoe
manukajoe
4 months ago
Reply to  phl1rxd

Do you watch in Chinese? I’m never sure whether it is a translation problem or just bad writing..

phl1rxd
phl1rxd
4 months ago
Reply to  manukajoe

Hi Joe – I watched on Viki when it came out. My opinion was it was bad writing.