Thoughts August 23, 2018

Differences Between Yanxi and Ruyi

China has a long and rich history that is often the backdrop for numerous popular period dramas. Although often romanticized and exaggerated to keep viewers interested, these dramas provide a glimpse of life in ancient China. In 2004, Hong Kong’s palace scheming drama War and Beauty became an international hit, sparking a revolution on TV. More and more dramas emerged with the theme of palace schemes — Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is no exception.

Photo © New Classics Media

What are palace schemes?

In ancient China, emperors had multiple wives/consorts. That custom stayed true for many dynasties. Consorts would often use tactics to gain the emperor’s love and favor. As sons were favored over daughters in order to carry on each family’s lineage, bearing a son supported a consort’s fate to live a good life in the palace. If you had a son, he could have the chance to become the next emperor. Jealousy, greed and emotions ran high during these times. As depicted in dramas, such scheming often resulted in horrific tragedies.

Then, there is the male side of the story. Men’s scheming usually involves rank and politics. Who wouldn’t want to rule China? Because of the sheer amount of wives each emperor had, it was no surprise to have many sons. The war for the throne was very common. Exaggerated much? Not quite… There are historic records to prove it. Besides the throne, there are also court politics between court officials.

Of course, not everyone can be royalty. In the palace, there are many servants from guards and eunuchs to maids. Working with royalty was a matter of life or death. As their masters’ moods could change on a whim, their lives could easily go along with it. As depicted in dramas, servants were easy scapegoats for their masters. If you accidentally got caught up in someone’s scheme, goodbye to you. Exaggeration? It could be; it’s best to take it with a grain of salt.

Why are Story of Yanxi Palace and Ruyi so popular?

Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace (如懿傳) is the sequel to the hit palace drama Empresses in the Palace (後宮·甄嬛傳) which was a touching tale of love and betrayal between Zhen Huan and Emperor Yongzheng based on a novel. Ruyi continues from that and focuses on Yongzheng’s son, Emperor Qianlong and one of his wives, the Step-Empress Ulanara. However, it was delayed for two years due to a broadcasting controversy. As a result, a similar drama Story of Yanxi (延禧攻略) from the famed producer Yu Zheng broadcasted first. Also based on a novel, Yanxi is focused on the relationship between Consort Ling and Emperor Qianlong. The female lead character, Wei Yingluo, was a breath of fresh air for viewers of palace dramas. Usually the female lead is a damsel in distress, always getting bullied before she stands up for herself and rise up the ranks. However in Yanxi, Yingluo’s blunt and honest don’t-mess-with-me attitude was very fun to watch. She was able to counter other people’s schemes as well as scheme up something amazing herself!

Since the two stories are based on the same historical setting, the same historical figures appear. While the pivotal moments of each character was recorded in history, the private daily affairs were not which allows both authors creative freedom on character personality and plot.

Yanxi was an unexpected hit triggering many people to binge-watch. This week being the final week of broadcasting the drama, many fans are starting to take notice of Ruyi which was finally greenlit for broadcast. The 88-episode drama just started this week and already fans are drawing some interesting comparisons.

Differences in personality

The major differences are the different character personalities. Here are the important ones that I’ve noticed. Ruyi characters are on the left while Yanxi characters are on the right. Being mostly based on historic records, the fates of each character are already noted on Wikipedia. However I have masked those as possible spoilers below for your consideration.

Ulanara Ruyi (left) from Ruyi and Hoifanara Shushen (right) from Yanxi

Ulanara Ruyi (Consort Xian) / Hoifanara Shushen (Consort Xian)

The protagonist in Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace is Ulanara Ruyi (left). She was one of Qianlong’s secondary wives and had a loving relationship with her husband. After Qianlong took the throne, she became Consort Xian.

Spoiler alert! Click and read at your own risk.

She put up a strong front and rose to eventually become the Empress.

Hoifanara Shushen (right) was one of the antagonists in Story of Yanxi Palace. She avoided forming liaisons with other consorts and steered clear of schemes. Unfortunate circumstances forced her to take control of her life.

Spoiler alert! Click and read at your own risk.

She eventually became the Empress and exacted revenge on others without dirtying her hands using cruel and underhanded tactics.

Wei Yanwan (left) from Ruyi and Wei Yingluo (right) from Yanxi

Wei Yanwan (Consort Ling) / Wei Yingluo (Consort Ling)

While not exactly a main character, Wei Yanwan in Ruyi (left) was one of the antagonists. She was reduced to a palace maid due to her father’s treason but eventually became Consort Ling. She was responsible for many deaths within the palace.

Wei Yingluo (right) was the bold and just protagonist in Yanxi who stood up for others and talked bluntly. She entered the palace as a seamstress to get revenge for her sister’s mysterious death. The Empress took a liking for her personality and she became her loyal maid.

Spoiler alert! Click and read at your own risk.

Through various circumstances, she deemed it was necessary to return to the palace to help her friend as well as get revenge for the Empress’s death. She became Consort Ling and earned Qianlong’s affection.

Fuca Langhua (left) from Ruyi and Fuca Rongyin (right) from Yanxi

Fuca Langhua (Empress Fuca) / Fuca Rongyin (Empress Fuca)

Fuca Langhua in Ruyi (left) was the elegant Empress. Beneath her refined demeanor, she often collaborated with Noble Consort Huixian to scheme against and frame Ruyi. However, she was oblivious to the fact that Jin Yuyan was using her as a chess piece.

Fuca Rongyin in Yanxi (right) was the beloved main wife of Qianlong before he became Emperor. After taking the throne, she became the kind and elegant Empress. She strived to treat everyone with fairness and respect. Scheming was out of the question for her.

Keliyete Hailan (left) from Ruyi and Keliyete Ayan (right) from Yanxi

Keliyete Hailan (Consort Yu) / Keliyete Ayan (Consort Yu)

Originally a seamstress, Keliyete Hailan in Ruyi (left) was a timid girl who rose through the ranks with the help of close friend, Ruyi. She was often victimized for her weakness as well as her close relationship with Ruyi by Noble Consort Huixian and Jin Yuyan. She bore Qianlong’s favorite son, Yongqi, the 5th Prince.

Keliyete Ayan in Yanxi was also timid and often bullied by Noble Consort Gao and Concubine Jia. She also bore Qianlong’s son, the 5th Prince Yongqi. With the help of Yingluo, both mother and son survived through Noble Consort Gao’s schemes.

Gao Xiyue (left) from Ruyi and Gao Ningxin (right) from Yanxi

Gao Xiyue (Noble Consort Huixian) / Gao Ningxin (Noble Consort Gao)

Gao Xiyue in Ruyi was Noble Consort Huixian who would often plot against Ruyi under Empress Fuca’s orders. Just by her way of dress you could tell she’s very full of herself. She exhibits a spoiled princess attitude.

Before entering the palace, Gao Ningxin in Yanxi was a performer skilled in the traditional Chinese opera, xiqu. He caught the eye of the Emperor and became Noble Consort Gao. She was the first antagonist who would scheme against any consort who stood in her way. She victimized Consort Yu and her son as well as Empress Fuca. From her attitude and way of dress, it was obvious she was above all other consorts.

A few more that are sort of similar

What’s with the consorts and concubines?

In the Chinese inner court of women, each has her personal name which is usually not used in the palace. Instead, the Emperor appoints each wife with a unique title followed by rank. The higher the rank, the more well-off and/or favored by the Emperor you were. If you noticed, the personal names listed above are different between drama series. This is due to their personal names not being written down in history, therefore the authors took creative liberty. If that’s the case, why are some of the titles different, too? This is probably due to China’s censorship bureau requiring it be changed — they probably didn’t want the actual historical figures being affected negatively by the story’s inaccurate portrayal.

So long story short, is this real history?

Most dramas nowadays are usually works of fiction and loosely based on real figures or events unless otherwise stated and such is the case for Ruyi and Yanxi. Due to incomplete historical records, these stories are just the creators’ takes as entertainment for the masses and exaggeration is a given. As with all palace dramas, I believe the message is for us all to always treat each other with respect; scheming and infighting is not good for anybody and it will take its tow causing everyone much unhappiness.

English subs available

Did I pique your interest yet? While it’s no action drama, the relationships, tactics as well as history is rich in these dramas. Who knows, you might like it? Unlike Yanxi, Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace has been licensed by Rakuten Viki so English subtitles are available! You can read my review for it here.

This article is purely of my own thoughts and opinions. Your opinions may differ. Any offense caused by my rants and ramblings is unintentional. Thank you for understanding.


  1. heisui says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s refreshing to see a post positively talking about Yanxi & Ruyi instead of pitting the two dramas against each other. I appreciate the two dramas’ differences in interpretation and presentation.

    1. Billy W. says:

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Yes! The internet is full of arguments between Yanxi and Ruyi fans. I think I got used to Yanxi’s presentation so when I saw Ruyi’s, it took some getting used to. Also, is it just me or does Ruyi’s look and pace slightly different than Zhen Huan’s?

  2. Paul says:

    Thanks for this write up. My wife is currently watching Yanxi, but I’ve not jumped onboard yet. It’s good to know that Ruyi is running with subs on DramaFever.

    1. Billy W. says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I hope I didn’t spoil much for you. It is pretty fascinating to note the differences. It’s too bad Ruyi just started so I cannot reveal anything more about the characters than what is already shown.

  3. C T says:

    Watched both Yanxi and Ruyi. Yanxi is entertaining but something is “missing”. Substance perhaps.

    Ruyi may be boring in the beginning. However it is very well defined and left us with food for thoughts :

    1. Psychological egoism and sceptical of the Emperor leave room for villain ( concubine Ling) evil acts against Empress Ruyi. The Emperor paid a high price of losing someone truthful.

    1. Billy W. says:

      You are exactly right! I just finished watching Ruyi and may be providing an review soon. Yanxi was entertaining but Ruyi was rich and in-depth in terms of character development. I came across a metaphor on a forum that said Yanxi was the fast food versus Ruyi which was fine dining.

      1. Chxion says:

        Yanxi had more quality to the props and costume while Ruyi’s props and costumes are cheap quality. Even though the actors and actresses were less known in Yanxi, the drama preserved Chinese culture. On the other hand, Ruyi is just another drama. CGI? Oh c’mon get real!

        1. Yanxi and Ruyi says:

          Eww! If you don’t know anything at all, then don’t comment, very embarrassing hia ya.

  4. Cynthia Leigh McLendon says:

    I have already watched Ruyi and am up to about episode 30 of Yanxi. I love both, but I like Ruyi the better. The actress who played Ruyi was amazing (love her voice). I do like Yingluo resourcefulness. It is great to see a Chinese heroine like that.

    1. Billy W. says:

      I’m glad you are enjoying both dramas! I liked both too — can’t really say which one is better for me since they’re both so different. I loved Yingluo’s sense of not giving a crap and just doing whatever she pleased (even though it went against palace protocol and wasn’t very realistic). I loved Ruyi’s realistic portrayal of characters and relationships.

      I actually think watching Yanxi after Ruyi is better because Yanxi is faster paced and seeing the evil characters get what they deserved so soon is always exciting.

  5. Arantza says:

    I personally like ruyi more because of the storyline it was very rich and I think I might be the only one but I do prefer the props of ruyi because to me it seemed had more detail I like the headpieces for me the aesthetic that I like the most is ruyi and especially the nail guards

    1. Billy W. says:

      I agree, I like Ruyi more due to the richness and depth of the story. Yanxi was enjoyable as a casual watch. As for the props and costumes, both series did well in that department.

  6. Violenta says:

    Spent my weekend to watching ruyi and so addicted especially with the actress who play ruyi & hailan amazing

    1. Billy W. says:

      They’re my favorite characters! Also very talented actors.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Are you saying that Wei Ling Yuo in Yanxi Palace and Consort Ling in Ruyi are portraying the same person ?

    1. Billy W. says:

      Yes, those 2 characters are based on the same historical figure. But history is limited so we will never know what she was really like as a person.

  8. Leona says:

    I watched Yanxi Palace first, and only 1st ep, I was hooked and love it so much. I love how smart Wei Yingluo is and like how story move in very fast pace. Once I heard about Ruyi, I gave it a try. The first few eps were so boring and literally forcing myself to keep watching it. Now I am at ep. 16, and I still do not find it that good. It is just another palace series with lots of schemes from ladies. Kinda disappointed. I Love Wei Yinglou because her wit that she took all matters with her own hands, and she did it quick not draging.

    1. Billy W. says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Yes I agree, I like that part about Yanxi and Yingluo being fast-acting and giving the villains what they deserve. It’s very satisfying to watch after a long day of work hahaha.

    2. Jedi says:

      Ruyi’s royal love or whatever they call is not a proper potrayal of the figures in history. Think carefully? How a maid can rise to run the Harem without any virtue and wisdom. In order to frame a better personality for Ruyi, the show is demoralising Ling. Have some sense

      1. Billy W. says:

        You are definitely correct. As with all dramas, it is a work of fiction loosely based on the actual historical figures and explores what “could have” happened for our entertainment value.

      2. Someone says:

        I mean, Yangxi isn’t accurate either, why are you being an hypocrite ??? How would a low class maid Without any noble background would be able to fight against all these schemes in the palace, while keeping the emperor’ trust? Think carefully yourself.
        How many others have a bad personality in Yangxi in order to make Yingluo look good and just?? Like?

  9. Euni says:

    I’m just starting to watch Yanxi Palace. I’ve watched Ruyi’s Love and I go back to watch all the good parts where all of them concubines get their comeuppance. Especially Jia, Gao, Ling, and the Empress Fuca. The one thing that I could not get was how much of an idiot the emperor was. It was like just wave that p&*%# in front of him and he didn’t care–he made them his concubine. Ling was the worst one. She killed so many that I’m surprised he let her live so long. Every time I watched all I wanted to do was hope that someone would poison his tea and just put everyone out of their misery. Poor Ruyi. She went out on her own terms and that idiot husband of hers should have hung himself. I really disliked him. He was so gullible for being an emperor I don’t know how he got the job.

  10. Imperial Consort of Dreams says:

    If people want historical accuracy, they shouldn’t watch dramas. Go watch a documentary instead.

    Ruyi was better for me because the characters felt more real and rich. Yanxi characters felt more like caricatures, like here’s the Mary Sue, here’s the villainess, etc. Plus the writers of Ruyi tapped into the better mystery of “Why did Ula-Nara fall?” than “Why did Consort Ling rise?” in Yanxi. I enjoyed watching both but my vote goes to Ruyi.

  11. Someone. says:

    Ruyi’s Royal love in the palace is such a good drama, the costumes are amazing, the actors, everything. The story itself is very good, it’s realistic, it’s calm and reposed. Obviously some people would find it boring if they’re used to watch these overly romantic, overly dramatic, overly colorfull , and odly optimistic shows. ( I have nothing against a good light hearted drama, but you can’t compare it to Ruyi.)
    If you are a person who knows how to appreciate a good story with a deep ending, Ruyi is for you.

  12. Emperor says:

    It is quite an issue for me.. Watching Ruyi first and Yanxi after, left me with impression that to make any difference at all between the two was to exchange good and evil character between the two main figures was all that was needed.. However I refuse to accept consort Xian from Yanxi as woman with such ruthless personality and being able to stoop so low to use the dirtiest schemes and calculations. On the other hand I was naturally happy to see Wei Ying Luo to become so powerful after being wronged and being able to avenge her beloved empress and Mingyu. Over all it was a lil´ better to watch Ruyi as she didn´t have to use any schemes and if she was forced by dowager empress or emperor himself to carry out anything potentially harmful for anyone else she´d make it so that the person would actually become aware (and yes the only instance is the Han tribe Xian Jiang) and could make a choice should he/she accept to have carried out. Legend of Ruyi wasn´t entirely focused on one character and allowed a wider variety of side stories like the one between emperor and Dowager empress, portraying them as mother and son who have very little time for themselves as a family. It felt more natural, even the interactions between dowager and Ruyi. I believe that it is what allowed for this series to become more successful. And also the gore of punishment scenes was WAY more vivid and richer as it showed more than just dragging the criminal away.. We actually had an insight into torment chambers, Cold palace and even “onsight poison medicine” sentence. As for other characters I feel that consort Jia was particularly “entertaining” and I felt VEEERY close to consort Yu. As for emperor himself, the greatest flaw in Ruyi was his suspiciousness combined with selfish nature and pride that ruined his marriage with the only person who truly loved him and was absolutely loyal. Compared to him, the Yanxi version emperor was capricious, demanding but loving and even mischievous (albeit the fact that I perceived him pretty stubborn, he was Just and strict (rare qualities if combined and righly balanced) ). His relationship with imperial consort Ling felt funny and a bit naughty, what ultimately was what gave it the righ dynamics for me. I suppose I took from both the better part and I felt pretty big satisfaction upon punishment of the wicked.

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