Kmuse’s Musings: The Sword and The Brocade Bringing Back Harem Politics in the Best of Ways

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while know that I am a huge fan of politicking Chinese dramas. And there is a specific sub-genre that is almost exclusive to Mainland China. Yes, I am talking about the Harem political trope. Join me as I share why I think that the current airing drama The Sword and The Brocade is one of the best of this sub-genre ever.

For those of you that are new to this genre, you might be wondering what i am talking about. What is a harem drama? In short, it is a drama that focuses on the many women connected in marriage or by being a concubine to powerful elite lords/princes/emperors. Pretty much it is a bunch of women scheming and screwing each other over, which is not to everyone’s taste. I just can’t get enough of them. That said, there are good and bad, just like every other type of trope. So why is The Sword and The Brocade such a good example of a harem drama?

Often harem dramas only focus on one or two of the women. There is the sweet heroine who deserves the love of the prince, or in this case, marquise. The opposite type of character is another woman who is evil and willing to kill any other woman or child that gets in the way of her quest for power. Now, you might be thinking that this sounds horrible, and why would two women go against each other like that? But if it was two men, it pretty much describes 90% of all political historical dramas, so it is not that far-fetched. Just our lead’s do it in dresses and elaborate headdresses.

What is different about The Sword and The Brocade is the slow relationship-building the story is giving us. Not just the relationship between the leads and the antagonist concubine but between the women and their mothers, their servants, their in-laws, even with secondary concubines. There is so much relationship building going on, on top of all the harem politicking, that there is barely any time for the leads to fall in love.

What? The relationship between the leads is not the focus (at least at first)? Now, this might sound like a bad thing, but I swear it isn’t. There is love happening; it is just a very slow burn romance…very, very slow. But this gives us all the more time to appreciate their burgeoning relationship. It is definitely a case of good things coming to those that wait. Or, at least, to those who are willing to commit hours to a slow-developing story arc.

While we are very slowly waiting for our OTP to discover that they are meant for each other, we watch as our female lead grows and develops. Shi Yi Niang starts the story as a young daughter being forced into marriage. After some tragic events, she emerges into a strong woman who must grow into the unexpected life she finds herself in. Add in a side of sleuthing into her personality, and you have a pretty kick-ass heroine.

So far, i have gotten 23 episodes in, and I love every single minute of it. Well, maybe not the stupid politics involving the leading man. Not even Wallace Chung can make sea trade bans interesting. Luckily that is only maybe 5% of the show, so I can pretend that that story arc doesn’t exist.

So, do you think you want to give this drama a try? Let me know in the comments.

Until our next drama adventure,


Dramas With a Side of Kimchi

7 thoughts on “Kmuse’s Musings: The Sword and The Brocade Bringing Back Harem Politics in the Best of Ways

  1. I completely agree with you and have to roll my eyes at all the comments of the people who are so annoyed that the relationship is a slow burn. I for one love that they are dealing with the concubines and making it so he does not have to be forced into relations with them again BEFORE they get serious and am hoping that they are finally at the place where they can kick it up a notch. This so reminds me of Story of Minglan which I also almost dropped in the beginning since I could not understand how they could make a love story between the main leads when there were already mistresses and children but love how they handled it and by the end it had become one of my favorite C-dramas and hoping this one will also finish strong.

  2. I usually steer clear of harem politics dramas but wandered into this one because I have been so impressed with Seven Tan’s portrayals of different characters. I agree with you I actually like the slow burn in this, because it fits perfectly with the ML and FL’s characters. The Marquis is not someone who would rush into relationships, with the heavy weight of his family’s expectations on his weary shoulders he has never even learnt to love, so rushing into a cutesy cohabitation relationship would just not fit here. ShiYiNiang has grown up the “daughter of a concubine” which carries its own burdens in the society at the time, and she went into the household knowing she was sent there with a purpose. Watching the two of them fall slowly in love unexpectedly (because in those days and circumstances love is the lowest of their priorities) is a real treat. Plus I am really happy that Seven has the gravitas to portray the strong person that ShiYiNiang is developing into as well as the charm to portray the innocence and joy in SYN’s love story. I am up to episode 36 and gasp, I have not dropped it yet so fingers crossed for a strong finish!

  3. Watched because of Seven Tan. She is my favorite Mainland China actress. This is a great drama. I think of S And B as a a novel, so the slow burn doesn’t bother me at all. We get to enjoy how and why the two leads learn about each other as they fall in love. Not a bad thing.

    The intrigue and power plays between the women is fascinating. I would highly recommend this drama.

  4. Loved reading your blog! I’m only on episode 16, but I’ve already started stalking the internet because I cannot get enough of this drama. Did not realize harem drama was a thing! Looking forward to the fall of the mean girls And I like the slow burn, it is more realistic and makes the romance so much more emotional and swoony for me.

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