Synopsis and Review: The Promise of Chang An Chinese Drama (2020)

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

The Promise of Chang'an was aired three years ago. It was broadcast in the last quarter of 2020, right after the airing of Love and Redemption. Both dramas were directed by Yin Tao and top-billed by Cheng Yi.

But The Promise of Chang'an was filmed ahead of Love and Redemption (from September 2018 to January 2019) only that it was aired late. 

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

This is a difficult drama to watch if you abhor suffering, there are too many heartbreaks and too much despair experienced by the main characters, but if you love palace politics, you might appreciate this series. Plus, Cheng Yi has a solid performance in this drama.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Cheng Yi as Cheng Xu and Zhao Yingzi as Mingyu

This drama is said to be the remake of the 2003 classic series, Xiao Zhuang Epic, but while the latter was set in the beginning period of the Qing dynasty, The Promise of Chang'an was set in the fictional Sheng Kingdom, with additional characters and some changes on the script. 

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Cheng Yi as Cheng Xu/Duke Yan

Read our thoughts and review about this drama and see if you feel like watching it. 

The literal meaning of The Promise of Chang'an:

The word Chang'an in this drama is not about China's imperial capital city during ancient times. Chang'an in this drama means peace and prosperity as the Sheng Kingdom longed to establish peace in their territory.

In Classical Chinese, Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace".  It's the name of the ancient capital of China's ten dynasties including Tang and Sui. 

During the Ming Dynasty, the Chang'an name was changed to its present name Xi'an, meaning "Western Peace". Today, Xi'an is the capital city of Shaanxi province in Northwest China.

Plot Summary:

Set in the fictional Sheng Kingdom, The Promise of Chang'an centers on the Xiao imperial family, the conflicts of the emperor's sons to take the throne, and the desire of the kingdom to achieve stability and peace.  

It follows Xiao Cheng Xu (played by Cheng Yi), the 9th Prince who was later made Duke Yan. He was a smart aspiring military general doted by his father, Xiao Shan Yuan, the emperor of Sheng (played by Wang Jin Song). 

When his father was struck by a poisonous arrow during one of their war campaigns, they suspected the poison came from Xiqi kingdom, so Cheng Xu sneaked to Xiqi to obtain an antidote. He accidentally encountered Princess Mingyu (played by Zhao Yingzi), the granddaughter of the Yonglin king. 

Mingyu posed as her sister, Wanyin (Liu Mengmeng) to force Situn Kun (Huang Youming), the son of the Xiqi king, to cancel his engagement with Wanyin. Realizing they were bonded with the same purpose of securing what they wanted in the Xiqi kingdom, Chengxu and Mingyu decided to collaborate.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

Cheng Xu managed to bring the Xiqi physician back to Sheng to cure his father while Mingyu was able to secure the cancellation of the engagement from Situn Kun when she pretended she had a contagious disease. She presented the cancellation agreement to her grandfather back in Yonglin.

Meanwhile, Wanyin was saved by Cheng Rui, the third prince (Han Dong) when she stumbled upon the pit and she was brought back safely to Yonglin. Cheng Rui is married to Yunqi (Wu Jingjing), the cousin of Mingyu, Wanyin, and Keyong.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Cheng Yi as Chengxu and Zhao Yingzi as Mingyu

One day, Cheng Rui decided to visit Yonglin to see Yunqi's grandfather to form an alliance between Yonglin and Sheng. Upon hearing the word Yonglin, Cheng Xu, who was still thinking of Mingyu and their short encounter in Xiqi, insisted on tagging along.

In Yonglin, Cheng Xu and Mingyu met again and later established closeness. However, the Sheng emperor died from illness prompting Cheng Rui to rush back to Sheng. Cheng Xu was later informed but too late to see his father's alive.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Chengxuan played by Zhao Wenhao and Chengxu played by Cheng Yi

Despite the intervention of the Xiqi physician, Cheng Xu's father was not cured. Before he died, he told his favorite consort, Princess Mu (Wang Lin), the biological mother of Chengxu and Chengxuan, the 10th Prince (played by Zhao Wenhao), that his choice of an heir was their son, Chengxu.

However, this personal choice was not written into a royal edict and was only relayed by the dying emperor to his wife, thus, no documents could substantiate such a choice. When Princess Mu revealed the emperor's choice of successor to Cheng Rui he was hesitant to accept it.

The other sons of the emperor - Cheng Yao, the fourth prince (Fu Fangjun), and Cheng Tai, the 5th Prince (Li Ze) sternly refused to support their father's choice, arguing Cheng Xu was still young and might not be able to govern a volatile kingdom. 

While the 2nd Prince, Cheng Li, was in a dilemma who to support. He was persuaded by his brothers to support Cheng Rui instead of Cheng Xu.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

Eventually, the older princes conspired to force Princess Mu to commit suicide to hide the truth. They also urged her to make it appear it was Cheng Rui who was chosen by the emperor as his successor. Princess Mu, however, made Cheng Rui promise to protect her two sons. Cheng Xu and Cheng Xuan.

The circumstances of Princess Mu's suicide and the dying wish of their father were kept hidden from Cheng Xu and Cheng Xuan, but they vowed to discover the real reason behind their mother's death.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

Yunqi returned to Sheng bringing her cousin, Mingyu, while Wanyin was forced to return to Xiqi to marry Situ Kun. Later on, Cheng Rui was declared the new Sheng emperor. This started the doubts of Cheng Xu and Cheng Xuan that Cheng Rui might be behind the death of their mother. 

Around this time, Cheng Xu and Mingyu (who stayed in Sheng at the invitation of her cousin, Yunqi) became close and began to form a relationship without the knowledge of the royal brothers (except Cheng Xuan). They later made a pact to marry after Cheng Xu's military campaign.

Cheng Rui dispatched his brothers to the battlefield to defend the Sheng from invaders. However, in one of these military campaigns, Cheng Xu, who was already made Duke Yan by his brother, was wounded and went missing. Soon, the news of his death spread and reached the Sheng kingdom.

Cheng Xu's brother, the 10th Prince Cheng Xuan or Duke Yu, out of desperation, left his troops to search for his lost brother, he then returned to the palace to force the emperor to dispatch reinforcement to search Cheng Xu.

This act by Cheng Xuan was in direct defiance of his military oath to never leave his battalion without the permission of the emperor. He was court-martialed and imprisoned, awaiting the final verdict of the king. This became the sticking point of Mingyu's decision to marry the emperor.

While Cheng Xu was out on the battlefields, Cheng Rui was increasingly attracted to Mingyu and determined to make her his new concubine. But Mingyu turned him down, remaining loyal to Cheng Xu and the promise they made to marry each other when he returned from his military campaign. 

However, Yunqi advised Mingyu to never divulge her relationship with Cheng Xu to the emperor as it might agitate the emperor and release a death verdict to Cheng Xuan who was still waiting for the final decision of the emperor in prison.

As there was still no news of Cheng Xu's whereabouts and whether he was still alive, Mingyu's sympathy turned to Cheng Xu's beloved brother, Cheng Xuan.

Yunqi persuaded Mingyu to marry the emperor in the name of Yonglin and Sheng's political alliance and to save the life of Cheng Xuan. However, before the marriage could take place, news reached the palace that Cheng Xu was alive!

Cheng Xu was saved by his comrades and they hid somewhere to cover their tracks from their enemies. Cheng Xu was brought back to the Sheng kingdom and recuperated at Cheng Xuan's manor, Duke Yu's mansion.

He was eager to see Mingyu as he felt she had worried too much regarding his situation. But Cheng Xuan could not break the news of her impending marriage to his brother afraid it would worsen the situation of Cheng Xu's sensitive health condition.

Meanwhile, Mingyu, who was already wearing a wedding dress, heard that Cheng Xu was already at Duke Yu's mansion. She wanted to call off the wedding but she was sternly reminded by Yunqi of the consequences if the emperor discovered her relationship with Cheng Xu. 

Against her will, she married the emperor. Cheng Xu was devastated upon hearing that his beloved Mingyu married his brother. He attended the tea ceremony and saw Mingyu for the first time as a married woman. It was heart-wrenching to watch Cheng Xu struggle in pain.

Later, Cheng Xu was urged by everyone in the palace, including Mingyu, to marry Princess Su Yuying (Huang Yi), which made Cheng Xu relented, but his heart remained on Mingyu and still harbored some hopes that they could be together in the future.

After the defeat of Xiqi, Wanyin was able to return to Yonglin and traveled to Sheng to visit her sister and cousin. She later caught the attention of the emperor and became his new concubine. 

Due to Mingyu's cold heart towards the emperor, he "punished" her by making Wanyin his Noble Consort, demoting Mingyu to the fourth rank in the Harem system of Sheng.

Cheng Xu and Cheng Xuan later discovered the truth behind their mother's death and vowed to kill Cheng Rui and usurp the throne, which Cheng Xu believed rightfully belonged to him.

However, before they could exact revenge, Cheng Rui died from his previous illness. Before his death, the emperor wrote a royal edict, appointing his young son with Mingyu, Xiao Qiyuan (Zhao Dongze in adult), to be the next emperor. 

The accession to the throne of the young emperor, Qiyuan

Once again, Cheng Xu felt cheated but accepted the role of Prince Regent to guide his nephew. He saw a light of hope to usurp the throne as his young nephew was under his tutelage. 

However, due to his continued obsession with Mingyu, he stalled his plan to launch a rebellion so as not to hurt her. Instead, he became his nephew's dedicated minister and the backbone of the kingdom. Mingyu and Yunqi jointly acted as Dowager empresses. 

OKAY, enough of this long plot summary, and let's proceed with the review.

Our Review

The Promise of Chang'an has 56 episodes, quite long for a story that revolves around the struggle of Cheng Xu to win back his lost love and the throne, so there are some episodes that are quite draggy with a story that just keeps on repeating without any progress, which tends to annoy the viewers.

To be honest, this drama is not for the faintest heart. Or for people who abhor suffering and a tragic ending. The storyline is quite heartbreaking and not made for drama viewers who are looking for candies between leads. 


I'll start with positive points. 

The Promise of Chang'an has vibrant aesthetics. I love the blending of colors of the costumes and the production design to come up with a visually captivating scene in each episode. I also love the styling of the characters and the beautiful scenery.

I also love how the story builds tension in the palace politics arc and the wars. The fight scenes are well-choreographed and the film editing is quite good. The art direction is fantastic.

I also love the rich dialogue between characters in most scenes. They are absorbing, full of wits and wisdom, lively, and thought-provoking especially the throwing of lines between Cheng Yi and Han Dong. 

Mingyu and Yunqi

Yunqi is one character I admire in this drama, unlike most empresses in Asian Dramas, Yunqi is not manipulative, scheming, power-hungry, or cruel. 

She tries to hold the turf of the kingdom by acting as a balancing power, treating all the royal brothers with kindness. 

She also acted as a good emissary between the emperor and Cheng Xu. She has not overstepped with her role and is not antagonistic to other concubines.  In other words, Yunqi becomes the unifying symbol of the Great Sheng Kingdom.

Cheng Yi has a solid performance in this drama. He perfectly delivered the goods as Cheng Xu/Duke Yan. You can see the authenticity of his acting in his eyes. 

He executed his role as a man deprived of his own happiness, very well. When Cheng Yi cries, it feels like the whole world is crushing beneath because you can easily feel what his character is going through. 

Cheng Xu is the most tormented character in this drama. Everything has been taken away from him in the most devastating way. His mother. The throne. His love. His dreams. His personal happiness. And later, his beloved brother, Cheng Xuan. Everything. Without any consolation. 

What is still left in the world for him that seems lost all its bearing? But Cheng Xu continues to exist, to work hard for the glory of his country. To give the Sheng Kingdom the peace and prosperity they desired. 

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Cheng Yi as Cheng Xuan


But this drama has so many negative points. I will particularly single out Zhao Yingzi (the one who played Mingyu). She seems like a robot from start to finish. Just crying and pulling a stoic facial expression which is kinda hard to root for her character. 

She could not just deliver a solid performance. Her dreary facial expression exasperated me. She could not just pull the right emotion required for a particular scene which made me feel irritated in all her scenes.

Her face was void of any human emotions. I detested her mediocre acting. It was annoying to watch her act like a ghost, just standing there and projecting a dead-stone facial expression.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Zhao Yingzi looked like Cheng Yi's aunt in this drama instead of a lover

In the story, Mingyu is described as a powerful lady, strong, and charming. But Zhao Jingzi was the exact opposite of those descriptions. She's weak, she's pathetic, she lacks energy, and she looks like Cheng Xu's aunt rather than a lover. I virtually have zero sympathy for this character.

It could have been better if the production fielded a different actress who could really act and who could match the youthful appeal of Cheng Yi. He and Zhao Yingzi really don't have a CP vibe whatsoever so I am less sympathetic with their tragic romance.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Zhao Yingzi and Cheng Yi

The Promise of Chang'an has no solid story development. After episode 20, it feels like the characters have nowhere to go other than just rehashing the old tone of the story without any progress. 

The story just keeps on revolving around the rivalry of the emperor's concubines, Mingyu's talent to annoy the emperor (which made him realize someone in the kingdom owns her heart), the plans of Cheng Xu to usurp the throne and kill the emperor, and his obsession to win back Mingyu and be together, which for me is senseless.

Although Cheng Xu suffered a lot in the story and could not get what he wanted. I am irritated with how this character was written. 

He seemed too preoccupied with his obsession with Mingyu, his longing to revive their romance, and his plan to usurp the throne. 

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Huang Yi as Su Yuying

He refused to let go and move on and have a life of his own. This character is just stuck in this rotation without any inspiring development. He was too obsessed with reviving the past without thinking of the consequences.

So Cheng Xu's character has limited space to move forward. He lacks the energy to revitalize his promising life because he is trapped in the past.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Chengxu and Yuying

I am annoyed with how he disrespected his wife, Yuying, and how he crushed her emotionally by openly declaring his love for Mingyu. It's just cruel. Although Yuying is childish and selfish at times, she does not deserve to be treated as a doormat. 

So Cheng Xu is just stuck in his own world without any character development at all. I feel that his character was not consistently written because he was introduced as a smart guy who was full of life, and ready to conquer the world with his charisma, wit, and skills.

But as the episodes progressed, Cheng Xu sounded like an emotionally weak, pathetic prince, who could not just move on from his past, a hero on the battlefield but became an immature boy obsessing about a woman whose priority was no longer him, and even continued to push him away. 

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Wedding scene of Chengxu and Yuying
The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Wedding scene of Chengxu and Yuying

He had the opportunity to be happy and enjoy his married life with the woman who loved him wholeheartedly, but instead, he was throwing his life away because he refused to let go and move on from his past.  

Was Mingyu worth all his sacrifices? No. I don't think so. Cheng Xu just destroyed his life for nothing, wasting his energy and time on the love that was not meant to happen while neglecting the true love given by his wife. It sounded like this famous quote: "He lost the diamond because he was too busy picking stones".

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Zhao Yingzi as Mingyu and Cheng Yi as Chengxu

This drama could have ended in episode 50 when Cheng Xu died instead of dragging it to 56 episodes. The remaining six episodes are already pointless, without any coherent purpose as to why the story needs to be extended.

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Yang Chao Yue, Zhao Dongze, and Aaron Xue

The last six episodes are just weird as they totally diverted the script to a different genre, like an idol series. They just focus on the new emperor's (Qiyuan) love life without any real palace politics anymore. As if these episodes are just fillers to reach the finale.

They are just mundane things about youth romances and Qiyuan's stubborn choice of a wife, creating tension with his half-brother, Qirong (Aaron Xue) because they both love the same woman, Dong Ruoxuan (Yang Chao Yue). 

The Promise of Chang'an drama review
Yang Chao Yue as Dong Ruoxuan 

Overall, The Promise of Chang'an's story development is a contradiction in itself, full of inconsistencies. This drama is not emotionally rewarding because the main characters are poorly written and most of them never get the justice they deserve. 

The only thing that held my interest in watching this drama was Cheng Yi's remarkable acting. If not for his strong performance and awesome visuals, I would have dropped this drama around episode 15. He ultimately carried this drama on his shoulder.

But hopefully, Cheng Yi would no longer portray this type of role because it's emotionally draining haha!

The Promise of Chang'an drama review

So, if you are a fan of Cheng Yi and you like palace politics, try watching this drama, This is available for streaming (all 56 episodes are free to watch even to nonsubscribers) on Tencent/WeTV. You might have a different perspective than mine when you start watching it.

One of the scriptwriters of this drama is Liu Fang, the same scriptwriter of Mysterious Lotus Casebook. At least she redeemed herself in Lotus Casebook. She wrote Li Liahua's character as someone who did not live in regrets, someone who was not stuck in his past, someone who decided to let go of his past love and move on and start his life anew. Very opposite to Cheng Xu!

Related Blogs:

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Review: Mysterious Lotus Casebook

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