It is rare to see a reality show without the host repeating its sponsors’ names and A-list actors not being at center stage. But on this show, the main characters are 27 historical relics on display at nine major Chinese museums, including the world-renowned Forbidden City Palace Museum, which will celebrate its 600th anniversary in 2020.

Vow of the Guardians

This is CCTV’s latest reality show, National Treasure, which has been a dark horse ever since it aired on December 3. In each episode, one of the curators of these public museums, or “gatekeepers” of the priceless relics as they call themselves, introduces three of the most important objects in their vaults. Next, three famous and skilled actors act out the historical stories behind each relic, and vow to be its “guardians” along with archaeologists, restorers, museum volunteers, and anyone invited to share their contemporary experiences with the relics.

Curators on the show

Actors on Episode 2

We have long been educated about China’s “5,000 years of history,” but this might be the first time that many Chinese people have had the chance to take a closer look at these relics, and to hear the background stories explained by professionals. One viewer commented on Weibo:

Each of the three items from Hubei Museum absolutely are treasures among national treasures. They are all in the color-printed pictures on the first pages in our history books.

Through the show, viewers also get the chance to know a detailed, even vivid history of some little-known artifacts. More Weibo comments:

’Wish that thousands of years later, songs of the Yue still last; Then I’ll be waiting and hoping to see you again.’ Seeing the tears in Duan Yihong’s eyes, I bawled.

I cried from the start to finish of the show.

Even Qianlong, the emperor during the most powerful period of the Qing Dynasty, who was obsessed with collecting the best relics and sealed his own name on all of them, became a hot topic when Wang Kai acted out the story of how he created an “unrefined” vase using 19 different production methods:

“I will make a vase that includes all the best in history.” – Qian Long

“What vase. Come and see how you ruined my best work. Count how many seals of yours are on them. And you even wrote on it.” – Wang Xizhi (303/321~361/379), one of the best calligraphers in China’s history

On Weibo, an account named “Qianlong” after the emperor left a comment on National Treasure’s posts, and now has more than 120,000 followers.

“Everyone support (the vase) please. Thanks.”

There’s a National Treasure-themed filter that you can find on Meitu, one of the most popular photo editing apps in China, that allows you to become an ancient beauty with Thousands Miles of Mountains and Rivers, painted by Wang Ximeng in 1113, as your background.

CCTV opened an official account on Bilibili, a video sharing website immensely popular among the post-’90s generation, which has attracted 400,000 fans and been flooded with bullet comments throughout the three episodes that have aired so far. National Treasure’s success is proven by one fan’s comment on Bilibili:

Could Dad CCTV [note: netizens call the founder of Alibaba “Dad Jack Ma”] produce more shows like this, covering all different areas? We need them…. Now I can barely watch a show that makes me cry. We youth need more cultural and professional things to guide us and enrich ourselves.

Cover image: CCTV Weibo