In 2011, there were three crazy crazy crazy popular Qing dynasty dramas that aired in China, in this order:
Palace: The Lock Heart Jade
Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan (Empresses in the Palace)
My all-time favorite drama is actually Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan lol and its wayyyyyyy more serious and mature than the first two. It's storylines for love, friendship, and family seriously got ahold of my emotions (like I've seen the drama 5 times now since I first watched it when it aired and I read the book series that the drama was adapted from twice LOL).
Unfortunately, out of those three 2011 Qing dynasty dramas, I watched Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan first and absolutely LOVED it. And then I went to watch Scarlet Heart next and it fell very flat for me. The time-traveling storyline seemed absolutely absurd and all the guys liking her or having an interest in her was a bit strange haha (but I blame my outlook on this due to the seriousness of Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan). I personally find Cecilia Liu's acting quite mediocre (pls don't kill me if you love her my opinion is probably unpopular in the international community here on MDL) and the beginning of Scarlet Heart bored me. Perhaps if I'd had the patience to continue, I may have liked it more, but I couldn't stop comparing it to Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan (yikes). Same thing with Palace The Lock Heart Jade, I unconsciously compared it to Legend of Zhen Huan so that one fell flat to me too (even tho I love Yang Mi) :((
Compared to each other, I found Palace the Lock Heart Jade a lot more interesting and fast-paced. The main character throughout the drama seemed to at least be consistently trying to find a way to back to the future (I honestly only watched this drama for Yang Mi so I was basically skipping through it the entire time to only her parts LOL) .......which Ruo Xi in scarlet heart didn't seem to be doing........or maybe I didn't get far enough to see if she cared about going back to the future but at least at the beginning of both dramas, Qing Chuan in Palace was actively trying to go back, which seemed slightly more realistic lol. I think the absurdity of time traveling and the fact that the language and etiquette used in Scarlet Heart and Palace weren't as well maturely or properly portrayed/used as they were in LOCZH really threw me off for both dramas. But I'd say I liked Palace more since it kept my interest longer than Scarlet Heart did but I ended up dropping both :(( .....which suddenly reminds me that I should add them both to my dropped list LOL.
However, mainland China fans consider Scarlet Heart a romantic classic (and they also kinda consider the novel that it was adapted from as a modern classic too) so mainland China fans seem to like it a lot more than Palace as well. (plus there's the whole issue/drama with Palace being an early rip-off of Scarlet Heart lol but that's another super messy story). But Legend of Concubine Zhen Huan is more critically-acclaimed and well-known than both of them.
On a side note, I love the opening theme song that is sung by Yang Mi for Palace Lock Heart Jade and I love the ending theme song for Scarlet Heart!!
I finished Scarlet Heart and only watched a bit of Jade Palace. They were very similar, so I wanted to watch only one. I chose Scarlet Heart because it was more realistic and grounded. It also had a prettier production. Scarlet Heart is actually one my favorite Chinese dramas.
I watched both and loved both, but I am a die-hard fan of Scarlet Heart. It was the first one I watched and it has remained my favourite drama until today. Jade Palace Lock Heart is also a great drama, but I thougt that I should have watched it first because I went in with very high expectations from watching Scarlet Heart first :D
Honestly both of them are very good. Jade I believe is way more comedic compared to the ever so serious Scarlet Heart. I can’t really tell, however if this “best” thing is getting to you. Don’t think that way just watch both of them. Cause both of them are wonderful dramas. The fact that the stories have different approaches on them makes them different so connecting the two together and making a “best”. Is an impossible task so good luck and get some popcorn.