Many Chinese might mock attempts to extract political lessons from "Yanxi Palace" or other recent Qing dramas drawing huge audiences, such as "Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace".
Yet Chaguan quizzed visitors to a museum in the city of Changchun, housed in a palace built by Japanese occupiers when they installed the last Qing emperor as the puppet ruler of north-east China from 1932-45.
Such dramas just use history as a backdrop, scoffed two students, Taylor Wu and Linda Zhang.
They are really stories about "modern life", they added, whether that means love stories or concubines seeking promotions.
The students are on to something.
Watching bored, paranoid concubines waiting for the emperor's summons, the penny drops: this is a workplace drama, and these employees are failing a performance review.
Young maids in a palace dormitory, torn between small acts of kindness and infighting, could be teenage workers at an electronics plant.
Even bejewelled dowagers sound like scolding parents from 2018, with one calling a daughter "gutless" for failing to ask Qianlong for a promotion.
Imperial dramas have reflected the politics of their time since they first hit Chinese TV screens in the 1980s.
Film-makers study what Communist Party ideologues call the "main melody", a musical term they have borrowed to describe the core political ideas upon which creative sorts are encouraged to riff.
"TV Drama in China", a study published by the Hong Kong University Press, elegantly catalogues permitted themes.
Historical dramas from the 1980s stressed the weakness of the last Qing rulers.
In the authoritarian aftermath, such shows praised 18th-century emperors as stern patriots whose ruthlessness supposedly preserved national unity.
"Yongzheng Dynasty", a drama from 1999, recast the unpopular Yongzheng emperor as a flinty corruption-fighter.
That reminded contemporary viewers of Zhu Rongji, a crusty reformer who was prime minister at the time, Ying Zhu of the City University of New York has noted.
By 2007 viewers were glued to "The Great Ming Dynasty 1566", a cynical drama about rampant corruption.