Growing up, I was more into mythology than Wuxia, and I admit that I have never read any Wuxia books or watched Wuxia shows from start to end. I missed that window in my developmental phase, and now to me, Wuxia stands for something that perpetuates a lot of the stereotypes about Chinese culture which I don’t necessarily identify with.
It presents to the world, and to Chinese unfamiliar with Chinese history, a world of Chinese fantasies where women were expected to be perfectly beautiful, or awfully vicious; where men were expected to be spectacularly heroic, or hatefully conniving; and they all let their hair loose in life or even during swordfights in a very Taoist-aspirational-deity/fairy manner. I felt alienated from that narrative. I grew up not having long hair as a child, and I was never slim with porcelain skin. So that perhaps put me in a category of the ‘evil witch’ or ‘hysterical evil sorceress’ of sorts. Even they were kinda beautiful in a stereotypical manner. Maybe I would just be the matchmaker sort, with a big mole on my face no less (think Mulan’s matchmaker in Disney version and that stereotype).
But I can understand the aesthetics and the romantic ideal of these stereotypes. It allows escapism where good and evil are clear cut, and people get their just desserts. Everyone has a dream girl in the form of the Dragon Girl 小龙女 –the women want to be her, the men want to date/marry her. She is the hard-to-get, aloof, but fiercely loyal and extremely capable and invincible fighter who fights like she’s dancing. One of her famous moves (which strangely is rarely discussed and possibly never showcased on TV) was the Fist styles of all ancient great beauties 美女拳法 where she turns into different ancient beauties in the past thousands of years with each move that is representative of the beauties.
I’ve known the folks at Asiapac Books for a while, and one of them is in then Hanfugirls Collective. So I was happy to be able to help a friend in creating some images for her publicity for her kickstarter project to republish the comic collection of this book. Of course having not read the book, I relied on the internet to understand her better. Naturally, there seems to be really strong Taoism influence in the description of her out-of-the-worldliness and fairy-like disposition. This style is possibly a trend that was piloted somewhere in the Wei Jin era, epitomised by the story and depiction of the female protagonist in Ode to the nymph of Luo River painting over a thousand years ago.
Most TV shows in the past did not have much historical accuracy in its fashion and hair stylings, partly because of the lack of interest/resources in doing such detailed research, another would be the high artistic liberty the stylists took in trying to convey the original books’ description and overall feel, especially for fantasy-related ones. The idea of having your straight long hair hanging freely and moves gently with the wind plays up that gentle femininity in a fantasy of women archetypes, and adds to that desirable, youthful, virginal innocence of a girl. Somewhat disturbing if you think about it in a more 21st century context. Of course, I’m speaking from it from a different time-era, which isn’t fair to the original period where it was created.
But as young (kinda) women of the 21st century, many of us had our own discussions while doing this shoot about what we think about the storyline and the characters. Maybe one day, we should do a refresh look at these Wuxia stereotypes from a modern perspective, and see how that perception of female identity has evolved yet again.
In March, we will delve deeper into female identity as well as part of our lectures and workshops, the idea of dance and music, and the changing law regarding women’s rights. So stay tuned~
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in supporting the kickstarter project by Asiapac Books, do visit their kickstarter page! Link: http://kck.st/31cCO6V
For the media launch event at Yanzilou, Asiapac Books invited Kenny, our traditional tea tutor for Hanfugirls Collective to do a historical introduction and demonstration of tea practice and ritual during the Song dynasty (period which the story is set in). The Song tea ritual was to later be brought to Japan to become the current Japanese tea ceremony. The interest difference I learnt from Kenny, between the Song tea ritual and the Japnese tea ceremony was that the Song Chinese used white tea powder which doesn’t have a bitter taste to it (thus no need for accompanying dessert), while the Japanese green tea comes with a dessert as it has a slight bitter tinge.
Of course the Japanese ritualised everything, so they added a lot more rules and ceremonial things to it while the Song Chinese just thought of it as a more daily enjoyment with friends kinda thing with more flexibility and room for variations.
We are also training up our Hanfugirls for the tea preparation so that when Kenny does conduct an actual tea workshop and experience at the space, we could serve you the authentic Song whisked tea experience too.
We ended the evening with a very Tang style dining set-up and experience just amongst the Hanfugirls Collective ourselves, cos I GOT NEW LIGHTS! Needed to test them for the performance in August! We’re loving the mood already!