Sunday, November 3, 2013

Romance With Chinese Characteristics

I went to see the Shanghai Ballet at the Zellerbach perform the Butterfly Lovers this weekend, which is the classic Chinese love story originally from the Tang Dynasty.  The girl, Zhu, pretends to be a boy so she can go to school where she falls in love with a boy, Liang.  She is arranged to be married to someone else, though, and then they both die of sadness.  Heaven takes pity on them and turns them into butterflies.  

I've also been watching another Chinese drama, the Legend of Lu Zhen, which is mostly an epic love story.

I'm seeing a lot of common themes in Chinese romances.  One is that the romance often starts when they don't fully know each other's identity.  Usually the poorer one doesn't know the other is rich since it means they really love each other for who they are, not because they are gold or power-digging.  Another is that the romance often takes place over a longer time frame where they are friends first.  Finally, the girl is often smart and capable, and that is actually important to making her attractive to the boy, and vice versa.  

To me, the first two themes are about trust.  Someone who likes you for your personality is less likely to move on to the next pretty face or next richest person.  Someone you know very well for a long time is more likely to be someone you can trust.  I thought that the last theme was a more modern theme to relate to modern Chinese women, but then again, it's also in Butterfly Lovers which is from the 8th century or so.  

Now I realize I've been influenced by Chinese romance themes my whole life.  "Love at first sight" and "happily ever after" princess stories never seemed that romantic to me.  Even though it was exciting that Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast liked to read, the Beast didn't really care about that.  And anyway, her favorite book was some other princess story.  

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