Depicting China’s Androgynous Past

In researching a previous post about Lu Buwei and era of China’s Warring States, I came across a number of very interesting blogs on the Sina.com platform.  Since WordPress and Blogspot are blocked by the Great Firewall of China, Sina is one of the most popular blogging services on the Chinese internet.  (Out of frustration this past summer in Beijing, I myself started a Sina.com blog, which I don’t update currently, but to which I may return when I return to the Middle Kingdom over the wintertime.)

But the point is not one about internet censorship — it’s about content.  A number of Sina-hosted bloggers are immersed in the culture of digital imagery and its interface with Chinese history.  And thus we get their imaginings of dynastic princes who look like this:

Song Dynasty Prince, via Datou Niuniu's Sina.com blog
Song Wengong , image from Baidu via Datou Niuniu's Sina.com blog

These writers and artists seem to be on a quest to find the most beautifully senstitive and borderline males of the Chinese past, like Song Wengong [宋文公], seen at left.  The author of the blog is “Datou Niuniu” [“Big Head Turning Turning”], whose homepage has lots of very sweet Mando-pop and thoughts about how to live a happy life. In fact, it occurs to me in editing this post that I have been listening to the same syrupy song for about fifteen minutes — and already society has already become more harmonious.

Niuniu’s blog entry is quite interesting, and goes through ten famous “pretty” males of the Chinese past, noting that she grabbed all the images on a few forays through the Baidu search engine.

Like this fellow at right!

Wei Jie (卫玠), literally "Protector of the Jade Tablets," from the Three Kingdoms period
Wei Jie (卫玠), literally "Protector of the Jade Tablets," from the Three Kingdoms period

Here is how Datou Niuniu renders his particular story:

卫玠,三国时人。关于卫玠的美,《晋书》里用词有“明珠”,“玉润”等等,他为人喜怒不表于形,总之是个面无表情的玉人。
这孩子自幼风神秀异,坐着羊车行在洛阳街上,远远望去,就恰似白玉雕的塑像,时人称之“璧人”。洛阳居民倾城而出,夹道观看小璧人。后来,卫玠到东晋都城 建业(今南京)。建业的官员们久闻卫玠艳名,立即答应予以重任。江东人士听说来了个大明星,人山人海地围观,挤得卫玠举步艰难,使他一连几天都无法好好休 息,这个体质孱弱的美少年终于累极而病,一病而亡。这个典故就是《世说新语》中的“看杀卫玠”。

卫玠一生,没能在政治上有所作为,也没为中国文艺或科技的发展做出突出贡献,军事方面更是碰也没碰过。这么个人,居然在《晋书》上有传记,可见“美男”已经成为当时的一种文化现象。传记里反反复复强调:俊美。

In a different blog, many of the same figures are analyzed, probably reflecting some Baidu phenomonen.  In her essay 中国古代十大美男 [Ten Great Male Beauties of Ancient China], a blogger called Purple Angel breaks down her imagination of the princes of the past.   (Incidentally, I think there is a bit of plagiarism going on between Purple Angel and Big Head Turn Turn.  No need to call the committee on academic integrity, just an observation.  Perhaps this is very common on Chinese blogs?)

Here is Purple Angel’s’ favorite depiction of a Prince of Yan:

Prince of Yan, via Purple Skies
Prince of Yan, via Purple Skies

Probably one of the most interesting aspects of these images and their popularity among certain Chinese bloggers testifies to the allure of the Chinese past.  Perhaps Confucius is finally getting the society he dreamed of, after all!  Oriented toward the past, finding the sages to whom we can aspire, and the sensitive boys who are now “hostage princes” to another genre of human altogether — the Chinese animator!

Finally, there is this rather promising-looking film about the war between Yan and Zhao during the Warring States period.  Apart from the obvious tie to the gender theme of this post, it reminds me that to focus just on how Qin overtook the other states toward 221 B.C. is to lose some of the richness of interstate relations apart from the Qin.  The present parallel would be, say, U.S.-Afghanistan relations overshadowing the equally fascinating India-Afghanistan relationship, or Russia-Brazil, or DPRK-France.  But of course these aren’t states at war with one another, and no one wears this beautiful armor any more:

via 剪辑月光 blog [Compilation of Moonlight] on Sina
via 剪辑月光 / "Compilation of Moonlight" blog on Sina

One thought on “Depicting China’s Androgynous Past

  1. I came this year to live in Shanghai. It was like a prison – no youtube, no facebook, no twitter until I discovered Skydur.com. Simple, easy to use and very fast proxy. I can watch Youtube again and stay in touch with freinds on Facebook ! Check it out here http://www.Skydur.com. It’s just $16.99 (for 3 months of service).

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