China First Hand

28 February 2006

War and Beauty

Filed under: Culture,Personal — china1sthand @ 2:03 pm


war-beauty.jpgToday I saw my first episode of a fantastic drama! The literal translation is War and Beauty, and it is based around the historic world of the Chinese court. Everyone is fighting for power – but it is the subtle and ingenious ways they do this that is so intriguing. Within the setting, these stories are absolutely believable.


The main action in War and Beauty centres on the concubines. Concubines were beautiful women that the Chinese emperors had living in court, purely for his pleasure. To gain his favour the concubines would do anything, because he alone controlled their quality of life. The emperor would have children with any one of these women, and a concubine that bore him a future emperor would obtain the highest status. However – as happened to the emperor’s favourite concubine in this story – a female baby is not suitable. The life of a concubine was a game of prostitution and chance.


Concubines were girls that were chosen from anywhere in China, on the basis of their beauty. Life at court was the best you could have, but you also had to leave your previous life behind you. There is nothing to fall back on if you get thrown out. With so much at stake, emotions would inevitably run high. Chinese emperors also had a wife who was superior to all concubines. The concubines were not married to the emperor, and therefore had few official rights. This seems the precise situation where a woman will gain status in any way she can. In this drama, the girls came up with some brilliant ways of getting what they wanted. Although not all of them worked…


There was a structured grading system for Chinese concubines that gave incentive to climb the ladder. By receiving a promotion to a higher grade, you obtained more privileges. Now what happens when a group of girls compete? They bitch. They backstab. They manipulate. That’s just what they do! And anyway, how could you ever be comfortable sharing the same man? And can you imagine how the queen felt??!


The male perspective in War and Beauty presents another level. Most men in court are eunuchs – then the emperor has no competition and knows that all pregnancies are caused by him! The main male characters in this drama were medics… and all their bodies were functioning fully! Of course, these were loyal men. This provided a good contrast to the power-hungry women. However, the men had less opportunity to progress! Chinese history has shown that a concubine can gain immense power. The main theme in the story is the fight for power – but there is also the question: Is it all worth it? With the help of the male characters, War and Beauty presents the dilemma between love and duty; true feelings versus pretence.


It was wonderful to see the setting in the real Forbidden City. This was the centre of Chinese rule for seven centuries, until around a century ago. The attention to detail was fantastic: Each prop that was used I later saw in museums. The detail in the elaborate costumes was perfect. The way of life is also depicted accurately too – and brought to life in a way you would never otherwise see. There is a big difference between learning about something and seeing it actually happen.


Now obviously I didn’t understand a word the actors said. war-beauty2.jpgI could still follow the story! The acting was excellent because the facial expressions told me when someone was plotting, or angry, or satisfied, or genuine. They were playing demure characters but you could still recognise what they were thinking. With occasional explanation from my friend, I didn’t feel lost at all. We should all be able to see this quality drama! The one in the picture even has English on it! Why can’t we find Chinese DVDs at our local entertainment store? Right, everyone down to your local China Town – with enough demand, they’ll make the DVDs with helpful English subtitles!




  1. hello

    Comment by Anonymous — 20 April 2007 @ 6:04 am | Reply

  2. Hello anonymous.

    Comment by china1sthand — 20 April 2007 @ 7:39 am | Reply

  3. The emperor and the concubines r not Chinese, they r Manchurians,except for Yee Shun n her sister who r Han Chinese but pretend to be Manchurian.The culture u see int he drama is not Chinese but Manchurian, even their clothes r Manchurian not Chinese.Manchurian concubines r not chosen from anywhere in Chine but rather only suitable n eligible manchurian girls from the eight existing clans, each represented by a colour.

    Comment by Anonymous — 24 March 2011 @ 5:30 pm | Reply

    • The philosophy, n court etiquttes n rankings r chinese

      Comment by Anonymous — 30 March 2011 @ 3:36 am | Reply

    • Japan arrest of a Chinese fishing captain within the 12-nautical-mile territorial sea surrounding the Diaoyu Islands has again inflamed relations between the two great East Asian powers.

      China claim to the Diaoyu Islands is based on the “discovery” of unclaimed territory and derives from a range of Chinese governmental contacts and references going back to 1372.

      Japan claim is also based on the “discovery” of supposedly unclaimed territory, despite the fact that official Japanese documents, several of which were unearthed by Taiwan scholar Han-yi Shaw, demonstrate that the Japanese government was well aware of China historic claim when it began to take an interest in the islets in 1885.

      During the subsequent decade, contrary to the assertions now made by Japan, its officials not only failed to complete surveys of the islets necessary to confirm their alleged unclaimed status, but also recognised that the matter “would need to involve negotiations with Qing China”.

      To avoid China suspicion, Japan chose to conceal its intention to occupy the islets “until a more appropriate time”. That time came in January 1895, when Japan by then on its way to defeating China in their 1894 war, adopted a Cabinet decision that the islets were Japanese territory. Yet even that Cabinet decision was not made public until after the second world war.

      Moreover, if the US were to become an impartial mediator, it would have to note that Japan claim to sovereignty over the islets is based on a distorted version of late 19th century history that does not pass the international smell test.

      It is time for Japan to reassess its views on the international law of the sea. Those of its views that are plainly irresponsible only discredit others that deserve serious consideration.

      Perhaps most insulting to the world community is its claim that the rock called Okinotorishima that constitutes Japan southernmost “land”, a reef system with land at high tide no larger than a king-sized bed, is entitled to an EEZ and continental shelf.

      Comment by Tron — 20 November 2011 @ 1:42 am | Reply

  4. Wow this is really interesting. I had no idea there were such distinctions. Thank you for your comment.

    Comment by china1sthand — 24 March 2011 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: