Today 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. I 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!