mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Sleeping on sticks and tasting gall: 卧薪尝胆

paleaswater introduced me to Woxin changdan, an historical television series about an event from China's Spring and Autumn period. 5th century BC, buncha warring kingdoms (that preceded the actual Warring States period and half a millennium before the equally head-spinny Three Kingdoms period.)

Unlike the latter two and their 'can't tell the players without a scorecard and the names in both traditional and simplified hanzi and possibly Japanese readings as well' (I *said* Three Kingdoms is my bête noire and I meant it), the tale that gives rise to the proverb about sleeping on brushwood etc is fairly straightforward.

See here for the cut and dried of it. But I shall quote paleaswater's version, as being the more colourful:
The story itself is known to every school child in China -- the King of Yue was defeated and enslaved by the King of Wu. He waited on the King of Wu hand and foot, and proved himself such a loyal and devoted slave that the King of Wu eventually freed him to return to his country. The King of Yue spent the next twenty years effecting his revenge, sleeping on a mattress of thorn and tasting gall so he would never forget the bitterness of his humiliation, until he conquered the Kingdom of Wu, and forced its king to his death.
As she says, "normally any tv series based on this would fall under the catagory of boring old men with beards." Or be a HK thing about the raving beauty that Yue later sent to undo Wu, full of song and dance and- oh right, that's Bollywood.

But here? Here we have someone's montage of Greatest Hits of Woxin ("the slashiest bits, set to music") and the King of Yue reciting a poem in praise of his enemy and current master, and umm... there's something else going on in this one, very much so.

Now rasetsunyo has fallen under the spell and is happily squeeing over in her lj, which she's unlocked for those entries. And it seems there's more, very much more, than the tantalizing undefinable je ne sais quoi going on between Goujian the slave king of Yue and Fuchai the evil seme of Wu. I'll quote a couple of instances from this thread:
Supreme General 石買 Shi Mai is convinced that small weak Yue must appease Wu at all costs or Wu will crush Yue out of existance; while Crown Prince Gou Jian, Regent for the ailing King, believes that there are insults not to be countenenced and that one must sometimes fight. Shi Mai has the ear of the old King; old King agrees, removes title of Crown Prince from Gou Jian, and prepares to abdicate in favour of his 10 year old son (Gou Jian's half brother) with Shi Mai as Regent. An official, maternal uncle to 10 year old son, believes this to be a power grab by Shi Mai and the doom of the kingdom; after weeping and apologising at the altar of his fathers, he engages someone to assassinate the child. He then commits suicide, having shamed his family by killing his nephew, child of royal blood. Final words: "Ji Kuai (kid's name), Uncle has let you down, but I have not let Yue down."

An impetuous young general loyal to Shi Mai thinks Gou Jian bloodthirsty and warmongering, likely to lead Yue to ruin. He begs Shi Mai to seize the throne. Shi Mai immediately and angrily rebukes him. (many machinations later:) Later in private Shi Mai tells this young general; "You are the orphan of one of my trusted generals. I watched you grow up, you are as a son to me. The day Gou Jian ascends to the throne will be the day he kills us; go first to the Yellow Springs, I will follow soon after." And gives him a flagon of poisoned wine. "You are as a father to me. All these twenty years I have followed you; my life is yours. I will die because you ask it. But you have disappointed me, and my devotion to you." And takes the poison.
Yes yes- Confucianist and soul-crushing and depressing. But hot. Very hot. Couldn't think why for the longest time, but remembered eventually that I have a particular kink for betrayals prompted by noble motives. Iago does nothing for me but Deth the Harper, luring his king into the castle of the king's worst enemy, does. The offical murdering his child nephew, Shi Mai poisoning his son in the spirit, manage to hit the right note where Sugawara and The Secrets of Calligraphy, the kabuki play where a retainer passes his own son's head off as that of the child his master has ordered him to kill, doesn't.

Possibly this is because kabuki is just so ugly in all its particulars, possibly it has something to do with the umm essential unnaturalness of confucianism in a Japanese setting. I dunno. Japanese forms of Confucianism are repellent to me, reeking of Tokugawa prissiness and constipation. Possibly I'd find Chinese Confucianism just as unsymapthetic if set at a later date, but put it back in good ol' BC and it's archaic and noble and hot. Did I mention hot? It's hot.

As for what's up between our two kings... well, I wait for further viewing notes to find out where the unpindown-able erotesis of that comes in. Not where I expect, no doubt. Erotesis rarely lies where a society's erotic defaults say hotness is to be found. ('Black stockings and lace garters are HOT!!' No they aren't.) In fact the erotic defaults usually don't recognize the 'erotesis' phenomenon at all, because sexual and erotic are all about generating a specific physical response, and the other thing isn't nearly as definite as that.

I call the other thing erotesis for lack of any other word: the vague amorphous erotic feeling of something that, often as not, has nothing at all to do with sex. Slashiness that doesn't move into the physical. My opinion let-me-show-you-it is that slash-the-product has a distressing tendency to betray slashiness-the-phenomenon. Either it simply makes the relationship overtly sexual (because it's easier to write sex than present an intimate but nonsexual connection); or it gives you pages of tedious, obvious, and repetitive explication of the gossamer-fine emotions present, chock full of internal monologue and characters analyzing their own unnamed emotions. With the latter the exasperated reader eventually yells 'Alright already, we know you Feel something for this guy, now go and screw.'

I sympathize with the dilemma. Getting it right is so hard in words and so easy in a visual medium, where the unspoken elements can have their full play. After all, would this woxin be as hot if Goujian (him on the left) was played Chow Yun Fat and not Cheng Daoming? Cheekbones. Cheekbones do it every time.

Tags: chinese, fandom, woxin
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