Sunday, July 31, 2011

Companion to Petals in the Wind

Companion to Petals in the Wind
I was originally inspired by the idea from reading The Golden Peaches of Samarkand , a reference book on Tang culture which was written by Edward H. Schafer. In the first chapter, entitled “The Glory of Tang” he mentions of foreign women that lived in Tang along with foreign settlements. There is also a mention of Koreans living during the Tang dynasty as well.
Since I feel more at ease with Korean culture, (maybe not from that era, but at least in a modern sense,) I decided to make the main character a Korean male experiencing Chang’an during 8th century. My question throughout the story was how did Tang China see Shilla kingdom? Were they flattered that Shilla copied from them or did they see the Shillans as backwards?
The response that I understood is that on one hand Tang China perhaps saw Shilla as being akin to themselves, while on the other hand there had to be an idea of nationalism going on as well. (Cosmopolitan empire/capital, strong cultural ties, familiarity with exotic items, etc.) and nationalism creates strong pride and unspoken disdain towards foreigners. In response to the question then, perhaps both ideas went hand in hand.
There is also an idea in the story of assimilation. The main character, Kim Yong-Sun, grew up with learning about Tang China such as the language, culture, study of the Five Classics, and with calligraphy. How much, if any, would he have learned about his homeland? From personal experience, I would imagine that some of the changes were secretly unwelcome to him and he would often feel ashamed that he knows more about foreign place rather than a native place.
The casual speech of Wang Xianliang is meant to prove that despite him being half Shillan and half Tang, (Half Chinese and half Korean,) he is supposed to fit into the society that was created, while the formal style spoken by Kim Yong-Sun is meant to show how out of balance he feels living between the world of Shilla and Tang.
Ultimately though, both Wang Xianliang and Kim Yong-Sun are destined to share the same fate. Both will leave the Tang nation and will travel around the world, somehow losing aspects of themselves but gaining new thoughts and ideas and becoming something else entirely. In time, if things would have stayed the way they were, Korea and China would be themselves, but different in the end. New ideas would have come in ultimately and they would be changed.
One of the questions that I was curious about is the fate of foreign women in China. Would most be allowed to marry Chinese men or not? Unfortunately Edward H. Schafer doesn’t address this point. I would deduce that foreign women weren’t allowed to be with Chinese men or with any Asian men for that matter. Most Asian families today have very little desire to see their sons marrying foreign women and for the “blood” to be polluted. In the past as well, marriages between different classes would be forbidden. Why would the families in the past then want to see their sons marrying foreign women?
The idea of Kim Yong-Sun falling in love with Aurora who is most likely from Italy,(considering the state that Italy was in from barbarian attacks, it is highly possible,) and ultimately rejecting her, is an idea that a man has to be filial to his family. He will not let anything interfere between him and his family.
In the story, Aurora has to pretend to be someone she is not by wearing a blonde haired wig, (I didn’t know whether or not Chinese at the time dyed their hair,) and by acting in a certain way against her natural personality. From the same reference book, I got an idea that Tang Chinese saw foreign people as “exotics” in the same vein as products or books or whatever else. What is exotic or different about foreigners then? In The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, Edward H. Schafer makes a reference to the fact that foreigners had different colored hair and eyes. I would imagine that at first Kim Yong-Sun and Wang Xianliang first saw Aurora as “exotic” or different, something otherworldly, (a Gumiho in Kim Yong-Sun’s case,) but when she takes off the wig she loses that otherworldliness and becomes someone more relatable.
The poems that Wang Xianliang and Kim Yong-Sun recite, I made them up on my own. I wanted to make them haikus but I have doubts that haikus have existed. Arirang song was created in 13th century, (I didn’t realize that at the time I wrote the story,) and when I read more about it, the song is supposed to sing of the parted lovers which seemed fitting for Kim Yong-Sun and Wang Xianliang.
One last point: Kim Yong-Sun is given a ten. In Chinese the ‘ten’ number was written as a cross, something like this; + in fact a foreigner gave him a cross.

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