Chinese women seem to wear sadness like a badge of honour. To them if love doesn’t hurt, it’s not real. I have no doubt that not only do the vast majority of them expect it to be a painful experience, hence all the drama and manufactured arguments, but they actually welcome it. It ties in with the classical Chinese folk tales they grow up reading, where love is usually forbidden, and invariably led to tragic repercussions.
A perfect example of this can be found in Liang Zhu, commonly known as the Butterfly Lovers. Set in the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), the story tells of a girl from a rich family called Zhu Yingtai who goes away to study. During that era girls were not allowed an education, so she disguised herself as a boy. Zhu meets a boy called Liang Shanbo, and the two declare themselves ‘sworn brothers.’ Of course, Zhu falls in love with Liang and is then called back to her family, who have arranged a marriage for her. Months later Liang goes to visit and it is then, in what must have been a classic ‘dude looks like a lady’ moment, he discovers his ‘sworn brother’ is actually a woman. But alas, unable to prevent the wedding, he ends up dying of a broken heart. The wedding procession passes Liang’s grave, which opens up and swallows Zhu. The star-crossed lovers are then transformed into butterflies, and live happily ever after. Or at least, as happily as butterflies who used to be people can live.
There is another, more famous story which illustrates the point even better. Dream of the Red Chamber, written by Cao Xueqin in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), is one of China’s ‘four great novels.’ It’s basically a Chinese Romeo and Juliet. You know how it goes, girl meets boy, they fall in love, the union is forbidden, boy marries someone else, girl drowns herself in a pond, boy turns his back on the world and becomes a monk. Same old, same old. Underlining the fact that almost everything in china has multiple meanings, on the surface it’s your average tragic love story, but on a deeper level it describes the fate of the Qing Dynasty as a whole. The work is so complex there is an academic field of study devoted entirely to it called ‘Redology.’ It wouldn’t be too difficult to devote an entire academic field to Chinese girl’s attitude to love and sex.
This is China Part 3: The Wilderness Years is out now on paperback and ebook via Red Dawn Publications