Much ado overHuaMu­lan about noth­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Co­me­dian Jia Ling has ren­dered a public apol­ogy on her of­fi­cial Si­naWeibo ac­count, the coun­try’s twit­ter-like ser­vice, af­ter an open let­ter crit­i­cized her for mak­ing fun ofHua Mu­lan, leg­endary Chi­nese fe­male war­rior, and por­tray­ingMu­lan as an in­com­pe­tent, cow­ardly woman in a TV show, which even­tu­ally raised a public storm. The let­ter, writ­ten by an in­sti­tute spe­cial­iz­ing in Mu­lan-re­lated stud­ies, said Jia’s show was “nau­se­at­ing” and de­manded she apol­o­gize to the peo­ple for her ac­tions, es­pe­cially to the res­i­dents of Yucheng in North China’sHenan province, which claims to beMu­lan’s home­town.

But the ma­jor­ity of Chi­nese ne­ti­zens seem to dis­agree with the crit­i­cism. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Sina online sur­vey, 60 per­cent of the nearly 70,000 re­spon­dents said there was no need for Jia to apol­o­gize, be­cause com­edy shows are all about spoofs and ex­ag­ger­a­tions.

The story ofHuaMu­lan has its ori­gin in an an­cient folk song, Ode toMu­lan, and her sur­name and birthplace are still un­cer­tain de­spite the end­less de­bates on them.

Putting aside the ques­tion whether Mu­lan re­ally ex­isted or not, peo­ple, es­pe­cially those who can­not tol­er­ate Jia’s com­edy show, should re­al­ize that com­edy is first and fore­most about par­ody and spoof. By ex­ag­ger­at­ing re­al­ity, a well­struc­tured com­edy pro­gram can be an ex­cel­lent stress buster. So, as long as a com­edy pro­gram does not cross the moral and le­gal bot­tom line, there is noth­ing to com­plain about it.

Jia’s por­trayal ofMu­lan is nei­ther like the leg­endary hero­ine we have come to know through the Ode toMu­lan in school text­books nor like the char­ac­ter seen in Chi­nese TV dra­mas and the Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion. In con­trast, Jia’sMu­lan ap­pears much more worldly be­cause it in­te­grates cur­rent so­cial phe­nom­ena such as glut­tony and women who ob­jec­tify men.

More­over, Jia’s recre­ation ofMu­lan’s char­ac­ter rec­on­ciles with the orig­i­nal theme of the leg­end as she por­trays the leg­end as a brave woman tak­ing on the en­emy. Viewed with­out prej­u­dice, what could be more en­cour­ag­ing that see­ing a cow­ardly and down-to-earth no­body be­come a brave war­rior af­ter un­der­go­ing army train­ing and beat­ing back in­trud­ers to pro­tect her home­land?

Con­trary to some right­eous crit­ics, it is ab­surd to as­sume that Jia choseMu­lan to tar­nish her leg­endary im­age or change the tra­di­tional per­cep­tion about her. It is these crit­ics’ at­tempt to morally kid­nap the is­sue and la­bel Jia as a rene­gade just be­cause she has tried to amuse the au­di­ence with a dif­fer­en­tMu­lan that has ir­ri­tated ne­ti­zens, in­clud­ing those who might not have liked the show in the first place.

The im­age ofMu­lan and her heroic deeds are deeply rooted in Chi­nese peo­ple’s mind thanks to bed­time sto­ries and school text­books, as well as the rel­a­tively ortho­dox ver­sions of film and TV pro­duc­tions, which can­not be erased by Jia’s sketch.

If peo­ple find Jia’s show vul­gar or of­fen­sive, they can easily choose to watch other more de­sir­able TV pro­grams, and those who see her spoof as in­ter­est­ing and en­ter­tain­ing can stick to the pro­gram.

Com­mer­cially speak­ing, the scriptwrit­ers and ac­tors can­not be blamed for recre­at­ing or re­con­struct­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture and adding a lit­tle mod­ern touch to cater to the au­di­ence’s chang­ing tastes.

Yet the emer­gence of overly ex­ag­ger­ated films and TV pro­duc­tions in re­cent years such as scenes show­ing a Chi­nese re­sis­tance fighter tear­ing a Ja­panese soldier in two with his bare hands in TV drama based on the­War of Re­sis­tance Against Ja­panese Ag­gres­sion (1937-45), it is un­der­stand­able that some peo­ple fear such works could prompt the teenage au­di­ence to con­ceive history dif­fer­ently. Writ­ers, there­fore, should pay at­ten­tion both to tra­di­tion and cre­ativ­ity so as not al­low lam­poon­ing to spoil the clas­sic tales. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. xi­aolixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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