Shu­jia and Korean wave

The Korea Times - - OPINION - Bernard Rowan Bernard Rowan ([email protected]­hoo.com) is as­so­ciate provost for con­tract ad­min­is­tra­tion and pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Chicago State Univer­sity. He is a past fel­low of the Ko­rea Foun­da­tion and for­mer vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Hanyang Universi

The Korean wave is a lot older than we think.

Re­cently, I’ve en­joyed sev­eral Chi­nese his­tor­i­cal dra­mas, in­clud­ing the “Story of Yanxi Palace.” With Ruyi’s “Royal Love in the Palace,” both dis­cuss the sto­ried and long-lived Em­peror Qian­long.

He presided over an ex­pan­sion of Manchu in­flu­ence dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. He also had many wives, con­sorts and con­cu­bines. Among them was Shu­jia or Jia.

Shu­jia orig­i­nally was a mis­tress but rose through the house­hold to be­come a no­ble­woman, con­cu­bine, con­sort, no­ble con­sort, and then im­pe­rial no­ble con­sort of the sec­ond rank. She gave Qian­long four sons. Three of them, Yongcheng or Lud­uan, Yongx­uan and Yongx­ing, were princes. They were the em­peror’s fourth, eighth and 11th sons re­spec­tively.

Jia was born into an eth­ni­cally Korean fam­ily liv­ing in Manchuria and serv­ing the em­peror. Ref­er­ences sug­gest she be­longed to the Joseon Jin (Kim in Korean) clan.

Jia lived from 1713 to 1755. She lies in the same cham­ber as Qian­long. A beau­ti­ful paint­ing of Shu­jia ex­ists and ap­pears at the Cleve­land Mu­seum of Art with paint­ings of Qian­long’s other royal con­sorts. Too lit­tle ap­pears about her in English writ­ing. The same is true for many of Qian­long’s sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers. It was all too much “all about the em­peror.”

In “Story of Yanxi Palace,” one learns too lit­tle about Jia.

She ap­pears as a self-in­ter­ested, wily and will­ful pro­po­nent of her own in­ter­ests.

I didn’t like her char­ac­ter at all. This is how con­sorts and wives ap­pear as char­ac­ters in a pedes­trian sense.

It’s un­likely all were this typ­i­cal, melo­dra­matic and bor­ing as real peo­ple. The pro­grams don’t linger on Jia’s eth­nic­ity, and I only learned of it by chance.

None­the­less, what in­ter­ests me is a spec­u­la­tion about sev­eral re­lated facts. Jia be­longed to the big­gest eth­ni­cally Korean group­ing of the Kim clan. One in five South and North Kore­ans share this name.

There are hun­dreds of Kim fam­ily lines. Fur­ther, the story of Jia in­ter­sects the fun­da­men­tal con­nec­tion of peo­ples. Her fam­ily was what we call Korean, but they lived in Manchuria.

Like many Jurchens, Han, Mon­gols and other Joseon Kore­ans, they worked as ser­vants in a “world” more dy­namic and fluid than the word Qing con­veys. This all oc­curred when peo­ple thought it more “nat­u­ral” or “con­ven­tional” to have com­mon af­fairs with “for­eign­ers” and “alien” peo­ples.

Our na­tion­al­ist lens for eth­nic­ity didn’t have the same mean­ing then. Kore­ans in­flu­enced count­less lead­ers and events and com­mu­ni­ties. These sto­ries need re­cov­er­ing, and not just those of Korean his­tor­i­cal peo­ple.

In other words, the Korean wave ex­isted long be­fore the name. I’d like to re­search fur­ther the life of Shu­jia and learn how her life im­pacted the Em­peror’s house­hold. Be­yond bear­ing sons, I’d imag­ine she brought much from her eth­nic and cul­tural in­her­i­tance to the court. I don’t think present-day tele­vi­sion pro­grams do so.

We live now in a mo­ment where xeno­pho­bia and iso­la­tion­ism have re­newed fan bases. All piti­ful and ig­no­rant.

I’ve read, how­ever, that Kore­ans are slowly learn­ing the fu­til­ity and ar­guable stu­pid­ity of “ho­mo­gene­ity.”

All ad­vanced na­tions must face the re­al­ity of hu­man­ity’s thor­oughly con­nected fiber.

Just look at an an­ces­try DNA pro­file or equiv­a­lent. Go back far enough in fam­ily trees to dis­cover di­ver­sity is the norm.

Shu­jia helped to make the pres­ence of Korean man­ners known in Qian­long’s in­ner court. Kore­ans have made Ko­rea known all over the re­gion and world much longer than many rec­og­nize!

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