Shujia and Korean wave
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!