A new Asian woman has risen along with the wave of K-pop. K-pop has taken the world by storm including Europe and the United States while having an unprecedented impact on young people of Taiwan. However, Korean popular culture has reached further than just the young, as seen with fans of Korean dramas and movies that span across different age groups. The rise of the Korean Wave is in part due to support and efforts exerted by the South Korean government, but I believe the shift in Asian women’s self-awareness also plays a critical role.
Some of the K-pop dance moves seem awkward and bizarre to me, reminding me of experiences I’ve had watching traditional Chinese opera, and there seems to be a distance felt due to lack of understanding. With one coming from the previous generation and the other from the younger generation, here I am standing in the midst of them. As I try to further grasp the genre, the more I feel that K-pop resembles traditional Chinese opera. After more in-depth analyses of K-pop gestures, poses, attitudes, and compositions of its dance moves, I am further convinced that there is something more profound that is embodied in this phenomenon.
Any style of musical art is derived from inheritance and gradual development, including classical dramas from the Yuan and Jin Dynasties, Northern Chinese operas, Southern dramas, and Taiwanese folk opera. This art series is based on the Chinese Kunqu Opera, The Peony Pavilion, written by Tang Xian-Zu of the Yuan Dynasty. Living in an era when literati were not valued, Guan Han-Qing, a leading dramatist in the Yuan Dynasty, wrote the following verses to express his somewhat unrestrained, rebellious attitude: “What I have enjoyed is the moon in the opulent Liang Garden. What I have drunk is the superior wine of the Eastern Capital. What I have appreciated are the flowers of Luoyang. What I have plucked are the willows of the Zhangtai.” Dream sequences are common story plots in Kunqu Opera, where reality and illusion overlap and the pursuit of immortal love reveals a shared mentality of the era’s literati – although unable to exercise their ambitions, their minds were still filled with dreams. The Peony Pavilion is a story about the female protagonist Du Li-Niang’s pursuit of love, which revived her from death: “Where does love arise? It wells up from the deep. For love the living can die. For love the dead can revive.” Kunqu Opera was developed in the Yuan Dynasty and progressed into the height of the Qing Dynasty, which was a time when Korea was a vassal state of China. I think there is some kind of historical tie that can explain why K-pop is so widely accepted by Asians, which also leads to the discussions of notable features in Asian dance music.
Comparing K-pop with traditional Chinese opera, differences are distinctively shown in their shared common traits, with the most noticeable being body consciousness. From acting to dancing, Asian women have begun to perceive their bodies and minds differently. They are now more in control of themselves, enjoy being themselves, and when dealing with their bodies, they are no longer confined by tradition or feel embarrassed by their bodies. Instead, a sense of passion, adoration is perceived, as Asian women begin to touch, change, and take charge of their bodies. Compared to the female self-awareness in the West, seemingly traditional representations with women showing signs of weakness and needs, desires for men are also observed in this new found autonomy of Asian women, which shows that Asian women have officially begun to directly face their personal desires. Although this development has taken course comparatively much later than that of the West, it is, nevertheless, quite interesting and very different from the West, with a different and unique sense of sex appeal projected by these women. It signifies a great evolution with the female self-awareness, and it entails more than just being a woman with gender equality rights; it is also a state of independence where women are enjoying being who they are.
As a Taiwanese artist in an environment where art is undervalued, the conditions have perhaps prompted art in Taiwan to take on an unrestrained, rebellious approach with self-ridiculed game-like scenarios. Comparing myself to Tang Xian-Zu, this is my version of the Peony Pavilion.
Preface to The Peony Pavilion
Love is of course unknown, yet it grows ever deeper. The living may die of it, by its power the dead live again. Love is not love at its fullest if one who lives it is unwilling to die for it, or if it cannot restore to life one who has so died. And must the love that comes in a dream necessarily be unreal? For there is no lack of dream lovers in this world. Only for those whose love must be fulfilled on the pillow and for whom affection deepens only after retirement from office, is it entirely a corporeal matter.
The Peony Pavilion : Pursuing the Dream
Against the weathered rock he leaned my wilting body, then as he laid my jade limbs down "smoke issued from jade in warmth of sun." By balustrade Past swing there I spread the folds of my skirt a covering for earth for fear of the eyes of Heaven. Then it was we knew perfect mystery of joy ineffable.