Male Flexibility and Wealth-Based Love In Chinese Drama Shows

Television is considered an important asset in today’s day and age. It is an electronic storyteller that tells of the past, present, and future. When someone turns on a TV, there is a plethora of shows, movies, and broadcasts to choose from, so how does one choose what to watch? What uses and gratifications do they receive from it? This is a question that we will explore in the category of drama serial shows. In particularly, we will examine what themes, in the drama show “Meteor Garden,” attract viewers. The Taiwanese drama “Meteor Garden” is an extremely popular soap opera that takes place in Taipei, Taiwan. The four main characters are attractive, Chinese actors that pull viewers in, especially young girls. The main characters’ looks make up for the poor acting and exaggerated script and facial expressions. In order for a television show to be successful amongst its viewers, there must be a middle ground where the audience can relate. In the drama, there are two themes that pull Chinese audiences in and a twist that further lures them. These themes and twist are relevant to Chinese audiences’ lives, so they are able to relate to them. The theme of flexibility between hyper-masculine and sensitive men, the theme of material and wealth-based love, and the counteraction of material and wealth based love all work together to entertain, relate, and intrigue Chinese audiences.

“Meteor Garden” is a love story between a rich, powerful man, Dao Ming Si, and a poor, average woman, Shan Cai. Shan Cai is far from wealthy, but she attends a prestige college, the Ying De University in Taipei, because her parents wish for her to receive a good education and a rich husband. While she is there, she angers the leader of F4, Dao Ming Si. F4 is a group of 4 males in which their parents founded the school and are the CEO’s of the 4 most powerful companies: Dao Ming Si, Hua Ze Lei, Mei Zuo, and Xi Men. Usually no one dares to anger them, but Shan Cai is very brave and stands strong to her beliefs and morals. This causes Si to take interest in Shan Cai. The two begin to fall for each other, but Dao Ming Si’s Mother stands in the way. She does not want to see the future successor of her company marry a poor girl that has nothing to offer. Throughout the season, the audience is presented with Si and Shan Cai’s many struggles and tribulations. Finally, after many tears, fights, and rebellions, Shan Cai and Si end up together in the end, despite what Si’s mother thinks.

In the serial drama “Meteor Garden,” the main character Dao Ming Si shows various hyper-masculine traits and an aggressive identity. From the very beginning of the show, Si is first introduced as a powerful, wealthy male. Along with his three friends, who are also very powerful because of their social status, they are known as F4 because they rule the school. In season 1 episode 1, Si red flags Shan Cai, which is a sign that she has offended or angered one of the members of F4. After the red flag, Si is seen yelling at Shan Cai with an aggressive look on his face until he eventually shoves her to the ground. Another instance where Si shows hyper-masculine traits is in episode 5 when he is shown dragging one of his classmates’ scooters around with his car. This act of bullying shows hyper-masculinity because he is shown as a macho man because he is bullying someone who is inferior to him. Both of these examples show Dao Ming Si as an aggressive male.

In contrast, Si also shows various moments of emotional sensitivity. When Si starts to fall for Shan Cai, his manhood slowly breaks down as his emotions take over. In numerous scenes, Shan Cai hurts Si when she tells him that she does not like him. His reaction of hurt is clearly seen in his facial expressions as they show his vulnerability. Another example is in episode 10 when Si takes a beating from guys who abduct Shan Cai. Although he is enduring the pain that is being inflicted, his motivation and intentions for his actions are those that come from his sensitive side. He is taking the beating to show his love for Shan Cai; despite his social standing and class, he is allowing people lower than himself to rise above him and take control of the situation. To do what Si does shows great emotional sensitivity because he stoops down to a lower level when he actually resides at the top. These examples counteract his hyper-masculine instances, which show the flexibility that is demonstrated by Dao Ming Si.

The second theme of material and wealth based love is also shown in “Meteor Garden.” In episode 24, Dao Ming Feng, Si’s mother, tries to set him up with women who have wealthy parents so that they can merge their companies together to become even more powerful than they already are. Not only does she try to arrange a marriage for Si, but she also attempts to forbid Si from seeing Shan Cai. She believes that Shan Cai is not worthy of her son because she is poor, and her parents do not have elite jobs. In episode 27, it shows Dao Ming Feng aspiring for her son to marry a wealthy, high status woman. She quotes, “ I know what is good for Si and what will hinder his future, … this is the best arrangement for Si’s life, only the daughter from a prestigious family is compatible with the only successor of the Daoming Holdings.”[1] From both examples, it is seen that this theme is prevalent in this drama series. Dao Ming Feng believes in the traditional ways of marriage, which is why she believes that she has control over who Si marries, and by picking someone who fits her criterion of wealth and status to further flourish their power.

However, Si is shown to counteract this theme by going against his mother’s wishes and orders by continuing to pursue and be with Shan Cai. In episode 14, Si tells his mother off when he tells her that he would rather give up everything he has than give up Shan Cai. His mother screams back and slaps Si for his disobedience, but Si doesn’t give in, for he continues to retaliate and leaves his own birthday party hand-in-hand with Shan Cai. This is the peak of the counteraction of material and wealth based love because it is the moment when Si makes clear to his mother that he will not obey her traditional marriage wishes. This counteraction attracts Chinese viewers because it is different from the usual norm.

In Asian medias, men possess flexibility in the ways they act or are portrayed by displays of both hyper masculine and sensitive characteristics. This relates to Chinese audiences because the different “forms of masculinity are becoming increasing hybrid in a globalizing China and that the male image in these dramas are a product of social changes tied in with new formations of power.”[2] This product gives people more choices than the simple contrast between male and female by concentrating on the contrast within the male. The social change that is shown is the increasing preference to a more “feminized” type of manhood, which is considered the traditional type of a soft and delicate male. The hyper-masculine trait has lost a lot of its appeal due to social changes. “The hegemonic definition of masculinity is a man in power, a man with power, and a man of power.”[3] This statement attests for another reason why flexibility has emerged for men. Because masculinity is measured in the above terms, this gives men leeway for expressing their emotional side. If they have power in wealth and status, they can act in a more sensitive way that is not as emasculating. This flexibility also shows the power shift from male to female. With this, it is said “women’s liberation in China was premised on the reduction of men’s economic power, and this reduction had only diminished men’s social status but also impaired their manhood by turning them into the obedient instruments of the authoritarian party-state.”[4] The flexibility of men in drama serial shows reflect national issues that are occurring throughout China. In this case, the toggling between hyper-masculine and sensitive traits represents the social change and power shift in China.

Not only is it the social change and power shift that gives room for flexibility, but it is also on behalf of the government. The censorship of TV programs is controlled by the government, in which they can choose what can be broadcasted. Because it is directly under the control of the Propaganda Department of the Communist party, this guarantees that television is a mass medium that is suppose to be ethically inspiring and uplifting and helps maintain an image of social stability and national harmony.[5] Because of this, the government has the power to relay messages to the public through the types of media they choose to broadcast. The government wants to ensure citizens that they have free choice when it comes to marriage. This is the government’s way of displaying propaganda for the social changes, and this is a way for China to create a national identity that is moving away from collectivism and towards individualism and individual freedom.

The theme of material and wealth based love is popular in drama serials because it is still an issue of ongoing concern. Before the 1980 marriage law of the People’s Republic of China, marriages had no rules, which meant there were no regulations to what is allowed and what is prohibited. A few of the new regulations of the 1980 marriage law are: free choice of partners, mercenary marriage and any other acts of interference in the freedom or marriage are prohibited, marriage is based upon the willingness of both parties, neither party shall use compulsion, and no third party is to interfere.[6] This law is active in China, but people do not exactly abide by them because some of them are still tied to the past. “Marriage in traditional or prerevolutionary China was a contract between families rather than a contract between individuals. Both the search for eligible and mate selection were based on family needs and values rather than on attraction, love, or emotional involvement.”[7] The two most important criterions for this was social and economic status of class because it was the easiest way to move up on the social and class ladder. While governmental efforts to aim eliminate “marriage by purchase,” the traditional values and customs seem to be remarkably resistant to change. Due to this resistance, the theme of material and wealth based love is still very prevalent to the Chinese people, therefore making it a very relatable and intriguing theme in drama serial shows.

Though there is resistance, changes have occurred in marriages in China. “The fact that a new law was designed and passed suggests that there are still problems and that there is still a great deal of work to be done before the traditional Chinese marriage system is replace by the revolutionary ideals of the communist government.”[8] Because traditional methods are still firmly pressed, to see a marriage that abides by the marriage law is revolutionary. This is why a twist in soap dramas lures viewers in; it is something that is not as prevalent as it should be. To see a couple from different backgrounds and social classes freely choose each other as their mates without a third party negotiator is eye opening to Chinese audiences. It entices them to watch the next episode because they want to see how a relationship under those terms pans out. “Inevitably as the Chinese citizen begins to gain more freedom, Communist Party control of private behavior will undoubtedly to challenged, particular as the Chinese hear about the life in other countries and societies.”[9] Rebellion is something that will appeal to viewers whether it is to existing laws or cultural traditions.

When looking at performances as a whole, it is a great work of art; however, when broken down, there are aspects of the media that have certain motives and accomplish different things. When focusing on performing nation, the idea on how China as a whole creates an identity through their performing arts is introduced, this can be considered a medium in which an image and identity can be created and relayed to many viewers through the mass media. When looking at the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony. This ceremony gives China an opportunity to perform nation, or to change how the world views them. Zhang Yimou is the director of the ceremony, which was an excellent choice. He is a good medium for relaying a new image of China to the world because many of his works are popular in the west as well as to the people of China. This is similar to the research done on “Meteor Garden” because the twist in the relationship conditions, a rich man and a poor woman, shows how China’s relationship customs are changing. It is no longer solely based on national love, but is expanding to include and become more accepting of individual love. The government uses television shows to show the viewers what is acceptable and what the populous view on things should be. In both “Meteor Garden” and the opening ceremony, the government takes advantage of these instances to create an image they wish to identify with.

Performances not only perform identity, but they have the ability to perform place as well. Performance place explores how a place is experienced, presented, and promoted as a place of tourism to showcase life in that area. An example of a performing place would be the “Impression of Liu Sanjie,” which investigates how the setting is not just where the performance takes place, but it is the epitome of the performance. It takes place on the Li River where bright, colorful lights surround the diligent dancers perform scenes from the daily lives of people from the Li River. As stated by China’s travel guide, “you will gain a realistic impression on the background of Sanjie’s birthplace and understand the beauty of the folk songs’ hometown.”[10] This work of art is considered performing place because the performance enlightens its viewers on life in that particular scenic spot. “Meteor Garden” demonstrates performing place because it takes place in Taipei, while also infusing interculturalism. Interculturalism focuses on the infusing of cultures in a single performance. This could range from styles, techniques, cast choices, and language. For example, the Chinese adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hedda,” or “Aspiration Sky High,” uses the original story line but uses Chinese aesthetics to convey the message. Although the message is slightly different from the original, the base foundation for the play is the same. As Sun Huizhu states in his article “Performing Arts and Cultural Identity in the Era of Interculturalism,” “when a culture finds itself surrounded by more powerful new cultures, maintaining tradition forms is critical, yet at the same time very difficult, for people to feel rooted in their cultural identity, it is important to find traditional cultural elements that are still relevant and practicable.”[11] When displaying interculturalism, the goal is to relay the same message through ways that can be relatable to the intended audience. The setting of “Meteor Garden” does not set audience boundaries to only Taiwanese viewers because the actors are Chinese. The Chinese cast in Taiwan demonstrates interculturalism because it is mixing the two together. Interculturalism that is present in “Meteor Garden” while it shows life in Taipei through Chinese actors and actresses.

When looking back at the two themes that make “Meteor Garden” relatable to Chinese audiences, it can be seen that the first theme, flexibility between the hyper-masculine male and the sensitive male, is also found in Chinese popular culture, specifically Mandopop. In Mandopop, men do not have limits on how they want to portray themselves. For example, in the song “Black Tangerine”, David Tao bounces between hyper-masculine traits and sensitive traits in his music video. The lyrics are very sensitive and emotional as he sings about sadness and repeatedly says, “I just want to cry.”[12] Conversely, the beat of the song is very masculine because it has a hard rock tune. Furthermore, his presentation is very masculine because his facial expressions are fierce, he shows off his built body, and moves with aggressive body movements. Comparing Dao Ming Si to this, he is very similar because he goes between an aggressive male that screams fights, and shouts to a sensitive male that proclaims his love for Shan Cai, cries, and shows weakness. When looking at Mandopop and “Meteor Garden,” it is evident that the theme of flexibility in men is present in both.

When reviewing the second theme of material and wealth based love, it is discussed earlier how “Meteor Garden” takes a spin on this theme by counteracting the traditional ways of marriage. Dao Ming Si, a rich, powerful male, rebels and disobeys his mother in order to be with the love of his life, Shan Cai, who is a poor female. Chinese audiences find this intriguing because this problem still exists. Despite the fact that the government passed a law stating that marriage and partner choice is of free will and choice, many Chinese people still struggle with being able to love who they want to without interference. When performances are experimental or different, it can be labeled as avant-garde. When looking at Meng Jinghui’s play “Rhinoceros in Love,” avant-garde can be described as something that surfaces a new idea displaying a social problem that interacts with the audience to create a new understanding. This is similar to “Meteor Garden” because it exhibits the three parts of what it means to be avant-garde: it rises the social issue of spouse choice, it interacts with the audience by showing a rich male with a poor female, and it has hopes of giving the audience a new understanding of different methods for choosing a partner. “Meteor Garden” can be considered avant-garde according to the terms that are drawn from Meng Jinghui’s play “Rhinoceros in Love.”

As the world deepens into the era of technology, mass media becomes increasingly important with a vast range of what to watch. With so many options, the question of what to pick becomes difficult. However, as explained above, themes that are infused in shows target a middle ground between them and their intended viewers. In the drama serial show “Meteor Garden,” there are two dominant themes that Chinese audiences can relate to: flexibility of men to move between hyper-masculine characteristics and sensitive characteristics and material and wealth based love. These two themes work together to intrigue and motivate the viewer to continue watching. If this does not pull the audience in, the counteraction of material and wealth based love will because it is an issue that is still problematic in China. The themes and counteraction create a common ground between the show and the audience so they can relate while being fully absorbed into the show.

 

Notes

[1] Youtube, Season 1 Episode 27, 4:24
[2] Song, Geng- Page 404
[3] Song, Geng- Page 410
[4] Song, Geng- Page 407
[5] Song, Geng- Page 412
[6] Engel, John- Page 956, 957
[7] Engel, John- Page 956
[8] Engel, John- Page 960
[9] Bullough, V.L., & Ruan, F.F
[10] Travel China Guide
[11] Huizhu, Sun
[12] Tao David

Works Cited

Bullough, V.L., & Ruan, F.F. (1994). “Marriage, divorce and sexual relations in contemporary
China.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 25(3), 383. Retrieved from http://
search.proquest.com/docview/232575054

Engel, John.  (1984). “Marriage in the People’s Republic of China: Analysis of a New
Law.” Journal of Marriage and Family, 46, 95 961. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.
org/stable/352547

Huizhu, Sun. “Performing Arts and Cultural Identity In The Era of Interculturalism.” 7-11. Print.

Kamio, Y. (Writer), & Tsai, Y.H. (Director). (2001). Finale (27). In A. Chai (Producer), Meteor
Garden.
Taipei, Taiwan: Chinese Television System

Song, Geng. (2010). “Chinese Masculinities Revisited: Male Images in Contemporary Television
Drama Serials.” Modern China, 36, 404-434. Retrieved from http://mcx.sagepub.com.
proxy.lib. umich.edu/content/36/4/404.full.pdf+html

Tao, David. (9 August 2002). Black Tangerine. On Black Tangerine (Audio). Taiwan: Shok
Records.

Travel China Guide. “Impression Sanjie Liu.” Travel China Guide. Web. Retrieved 13
December 2013.

EXAMPLE OF HYPER-MASCULINE

Source: www.youtube.com

Source: www.youtube.com

EXAMPLE OF SENSITIVITY 

Source: www.youtube.com

Source: www.youtube.com

EXAMPLES OF MATERIAL AND WEALTH BASED LOVE
Below is a video from from Season 1 Episode 27 that shows Dao Ming Si’s mother aspiring for her son to marry a wealthy, high status woman. At 4:24 she quotes, “I know what is good for Si and what will hinder his future, … This is the best arrangement for Si’s life, only the daughter from a prestigious family is compatible with the only successor of the Daoming holdings.”

COUNTERACTING MATERIAL AND WEALTH BASED LOVE
Below is a video clip from episode 14 where Dao Ming Si tells his mom that he wants to give up everything that he has, including his wealth, status, and company, to be with Shan Cai. His disobedience to his mother is shown at 5:45,

HOW TO GAIN ACCESS TO METEOR GARDEN SEASON 1

  • I will collect my research and evidence from the entire first season of “Meteor Garden.” I will be viewing several different episodes. To gain access to the episodes i will use: http://www.youtube.com 
  • To find the episodes on YouTube, search: Meteor Garden Season 1 Episode __ Part __

**Due to the size of the episodes, they are split into different parts, usually either 5 or 6 parts