Time Travel Romance: A Fantasy Escape to a Glorious Space
Have you ever wished you could just escape the anxieties and mundanity of modern life by traveling back to Qing Dynasty China? How does time travel romance create a simulacra of a “glorious and wealthy feudal past” that allows audiences to “effortlessly become a love interest and an admired woman through the male gaze shaped by multiple admirers”?
Guest: Dr. Huike Wen is a professor teaching media studies and global cultural studies at Willamette University, and is the author of Romance in Post-Socialist Chinese Television. We discuss a chapter on time travel romance that discusses two 2011 Chinese TV dramas: Startling By Each Step and Palace.
Have you ever wished you could just escape the anxieties and mundanity of modern life by traveling back to Qing Dynasty China? How does time travel romance create a simulacra of a “glorious and wealthy feudal past” that allows audiences to “effortlessly become a love interest and an admired woman through the male gaze shaped by multiple admirers”?
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- Startling by Each Step (2011)
- Palace (2011)
Guest: Dr. Huike Wen
Professor teaching media studies and global cultural studies at Willamette University
Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories and fiction across media time and cultures. Shelf Love is for the curious and open-minded who joyfully question as they consume pop culture. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by Dr. Huike Wen, a professor teaching media studies and global cultural studies at Willamette University. And today she'll be sharing her research on romance in post- socialist Chinese television, and more specifically time travel romance.
Thank you so much for being here.
Huike Wen: Thank you So, much, Andrea, for having me here today.
I'm Huike and I have been studying romance for a long time. So it's a great pleasure to have this opportunity to share my research with you and your audience.
Andrea Martucci: Huike, your research focuses on the intersections of technology and social issues in a global context. What drew you to these topics? In addition to romance?
Huike Wen: Yeah, because I was trained in media studies and I was inspired by a group of thinkers. They define the technology in a very broad sense. So my interpretation is that technology's anything abstract and concrete, which has been interacting with a human society. For example, Lewis Mumford's discussion about the role of clock in modernization was a very important work that inspired me to think about technology and social issues.
And from the perspective of media studies, this definition for technology and the media helps me learn from scholars like Dr. John Peters examination of a calendar and our discussions about syllabus in teaching, et cetera. So I think that the intersections of technology and social issues has always been very inspiring.
And it becomes even more relevant in recent years for the reasons we all know and are experiencing now.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It definitely feels like there is such an awareness of how much technology has changed the way we interact with the world and media. And in thinking about clocks and calendars as a type of technology, also like paper and printing is a type of technology. Although we tend to think of technology as just digital and you know, computers.
Huike Wen: Yeah. And also technology is really interacting with our emotions. And romantic love is pretty much about emotions and other relevant issues.
Andrea Martucci: Yes. And I'm excited to talk about that with Baudrillard, which I'm just so excited to talk about Baudrillard at some point. But to set the context you wrote a book that was published in 2021 called Romance in Post- Socialist Chinese Television. And there's a [00:03:00] chapter in your book about time travel romance, which looks at two romance dramas from 2011.
Why do you think time travel romances are an appealing setup for Chinese audiences at this time?
Huike Wen: Yeah. I really appreciate this question because when I watched the time travel television drama back to the days, I was just surprised by how many of them were out there. And I think if we think romances are for fantasy and for something larger than life, then time travel romance provides this fantasy.
Like a lot of factors. The boring ones that affect our romantic imagination and expectation experience and not there in the imagination of time travel romances. It is mainly because people often travel back into a space in which they don't have to worry about finding an ideal job, getting tasks done, paying your mortgage, dealing with the system and the other pressures of 21st century society.
So I think that's probably why time travel romance was very appealing to the Chinese audience around 2011. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Right. When I think of 2011 when I think about that time, it feels very recent to the 2008 stock market crash in the U S. Was there similar financial instability in China
Huike Wen: Yes. I really appreciate you use instability. Which means that it also created this perception that you could change your status by maybe working hard or finding opportunities. And a lot of time, I think that people thought if they couldn't do better, it was because they were either not working hard enough or they were not looking hard enough for that kind of opportunities, but that just added more pressures to their life.
Andrea Martucci: The two Chinese time travel romance, TV shows that you studied, Every Step is Startling and Palace both have the protagonists going back to Qing Dynasty China, which I believe it's about a 300 ish year period, but I think both of them go back to around the late 17 hundreds.
Huike Wen: You are correct.
Andrea Martucci: I think it's interesting because the corollary I see there with Anglo English-speaking romances, there's a huge interest in Regency era, England. And it feels like for Chinese audiences, the time period that is romanticized and gone back to the most is this particular era perhaps of the Qing Dynasty.
And I wonder just to pause there for a second, what do you think in particular about that time period is appealing as a [00:06:00] location to revisit and reimagine.
Huike Wen: I think historians might provide a lot of explanations about that, but there are some factors I think most of people will agree with each other. For example, that was the time that China's economy and culture reached to the peak of what is dynasty culture. And also there was a time that you just had a lot of princes in the palace because the Qing Dynasty, the emperor had many sons and the economy, everything was very strong, government. And the competition was very strong too, which we can see. It's very similar to 2011 that time when the people were competing, the societies, especially the young man, they had to compete for opportunities.
And the women had to find their position in the society, facing that kind of strong competition. And also the perception that you can change your fate or somehow move to a different or better direction your life. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: And so while these are two different TV shows, there were a lot of similarities in kind of the construction of the definitely the series narrative arcs and also the character archetypes for the main modern characters who go back in time. So can you talk about some of the commonalities that you identified as important similarities there that seem to call out as this is what's important.
This is an important element of this story that is tapping into the audience's needs here.
Huike Wen: I think that's a great question because one thing I want to point out is both of the TV dramas were actually based on a novel written by actually a Chinese American writer.
Andrea Martucci: Oh,
Huike Wen: Yeah. She came to the United States to study. And then after a year she wrote a novel about this time traveler back to China.
So there's a connected to later, when I was discussing the space in this story, I thought it was very interesting.
So the basic plot, of course, the TV producers change, you know, adapted from their own version visions, but the basic plot are very similar, like a very common girl. You can see this type of a girl in the urban space everywhere in Chinese city, they have issues finding their love or have a relation problem with their parents.
And then because of an unusual incident the girl travels back to the Qing Dynasty, China. And now of course, for a lot of comical moments, they met the sons of the Emperor and somehow developed a closer [00:09:00] relationship with all of them. Some of them were more friends and some of them of course were very much in love with her.
And then the second plot is the girl always impressed these princes with her knowledge about their future and some analysis of Qing Dynasty. Of course, they learned about those things from a historical novels, fictions, TV dramas, or maybe high school textbook. They didn't have to study, that was there.
So they just pull out something and share with those men and then they were impressed by how she could predict what would happen. And then at least the two or three of the princes fall in love with her, but of course she only loves one of them. And then they had to experience many life and death moments and eventually prove that their are true love. And then the girl helped the princes survive many dangerous events with her knowledge of history and modern life. And then the fourth plot is the girl is loved by the emperor, the father of the young men, because she knew some interesting recipes and tricks such as making an ice cream and pastry or designing tea cups that had an image for each individual.
But something I think all of us can do somehow. And the fifth plot commonly shared by the two, TV dramas, the girl came back to contemporary life after time traveling. So if we're going into details, we will find a lot of other similar plots, but this is the five plots I want to highlight. I think very important.
Andrea Martucci: And in the chapter, I know you also talked about how the main female characters who go back in time. You had pulled in Radway here talking about her studies in the eighties with romance readers, but saying there were some similarities where these characters were rejecting feminine ways and really pushing back on societal expectations for young women and how that sort of was signaling the discontent with modern life and they're kind of innocent and inexperienced.
And so it feels like there's a very interesting interplay with the gender roles here, where on the one hand they're pushing back. But on the other hand, the reason they're admired by the princes is because they're innocent and inexperienced, which are considered desirable, feminine traits. They're pure, they don't have ambition.
And so they give emotionally, they're incredibly emotionally supportive of these men, which very much fits into sort of stereotypical gender roles. But then they're like, oh no, I'm plucky. At the beginning, they're pushing back against modern life, but then they [00:12:00] return to modern life after being in the past and seem to have a new appreciation for their role in society by the time they return.
Huike Wen: Yeah. And I wish I talked to you when I was writing the chapter. So I could borrow what you just said, because that was a great analysis of the content that troubled me when I watched. It was enjoyable to watch it because it was fun. And like you said, a lot of those traits or characteristics that a modern girl has is fun in that kind of space because they were innocent.
They were out spoken. Almost a sounded really silly and scary at the same time, but that made them very different from the other women in the palace. And they didn't care about what those women cared about because you just went there to visit and didn't care about the social status or their position in a palace, because he knew they were just temporarily visiting.
That was not their space. They were not interested in that kind of competition at all. So that made them very desirable for the emperor's, sons, right, who are competing with each other. Make them very interesting to hang out, to discuss. They talk something about politics about life and not just about how much you are going to love me and take care of my family, those type.
But in the end, they also came back to modern life because they realize that the life and the deaths in the past and how powerless women could be without love from a powerful man. And after this whole process of falling in love and one of them passed away, in history, but came back to the reality. One of them came back with the prince that she was in love with because they saw that the modern life has more opportunities and hope for them.
Andrea Martucci: I went on YouTube and I watched the part of the first and part of the last episodes for both of them. And so he comes back in Palace, but in Every Step is Startling, she dies in the past. Comes back, and I think she runs into a guy who maybe is the prince in modern day, but he doesn't recognize her, even if she thinks it's him. So it's not happily ever after.
Huike Wen: But it's also like the beginning
Andrea Martucci: Okay.
Huike Wen: maybe a possible romance. So they give the audience a kind of hope they might get to know each other and fall in love again, all over again in the modern time. Maybe not, but they didn't want to make the audience feel sad about it.
Andrea Martucci: There's the time travel aspect of these stories. And then there's also the fact that they go back to a point in history [00:15:00] that creates this setting that is represented as a historical period drama. In romance scholarship and there's also a lot of discourse in the wider romance community, which I always have to say I mostly experience through Twitter.
It's you know, there's a lot of discussions about, quote unquote historical accuracy, and in many ways, accuracy is both used as " I do all this research as a romance author and it's totally historically accurate," but also on the other hand, there's very selective details that are quote unquote historically accurate.
And I think also many in the audience are like, I am not here for the historical accuracy. I do not care. It's not important. The usage of historical accuracy can also be weaponized by some people to push back against anything represented in that history that doesn't center them or people like them, or it doesn't adhere to stereotypical understandings of the past.
you know, I think there's a big discussion about historical accuracy. And so I was so glad that in your chapter, you brought up Baudrillard here because you were talking about how time travel romances creation of a simulacra of Qing Dynasty, China, essentially calling out, it's not actually meant to represent the reality of Qing Dynasty China. It's how that exists in people's imagination as Qing dynasty China. Can you say more about how in In audience's minds and perhaps especially modern audience's minds, who were immersed in so much media and so many different media representations of these things, almost more so than history books' representations of these things, how the idea of a historical setting and the time travel plot is appropriated, or can be appropriated by modern Chinese audiences to kind of work out their current anxieties, particularly in postmodernism, which is why Baudrillard feels particularly relevant here.
Huike Wen: Oh, thank you so much, Andrea. I think this question helped me highlight a lot of those selective historical records, and it commonly knew by audience or from a very different background. And I think we can think about this combining Baudrillard's discussion about postmodern life and also romance as a genre. Many scholars in romance studies have pointed out that it is hard to depict the romance in postmodern era.
Which is why romcom is more popular than a sentimental and classical romance in contemporary media, right? Because all the barriers and the challenges that the lovers had to conquer seem like not that important and the fantastic anymore. I think we all discussed when we are discussing the romance studies, we know that [00:18:00] romance empowers the readers to imagine life beyond the daily mundane. And somehow provides a mean to temporarily escape from their anxieties. I think the Qing Dynasty portrayed in this type of time-travel romance is simplified as a space where life and death moments happen every day.
And the love is constantly tested and developed to a deeper level. Which in the modern urban space, it is hard to achieve this level of testing and conquering. My interpretation is that in this space, the issues that I had bored authors and audience of the stories in real life did not exist anymore.
They want something larger than life. Like I just said a lot of things, they had to worry about, we don't have to talk about in this space. So that's why I thought it was very interesting how it's talking about time traveling, but actually it's more about the space than about time. The time just makes the space imaginable and intangible to the audience.
And this is very much connected with Baudrillard's discussion about history in modern time or in the representational postmodern cultural products.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And part of the reason I was so happy to see Baudrillard come up is because I think that it's so applicable to probably, like two aspects of the romance genre. One of those things is essentially that the genre through repetition enforces certain ideas about things , they're a copy of a copy of copy that no longer bear a resemblance to the original thing.
And that happens by the fact that there are conventions of genre and archetypes and tropes, and it starts to drift away from maybe how we actually interpret those things in, quote unquote reality. But as people who are immersed in the genre, it makes sense in the genre, like the genre starts to create its own world.
And the second thing, particularly when it comes to romance novels, simulacra of the emotions that we're talking about. Romantic love is something that people experience in real life, but a lot of our experience of it is really filtered through and interpreted through how we experience it in media.
Huike Wen: Yeah.
And thank you so much for bringing the emotions up. I think the, the post-modern urban space, one of the things people feel powerless is how to develop a relationship that people can feel secure and can be there for them, the trust, the development of that. And it's not something that the young, urbanites that can control, but traveling back to the palace, suddenly all the life and [00:21:00] death moments, those things, they cannot control are not as important because they somehow can control their emotion, can get the trash. They can get the dependence and feeling their value in that dangerous space. And that kind of provide the opportunity for the audience to escape from the fact that they're in the post-modern life, where most of the things are out of control, especially emotions.
Andrea Martucci: When you start talking about an emotion like romantic love in the context of life and death, it's so clear. You love this person or you don't. Versus in modern life, we're balancing not only the emotions, but practical concerns like saving for retirement or getting a job, finding a partner who you can build a life together with and, do chores together with, and it's much harder to understand or balance the emotions with those practical concerns.
Yeah it's the amping up of the stakes is intended. intentional.
Huike Wen: Yeah, and also when you think of in the modern life, is life and the death, that's scary
Andrea Martucci: Yeah,
Huike Wen: to get that right?
But in the Qing dynasty palace provider a reasonable kind of a space for them and to develop this type of relationship, right? Because in modern life, most of the time intimate relationship is a long process, is to live and to cope with the mundane, sometimes are a lot of tedious issues you have to finishing. What you call errands and Chores.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
Huike Wen: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. You brought up the idea of space, which is from Henry Jenkins' work and Henry Jenkins. My understanding is he's a fan studies scholar primarily. Can you talk a little bit more about what the idea of a space is, and then how you've already explained a bit about how you're thinking of a time travel romance as a space, but what is Henry Jenkins talking about there and how are you applying it to this?
Huike Wen: Oh, I think this connected with that crazy concept called deterritorialization. This is a very difficult concept because it's translated into English. It's hard read. Deleuze and Guattari, they're the two philosophers they are famous for being difficult to read. But I think though, for any philosophy, it is a hard read away.
Regional language is already very hard not to mention is translating into a different language, but they coined this concept deterritorialization in 1980s. It's a political economy concept, but fortunately they encouraged their readers to expand their definition, they even invited people to apply in a sense that's beyond their work.[00:24:00]
So I combined their definition with Henry Jenkins' interpretation of space in fan culture. Now to simplify this, all these concepts, my interpretation is that in the modern life with the media technology that the defense that I imagined to go to a different spaces, any kind of spaces to help fun, to give some concrete examples, they have clubs, they have conference gathering, they can perform their figure in the movie. Have fun imagining they are in the story,
Andrea Martucci: Cosplay
Huike Wen: Yeah, cosplay. I was trying to find that term. So they do that. So I expanded this definition of space because, before COVID, the traveling was not that hard for a lot of people all over the world. And they want to talk you went somewhere when they had the time and a little bit of money to buy the tickets, to plan that.
So just the physical space traveling was not as exciting anymore. Then, my interpretation is space is they travel back to the time. That is more challenging and fantastic for the audience. And also if you think about the concept of time and space, we cannot separate these two concepts.
We always talk about distance with time. This is three hours of flight between us, right? Or, we can decide if we can go to a place by the, oh, this is three hours drive is too far away. So that kind of space and time actually is what makes the concept in my interpretation. So I expanded this explanation about the space and deterritorialization to think about them as an abstract concept. And I think the deterritorialization a lot of people talk about how a symbol or products that can be taken out of the context. And then reterritorialization the new place will give that product concept a different kind of symbolic meaning
Example, have you watched a Titanic?
Andrea Martucci: Yes!
Huike Wen: Yes Yeah. Yeah. And they were huge or when they were released in China in 1997, I think it's a great example of the deterritorialization of a love story. It's in the ocean, right? It's not anywhere, in the water and two people temporarily met and fall in love. Either you don't know about Titanic, you don't know about their historical event or you still can understand a lot of the emotion. So that's example to show that about a space and a romance.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. One of the examples you used in your chapter was making me think about I think this is what it's called, like a jewel box narrative where like the entire, like Clue the movie or there's other examples of this where the [00:27:00] entire story takes place in a room or in a house or some closed, like a very short period of time, a very enclosed space.
And the only thing that matters is within that space, it's completely divorced from the larger context of their lives, political, historical things going on. And and I know that you said that in particular, these time travel romances the time in which they were being produced.
There's kind of a political economy aspect of this too, where the political and cultural landscape of China is complicated as a whole. And without getting too into all of that like the specifics of it, there was a need in order to make media in East Asia to pluck stories up from the specific cultural context of a particular city or the specifics culturally of an area and the concerns of those areas because literally they're trying to create a product that is consumable to a wide range of consumers. And so they have to like, make it more generic and more broadly consumable.
Huike Wen: Yeah, exactly. That's exactly what I was thinking. Thank you for articulating it so clearly,
Andrea Martucci: I just read your chapter and then summarize it.
Huike Wen: Thank you so much, Andrea. It is really happening because the mainland China has a hard time to explort their media products. Because of all the reasons, like you said, the social context and especially the romance is not a very, sentimental enough or emotional enough, if it's depicting our modern life.
But recent 10 years, they are trying to develop like sit-com a good genre for them to explore like a, a room, a space that they don't have to target as much. Just being a funny to try to find that moment. But historical dramas, time traveling, really help them to create the, a space and a context to talk about a love that is understandable and it can connect to an audience from different spaces in the East Asian regional media landscape. Because once it's talking about history, we don't really question what's going on anymore. There's a social class, right? The emperors and common people, princes, with common people, that barrier is big enough for them to develop some passionate love story to conquer those uh, apps that caused the romance.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And this, you were talking earlier about how romcoms have to tonally make love more comedic because there's this idea that modern romance in the contemporary period it's like, well, what's really keeping you people apart? So love doesn't seem to have the [00:30:00] same stakes, but also in the modern day, there is this specificity, when you are projecting yourself onto these characters you're trying to identify with these characters or believe that you identifying as a character is falling in love with another character. If it's too much like real life, you start asking these inconvenient questions, like what is their political affiliation and how do they feel about this issue that's important to me? And if an author or a text is too specific about those things, you run the risk of turning some people off because that doesn't live in their fantasy of a romantic partner.
Huike Wen: Yeah, it's a distraction from their fantasy and they don't want that to happen. You know, the audience came merge in that kind of narrative and experience what the protagonist is experiencing and a temporary take a break from the reality, the life they have to deal with.
Andrea Martucci: Yes to escape to use a buzzword that it comes up often. So when it comes to romantic love and the courtship marketplace, I'm intentionally using very market driven language here. This fantasy seems to appeal to an audience who's aware that their role is both a consumer of romantic partners and also that they are in a marketplace to be consumed.
Can you talk more about time travel romance and how it fulfills the audience, the consumers desire to and I'm quoting from you here, "effortlessly become a love interest and admired woman through the male gaze shaped by multiple admirers."
Huike Wen: I like that sentence.
Andrea Martucci: It's a great sentence.
Huike Wen: Did I write that?
Andrea Martucci: You wrote that. Yeah.
Huike Wen: The thing is, you know what, like this is like going back to the beginning of the question you asked. So why specific Qing Dynasty, that time, specifically that time, because there was a time, all the men that are available to this protagonist woman. Very equal in a way. Their social status, their skills, their personality, and their economic or political power, very equal in a way with some kind of verification, but they are all good candidates.
In modern society, right? If you think about material perspective of these people and they are all young, handsome, educated, respected in the society. So when you lay them out, this is in the Japanese cultural critique Hiroki Azuma pointed out her definition of the concept is the databased fictionality, we can see this in KPop, the boys band, all of those. So the boys groups are trying to manifest because it provide different consumptive images on specific [00:33:00] idols. And then they create a dialogue among the fans. And you talk about, oh, I like a number one. Why do you like that? I think a number three is better, but because they are so similar, this conversation can continue and then the debate is effortless.
You don't really have to talk about what exactly makes them so different. And they're attractive for a specific audience. Just like the hair style. So you don't have to talk about all because this person coming off the, from this background, the presents this, and I'm from this background. That's why I like this person.
But you can have fun conversation as a fan. This is still happening. A lot of the time in the particularly Asian popular cultural products, including animes, video games, right? You think about Pokemon and how many choices you can make, right. And mangas and romantic love stories are particularly interesting in doing that now to create your sense of choice to give the protagonist the opportunity to make their own choice based on their individual desire of choice. Individual values. I think that's, it's better to describe this situation. As audience, if you identify with the protagonist you can feel that kind of joy of using that power, making that choice.
Andrea Martucci: I thought of two things here. One is how often in romance media, we rely on these archetypes of, character representations where, you know, again, I always go back to Baudrillard, but this idea that through repetition, we're building these associations of this archetype. There's all these attributes related to this archetype and they don't actually have to be there. We just associate them. There's it's symbolically attached to that archetype and it turns these people into products to be consumed and it simplifies them. You were talking earlier about deterritorialization and sort of this I think you were referencing Marx in particular, the idea of separating the product from the context. Yes. Where it's it doesn't really matter that the attributes of this archetype would make a good romantic partner for you. You sort of build this understanding of this being desirable and whether it's truly there or not, you believe all of these things are attached to the signifier of these things.
And in regencies, for example, the idea of a duke being desirable, or prince in Qing dynasty desirable. You don't actually have to know that much more about them beyond that there's a signifier that makes them desirable and then you get to choose amongst them because there's the sensitive one. And this is the funny one, and this is the one that's particularly attractive and there's a lot of chemistry with [00:36:00] them. So it starts to kind of divorce them as romantic partners from who they truly are as individuals.
Huike Wen: Yeah. And that makes us more focused on the emotional connection, between us as the audience and the narrative to amplify the emotional attachment between the people. In a sense it is a great way to empower the audience who feel they are powerless in the society because at least we have emotions, if we don't have other things.
We don't possess the standard of beauty, that type of thing. We are not as smart as a lot of people expect us to be, but at least we have emotion. And then we can emotionally as an individual to connect with our protagonists that make the audience feel very good about themselves.
And then that's one of the reasons why we enjoy those repetitive depictions. And as you said, in order to make a romance intelligible or enjoyable for audiences from the different background, it is almost a necessity to do so. If you connect with the cultural context, and then you have to understand the history, understand the very specific experience and emotions from that culture.
That's why, if you compare the romance made targeting specific for adult age group, or even mainland China with this type of romance time traveling is a coproduction between mainland Chinese media company and the other East Asian company, you will find that they are very different.
The time travel romance is mostly the target at an audience from different background. But the other one is more for the people who either experienced or really study that history in depth could develop a understanding and emotion about that experience.
Andrea Martucci: So this also made me think about how we then bring these ideas into our real life. So I wrote in the margins, in this area of your chapter, Bumble or dating apps, where essentially the people in the dating app are this data-based, it is a literal database of individuals you can choose from.
And I think there's an appeal of this, and it's also distressing to be yourself a product in this database, because on the one hand, the choice of choosing and swiping, right or swiping left, making those decisions about other people is pleasurable, but understanding ourselves, to have other people making decisions about us as a romantic partner is distressing.
So there's a tension there. And in these dramas, to come back to your beautiful sentence, "effortlessly become a love [00:39:00] interest and an admired woman through the male gaze shaped by multiple admirers." So she not only has many choices, but also she doesn't have to worry about being rejected by these multiple options.
These men are not interested in any other woman but her, she has their undivided attention. She doesn't have to fear of rejection from them.
Huike Wen: Exactly. Yeah. That kind of solved the anxiety in the postmodern life. It's always some competitions or distractions from the people. And also from an individual's perspective, it's hard to really deeply trust anybody. And also we, if we watch the media products that produced in recent two or three decades, a lot of time, the romance is not that romantic.
It's almost like anti-romance, the betrayal and divorce, all of those real issues happen, then you how to somehow survive that and bounce back and then recollect yourself in that process. But that's a painful to experience.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. We would all like to be the one that everybody wants and not have to worry about actually having that, that competition. It's distressing.
Huike Wen: And or actually change ourselves. Not voluntarily because of the force, to change how you looked or change, how you behave to change in your knowledge poor that's a lot of work to get those. So they provided this kind of fantasy for us to think, just being ourselves and you are desirable enough for any man that you want to be with.
Andrea Martucci: To actually talk about something specific to post-socialist China, both of these romances are a heterosexual couple. Let's just start with an assumption of heteronormativity in these texts. Can you talk a little bit about the cultural context of China, where there's this organization, is it called S a R F T a or there's
Huike Wen: Yes.
Andrea Martucci: Where there's literal restrictions and or guidelines and censorship that restrict A) certain types of romantic love from being depicted and B) literally even storylines because as you wrote about in your chapter after these romances came out this government organization said no more time travel romance, it's historically inaccurate. It's going to give young, impressionable people, bad ideas.
We, we can't have this anymore. Like how is that then influencing how these stories play out, where there's the expectation that you have to reinforce the dominant cultural values of the place in which it's produced.
Huike Wen: Yeah. And I think that's a great point to think about the regulation and the policy. The people use a censorship, you have official censorship and also [00:42:00] cultural censorship. And self-censorship in a culture, the environment. And then that to make a time traveling very logical for people to imagine a heterosexual normative couple, despite the fact actually in history, there are a lot of stories that depict a normative relationship in a culture, but the, like what we go back to Baudrillard's definition, it's not about historical accuracy.
It's about the symbolic meaning So perception based on that kind of representation and the symbolic meaning. So in that environment, the Chinese media landscape right now is the mainstream culture. Non-normative relationship is definitely invisible in the dominant media, but in subculture, they always find that there a way to represent that relationship. In recent years, a years in Korean media, they really, a bunch of scholars coined a concept about the boy romance
Yes. Like a brotherhood, but the kind of, intensive brotherhood, more than brotherhood to depict that almost like a homosexual relationship, but because of the society, the dominant ideology about a heterosexual normative, which is so strong and dominant. So people don't have to worry about the interpretation of that.
That's the main creative kind of a safe space for the media producer to try to get away from a lot of a requirement and policy in a media production. And you look at the Chinese TV dramas and reality TV that is not defined as a official media or dominant media. They are doing similar things there.
Yeah. But time traveling create here, especially in a palace, make it another distraction they don't have to think about
Andrea Martucci: It seems like maybe the needing to return to the present and be like, actually everything is great here and I don't want to escape to the past, is also like a, I know we just took you the audience on this fun little adventure, but don't forget actually, the dominant ideology of today isn't that bad. In fact, it's good. And so it's like trying to have their cake and eat it too.
Huike Wen: Yeah. That's why in the end, they always come back because they feel there are less dangers in terms of life and death in a in a post-modern society, although they have to deal with the other anxieties at the same time. Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: First of all, I hope everybody will check out your book. Romance In Post-Socialist Chinese Television. In your other chapters, you talk about reality TV shows, into sitcoms. There's a lot more we could have talked about if we [00:45:00] had even tried to talk about the whole book. So that's why I was like, let's just talk about one chapter because there's so much in here. Definitely recommend anybody interested in romance scholarship or media scholarship, especially around romantic narratives to check that out.
What are you working on now and how can people learn more about your work generally?
Huike Wen: Andrea, I really appreciate you gave me an opportunity to share what I'm working on now. Recently I've been focusing on studying romance from the perspective of media ecology. Thinking of media as a environment. Because I think romance itself is a great medium to examine all kinds of issues we're thinking about right now, including what you pointed out about technology, emotions, political economy, right?
Even when the time of travel is trying to escape from those themes, the escapism itself tells us some story. Why do you want to escape from those? What's not there is more important than what was already there too. So that's what I'm focusing on to think about romance as a medium, from the perspective of a media ecology.
And I also trying to provide some suggestions on creative works. Like you said in the mainstream culture, the romance is always following those plots and really need some creative energy to somehow make people think beyond those checklists. Without causing some kind of event, it will cause censorship and a stop and some consequence for the creative workers.
That's what I'm trying to do because I think of like a gender studies and a lot of issues in our society it requires a long-term and constant discussion and small change will gradually lead to a bigger change. It's not something we can do radically to change people's belief and values.
Andrea Martucci: Yes.
Huike Wen: That's why And that's why your podcast is very important.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you.
Huike Wen: Thank you for your hard work. Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: I
Huike Wen: Yeah,
Andrea Martucci: just have a lot of questions and the best way to answer my questions is to create a podcast where then I have an excuse to talk to very smart people who have been thinking about these things. It's interesting, you brought up syllabus earlier, but essentially this podcast is my syllabus for wanting to dig into these topics and it creates a roadmap.
Huike Wen: Yeah, I really admire your energy, your effort, your knowledge, and all the work you are doing for keeping this topic as a, constantly evolving topic is not just we can solve anything in a short time. It's forever. It's a forever topic, right?
Andrea Martucci: yes, I struggle with that, my fantasy is that we can have a [00:48:00] conversation and we can have figured it all out. And so at this point, I know that's not true, but that is my desire, and so it's almost, this is an allegory for romance narratives, really, because in romance novels, we're craving that finality, that clearness that beginning, middle and end that we don't have to worry about what comes after and that's just not life. And that's not how we think about or resolve issues that are of interest to us.
Huike Wen: Yeah, that kind of thinking of a narrative on life has a beginning and an end is one of the main causes of all the problem with how to deal with. So that's why I like the media ecology concept. Ecology means that you might have some organic conversation and it might grow something, we don't know, but it's growing and some day we'll realize that.
And to let people speak up and you create your opportunity for us to have this type of conversation, that is hardly happening in real life, where we are busy and dealing with a lot of things and then keep us intellectually engaging in this topic, is so precious. Thank you so much.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you, Dr. Huike Wen for being here with me today. I really appreciate the book you wrote, the work you're doing and also for your time today.
Huike Wen: Oh, thank you so much, Andrea, for having me here. And I hope in the future, we can talk again have this kind of fun conversation.
Andrea Martucci: Yes.
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