Editor: Verbena, Michael Armstrong
As American audiences show universal apathy to the new TV series “Terra Nova,” Chinese audiences are enjoying their own time travel craze.
“I know everyone’s fate but my own. What is my destiny?”
This is the main dilemma of the heroine in “Surprising Steps”, a recent Chinese hit TV series. The series was adapted from Tong Hua’s novel of the same name, published digitally in 2005 and in print in 2006. Reception to the book has been universally fawning, with hundreds of millions of hits on the website, multiple reprints, print sales of five hundred thousand, and multiple offers for movie deals. The story centers around a modern-day office lady, who in a car accident travels through time to the ancient Qing Dynasty and finds herself firmly planted in the middle of a succession crisis in the Imperial Court.
As the protagonists of “Terra Nova” battle dinosaurs, the heroine of “Surprising Steps” wanders the palaces of the Imperial Court, facing off against the witticisms and advances of nine imperial princes. Familiar with Qing history, she knows the fates awaiting each prince. She hoped to use her wits to befriend each prince and make the best of her unfamiliar situation, but finds herself the center of a love triangle and sinking deeper and deeper into the tangles of the imperial court. Will she marry the cold and ruthless future emperor or the kind and gentle eighth prince who is destined to persecution and tragic death? Even as she struggles to pick her future husband, her marriage destiny is being decided by the dying emperor. History is the result of many factors, how much can personal choice count? She just wants to change a tragic bit of history, or at least prevent the person she cares about from being poisoned, but in the end, she finds the poison comes from her own hand. In an effort to escape what fate has planned, she reveals her knowledge of history to the person she loves most, but it is precisely this ill-gotten knowledge that causes others to suspect and despise her, and leads to tragedy upon tragedy. While the audience worries over the fate of the heroine, the show also presents a window into the royal life of addiction, fine silk and damask, legendary Machu feasts, and nine different handsome princes, with the executioner’s sword always dangling over their heads.
People are infinitely curious about the unknowns of time and space—whether past or future, outer space or in the Earth’s core, strange caves or the deserted jungle. But whether it’s through high-technology or unlucky accident, the most enticing aspect of time travel is the chance to relive and change our histories.
The thrill of time travel has no borders. Whether it’s television hits like “Lost” or “Heroes,” the Hollywood blockbuster “Terminator,” or this year’s release, “Source Code,” US time travel adventures have won over Chinese audiences.
But in the United States, time travel tends to have a more technological slant. Almost every American time travel film involves some of the interpretation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. According to this theory, time can be “traveled” or even flow “backwards.” Of course these ideas haven’t been confirmed, but this also allows the movie an unlimited imagination. Across all American time travel films we see the same themes: the price to pay for power, an explanation of the world situation today, a gained consciousness of human responsibility, a sense of purpose for oneself.
Chinese-style time travel is most often not science fiction, but is instead full of the intrigues of martial arts novels and the romance of love movies. Chinese films use time travel to revisit a piece of well known history and give a re-interpretation of life that’s fun for all ages. While other countries travel time to save mankind, Chinese time travel novels and TV shows focus on the relationship of people to beauty, love, power, and status. Chinese people are obsessed with historical exploits and the perfect harmony of times gone by, through there is starting to be a large amount of divergent thinking on the subject. Still, the most important point for the Chinese, is people’s feelings.
The characteristics of recent Chinese time travel novels can be summed up in a sentence: “a car accident (or similar accident), back to ancient times, found a boyfriend.” The rest is up to the creativity of the writers and the imagination of the readers.