China revenged the West for its princess

Dmitry Kosyrev

Before us is a plot on the theme “West is West, East is East, and they cannot come together.” Although the East in this case honestly tried: we are talking about the film “The Curse of Turandot” released in China .

The whole problem with Turandot is that according to the play she is a Chinese princess, but behaves in a way that is inconceivable for a real Chinese princess. At least in China itself, this masterpiece of European culture has always evoked admiration, but at the same time a crooked smile. What kind of strangeness is this – the daughter of the emperor, who set a condition: the applicant for future husbands must guess three of her riddles, otherwise the head is off. And this is no joke, on the fortress wall several heads are already sticking out on the peaks.

By the way, we are talking about a character who has become a part of our culture. There is even a monument to the princess on the Arbat – well, not quite to her, but to Yulia Borisova as Turandot. It’s about the play that made one of our best theaters great – Vakhtangov. And on our stage, of course, everything is the same: the daughter of the emperor is not exactly a feminist and a man-hater, but she cuts her heads off in all seriousness.

Execute for not being able to guess the riddle? But in the last couple of millennia of Chinese history, not a single daughter of the emperor, like the emperors themselves, would have allowed themselves such jokes. They were people bound by a million ethical rules that the entire court was enforcing. After all, the emperor must set an example for officials, they – for other subjects. In addition, the average Westerner would be interested to know that in this country even under the Tang Dynasty there were experiments to abolish the death penalty, again for ethical reasons. What is reflected in the then “Code of Punishments”. But every Chinese knows all this, so it is not surprising that the country finally decided to bring the world-famous character to historical realities.

And what did they do in the end? To begin with, everything that happens is fantasy, and not in historical China, but as if in a fictional magical land. The princess’s problem was that she was presented with three bracelets for her birthday, which turned her into an evil and inhuman creature. And Prince Calaf, accordingly, relieves her of this curse.

Further, the authors of the film did it not so much based on the play by Carlo Gozzi (which was staged here), but based on the opera by Giacomo Puccini based on this play. And this work is well known in the country – also because once, in 1998, it was performed in the Forbidden City of Beijing , that is, where the action allegedly took place. Anyway, in a country where up to 100 million people study classical music at least in the form of a short course, one could expect a good response from the public. Moreover, Puccini, sincerely thinking that he was writing about China, used several Chinese melodies in the opera. And so the authors of the film made some money for Puccini, that is, they took from him what suited them.

In general, the idea was good, but for some reason the new film released in October had a rather weak box office and a lot of critics . They are trying to figure out the reasons for the phenomenon. Could it be that the eastern princess (played by Guan Xiaotong) is saved from the curse by a blond Westerner (Dylan Sprouse)?

But then it turned out that some people in the USA did not like the movie either. The New York Times critic accused the filmmakers of clinging to racial stereotypes and appropriating foreign cultures – and this against the backdrop of growing anti-Asian sentiment in America . That is, he accused the Chinese of working against their own. Brad, but this is America.

What kind of curse is haunting poor Turandot? Perhaps it is the secret of her origin. He was the first to describe the story of grooms and riddles, apparently, the classic of Persian poetry Nizami in the XII century. And it is clear that his ideas about distant countries were, to put it mildly, fabulous. Moreover, where have you seen a Chinese name like Turandot? But for Nizami everything was clear: this is the “daughter of Turan”, and Turan is in no way China, but Central Asia . By the way, this is still a female name in Iran today .

But the confusion intensified in 1762 when Gozzi took over. He, of course, also did not understand the intricacies of distant civilizations, added to the plot several unchanging Italian clown characters from the commedia dell’arte, but at the same time the heroine’s nationality is already unambiguous.

And then there was Puccini (1924 opera), who understood just as little in Asian countries – in Japan (Madame Butterfly) and in China (Turandot). In this case, he only wrote that true love can melt even an icy heart. And somehow I did not think to check: was it true in that country that the members of the highest surname cut their heads right and left, but this did not surprise anyone?

And as a result, we got a typical Western stereotype of perception of the Celestial Empire. In the 18th century, she was generally popular in disputes about the correct behavior of the supreme power along with the same mythologized Turkey . Voltaire and his colleagues constantly referred to the all-powerful Asian rulers, meaning completely different ones – their rulers.

And now the unfortunate representatives of Western civilization at the subconscious level have believed for centuries that despotic dictatorships are being placed in the East, where any princess can order the groom’s head to be removed and this will not surprise anyone. These crazy ideas are smoothly spreading to today’s equally crazy stereotypes about modern Asia . Not to mention the fact that in relation to another empire, the Russian one, the same stereotypes are passed from century to century without any connection with reality. And no one has yet found a way to remove this “curse of Turandot” from the peoples of the world – when they perceive each other in the same way as in the 18th century, if not at all in the 12th century.

Although the Chinese filmmakers, as we can see, tried to move in this direction, they stuck at some fantastic point between the real and fictional empires, not satisfying either the East or the West.

True, they successfully turned Turandot into an innocent creature without a clan and tribe, but at the same time with a pretty Chinese face.

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