I was thinking the other day about stuff that happens to you only if you are of Chinese descent (in my case, Chinese by way of Taiwan, but you get my point) and the first thing that popped up into my head was “getting the freakin’ theme song from the Wu Zetian series stuck in your head for 20 years!”
Wu Zetian were the only three syllables I remembered. For a while, I didn’t even know that they formed the name of everyone’s favorite Tang dynasty empress. The rest of melody was an indistinct “tooo too tooo too too,” but every so often I would find myself humming the tune and thinking “gee, will I ever hear that song outside of my own head again?”
Then a little while ago, I read WendyB’s post about Wu Zetian and a light bulb went off in my head. So that’s the chick the series was about! And just few days ago, a paper lantern went off in my head and I punched the Chinese characters for Wu Zetian (武則天) into YouTube. And guess what I came up with?
It’s the opening title to the series (which is actually called 一代女皇, yī dài nǚ huáng, which roughly translates into the empress generation) that my parents watched when I was about 5 years old (for a clearer version without the annoying hissing sound but that sadly has embedding disabled, click here). Hearing the song again had a very Proustian effect on me. I nearly started crying and vowed that if I ever have a daughter, her Chinese name will be 舒武則天 (hey, she’ll be growing up in the US, so she’ll only get taunted for two hours every week during Saturday Chinese school).
I remember watching an episode with my mom and dad one day, and then heading over to the bathroom, where I twisted my hair up and clamped it into place with banana shaped (and scented) hair clips and those plastic barrettes with animals on them that every little girl who grew up in the eighties had. My mom walked in on me and asked me what I was doing. I said “I want my hair to be like Wu Zetian’s!” My mom told me that Wu Zetian had hair ornaments made of real gold and pearls and lots of handmaidens to help her every morning, so it would be hard to achieve her hairstyles on my own.
That was my first lesson in the difference between media-manufactured images of femininity and reality. It was sobering. I laid down my banana clips and went back to sneak-eating bits of Play-doh.
I actually don’t remember a lot from the series, or any of the scenes that are excerpted in the sequence above. The only episode I recall watching is one in which Wu Zetian walks into a cell where a couple of her former friends/fellow concubines are huddling. This was after her transformation from an innocent, kite-flying teenager with a penchant for rose-colored stomachers into the slaughter-happy, power-seizing Empress that we all know and love. The audience is supposed to know about her psychological shift because Wu Zetian saw a fluffy little white kitten and kicked it.
The kick was more like a shove with her slippered foot, but my mom and I both made noises of displeasure (I come from a family of small, furry animal lovers). I was very sad because Wu Zetian had been this pretty girl who wore a lot of pink and now she was this horrid lady who wore red lipstick and funny hats. Now I actually wear red lipstick and funny hats from time to time, but I own nary a thing of pink.
Wu Zetian’s story has been filmed many times, but I like to think that the one I saw when I was a little girl is the best rendition. I scrolled through the comments on the YouTube clip and saw that a lot of people are also nostalgic for the series. Then I did a bit more digging and found this clip of a Taiwanese dude singing the theme song:
It is so amazing.