The Story of Ming Lan is 2018 Chinese Drama about a Concubine’s Daughter in the Northern Song Dynasty and the challenges she faces in just the worst world. She’s clever and talented and quickly finds out that this is not as much of a blessing as one might expect. Because she wins a game of touhu, basically an old kind of horseshoes with arrows in pots, she draws attention to herself and then can reveal to her father that someone is stealing all the coal from her pregnant mother’s allotment. They are all shivering. This little bit of attention results in their trusted servant getting framed for the theft, and then her loss (and some other factors) later results in her mother’s miscarriage and death. And so, Ming Lan quickly, painfully learns how to hide.
I am a person with a lot of social anxiety. My fears extend even online. I’m don’t like to speak until I’m spoken to, and who can ever find me? Not being seen is a specialty of mine, and as I’m watching this series, I’m identifying very strongly with this idea, that there’s little to gain from showing off, especially within a society that is both lavish and austere like theirs and ours. Ours is somewhat more accessible, and you can find your secret outlets without having to make a fuss, but also we are in an age where branding is a substitute for identity, and even rejecting that outright is pretentious. You have to participate somewhat. You like to like and subscribe at least, even if you’re not uploading reaction vids.
Ming Lan’s 4th older sister Molan follows the opposite path and demands all the attention she can get. She manipulates and begs and uses poetry and calligraphy as weapons for her own social betterment. She has her eye on all the eligible bachelors, who of course, focus on the gentle and demure Ming Lan. Ming Lan treats their attention as a burden, and rightly so. When Ming Lan receives presents from them, she knows it’s best to just distribute them to her sisters instead of keeping them for herself, as the cost for having nice things is the jealousy of her peers, and consequently their resentment and schemes. Instead, she develops a relationship with her grandmother, in private, away from prying eyes, and learns all the details about the world and how it works from someone wise.
She learns not to envy. Perhaps some freedom to move around and play polo as well as she can without worrying would be nice, but once anyone sees you asserting yourself, if they don’t feel you deserve your social cache, they want to take you down a notch, like being in a position gets you tangible rewards. Once the nazis and the terfs find your twitter, there is no negotiation. But you have to participate in society somehow, right?
I’m sure she has more to teach me. I’m not done with the series yet. It’s very long. For now, I just want to focus on the trusted people around me and not worry about building a public persona. One will eventually come about I’m sure if I continue to focus on my own interests, just as Ming Lan came to be in one of the most popular television series in the world, with over 400 million people watching it in its first three days. I am more of a coward than Ming Lan, and I don’t want that kind of attention, but I do trust her mother’s message of safety. For now, I will just stay on this boat and cry.