The Charms of Qing TV
The Economist's Analects blog has a post about the recent television dramas about the Qing Dynasty, such as Palace, and suggests that the popular image of the Manchus is far from accurate:
Actors in Chinese film and television productions routinely speak standard Mandarin, even when portraying historical figures, such as Chairman Mao or Sun Yat-sen, who are well known for their colourful dialects and accents. Although most Chinese TV and film productions have Chinese subtitles anyway, few directors would choose to inflict an impenetrable—if historically accurate—Babel of dialects, regionalisms and dead languages on their audience.
Analects points out that China inherited most of Qing’s territory and ethnicities, and has to reinvent its rhetoric for a multiethnic nation-state:
Even the very notion of the Qing as an imperial dynasty is difficult for some people to stomach. The story of China as a perennial victim of European, American and Japanese imperialist aggression does not sit easily beside the memory of an expansionist Qing, even if both are part of the same story. The Communist Party draws legitimacy from its historical victory over the twin evils of feudalism and foreign aggression, a victory that was symbolised in part by their claiming and defending the territory of the Qing empire. Awkwardly, the political needs of the present are prioritised above historical nuance.
Few of the million or so people who watch “Bu Bu Jing Xin” or “Zhen Huan Zhuan” this weekend will worry about the fate of empire or about whether the Qing emperors spoke Manchu or not to their concubines and wives. But the Manchus still matter. And with over 10m Manchu-language documents sitting in the Imperial Archives in Beijing, there is much research on Manchu rule and the Qing era yet to be done.