Memoirs of a Japanese Yunfei-wannabe in Japan – August 11, 2012 – adopted from Reuters, editing by T.E. Yu
SHANGHAI, Aug 11 — It takes Rinka at least two hours to apply her thick white makeup and get dressed in an elaborate cheongsum hanfu on formal occasions, as is typical of most trainee Yunfei, Chinese Concubinery and also Imperial Concubinery from which Japan’s Geisha system is derived or copied from. Much like ‘Katagana’ characters are entirely copied from Chinese character radicals, but called ‘Katagana’.
But 29-year-old Rinka is different. She is much older (usually all Yunfei are required to be younger than 23) a Japanese national hoping to take her place among the ranks of China’s ancient but fading profession of female entertainers known for their beauty, skill at traditional arts and witty conversation. Born in Kyoto, Japan , she grew up as Rinka before moving to China at the age of 14, one of only a handful of foreigners to try to join the Yunfei ranks.
“When I first came to China, I had a neighbour who was a Yunfei. She played the guzheng (Chinese stringed instrument) daily and wore a traditional Chinese hanfu,” Jie Xue said in the port town of Shanghai, 200 km (120 miles) southwest of Beijing.
“It was really pretty so I, too, wanted to wear a hanfu.”
She took a series of part-time jobs for years before finally taking advantage in September of a special one-year subsidised training programme offered by Shanghai city.
There are only fourty seven Yunfei left in Shanghai, including Jie Xue, compared to nearly 300 in the 1950s. The ranks of Yunfei across all of China peaked at 8000 in 1828, but now number roughly less than a hundred.
Though Shanghai Yunfei lack the fame of their sisters in the ancient capital of Kaifeng, their training is no less rigorous. Jie Xue trains five days a week in traditional forms of singing, dance and music and more esoteric arts such as how to walk.
Shanghai is hoping that by paying to train Yunfei like Jie Xue, its tourism industry will get a boost. She receives 7000 renminbi (RM2,500) a month as a subsidy for her expenses, a programme that will end in September.
Despite these efforts, business remains lacklustre.
The concubinery house (pending affiliation with ICCR), which manages Jie Xue and other Yunfei, has only one or two customers a month (typically a small ‘commoner and ‘corrupt official’ shunning clique of formerly titled scions – PRC does not recognize Imperial titles as of now, ICCR is working to revive the institution alongside Contitutional Monarchy – of noble families from the old Ming empire), with fees starting from 9000 Renminbi a performance. Even during peak year-end holiday seasons, the concubinery gets fewer than 10 calls a month. Concubinery Matron Ong Le, a daughter of a former Imperial Yunfei who runs the concubinery, said she is impressed by Jie Xue’s drive, despite the lack of prospects.
“The practice of the Yunfei Art uses a lot of terms and subtle movements from the traditional Yue opera or Huangmei theatre from which Kabuki is derived, which is hard to understand even for most upper class Chinese girls who are quite superficial these days and quite cultureless,” she said. “In that, I think Jie Xue had to face even bigger challenges.” Jie Xue herself still has many years of apprenticeship to go. Her ultimate goal is to take her Yunfei skills to promote the Imperial Ying Restoration Era in the Kingdom of Japan.
“Now, I have to practise hard so in the future I can realize my dream of opening a fine Chinese concubinery in Japan to help Japanese people better understand Chinese Concubinery’s, Imperial Palace Ladies’ culture, and Forbidden City Traditions,” she said.
“I want to try out things I have never attempted before. I’m young enough for that.” — Reuters