Bu Bu Jing Xin by Tong Hua is known to many Koreans as the novel that inspired the famous Korean TV series Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo(2016). The original novel was a huge hit in China, leading to the development of a TV series there as well. Time travel and history, the main subjects of the novel, are not unique to Bu Bu Jing Xin – so what is it that makes the novel so special?
▲ The Book Bu Bu Jing Xin
The story starts with a present-day woman of high social standing, Zhang Xiao, waking up after an accident in the body of Ma’ertai Rouxi, the daughter of a general, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. Rouxi meets the domain's 14 imperial princes, who concoct political schemes against one another as they vie for the crown. Rouxi tries to survive the cutthroat machinations raging on around her while skating on the thin ice of royal politics.
Rouxi, or rather Zhang Xiao, is a unique character. Although she is the main character in a story that has time travel as its foundation, she is different from the more typical characters found in similar books. The main characters of other novels that utilize time travel usually fully retain their innate modern nature; Rouxi is more harmonious. She adapts to Qing society, but retains her base modern beliefs.
Zhang Xiao survives incredibly well in the Qing Dynasty, slipping into the role expected of a daughter of a general and learning the ways of the palace. She excels at her duties in the palace and is promoted quickly. She is also very talented at sewing and has a great artistic sense, both of which are qualities that were valued during that era.
Although Zhang Xiao flourishes in the Qing Dynasty, her modern roots remain in the form of personal philosophy. The most important one relates to equality — that no one should have more power than others. This belief is most clearly illustrated in her attitude toward marriage; Rouxi sees the Emperor commanding people around him to enter arbitrary, loveless marriages. Marriage is something that Zhang Xiao believes is a matter of individual freedom, and as such, her ideals clash with the archaic traditions of the time.
This unusual characterization of a time traveling character is what makes Bu Bu Jing Xin special. In an ordinary time travel story, the protagonist almost always acts by contemporary standards of ethics. While this makes the readers sympathetic to the main character, it makes the story a tad obvious. However, as Rouxi embraces values from both the past and the present, it does not seem like she is breaking character whether she acts in a modern or traditional way. The suspense wrung from the unpredictability of her actions makes the novel more interesting and differentiates it from other novels dabbling in time travel.
Zhang Xiao, or Ma’ertai Rouxi, is a rare character to come by in novels with time travel. She embodies qualities of both the era that she came from and the era that she travels to. The balance within her makes her a complex and unique character with unforeseen actions that keeps the audience wondering about her future. Although it cannot be said that Bu Bu Jing Xin is revolutionary as a time travel novel, the character of Rouxi brings to it a refreshing edge with her uncommon nature.