Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Little Nyonya

Are you familiar about the Peranakan culture and its origin? It is said that many years ago, when a princess from China was betrothed to a Malay sultan here, she brought along few hundred maids and they eventually married the Malay men here. Their descendants were known as Baba and Nyonya.

The Little Nyonya (Chinese: 小娘惹) is a 34-episode drama serial which debuted on 25 November 2008 in Singapore.


The story spans over 70 years, from the 1930s till the present day.

Huang Juxiang is born into a large Peranakan family where her mother is a mistress. She is gentle, beautiful and a fantastic cook. Due to a serious illness when she was 9 years old, Juxiang becomes a deaf-mute. Because of her handicap, she is ostracized by people. Right before the Japanese Occupation in Singapore, she is forced to marry Charlie Zhang, a rich Peranakan, and become his mistress. Juxiang resists the marriage and runs away from home. She then meets Yamamoto Yousuke, a young Japanese photographer, and after overcoming many obstacles, they finally get married and Juxiang gives birth to a daughter Yueniang. During the World War, Juxiang is injured and both she and her husband die, leaving behind their 8-year-old daughter.

The orphaned Yueniang eventually walks to her grandfather's house on her own. Her grandmother rejoices for her presence. Under the supervision of her grandmother, she learns to cook Peranakan dishes and sewing. She grows up looking exactly like her mother and is exceptionally beautiful. After the war, her maternal relatives who ran away to England to seek refuge there returned home. Yueniang ends up leading the life of her mother – always discriminated against, beaten up and tortured. She puts up with all these in order to protect her grandmother.

Yueniang's pretty looks incurs jealousy from her cousin and attracts the attention of many rich Peranakans. However, she only has eyes for penniless driver Chen Xi. Chen Xi actually comes from an educated and wealthy family. Yueniang's kindness, purity and persistence move Chen Xi and he falls deeply in love with her, and hides his identity to be with Yueniang. Unfortunately, their relationship is filled with many obstacles and difficulties. Under pressure from his family, Chen Xi is forced to marry Yueniang's cousin instead. Yueniang is then sold to a butcher, Liu Yidao. Many things happen after this and it is revealed that the Huangs use misunderstandings and mistakes for granted and resort to off-board measures.

Yueniang is unwilling to accept the fact that her life is always manipulated by others and decides to end her own life. Yueniang's strong personality impresses Liu Yidao and they become sworn siblings instead. Yueniang decides to choose her own path in life. She begins learning how to run a business and in the process, she is framed and ousted from her business. Despite the odds, she manages save her declining family business. Sadly, her love life has yet to begin a new chapter with no news about her love interest, Chen Xi.

My comments:

I have to admit that I love this movie, which is full of twists and turns. The Baba and Nyonya culture really fascinates me. Their traditional beaded slippers, culinary skills, mouth-watering dishes and pantun really makes me proud that they actually exist in Malacca, Malaysia. I really hoped that Yueniang and Chen Xi can marry and live happily ever after, but they did not. Albeit there are some loopholes, this is undeniably one of the best dramas I've ever watched, besides Dae Jang-geum.

My "crazy" sister watched 15 episodes a day. Can you imagine it? 15 hours sitting in front of the TV/laptop!

*You must watch this great drama! I promise you will LOVE it!

Download link for The Little Nyonya Drama Theme Song piano sheet - Like the Swallow (如燕). *All credits to Ah Doe

编曲:Terence Teo






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Sujata said...

Interesting story!

Anonymous said...

Your views on the origin of the Peranakan is more a "romantic version" than the reality.

The TRUER and MORE accurate history of its origin is due to the migration patterns of the mainland MALE Chinese workers who sought better
work opportunities in the countries of SEA especially during the 17th century.

Please allow the Peranakan Association to speak for itself:

The Babas are descendants of an early Chinese community that settled in the Malay archipelago at least since the 17th century. Many members of the early community were seafarers who traded between the ports of southern China and those of Southeast Asia. The oldest Chinese communities can be found in Malacca. As Chinese women were by law not allowed to leave their native country until the middle of the 19th century, many of these early traders married non-Muslim natives of the Malay archipelago, such as Balinese or Batak slaves.

In the 18th and 19th centuries the Babas were involved in opium, sireh, nutmeg and liquor farming, pepper and gambier cultivation, tin mining, commodity trading and property. In the early 20th century, many Babas invested in rubber.

They also worked as compradores (Chinese middlemen) for big Western companies and banks. As a Chinese community that always considered Malaya home, many Peranakans were involved in civic projects and local government, and numbered among the key players in Malaysia and Singapore's road to independence. Many Nyonyas also led the way in female emancipation.


The descendants of the princess in your story, were all integrated into the Malay culture and religion and never became the "Babas and Nonyas"

Nowadays, many of these descendants could be identified by the "WAN" in their name eg: Wan Aziza.

NB: i am a peranakan myself.