Or really, the two-way nature of empathy and importance of communication, in which Xue Yang gets an F.
Me: I’ll wait until the donghua’s second season to write on Yi City so I can use gifs.
Me five seconds later: I have major Yi City feels, too bad.
So let’s talk Xue Yang, who at first glance seems the series’ most repugnant character morally (besides perhaps Jin GuangShan). And yet he’s such a direct contrast to Wei WuXian, Jin GuangYao, and Jiang Cheng that on further reads I was struck by how desperate and sad his life was. Not that any of it excuses him, but his motives were not simply “evil for evil’s sake.” As we learn later on, pretty much no one in MDZ (and irl) is evil for evil’s sake, but Xue Yang is absolutely one of the more… chaotic and petty ones. That being said, Xue Yang’s actual motivations were not remotely petty at all.
(art here & elsewhere in this meta is official art from the audio drama; quotes are from the novel’s translation by exiledrebelsscans)
jiang chengs reaction to the core reveal is so heartbreaking and intimate and it is done so perfectly because there is just so much that comes together in that moment to make a very staggering point. his facial expressions are So incredibly visceral the entire time like he is so deeply horrified and angry and guilt ridden and shocked and scared and you can feel all of it coming off of him. you can just see the raw grief that swallows him in that moment, you Watch as the full force of his new reality hits him, heavy and deafening. one of the things I think wang zhuo cheng does so wonderfully with jiang chengs character is being able to make him look so impossibly small and childish and Young in the face of wei wuxians love for him, and that comes out so incredibly vivid in this scene - he looks so lost and scared, like he’s only a boy, and his innocence is being shattered by this horrifying truth
it comes off as a little on the nose at first, but I think the way they work the flashbacks in in response to each thing wen nings says is actually So good. it only really works because it’s being done through a visual medium, but giving us little snippets of each thing jiang cheng thinks of as wen nings spells it all out for him is a beautiful way to piece together his guilt. I don’t think jiang cheng had ever considered that he could have been Wrong in any of his interactions with wei wuxian, that any of those annoyances could have held any weight aside from his brothers arrogance and carelessness, but then he has to rewrite all of it, and for the first time, we see him feel bad about the way he treated his brother - we see him realize that he was Wrong. one of the most wonderful and heartbreaking things about jiang cheng is that he remembers Everything, especially when it comes to wei wuxian, and we see that fact really torment him in this scene
and then we find out later in the temple that jiang cheng really Did run around lotus pier frantically begging people to unsheath suibian. the persise, proud, fierce sandu shengshou, feared leader of the jiang sect who is always so concerned with appearances, with being the Best, clamored around begging, Demanding, that people attempt to unsheath suibian. jin guangyao even says that he “made quite a scene”, in his disbelief and horror at this terrifying reality that had just been thrust at him
his brutal expressions and the flashbacks and the way that he screams and cries and Demands that it isn’t true, that wen ning is lying, the way begs and sobs for anyone, anyone at all, to be able to unsheathe suibian, all come together so perfectly to illustrate what must be the most engulfing of jiang chengs realizations - wei wuxian gave up his golden core, his happiness and his reputation and his place in society and his Life, for jiang cheng, and the only thing that jiang cheng gave him in return was a deafening anger and a dedicated attempt at hatred for 16 years. I think jiang cheng becomes a little struck by the audacity of himself, and what must be almost 20 years of guilt takes him all at once like a wave coming up fast and dragging you under
jiang cheng spent so much time and energy being angry at wei wuxian for leaving him behind, for choosing the wens and demonic cultivation over their promise, and you can see it on his face as it all comes crashing down in just a few moments, and he realizes that the first and most important thing that wei wuxian ever chose over their promise, was him
A-Ling sketches cuz why not
Oh look, they’re arguing again
jiang cheng… he’s so good. he’s just a ball of grief and maladaptive coping strategies shambling around in the form of a man with so, so much resting in his shoulders. in the years his brother is dead his only fuckin personal relationship was with jin ling, his dead sister’s son who he never should’ve been raising
and god, he must be bitter about that, too. he never should’ve had to raise jin ling. jiang cheng is not his sister, and whenever jin ling looks at him he probably sees who jin ling could’ve been, if his parents hadn’t died. his nephew’s defensive nature, his quick temper - he knows where those came from. he has seen that glare stare back at him in the mirror his entire life, he knows exactly where it came from and im sure it kills him. do you think he apologizes to her, when he visits the family shrine? does he get on his knees and tremble from the effort it takes to keep the tears at bay? im sorry, a-jie, im sorry that he’s growing into me. it creeps up on him in his darkest moments, I bet. im sorry i raised him wrong.
yanli would disagree with him if she could. he did the best he could, a child raising a child and reviving a sect and seeing the ghosts of all he’s lost every time he turns a corner. he is near mad with grief, hatred, guilt, at everyone and everything and especially himself because there must have been something he could’ve done, right? something he could’ve said to talk sense into-
but there isn’t and there wasn’t and he didn’t. all he has left is jin ling, his nephew, a boy with a jin’s delicate beauty and his sister’s eyes and his mother’s temper. he gets jin ling a dog, and he teaches him archery, and it doesn’t take long at all for him to be the best in the clan and then one day he finds jin ling shooting down kites at the drill grounds and he’s not wearing jin gold for once, and-
and for a split second, he sees his brother. by the time jin ling has noticed him jiang cheng has snapped out of it, but it shakes him to the core. his eyes linger on the purple of the robes jin ling has borrowed, the comfortable grip with which he holds his bow. jiang cheng had made it himself, special, because words fail him but actions hit home and even if he can’t say it he has to make sure his nephew knows he’s loved.
he stops coming to watch jin ling practice archery, after that. he starts keeping extra robes in jin colors around, too. maybe jin ling notices. maybe not.
he mourns the day jin ling declares himself too old for hugs. no one touches him, the fearsome sect leader of yunmengjiang, no one but jin ling. there are no casual touches because everyone who grew up with him, saw him awkward and gangly and twelve, everyone who really knows him - they’re dead and gone. but he respects jin ling’s choice, flicks his forehead right over that red dot between his brows, and never hugs him again.
how many years until someone hugs jiang cheng, after that? how long does he go without a touch from another? he doesn’t hug wei wuxian when he comes back, at least not for a long, long time. there’s too much pain there for him to reach out and sling his arm around wei wuxians shoulders, to punch him in the gut, to be his little brother again. but he wants to. mo xuanyu’s smaller than his brother’s first body, weaker and thinner, but the spark in those eyes is wei wuxian’s and so is his smile and his posture. they never meet on purpose and every time they run into each other it’s like the air has been sucked out of his lungs. what angers him most, now, is how much he wants to hug him. lan wangji does, and so does lan sizhui and lan jingyi and ouyang zizhen and even his flesh-and-blood nephew jin ling - everyone touches him, all the time, and the only one who can’t is him. he feels like he’s fifteen again, annoyed that his brother pays more attention to their clan members than him and even more annoyed that he’s pissed off about something so trivial. brother brother brother, his heart screams. brother brother brother, with each pulse of the golden core in his chest.
do you think he cries? jiang cheng has spent so much of his life hating and resenting the way he loves wei wuxian, wishing it could be simple. love and hate are difficult to tell apart. i hate you, he sobs against wei wuxian’s shoulder, clinging like he will disappear if he doesn’t dig his fingers in and make him stay.
i know, wei wuxian whispers, and he clutches jiang cheng’s shoulders like he’s afraid too.
i love you, they mean. and maybe, jiang cheng thinks, one day they’ll be able to say it.
Poorly redrawn mononoke hime screens as Jin Ling and Sizhui 😪😪