All the symbolism behind the WangXian ‘ship in ‘The Untamed’
The Untamed is the story of Wei Wuxian (Xiao Zhan) & Lan Wangji (Wang Yibo), two young cultivators that fall in love in ancient China. Both males, a relationship of this nature is wildly unacceptable for those times. Despite this, unable to stay away from each other, their relationship develops anyway.
Here’s the problem: even in modern-day China, there are strict laws that prohibit the depiction of LGBTQ relationships & themes on entertainment platforms. While homosexuality is no longer strictly illegal in China, the depiction of such relationships on television is. China has been known to pull successful shows from the air, banning actors from working together on future projects.
Due to these very strict censorship laws, the creators of The Untamed had to get creative with the depiction of the relationship between Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian. There are no physical exchanges between the characters, nor are there any verbal exchanges that solidify the characters as being in love, but it’s very clear that they are.
The creators of the show used a lot of symbolism throughout the story to successfully convey that Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian are not just good friends. We’ve unpacked the four most important symbolic moments that represent WangXian’s relationship status.
Lan Wangji’s headband
As part of the Lan Sect uniform, members of the Lan clan wear forehead ribbons, or ‘headbands’. The headbands are extremely important to the Lan clan and represent the meaning “to regulate oneself”.
Viewers are first introduced to the significance of Lan Wangji’s headband in ep 6. Wei Wuxian is trying to put a drunken Lan Wangji to bed. As Lan Wangji is laying on the bed, Wei Wuxian notices that Lan Wangji’s headband is crooked. He attempts to straighten it for Lan Wangji, who swats Wei Wuxian’s hand away before he can touch it.
Lan Wangji is too drunk to fix it on his own, so Wei Wuxian continues persisting. Lan Wangji is adamant though, Wei Wuxian is not allowed to touch the headband. Lan Wangji explains that the headband is sacred and can’t be touched by anyone that isn’t a parent, child, or significant other of the wearer.
While Lan Wangji does not allow Wei Wuxian to touch the headband in this particular scene, it isn’t too long before Lan Wangji is using his headband to physically bind himself to Wei Wuxian. Later in ep. 6 Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian fall into the cave below the Cold Pond in Cold Recesses. Lan Wangji uses his headband ribbon to tie Wei Wuxian to himself and protect him from the Chord Assassin Technique.
This moment occurs early on in the development of the relationship between Wei Wuxian & Lan Wangji. It is the first of several moments throughout the entirety of the show where Lan Wangji allows Wei Wuxian to touch or use his headband.
The popular theory here is that the creators of the show used these particular moments to symbolize how Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian feel about each other. If Lan Wangji is allowing Wei Wuxian to touch his headband, clearly he must think of Wei Wuxian as his significant other. Even in these early moments described above, where he is clearly still struggling to understand his feelings, he allows this to happen.
By the time Lan Wangji uses the headband to bind Wei Wuxian to himself in ep. 6, Wei Wuxian already has a clear understanding of the meaning of the headband. It is actually Wei Wuxian that suggests Lan Wangji use his headband to tie them together, so it could be argued that Wei Wuxian is also conveying to Lan Wangji in that moment that he thinks of him as more than a friend.
In later episodes, we see Wei Wuxian use Lan Wangji’s headband to splint his injured leg. Lan Wangji also allows Wei Wuxian’s paper talisman to play with the headband and attempt to playfully tug it off Lan Wangji’s head. None of Wei Wuxian’s efforts to touch the headband are thwarted by Lan Wangji after that first drunken encounter. Wei Wuxian is, therefore, Lan Wangji’s significant other.
The use of rabbits in The Untamed is of great significance. In Chinese mythology, rabbits are a symbol of queerness. They even have their own ‘rabbit God’ of homosexuality, Tu’er Shen. This God is responsible for managing love & sex between homosexual people. His name literally translates to ‘Rabbit God’.
In the show, rabbits are used repeatedly to symbolize Wei Wuxian & Lan Wangji’s relationship. Upon his departure from Cloud Recesses, Wei Wuxian finds several white rabbits and decides to leave them for Lan Wangji. Over the course of the show, it becomes clear that Lan Wangji nurtures the rabbits and they multiply in numbers. The colony becomes a permanent fixture at Cloud Recesses.
Apart from the fact that they were a gift from Wei Wuxian, the show cleverly uses rabbits at several points throughout the course of the show to really drive home that rabbits are a symbol for the boy’s love for each other.
Wei Wuxian makes a lantern that he intends to release with Lan Wangji with a rabbit on it. Lan Wanji’s expression when he sees the rabbit on the lantern is one of adoration & love. When Lan Wangji is drunk again, Wei Wuxian asks Lan Wangji if he likes rabbits. Lan Wangji responds with a ‘yes’ while sporting a lovesick expression. The couple also ends up buying a lantern with a rabbit on it from a street market later in the show.
Due to the censorship laws in China, the two boys never engage in any physical or verbal exchanges that could be depicted as expressions of homosexuality. However, there is a scene in the rabbit field in Cloud Recesses where two of the white rabbits share a sneaky kiss. The popular theory here is that these two rabbits symbolize Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian.
If the headband wasn’t enough to convince you that these two boys are in love, the repeated use of the rabbit motif should!
In ep.36 Lan Wangji is drunk again & causing all kinds of chaos. Wei Wuxian is accompanying him home, trying to safely get them back to the inn where they are staying. Wei Wuxian can’t find the way and they end up stumbling across a house with a chicken coop in the front yard.
Lan Wangji drunkenly stumbles in and pulls a rooster out of the coop. He hands it to Wei Wuxian who is somewhat confused. Lan Wangji then pulls a second rooster out of the coop and gives this one to Wei Wuxian too.
Depending on the platform you’re watching on, as the subtitles vary slightly, Lan Wangji then proceeds to ask if the roosters are good (or fat). Wei Wuxian agrees, trying to placate drunk Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji then proceeds to tell Wei Wuxian that he is giving the roosters to him.
This is significant because, in some regions in China, chickens are linked to marriage in a variety of ways. There are rituals that involve a man presenting a woman with a healthy chicken during a marriage proposal, as well as a variety of other rituals involving chickens during actual wedding ceremonies.
A popular theory here is that, in his drunken state, Lan Wangji was, in fact, declaring his love for Wei Wuxian with the chickens & proposing marriage. How did this scene skirt the strict censorship laws? Well, you’ll notice in the scene that Wei Wuxian is really confused by the whole thing and even says that Lan Wangji is just acting crazy, but we know better.
The ancestral hall
In ep.46 Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian find themselves at Lotus Pier. It’s the first time that Wei Wuxian has been back to his former home since being resurrected. Overcome with emotion, Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian visit the ancestral hall. The pair pay their respects to Wei Wuxian’s dead adoptive relatives by bowing three times in unison.
To the untrained eye, this seems relatively innocent. However, in China, this ritual, as depicted in the show, is something that married couples do together. As this moment occurs towards the end of the show, and viewers have already witnessed all the headband moments, as well as the chickens & the rabbits, it’s safe to assume here that the creators are trying to convey that Lan Wangji & Wei Wuxian are in a committed relationship.
The symbolism of this moment is further reinforced when Jiang Cheng (Wang Zhou Cheng) enters the scene. Jiang Cheng is angry that Wei Wuxian felt it was appropriate for him to bring Lan Wangji to the ancestral hall. If the symbolism of the bowing isn’t enough to convey the relationship, Jiang Cheng’s words are.
While fleeting, this moment is significant in conveying the status of the relationship between Wei Wuxian & Lan Wangji: they are not just good friends, but are in fact, a couple.
Thanks for another cool article. I’d just done some reading up about the rabbit symbolism. Do you remember that the rabbits are first seen in the Cold Cave, with Lan Zhan’s ancestor? I forget her name at the moment. But she was raising them to keep her company, and said that as her powers were growing weaker, they had started sneaking out. I didn’t know about the Rabbit God until this evening, but I always saw that symbolism as a reminder of the first time that they actually helped each other in a crisis situation, and it was also significant because of their ancestry. I thought perhaps it also reminded them of a time of innocence and their connection after everything started going wrong! What a fascinating series!April 2, 2020
thanks so much for this <3 The Untamed is truly the BEST DRAMA and Wangxian the strongest love story I've ever come across <3May 6, 2020
I really appreciated this article. I adore The Untamed and its love story! And as a sexologist, I enjoy knowing the story of the symbolism used in this movie.August 20, 2020
After reading all synopsis, now I understand the story better, the love story is very subtle, great acting from both leadsMarch 18, 2021
The ‘symbolism’ here isn’t entirely ‘true’ is it? Those things got used in the drama cause they got used IN THE NOVEL itself.April 11, 2021
LWJ’s forehead ribbon was repeatedly used in the novel to convey his concealed feelings. Even the juniors realizes it! XD
The rabbits might be a symbolism BUT LWJ has a penchant for stealing from WWX or keeping his gifts, the rabbits were a gift, there’s no way LWJ would do away with them.
The chicken one was especially faulty? Was that scene REALLY part of the ‘betrothal gift’? That scene was suppose to come after WWX takes LWJ on a tour around Lotus Pier. There’s a reason LWJ was doing that and it has nothing to do with betrothal gift. He was suppose to steal Jujubes after this! :D
The ancestral hall scene was a real deal, I was pretty surprised they included all 3 bows! WWX was fully aware of what he was doing here, he tricks LWJ into doing 2 of the marriage bows, LWJ also probably knew what WWX’s ulterior motive was, hence he played along. XD
Compared to the novel, I do feel the drama is too innocent! It DOES feels merely ‘brotherly’ to me if we get down to comparing it with the novel.