Ep1 pt2 – More Than Just a Lone Wolf
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts Cathy and Karen!
We are beginning our discussion of the Tang Dynasty drama The Longest Day in Chang’An, or in mandarin, 长安十二时辰.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, this podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin. Additionally, we reference translations from what is provided online and we’ll provide our own. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!
For this podcast episode, we are actually only going to cover the remaining half of episode 1.
Similar to our last week’s episode, we will also discuss the history as we watch the drama in this podcast episode because there’s so much to introduce with regards to the characters, the plot, and most importantly the setting and we wanted to make this episode more fluid rather than trying to cut back and forth. Thankfully, it’s not as dense as the last episode. For this episode, we’re also going to sprinkle in book differences and comments from the author to round out this discussion.
We’re back in the second half of episode 1 where we our main characters 张小敬 and 李必 are going over 张小敬’s task at 静安司, the Department of City Security.
A quick recap of what’s happened so far. 李必 is a young man who runs 静安司, the Department of City Security tasked with uncovering a plot that was discovered half a year ago. 张小敬 is an inmate on death row but a former 不良帅 or the youtube english translation is captain of the sleuth-hound. He was selected to help 李必 uncover a plot after the escape of a member of the Wolf Squad. 崔六郎, a smuggler and older brother of 崔器 of the royal guard was originally selected to go on this mission to uncover what the wolf squad wanted to do in the city but was unfortunately killed earlier that day. With no other choice, 张小敬 is 李必’s only choice.
While they’re discussing, we hear some ruckus in the background. An elderly man, clearly not focused right now is riding a donkey that saunters through the halls to where Li Bi is standing. The elderly man is 何执正 or Director He. He is closely chased by his adopted adult son 何孚。The translations in english don’t make this evident on first introduction but this 何孚 is adopted and this adopted label is important to remember. Additionally, he’s holding a children’s toy drum to indicate that this 何孚 is not fully right in the head.
The elderly man on the donkey is swaying around while trying to focus on one of the 坊 models Li Bi and 张小敬 were observing just now. He cries out the lines 昭昭有唐 天俾万国 before falling onto and destroying the model of this 坊 as he next cries out that it’s all destroyed, over and over again. 张小敬 over there is like ummm… What’s with this guy?
So who is this person in particular. We’ll certainly see more of 何执正 but I do think it’s important to discuss the history of these individuals AS we go through the drama because it will give us an interesting view of how the drama progresse s and its ties to history.
For this drama and in 2018 / 2019, the Chinese National Radio and Television Administration did not want dramas to portray historical characters in a negative light. So, in order to get around the censors, this drama renamed a bunch of characters to sound like the historical characters but actually not be named the character.
One particular example is 何执正, the old man riding the donkey. His real life counterpart is 贺知章, a well known poet and politician who was born in 659 and died in the year 744, the year the drama takes place. This makes him an ANCIENT 85 year old man at this point. He passed his imperial entrance exams in 695 and served in the Ministry of Rites, Ministry of Works, and was a close teacher for the Crown Prince under the reign of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong, our current emperor. He is also the head of the Imperial Archives, which in Chinese is called 秘书监. This is why in the drama everyone calls him 何监. 监 indicates his title. He was a very influential politician and poet. He was also immortalized as one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. A group of scholars and poets known for their love of wine. 贺知章 wrote a poem that literally every child in China learns to this day. We’ll discuss it later in the drama.
Anyways – the old man makes his entrance riding a donkey. Why donkey? 1. A horse was too large to travel through the crowds, and 2. This also goes back to the fact that he’s a poet. Several famous poets during the Tang Dynasty preferred to ride donkeys to show that they were uncorrupt, reflecting their poor man’s roots, and their disdain to be associated with the rich and powerful.
The lines he says – 昭昭有唐 天俾万国 comes from a poem written by 贺知章 called 太和. The full poem goes as such.
This was written in the early years of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong’s reign and 贺知章 is praising the splendor and glory of this reign, how the Tang has expanded to endless boundaries, and how the heavens have blessed this era. The first two lines, which are the ones spoken in the drama, roughly translate to – The light shines on great tang, the world bows down to it. But interestingly, in the drama he says – it’s doomed! Why, though? This is what we’ll uncover in the drama. Notice that he specifically says this when he sees the watchtower and also collapses ON the watchtower? There’s significance to this too that will be revealed later. We’ll be seeing more of this older gentleman throughout the series and we’ll
We next turn outside of the Department of City Security to a riverbed. The sole survivor of the 16 person Wolf Squad, 曹破延 is floating unconscious in the river but then is scooped out by a boisterous old man. This guy is Jiao Sui. What’s interesting is that in the drama, this random man announces that he is 焦遂 from Chang An. In the book, his name doesn’t get revealed until wayy later. 焦遂 was also one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup but oddly enough, there’s literally nothing known about him apart from the fact that he is a member of the 8. So we don’t know when he lived or died. Poor guy died unceremoniously here in the drama. Maybe because we don’t know anything about him that the Censors allowed this character to use his real name. Haha
The drinking vessel he uses is called a Nautilidae cup but in Chinese the literal translation is a Parrot Cup. The reason is because the shape of the shell and the curvature resembles a parrot’s beak, hence why it’s called a Parrot conch in Chinese. A Nautilidae cup was unearthed from a Tang era tomb and poems dating back to that time also mentioned the existence of these types of driving vessels. Nautilidae are ancient cephalopods with a swirl shell.
As for the wine itself, what is shown in the drama is a red wine. The author notes that there were several different types of wine that people drank during that era, including grape wines. So it’s not far-fetched to have red or even green colored wines to be consumed during that time.
He is one unlucky son of a gun because he saved this 曹破延’s and even gave this dude some of what looks like wine in a super cool cup only to be murdered by said dude 2 seconds later. After watching this drama, I feel like there are a bunch of scenes like this where it’s like man, you chose to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and I’m so sorry for that.
Let’s head back to the Department of City Security. 张小敬 was able to deduce that the whole reason 崔六郎‘s mission failed earlier was because Li Bi’s soldiers silenced the bells on the camels. Because the Wolf Squad are so accustomed to living near livestock, the silence is what tipped them off to the presence of impending threat and is what ultimately led to the failure of the mission to eliminate all members of the Wolf Squad. Once Zhao Xiao Jing pointed this out, 李必 immediately turned around and stated that he will give reparations to 崔六郎’s family for his sacrifice.
Now this is a rather quick scene in the drama. In the book, there’s more elaboration and impact. 1) is that Li Bi became rather impressed with 张小敬’s abilities to see through the mission and what caused the critical failure and 2) Li Bi originally was a little annoyed or off put that 崔六郎 and ultimately 崔器 plus the 旅奔军 or Royal Guard were unable to complete the mission. But now that 张小敬 pointed out that the failure was actually because 李必 ordered the animals to be silenced, in the book the animals were removed, that caused the mission to fail, 李必 immediately realized his mistake. Thus turning around and giving a rather lavish compensation to 崔器 for what happened.
In any case, the story progresses with now 张小敬 heading over with 崔器 to observe 崔六郎’s body again. But we do get a rather heart wrenching explanation from 崔器 about why 崔六郎 ended up the way he did. This older brother helped smuggle pearls in order to make enough money so that his younger brother could buy registration as a soldier as they were runaway farmers with a farming registration. We won’t elaborate too much here on an individual’s registration deed or 籍. We have talked about this in the past for the Story of Ming Lan and we can spend some time discussing this in later episodes. The key takeaway from this scene is that 崔六郎 knowingly went into a lifetime of crime and hurt his intestines to smuggle those pearls just so that his younger brother could live a better life, and a life in Chang An. This theme of wanting to be in Chang An will pop up several times. Additionally, this little story already creates a multifaceted character for both the deceased 崔六郎 and 崔器. Additionally, 崔器 said that his brother can no longer eat solid foods because of how he was smuggling pearls. Notice that in the beginning of the episode, 崔器 had that walnut naan or pancake he stuffed into his helmet which is solid. This will pop back up in later episodes but I think is a reminder to 崔器 of the sacrifice his brother made to get him to where he is now.
I do really appreciate these little character moments that while short, do an excellent job of giving us a wellrounded sense of where each person is coming from. Cui Liu Lang may have done a bunch of illegal things but it was all for his younger brother. His younger brother, a respected solider, now has to live up to his brother’s sacrifice.
By now, 张小敬 has made it to the morgue. In examining 崔六郎’s body once again, he realizes that 崔六郎 ingested something before he died, tying back to how this guy used to smuggle pearls. 张小敬 does some surgery on the body and procures…a map. Handing the pieces of the map to 崔器, 张小敬 just ominously grunts that the Wolf Squad has big plans today.
Xu Bin, who is an important character in this drama, but only a lowly 8th ranked official, reports back to Li Bi on how the Wolf Squad member 曹破延 was able to escape. It was an extensive scheme from the Wolf Squad in which they were able to impersonate a local family from Chang An to funnel money and build secret tunnels in the city.
Speaking of, the escaped Wolf Squad member, 曹破延, after murdering the poor 焦遂. changed into the man’s clothes and walked into a barber shop looking to get a shave. After some hesitation from the barber, mainly because he wanted to close up shop early, gives him the shave. The barber gives 曹破延 some interesting news – there will be a grand holy lantern that will be displayed during the evening’s lantern festival. This spectacle, which will be a creation from the master 毛顺, is so secretive that even the Emperor doesn’t have a clue as to what it will be. Keep this piece of information in mind because we will see this later in the drama. Also, I swear, the entire time the barber is talking, I was like don’t die don’t die don’t die!
We conclude the episode by returning to Jing An Si. Zhang Xiao Jing explains to 李必, the map he recovered is only a small piece but it is extremely detailed with a number of military and stable posts. This map warns 李必 and the rest of the Department Of City Security 静安司 that an even bigger plot is afoot involving more members of the Wolf Squad. It’s no longer as simple as hunting down just one lone survivor. It’s not hard to imagine that a cohort with a detailed map of chang an could avoid critical check points and inspections and ultimately wreak havoc on the city –
That closes out our discussion of episode 1 of the longest day in changan!
The music for this episode is 清平乐 played by Karen with sheet music by 崔江卉.