The Longest Day in Chang An – ep 14
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast where we discuss Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts for today Cathy and Karen
We are in episode 14 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.
We’ll start with an episode recap, then move on to history, and then close out with book differences.
In the last episode, Zhang Xiao Jing finally caught up with the escaped members of the wolf squad to a) try and stop them and b) rescue wen ran. But unfortunately, it was a trap waiting for him. First Yu Chang tried to stall for time and then Cao Po Yan also engaged in a furious battle to keep Zhang Xiao Jing at bay. Except, when Cui Qi arrived with the Lv Ben Jun, they walked straight into the trap set up by Long Bo and the abandoned property where Cao Po Yan was waiting for them exploded in a terrifying blaze.
That is where we start episode 14. Screams fill the air as soldiers try to escape the flames and reach safety. Buildings collapse and explosions continuously burst through preventing rescues. There is debris everywhere and what’s worse, because the explosion used petrol/oil, it’s impossible to extinguish. From the reports that made their way back to Jing An Si, no soldier that first arrived on the scene into the abandoned property survived.
Zhang Xiao Jing and Cui Qi are both devastated by the blast, Cui Qi moreso. He’s dumbstruck by the scene but Zhang Xiao Jing quickly turns to the mortality wounded Cao Po Yan and screams at him for information on 伏火雷。The english translation on Youtube calls it Crouching Fire but 火雷 just means bomb so I guess you could call it crouching bomb?
Poor Cui Qi however, he is dazed by the aftermath and his voice shakes as he questions how Zhang Xiao JIng would know of this 伏火雷, a bomb that is only a myth from the west. Petrol or 石脂 only burns, there’s no explosion so how did this happen and in the city?? There’s a lot of insinuation there of how Zhang Xiao Jing would know this bomb was here but Zhang Xiao Jing doesn’t have time for that and barked a couple of orders to Cui Qi on how to manage the aftermath of this disaster which Cui Qi automatically just answers. I feel like Cui Qi himself is a little surprised how automatic it was for to agree to ZHang XIao Jing’s orders.
Cao Po Yan murmurs some information only after Zhang Xiao JIng retrieves his beloved necklace his daughter made him from the rubble. Zhang xiao jing confirms that Long Bo is indeed behind this but Cao Po Yan doesn’t have much more information on his whereabouts. Sadly, Zhang Xiao Jing believes that Wen Ran was killed in the blast since her clothes were recovered in the blast site. This deeply affects him but he doesn’t have too much time to grieve since he has to seek out where the rest of the petrol or bombs have gone to for that matter. He instructs Tan Qi who arrived to aid Zhang Xiao Jing to not have Li Bi question anything he does from that point forward. You can tell Tan Qi was worried Zhang Xiao Jing was killed in the blast and relieved to see him alive. Tan Qi has people carry Cao Po Yan back to Jing An SI to keep him alive for further questioning while Zhang Xiao Jing finds a trail of spilt petrol on the road from the property…
Now this massive explosion has the capital shook. The Right Chancellor 林九郎 somehow managed to get his own demonstration of what petrol or 石脂 is with General Gan and 吉温. General Gan explains that petrol comes from the west and one of their troops managed to create this bomb to obtain victory because it is extremely powerful and cannot be extinguished for several days. However, because this type of bomb is quite unstable and difficult to create, it has not been mass produced. But see, now the Right Chancellor is on heightened alert. IF it was just a couple of escaped wolf squad members, he’s not worried. But now with this highly destructive source possibly out in the wilds of the city, he must protect himself. THATplus knowing Zhang Xiao JIng gave the wolf squad members a map of the Right Chancellor’s property and potentially a revenge plot against the Right Chancellor has the Right CHancellor on extreme alert. He says that I need the Lv Ben Jun to return back to the Right Cavalry’s command and away from Jing An Si as a way to bring more troops back under his control while also undermining the Crown Prince and Li Bi’s influence. He’s clearly taking every opportunity to maintain his power.
Things are not looking good for the Crown Prince as he gets intel from a palace eunuch that the Emperor is furious at hearing about the explosion and has delayed his departure for the evening’s festivities and that the Right Chancellor is already making moves to criticize the Crown Prince the next day. The Crown Prince surprisingly isn’t too freaked out by all of this bad news. Instead, he calmly tells one of his eunuchs to send word of everything he just heard to Li Bi.
And what is Li Bi up to all this episode? He is also quite tense after hearing of the devastation in 昌明坊 but the first matter at hand is uncovering the secrets of 徐宾, this lowly official who created 大案犊术。Li Bi ordered an investigation on Xu Bin using this database mechanism and there’s some odd components of Xu Bin. He only drinks the cheapest liquors with plenty of unpaid bills and his wife still works as a cook for others despite Xu Bin having more than enough salary as a government official to own staff. They rent a small place after Xu Bin sold off all of the property he was given as an official, a crime actually. But what is the most damning is that the records show Xu Bin had numerous and hours long conversations with Zhang XIao Jing before he was sent to prison. Clearly, 大案犊术 or this database did not select Zhang XIao Jing out of the blue. It was Xu Bin.
Finally, Xu Bin confesses that it was indeed he who helped select Zhang Xiao Jing for today’s job. He wanted to get Zhang Xiao Jing out of death row because he likes Zhang Xiao Jing. He likes how zhang xiao jing speaks of his job, of the people of Chang An, because Zhang XIao Jing truly likes the people of Chang An. Zhang Xiao Jing interacts with “evil” people every day but he never sees them as that, he only looks at the evidence of the crime. He spends his time to understand the people of the city and what makes them click to ultimately cause a certain crime. THat’s why he’s called the devil. Not for his brutality physically, but Zhang Xiao JIng’s ability to get straight into the emotional heart of the problem. Xu Bin is blunt in admonishing Li Bi in that though they act similarly, Zhang Xiao JIng cares about others. Li Bi cares only about himself. Zhang Xiao Jing does only what he thinks is right and what he should do. He is not wavered by anyone else.
This certainly causes Li Bi to pause reflect but he doesn’t have too much time to think before receiving news from the Crown Prince about his investigation. And they must turn back to the matter at hand and see if they can find the whereabouts of potentially more of these bombs.
In this episode, there’s not much history but I want to highlight a couple of items.
At the beginning of the episode, Long Bo is eating a bowl of noodles. We can’t tell quite what it is. However, there’s a sign on the side that says 泡馍. Typically in China, we see 羊肉泡馍 which translates to Pita Bread Soaked in lamb Soup.
To make the dish, the lamb meat is first boiled in a large pot. There’s a bunch of steps to get the lamb broth to a white clearish soup. At the same time – pita or 馍 is heated for this dish. When the soup is about ready, the lamb is removed from the soup to cut into small pieces. Garlic, ginger, and scallions are added to the soup to add flavor. There’s also a bunch of other spices that you can add such as peppers, chilis, cilantro etc. Some people also add Rice vermicelli. But to make this dish a 羊肉泡馍, one needs to take the pita and rip it into small bits and add to the soup. The 泡馍 is all about the pita being soaked in the soup, hence Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup.
This particular dish originated back over 2500 years ago during the Western Zhou dynasty. Back then, this dish was served for Kings and was called 羊羹. In the Strategies of the Warring States, which is a text that includes stories of the Warring States period in China so 5th to 3rd centuries BC, one king riled up a man over a bowl of this 羊羹. This man then went to another Kingdom and persuaded that king to essentially decimate the original king. Sooo yea…all over a bowl of soup.
Over the centuries, including the Northern and Southern dynasties so 5th centuries, there were records of Emperor’s enjoying the dish including releasing a prisoner of war for promoting this dish. By the time of the Tang dynasty, these soups were enjoyed in the Empire. However, the name was still as 羊羹 instead of 泡馍. An original version of 馍 was introduced during the reign of 唐肃宗 in 757. Legend has it, the dish that we have it today originated during the early Song Dynasty. This dish is still very popular in modern day Xi’An. I had it when I was last in Xi’An several years ago and it was quite delicious.
The bowl of noodles that Long Bo is having is clearly not the 泡馍 we know today. The bowl needs to be more soupy. I just found it interesting that the drama decided to have 泡馍 clearly marked for the restaurant.
Next, let’s talk about the Crouching Fire or 伏火雷. We got an in drama explanation of the Crouching fire but did it really exist?
This Crouching Fire was invented for the book and drama. That’s not to say the Chinese didn’t know how to use oil for warfare, which is what I discussed in the last episode. It’s just we can’t equate this Crouching Fire to warfare Gunpowder. The ingredients used for Gunpowder as a combination were possibly invented back during the Han dynasty by Chinese daoists. We have records of a substance that sounds like gunpowder. However, gunpowder with its more explosive capabilities wasn’t invented until late in the 9th century by the Chinese and then rapidly spread during the Song Dynasty in the 11th century. We’re still here in 744 AD.
In the drama, the screenwriters decided to name this as 伏火雷 or Crouching Fire instead of 猛火雷 or Intense that we have in the book. I think there’s a couple of reasons for this.
In chinese alchemy, there’s a term for 伏火. 伏 actually means to subdue. 火 is actually Yang type items. Sulfar, realgar, and cinnabar were all classified as Yang or Fire items. Just bear with me here. In order to use them, according to ancient chinese alchemy, one needed to use Yin to subdue the Yang of these items. Hence 伏火 or Subdue the Yang. What did they use to “subdue the yang” – Saltpeter.
To create a dan, the Chinese alchemists would mix different substances together. By the 9th century, Tang dynasty alchemists noted the smoke and flames that resulted from a sulfuric, realgar, and honey mixture. A whole house even burned down. They named this mixture 火药 or Fire medicine which is what we still call gunpowder today in Chinese.
What’s very interesting is that during the Tang dynasty, even though gunpowder wasn’t invented, many of the components of gunpowder such as Sulfur, Realgar, and Saltpeter were mixed with very rare herbs such as snow lotus, peonies, motherwort, licorice, mulberry leaves etc to create medicinal elixirs. Uh I cannot vouch for any of the medicinal qualities of these elixirs. These elixirs were rather popular during the time for the rich and powerful to attempt immortality.
In the book, the author makes the 猛火雷 be comprised of White Phosphorus and pieces of wood, which also makes sense but again, gunpowder as a weapon wasn’t invented until at least 60 years after the events of the book.