The Longest Day in Chang An – ep 15
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 15 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 email@example.com. 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.
Today is all about Xu Bin.
In the last episode, XuBin was exposed to have lied about not knowing Zhang XIao Jing and how Xu Bin selected Zhang Xiao Jing for today’s job in capturing the wolf squad. While LiBi is upset, he still wants XuBin to help search for the whereabouts of petrol and or bombs that may still be in the City. Xu Bin tries to return to work but his colleagues shun him for betraying their trust. After all, Xu Bin did lie about using da An Du Shu to select Zhang Xiao Jing. Because of this, Xu Bin ultimately decides to resign and leave his post. Li Bi sees Xu Bin’s dejected outline leaving Jing An Si.
The time is late afternoon, past 5PM
Cut to the Right Chancellor’s home – this scene is hilarious. Ji Wen is staring at the delectable food available to him at the Right Chancellor’s home and gazes around teh room to see if he is able to eat. But just as he’s about to take a bite, the Right Chancellor arrives to discuss important matters with him.
The topic today at hand is Xu Bin, a man who is of the 8th rank with very little connections at court. BUT who created this Da An Du Shu which allows XU Bin to use various documents and words to analyze a situation and predict the future. Lin Jiu lang hears about Xu Bin and gives his rather fascinating world view. He states that in order to judge a person, it’s not about what he writes, and in this case i’m just using he because during that time I’m assuming he’s talking about men only, because no one has enough time to verify the veracity of the words a man writes. But it is more important to judge a person by their connections. He goes on to say that court in Chang An never houses ambitionless people when Ji Wen notes that Xu Bin doesn’t have any connections and is quite a recluse. There must be some reason why Xu Bin is able to stay in the position he is. He orders Ji Wen to investigate just who is supporting Xu Bin.
This entire time, poor Ji Wen had been staring at the amazing food in front of him but never got a chance to take a bite. I’m thoroughly amused at this and am even more impressed with the fact that even though Lin Jiu Lang was busy pondering his own matters, he ordered his staff to pack up some food for Ji Wen. That’s how you keep your subordinates in line. Show them some kindness to help ensure loyalty.
Looking at the meal – the plating is beautiful and it does look delicious with pork on the left, chicken in the middle, some greens on the right, there’s rice on the bottom left. I can’t quite tell the rest are salt, pepper, and maybe vinegar, but this was an excellent meal that was being prepped.
We’ll be stunned with a future meal but this will wet our appetites for now.
Let’s turn then to Xu Bin himself. Li Bi has followed Xu Bin who returned home to Huai Yuan Fang and Li Bi is met with a rather interesting factory of sorts. This we will discuss in detail later on because it is quite fascinating but in Xu Bin’s home, he is helping create paper. Using bamboo to create paper! Li Bi finds Xu Bin drying some paper. When Xu Bin turns around to find Li Bi, Xu Bin quite eagerly shows Li Bi the paper. Except Li Bi is instead furious. He thinks Xu Bin is trying to find other ways to make money and is not worried at all that Li Bi is suspicious of him. Li Bi cares more about himself and the Crown Prince than anything else.
Xu Bin does actually take this time to stand up for himself. It’s not just paper! This impacts the entire fate of the Tang dynasty. He gets emotional when recounting the fact that in the early years, people of the Tang dynasty were able to live with bounty and peace because the data entry clerks updated their records every month. Who died, who got married, who had kids etc. All of that information was dutifully verified and recorded by these clerks. This was important information because taxation was based on population. Except it was all recorded on this vine paper. Years later, the paper was almost depleted and in short supply. All government officials knew was to reduce the use of this paper that was required to record all government documents. But no one knew to change the actual paper itself. This resulted in clerks not being able to do their jobs properly because there was no paper left to use. Xu Bin says that this seems like such a small thing right? But no, people start to lose heart from these small things. These inaccuracies have bigger impacts as he gets emotional stating that the national tax collection is just half of what it was just a few years ago. While the country wages war on the borders and many people have to flee their homes, officials continue to party. He cries when stating that the country has no money left.
Li Bi tries to console him by responding that yes, Xu Bin is right but this paper alone won’t fix everything to which Xu Bin responds that he is just a clerk. This is the only way he knows how to contribute to his country and make things better. He spent years developing this paper which could bring back that sense of duty for those data entry clerks and help restore a bit of order to the national archives. He spent all of his family’s money and has his wife help as a maid in order to create this paper making mill. As he states, he only wants to do what he can and what he believes is right.
Li Bi stares at Xu Bin for a moment, obviously impacted by what he’s seen today and makes the decision to trust Xu Bin. He orders Xu Bin back to Jing An Si, to which Xu Bin promptly agrees.
What are your thoughts of Xu Bin? I feel like in both Xu Bin’s monologue as well as Lin Jiu Lang’s dialogue with Ji Wen, there’s quite a bit of modern social commentary to extract. The amount of value Lin Jiu lang places on connections for example while completely dismissing those individuals outside his door hoping for him to read their prose. To Xu Bin who is burning with passion to help his country but doesn’t have much means or connections to do so. Xu Bin sounds like Zhang XIao Jing in their passion of helping their city and country the way they can. Maybe that’s why Xu Bin was so drawn to Zhang XIao Jing in the first place.
Ji Wen was able to collect some more information for the Right CHancellor. They connect He Jian to Xu Bin because He Jian’s adopted son He Fu gave Xu Bin quite a sum of money half a year ago. He Fu doesn’t have the ability to do this on his own so it must be his father. This puls the fact that Xu Bin falsely used Da An Du Shu to select Zhang Xiao Jing today means that they already have plenty of evidence against Li Bi and the crown prince. But something does confound the Right Chancellor because XU Bin’s act of releasing Zhang XIao Jing does Xu Bin absolutely no favors. In the Right Chancellor’s mind, no one is that stupid to do something taht doesnt’ benefit themself. This guy. So sneaky and cunning. He takes this opportunity to send the Emperor a classified document detailing how the crown prince was trying to assassinate him. What a snake.
Back at Jing An Si, Li Bi receives news that the watchtowers have spotted more members of the wolf squad. Perhaps impacted by Xu Bin’s words, Li Bi makes the important decision to give Zhang Xiao Jing all military authority from Jing An Si. Everyone is shocked at his words but Li BI states that during the ensuing chase, it would take too long for the watchtowers to relay messages so Zhang Xiao Jing must have the ability to make these decisions on the spot. Cui Qi’s lv ben jun are now under Zhang XIao Jing’s command. Xu Bin is also given back the keys to his post.
Meanwhile, out on the grounds, people have started making decisions to show their allegiance. Cui Qi is still mourning the loss of his men but received orders from Jing An Si to listen to Zhang Xiao Jing. Yao Ru Neng is over there giving Cui Qi the choice of either returning to the Right Calvalry in hopes of getting a promotion in the future or else have his military authority stripped in order to listen to Zhang XIao Jing. Cui Qi makes the prompt decision to rally his troops to capture the wolf squad. Which means he’s helping Zhang Xiao Jing. Impressive.
Tan Qi also decides to head to Zhang XIao Jing’s aid leaving an angry Yao Ru Neng because he feels that even Tan Qi, a lowly enslaved maid looks down on him
The episode ends with an unworthy note honestly. Yuan Zai I believe puts on a display to rescue Wang Yun Xiu and tries to curry her favor.
The next episode will be for sure action packed as we finally see Zhang Xiao Jing give chase to the remaining wolf squad members.
This is an interesting piece of spoken language that I want to discuss. In the drama and especially with Xu Bin, whenever he references himself, he will always say 徐某. 某 being the key word. 某 can mean an unknown person, thing, or place, but in a more formal way. So if I want to say – this unknown person, I would say 某人. A less formal way would be 这个人. Which translates literally to this person. If want to say – this unknown country, I would say 某国. But a less formal way would be 这个国家 or this country. The latter phrase also doesn’t specify the country but is less formal. Another way that 某 is used though is to also self reference. So I would say 某姓陈 or my last name is Chen. There’s a slight distance in the phrase though. If I was going to translate My last name is Chen in a less familiar way, I would say – 我姓陈 or My last name is Chen. 我 being I or Me. In this instance 某 replaces the 我.
The reason why I bring this specific nuance is throughout this past episode and this episode, whenever 徐宾 is talking about his actions, he ALWAYS says 徐某 instead of 我. 我 is too familiar and 徐某 is the right amount of proper to self-reference in the context of his superiors and a topic about himself. There’s a lack of the usage of 我 or I in the drama because many of the male characters will say their last name + 某 to reference themselves. This was mainly used by men. When women spoke – they potentially used 我 or I more but most often, they would use their full name to discuss an action. Listen to 檀棋, she might use 我 but when talking to 李必, her master, she would most often times use her full name of 檀棋. For example – 檀棋领命 or I obey but she’ll refer to herself in the 3rd person.
Paper making – in this episode, we get a short but fascinating scene where we as the audience witness the whole process of bamboo paper making and 徐宾’s self-proclaimed reason for his shadiness.
He claims that he invented a new way to produce paper – not out of vines but out of bamboo. Traditionally the invention of paper is attributed to the imperial eunuch Cai Lun around 105CE where he “modernized” paper making using a combination of bark, rags, old fishnets, and mulberry to create paper for mass production. The reason why I say traditionally is because paper was documented to have existed before Cai Lun but in the history books mainly attributed the documented invention to him.
After the era of Cai Lun, during the 3rd century AD, there were documented process of using 剡藤 or specific vines from the 剡 in the Zhe Jiang area of China to make paper. The Chinese would strip the bark from the vines to extract the fiber to produce paper from the vines. The vines from this area were specifically favored because of the thinness, smoothness, whiteness, and strength of the paper that was produced. By the time of the Tang Dynasty, this type of paper was used for the official edicts declared by the Emperor. This just goes to show how important and favored this type of paper was. Unfortunately over the centuries, the overharvesting of these vines led to the decline of the creation of this type of paper. During the end of the Qing Dynasty, locals in the area hadn’t produced paper using vines for at least 2 centuries. It was only recently that there was a resurgence in reviving this ancient craft.
Another reason why the practice of using 剡藤 declined by the Ming and Qing dynasties is because bamboo paper was invented and used as an alternative. Bamboo as a source for paper was documented during the Tang Dynasty but not widely used until the 9th and 10th centuries. So a little bit after our current time period in the drama. I went down a whole rabbit hole of watching videos of people in China replicating the ancient paper making process and I’ll say what is shown on the screen is pretty accurate. The timescale is just significantly shortened. The modern provinces of Fu jian and Si Chuan are main areas that produce bamboo used for paper making.
First the bamboo must be chopped and immersed in water for a period of time. Then the fibers must be stripped from the bamboo. Lime powder from limestone is added to the fibers and placed to dry for another period of time. Then the mixture is boiled and then bleached. Repeat the process several times until the resulting material is reduced to a pulp. The pulp is pounded even further. Someone then needs to pick out the impurities to keep only the good fibers. Another mixture of Alkali is added to a large basin. The pulp is also added. From there, as we see in the drama, a person needs to use another bamboo screen mold to carefully shape the final paper. It must be thin and even, otherwise, the paper can’t be used. Once each sheet of paper is created, then the paper must be dried. First by adding weight to squeeze the water from the paper. You would do this in a stack. Once that process is done, then you hang each individual sheet. The drama does an amazing job giving you one continuous shot to watch the whole paper making process. It skips some small steps but the main process is there.
On youtube, there’s a guy called 山白 that records the whole process of paper making using a traditional method. I highly recommend watching it. After watching the whole process, my takeaway is, how did someone figure this out?? Who said – you know what, let’s make paper from these fibers. The whole process takes months! I’m grateful but good for these inventors.
Next is a quick aside – in a blink and you miss it scene, one of the runner runs past a wooden stack. On it, we see two more hexagrams from I Ching – 乾 (qián) means Force and 離 (lí) which means Radiance
Lastly – I want to close out on who will probably become 2 least favorite people 王韫秀 and 元载. To complete his little act for 王韫秀, 元载 a camel drawn carriage which are a favorite of 王韫秀. The style of the carriage is called a 奚车. There aren’t many historical records of this carriage, only 90 words recorded by the Sony dynasty genius 沈括. He’s the man who invented compass north and coined the term oil. It was only recently that archeologists unearthed a tomb with a wall painting that resembles a Kitan era 奚车. Based on what we know, 奚车 were used by nomadic tribes and essentially acted as small moveable homes. The horse or camel would pull the cart. The front of the cart was wider than the rear. The wheels were large, but the axles were short. I can’t find a good photo to compare what we have in the drama so I can’t determine much. I’ll just give points to both 元载 and the production crew for thinking about this type of carriage.