The Longest Day in Chang An – ep 16
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 16 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’s episode is a heart pumping chase as we finally return to Ma Ge Er and other wolf squad members steering carts of petrol or bombs made of petrol in those carts. And the main character Zhang Xiao Jing has the adrenaline, stamina, accuracy and agility of a video game character. There’s a whole lot of reality we have to suspend here for this episode but that does not mean it’s not a thoroughly enjoyable one. Each time I watch it my heart is pumping right along with the drum beats.
The time is now 5PM. This episode wastes no time as we follow these Wolf squad members who made their way into the crowded streets, right into the procession where the famous singer Xu He Zi is on her float. These wolf squad members try to clear a path and have no qualms any more of killing innocent civilians in order to make a path. The crowd screams and tries to scatter as Ma Ge Er and company see Zhang Xiao Jing now on their tail. With the pressure mounting, a member of the wolf squad starts dumping petrol on the surrounding streets and people and lights the fire. A blaze erupts and more casualties occur as Zhang Xiao Jing is hot on their tail. In all the chaos, Xu Hu Zi’s brother, Xu Ge accidentally falls onto one of the wolf squad members’ carts. He isn’t killed thankfully but injured. I’m impressed that 许合子 is able to run with that head piece
The situation turns dire as Zhang Xiao JIng takes to the rooftops to see the destructive path the Wolf Squad members have created. Meanwhile, back at Jing An Si, Li Bi is being pressured to stop using Zhang Xiao Jing as news of the harrowing chase reaches them. Members of Jing An Si believe that Zhang Xiao Jing is too volatile to trust. They cannot let them bargain their entire lives and fortune on a convict on death row!
In the drama, this scene has other people vocalizing their pressure on Li Bi while in the book, the struggle is more internal. Did he make a mistake in trusting him? What happens if Zhang XIao Jing causes further trouble? But at this point, Li Bi in the drama is more resolute in his trust of Zhang XIao Jing, ordering watch towers to help direct Zhang Xiao Jing’s path on the rooftops, much to the chagrin of almost all Jing An Si members. But he makes a desperate plea to his subordinates, even kneeling to them, saying that he trusts Zhang XIao Jing so must stick with him till the end, just as they have stuck with him. Li Bi actually orders his men to continue searching for the origin and whereabouts of more petrol. To which the Jing An Si men hesitate for a moment before accepting with a resounding equivalent of “understood”.
Back to Zhang XIao Jing, he, with the help of the watch towers manages to jump on top of one of the 3 carts. This cart has Xu Ge pinned on the top and through a violent exchange, ZHang Xiao Jing manages to subdue the Wolf Squad member and help Xu Ge escape. In the book, it’s just noted that Zhang Xiao Jing managed to save a young man even in the midst of all of this. It’s not stated it was Xu Ge or that even Xu He Zi was involved here at all.
Zhang Xiao Jing continues to give chase and move this cart to a safer area before it detonates. Members of Cui Qi’s lv ben jun also join the fray to try to bring order while also helping capture the wolf squad members. Xu He Zi learns from Cui Qi that it was Zhang Xiao Jing who saved her brother’s life.
Now this is where the drama deviates heavily from the drama and we have to stretch our belief a bit. Zhang XIao Jing is hot on the tails of Ma Ge er and manages to subdue another cart so he is the only one chasing Ma Ge Er now. Li Bi in Jing An Si in turn, grabs a sword so you know shit is going to go down but then he hops on a horse and manages to catch up to Ma Ge Er and Zhang XIao Jing mid chase? Ummm. Ok. We’re going to suspend belief here.
He uses himself as bait in order to try to sway Ma Ge Er from breaching an area that would further injure citizens and the royal family. At the last second before hitting a check point of armed solders, Li Bi grabs a hold of Ma Ge Er’s horses muzzle? And turns him to the right, thereby saving those soldiers lives and also saving the citizen’s lives further up north.
The chase ensues as Zhang Xiao Jing shifts from his carriage after he is forced to abandon it and then back up to the rooftops as he chases on foot the final carriage of oil Ma Ge Er commands. In his anger to try to kill Li Bi, Ma Ge Er had already lit his carriage of petrol/bombs so this entire thing is a ticking time bomb of when the entire carriage might explode. Zhang Xiao Jing manages to jump onto this carriage and in another violent and bloody fight, is able to throw Ma Ge Er off the carriage, dead. Problem is, Zhang Xiao Jing has to figure out what to do with this carriage that might kill him and many others around him.
There’s so much happening on screen right now where I don’t think Zhang Xiao Jing’s route after he controls the carriage is explained well. One of the messengers, Lu San is freaking out and telling everyone in Jing An Si to escape for their lives because Zhang XIao Jing is heading their way only to be stopped by Xu Bin who said there’s no way Zhang XIao Jing’s carriage could even make it into their Fang since his carriage is too wide. He couldnt’ even get through the doors. But then, Zhang Xiao Jing heads over to the West Market where the carriage could go. In the book, at this point, everyone is freaking out because the West Market has so many people and no one knows why Zhang XIao Jing would ever bring such a weapon there because it could mean casualties. Is he trying to enact revenge? Is he trying to get them all killed?
There is heavy tension because they cannot comprehend Zhang XIao Jing’s actions at this moment. What happens is that there is a water ditch in the West Market that is used for ships to move goods. In the book, it was stated that this water ditch was currently frozen over but is what Cao Po Yan used earlier in the day to escape the West Market at the beginning of the book/drama. Zhang Xiao Jing brought the carriage here for it to explode as there would be less people and also since with water, the flames would not burn as badly. I think hopefully that makes more sense why Tan Qi was like, A almost wrongfully blamed Zhang Xiao Jing. Zhang XIao Jing brought the cart over to this ditch for it to explode. At the end of the episode, Li Bi, Tan Qi and several soldiers are at the water’s edge trying to recover Zhang XIao Jing who is currently no where to be found. We’re in episode 16 so obviously he’s not dead but this episode was quite heart thumping.
That’s not it though. There was plenty of other action in this episode. This drama really is one about trust and courage. Xu Bin and even Lu San had their say when trying to stand up to Zhang XIao Jing when many of the other JIng An Si members wanted to retreat. They got a pretty big telling off from Lu San, the messenger, when no one in Jing An Si had any idea of what to do after Li Bi went off to aid Zhang Xiao Jing.
In any case, we see the timidness or else the selfishness of people in this episode first by Jing An Si members but then also with the Right Cavalry. Captain Zhao received orders to basically hold a line to protect the northern part of the city. In one scene that makes your blood boil with exasperation, we see that many civilians are trying to cross the barricades north in order to escape the chaos with the wolf squad. Even one subordinate guard was saying they should open the barricades to save as many people as possible. But Captain Zhao is like, no, my only job is to protect those behind this barricade. I don’t care how many ppl die on the other side. Why? Because his career and reputation is on the line. He doesn’t actually care about these civilians which is made doubly a slap in the face when later on in the episode, Yao Ru Neng rescues Wen Ran from the well she fell into and says that as a government official, our job is to protect civilians like yourself. Uhh. We are not seeing that at all. It was only until after Captain Zhao heard that there wasn’t going to be a threat to the north anymore that he let the civilians pass. He’s an amusing character for sure but there is a whole lot of social commentary in this exchange alone.
Now the two smartest people I’m seeing right now is one, the right chancellor and two Xu Bin. The Right CHancellor was able to very quickly deduce that there’s no way that the wolf squad with 50 ppl would only bring 3 carts of petrol into the capital. Just three? THat seems impossible and quite childish. Like yes, that actually makes a ton of sense and we see why he’s sly as a fox. Xu Bin was also able to figure out that whoever made the documentation in Jing An Si about there only being 3 carts coming into the city being false and also catching onto the fact that something was off with Lu San. Poor guy, Lu San managed to trick Xu Bin into a secluded alley way and has him strangled. Well at least now we know who the spy has been this entire day.
The episode ends with the group trying to figure out whether or not Zhang XIao Jing is still alive. The only other super boring point in the episode today and i almost always just skip through is the fact that Yuan Zai brings Wang yun xiu over to his house. If you’ll recall in the last episode, he cleverly stages an attack on Wang Yun Xiu in which he turns up as his knight in shining armor. Wang Yun Xiu’s attitude him softened quite a bit. In this episode, at first, she was all haughty when she sees how destitute he is but then softens up even more when she sees that he used the last of his money to buy her new clothes. This whole scene is greatly helped by Yuan Zai’s small little servant girl who’s pouting about how they have no money. Yuan Zai’s just over there smoothly saying that he only wants the best. Eye roll.
Before we move onto history – let’s say goodbye to a formidable foe 麻格尔. He is portrayed by Sukhee Ariunbyamba, an actor who hails from Mongolia. When the director and producers were casting for the role, they searched far and wide and expanded their search outside of China until they found Sukhee.
Speaking of, let’s also talk about another foreign actor who plays a pretty big supporting role in this drama. Shu Okamura is a japanese actor who plays the character of Lu San, the runner, in this drama. We finally get the reveal that he’s been a spy working against 靖安司 this entire time. Shu Okamura was actually a professional baseball player before turning to acting. In the book, the character of Lu San is also foreign but does not hail from Japan.
The last actress that I want to talk about is 元载’s little assistant! Apparently the producer and director had to audition over 200 young girls until they selected her because they wanted someone who was sassy, cute, and a little chubby to embody the character. I thought the young girl did an excellent job!
Even though this episode focused on the chase, we still have a few topics of history to discuss.
The first is the quick mention of Han Feizi from the Right Chancellor when we get the flashback of Li Bi going to visit him. The Right Chancellor states that Han Fei Zi was correct, human nature was evil, and that one cannot fully trust a man. Now, Han Feizi was a Legalist philosopher who lived roughly from 280BCE to 2333BCE. He was a proponent of Legalism or 法家 – which was a school of thought that pushes on strict rules and hierarchy. Han Fei Zi believed that human nature couldn’t change, not necessarily that it was evil.
This is interesting because throughout the episode, everyone believed that Zhang Xiao Jing was fundamentally evil and wanted retribution for his death sentence. They didn’t understand Zhang Xiao Jing. The two who believed in him to have not changed were Xu Bin and Li Bi. They believed in his goodness while everyone else believed in his wickedness.
Next in the episode, Li Bi orders men to prepare 拒马 or Cheval de frise to prevent the passage of the carriages. We’re shown these 拒马 or chevaux de frise in the episode when the despicable Captain Zhao just casually disregards the lives of the people of Chang An. Cheval de frises was a defensive obstacle, typically an anti-cavalry obstacle. In Chinese, the literal translation of 拒马 is to repel horses. I was googling the english translation and funnily, what I got was Cheval de frise which is a French term. These obstacles can be moved relatively quickly to close breaches or openings and were used to prevent horses or carriages from passing. The Cheval de Frise was invented in ancient China over 3500 years ago, with records dating as far back as the mythical Xia Dynasty. In China, they were originally built using wooden spikes and a support for the spikes similar to what we see in the drama. They were used in Chinese warfare all the way up to modern times with documentation in the Song and Ming dynasties. The Cheval de frise were probably introduced to europe some time during the middle ages and were commonly seen in warfare all across europe and the US.
Let’s fast forward through the episode to where Zhang Xiao Jing is able to successfully drive the carriage through the Western Gate and have it explode in the water. Li Bi orders for rowboats and soldiers from 广通渠qú to be routed here to support the search efforts for Zhang Xiao Jing.
广通渠 was a canal that was built in Chang An by the Sui Dynasty Emperor Sui Wen Di in 584D. When the Emperor originally established the Sui Dynasty, he decided to set Chang An as the capital. However, the city at that time was in disrepair and the water supply was severely polluted. The Emperor chose a location in the South East of the original Chang An in 682 to build the capital and renamed it 大兴城. In 684, the Emperor ordered the construction of the canal. To the northwest, the Canal would route water from Weihe River (渭河), then somewhat overlap with old Han Dynasty canals through the east all the way to the Yellow river. The canal itself would cover around 300 kilometers. After this canal was built, it sped the flow of goods across the Empire and was a driver in economic growth.
At the end of the episode, we see a statue in the water with Zhang Xiao JIng’s belt hanging from it. Back then, statues were dropped into the water or for example the canal to protect the water and protect the travelers and boats from evil spirits.
Lastly – let’s talk about how we got to the big reveal of Lu San’s betrayal, specifically the ink written on the page. The ink used was 徽墨 or ink from the city of 徽州, which is in present day 安徽. The type of ink was actually invented in the late Tang time period by the father and son duo of . The ink was so well liked, that the 3rd ruler of the southern tang state 李煜 actually granted the son of 奚超 the country name of 李. That just goes to show how highly regarded this type of ink was and still is.
I also went down a rabbit hole of watching people make ink using traditional methods and this type of ink uses pine smoke, empress tree oil smoke, lacquer smoke, and glue as the base ingredients. There’s additional ingredients needed such as musk, gold foil, pearl powder that is used in the production and takes years to make. When we talk about ink, in China, the finished product is a block which then mixed with water produces a color and consistency perfect for writing. It’s also a reason why ink was and is now still pretty expensive. Well, now you can just use pre-made ink, but if you want to buy 徽墨, it’s still not cheap.