Episode 23 is quite intense and very profound. I certainly tear up almost every time I watch it. The episode starts with Li Bi still interrogating Yu Chang who shows signs of pause as Li Bi states that he wants to stop future Tang dynasty citizens from devolving into poverty and turning into pawns for others based off of a sliver of kindness. He asks her if her sacrifice is worth it before untying another rope around her hands for an answer. She attacks him but luckily Xu Bin arrives with backup. I do think Yu Chang let Li Bi off easy though.
Meanwhile, Tan Qi catches up to Zhang XIao Jing in the crowded streets as we see Xu He Zi performing again on her large parade float. Her brother I think is still playing drums which good for him because his hand got majorly injured earlier in the day but the show must go on I guess. YiSi also makes a surprise appearance, startling Zhang XIao Jing, as he insists he wants to help Zhang Xiao Jing tonight. For him, the only way the church can maintain a stable footing in Chang An is by helping Zhang Xiao Jing tonight.
As they walk through the festive streets, Tan Qi takes this opportunity to inquire more about Zhang Xiao Jing’s past so she can understand more about him. He shares about his fellow soldiers during his time in the army and the two men in particular he respected – Wen Wu JI and XIao Gui. Wen Wu Ji, obviously we know is Wen Ran’s father. Xiao Gui, managed to keep morale alive even in the worst of the fighting. However, the sad thing is, most of the 9 men who survived the fighting either ended up dead or missing.
On that grim note, the episode turns even darker. Back at Jing An Si, many officials have started returning to Jing An Si following Li Bi’s call. They gather around in the main hall sharing food and laughs while also gossiping about the current affairs at court which we will certainly delve into later. But danger has descended upon Jing An Si. Long Bo gathered his group of men and, with the help of information from Lu San, managed to sneak into Jing An Si to rescue Yu Chang and avenge her. They make quick work of the guards currently resting at Jing An Si and given that the Right Cavalry was told to vacate the premises by order of the Right Chancellor, security was extremely weak. Cui Qi, who decided to finally trust his instinct to be a good soldier, decided to defy Right Cavalry orders and fought Yao Ru Neng for a Lv Ben Jun armor because he sensed impending danger. Sure enough, after Cui Qi changes, the two men see a slew of bodies out on the floor.
Cui Qi makes the decision to uphold his position as a Lv Ben Jun soldier and protect Jing An Si. The remainder of the episode is both heart pumping and heart wrenching. Long Bo brings his band of Pi Fu to the main hall and starts attacking the unarmed officials of Jing An Si. In very brutal attacks, they hack and murder many of these men who just returned to duty. Including An Zhu Guo who, we saw in the last episode, could have left for Luo Yang tonight but decided to come back to work. Li Bi does his best to protect their lives but he cannot fight and doesn’t have much of an option.
As the massacre continues, Cui Qi arrives and takes a stand. Alone, he takes a stand and fights the entire crowd. It’s clear he is no match for the entire hoard of men but his bravery and heroism inspires many. Even Long Bo is impressed by his last stand and gives Cui Qi the opportunity to protect Jing An Si as a soldier who once served in Long You. Yao Ru Neng also steps in along with several other soldiers to the fray. In the end, Li Bi and several Jing An Si members managed to survive the onslaught as Long Bo and his men vacated the premises, adhering to the bet he placed on Cui Qi. Cui Qi, dies writing the words Chang An on a name placard with Yao Ru Neng by his side.
Let me take a moment to talk about this episode in more of a video essay format. The drama adds scenes of Cui Qi’s background and life as well as of the Jing An Si officials who return back to work at the calling of Li Bi thus making their deaths all the more impactful. While yes, you could say that by adding the scene where one of the official’s had the opportunity to return home only to die makes his death more dramatic, for me it shows the idealism of everyday people wanting to make an impact. Many members of Jing An Si return back to their post on the evening of the Lantern Festival. That’s akin to returning to work on Christmas night. As that one official says to his wife, he just wants to do something worthy. These are everyday people who are just doing their jobs, actually going above and beyond to return to the call of duty. And many of them, even after seeing their colleagues slaughtered, cried out to save Li Bi and grab him to safety. THese are unlike the soldiers that rush in because these are unarmed civilians.
Let’s also talk about Long Bo. He is quite a complicated person. Yes, he is awful for killing all of these innocent officials in Jing An Si. The “crime” of these officials is working for the government of the Tang Dynasty which Long Bo loathes and therefore wants to destroy. Yet you could see his distaste for the likes of He Fu who doesn’t care whatsoever about the lives of those under his employ as long as the end result is the same. Long Bo goes on this murderous rampage in order to save Yu Chang because as he states, his group the Pi Fu or Ants do not abandon one another. And the violence he exhibits is largely because he wants to give Yu Chang some revenge for what she experienced during her capture. Furthermore, he is impressed with the bravery and courage Cui Qi exhibits as the one man army trying to save Jing An Si. Once he hears that Cui Qi was also a soldier in Long You, his entire demeanor changes. He saves Cui QI from getting axed, gives Cui Qi some mint to chew and also the opportunity for Cui Qi to save those he wants to protect. Long Bo did not need to do this and actually kept his word. Yes, many other soldiers arrived but the surviving members of Jing An Si stayed alive because of Cui Qi’s valiant efforts. Long Bo actually stared down at Li Bi and also at the fighting Cui Qi and gave Li Bi the out. Long Bo is not purely evil and bloodthirsty for no reason. He was once a soldier and upholds a soldier’s code and cares for his fellow soldiers. This episode added more complexity to Long Bo as a person and also hints to his true background because he is shown to not only be a violent individual and sometimes creepy. He actually hugged Yu Chang when he found her which I thought was interesting because for much of this episode, he was quite angry at her for many of her actions.
As for others in this episode, Yu Chang breaking a bit when hearing Li Bi’s words was almost like seeing a crack in her fortified armor. Li Bi did show bravery in the face of the onslaught but was still rendered helpless. Yao Ru Neng had quite the character growth in this episode, from what you could say a scared man to a more heroic one. He clearly does not have the same type of heroism as Zhang Xiao Jing or Cui Qi but he is improving.
And finally, the star of this episode, Cui Qi. He is not a main character but such a well portrayed character on screen. He at first purposefully wasn’t helpful in the day’s investigations, turns in Zhang Xiao Jing and then defects to the RIght Cavalry. However, we understand that much of why he could be seen as a “bad guy” is because he desperately wishes to rise up the ranks, make a name for himself, and stay in Chang An. His brother made immense sacrifices for him to have these opportunities, and with his brother’s death, Cui Qi was swayed multiple times today and . He went down, what audiences see, as the wrong path to try to make better career choices and live up to the dreams that his brother had for him. Fortunately, this drama does a great job showing his turmoil and that conversation he had with Zhang Xiao Jing earlier in the day about how he really loved CHang An for the ordinary people. In that conversation, it showed how much he wanted to stay in Chang An. His personal agenda influenced his actions today but then he was also bound by his requirement of listening to orders. He finally chose to ignore this last order to abandon Jing An Si at the possible cost of losing his military status and be expelled from Chang An in order to do what is right – Protect Jing An Si. He stepped in as that one man army to finally do something he thought was worthy of Chang An. He is just an ordinary man but his last actions were such an illuminating inspiration to those around him. I would like to think the other Lv Ben Jun soldiers who arrived to his aid were inspired by him,. Li Bi was inspired by him, Long Bo was inspired by him, but especially Yao Ru Neng, who at first was the coward hiding in the back, was inspired by Cui Qi. Seeing how hard Cui Qi fought even in the face of certain death, Yao Ru Neng also overcame his fear and stepped into battle. One thing that wasn’t explicitly stated in the drama is how Cui Qi grabbed the nametag of a dead soldier and replaced it with his own. I believe it was meant that if there was any glory for his battles, it would be given to this fallen soldier rather than Cui Qi himself. Cui Qi dies after writing the words Chang An on the name placard which is not actually his own. He died defending Chang An. He died a hero. He died living up to the dreams his brother had for him. Even Long Bo during his drum beating acknowledged Cui Qi as a person of Chang An when at Cui Qi’s entrance, Long Bo clearly stated, he did not know who Cui Qi was.
This was a profound episode because it emphasizes the extraordinary impact ordinary people can make. Cui Qi is not the main character of this drama but he showed immense courage and saved many lives. The members of Jing An Si in any other drama or book would be nameless collateral damage, but we see that they are ordinary people coming back to try to make an impact. And we see the courage it takes to do what’s right at the cost of not just your job, but also your life.
Let’s say goodbye to the character of Cui Qi and the actor for him 蔡鹭. The actor was born in the city of Nan Jing but moved to the US when he was only 6. He graduated from New York University and returned back to China to receive his masters in acting at the Beijing Film Academy. He started acting in 2007 and continued to get supporting roles with pretty big actors and actresses throughout the years. For this role of 崔器, he specifically worked with the director to give the character a harelip. I don’t know if you the audience could tell given that the character was covered in grime most of the time. The actor thought it would also push the narrative that 崔器 as a character was very self conscious about his standing as a Chang An Soldier. His visible disability contributed to his self consciousness.
As to history – there isn’t much but the main nugget that is discussed before all the murdering happens is when the officials discuss the naming of the era 天宝。
In 741, which just so happens to be the last 29th year of the Kaiyuan era under the Emperor Tang Xuan Zong, and a golden age under the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Tang Xuan Zong experienced loss that made him rethink this era. In 741, Emperor Tang Xuan Zong was 56. In this year, his older brother, 李宪xiàn and his older cousin 李守礼 died. Of the male members of his generation, Tang Xuan Zong was the last one. Faced with these deaths, Emperor Tang Xuang Zong also had to face his own mortality. He also believed that he had accomplished much during his reign and it was time for him to enjoy its spoils.
These two reasons were enough for the Emperor to change the era name from 开元 to 天宝. The first year of this new era was 742. There’s some conflicting reports on the order of events that happen next but I’ll describe both.
This order of events is documented in 历代崇道记 which was written by the Daoist Priest 杜光庭who lived in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.
Anyways, the renaming of the era wasn’t enough for the Emperor. He wanted to be remembered with a legacy on par with the legendary emperors of the past including 尧&舜. The Legendary Emperors 尧&舜 used 载 to count years instead of 年 and he wanted to do the same but in order to do so, the Emperor needed a proper excuse to do so. This gave way for opportunistic men to give the Emperor exactly what he wanted.
Emperor Tang Xuan Zong believed in daoism. A lowly 7th ranked soldier named 田同秀 seized this opportunity to curry favor with the Emperor. He wrote to the emperor stating that he saw a vision of the High Daoist God 太上老君 above the palace gates. The god informed him that there was a talisman hidden in the old residence 尹喜, where Lao Zi, the author of the Dao De Jing, wrote the foundation text of Daoism.
Upon hearing this, the Emperor quickly dispatched people to investigate and indeed found a talisman 灵符. Written on the talisman were 4 words, 天宝千载. Or Thousand Years of Tian Bao. How curious! This must be a sign from the heavens! The Emperor was very pleased with the findings. He also added a whole new title for himself which was – wait for it. 大唐开元天宝圣文神武皇帝. This is a really long title for himself and basically just strokes his ego to say – I’m the best emperor ever. The Emperor then promoted this 田同秀 to a 5th ranked position. The Emperor even had a local folksong reworded to describe the event and praising the Emperor.
The officials at court and even the common people were very skeptical of this “talisman”. As we see in the drama.
So that’s one order of event where the Emperor first changed the name to 天宝 and then 田同秀 informed him of this talisman. The other order comes from 资治通鉴, which was published in 1084, and stated that the 田同秀 informed the Emperor of this talisman in 741, the last year of the 开元 era. The Emperor’s men dug up this talisman, which had an interesting character to it. It looks like the word 桑 but has 3 tens on the top, 1 ten on the bottom and and 8. The officials said – oh! It looks like 48! That means the emperor will reign for 48 years! Oh how auspicious! The Emperor was very please with this answer and then changed the era name to 天宝. This is the story that we hear in the drama.
After this name change though, in 743, another swindler by the name of 崔以清 wanted to replicate the success that 田同秀 had and informed the Emperor that – hey! In the city of luo yang, I also saw the daoist god 太上老君 and he informed me that at this other mountain, there’s another talisman! The Emperor, funnily enough, wasn’t that gullible this time. His men did find another talisman there but a local official 王倕 was like…hm, something is fishy. He then arrests 崔以清. After interrogating the man, 崔以清 admits that this whole thing was fabricated. Interestingly enough, the Emperor only exiled 崔以清 even though the punishment for this crime was much much worse. It probably is because if he punished 崔, then he couldn’t square away the same story from 田同秀 the year earlier.
For the year, 744, the Emperor reused the findings from 田同秀 including the 4 words 天宝千载 but the Emperor needed an excuse to change the way to count years from 年 to 载 and he just used this as said excuse. But the whole debacle with 崔以清 muddled the waters a bit and in his official decree, he didn’t mention any of the talismans. So starting in 744, the years were counted as 载 instead of 年.
Separately, the jing an si officials made several jokes about how the Emperor was now in a new amorous relationship with a young woman and what that looks like. The changing of the era name only was a beginning of the shift to more hedonistic pleasures by Emperor Tang Xuan Zong.