Welcome back to Chasing dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today, we are discussing episode 28 Tang Dynasty drama.
The time now is 11pm.
The conflict tonight resumes back to the political stage. General Guo has gotten wind that He Fu was captured by the Right Chancellor and is worried what that would mean for the Crown Prince. The Right Chancellor also hears that General Guo is on his way and are scrambling together a plan. He Fu, who was brutally blinded by Long Bo, hears the conversation and cries out that his adoptive father He Zhi Zheng had nothing to do with the events of tonight but to no avail. Wow seriously? He Fu. You didn’t think while you were planning tonight’s events that your adoptive father may be implicated if you got caught? The problem is, He Zhi Zheng has disappeared. This 86 year old man has vanished.
Let’s return to Zhang Xiao Jing. He has the adorable Yi Si in tow and they’ve returned to the underground world. Zhang XIao Jing believes that he’ll be able get the information from the mercenaries through Ge Lao. He just shows up in their hideout requesting a meeting. He is advised by some of the men to leave since after he ratted out Xiao Yi earlier in the day, many other men have fled, most likely spies for the government too. Ge Lao has kill orders on those individuals and their entire families. Zhang Xiao Jing doesn’t have much option but to bow his head and grunt again that he’s here for business only.
But who does he meet down in the maze below? It’s Li Bi! He was held down there in the last episode and has changed clothes thanks to his “captor” turned friend. Li Bi and Zhang Xiao Jing exchange a relieved smile as they quickly catch up over what happened since they separated. Li Bi is quick to summarize that with He Fu now captured, the fight has escalated to the conflict between the crown prince and the right chancellor. All the court officials are now simply watching on the sidelines for the outcome. Li Bi says he’ll go find He Fu while he tells Zhang Xiao Jing he must continue to search for who paid the Shou Zhuo Lang mercenaries. Before they part, Li Bi reaffirms that tonights events were not done by He Zhi Zheng or the crown prince. I feel like that was more a statement to himself as much as Zhang XIao Jing.
Zhang Xiao Jing is brought to Ge Lao who was holding court with what seems like a bunch of his lieutenants. Except he promptly kills one. At first you think it’s because that dude was insulting Ge Lao and means that Ge Lao has a really big ego, but Ge Lao actually shouts that he warned his men to not do military business with warlords. That is why he killed that one dude who had been waiting on goods to give to those warlords. Helping Ge Lao on the side is now a beautifully dressed and done up Ding Tong Er. She is the woman who was ditched by her lover earlier in the day. She greets Zhang Xiao Jing who tells her to not look down at herself just for her status. This reflects how respectful Zhang Xiao Jing is because literally 2 seconds later, one of Ge Lao’s lieutenants tells off Ding Tong’er for speaking as a courtesan.
Ge Lao is not pleased to see Zhang xiao jing who ruined one of his biggest business propositions but he hear’s Zhang Xiao Jing out. The information Zhang Xiao Jing needs, Ge Lao says he can get rather easily, but what will Zhang Xiao Jing offer as payment? At this point, Ding Tong’er whispers an idea into Ge Lao’s ear and he’s quite partial to the idea. The ingredients and instructions to make the crouching tiger bomb. The use? He’s goign to sell this information to the highest bidder. Zhang Xiao Jing is visibly hesitant with this request.
Zhang Xiao Jing grunts under his breath that he protects Chang An. Therefore, he cannot give up the bomb information. The situation gets tense as the lieutenant who insulted Tong Er earlier calls for men to arrive as pressure and back up. After Zhang Xiao Jing refuses to give the information, this lieutenant gives the order to kill Zhang Xiao Jing. The room turns chaotic as Zhang Xiao Jing defends himself from these men but what is shocking is that one of these men takes this opportunity to stab Ge Lao instead. This lieutenant also holds out a knife ready to stab Ge Lao.
But in the last moment, we see that Ding Tong’ers hands are bloodied. She used her bare hands to catch the blade to protect Ge Lao. The room is in utter shock as Ge Lao screams WHY would you betray me? The man, Ma Da Lang, says that it’s because he was the one who brought Xiao Yi into the organization. He knows that Ge Lao will ultimately kill him if not today, then tomorrow. So why not change the regime instead. This man even gives Zhang Xiao Jing a proposition that he doesn’t want the bomb ingredients. Just help him get rid of Ge Lao and then the underground world he’ll split in half with Zhang Xiao Jing.
In this tense moment, Zhang Xiao Jing grabs the knife from Ding Tong’er’s bloodied hands and turns to Ge Lao. Ding Tong’er tries to step in again in front of Ge Lao but is pushed aside by Zhang Xiao Jing. Except, in the last moment, Zhang Xiao Jing turns around and stabs Ma Da Lang instead. Under his breath, Zhang Xiao Jing says he absolutely despises men who attack people from underneath their feet. Basically betraying him. Ge Lao is once again in utter shock but also relieved at the outcome. Shortly after, Ding Tong’er actually brings out the now chopped off head of Ma Da Lang, in another gruesome and wholly unnecessary display of brutality, to the men waiting outside evidently waiting to attack Ge Lao. Ding Tong’er’s actions here reinforced fear into those men and their loyalty to Ge Lao.
Back in the room, Ge Lao is still pondering what payment he should receive from Zhang Xiao Jing. As repayment for saving his life, Ge Lao agrees to no longer chase after those spies in his organization and will call off all the men seeking the lives of the spies’s families. But he needs something from Zhang Xiao Jing for the mercenary information. In another surprising twist, he actually gives his elder position at the Chang An business association to Tong Er, i’m assuming as repayment for saving his life, and asks her what she thinks his payment should be.
Tong’Er is shocked and grateful for this recognition of her efforts and simply says she wants Zhang Xiao Jing. Ge Lao needs someone to help manage the underground world. In repayment for the mercenary information, Zhang xiao jing must spend the rest of his days in the underground world. Zhang Xiao Jing thinks for a moment but easily agrees with this trade. Everyone is a little surprised that Zhang Xiao Jing would give up his life for this, even Ge Lao. After hearing that Zhang Xiao Jing first needs to repay for Xiao Yi’s life and the fact that he as a soldier must make retribution for his actions, everyone is rather impressed with Zhang Xiao Jing’s character. Ge Lao ultimately gives Tong Er the final decision on what to do with Zhang XIao Jing. She looks at him long and hard but giving him the ring that will command the mercenaries. She tells him to leave this place and never come back. Giving him his freedom and acting as repayment for his kindness during the day. The underground world might be brutal but there is still some righteousness involved – like loyalty and kindness.
With that, Zhang XIao Jing and YiSi depart.
Wow, that was only HALF an episode.
The other half of the episode turns to the higher ups and the connection of He Fu and He Zhi Zheng. General Guo is trying to figure out where the heck He Zhi Zheng disappeared off to while the Right Chancellor questions He Fu for what his motives are for attacking him today. He Fu is adamant that his adoptive father He Zhi Zheng is not involved with today’s events and is nothing but grateful to his adoptive father. But The Right Chancellor is very skillful in asking the pointed questions. How has He Fu never thought how or why He Zhi Zheng would choose him of all people to adopt. And then, why is it that after so many years, would He Fu choose tonight to enact his revenge?
On General Guo’s part, he learns that He Zhi Zheng was out drinking with Jiao Sui, the old man that was murdered by 曹破延 all the way back in episode 1. The conversation included the two old men discussing the Emperor’s potential transfer of power. One of the eunuchs points out to General Guo that much of the conversation hints at potential chaos today and for them to be on guard but General Guo is quick to refute this hunch, saying that He Zhi Zheng likes to watch his shows and to not think too much about this. Evidently, General Guo is tryign to cover for He Zhi Zheng and it’s not actually looking good for He Zhi Zheng and his innocence in today’s events. However, there was a mysterious 3rd person who joined the two elders. Find that person and there may be more clues.
Turns out, this third person was the Left Chancellor, 李适之. He arrives soon after by request of General Guo who rather bluntly says he knows the Left Chancellor was with HE Zhi Zhing this morning. The big bombshell is that He Zhi Zheng told the Left Chancellor to be prepared to take on the responsibilities of both the right and left chancellors. Tonight, before the Emperor is able to give power to the Right Chancellor, he, 林九郎 will be dead. Dun Dun Dun….Is He Zhi ZHeng the mastermind behind today’s events?
Let’s turn to history!
There really isn’t much regarding the underground so we’ll turn to the Right Chancellor.
The Right Chancellor has the Minister of Justice next to him as he interrogates He Fu. Who is this man?
There’s not much written about him but here’s what we do have and it’s not pretty. 裴敦dūn复 was the minister of justice during the reign of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong. While in office, he allowed his subordinates to blatantly abuse their power. The then Minister of Revenue and Imperial Censure 裴宽 captured these subordinates. We talked about 裴宽 in a previous episode. He was a staunch supporter of the Crown Prince. Anyways, 裴敦dūn复 tried to appeal for a light sentence but 裴宽 was unmoved.
裴敦dūn复 then resorted to taking 500 taels of gold and commanded his son-in-law to bribe Noble Consort Yang’s older sister to accuse 裴宽。Well the result is that 裴宽 was demoted and essentially banished for years. However, after a few years the emperor promoted 裴宽 back to the Minister of Rites. Meanwhile in 747, this Minister of Justice 裴敦dūn复 was killed by the Chancellor 李林甫.
In the context of this drama, yes 裴敦dūn复 is a subordinate of the Right Chancellor and it’s very evident that the Right Chancellor is the one calling the shots.
Next – during the conversation between the Right Chancellor, He Fu, and the Minister of Justice, the Right Chancellor asks why He Fu chose now to enact revenge.
He Fu responds with a poem that goes as such.
My translation is as such –
The man 董黯àn waited for 10 years, until the death of mother of his enemy did he enact his revenge. In the ten years, he suffered internally. To repay his deceased mother for raising him and as a son with filial piety, he did not want his enemy’s mother to suffer the death of her son. Once he repaid his debt a for his mother’s care and got his revenge, then it’s time to live out the days alone in the mountains.
The poem was actually written by 贺知章 – or our Director He in this drama. It’s not clear what date this was written but let’s just say some time between the late 7th and early 8th century.
So what’s the story?
There was a man called 董黯 who lived during the Eastern Han era – which is the 1st – 3rd century AD. Anyways, this man 董黯’s father died young, so he lived with his mother and scraped a living by gathering firewood. The family was poor but it was widely known that 董黯 was a very respectful and distinguished for his filial piety.
They had a neighbor called 王寄 who’s family was relatively wealthy but 王寄 himself was a scoundrel and not filial at all.
One summer day, the respective others were just having a chat. 董黯’s mother was stating how her son’s filial piety led to her recovery from illness. 王寄’s mother showed admiration and envy at this. It just so happened that 王寄 overheard their conversation and instead of self-reflecting on his actions, he turned his hatred towards 董黯’s mother.
One day, when 董黯 left, 王寄 snuck into their home and beat 董黯’s mother. The poor woman, injured and abused, fell ill and died shortly after. When 董黯 returned and saw the aftermath, he vowed to get his revenge.
However, 董黯 was a thoughtful man and considered the fact that 王寄’s mother only had the one son. If 董黯 killed him, then 王寄’s mother would also die. As a man with filial piety, he couldn’t do that to a mother. So 董黯 spent his days in front of his mother’s tomb, biding his time. Years later, when 王寄’s mother died, 董黯 then enacted his revenge and killed 王寄.
After the murder of Wang Ji, 董黯 didn’t flee and instead turned himself into the authorities. His case went all the way up to the emperor. The then emperor 汉和帝 took pity on Dong An and also commended him for his filial piety. The Emperor even wanted to give him an office but was declined by Dong An. Afterwards, Dong An lived out his days in solitude.
This story is one of the cases where murder was instead rewarded instead of punished. In the case of this drama – He Fu is hoping that once he succeeds in avenging his father’s death by killing the Right Chancellor, the Emperor would see him for his filial piety and instead reward him for these actions. I personally think this is just wishful thinking. There’s no way the Emperor would be ok with the murder of a chancellor and let someone get away with it.
Lastly, let’s really briefly talk about the Left Chancellor 李适之. We finally meet him! He’s been mentioned a couple of times but haven’t seen him yet. In history, he was a member of the aristocracy and by the time of the drama ranks as the Left Chancellor. He was born in 694, and as a member of the aristocracy, note his last name is Li, had it a little easier on the road to office. By 736, he already rose to Grand Censor or 御史大夫. In 742, he was appointed to the rank of Left Chancellor after the death of 牛仙客, who we talked about as the chancellor who died and 姚汝能’s father tried to force him to write a letter on his deathbed.
As of now 李适之 is very much against the Right Chancellor. This is the same as in history.
李适之 was a noted poet and politician, but he was no match against the Right Chancellor. In 747, the Right Chancellor 李林甫 was able to either demote or outright kill his rivals at court. The Left Chancellor, 李适之 saw his friends all die in short order, and in a fright, committed suicide in 747.