We are in episode 3 of The Tang Dynasty drama The Longest Day in Chang’An, or in mandarin, 长安十二时辰.
There have been brief mentions of the political battle happening in the background while our main character, Zhang Xiao Jing is busy trying to capture escaped turkish wolf squad members and a rogue map of Chang An which would spell disaster if fallen in the wrong hands.
In episode 3, the political confrontation moves to the forefront. We are introduced to 林九郎 or the 右相 Right Chancellor who is gardening in a splendid room。 He is listening to one of his supporters, 吉温 新丰县丞 extol his virtues. For his part, I actually kinda respect 林九郎. He spews some platitudes about how everything is to bring peace for his majesty the emperor. But then says, all those rumors about how he and the Crown Prince are opponents? He just says, those rumors are right. The Crown Prince should indeed be deposed. BAM title screen.
Hey, after watching so many palace dramas where the ladies are friendly to your face and then backstab you, I rather appreciate this direct approach so good for him.
It is now 午正 阴阳交相 or 12PM when Ying and Yang intersect
I want to take some time to introduce 林九郎 or the Right Chancellor. He is based off of the historical character 李林甫. I think the censors decided to change the name after filming because if you’ll notice there is quite evident voice dubbing over the name every time a character says his full name.
Anyways – born in 683 to an offshoot of the Imperial Li Family, he was very accomplished in music but not in academics. Because he was a member of the aristocracy, in his youth, he was a member of staff for the then Crown Prince 李瑛. 李林甫 quickly rose through the ranks of government and in 734 was appointed the Minister of Rights and one of 3 chancellors at court. As we’ll see in this drama, 李林甫 was very adept in political matters and flattery to achieve is own goals. This included having affairs with influential women, aligning himself with favored consorts in the palace, and also building relationships with eunuchs in the palace. He even had a hand in the overthrow of the crown prince 李瑛 in 737. Lin Li Fu originally wanted to prop another prince 李瑁 as Crown Prince but ultimately lost that battle with our current Crown Prince 李亨heng installed as 太子 in 738. The two have been at odds since then and that’s why these two are literally out to get one another throughout this drama. By the year 744, 李林甫 has been made the Right Minister and one of the most powerful men in China. We will discuss his impact and legacy throughout the drama, but we can safely say that he has multiple agendas going on right now.
We return to Zhang Xiao Jing who is chasing a member of the wolf squad who stole a map of Chang An in 怀远坊.
怀远坊 on a map is located directly south of the Western Market of 西市 and is basically just center west of the city 长安. 怀远 is a 坊 were foreigners lived. In Mandarin, they were called 胡人. Essentially any of the nomadic tribes or people to the west of the empire were called 胡人 as a general term. Because this fang was located directly south of the Western market, the foreigners had easy access to the market for trade.
We don’t see the trade happening but instead we see a whole religious ceremony about to take place. It is full of religious disciples dressed in red hooded robes. These disciples are actually Zoroastrians which is an Iranian religion and one of the oldest organized religions in the world. In the faith, fire or the flame represents purity, brilliance, and vitality. The flame is the eye of justice which is why in many traditional temples there is a fire that perpetually burns. Because of this fact, in China, they were known as 拜火教 or the Fire Praying Religion. That name is a misnomer because Zoroastrians pray in front of fire, not to it. It is briefly mentioned in episode 2 that General An Lu Shan had close ties to the Zoroastrians in this Fang, which is the group that we see here. Zorastrians from the ancient civilization of Sogdia based in eastern Iran most definitely traveled to and lived in Chang An. According to research, there were records Zorastrians in China during the 6th century AD. I am not very familiar with Zorastrians but probably the most famous is Freddie Mercury of the band Queen. I’ll admit that I do not know much of this faith but it’s cool that it was included in this book and drama. Apparently members didn’t wear red but white and they didn’t cover their faces, but this probably was just more for visual effect in the drama.
Anyways, back to the drama, Zhang Xiao Jing manages to spot the wolf squad member who starts screaming that he has the map, evidently trying to be the messenger for the person he’s supposed to meet up with. The scene turns tense as the Wolf Squad member sees Zhang Xiao Jing right on his tail. Chaos ensues as the man stabs several innocent bystanders and also captures what seems like a priest and screams at the crowd to kick Zhang Xiao Jing out or else he will stab the priest as well.
Just as things were at a standstill, a young scholar angrily storms his way through the crowd and promptly stabs the wolf squad member. Chaos ensues as the crowd rushes forward. The clinking sound of a hooded figure’s coin bracelet is seen taking something from the wolf squad member. By the time Zhang Xiao Jing is able to make his way to the man now sprawled on the ground and dying, the map is gone. The only useful clue left are the words uttered by the dying man. Que le huo duo. The black bones will pave the way for rebirth Jahannum-dhool.
All hell breaks loose with Zhang Xiao Jing furious that he lost his lead. He turns around to grab the young scholar and screams at him for why he just killed that man. This guy just says he’s Cen Sen [explain]. The wolf squad member killed his beloved horse earlier during the chase and made cen sen lose all of the poems he collected.
Before Zhang Xiao Jing can think too much of this though, 崔器 and his 旅奔军. They force order into the almost rioting crowd as 崔器 announces Zhang Xiao Jing is to be stripped of his powers and returned to 靖安司. Zhang Xiao Jing doesn’t is in disbelief because he recognizes the impending threat to the city when no one else does.
张小敬 has no option but to be arrested. However, before he is dragged off, he yells several reminders to 姚汝能 to check the household registry or the 坊间名录 and cross reference every resident in this 坊.
Why was Zhang Xiao Jing arrested? 何监 or the Director of 靖安司 of Department of City Security made this order in order to actually protect 张小敬。 Despite his behavior earlier in the drama of being drunk or confused, this guy is still extremely sharp. He might have been shocked or surprised at Li Bi for selecting this man for the job but is quick to realize the trouble that would befall Zhang Xiao Jing if he stayed in 怀远坊。
张小敬 and 程sen – are brought to the Jing An Si prison cell and this guy talks 张小敬‘s ears off about how important his poems are. You know, general scholar stuff. I originally didn’t pay too much attention to this guy but after rewatching this, i’m thinking. How is it acceptable to come out and kill someone even after they killed your horse? Ummm….? 张小敬’s over here rolling his eyes because he has more important things to accomplish.
Let’s back up on the scholar because we do get a little bit of a breather. In episode 2, the young scholar【程参】 is the guy in the drama. is riding his horse, minding his own business when all of a sudden, he loses everything because the Wolf Squad member steals his horse and 张小敬 throws the green tracking bomb in his saddlebag. We’ll get to who this 岑参 is in a moment, but 岑参 is devastated that his beloved horse died in this commotion, but equally as important his poems were also burned or destroyed.
These are what were called 干谒诗. But what are they? In an interview with the author, 马伯庸, he gives a pretty great explanation. 干 in chinese means to work and 谒yè means to pay respects to or visit. So these 干谒 poems were literally to show someone in power my labor in hopes that this powerful person will take a liking to my poems and put my name up on the list for the final ranking from the imperial exams.
We discussed at length the Song Dynasty structure for the Imperial Exams during our recap of episode 12 of The Story of Ming Lan but here’s a quick recap for you. 科举 or the Imperial Examination was formally established during the Sui dynasty in the late 6th century. It is how men are chosen to be a part of the state bureaucracy through a more meritocratic method by instituting exams that men had to take. Those who did well in a series of exams could finally become a Jin Shi and be granted a position in the government.
The exams were really instituted as a way for young men without any background to rise through the ranks based on “merit”. During the Tang Dynasty and especially in this year of 744, the Imperial Exam structure was still in its infancy. Powerful families and clans held a tight grip on wealth and politics throughout the empire. We won’t be able to dive deeper into this topic for this drama, but these families held such clout that they didn’t even want to marry into the imperial family during the Sui and Tang Dynasties stating that the imperial family wasn’t as prestigious as mine
So, even though the Imperial Exams were instituted, these families still wanted to hold onto their power at court. Which meant that there were always spots reserved on the final exam rankings for the sons, son-in laws, nephews of those in power. It was all about the connections you had. If you had connections, then your path to court was much easier. Essentially the ranking on the exams were already decided before one took the exam.
That meant that young men without any connections were fighting for scraps. It was custom that these young men had to compile a collection of their works or 干谒诗 and then pay their respects to either the examiner or top officials at court. If their work catches the eyes of these high ranking men, then perhaps their chances with their name showing up on the final list would be higher. That’s why 岑参 was so devastated that his poems were destroyed. He had nothing to show to the officials at court of his capabilities. This would mean that his chances of placing anywhere on the final imperial exams were essentially zero.
Was it corruption and bribery? 100%, but everyone knew about it? Like it was even openly written that these were the rules. This really sucked for those men without any background and connections but the difference is that they at least had a non-zero chance of changing their fate through this process.
Now let’s talk about the guy in the drama – I think he went full like John Wick in this episode and straight up murdered the Wolf Squad dude who killed his horse. I mean, based on what I just discussed, I get it. His whole future was basically destroyed.
Anyways – onto this guy though. In the drama, he’s called 程参 but he’s based off the historical figure 岑参. Born around 715AD, 岑参 came from a bureaucratic family. His family produced 3 chancellors during the Tang Dynasty, but because his relations essentially backed the wrong horse several times, by the time 岑参 was born, his family barely got by. His father died when he was 10 and since then, he struggled to live above poverty. It’s a running joke that he’s always asking for food in the drama, but it’s because he basically didn’t have any growing up. 岑参 did indeed head to the capital in the year 744 to take the imperial exams where he succeeded in becoming a Jin Shi, he was 30 at the time. The reason that we still know a decent amount about 岑参 is because he did become a famous poet. We get to see much more of him in the drama, mainly in jail, so I won’t spoil too much about him now.
Back at 林九郎 or the Right Chancellor’s residence, news of Jiao Sui’s death reaches him. This is the poor dude who gets killed by the Wolf Squad member in episode 1. The Right Chancellor is like – well, let’s give this gift of the body of Jiao Sui over to his good friend 何监. Li Bi and 徐宾 successfully redirect the troops delivering the body but Li Bi is wracked with guilt that Jiao Sui died due to his own failed mission to capture the Wolf Squad.
Director He or 何监 recites his famous poem 太和 昭昭有唐 天俾万国, which we discussed in part 2 of episode 1 but this time there’s an air of melancholy. A poem that described the wonders and peak of the Tang Dynasty is no more. 20 years ago, the Emperor, really deserved to be compared to the legendary emperors of the past. But last night, Director He went to the palace to meet with the Emperor and all he saw was an Emperor more focused on earthly pleasures of women and alchemy to achieve immortality. He was disappointed. It was after that meeting with the Emperor did he then get drinks with his friend Jiao Sui. At this point Director He doesn’t know that Jiao Sui died. It is now where it’s the director who states the time of this episode, Noon where Ying and Yang intersect and a choice must be made. This is the fate of the Tang Dynasty.
At this point though the chief priest of the Zoroastrians comes calling to 靖安司. He demands that the Department of City Security hand over 张小敬 so that they can enact justice over the death of the 2 members of their order. They want Zhang Xiao Jing to be judged by the flame. In the drama, the chief priest has the title of 大司仪, but during the Tang Dynasty, there was specifically a government role that managed the Zoroastrians with the title of 萨宝. The man who held this title was of a level 5 ranked official which is even higher than what Li Bi currently is. Which is why this chief priest basically dismisses talking to Li Bi and threatens to take them to the Palace to settle this score.
It is only when Director He steps in and informs the chief priest that one of the men who died was a member of the Wolf Squad does the chief priest back down. We’ll pick this thread up in the next episode.
I’ll close out the episode recap with the two chaps stuck in prison right now. Zhang Xiao Jing decided to share the clue he got from the Wolf Squad member – Que le huo duo 阙勒霍多. We have the young scholar 程参 who just so happens to be well learned in languages too. This is also a little hint to his future. After some discussions, 程参 deduces what this means 阙勒霍多 – the inferno of the apocalypse. I really like that translation from youtube so i’ll take it.
What’s really interesting is that on youtube, they translate 阙勒霍多 to Jahannum-Dhool but Jahannum comes from islam. That could be possible because the meaning in islam for Jahannum is punishment in the afterlife. I went down the rabbit hole in chinese and the chinese translations lean much more into turkish roots instead. In the book – the author translated it to mean the 9th level of blood prison. I saw an article that says that it’s most likely karaqoton which roughly translates to a Black Room. However, there’s no fire and the turkic groups didn’t believe in the afterlife or hell. However, it seems like for the book, this 阙勒霍多 has heavy buddhist and zoroastrian influence for this fire apocalypse. Regardless, regardless of translation, just know that some body or some group is planning a great fire apocalypse.