Ep 41

We return to the banquet at the Flower Sepal Tower where the Emperor is intent on continuing to humiliate the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince is tasked with taking a piece of this magnificent dish that is called Jiang Shan, or kingdom. Upon hearing the name of this dish, the entire room falls to their knees trembling at what the actions of the crown prince could mean. I find it very interesting what these two officials say on the side. If the Crown Prince DOES take a piece of the dish, then it means that he actually wants to usurp his father’s crown. Meanwhile, if he does NOT take the dish, it is a refusal to a direct order from the Emperor. Both actions could mean severe consequences to the Crown Prince. As the foreign diplomat says, if this happened in his country, the crown prince would basically have no choice but to stage a coup. Can you imagine if your father put you in that position?

The crown prince kneels and says he doesn’t feel well and recuses himself from the room. That is his only way to save himself from escalating in this situation but also from further humiliation. The crown prince storms out of the banquet hall, screaming for servants to clear a path for him.

Back at the banquet hall, an epic showdown begins. The Right Chancellor takes this opportunity to chime about how poorly the Crown Prince is behaving, only for Director He to cut him off. And before the Emperor can make a potentially violent order to General Guo in retrieving the Crown Prince, Director He loudly proclaims that he also has a piece of the “kingdom” or “empire” and promptly grabs a piece of meat from the dish.

From here, Director He begins his monologue that admonishes the Emperor for his unfair treatment of the crown prince. Director He finally speaks his true feelings about how the Emperor is being so focused on preventing the Crown Prince, and any other prince, from amassing any power, that he is not seeing the bigger threats to the Empire.

Listen here that in much of the episode, when Director He is confronting the Emperor, he doesn’t call the Emperor by his title of 圣人 but by a very familiar name of 四郎 or just the 4th Son. Emperor 李隆基 was the 4th son to his father and growing up, was referred to as 李四郎. Director He is directly appealing to the Emperor to remember a time when the Emperor was still diligent about running the Empire. He’s also forcing the Emperor to recognize the fact that Director He is probably one of only a handful of people living who can still have the right to call the Emperor as 四郎.

Surprisingly, the Emperor says I’m sorry. But he’s sorry for not first giving a piece of the dish to Director He. The two get into an argument about the new calendar convention. Director He talks cuts off the Emperor in recounting how during the old calendar, the emperor enacted many policies to curb corruption and outlandish extravagance. There were many policies that greatly helped the Tang and helped replenished its treasury and food stores. It was a peaceful time.

The Emperor screams that TIan Bao, the new calendar convention, will be even better. Director He agrees that yes, it will be better without the Right Chancellor before bringing out a knife and trying to stab the Right Chancellor.

Unfortunately this assassination attempt fails. The Right Chancellor was wearing armor that saved his life. He doesn’t miss an opportunity to pin this on the Crown Prince and this time, Director He even says to the Emperor, he should kill the crown prince. That way, the crown prince won’t see the fall of the Tang empire. The Emperor rebukes the claims that his empire is withering but Director He comes back even more strongly. The Emperor was a good Emperor in the past. But not any more. Especially because the Emperor gives so much power to the Right Chancellor.

I am really frustrated when, in response to Director He crying out for the Right Chancellor’s death, the Emperor says whether or not does Director He actually want the Right Chancellor dead, or the Emperor. I’m with Director He here. Like Come ON. How can the Emperor not see all the holes and issues plaguing his Empire? Director He cries that he wants the 25y/o emperor back. The Emperor cannot be tired, cannot shirk responsibility, cannot be overly confident. He must continue to push to be better. The Emperor is responsible for the Empire alone and his actions show he is trying to push off his responsibility.

When the emperor stands up at these words, he turns to the court officials next to Director He. On one side, its the Right Chancellor and his group. THe other is the Left Chancellor. The Emperor asks all of them if they also believe what Director He said. The Right Chancellor and company turn to look away. The Left Chancellor, who is more allied with the crown prince, leads his group of men to kneel with Director He. This means they agree.

Interestingly, in response to all of this later on in the episode. The Emperor is able to clearly state that he doesn’t understand why his son needs to be the next Emperor because they have grown up coddled as princes. They’ve never lived in civilian life. How could one of them rule properly? That is too dangerous. The Emperor instead must rely on his ministers to help him run the Empire. This touches all of the ministers in the room, even Director He. He speaks to a number of kneeling ministers and says that they are his soldiers. Having them standing in front of him, the Emperor feels safer. This Emperor is able to proclaim that the longevity of a dynasty isn’t on a single Emperor alone or even a last name. It’s by his ministers and court officials.

He asks general guo to take off his golden robes, which freaks everyone out. But on his throne, he proclaims that after today, he will no longer focus on political matters at all. He will rely on everyone in the room.

I would consider this episode a prophetic one. Mainly because we as the audience have the benefit of seeing how history played out. Everything that Director He and the Crown Prince state essentially comes true, while the statements from the Emperor do not turn in his favor.

I want to dissect many of the statements one by one because as we head to the end of the drama, this drama continuously presents the audience a sense of foreboding and I interpret this as BECAUSE we know how history played out.

Director He bluntly informs the Emperor that he has turned away from his duties as Emperor. The Tang Dynasty will begin to wane during his reign. This is true. The Emperor turns to the earthly pleasures with his noble consort yang and shuns politics, leaving an opening for the devastating An Lu Shan rebellion in 755. The Tang Dynasty never recovers from this and scrapes by another hundred years before the Dynasty crumbles.

Director He shouts for the Emperor to kill the Right Chancellor because he is a leech on the Empire. The Emperor ignores Director He’s assassination and takes no action against the Right Chancellor. In history, the Right Chancellor’s legacy is one of corruption, bribery, and control, who allowed An Lu Shan’s faction to gain power, leading to the An Lu Shan Rebellion.

The Crown Prince ponders how history will remember his father, the once great and brilliant 圣人. The once great and powerful Tang Empire now has enemies lurking everywhere. At least to me, this is a true statement. In history, Emperor Tang Xuan Zong is remembered for the grandeur of the Tang Dynasty in his early years, but unfortunately much is overshadowed by his romance with Noble Consort Yang and the An Lu Shan Rebellion, to a point that there is little discourse about his earlier accomplishments. He is mainly known as the Emperor who began the decline of the Tang Dynasty.

Meanwhile, the Emperor argues that the new Tian Bao Era will be better than the last era. Eh, no. The Tian Bao Era directly led to the An Lu Shan rebellion and the sacking of Chang An.

The Emperor argues that why is it that his sons must become the greatest man in the Empire? His members of court are the ones who will protect his Empire, not his sons. A legacy is not supported by one man or one last name, it must be supported by the men of the Empire. So this statement, while correct, allowed for men to amass individual power and local militias to such a point that the different governors COULD rebel.

He asks, what is the Emperor? The son of heaven, the dragon, a god. He is there as a deity for the people and will not manage the day to day aspects of the empire. He then states, from now on, he will no longer manage the worldly manners of government. Well – he basically did do just that and I don’t need to restate any further, but again, the Empire began its downward trajectory as this Emperor chose not to rule but become a figurehead.

I don’t think viewers who don’t know the history realize how heavy each episode was for me. As I was watching, every statement from Director He and the Crown Prince acted as a blow to me because I was hoping that the Emperor would change. But alas, history is history, and no matter how prescient the characters are, we can’t change history.

What’s been going on with Zhang XIao Jing. Simply put, he and Xiao Gui have reconnected and Xiao Gui is still on his path of destruction. He wants to speak to the Emperor to understand exactly why he did what he did to cause the death of so many of his brothers. It turns out, and this is more fleshed out in the book, the whole reason why Xiao Gui is even here is because he heard of the tragedy that befell Zhang XIao Jing and Wen Wu Ji. He thought that the two would be living a great life in Chang An but in the end, Zhang XIao Jing is even seen as just an ant. Xiao Gui is here to avenge his brothers and wants this rampage to happen because he is angry the “system” that is the Tang Emperor, failed them. Xiao Gui is upset at hearing that Wen Ran died but that does not deter him from his path. On the contrary, I feel like he is even more energized by it.

Xiao Gui gently folds up the flag of the 8th squad and is ready to head out. Zhang XIao Jing offers to stay in the tower to ensure that the contraptions work. Yu Chang also offers to stay to ensure that the mechanisms work. Everyone recognizes that this is a suicide mission, but for Yu Chang, she also wants to watch Zhang XIao Jing because she thinks he is not actually on board with Xiao Gui’s plan. Xiao Gui and men make their way across the plaza to the flower sepal tower and easily break through the security measures.

However, Yu Chang was correct in believing that ZHang XIao Jing would betray them. He is indeed trying to stop the tower from blowing up. The two end up in a furious fight with Yu Chang losing an arm in the process.

Meanwhile, Li Bi regains consciousness. He wasn’t actually killed by Zhang XIao Jing but only knocked unconscious and he is able to escape. He runs to find the crown prince who had stormed away from the banquet hall. The Crown Prince is upset to hear about the impending danger and is at first a little hesitant on what his next steps are but still decides to try to save the Emperor. After all, he says that the Emperor is his father. The Crown prince is certainly a better man than his father at this point.

We end the plot recap there.


Speaking of, let’s turn to history,

When Li Bi escapes to find the Crown Prince, he urges the Crown Prince to save 张小敬. Li Bi rattles off a series of numbers.

三、十一、八、四、五、十八 3 11 8 4 5 18 and states this means 不退 or Never Retreat.

These numbers come from 唐韵 or the Chinese Rime Dictionary from the Tang Dynasty, compiled by 孙愐. Thes e were based off of a Sui Dynasty Rime Dictionary call 切韵, which was published in 601. These dictionaries served as a guide to proper reading of classical texts and to indicate the pronunciation of Chinese characters. 唐韵 was roughly compiled in 732 as an additional version of 切韵. The complete originals have long been lost, but what we do know is that the whole dictionary had 5 volumes. Some of the scripts have survived to today.

The combination of 3 11 8 4 5 18, the first 3 indicated 退. The second three indicate 不. Combined together, we get 不退.

How did Li Bi get these numbers? Well Zhang Xiao Jing told him in the previous episode! Right when Zhang Xiao jing Lastly – before 张小敬 “kills” Li Bi, he tells Li Bi to turn back to Daoism and go pray to the 三清, 十一曜, play with the 八卦, climb the 四山五岳 , and then meet me at 十八层地狱

Hear that? 3 11 8 4 5 18

The 三清 are the Three Pure Ones 玉清元始天尊、上清灵宝天尊、太清道德天尊. We’ve mentioned them in episode 36 as part of the 12 deities of Daoism but these are the three highest gods in the daoist pantheon.

As for the 十一曜, they are another set of lesser gods. Then the 八卦 equals the 8 trigrams and natal chart. Then go travel the 4 mountains and 5 peaks – 泰山、华山、嵩山、恒山、衡山. Finally, then meet the 18th level of hell.

This code makes complete sense to the audience in front of Xiao Gui and thankfully Li Bi deciphered it after he awoke. How clever!

The Emperor quotes heavily from Dao De Jing in this episode in his response to Director He’s accusations. In the beginning, he gives this statement.

天长地久。天地之所以能长且久者,以其不自生,故能长生。

Heaven and Earth last forever.
Why do heaven and Earth last forever?
It is because their actions aren’t for themselves
So ever living

We discussed this phrase back in episode 35, so I won’t analyze it here.

The Emperor though continues to quote the rest of the paragraph from 道德经.

是以圣人后其身而身先,外其身而身存,
非以其无私邪?故能成其私。

I’ll start with a reference to a translation that I found online.

The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead.
He is detached, thus at one with all.
Through selfless action, he attains fulfillment.

Here’s my take
The sage does not retreat but leads
He detaches himself, and protects himself
Isn’t it because he’s selfless, that he becomes fulfilled

The Emperor here wants to emulate a daoist sage and attain fulfillment. Good for him, but he’s the emperor, he can’t just wipe his hands and walk away! He has the responsibility to his people and lead the charge. He’s not selfless by giving power to others, he’s SELFISH because he’s walking away!

As you all can probably tell, I really didn’t like the Emperor in this episode. He’s playing political games with everyone in the room, especially his son, the crown prince, and is willingly blind to the leeches in his Empire. We’ll see if the Emperor gets his comeuppance but as of this episode, I’m going to just rage at him. The Emperor was able to get his court all misty eyed, but I’m not buying it.

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