We are in episode 9 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.
In the last episode, Zhang xiao Jing has found the lair of the wolf squad members but was captured by them given their numbers vs just one Zhang Xiao Jing. He did meet up with an old acquaintance or someone who is more than that, Wen Ran. Both she and wang yun Xiu were captured by the wolf squad but she was able to be released since it appears that she knows a lot of information. ZHang XIao JIng was captured and he’s being tortured while Li Bi in Jing An Si as well as the Right Chancellor Lin Jiu Lang are getting more information about 张小敬. 李必 hears from 姚汝能 that zhang xiao jing’s actions for today may have ulterior motives while Lin Jiu Lang, the right chancellor learns from a talented spy that Zhang Xiao Jing’s imprisonment was related to the forced displacement of several residents for diplomatic housing Lin Jiu Lang led to build. From the 2 parties, we get the more detailed picture that Zhang xiao Jing killed 34 members of the blaze gang in response to them killing a 闻无忌. The blaze gang component will be important later on.
Let’s get back to Zhang Xiao Jing. Poor man is getting tortured and about to be eliminated when he uses his brain to buy himself some time. Tied up, he says he can write down the detailed map of Chang An for them. Cao Po Yan is unyielding to Zhang Xiao Jing’s offer but Ma Ge Er doesn’t listen and actually beats up Cao Po Yan instead. Ma Ge Er frees Zhang XIao Jing so he can create this map. The woman 王韫秀 is also brought forward. This chick, ugh. Boils my blood every time I see her. She doesn’t understand why Zhang Xiao Jing is actually creating the map for these terrorists and instead shouts that he is a traitor.
We next get a flashback to Siege of the Beacon where we see 闻无忌 leaving the safety of the beacon camp to hunt for a wolf to feed the men. Just as 闻无忌 is waiting for the wolf to be ensnared in his trap, he himself is captured by the enemy. 闻无忌 is injured in the leg and about to die but is rescued by 张小敬. The men finally get a full meal with wolf meat but 闻无忌 is now forever crippled. We got this scene really because of old man 闻’s next statement. He says – I have a feeling that after this, we’re headed for good days. Come visit me in Chang’An and we’ll be together, always. This really is just a sad moment because we know that most of these men don’t make it out alive.
This point really hits home in the next few scenes when 张小敬 reveals that he’s drawing a map of the Right Chancellor’s location in 长安. We cut to the Right Chancellor, where he’s learning about 张小敬. In that fateful year, our right chancellor was just promoted to the Minister of War, and, according to the then general 盖嘉运, it was the Minister of War who forbade him from rescuing these men. Who was that minister? Well – our 林九郎.
While all of this is happening, our buddy 崔器 is still stuck in a parade waiting to watch the performance of the megastar singer 许鹤子. I kinda have sympathy for 崔器 being annoyed at being stuck in a parade because being in this type of crowd is awful but then hey he was the one to make the decision to take this route in the first place. In the last episode, 许鹤子 was hyped up to the nth degree and we finally see her perform an extravagant performance. The goal is to win the right to enter the palace tonight and meet the emperor.
For this performance and honestly this whole drama, I’m loving the use of diegetic music in which our characters are fully aware of the music that is being performed around them. Xu He Zi performs a beautiful rendition of Li Bai’s the Short Ballad. We will of course discuss this later on. Her brother, 许歌 is accompanying her song on the bamboo flute while she sings her song. I’m also a little confused with the drum players in the other float. I couldn’t tell if they were trying to help accompany her song or else try to drown out her voice in the competition? Regardless, I love this scene because as she does a second verse, her brother joins in and so does the crowd in an emotional swell of music. But not only that, we get beautiful shots of women in the crowd with exquisitely done makeup and hairstyles which we will discuss. I love this attention to detail and the time and intricacy the drama put in to show us the audience how much care these ladies in Chang An put into their appearance on this festive day.
We now cut to 闻染, who has been captured by members of the Blaze Gang and now ordered to lead them to 张小敬. As 张小敬 completes the map of the Right Chancellor, the Blaze Gang comes charging in to kill 张小敬. Little do they know, they are greeted by members of the Wolf Squad. 张小敬 tries to make his escape and it turns into a very gruesome match. 闻染 gets captured and I’m over here like – MOVE woman! Also, Captain 崔 and his 旅贲军 finally arrive. Finally! You just HAD to take a detour and get stuck watching 许合子. 张小敬 is over here beating the crap out of members of the Wolf squad despite his injuries but man does it look painful.
The tide turns with Captain Cui’s arrival. It’s hilarious because there’s 3 groups fighting each other and the Blaze gang is just caught in the crossfire. Poor guys, they had absolutely no idea what they walked into and were murdered ruthlessly by not only the members of the wolf squad, but also Captain Cui’s army as well.
Captain Cui has a vendetta against the Wolf Squad member 曹破延. If you’ll recall, 曹破延 killed Captain Cui’s brother in the very first episode so Captain Cui is hell bent on killing 曹破延. He almost succeeds but 曹破延 just so happens to capture the escaping 闻染. I’m shaking my head over here – ladies can you both get a break? Wen Ran was locked up with 王韫秀 but quickly subdues 王韫秀 to try and escape and now she’s captured by 曹破延, it’s just this time 曹破延 calls her on her bluff and ends up bluffing Captain Cui instead, telling him that 闻染 is 王韫秀 instead. Captain Cui has no choice but to fall back.
That ends the plot recap. The only other point I want to highlight is that in this episode, we are getting more frequent questions from both Li Bi and the Right Chancellor as to how Zhang Xiao Jing was selected for today’s important task. Xu Bin continues to reinforce that it was 大案dushu or the casefile database that selected zhang xiao jing but the fact that so many odd threads today seem to be connected to Zhang Xiao Jing makes his selection totally impartial to be rather improbable.
As for differences with the book, what is more apparent as the drama and book goes on is that the drama follows the book’s progression in broad strokes but then does a bunch of its own elaboration. For example, the drama added the performance of the megastar 许鹤子 and the color of 崔器 dragging his feet to meet up with Zhang xiao Jing. But the book does include scenes where Zhang Xiao Jing is fighting with Wolf Squad people where the blaze gang also does barge in and finally Captain Cui shows up and enters the fray.
There’s a plethora of history to discuss today!
First is the 羯鼓 [jié gǔ] Jiegu or drum that the Right Chancellor is beating in the beginning of the episode. The drums are two sided, with a skinny waist, and typically made with male sheep skin for the drums. The drums are typically played with sticks in both hands but as we see in this episode, you can play it with just your hands if you’d like. The drum itself was adopted from central asia during the Northern and Southern dynasties in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. It became much more popular during the reign of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong, who is our emperor in this drama, hence why we see it quite a bit in this drama.
Let’s now return back to what I would say is the highlight of the episode, the performance from 许合子 on her magnificent float.
Let’s first discuss the song she sings. Finally! we get to chat about the other prominently featured song in this drama. 短歌行 or The Short Ballad. We got a small snippet in episode 6, but now we hear it in all its glory here.
The original poem was written by the famed poet Li Bai. According to a compiler of Li Bai’s poems, he places the writing of this poem around 737 AD, before the poet arrived in 长安.
My translation goes as such
The days are too short, one hundred years quickly pass by
The sky above is boundless, the thousands of lifetimes are too long
Even the goddess Ma Gu, known for her longevity, has half a head of white hair
The king father of the east and the jade goddess smile after every score in their pitch-pot games, and they have smiled for hundreds of millions of scores
I want to ride the carriage with the six dragons east to the mythical land of fusang
Using the wine from the big dipper, I will persuade each dragon to drink so that they will fall into a deep sleep so that they cannot ride in the morning
I wish not for riches or wealth, but for people to grasp their lives and their youth
The song in the drama adds a few words here and there to the poem but the meaning is still the same.
This poem followed a 乐府 style, in which a poem was composed in a folk song style. The name itself 短歌行 or The Short Ballad was a style of poem. Oftentimes, during a banquet, a song would be sung with accompanying text. The tones were short hence why called the short ballad. For this poem, as you heard with my translation, Li Bai drew heavily from Daoist texts including 神仙传 or the Biographies of the Dieties, 神异经 or Classic of the deities and the extraordinary to reference the gods and goddesses and the skies above. The carriage with the six dragons represented the sun god who would ride the carriage every day to bring daylight. This is similar to the role the Greek God Helios had.
This is a very unique poem from Li Bai in that he is able to aptly blend the mythical with reality. He laments the shortness of life and contrasts this with the neverending lives of the gods above. He wishes to make changes not for himself but for all mankind. Li Bai was in his 30s when he wrote this poem and still trying to become a member at court. During this time he did write several poems on spirituality.
This poem, along with the poem 清平乐, which we discussed earlier, are excellent examples of Chinese poems being set to music, which was their original purpose. The song itself is hauntingly beautiful and showcases many traditional chinese instruments. We have the bamboo flute, drums, I believe 琵琶, and there’s one instrument I can’t put my ear on.
According to the author, there weren’t float battles per se during the tang dynasty. There were definitely floats but the part about these battles were embellished by the author.
Now that we’ve finished with the performance, let’s turn our attention to the costumes and makeup for this scene.
Let’s turn our attention to the ladies in the audience. During the Tang dynasty, women had a plethora of options for hairstyles. They would powder their faces white and then add rouge. There would be different makeup styles such as the peach blossom style, the feixia style, the drunken style, the teardrop style etc. As for eyebrows, there were also plenty of styles. 石黛 or something typically made with graphite was used for coloring and styling eyebrows. There were over 10 different styles such as the willow brow, the eight brow, and the moon brow. Then there’s the hairstyles. During the tang dynasty, there were over 200 different types of named hair styles. But many really focused on having a very tall style. The makeup artists and hair stylists for this drama spent countless hours pouring through history books and artifacts to recreate the splendor of tang dynasty styles so do spend some time in this episode to enjoy them.
As for 许鹤子, her hairstyle is a 双环望仙髻 双环望仙髻 or a double ring fairy bun which was recorded as a style during the tang dynasty. If you look when she turns around, there is a small comb added to the back of her head. That was customary during those times and you’ll see combs in many different tang dynasty styles. Apparently, the hair took over 6 hours to complete. 许鹤子’s costume for this scene is also a close replica of a Tang dynasty relic that depicts the double ring fair bun, the long dress, and even the sashes.
Speaking of 许合子, in the drama, they changed her name to 许鹤子 but her historical name was 许合子. It is unclear when she was born but she did live during this time period and was a famed singer and performer during the reign of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong. There are numerous records of her accomplishments. You could consider her a superstar of her era. She was THE singer that everyone wanted to see.
Fun fact, 许合子 was the subject of a 2003,yes 2003 drama called 大唐歌飞 or High Flying Songs of Tang Dynasty where the drama was pretty much about 许合子‘s life during the Tang Dynasty. In that drama, there are many familiar characters such as Li Bai, Emperor Tang Xuan Zong, Concubine Yang and several others. I remember that drama as one of the dramas I watched as a kid on the janky Chinese channels my parents bought so I don’t think I watched the full drama but certainly snippets of it. Interestingly, in many lists of top portrayals of Concubine Yang or Yang Gui Fei, the woman in this drama is usually included. Meaning, we had a great rendition of Yang Gui Fei here. Plus there were many heavy hitters in this drama that today I’m like, how did they agree to make this drama?