MOVIES: historical, romance, drama
Another fine series for your enjoyment!
[ENG SUB] 长歌行 第1集 | The Long Ballad EP01—Starring: Dilraba Dilmurat (Changge), Leo Wu (Ashina Sun), Liu Yuning, Zhao Lusi (Leyan), Alen Fang, Daqian Yi, Xiyue Cao (Mimi), Wang Ruichang
Premiered Mar 31, 2021
Image from: https://mydramalist.com/photos/6klmO_4
Captions in English & Chinese
Genre: historical, romance, drama
The story begins in 626 C.E. with the Tang Dynasty’s Xuanwu Gate incident in Chang’an city. The second prince, Li Shimin, successfully assassinated his older and younger brothers in a successful palace coup, becoming the crown prince. Shortly thereafter, Emperor Gaozu, who founded the Tang Dynasty, abdicated in favor of Li Shimin.
The story’s protagonist, Li Changge, the daughter of the assassinated crown prince and his consort, a tribal princess, escapes. In the process she meets Ashina Sun a secret service agent and adopted son of the ruler of a powerful Turkic tribe in the northern steppes.
With her family wiped out, Changge commits her life to revenging their deaths. She and Ashina Sun eventually team up as the drama moves through a series of events in Chang’an and the steppes—each with their own complicated set of political machinations.
Through it all Changge and Ashina Sun develop a relationship first built on respect for the others capabilities and brilliance. Eventually leading to more intimate emotions.
The main protagonists in this series are supported by a nicely developed set of secondary characters. The secondary characters have their own personalities and developing storyline. You’ll find yourself routing for, and being enamored, by them, as well as with Changge and Ashina Sun.
MOVIES: HISTORICAL CHINESE MYSTERIES
If you’re looking for a mystery that’s challenging and doesn’t cheat by jumping to a conclusion that’s not supported by clues in the story, this is the series for you. The cases are complex from both the point of view of the underlying conspiracy and the clues left behind—notably also including the dead body.
ENG SUB [The Imperial Coroner] EP01——Starring: Su Xiao Tong, Wang Zi Qi, Yang Ting Dong, Zhao Yao Ke, and Wang Yan Bin
Captions in English & Chinese
Set in the imperial capital of Chang’an during the Tang Dynasty
Chu Chu (Su Xiao Tong) is an aspiring coroner with keen observational and technical skills. Having grown up in a family of coroners, she has experienced the prejudice that comes from being from a coroner family but, nevertheless, is driven to be the best at applying her skills in order to bring justice to those who have died. Her medical findings are ingenious and logical. The audience is brought along through a combination of visual displays of Chu Chu’s medical observations and re-enactments of the crime by Chu Chu and the male protagonist An Jun Wang (Wang Zi Qi), the head of the office that oversees the Ministry of Justice, the Court of Judicial Review and the Office of the Imperial Censors.
These two work together in close consort with their three friends, each with their own highly developed skills, to solve the intricate cases, regardless of who is behind the crime.
The characters are well drawn and complex in their own right. None appears to be a cookie-cutter portrayal of an arch-type. Plus, they change and develop as individuals and as a cadre of friends through their experiences in searching for truth and impartial justice.
The Imperial Coroner is a top of the line historical mystery with a beguiling and endearing cast of characters.
FOOD: Making your own Chinese vegetarian, oil-free dishes
Baozis (steamed buns or dumplings) have been a popular food in China for hundreds of years. In the Mei-hua trilogy, it is Guei-lung’s favorite snack. In the trilogy, as is probably true today, the most popular baozis are meat filled. Usually stuffed with pork. However, it can also be vegetarian, as many who practice Buddhism or who have given up meat for various reasons would prefer.
Either way, baozis are not too difficult to make. The most difficult part probably is making the bun look elegant by closing the bun up with a series of pleats! You can see these pleats in the picture on the dumpling flour package below.
Here’s a recipe for a batch of vegetarian dumplings for you to try.
I used a package of dumpling flour that I found at a local Asian market. I followed the directions for making the dough printed on the back of the package–except for omitting the oil recommended. This made 8 large buns.
If you don’t want to make your own dough, you can also buy a loaf of unbaked bread dough from your local grocery store. I’ve done this in the past, and it works just fine. Plus, it allows you to enjoy your own baozis if you’re short on time. There will be some differences in the final product, but not much.
660 grams finely chopped green veggies. I used bok choy
60 grams finely chopped mushrooms.
I used rehydrated xianggu mushrooms. After rehydrating them, squeeze out all excess water or they will be too moist and make your buns sloppy.
3 slices of ginger
½ tsp salt
1 ¼ tsp sugar
1 Tbl soya sauce
1 Tbl corn starch
Prepare the filling:
Mix the salt, sugar, corn starch and soya sauce together in a small bowl.
Stir-fry the mushrooms and ginger for a few minutes in a non-stick pan, adding a Tablespoon of water as needed to keep the mushrooms from sticking.
Add the salt, sugar, corn starch and soya sauce mixture to the pan and blend.
Add the finely chopped green veggies and cook for several minutes. Until the greens wilt and are well mixed with the mushrooms.
Remove the 3 slices of ginger.
Put aside to cool.
Prepare the dough:
Roll your dough into a log shape and cut into 8 equal pieces. This will give you a large sized baozi. Shape each into a ball.
Flatten the balls into a disk shape 5-6 inches in diameter. The edges, which will be pulled up and together around the filling, should be thinner than the middle or the filling might break through the bottom.
Form the baozi:
Spoon a generous teaspoon of filling into the center of the disc. Pull the dough up over the filling and pinch together in pleat-like fashion completely enclosing the filling. Let the buns rest for 30 minutes.
To cook: Place the filled buns in a steamer (either seam side down or up). The buns may double in size, so leave a space between each one. Steam for 15 minutes. Remove the steamer from the heat and let it sit another 5 minutes before removing the lid.
To reheat leftover buns, microwave for 30 seconds or re-steam.
If you give this a try, let me know how it turned out for you.
RELIGION & THE SUPERNATURAL: Chinese supernatural beings
Immortals are beings who once lived as humans on earth, but now inhabit the upper stratum (sometimes called Heaven or celestial level). They have supernatural powers, can assume human shape, and are able to do anything people do—including eating and drinking.
The Eight Immortals were well-known figures by the Ming Dynasty, and remain important Taoist figures today. Even the number eight itself holds great symbolic significance. Specifically, it represents the stages and conditions of human life: age (young and old), status (low and high), fortune (poor and wealthy), and gender (male and female). The Immortals, therefore, include among their number men and women, young and old, rich and poor, simple and educated.
The Eight Immortals are:
Li Tie-guai, identified by his iron crutch and calabash (bottle gourd)
Lan Cai-he, the youngest of the eight immortals, perhaps mid-teens
He Xian-gu, the only female
Cao Guo-jiu, a mythological figure often seen with a paiban (clapper)
Lu Dong-bin, a real historical scholar and poet from the Tang Dynasty
Han Xiang-zi, identified by a dizi (Chinese flute)
Zhang Guo-lao, a real historical figure associated with old age
Zhong-li Quan, AKA Han Zong-li, often seen carrying a large fan
As with humans, these supernatural beings have frailties as well as strengths, and can both enjoy and abuse worldly delights. In Warned, the second story in the Mei-hua trilogy, the immortal Iron Crutch Li (Li Tie-guai) reveals his knowing, benevolent nature by descending to earth in order to warn Mei-hua. And yet he also enjoys his liquor a little too much—which is why he appears carrying a gourd filled with wine. Similarly, Lan Cai-he, who also comes to warn Mei-hua in Warned, holds castanets because he loves to sing and dance. In the story, Iron Crutch Li and Lan Cai-he come to help Mei-hua by alerting her to danger. At the same time, they do not solve her problems for her. That’s not their job.
While immortals and other spirits were believed to be able to play powerful roles in the natural world of Ming China, they did not control human behavior or determine a person’s destiny. Instead, supernatural beings such as the Eight Immortals operated as additional, influential actors who needed to be watched for, guarded against, or listened to.
Can you identify each of the eight immortals in the picture above?
SCIENCE: Chinese Innovations
Fire. Would we even be the humans we are today without it? Important for light, warmth, and heat for cooking our food.
A critical innovation in control over fire happened in China in 577 AD. The story concerning the invention of the first matches is that Northern Qi court ladies needed to start cooking and heating fires. Unable to gather tinder, due to enemy troops blockading their city, they used pine sticks coated with Sulphur. This allowed them to start a new fire from existing embers, thus, inventing the first matches.
These matches did not ignite by striking them. They needed a source of heat—another fire or embers. Nevertheless, it was a great leap forward. In fact, they were so essential that in 950 AD Tao Gu, a poet and official from the Song court, described the technique for these Sulphur coated pine sticks calling them “light-bringing slaves.” Later these early matches were commonly known as “fire-inch sticks.” Strikable matches were not invented for more than another 1,000 years–in 1805 by the French chemist Jean Chancel.
If you read or watch wuxia stories (martial arts fiction), you have probably seen/read about 火折子 huo zhe zi or fire sticks. They are something like today’s cigarette lighters. In these stories, characters carry fire sticks on their bodies, within their clothing. When they need a fire—to light a candle or give them light in the dark—they pull a fire stick out, blow on it, and a flame appears.
Basically, fire sticks are bamboo tubes stuffed with a rolled up flammable material, such as paper or cotton. The material is ignited, then partially extinguished, leaving glowing embers in the tube. Later, when needed, the embers are ignited by blowing on them. There’s a bamboo cap over the top, protecting the ember. The cap is not air tight, since it must allow for a bit of ventilation in order to keep the ember aglow. Otherwise, the ember would suffocate and the fire stick would be useless.
I could not find information indicating whether this intriguing invention was historically accurate or not. In fact, the only source I could find was the wonderful blog post https://wuxiawanderings.com/flame-stick/ Wuxia Wanderings (posted January 12, 2020). If you’re interested, I recommend you go read this post to learn more about it.
Do you know whether huo zhe zi (fire sticks or flame sticks) are historically accurate or are only a fascinating piece of fiction? If you do, please let me know in the comments section. I would love to use this device in a story, if it’s historically accurate.
There are many historical Chinese movies and serials available on the Internet. Periodically, I will talk about some that I thought were interesting or fun. They will all be historical– whether dramas, mysteries, adventures, or even fantasy. I hope you enjoy learning about them and go watch them, too.
ENG SUB【The Sword and The Brocade 锦心似玉】EP01 | Starring: Wallace Chung, Seven Tan, He Hongshan, and Daddi Tang
YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WtaKlLEdLic
Premiered Feb 28, 2021
Captions in English & Chinese
Set in the Ming Dynasty
The Sword and The Brocade is a Chinese historical serial set in the Ming Dynasty. The costuming and setting are extravagant, as befitting the characters’ upper class status. Definitely, a feast for the eyes.
The story takes place in an extended family including a matriarch, her two sons and their families. The older son, General Xu Lingyi carries the responsibility of protecting the Xu name and ensuring its future. He is married to a wife and two concubines and has two young sons. After his first wife dies, he marries her younger step-sister, Luo Shiyiniang.
The theme of each episode is the growing love and respect between Lingyi and Shiyi in spite of their union being an arranged marriage. Shiyi was chosen as a wife for Lingyi because—after his first wife died—the matriarch wanted someone to care for Lingyi’s son. However, the matriarch herself and all of the women in the family were biased against Shiyi due to her drive for independence and her low status as a concubine’s daughter. Eventually, through consistent optimism, loyalty to the Xu family, and strength of character, Shiyi earns her place in the family.
This series is about how an extended family and its internal relationships affect each of its members in different and dramatic ways. Its about finding love after entering an arranged marriage. And, I believe, its about gender roles: how they can be stifling and crippling or open to change.
Did you know that for hundreds of years during the Imperial Period China’s magistrates embodied the entire judicial system in the area they served? That they were the crime investigator, prosecutor, judge, and jury?
Magistrates were appointed to their office and generally served for only three years before being moved on to another location. This short-term service was designed to avoid corruption. The idea was that in three years, the magistrates would not be able to become too closely aligned with the elite of the area. The emperor wanted his representatives to remain distinct and isolated from the people they served. This was because the magistrates had immense authority and power. A close relationship with local influential families could pressure the court to act more as a personal judicial arm for them and their interests versus the emperor and his government.
Another critical element in keeping the short-term magistrates from becoming closely aligned with the local elite was that sometimes magistrates would serve an area where they didn’t know one or more of the local languages. Chinese writing is not phonetic and, therefore, could be read by anyone, whether they spoke the dominate Chinese language or not.
What we think of as spoken Chinese, however, is not really one language. One language means those who speak it must be able to understand each other—their words are mutually intelligible. Spoken Chinese can differ significantly from region to region. The language spoken in one area may be not understood by their neighboring area. Think of the difference between Spanish and Italian. Both are Romance languages but they are quite distinct from each other. They are mutually unintelligible.
This was the situation Chinese magistrates faced. They had a three-year appointment with heavy responsibilities and were often placed in an district where they could not understand the local language(s).
Such a situation meant that, in spite of the emperor’s desire to keep the court separate from the local power sources, the day-to-day running of the judicial system depended on local people to fill the positions needed: the jailer, runners, police, scribes, etc. Magistrates sat as an outsider on a pyramid of staff that they had not chosen, did not know, and could not necessarily trust.
That is why magistrates often brought their own court reporters. The court reporter played a key role in making sure the documents were accurate and not manipulated in one way or another. The magistrates also often brought a couple of his own personal guards. Men he chose himself, who depended solely on him, and who, therefore, he could trust.
I invite you to come and explore the tensions and challenges faced by a magistrate, Judge Lu, as he brings justice to those under his protection—in spite of countervailing forces which could destroy him at any moment. You’ll find a collection of these stories in Judge Lu’s Case Files, Stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China. Available as e-book, paperback, or hardback.
My collection of Ming Dynasty Judge Lu short stories is coming together and will be out April 4th. This is the cover for the book Judge Lu’s Case Files, Stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China—I hope you like it.
In traditional China, owls were considered a bad omen. The bird represented mystery and secrets–but also death. Owls appear on burial ceramics as far back as the Han Dynasty. They were thought to be capable of stealing a person’s soul and their arrival near a particular home forecasted an illness or death in the family. Such a harbinger of evil made the owl seem like the perfect symbol for Judge Lu, a magistrate in the early Ming Dynasty, in his quest for justice and his battle against crime.
I just found out that this collection, Judge Lu’s Case Files, Stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China, is up for pre-order NOW. If you would like a copy of 12 short stories about the intrepid Judge Lu GET IT NOW AT Amazon and you’ll get a book the day it launches!
The Lantern Festival, also known as the Spring Festival, marks the end of the two-week celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
All of the New Year decorations are taken down and the New Year taboos are lifted. These taboos include things like not scolding children, not mentioning illnesses or using unlucky words (ex., the number 4), don’t ware old clothing, avoid breaking things like a mirror or bowl, and avoid sweeping or taking out the garbage.
Do you wonder why people avoid the last two—sweeping and taking out the garbage? It’s so they don’t accidentally throw out their good fortune. Yet, the house needs to be clean. What to do? People have a simple solution to this problem: reverse how they clean the floor, go from the outside to the inside of the house. Clever!
And, of course, there are special, tasty foods to eat. Tangyuan, a ball of sticky rice wrapped around a sweet filling, is a number one favorite, along with dumplings, sweet rice cakes, and spring rolls (with or without meat).
In the Spring Festival’s night sky there is a full moon, making it a perfect time for a moon-gazing party. People can view the full moon set in the dark sky or enjoy the moon’s reflection in a pool of water.
And, of course, the night is filled with lanterns. Lanterns everywhere and of all types. Their light in the darkness symbolizes chasing away evil, assuring a good, prosperous year ahead. Many lantern owners make a game for on-lookers by pasting a riddle to their lantern. Something to have fun with while enjoying the festive day.
To quickly learn more about this fun holiday, here are a few internet sources to look at: https://www.chinaeducationaltours.com/guide/chinese-new-year-taboos.htm; https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/festivals/chinese-new-year-taboos.htm; https://blogs.furman.edu/chinamyths/2016/10/26/foods-of-the-spring-festival/; https://hashtaglegend.com/culture/6-must-eat-lucky-foods-during-chinese-new-year-spring-festival/; https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/lantern-festival.htm; https://cn.hujiang.com/new/p446587/