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The Emperor and the Assassin 荊柯刺秦王 【jīngkē cì Qínwáng】

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The emperor and the assassin j ngk c q nw ng http www vernonjohns org snuffy1186 empassn html
The Emperor and the Assassin荊柯刺秦王 【jīngkē cì Qínwáng】

  • a 1998 Chinese historical romance film based primarily on Jing Ke's assassination attempt as described in Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian史记. The film was directed by Chen Kaige and stars Gong Li (Lady Zhao), Zhang Fengyi (Jingke), Li Xuejian (the Emperor), and Zhou Xun (as the blind girl in her feature film debut). The film won the Technical Prize at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival.

Chen kaige 1952

a Chinese film director whose films are known for their visual flair and epic storytelling.

His most famous film in the West, Farewell My Concubine (1993), nominated for two Academy Awards Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography and winner of the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at 1993 Cannes Film Festival, follows two Beijing opera stars through decades of change in China during the twentieth century.

Chen Kaige (1952-)

Aesopian history studies en dymion wilkinson in chinese history a manual

–adjective visual flair and epic storytelling.

1.of, pertaining to, or characteristic of Aesop or his fables: a story that points an Aesopian moral.

2.conveying meaning by hint, euphemism, innu’endo, or the like: In the candidate's Aesopian language, “soft on Communism” was to be interpreted as “Communist sympathizer.”

影射【yǐngshè】 allude to; hint obliquely at; insinuate.

史学【shǐxué】 the science of history; historical science; historiography.

Practitioners, following an old Chinese tradition, criticizing the present indirectly by using historical precedents.

Aesopian History Studies 影射史学En’dymion Wilkinson in Chinese History, a Manual

Aesop and his fables

Aesop visual flair and epic storytelling. (also spelled Æsop or Esop, from the Greek Αἴσωπος—Aisōpos) (ca. 620-564 BC), known for the genre of fables ascribed to him, was by tradition born a slave (δούλος) in the mid-sixth century BC in ancient Greece.

Aesop and His Fables

Dramatic conflict agon the soul in drama
Dramatic Conflict (Agon) visual flair and epic storytelling. The Soul in Drama

  • Agon: Literature. conflict, esp. between the protagonist and the antagonist.

  • Inner--a character struggles with himself (such as Johnny Cash in Walk The Line).

  • Relational--the battle between the mutually exclusive goals of the protagonist and antagonist

  • Social--between a person and a group, usually present in films about corruption, injustice, or oppression. 

  • Situational--a character is in conflict with a specific situation – a woman trapped in a burning building, a man hiding in a married woman’s closet when her husband arrives home, a group of stranded adventurers trying to find a way off a deserted island.

Ambivalence vs ambiguity

Ambivalence visual flair and epic storytelling.

 The coexistence in one person of contradictory emotions or attitudes (as love and hatred) towards a person or thing.

A moment of being torn apart…

Sometimes, due to an oversight on some deeper connection between the two values, a person tends to view some value in an isolated way, assuming one value is incompatible with another.


Subjectively: Wavering of opinion; hesitation, doubt, uncertainty, as to one's course.

Objectively: Capability of being understood in two or more ways; double or dubious signification, ambiguousness. spec. in Literary Criticism

A word or phrase susceptible of more than one meaning; an equivocal expression

Ambivalence vs. Ambiguity

The aeneid of virgil love vs duty

Aeneas Flees Burning Troy visual flair and epic storytelling. , Federico Barocci, 1598 Galleria Borghese, Rome: carrying his father, leading his son by the hand, with his wife following behind…

a Latin epic poem written by Virgil in the late 1st century BC (29–19 BC) that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who traveled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

The Aeneid of VirgilLove vs. Duty

Love vs duty

In Virgil: visual flair and epic storytelling.

Love and duty can’t go together;

Aeneas abandoned Dido, queen of Carthage, in order to found Rome.

Love vs. Duty

Aeneas recounting the trojan war to dido a painting by pierre narcisse gu rin

Dido visual flair and epic storytelling. was the founder and first Queen of Carthage (in modern-day Tu’nisia). She is best known from the account given by the Roman poet Virgil in his Aeneid. In some sources she is also known as Elissa.

Aeneas recounting the Trojan War to Dido, a painting by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin.

Dido and Aeneas fall in love by the management of Juno and Venus—caught in a storm, cave…

Jupiter dispatches Mercury to send Aeneas on his way and the pious Aeneas sadly obeys. Mercury tells Aeneas of all the promising Italian lands and orders Aeneas to get his fleet ready.

Dido is heartbroken. (4.474) Dido has her sister Anna build her a pyre under the pretence of burning all that reminded her of Aeneas, including weapons and clothes that Aeneas had left behind and (what she calls) their bridal bed (though, according to Aeneas, they were never officially married.)

Dido ascends the pyre, lies again on the couch which she had shared with Aeneas, and then falls on a sword that Aeneas had given her.


(May/June c.1265 – September 14, 1321), commonly known as Dante, was an Italian poet of the Middle Ages.

His Divine Comedy is often considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.


Virgil vs dante

Virgil: Love and duty won’t go together

Dante: Love and duty could go hand in hand.

Virgil Vs. Dante

Key players all tangled up at the narrative level approach something with six w s
Key Players All Tangled Upat the narrative level, approach something with six w’s

Conflicts crisscrossed
Conflicts Crisscrossed

  • Lady Zhao (fictive character)

  • Personal/private level—the king is going to marry another girl (Princess of the Han State); it is time for her to exit since they have drifted apart;

  • Political/public level—the king has destroyed her home country, the Zhao State, which has tipped her over from a willing mole or an undercover to a trooper who wants to have the king killed;

Mother queen vs her emperor son
Mother Queen vs. her Emperor Son

  • Mother Queen

  • At two levels

  • personal conflict: her lover, her two younger sons born of the court “eunuch”;

  • Political conflict: she is also a native of Zhao

  • Irony: the king thinks he has done something to please his mother—by taking revenge

  • In his tender years, the king was humiliated by the Zhao people (Qin attacked Zhao on some previous occasion, which provoked Zhao’s hatred, and as a result, they vented their anger on the hostages)

  • During the Warring States Period, princes are often sent to away as hostage;

Qin shi huang 259 bc 210 bc

King of the Chinese State of Qin from 246 BC to 221 BC during the Warring States Period. He became the first emperor of a unified China in 221 BCE

Qin Shi Huang(259 BC – 210 BC)

Two tales

The king also hired someone who criticized him severely, revealing that the king is a person of magnanimity;

Shiji 6, page 38

About Wei Liao from Daliang;

The king did take revenge against the Zhao people;

Two Tales

Birth revealing that the king is a person of magnanimity;

  • Records of The Grand Historian 史记 by Sima Qian, renditions by Columbia University Press, translated by Burton Watson

  • “The First Emperor was a son of King Zhuangxiang of Qin . When King Zhuangxiang was a hostage for the state of Qin in Zhao, he happened to see a concubine belonging to Lǚ Buwei” (35).

  • The connection is hinted…

  • It was ‘custo’mary for the ruling families of the various states to exchange sons as hostages so as to insure compliance with diplomatic and military alliances. Usually those sons are not the best.

Shiji 85 the biography of l buwei tv series
Shiji revealing that the king is a person of magnanimity; 85: The Biography of Lǚ BuweiTV Series《乱世英雄吕不韦》

  • Lǚ Buwei had selected from among the ladies of Handan one of matchless beauty and great skill in dancing and had lived with her, and in time he learned that she was pregnant. Zichu, joining Lǚ Buwei in a drinking bout, happened to catch sight of her and was pleased…

  • “She concealed the fact that she was pregnant…” This serves the source for speculation.

  • See Watson’s translation, 161-162

Harsh life in early years
Harsh Life in Early Years revealing that the king is a person of magnanimity;

  • The first emperor was born in Handan, capital of the State of Zhao.

  • Since his father was a hostage at the time, the family went through lots of hardships and humiliations.

  • In 257 BCE, King Zhaoxing of Qin sent Wang Yi to lay siege to Handan, which provoking hatred from Zhao people;

  • On the way back to Qin, the young prince, his mother got separated from the king during the escape…

L buwei 291 235 bce director chen kaige acted as l buwei a perfect role

Served as Chancellor for King Zhuangxiang of Qin (r. 249 to 247 BCE), and as regent and Chancellor for the king's (or, some claim, Lü's) young son Zheng, who became Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.

Lü sponsored an encyclopedic compendium Lüshi Chunqiu (Lü's Spring and Autumn Annals") 《吕氏春秋》, completedin239 BCE.

Lǚ Buwei (291?–235 BCE)Director Chen Kaige acted as Lǚ Buwei, a Perfect Role

Investment http ctext org zhan guo ce pu yang ren lv bu wei
Investment 247 BCE), and as regent and Chancellor for the king's (or, some claim, Lü's) young son Zheng, who became Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.

  • The Zhanguoce 战国策 (The Intrigues of the Warring States) has a story about Lü’s decision on his career change from commerce to politics.

  • On returning home, he said to his father, "What is the profit on investment that one can expect from plowing fields?""Ten times the investment," replied his father."And the return on investment in pearls and jades is how much?""A hundredfold.""And the return on investment from establishing a ruler and securing the state would be how much?""It would be incalculable." "Now if I devoted my energies to laboring in the fields, I would hardly get enough to clothe and feed myself; yet if I secure a state and establish its lord, the benefits can be passed on to future generations. I propose to go serve Prince Yiren of Qin who is hostage in Zhao and resides in the city of Jiao.“

  • Block quote something if it is over four lines.

Y hu ji m graft one twig on another graft stealthily substitute one thing for another

Lǚ Buwei carefully plotted the whole thing, and successfully persuaded Lady Huayang 华阳夫人 in accepting Zichu (Yiren) as her adoptive son;

If the first emperor were Lǚ Buwei’s son, it would make sense that he got rid of King Zhuangxiang by drugging him gradually (by a strong aphrodisiac) so as to install his own son onto the throne.

移花接木【yíhuājiēmù】 graft one twig on another; graft; stealthily substitute one thing for another.

The queen has no son no security in her old age ru nl i weak spot like achilles heels
The Queen Has No Son successfully persuaded Lady Huayang No Security in Her Old Age软肋【ruǎnlèi】 weak spot like Achilles’ heels

  • King Zhaoxiang of Qin passed away in 251 BCE. The crown prince, Lord Anguo, succeeded him as king, thus Lady Huayang, his favorite concubine, became the Queen. However she had no son.

  • This is where Lǚ Buwei’s scheme sneaked in.

Professor wang liqun

After his relentless investigations, Wang concluded that the first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

His claim is based on the term of pregnancy. But it is too close to call…

Wang’s hypothesis could not brush away all the clouds…

Sima Qian gave us two versions!

Professor Wang Liqun 王立群

The death of king zhuangxiang r 249 bc 247 bc
The Death of King Zhuangxiang first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son. (r. 249 BC – 247 BC)

  • In the first year of his reign (250BCE), King Zhuangxiang made Lǚ Buweihis chancellor and enfeoffed him with as marquis of Wenxin with the revenue from 100,000 households in Henan and Luoyang.

  • Speculations on the death: Aphrodisiac?

  • There seems no motivation for Lǚ Buweito get rid of the king since the king treated him very well. Lǚ Buwei should have taken better care of the king to ensure his own good life.

  • King Yiren is also Lǚ Buwei’s political investment;

Double dilemma

The king took over his lady, first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

But Lǚ Buwei made such an arrangement (with Lao Ai) so that his lover would not bother him any more;

Emotional/sexual factors seemed to weigh less;

Motive: As long as Yiren sat on the throne, Lǚ Buwei’s “son” had no chance;

Note the king also had another son (Ying Chengjiao 赢成蛟, one year older than Ying Zheng) from another wife;

Lǚ Buwei had something to do with getting rid of the other prince so that Ying Zheng had no competitioin…

Double Dilemma

The Emperor and His Family first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son. A Confucian Lens (Five-Fold Relationships his mother connects the whole web)

The emperor the assassin lady zhao holds the key
The Emperor & the Assassin first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son. Lady Zhao Holds the Key

Metamorphosis transformation dramatic turns

The Assassin first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

The blind girl tipped him over;

Redemption started here; Jing Ke wanted to wash his hands off blood;

He was motivated to kill the king because of Lady Zhao;

Lady Zhao

A mole to help the king;

Prince of Yan’s chip in his gambling;

Upon seeing all Zhao’s children got killed or buried alive, Lady Zhao changed her mind…

Metamorphosis/TransformationDramatic Turns

Dramatic structure gustav freytag 1816 1895

Based on Aristotle’s first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son. Poetics (c. 335 BCE), in Die Technik des Dramas (1863), Freytag explained a system for dramatic structure, later named Freytag's Pyramid.

Dramatic StructureGustav Freytag (1816-1895)

Gustav freytag s analysis 1816 95 german novelist playwright and journalist
Gustav first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son. Freytag’s analysis1816–95, German novelist, playwright, and journalist

The art of war
The Art of War first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

  • It is also interesting to examine the battle scenes in the movie through the critical lens of Sunzi.

  • Are the Qin generals that stupid?

Scene titles

1. Start first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

2. Qin invades Han

3. King of Qin

4. War Council

5. Lady Zhao

6. Prince of Yan

7. Qin Eliminates Han

8. Brand my face

9. Offer & Messages

10. The Assassin

11. Punishing a Thief

12. We need your help

13. I once killed a girl

14. The children

Scene Titles

Scene titles1

15. Marquis’ coup first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

16. Fratricide

17. Last laugh

18. Qin ancestral temple

19. The situation

20. Lady Zhao

21. Children! Jump!

22. Zhao defeated

23. Buried alive

24. Fan’s gift

25. The Emperor and the Assassin

26. Envoy from Yan

27. Assassin assassinated

28. Lady Zhao returns

Scene Titles

Keeping promise a theme running through

General Fan kept his promise first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

The king failed over and over to keep his promise

Keeping Promisea Theme Running Through


The Emperor and the Assassin first emperor was indeed King Zhuangxiang’s son.

The king misread everything;


The king is a wise reader;