Historical Background & 1938 Great Fire of Changsha:
(Please skip if you're familiar with this part of history)
World War II started for the U.S when the Japanese Imperial Army attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and in 1939 for Europe when Hitler's SS troops invaded Poland. As for China, the military struggle with the Japanese Imperial Army began even earlier in July 1937 when a small skirmishes at Macro Polo Bridge escalated into a full scale war across China. By December, the Japanese Imperial Army had defeated the Chinese Nationalist Army (a.k.a. Kuomingtang) led by Chiang Kai-shek in Nanjing, the capital of the Nationalist government. (Curious about the Chinese Communist Party at this time? Mao Zedong and his party members were driven out of the urban landscape after political persecution by Chiang Kai-shek. They were using guerrilla warfare to fight Japanese soldiers mostly in rural areas. After Japanese soldiers occupied Nanjing, they embarked on a six-week long killing-spree that brutally massacred over 300,000 people in the city and atrociously gang-raped countless women and young girls. I know there are some debates surrounding the number of civilians killed, but I'm just going to trust the research provided by Iris Chang in her famous book The Rape of Nanking. If you are interested in learning more about this event, I highly recommend you read her book. But I must warn that The Rape of Nanking is one of the most bone-chilling books I've ever read. I grew up watching war films with my dad and thought I could handle the graphic material with ease, but I was still quite disturbed by the grotesque details, particularly atrocities committed against women. Ironically, a Nazi affiliated businessman, John Rabe, used his Nazi credentials to establish a "safety zone" and rescue hundred of thousands of Chinese civilians from brutal slaughter.
Because of the brutality exhibited by the Japanese soldiers in Nanjing, Chiang Kai-shek did not want to leave another strategic city and its resources to his enemy. Fearing that Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in central China, would be the next major city to fall into Japanese Imperial Army's control, he ordered that the entire city to be burned in the winter of 1938. Changsha had never shifted its location in the past 2,000 years and had managed to accumulate a rich history. Over 90% of the city turned into ashes including valuable millennium old cultural relics. Tragically, the Changsha government failed to effectively notify and vacate citizens before burning the city. Over 3,000 people died in the fire because many were still sleeping in their bed when the city was set ablaze at 2 a.m. Even more ironic was the fact that Changsha successfully thwarted the anticipated Japanese invasion the following year. In fact, the city was able fend off two more Japanese invasion attempts. The Nationalist Army in Changsha was also able to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese Imperial Army. In its fourth invasion attempt, the Japanese military deployed the largest number of troops than any other campaign to attack Changsha. The city finally fell one year before the end of the World War II (1944).
TV Series Intro:
Battle of Changsha retells these turbulent events through the perspective of the Hu family, particularly through the eyes of a 16-year old girl named Xiang Xiang 湘湘 and her twin brother, nicknamed Xiao Man 小满. Wallace Huo plays Gu Qingming 顾清明，an Intelligence Officer in the Nationalist Army defending Changsha. He is the only son of a politically prominent and wealthy man with political ties to Chiang Kai-shek. The feisty fun-loving Xiang Xiang and the arrogant Gu Qingming start off on very bad terms (Pride and Prejudice, anyone?). In the original novel, Xiang Xiang ends up marrying Gu Qingming and matures from a naive teenage girl into a young wife who has to deal with difficult in-laws and finally experiences motherhood.
Like Mo Shaoqian in Sealed with a Kiss, Gu Qingming doesn't get a lot of "novel time" in the original story. Fortunately, I read that the scriptwriters for this TV series greatly expanded his role and he should show up in every single episode. Every scene in the original novel featuring Gu Qingming and Xiang Xiang together was quite interesting to read. They are both stubborn individuals with polarized personalities. Xiang Xiang is fiery while Gu Qingming is brooding. Most of the time, they want to throttle each other than give a hug or kiss. LOL.
|Yang Zi as Xiang Xiang|
|Wallace Huo as Gu Qingming|
|A very pregnant Xiang Xiang|
In October of 1938, the Japanese Imperial Army seized Wuhan leaving Changsha military vulnerable. In Changsha lives the Hu family whose grandson-in-law, Xue Junshan, exhausts his political connections to get his wife's teenage twin siblings out of the city before the Japanese invasion. He first tries to introduce Xiang Xiang to an affluent Intelligent Officer, Gu Qingming, who just came back from his studies abroad. Unfortuantely, the hot-tempered and feisty Xiang Xiang and the prideful Gu Qingming clashed like fire and water on their first meeting. This failed attempt in match-making shifted Xiang Xiang's marriage prospects elsewhere. On the day of Xiang Xiang's engagement, Chiang Kai-shek ordered the City of Changsha to be burned. Due to poor execution by city's leaders, the planned fire became a horrendous manmade disaster. The once bustling and prosperous ancient city turned into gray ashes. Many people did not wake up from their sleep in time to escape the burning flames, including Xiang Xiang's fiancee. In this land of ashes, countless heroic men and women convened in Changsha and fight alongside Hunan people against the invaders. The Hu family is among those to experience scene after scene of happiness and tragedies.
So why am I excited about this series? Let's put it simply but superficially: I want to see Wallace Huo looking handsome in a military uniform. LOL. Well, maybe not entirely. I'm actually looking forward to his onscreen pairing with Yang Zi. Some Chinese netizens feel a little awkward about the 12-year age gap between Yang Zi and Wallace Huo, but I don't mind it at all. The 14-year age gap worked for Hawick Lau and Ying'er in Sealed with a Kiss and Liu Shishi and Nicky Wu was fine in Bu Bu Jing Xin despite their age gap too. Good acting and sizzling chemistry from actors should solve any age issues. Furthermore, I feel even more optimistic about the pairing after looking into Yang Zi's filmography. She's quite an experienced young actress. Yang Zi began her acting career at a very young age, and at 20 years old, she already amassed more than 50 film/television projects on her resume. In the beginning, I was a little worried that Yang Zi was a newbie with little acting experience and would not be able to convey the complicated subtleties of Xiang Xiang's character. Now I'm confident she can tackle this role and her youthful looks fit her character too. I just hope the director downplay the bratty part and interpret the teenage Xiang Xiang in a likeable way. Yang Zi may not have a traditional pretty face but I feel she can grow on you.
|A child Yang Zi in Secret History of Xiaozhuang|