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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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A hit movie that recalls an ancient poem ignites nationalist fervor in China

“riceyour hair Burning with rage,” the young men cried as they left their red-padded cinema seats. “We shall eat the flesh of the savages…we shall drink their blood. They were reciting lines from “Man Jiang Hong,” a poem believed to be the work of Yue Fei, a general of the Song Dynasty in the 12th century. It was also the title of the best-selling movie in China during the recent Lunar New Year holiday. Box office receipts have exceeded 4 billion yuan ($590 million).

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The film is set four years after the death of Yue, who is known for leading the state of Song in battle against the invading Jurchens, whose descendants are known as Manchus. Legend has it that he was killed in 1142 by the corrupt Song Dynasty chancellor Qin Hui, who urged the emperor to negotiate and stop fighting the Jurchens.In Chinese legend, Qin is recalled as Han Jianor betray the Han nationality, while the Yue nationality is the opposite.

In recent years, the Communist Party has used Yue’s story to promote patriotism. State media even said that Chinese leader Xi Jinping grew up with stories of his father-in-law’s exploits. The film, directed by Zhang Yimou, one of China’s most famous directors, elicited acerbic enthusiasm. It wasn’t just moviegoers who spontaneously recited the macabre poem at screenings. The movie also sparked attacks on statues of Qin Shi Huang, a tourist attraction – a long-established practice.

The film tells the story of the assassination of Jurchen envoys in the Qin Dynasty. There are twists and turns as characters reveal their hidden allegiances, both to foreigners and to the Song Dynasty. Qin and his lackeys are portrayed as conniving officials who lied, cheated and killed for power — and betrayed the Han people. The film’s protagonists are undercover vigilantes who are dissatisfied with Qin’s behavior and sneak into his court to avenge Yue.

They try to recruit a young Qin commander, Sun Jun, who is torn between obedience to his rebellious superiors and loyalty to the people. In one scene, when his uncle yells that Sun is a lackey and a “running dog” for foreigners (an insult often used by Chinese nationalists today), Sun cuts a tattoo from the back of his vigilante uncle, It says “serve the country with loyalty”. In the end, Sun turned against Qin. He led the soldiers of the Han army to recite Yue’s poems, expressing their earnest desire to recover the lost land. That scene made some viewers cry, according to comments on the movie website Douban.

“Manjianghong” is based on ancient history, but its modern significance is clear. This poem is a lament of the national humiliation Weixue, telling about regaining the lost “mountains and rivers”. Lest it be ambiguous, one Chinese family made a video of themselves reciting the poem after watching the film, but replaced the words with modern terminology. Let us “eat the meat of American imperialism” and “drink the blood of traitors”, they shouted – “unify the whole of China in the coming year”.

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