Representations of History in Chinese Film and Television

Scenes 1 to 10
Scenes 11 to 20
Scenes 21 to 28

Scenes 11 to 20

Scene 11: A conference with Li Hongzhang and several foreigners

Li Hongzhang and several foreign ministers are discussing the current situation between Japan and China. Ding and Deng are standing outside the room, secretly listening to their conversation. A Japanese-looking English speaking secretary named Mr. Roper talks about the advantage of peaceful agreements between China and Japan. The Russian minister points out that his country might send troops to exert pressure on Japan. The British teases the Russian over own ambitions in Northeastern China and reminds him to stay neutral. Li Hongzhang meanwhile welcomes the Russian idea of possible foreign interference and stresses that all foreigners would only have to loose with regard to their vested interests in China if war should break out. The American, siding with the Japanese-looking secretary, counters that the Japanese already promised that if China did not provoke war first, they would not start war either. Therefore, foreign interference should not be considered at the moment.
The Japanese-looking secretary, now speaking on behalf of the Japanese government, warns Li that the skirmish on sea when the Gaosheng was sunk and the Yoshino had to retreat, could be interpreted as a Chinese provocation. Should similar things happen again, also the attitude of “neutral countries” could become “unpredictable”. Deng, still outside, is getting furious about this menace and knocks over a tea pot with his fan by mistake. Li Hongzhang and the foreigners note the noise immediately and Li asks who it is that is listening outside. Deng enters the room and says to the Japanese-looking secretary head-on that it was the Japanese that had started the hostilities and that China had no choice than to defend herself. Li Hongzhang gets furious about Deng’s audacity and has him leave the room. The American minister and the Japanese-looking secretary are furious as well and the American minister tells Li Hongzhang that he just wanted to help, but if the Chinese naval commanders are that keen on war, there is no point in helping. Li tries to apologize for the misunderstandings, but the other foreigners leave as well.

Scene 12: Deng Shichang and Li Hongzhang in the conference hall: Li is obviously furious with Deng

Deng Shichang is called in by Li Hongzhang who is very upset about his ruining his negotiation efforts. Deng tries to convince Li that the foreigners advocate peace between China and Japan only because they want to protect their interests in China. In reality, nobody really wants to help the Chinese. When Li is about to punish Deng, Ding Ruchang enters the room and offers up his position, lest Li should forgive Deng who is only driven by preoccupation with China’s fate. Ding presents Li with a petition of the Beiyang fleet, urging him to resist the Japanese. Deng adds he has to hand over a letter from the common people of Weihaiwei who want to petition the emperor for declaring war as well. Li is upset because they try to interfere with state affairs. At this moment a messenger arrives with an imperial edict: the emperor wants war! Ding and Deng are relieved, but soon another messenger arrives with a confidential edict by Cixi to Li Hongzhang. Even though the edict is not read aloud, one may assume it contradicts the edict of the emperor. Now it is Li Hongzhang who feels relieved.

Scene 13: At night in darkness, just some lights of lanterns (slow music)

Wang Guocheng and his comrades are walking close to the port. They ask each other why Deng Shichang is hiding in his home. In the background Fang Boqian and Liu Buchan walk by, talking about Deng Shichang. Liu says to Fang that Deng had gone to Tianjin to press for war, arguing it was not he, Deng, who wanted war, but the common people of Weihaiwei and the marines (intending to render Deng unpopular with the marines close by). But Li Hongzhang, Liu goes on speaking, had Deng dismissed. The marines are very upset about this supposed “betrayal” by Deng and waver in their judgement of him. Suddenly, a pipa tune can be heard which is becoming louder and faster. The marines under the lead of Wang Guocheng follow the music until they end up in front of commander Deng’s home who is playing the music. Deng’s music is merged with his phantasies about firing at Japanese ships. The marines outside want to know what really happened. Wang Guocheng listens closely to Deng’s melody and interprets him correctly as being still convinced of war. [This is an old topos of “understanding the other’s heart” via music]. Deng’s fervent playing abruptly stops because a chord is broken. He notices the presence of the marines, comes out of his home and tells them the truth about how he pleaded Li for war and how he had even risked his neck. All the marines are relieved and at the same time ashamed that they had believed those rumors. Deng assures them that he will not give up in urging for war.

Scene 14: At a shore: the fisherman’s daughter and her father are preparing their boat for fishing

A man, pretending to be a salesman, walks over to the boat and asks the fisherman and his daughter if they can give him a lift to Weihaiwei. The girl does not want to take him along, but when he offers a bar of silver the father pretends to accept. On sea, the man does not detail what he trades in, stating only he has “urgent business” in Weihaiwei (the Chinese naval base). The girl and her father head towards a Chinese warship. When the foreigner draws a pistol and threatens the girl and her father to drive into another direction, the girl quickly puts a basket over his head and pushes him into the sea. The soldiers on the Chinese warship realize the situation and jump into the sea to help her. They take off the basket and it becomes obvious that the man is no Chinese but a spy. Back on board of the Chinese warship (in fact, it is Deng Shichang’s), the captive spy with his artificial queue is identified by Deng Shichang immediately as Mr. Roper who had been on the meeting with Li Hongzhang to discuss the situation between China and Japan with the Powers. And he had been the one to advise the Chinese against “provoking” Japan. Even though he protests against his being taken into custody, Deng refuses to give in and later is presented a map by his men which the spy had carried with him.

Scene 15: On sea: Li Hongzhang is inspecting the Beiyang fleet

Li Hongzhang, Ding Ruchang and other officials on deck of a warship are watching the parade of the Beiyang navy. Every ship fires a salute. When it is Deng Shichang’s warship’s turn, no cannon can be heard. Li inquires whose ship this is and is not amused when hearing that it is Deng’s. Meanwhile, Deng Shichang hurries over to cannoneer Wang Guocheng and asks him why he is not firing. Wang Guocheng tells him he has already fired a couple of times, but there is no sound. The ammunition is not wet, has just arrived from Tianjin and he does not understand why it did not explode. Deng orders the ammunition to be split open and they realize it is only filled with sand!

Scene 16: On the Zhiyuan

Li Hongzhang wants to investigate in detail Deng’s warship Zhiyuan. Deng Shichang gives order to fire at their target which he named Yoshino to arouse fighting spirit in his soldiers. Li Hongzhang is not amused, again, because of Deng’s insubordinate temper. The firing, though, is successful and Li is pleased.

Scene 17: Li Hongzhang holds an assembly with his Beiyang commanders in his office

Li Hongzhang is giving an audience to his Beiyang commanders to review his inspection. He praises and rewards Deng for training his crew so well. But Liu Buchan and Fang Boqian remind him of the missing salute his ship had not fired. Li asks about the problem with the rear cannon and Deng informs him about the ammunition they got from Tianjin which was filled with sand. The American advisor of Li argues that the ammunition, provided by an American company, was of high quality and that this outcome was due to corruption on the Chinese side. Deng goes on to tell Li Hongzhang also that they have caught a Japanese spy - Mr. Roper - in the morning. The spy is brought in and argues he was really only doing “business”, and that his false queue was nothing but “respect for Chinese custom”, but Deng hands over the map Mr. Roper had with him, showing details of Chinese warships and defensive fortification. Deng and Ding Ruchang are of the opinion that Mr. Roper has to be punished, but the American advisor defends Mr. Roper, who is an American diplomat, suggesting he had been tricked, and the British advisor – claiming to be “neutral”, though showing by his mimicry he is not – assists him by saying that Mr. Roper used to be a Japanese citizen, but is now working for the American embassy. Therefore, according to the contracts and treaties, he should be dealt with by the American embassy. Otherwise this could lead to foreign retaliation. Li thinks about it and finally follows their suggestion. Deng wants to protest but Li dismisses him since he again dares to urge for war with another petition. Liu Buchan argues against Deng, whereas Ding Ruchang and several commanders offer up their positions in sympathy with Deng, but to no avail. Li warns that whoever would argue again for war would be executed.

Scene 18: On sea / back at Weihaiwei

The Japanese start attacking. The fisherman’s daughter and her father are fishing when their boat is hit by the Japanese. The girl is shot. The father holds his daughter in his arms and brings her back to the shore, where he is surrounded by fellow villagers. The girl’s brother and friend of Wang Guocheng is arriving to ask about what happened when Wang Guocheng as well joins the group. Finally, Deng Shichang arrives, takes the girl in his arms and she opens her eyes for the last time, calling his name. Now all hopes of “the people” rest on Deng Shichang to fight the Japanese, and they strongly urge him to do so.

Scene 19: Cixi gives an audience

Cixi declares in front of the top officials, including Li Hongzhang, that the court will declare war now. After the audience, though, Li is called to a private audience with Cixi.

Scene 20: Liu Buchan, Fang Boqian and others at a gambling table

Liu Buchan, Fang Boqian and others are sitting together with a woman at a table gambling. They argue that the skirmishes going on would not lead to full scale war. Even though war has been declared, in reality Li Hongzhang was still seeking peace. The question comes up why Li readmitted Deng Shichang, though, as a naval commander. Liu Buchan thinks this to be a trick by clever Li Hongzhang to respond to popular war sentiment.

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© 2007 Gotelind Müller-Saini