The other side of history

By Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-19 20:28:01

TV series takes objective look at Chinese civil war

A scene from All Quiet in Peking Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Ruyi Xinxin Publishing Co., Ltd.

It is very rare to see a TV series focusing on modern history, especially the War for Liberation in the late 1940s, gain a 9.1 on media review site, but TV drama All Quiet in Peking, which started on October 6, has managed to pull it off.

Differing from some over-the-top war dramas that have aired in China in recent years, All Quiet in Peking has been widely praised for its interesting stories and accuracy when it comes to historical details. Although not extremely popular when it first started, the drama has become a huge success among audiences in China who have completed higher education.

The cast includes a number of best actor winners, such as Golden Horse Award and Golden Rooster Award winner Liu Ye (starring as Fang Meng'ao), Feitian Award winner Chen Baoguo (starring as Xu Tieying) and 2014's Silver Bear winner Liao Fan.

The sensitive nature of the time period in which the story unfolds made production of the show extremely difficult. Over the past seven years seven production companies have signed on to produce the show only to back out, while several high-profile directors who were invited to lead the project ended up walking away.

The show's scriptwriter and producer, Liu Heping, has been seen as the cornerstone to the show's success. Shi Hang, the scriptwriter involved in the first season of the historical drama The Bronze Teeth, praised Liu for his artful adaptation of historical material.

"A drama with such a complicated structure requires extreme attention to detail, not just when it comes to policies and history, but also when it comes to capturing the personalities of all these characters. Liu has proved himself up the task, maintaining a certain amount of creative freedom while basing everything on historical fact. This is something that is very difficult for a screenwriter," Shi said.

Fair and impartial

Liu is also a successful author, in fact the All Quiet in Peking, is actually based on his novel of the same name. A lover of historical fiction, Liu explained that his work requires a special respect for history. In his mind, when people begin to ignore the reality of history, they deny themselves a future. As such he has taken great pains to be objective when it comes to looking at the civil war that took place between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist forces during the 1940s.

In an interview with the Oriental Morning Post, Liu showed his confidence that Taiwanese audiences would also be able to accept the drama, as he feels that it is fair and objective when it comes to its portrayal of the KMT. "My wish is to produce something that Chinese people around the world can approve of."

"My conception of history is fair. And my audiences and readers are not stupid. My books sell well in Taiwan and are recommended by many celebrities and the media there. If you're fair, your books will definitely be accepted," Liu told the Global Times, explaining the only difference between the Chinese mainland and the Taiwan version of the novel All Quiet in Bejiing is that the traditional Chinese version hasn't been published yet.

One of the more attractive aspects of All Quiet in Peking is that the story is not portrayed as a conflict between good and evil, but as a game between idealists with different ways of looking at things. Some main roles, such as Fang Meng'ao, Zeng Keda and even Liang Jinglun, all have their own dreams for the nation and the people but are equally bound by the limitations of reality. As the story progresses we can see how people in both the Communist Party and the KMT worked hard for China and what happened to prevent them from reaching their goals.

The 'last dynasty'

The TV dramas focused on the final phase of the War for Liberation in 1948-49 in Beijing, as an anti-corruption movement against civil officials and financial officers sweeps the city. Lacking any armed conflict, it was both a battle for control of the national economy and hearts of the people. In the end, the KMT brought the gold and money they collected during the currency reform in 1948 with them as they retreated to Taiwan.

This focus on anti-corruption is not only seen in All Quiet in Peking, Liu's previous script work for the series, The Ming Dynasty - 1566, also has quite a few plots focusing on anti-corruption.

"I can only say that I tend to stand on the same side that a majority of people do. I hate groups who use their power to profit themselves. It's part of my view on life, so you see it in almost all my scripts," said Liu.

Liu explained that the title All Quiet in Peking refers to the lack of open conflict in Beijing at the time. However, he mentioned that he originally wanted to call the show "The Last Dynasty," so it could become the third part of a trilogy along with 2007's  The Ming Dynasty - 1566 and 1997's The Yongzheng Dynasty. In the end, for a number of reasons, including taking the reaction of the censors into account, he decided to go with its current title.

Censorship was once believed to be one of the main reasons why the show took so long to make it to TV screens, but according to Liu, although the production company was given a 15-page document containing suggested changes, none of them were about main story lines.  

Different sides of the same story

Going hand in hand with the TV show, the novel version of All Quiet in Peking was also released in the beginning of October.

"There's more content in the book than the TV show, and includes parts that weren't suitable for the TV series and things that were cut for time… The book contains more background history and can look into the thought process of characters," Liu explained, comparing the two versions to each other.

Shi Hang strongly recommended both the TV series and the novel to the Global Times. He suggested that readers not be in too much of a hurry when reading the book, and that the book was actually a much better read after watching the TV series.

Liu explained he began writing the book at the same time he began producing the series, and that he sees them both as supporting each other in order to help people understand the time period.

Not only does the book support the show and vice versa, Liu feels that multiple viewings of the show is also worthwhile. "Chinese culture emphasizes that things should have a certain aftertaste. This drama can be watched two, three or even more times than that. I've tried to make it so that audiences get that experience of watching something for the first time when they watch the show again," explained Liu.

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