Recently stumbled upon the movie “Fall of Ming” whilst browsing Reddit. It’s a relatively obscure film that many people don’t know about, as it came out in 2013, within the middle of the Tiny Times (a horrible movie series) craze. What surprised me the most about this movie, was the accuracy of it’s portrayal of the Ming period, be it fashion or setting. There is some cheesiness in the movies, probably due to budgeting with poor CGI or having to play around censors. Still, in all the movie was definitely well done and enjoyable. Also since this was a movie sanctioned by the Chinese state, it surprisingly was able to escape censors, despite underlying critical themes.
Critics have lauded the movie as some sort of anti-communist party allegory, in regards to how the CCP was losing control of China, in the same way the Ming. But for me, the film hit a much deeper place. The film was able to critique Chinese society through a plethora of light symbolism, in which the real ailment of society that the doctor, Wu Youke, was trying to cure was society itself.
Sun Chuanting, the fielder marshal, was portrayed well Leon Dai and authoritatively carried on the theme of late Ming period’s many patriotic generals fighting against the odds. He alluded similarly to other generals of the period such as Yuan Chonghuan, who constantly had to battle the pressures of the Ming government, while utilising limited resources. The tragedy of Sun’s story lies within the the opposition he received from within his own camp. As much of the battle was already before it was fought. The rampant corruption and greed of the nobility and gentry classes of the late Ming, as well as their disconnection with reality is similar in regard to the rich of China today.
The Battle of Tong Pass has been remade numerous times, with different factions, under different names. Being the central background focus of the story within the movie, this foundational theme, retells how once again blood was shed for so called leaders of the people. Like, Cao Cao or Zhu Yuanzhang (founder of the Ming), every populist leader manipulated the lower classes China to consolidate their rules over China. Li Zicheng is no different in this regard, as he was a peasant leader that later briefly reigned as Emperor. Li was a favourite of Mao Zedong, he is generally represented by the communist state as one who rebelled against the feudal yoke, with his imperial ambitions generally ignored. This is pretty similar to how Mao’s life has been whitewashed into one of revolutionary integrity, whilst his actual ruthlessness is not mentioned at all within Chinese schools.
Even to this day, rampant corruption still runs within the blood of the CCP. Where the taxes and blood money of the peasants are wrongfully squandered by the rich and ruling classes of China. Except the difference now is that many are escaping altogether after polluting and exhausting the resources of their homeland. Leaving the the poor once again in a series of turmoil, with the desertification and lack of water in much of the Chinese region. The bleakness of our current day can be rightfully be compared of those with the late Ming.
The film’s showed that ignorance played a large part in the Fall of Ming. As like all dynasties, the cycle continues with a rise and fall but the underlying people’s ignorance of reality persisted in all of them. For example, even though Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Hongwu (the first Ming Emperor), tried to lay down foundations in combating eunuchs, eunuchs still rose later on. The doctor Zhao, despite all his years of experience and learning, was unable to adapt to change, much like how the people in China of today rarely use the skills they have learned. As innovators like Wu, were pushed away until it was too late. Is this not reminiscent of the factions of the late Qing? Where despite all of Li Hongzhang’s actions in the Self-Strengthening movements of westernisation and innovation were hindered by the anti-foreign faction of Empress Dowager Cixi. A few decades later the Qing fell, after losing suzerainty of Korea, whilst ceding Taiwan, leaving a legacy of being the ‘sick man of Asia’.
Of course, the Fall of Ming, is just another part of the narrative of the tragic benevolent man in Chinese history. Previously, even mythological stories such as Journey to the West have symbolised these issues, in which a hard working Wukong rarely received praise from Tang Xuanzang (the monk) despite doing most of the heavy lifting. In turn, Zhu Bajie (The Pig) received much praise and leniency, due to his sly and conniving nature. As the book Journey to the West, was also written during the Ming. The author, Wu Cheng’en, was also disillusioned by the corruption within the Ming court and society. Yet, even though, Journey to the West is one of China’s Four Great Classics, history still repeats with the same stories of the straightforward monkey being eclipsed by the social climbing pig.
Here’s the complete movie with English subtitles, however, beware the subtitles are sometimes not entirely accurate, as well as the names have been translated to Vietnamese.