Saturday, July 28, 2018

Historical Context: Heshen

Heshen (和珅) was a prominent Qing official during the Qianlong era. He is known as the most corrupt official in Chinese history, accumulating a personal wealth that was equivalent to 15 years of the government's revenue.

Heshen was born to a Manchu military official. Both his parents died when he was young, leaving him and his brother, Helin (和琳), to be raised by their family's housekeeper, Liu Quan (劉全). Heshen attended a school for Manchu aristocrats, where he was an impressive student. By the age of 18, he was fluent in four languages and well-versed in the classical texts.

At the age of 22, Heshen entered the palace to serve as a palace guard. Shortly afterwards, he caught the attention of the Qianlong Emperor, and thereafter, began a meteoric rise through the ranks. Within a few years, he held high-ranking positions in all of the key departments, including the Imperial Household Departments, Ministry of Revenue, and Grand Council. He further secured power by marrying his son, Fengshen Yinde (豐紳殷德), to the Qianlong Emperor's youngest princess.

Initially, Heshen was an honest official who rejected gifts from people who wanted to bribe him. This was until he got his first taste of wealth when he was put in charge of investigating the corrupt official, Li Shiyao (李侍堯). After Li was arrested, Heshen secretly kept much of the confiscated assets for himself.

Henry Lo plays Heshen in Word Twisters' Adventure.
After the Li Shiyao case, Heshen's greed and ambitions grew. He began to accept bribes and form his own clique. Because he held so many high-ranking positions, he was able to eliminate his political opponents and insert his cronies into key positions. His corrupt network expanded throughout the bureaucracy and across the nation. They routinely siphoned money from public funds, including military and emergency relief funds. Heshen demanded bribes from government officials and turned the imperial examination system into an auction for government jobs. He also established a system where officials who were found guilty of corruption could buy their way out of punishment. It caused systematic, widespread corruption at all levels of government that lasted well past Heshen's time in power and contributed to the Qing Dynasty's decline.

Heshen lived a luxurious lifestyle. He had hundreds of women and servants living in his home. His mansion was comparable to the imperial palace, constructed using materials stolen from the palace and replicating its designs. He frequently hosted banquets and dined on delicacies with golden utensils. He owned a large amount of furniture, vases, art pieces, silk, clothing, animal hide, and other valuable possessions.

The Qianlong Emperor was well-aware of Heshen's corruption, but never sought to punish him. The emperor acquiesced to Heshen’s corrupt conduct because Heshen filled the palace’s coffers to pay for Qianlong’s extravagant spending and southern expeditions. Heshen was also good at flattery, attentive and knew how to cater to the elderly emperor’s tastes. For example, he spent time studying Qianlong’s poetic style and frequently discussed poetry with the emperor. Qianlong was very fond of Heshen’s literary talents.

A Connection With Nancy Wu?

As the Qianlong Emperor grew older, he often was not able to speak clearly and only Heshen could understand what he was saying. Thus, whenever he held court, he would order Heshen to stand next to him. Heshen would "listen" to what the emperor said and then issue edicts on his behalf. This earned Heshen the nickname as the "Second Emperor".

Upon Qianlong's death, the Jiaqing Emperor quickly stripped Heshen of his official titles and ordered for him to be arrested. He was declared guilty of 20 great sins and was sentenced to death by slow slicing. However, his daughter-in-law, the Tenth Princess, pleaded with Jiaqing to allow him to commit suicide. Jiaqing granted the request and Heshen hung himself at his home. His family was spared on account of their relationship with the Tenth Princess.

After his death, it was discovered that Heshen's personal wealth was worth between 800 to 1100 million taels of silver (compared to the government's annual revenue of only 70 million taels of silver). His net worth is estimated to be about $132 billion USD in today's dollars, putting him among the richest individuals in history.

Heshen's former mansion was granted to Jiaqing's 17th brother, Yonglin (Jonathan Cheung in Succession War), while the gardens were given to his 11th brother, Yongsing (David Do in Succession War). Later, the residence was given the Daoguang Emperor's sixth son, Prince Gong (KK Cheung in The Confidant). The mansion is now a museum in Beijing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Historical Context: Li Chengqi

Li Chengqi (李成器) was the eldest son of Emperor Ruizong. At the age of six, he was named crown prince when his father became emperor, but he was demoted from that position when his grandmother, Wu Zetian, became emperor.

Later, his brother, the future Emperor Xuanzong, staged a successful coup and restored their father, Ruizong, to the throne. As the eldest son, Li Chengqi was expected to be renamed as crown prince. However, he voluntarily yielded the position to Xuanzong. Initially, Ruizong was hesitant about this decision because under Confucian principles, the eldest son was the proper heir to the throne. However, Li pleaded with Ruizong, saying "During times of peace, the eldest son should come first, but during times of difficulties, those with merit should be chosen." Ruizong finally relented and named Xuanzong as crown prince. Li accepted a position as adviser to Xuanzong.

Li had a close relationship with Xuanzong, despite constant rumours that he could threaten Xuanzong's claim to the throne. For his part, Li remained humble and stayed out of political matters. Instead, he enjoyed studying music and the arts. He was known for his proficiency with music from different cultures and was particularly skilled at playing the flute and drums. As emperor, Xuanzong treated Li and their other brothers very well. He built mansions for them near the palace and often invited them to enjoy food, drinks and music together. As the years went on, their other brothers passed away one by one, and Li was Xuanzong's only surviving brother. Thus, Xuanzong valued him even more. He often sent gifts and food to Li and personally visited him on his birthdays.

Li died at the age of 63. Xuanzong greatly mourned him and posthumously named him as Emperor Rang (讓皇帝), meaning the "emperor who yielded", in recognition of his status as the proper heir.

Watch this clip from Deep in the Realm of Conscience which shows Li Chengqi's affinity for the arts and the yielding of the crown prince position to his brother. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Deep in the Realm of Conscience Thoughts

Producer: Mui Siu Ching
Genre: Historical
Cast: Steven Ma, Nancy Wu, Annie Liu, Kenneth Ma, Edwin Siu, Alice Chan, Chrissie Chau, Jacqueline Wong

  • This series tried to do too much. It started as a historical drama, became a detective series, and then turned to palace scheming, with a mixture of romance and failed comedy in between. The series had a large cast, which meant each also had their own story to add to the clutter. 
  • So much time was wasted on the useless story lines that the final face-off between the Emperor (Steven Ma) and Princess Taiping (Alice Chan) turned out to be a huge letdown. The whole climax was half-baked and poorly edited to fit within a span of less than one episode. 
  • The "scheming" in the series was predictable and overused. Anyone who has watched another palace series can guess what is coming next. 
  • I was expecting a lot more scheming between the four bureau heads. It was a waste of the veteran actresses they lured out of retirement for this series. 
  • The rhyming lines were ANNOYING. The effort to combine a serious historical drama with Can't Buy Me Love style humour was terrible. 
  • The lost sister plot was a big waste of time. The final revelation about the sister's murderer was a mere footnote and irrelevant at the end.
  • Have you ever seen a palace with so few people working there? Must have spent all the money on the costumes and sets. 
  • Speaking of work, the duties of the palace maids apparently consist of spying on guards bathing in the river, gossiping, and romancing. There is also no regard for palace rules. Servants and maids can enter whenever they please and speak out of turn without consequence. 
  • Annie Liu is the mandatory goody two-shoes character, which meant that I was automatically going to be annoyed with her, but her accent only made it worse. Why didn't they dub her lines? Annie does look gorgeous in ancient costume though. 
  • Alice Chan had a great presence that was befitting of a princess and trounced all the other women. But her character seemed to have faded into the background during the second half of the series. 
  • I like seeing new faces in TVB dramas, but there was no need to have Chrissie Chau play this concubine role. I was waiting for her character to turn evil, but she remained naive and dumb until the end. 
  • Steven Ma's performance is all about his subtleness. Watch those subtle changes in his facial expressions. It is acting at its finest. 
  • Nancy Wu and Edwin Siu both turned in solid performances, but they didn't really stand out. 
  • Kenneth Ma already seems like a boring person in real life, he does not do well with a boring character like this one. The romantic line between him and Jacqueline Wong was forced and should have been cut.
  • Savio Tsang deserves a mention for the excellent scene he did in jail before his execution. 
  • Hands down the most cringeworthy acting was by Andrew Yuen as the imperial physician. The scene where he was found guilty and pleading for his life was comically bad. 

Rating: 3/5. No sequel please!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Movie Challenge

I was recently challenged on Twitter to post my 10 favourite movies. Here were my choices (in order of posting):

1. Inception - the concept was mind-blowing and the film was a masterpiece by Christopher Nolan.

2. Inside Out - surprising how well Pixar was able to distill the inner workings of the mind into cute little characters.

3. Avengers: Infinity War - an epic culmination to a 10 year journey.

4. Wonder Woman - a kick-ass female superhero and one of my favourite movie quotes: "When it comes to procreation, men are essential, but for pleasure, not necessary."

5. The Imitation Game - a cool movie that got the gears in my mind turning.

6. Shaolin Soccer - my absolute favourite as a kid. Must have watched it 7+ times.

7. Love Undercover - one of the first films I watched of Miriam Yeung. Been a fan since.

8. Zootopia - spot-on commentary for today's society.

9. Gone Girl - an amazing thriller that takes many turns.

10. Eye in the Sky - it is breathlessly intense and Helen Mirren is phenomenal.

Honourable Mention: Black Panther - I would have included it, but I figured there was enough representation of superhero movies in my list. Still a stellar film.

What are your favourite movies?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Monday, July 09, 2018


Image result for timeless

Readers of this blog know that I love historical dramas. I even tolerate the "historical" dramas from TVB. I love historical dramas because it is a fun way to learn about history. TV puts a face to the characters in history, which makes it much more interesting to research and read about those same historical figures and events. Then I write Historical Context posts to share what I have learned.

Which brings me to one of my favourite American TV shows - Timeless. Timeless is a time-travelling adventure series where a team of heroes travels back in time to stop bad guys from changing history (they should really stop by TVB's studios first). Each episode features a new time period and new historical figure or event. Some of the historical characters we have met include George Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Marie Curie. But the writers don't just focus on well-known figures. They also shine a light on lesser known people who have made important contributions. Do you know who Alice Paul or Robert Johnson are? I didn't until they were featured in Timeless. What's more impressive is that the show has a real historian on set to ensure the history is accurate. The crew also go to great lengths to build realistic sets (for example, they rebuilt the Ford Theatre for an episode portraying the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) and find costumes that are appropriate for the time period.

Image result for timeless costumes

Sadly, NBC has cancelled Timeless twice in two years. After the first season, NBC cancelled the show, only to reverse its decision after huge fan outcry. But NBC cancelled it again after its second season and fans have been working tirelessly for weeks to save the show. They have tweeted, sent gifts and postcards to the networks, and even raised over $20,000 to fund a helicopter that will fly over the San Diego Comic-Con with a huge #SaveTimeless banner. Fan campaigns have successfully saved other cancelled shows before. Hopefully, it can save Timeless too.

Timeless is a rare show that is brilliant, educational, fun, and intriguing, all in one package. If you like history as much as I do, give it a try! And if you like the show, be sure to let the networks know! (Timeless fans have been focusing on tweeting Amazon Studios and the History Channel. I personally think the show is perfect for the History Channel.)

Sunday, July 08, 2018

6th Anniversary

Causal TVB turns 6! Yay!

When I first started this blog, I never thought about how long I wanted to keep this blog, how often I would post, or what I would really do with it. That is why I came up with the name Casual TVB. I wanted this blog to be a casual hobby. Six years later, I am incredibly proud of this blog. Even though the number of posts continue to drop (63 posts this year), I love how this blog connects me with other TVB fans. One of my favourite things is seeing comments from readers about their thoughts on a series or post. Knowing that there are still people out there that read my blog keeps my going. So keep reading, keep commenting, and I will keep blogging for as long as I can! Thank you again to all my wonderful readers.

P.S. I should have a few historical posts in the next few weeks.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Overview - Who Wants A Baby?

An unexpected pregnancy disrupts the plans of married couple, Ali Lee and Chris Lai. They initially hoped to rely on their mothers for help, but their mothers have opposite methods of raising the baby, resulting in frequent conflicts. The couple find themselves in a never-ending 24 hour cycle of taking care of their daughter. Due to the circumstances, they hire the expert postpartum caregiver, Griselda Yeung.

Because of the baby's arrival, Ali bid farewell to her career in fashion, while Chris must stay away from his nightly pastimes. In order to make more time for her daughter, Ali makes a career change and takes over a postnatal care agency. With Griselda's help, she comes into contact with many clients and caregivers, giving her a new understanding of being a mother. Meanwhile, she and Chris are drifting apart. She even suspects that he is having an affair with his colleague from the bar, Samantha Ko. Unexpectedly, Chris becomes an internet sensation after rescuing a child from an accident. The care agency instantly becomes a key influencer in the baby industry, which turns everything on its head...