Written around 1937 on the eve of China's full-scale war of resistance against Japanese invasion, the short story The Perishment of Zuo Baogui 左寶貴死難記 is intended to boost the morale of the Chinese people to endure the imminent war. The scenario of the story -- the defence of the walled city of Pyongyang on 15 September 1894 -- is most appropriate because the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 甲午戰爭 marks the beginning of modern Japan's military aggression against China, an aggression that lasted for fifty years until 1945. The war of resistance against Japanese invasion of 1937-1945 is but a continuation of the war forty years earlier.

As a sentimental dramatisation of the defence of Pyongyang, the short story is not a factual rendition of history. The following table highlights some discrepancies between fiction and facts.

Fiction Fact
Japan sent 80,000 soldiers to attack Pyongyang. The attacking Japanese numbered 12,000 all told; China had 14,000 soldiers in defence.
Zuo's forces were defending Wanshan hill 萬山 in the south of the city. Zuo's forces were defending Xuanwu Gate 玄武門, the northern entrance to the city, situated on Mudantai hill 牡丹台.
The Japanese general captured Zuo and gave him an opportunity to be released. Zuo refused and was tortured to his demise. Zuo was hit by Japanese shots while commanding his forces from the top of the city wall. He collapsed and perished only after descending from the wall. He was not captured by the enemy.

The Chinese government posthumously bestowed honour on Zuo and his family in recognition of his performance in the defence of Pyongyang.

The Gardener first learnt of this short story while listening to its radio dramatisation on Rediffusion Radio (麗的呼聲) in Hong Kong in the early 1960s. Ever since then I have been trying to find the original text which the radio play was based on. An occurrence of sheer luck let me discover the text while working on Chinese books a few years ago. That is a lapse of over three decades.

Reference: Zheng, Xuejia. Riben shi, v. 4 (Taipei: Li ming wen hua shi ye gu fen you xian gong si, 1977)


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From the Gardener, Canada, September 2005. Revised October 2016.