The Jing Ke within
In the historic book, Jing Ke is depicted as a brave assassin who, in order to preserve his small country Yan, is sent to kill the ruler of the Qin kingdom, Ying Zheng, who goes on to become China's first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), which united the Middle Kingdom for the first time in history by conquering the smaller states. In the end, Jing Ke fails and is killed by Ying Zheng.
Focusing on the motive of Jing Ke's mission, Mo Yan chose to retell the story from a completely different perspective.
"The basic storyline is the same as we know from the historic book, but Jing Ke's motive … his process and his personality are given different interpretations," he said upon the play's premiere in 2011.
Under Mo's pen, Jing Ke is no longer the fearless warrior who doesn't hesitate to risk his life to kill the king of the Qin. Instead, he is thoughtful and even wishes to refuse the task when asked by the prince of Yan.
Moreover, in his preparation for the assassination, he is thrown into a hopeless spiritual predicament, becoming so worried about being unable to find a justifiable excuse for the assassination that he suffers severe insomnia.
Ultimately, it is Yan Ji - a beautiful woman that the prince of Yan gives Jing Ke as a reward for accepting the task - who finally inspires him to intentionally fail in the attempt since, as Yan Ji says in the play, "a successful assassination will be as cliché as two lovers who finally get together, but a failed assassination will turn common people into heroes."
As the interpretation about Jing Ke is totally new, so is his chivalry in the play. Mo has made it more accessible to modern people.
"We used to have a stereotyped impression about the group of knights-errant, like faithfulness, bravery, commitment and so on," said Mo, "but from the historic materials about them, they are not actually so principled."
"More often than not they promised to kill someone because they received benefits from others," he continued, "but they didn't know whether the men they killed were truly bad people, and furthermore, whether their motive to kill others was really to avenge their benefactors."
In Mo's words, knights-errant seem to be a special group, but they are closely related to modern people, in whatever circles.
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