As I work my way through this show, I am becoming more aware that I am hampered in understanding the plot by not knowing where everything is. Did anyone else assume at first that Xiling is near the capital city? I decided to figure it out.
Pretty early on Ning Que gives us a little grounding. He says that he belongs to the Tang army and adds, “There is Yan State in the north, Southern Jin State in the south, and the Full Moon State in the West.” These are real places (well maybe except for Full Moon) and they keep coming up, so we need to remember them!
The Tang Empire
Not being that familiar with China, I wondered where the Tang Empire was exactly. I discovered they ruled from 618 to 907 A.D. and had control from the border with North Korea down the coast to the border of Viet Nam, and to the west past Chengdu. There was also a narrow corridor between mountain ranges from Lanzhou going west where that long province colored white is, clear out to a large desert basin ending at Kashgar in the west. This is the path of the Silk Road, a famous trade route to Europe.
Changan, the capital city, was right in the middle of the country where Xi’an is now. It was the eastern end of the Silk Road and located on the Wei River, which flows from the Min Mountains in the west to the Yellow River. Here the Emperor discusses sending Academy students to Yan.
Xiling turns out to be at Yichang, 280 miles southeast of Changan, on the Yangtze River. This is a mountainous area, with the Xiling Gorge being one of three deep gorges cut by the river. There is a Mt. Xiling and an old town of Xiling as well. There is also a big shrine, but it is on the banks of the river rather than on top of the mountain.
The Tang Academy seems to be outside of Changan in the edge of the mountains and yet close enough that the characters are able to walk there. In the historical Changan there were several prestigious colleges but they were all located together in the center of the city.
Wei is the border town where Ning Que is stationed at the beginning of the story. It is described as being on the edge of the desert, with the Min Mountains lying between it and Changan. This is a little difficult to identify, as I could only find an ancient State of Wei with a Wei city near Beijing, which is pretty far from the Min Mountains. But there is a city called Wuwei which is northwest of Lanzhou on the Silk Road. It is just inside the Great Wall, and the Gobi Desert is to the north of it. It is 430 miles from Changan. Who knows if the story stays true to the map?
The Desert is the first place we are dropped into when the story starts. There is a lot of desert in China. The Gobi Desert lies in southern Mongolia and extends outward into China in all directions except the eastern part of Inner Mongolia, the long pale orange province on the map. The Taklimakan desert runs from south of Turpan out to Kashgar.
The Min Mountains are a rugged mountain range running north to south from Lanzhou down west of Chengdu to the Yangtze River. Ning Que guided Princess Li Yu through here, and he and Sang Sang hid out here for several years before he joined the army. When the Demon Sect comes from the far north to retake their old home in the grasslands, the song in the background talks about the Min Mountains.
The Grasslands lie in a long loop from the eastern half of Inner Mongolia, which belonged to Yan, westward south of the Gobi desert, and through Turpan and Urumqi. They also extend south around the Min Mountains.
Other Nations in the Story
The Golden Horde is mentioned as being between the Tang Empire and the northern wilderness. This clearly refers to the Mongols, but they weren’t called that until the 13th century. The northern wilderness could either be the northern Mongolian mountains or Siberia. Princess Li Yu was married to their king, called the Khagan, a title used by Mongol kings since the fourth century.
Yan State was centered around Beijing (560 miles from Changan) which was then called Ji, and included eastern Inner Mongolia and the area up to the border with North Korea. It was independent from about 1000 B.C. to 222 B.C. and intermittently after that (Former Yan in 337-370 and Later Yan in 384-409 A.D.) in between being conquered by more powerful dynasties. In 755 a Tang general who was stationed there rebelled and declared himself emperor of a new Great Yan which lasted seven years.
Southern Jin State is not a name usually used, but the Jin Dynasty (266-316 A.D.) ruled most of China with Changan as the capital, until an invasion caused the ruling class to retreat east to Nanjing (590 miles from Changan). There they lasted from 317-420 and were known as the Eastern Jin. They were south of Yan, anyway.
Full Moon State is one place I haven’t figured out yet, but it is supposed to be west of Tang. If you know anything about it, please let me know!
We hope this helps you all understand who everyone is and where they go in the story. Follow along with us in the podcast and enjoy it with us!
Dramas With a Side of Kimchi