Think Ming

Checking some of the subtitles for Arrow’s forthcoming Shaw Brothers box set, pausing to admire this lovely moment from Five Shaolin Masters, where a former rebel, chastised for becoming little more than a mountain bandit leader, sits in shame beneath a grand banner that calls for the downfall of the Manchus and the restoration of the Ming dynasty. The shot comes and goes in just two seconds.

As all you Chinese linguists will have surely noticed, the second character from the right is a deliberate mis-spelling of 清 Qing, leaving off the “master” radical from the name of the Manchus’ dynasty in a pointed political comment.

The film is packed with subtle call-backs to the Manchu invasion, and occasional references to Zheng Chenggong (Coxinga), the unseen resistance leader whose son continues to oppose the Manchus from off the coast of Fujian. The rebels in the film use the secret code 319 to signal their allegiances, a reference to the 19th day of the third lunar month in 1644, when the last Ming emperor took his own life.

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