Choukakou, which is also known as Chang Ge Xing, Chang Ge’s Journey, or Song of the Long March, is an ongoing manhua (Chinese comic) series by Xia Da. Volume two collects issues five through eleven.
Princess Li Chang Ge fled her uncle’s (Tang emperor Taizong) ruthless purge of Li Chang Ge’s immediate family. Posing as a young man of noble birth, she has wormed her way into the inner circle of Gong Sun Heng, Governor of Shuo.
Chang Ge’s plans to kill the Emperor are on hold for the moment. She and the whole of Shou have far more immediate problems:
The Eastern Turkic Khaganate nomads see the Empire as their natural prey. Shou lies on the border with the Khaganate and it is the first to suffer when the nomads become greedy.
An army under the command of the ruthless Sun Ashina has camped near the Shou capital city. Thanks to Chang Ge’s cunning strategems, initial attempts to take the city have failed. But Shou’s forces are still outnumbered and the governor’s pleas for reinforcements have fallen on deaf ears.
The Empire is not being needlessly indifferent to Shou’s plight. The emperor realizes that the forays into Shou are a ruse to draw Imperial forces away from the capital, Chang’an. Once the Chinese armies have marched to Shou, the Khaganate’s main army will march to Chang’an and bring down the Empire. The Emperor declines to rise to the bait. The Khaganate sends its main army towards the capital regardless.
Sun Ashina has hesitated to move decisively against Shou because he has been asked to hold until the Empire has taken the bait and sent its armies to Shou. Once the Khaganate main army is committed, there is no longer any reason for Sun to delay. Shou cannot hope for aid from the Empire proper. The emperor has clearly decided that sacrificing one province is better than losing all.
It’s up to Gong Sun Heng and Li Chang Ge to save the day. A seemingly impossible task.
It is impossible. Shou falls to the Khaganate.
If I had known more about Chinese history, Shou’s fall would not have come as a surprise.
The art in this manhua is eye-candy; settings are enticing and most of the characters are well-drawn. I was particularly taken with the Tang hairstyles. Westerners seem to favour close cropped hair for soldiers. The characters in Choukakou get their murder on while sporting hairstyles that would make Rapunzel jealous.
No recorded histories feature a bold princess hanging out on the borders of the empire while plotting the death of the emperor. We might pigeonhole this as alternate history were it not for the venerable martial artist who can paralyze people with one touch. Fantasy then. Works for me.
There’s lots of palace opera in this series: plotting. backstabbing, revenge. There do not seem to any schemers inflicting pain from Iago-esque malevolence. Each character believes they have some compelling goal beyond immediate personal advantage. The Emperor murdered his brothers because they were planning to murder him and because he thought he would be a better ruler. He abandoned Shou to save the Empire. Sun Ashina kills every slave woman sent to his army because past experience suggests that they’re spies. Not that working for the greater good prevents any of the characters from massacring the innocent.
The closest the series has to a villain, a person aimed solely at personal satisfaction, is Princess Li Change Ge herself. Her one goal is killing the man who had her family killed, regardless of consequences (to herself or to the Empire). At least in this volume, she seems far from achieving her aims. That makes for an odd reading experience. What is one to make of a protagonist who is a revenge-obsessed killer?
Nonetheless, this was a fun enough read that I’ll be looking for more installments of the series.
Choukakou, Volume Two is available here (Amazon). If it is available from Chapters-Indigo, their search engine successfully hid that fact from me.