Zhang Yongxin, the show’s director, told NewsChina the greatest challenges for the show’s creators was to maintain the balance between historical accuracy while portraying the characters’ personalities.
“Before these great figures engraved their names in history, they were ordinary people. They were like everyone else. So we tried our best to portray the characters more vividly, making them more human instead of just names in textbooks,” Zhang said.
Li Dazhao, who introduced Marxism to China, is portrayed as loving but flawed. “In a limited dramatic space, we tried to explore how he thinks and behaves as an ordinary husband and a flawed father. It’s this texture that draws the audience closer. These realistic details help the audience better understand why and how he made his choices. He was a real man made of flesh and blood, not a symbol or a concept in a textbook,” Zhang said.
The show portrays Hu Shih, an important intellectual and leader of China’s New Culture Movement, not only as a charismatic professor but also a henpecked husband. Chen Duxiu, the major leader of the New Cultural Movement and one of the founders of CPC, is an ordinary father frustrated by his relationship with his sons.
Many viewers praised the show for its imaginative depictions of Lu Xun, a leading figure in Chinese modern literature revered as the voice of a nation’s conscience, by blending historical events with plot points from the writer’s fiction.
“Since we were dealing with historical figures who were extremely sophisticated and complicated, such as Lu Xun, our production team went to great lengths to explore an innovative and appropriate narrative to give contemporary audience a deeper understanding of and also take stronger interest in these characters,” Zhang said.
The show introduces Lu during a public beheading of young revolutionaries. The scene draws inspiration from the writer’s satirical essay “Medicine” (1922), a fictional story about a rumor that buns soaked in the blood of revolutionary martyrs could cure any ailment.
The drama pays homage to Lu’s essay by mixing his fiction into the plot: Lu sits outsides a teahouse with a newspaper and silently observes as onlookers rush to collect the blood of the beheaded revolutionaries.
“Lu’s first scene reveals what the writer strove to convey throughout his career in a few minutes,” Douban user “Valda’s Balloon” commented.
Long Pingping, the show’s screenwriter, is a CPC history scholar known for his work on period dramas Nos Années Françaises (2004) and Deng Xiaoping in Big Changes (2014). Before starting on The Age of Awakening, Long conducted exhaustive research on more than 100 historical figures.
“I took pains to find source materials on the Chen brothers. They were just teenagers at the time,” Long said in an interview with CCTV in July. “So I resorted to living history – I consulted with many experts in CPC history. I also retraced the steps of the Chen brothers and visited all the places they’d been,” he said.