Jia Sidao is a Song Dynasty loyalist. He grew up poor and only rose to power because his sister, Mei Lin, was the emperor's favorite concubine. He is a major antagonist of the TV Series, Marco Polo, serving as the main antagonist in Season 1 and a posthumous antagonist in Season 2.
Appearance and Character
Jia Sidao is a cold, ruthless, and dangerously practical man with a slim build and hair pulled up into a bun atop his head, as was the style of members of the imperial court. Clean shaven and fastidious, Sidao placed much importance on his own personal appearance, those of the people around him, and of his living quarters, which was adorned with beautiful and expensive porcelain pieces. He went to extreme measures, including murdering members of his own court, to ensure the survival of the Song Dynasty and to maintain and expand his own personal power and influence. He continuously used his sister, Mei Lin, the favored concubine of the aging emperor, as a tool to secure and maintain power; a fact that was seemingly so well known, that Ahmad, Minister of Finances to Kublai Khan, tells Mei Lin that he knew Sidao had "crawled up and into the Imperial Court through the wet spot" in her bed.
At some point prior to the events of the first season, Sidao became a highly accomplished practitioner of Northern Praying Mantis-style kung fu, then an extremely rare and relatively "modern" form of martial arts which was invented during the late Ming dynasty by a kung fu master who wished to create an entirely new form of martial arts that would be highly effective all on its own. It emphasized fast, accurate strikes upon critical points of an opponents body, and waiting for the perfect moment to attack in order to maximize the damage inflicted. Praying mantises in the wild will camouflage themselves so as to ambush unsuspecting prey, which can sometimes be larger and physically stronger than themselves—much like Sidao's tactics when fighting in hand-to-hand combat, and in his ingenious use of hidden traps against the invading Mongols at the battle of Wu Cheng and at the attack on the wall of Xianyang.
His dedication to the obscure style either led to, or was the result of his obsession with keeping and observing the behavior of his pet mantids, as well as his hobby of training them to fight each other. He admired the patience and aggressive brutality displayed by both the insect and the martial art based on it. He was extremely proud of his prowess in this style and sadistically relished the opportunity to showcase it, arrogantly seeming to believe that he was the only person who had managed to master it. During his final battle with Hundred Eyes, Sidao appears to be shocked and enraged when the blind man assumes the praying mantis stance and begins to use Sidao's trademark style against him.
Little is known of Sidao's childhood other than the fact that he and Mei Lin grew up in extreme poverty and were apparently orphans, though their parents were both alive for enough of their childhoods that Mei Lin, the younger sibling, remembers their mother and father saying that Sidao had always seemed unintelligent to them; something that Mei Lin frequently reminded her brother of as a way of belittling and chastising him, despite Sidao being the elder male sibling, which would traditionally command respect.
The dynamic between Sidao and his sister as adults during the events of the first season seems to be a mirror opposite of their childhood relationship. As children, Mei Lin was the dominant sibling, controlling what little money they had—which she earned herself by working as a child prostitute out of their dilapidated shack—and was verbally abusive towards Sidao, often ordering him around, treating him as a nuisance and a burden, and insulting him for being apparently slow-witted. When a client would come to see her, she would demand that Sidao hide in a crawl space beneath the shack's floor boards, where Sidao would silently watch as strange older men had pedophiliac sex with his younger sister. In Sidao's flashback of these events, it's revealed that one of Mei Lin's clients, an unnamed man whose face is obscured, affectionately calls her his "Sunflower" before paying her and leaving—the same nickname Sidao later gives to Mei Lin's daughter, Ling-Ling.
He also clearly associates Jing Fei with his sister at that point in their lives (and with prostitution in general) and initially resents her for it, though initially does nothing to change her appearance or behavior so as not to remind him of Mei Lin. Jing Fei even wears makeup on her lips and face much like Mei Lin did as a child prostitute (possibly by Sidao's request), which Sidao only eventually wipes off after realizing he was in love with Jing Fei and no longer saw her as a "whore", but as a woman worthy of his admiration.
Sidao's undisguised hatred of prostitutes as an adult was the result of the childhood trauma of being made to watch his sister have sex with pedophiles for money—which he seemed to find both disgusting as well as possibly arousing, much to his own horror—but then also having to depend on her and the money she made to survive. This would explain why, after using his sister to become familiar with influential Chinese nobles and rise through the ranks of the Imperial Court, Sidao apparently went through an extreme change in personality, going from a shy, simple-minded street urchin to a confident, powerful politician and martial arts fighter. While it's never revealed how he came to study Northern Praying Mantis-style kung fu, it seems logical that his obsessions with praying mantises, fine porcelain, and his personal appearance developed at least in part as a result of his relatively rapid ascension into the upper classes of society, as only very wealthy people could typically afford to own things such as exotic pets or porcelain, and such belongings would be seen as symbols of wealth, status, and refinement.
After eventually gaining success as a young politician, instead of thanking Mei Lin for assisting him with her nightmarish work as a prostitute, Sidao seemingly allows himself to openly degrade and resent his sister, who by then has become the favorite consort of the Chinese Emperor (Ling-Ling's father). It's implied that after living parasitically under Mei Lin and being subjected to her cruel treatment for so many years, Sidao begins to yearn for payback against his sister for all the times she humiliated and abused him. He very frequently brings up the subject of Mei Lin's scandalous past and her sordid position as the Emperor's infamous consort and unwed mother of his bastard daughter purely to insult her, or sometimes as a form of manipulation.
Based on his dismissive, yet extremely uncomfortable reaction to Jing Fei's advances as a grown adult, where he coldly rejects her outright after having a brief flashback of Mei Lin wearing similar makeup as a child prostitute, it would seem that Sidao was so deeply disturbed by the events of his childhood that he became celibate. Even after it becomes obvious that he is in love with Jing Fei and finds her incredibly attractive, he resists the urge to become physically intimate with her and is never shown to have a sexual relationship with anyone.
Episode 1 - "The Wayfarer"
Sidao makes his first appearance when he is summoned to the Song Dynasty's Emperor's bedside by his consort, Empress Dowager Xie who has requested to known the current status quo of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty and the Song Dynasty relations. Sidao informs her that the Mongol forces continue to advance but swear that he will never surrender the Song Dynasty, much to the displeasure of the Empress who prefers a more subtle and peaceful approach to preserve the Song Dynasty. After this Sidao begins to observe his pet Mantis, a hobby of which he enjoys, bragging about how his Mantis is so great, he discusses with his general about the Emperor's health, determining that the Song Dynasty will be run more efficiently once he is dead, he then informs him that his sister is currently "improving diplomatic ties" with the Governor of Suzhou.
Episode 2 - "The Wolf and the Deer"
Sidao visits his sister and his niece in which he brings her a gift and tells her to go show the children while she discusses with his sister that the Emperor has requested her presence. They briefly discuss how Sidao will defeat Kublai Khan, something to which his sister deems a fantasy and that the "Gods are merely sparing the him of a far worse vision". Sidao rebukes her, claiming that that songs will once be sung of him long after his death.
Sidao is seen again, enjoying his personal hobby of observing and making his pet Mantis's fight. He is seen with the Governor of Suzhuo as the two of them make their pet Mantis's fight and discuss about Ariq's agreement to open the Silk Road to the Song upon his election to the Khan. Sidao requests his support to strengthen the ties with him, he is then summoned to the Emperor's bedside whom has passed away, he offers his condolences to the Empress who has become regent to the Emperor's son, Emperor Zhao Xian. He informs her that the Mongol forces were driven back from Wuchan and that the Song Dynasty will never be surrendered to them, an unmoved Empress rebuffs him, deeming that he thirsts for war. Following the Emperor's death, Sidao allows soldiers to pleasure themselves with his sister but she refuses and kills them however she is apprehended and taking to Sidao. He informs her that she will be traveling to Cambulac as a defector to which she will become a personal consort of Kublai Khan to spy on him, he later tells her that he will personally care for her daughter in her absence, his sister mocks him before going, informing him of the gossip regarding his nickname called "The Cricket Minister", a mockery to his hobby of observing and making his Pet Mantis's fight.
Episode 3 - "Feast"
After being informed that gossip about him has been circulating amongst the population, with people referring to him as 'The Cricket Minister' and suggesting that he isn't capable of leading an effective army because of his reputation as a bureaucratic politician, Sidao musters all of the city's troops for a personal inspection in a training field. He questions the general about his warriors, asking which man is the strongest fighter, overall. The general responds saying that a very large, muscular man called Whirlwind Tiger is the best, having mastered all five of the traditional Animal Styes of Chinese martial arts—Crane, Snake, Leopard, Dragon, and Tiger. Sidao asks Whirlwind Tiger what rumors he's heard about himself being said amongst his fellow soldiers. Whirlwind Tiger hesitantly admits that "some of the men find the Chancellor's 'insect games' to be a 'curious hobby'", but politely insists that Sidao is nonetheless respected, and that it was just a fleeting bit of gossip he'd overheard. Sidao seems slightly irritated upon hearing this, but remains calm, challenging Whirlwind Tiger to a unarmed, hand-to-hand duel, proclaiming that if Whirlwind Tiger can defeat him, he'll be promoted to a luxurious position as a general, but if he loses, he will become Sidao's lowly chamber servant for life.
Having no choice but to accept the unusual challenge, Whirlwind Tiger agrees, removing his weapons and armor and preparing to fight the much smaller man, obviously confused and concerned about accidentally injuring Sidao. He begins to attack Sidao with lunging, Tiger-style techniques, but Sidao effortlessly blocks and dodges him, and within minutes delivers a series of fast, precise blows that leave the soldier stunned and incapacitated at his knees. Despite having clearly defeated Whirlwind Tiger, Sidao then wordlessly kills him in cold blood by breaking his neck, to the utter astonishment of the crowd.
Sidao briefly mocks Whirlwind Tiger, saying that his own Praying Mantis style of kung fu must be more than just a 'curious little hobby' to have so easily defeated such a highly decorated warrior, leaving behind the dead body for his terrified and humiliated soldiers to dispose of.
Episode 4 - "The Fourth Step"
Sidao continues to care for his niece in her mothers absence, assuring her that her mother will return for her soon. The Empress conveys her suspicion as to where his sister is, the two of them discuss her former work as a prostitute with the Empress asking as to why she has left, Sidao however rebuffs her by claiming he is not his sister's protector and does not have to provide for her, Sidao and the Empress briefly argue with Sidao claiming that if the Emperor could "eat flowers and keep the Mongol's in check.
He would gladly serve him a garden". Unbeknownst to Sidao, the Empress had negotiated with the Mongols on peace terms, while watching one of his personal favourite Concubines dance, one to whom he has a sexual attraction to yet remains celibate, he is delivered a dispatch. Sidao then departs to visit the Empress upon learning of her peace negotiations with the Mongol's, he discloses his disappointment, demanding to know what she has done.
The Empress informs him that he no longer holds a place in the Royal Court but an unmoved Sidao rebukes her, claiming she has no authority over him, she counters him by stating that her ambassadors had been sent to secure peace with the Mongols and upon their return, she will hold absolute authority. Sidao however is unmoved and simply subsdies her statement by claiming the Song will not agree to such a treaty with the Mongols however the Empress assures him that the Council will embrace peace if offered and that the people of China will do the Emperor's bidding, as well as the Chancellor, claiming he is no different.
Sidao then visits his niece and tells her that her mother had sent him a message that was too late and trivial but that he turned her mothers failure to his favour. Sidao then arranges for the Mongol-Song negotiatins to be sabotaged by having Song forces ambushed and killed by Song dressed Mongol forces, meanwhile he then begins to discuss with his niece about a small story before breaking her foot and telling her to be calm as part of a body enhancement to which his sister use to do to hin.
-Historically, Jia Sidao (Chinese: 賈似道, 1213-1275) was, in fact, a chancellor of the Song Dynasty of China. Much like his portrayal in "Marco Polo", Sidao's rise to power was largely due to his sister's position as a concubine to Emperor Lizong. He was known for corruption and incompetence and, as shown in the television show, did not enjoy the confidence or support of the Dowager Empress Xie. After increasingly punitive decrees made against him by the Dowager Empress, Sidao met his end at the hands of a court-designated official charged with his custody. (Wikipedia: Jia Sidao)