EPISODE 54

Episode 54 – 

 

(Karen)

Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are Karen and Cathy, your hosts for this podcast. Our website Chasingdramas.com is now live with info on the podcast so please check it out. Please let us know if you have any feedback on our website or email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com

 

We’ve been zooming through the last couple of episodes in an effort to get to the more interesting episodes but now we have to slow down. Today we are going to be discussing Episode 54 of Empresses in the Palace 后宫甄嬛传. 

 

This episode revolves around our main character 甄嬛’s plans to get back into the imperial palace as a concubine of the Emperor. Her main motivations are to 1) provide much needed medical attention for her ailing father who was exiled to 宁古塔, and 2) to provide a title for her child who is the child of her lover, the 17th prince. She can only do this as a concubine in the palace because, as we found out last episode, the 17th prince has heartbreakingly passed away. To solve for her immediate problems, 甄嬛 planned for the Emperor to come see her in an effort to trick him into thinking he’s the father of her unborn child. 

 

(Cathy)

With all that planning in episode 53, the efforts pay off. 苏培盛, the emperor’s head eunuch, comes to visit 甄嬛 after she successfully lured the emperor to visit her at the nunnery. The emperor was so moved by her current state that they immediately closed the doors and had an intimate moment. 

 

It’s been about a month since the emperor’s first visit. Apparently, he’s been over a lot. The eunuch 苏培盛 arrives to present some gifts etc and 甄嬛 puts on a show of pregnancy symptoms. 苏培盛 doesn’t miss a beat and realizes she is pregnant. He is very pleased because obviously, he thinks it’s the emperor’s. He says they must have 甄嬛 come back to the palace because her child has to be documented in the family tree book or 宗室玉蝶。 We’ll talk about this in the analysis. He plans with 甄嬛 and her maids to ask the imperial doctor 温实初 to come care for her pregnancy because the emperor trusts his abilities and because 甄嬛 knows 温实初。

 

I’m surprised no one’s found out about 甄嬛’s relationship to 温实处 already..

 

甄嬛 has many reasons for keeping this pregnancy a secret at the moment but the one she gives to 苏培盛 is that her status is a little awkward, news of a pregnancy would not fly in the Imperial Harem.  And with that, the plan to cuckold the emperor goes smoothly.  苏培盛 is such a great guy to have on your side. He looks out for you. Treat him with respect, provide him with a partner and he’s the best ally you can have. 

 

苏培盛 notifies 温实初 of his new responsibilities, namely to care for 甄嬛 who is pregnant which confuses him greatly. 温实初 heads off to see 甄嬛 to discover the truth. He doesn’t understand why 苏培盛,eunuch to the emperor, would help 甄嬛’s child who is so clearly the 17th prince’s. When 温实初 speaks to 甄嬛, 甄嬛 infroms 温实初 that the Emperor, 皇上, thinks her child is his…

 

温实初 is like how did this happen? I’m sure internally he’s mad that he was supposed to be next in line but got usurped by both the 17th prince and BACK by the emperor? But 甄嬛 tearfully explains her predicament and asks him to help her return to the palace. To do so, he has to fool the emperor on her condition as well.  I feel like 甄嬛 treats 温实初 rather poorly here. She keeps calling him 实初哥哥 , her childhood nickname for him, to help him see her side. Of course he’ll help her. I think she’s totally abusing his affections for her…

 

He reports to the emperor that 甄嬛’s pregnancy is not stable so the emperor cannot spend intimate time with her. That should prevent the emperor from noticing any discrepancies with her pregnancy.

 

Also, can we also just admire that these Chinese doctors can accurately predict when someone is pregnant after just 1 month? Like kudos to him.  It’s most likely for plot purposes but hey, he has the skill to know these things. I’m not a medical expert but I feel like this is rather suspect. Oh well.

 

(Karen)

The emperor is beyond pleased to hear that 甄嬛 is pregnant. He goes to visit her and plans how to bring her back to the palace. Just as they are planning this, the Empress in the palace finds out about 甄嬛’s pregnancy. She and her posse are furious that this happened. The ladies desperately do not want 甄嬛 to come back to the palace. Why would they? It would jeopardize their power in the palace. They have to come up with a plan to prevent her from returning.

 

As these ladies are plotting, 甄嬛 has to resolve another issue on her end. The 17th prince’s mother, who has also decided to leave the palace and become a nun several years ago, is distraught over hearing about her son’s death. 甄嬛 heads over to comfort her. She wears clothes of mourning which in Chinese culture is traditionally white and black. More white than black. I actually quite like the outfit.  The mother is understandably sad over her son’s death. 甄嬛 is able to cheer her up somewhat by telling her about her grandchild. This does the trick and the 17th prince’s mother is ready to eat food she’s been neglecting. 

 

But…甄嬛 has to break the rest of the story to the 17th prince’s mother. When she does, the 17th prince’s mother is understandably shocked and angered. How could 甄嬛 take her grandson away to be raised as someone else’s child. 甄嬛 once again has to tearfully share her difficulties and predicament. She ensures the 17th prince’s mother that she loves the 17th prince but has to take this step in order to enact revenge for the 17th prince. The mother comes around. She understands the difficulties of being a woman in that time period and accepts what’s happened.

 

On 甄嬛’s side, all loose ends are tied up. She just needs to get back to the palace. But… that won’t be too easy.

 

(Cathy)

The empress has come up with a plan to prevent 甄嬛’s return. She plots to have very unlucky events happen to both her and the empress dowager. For her, she sprains her ankle and the incense she’s burning while praying breaks twice. For the empress dowager, her palace catches on fire when she has a ritual happening there… All of this was to nudge the Emperor into seeing 钦天监, the Imperial Astronomer. It’ll be the Imperial Astronomer that halt’s 甄嬛 return to the palace. We’ve mentioned this slightly before when we were talking about the general 年羹尧but Chinese people were historically very superstitious and looked at the stars for signs to follow. 

 

The imperial astronomer, in very fancy language, noted that a harmful constellation is now bright. This constellation is called 危月燕. This constellation is nearing the moon and cause misfortune to those represented by the moon. Furthering with the fancy language, the astronomer says that the cause of the misfortune originates from the north, a peak, a woman who is pregnant, someone outside the palace but getting closer. This person will harm both the empress and empress dowager. HMMMM who could that be?! Quite obviously, this person is 甄嬛. The emperor hears this and, wanting to protect the empress and the empress dowager, halts 甄嬛’s return to the palace. We’ll talk about some of the astronomy that Chinese people followed but a lot of this constellation talk was tailored for this drama or these scene.

 

From this, it’s pretty clear that this nonsense with the constellation was plotted by the Empress. If you look at 苏培盛’s reaction throughout this scene, he knows something’s up. He promptly tells 甄嬛”s maid about this development. 甄嬛 is not surprised about this either but there’s not a whole lot she can do. She just has to sit tight and wait until she can figure out how to combat this. 

 

(Karen)

This is a stroke of genius on the Empress’s part. It’s hard for the emperor, who is rather superstitious, to deny what the imperial astronomer says is harmful to his mother. You’ll also notice that even though the empress dowager’s palace caught fire, the fire was small and didn’t do a whole lot of damage. The empress only wanted her and the empress dowager to suffer slightly in order to nudge the emperor’s suspicion. He’ll listen to this astronomer instead of listening to her. If she says she doesn’t want 甄嬛 to come back, the emperor will dislike her. He can’t dislike her if the astronomer says 甄嬛 shouldn’t come back.

 

The problem with the Empress is that she doesn’t know when to stop. 甄嬛 would have been stuck at the mountain peak if the Empress didn’t decide that she needed to solve all of her problems in the Imperial Palace. She had already killed the 3rd prince’s mother and now has sole ownership of the 3rd prince. She prevented 甄嬛 from returning to the palace. What else? Her next target is the 4th prince. The 4th prince we’ve seen in previous episodes, is the unfavored son of the emperor. He is now grown and poses a threat to the 3rd prince’s claim to the throne. So what does the empress do? Try to poison and kill the 4th prince. Luckily, one of his maids ate the bowl of poisoned soup instead of him. She died on the spot. 

 

(Cathy)

He ran away frightened by what happened. Fortunately for him, he ran straight to 沈眉庄’s place. 沈眉庄 is best friends with 甄嬛 and is very kind. 沈眉庄 takes the 4th prince to the Empress Dowager. They calm the 4th prince down and wonders who wants to harm him. The empress dowager knows exactly who did it. It has to be the Empress. The Empress Dowager is frustrated because she’s warned the Empress numerous times that she needs to stop her actions but she doesn’t listen. There isn’t anyone in the palace who can counteract the Empress. Who might be that option? Of course, it’s 甄嬛.

 

The empress dowager orders the emperor to come see her the next day. What does she have to say to him? We’ll find out in the next episode.

 

Analysis

 

(Karen)

 

What do we have to talk about today?

 

First, is about the 宗室玉碟。 This is the historical archive or the imperial genealogy that tracks all of the family members of the royal family.  苏培盛 mentions that 甄嬛’s child has to be documented in the 宗室玉碟 as an official child of the Emperor’s. This is kind of a throwaway line in this episode but also quite interesting. For those of you who have watched the popular drama 琅琊榜, or Nirvana in Fire,  there is a storyline where 靖王, a prince, mentions that the orphaned son of his brother cannot be recognized as a royal because the son was not documented in the 玉蝶 or imperial genealogy. Therefore, the best this prince can do for his nephew, is raise him as a god-child to give him at least some of the comforts he would have retained as a royal. I feel like that was the first time I paid attention to what “玉碟” means so I am pleasantly surprised that this is mentioned in this drama. I haven’t paid attention to it probably because I generally skip these episodes.

 

This 玉碟, which more or less translates to “jade record”, has been documenting the imperial household’s family tree since as far back as the Tang Dynasty. In the Song dynasty, the process is to update the genealogy every 10 years. This process has been maintained for centuries all the way up until 1921, even after the fall of the Qing dynasty.  The documented changes include marriage, births, deaths, promotions, demotions, your banner, your title among others changes. I think of it as kind of a more detailed census report but for the imperial family. There are similar genealogies for family clans all throughout China but of course, not as official or grand since we’re talking about the imperial royal family here.  

 

I thought this was really interesting. In the Qing dynasty, starting from 顺治, the 1st emperor to rule China proper and the grandfather of the emperor of this drama, the imperial genealogy or this 玉碟 has been updated 26 times and an additional 2 times after the fall of the Qing dynasty.   They are written in n two versions: 1 in Chinese and the other in Manchu.  The last update included over 1000 booklets to document the family tree. This genealogy is the best preserved genealogy in China and is currently stored in the First Historical Archive in Beijing. That, no matter how you slice it, is very impressive. 

 

(Cathy)

Next we’ll dive into another topic that is very complex – Chinese Astronomy!

 

The Empress in this episode cleverly uses the Astronomical Bureau of 钦天监 to dissuade the Emperor from summoning 甄嬛 back into the palace. Astronomy has a long and colorful history in China dating back to ancient times. There were various iterations of an Astronomical Bureau  throughout history such as 太史令, 太史院 and 司天监. The name was changed to 钦天监 in the Ming Dynasty and was still used in the Qing Dynasty. 

 

You can think of 钦天监 as the national observatory. It had many important roles including setting the calendar, observing celestial events or phenomena, and predicting the solar terms. The science and technology used to develop these calendars were quite impressive. Surprisingly, astronomy is one area of study where there was heavy Western influence beginning in the 17th century for both the Ming and Qing Dynasties. There are several notable Jesuit missionaries that led the Astronomical Bureau. They include the German Jesuit Johann Adam Schall Von Bell or his mandarin name 汤若望 and the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest or 南怀仁. These two helped modify the Chinese calendar to be more accurate. Von Bell is quite commonly portrayed in tv shows about the reign of Emperor 顺治. During the Qing Dynasty there were Han, Manchu, and Western missionaries that led the bureau and Beijing Ancient Observatory. 

 

Of course, the information that 钦天监 provided also was used astrological divination. Most of the time astronomy is used for useful purposes but in other situations like the one we have here in this episode, it’s quite easy to use this information to sow fear for the likes of the Emperor. 

 

I’m definitely no expert on this so let’s sort of dive into what the Imperial Astronomer says. He says

北方玄武七宿中十月才明亮的危月燕星,突然大放异彩,尾带小星,有冲月之势

 

He has observed 北方玄武 or the Black Tortoise – one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. The various names also have roots in daoism and chinese legends. Of the seven astrological Mansions within the Black Tortoise, one mansion is different. The one specifically called out in the show is 危 or rooftop. The literal translation of 危 means danger. Roof means top or tall. Tall represents risk. Hence why this mansion is unlucky or dangerous. Based on what I’ve read, this 危 usually does not shine brightly. The Imperial astronomer here says, this mansion is suddenly shining brightly. The full name is 危月燕. I”ll need someone to completely explain to me that part but 月 means moon and usually represents a female. The quote on quote “top” females in the land are the Empress Dowager and Empress. This mansion currently has a small tail, which according to him represents a pregnant woman living in the North. As we said earlier, this woman will be dangerous to the two top women in the palace, namely the Empress Dowager and Empress.

 

This I must say is actually quite a convincing argument. I did some basic research and it is true that 危月燕 is seen as unlucky. Most everything about this statement is true which is more than I can say of several other dramas. 

 

Chinese people very much believed in astronomy and astrological divination. My grandma still looks at the lunar calendar to mark some unlucky days. It’s no surprise that the Emperor, who is very suspicious, calls off his plan to bring 甄嬛 back into the palace. This is a pretty obvious negative sign! 

 

Phew – enough about stars. That’s it for today’s episode! 甄嬛’s plan to return to the palace is temporarily foiled by the Empress but will she ultimately prevail?

EPISODE 52+53

 

Episode 52 + 53

[Cathy]

 

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture by following historical Chinese dramas. This is Cathy and I’m Karen.In today’s episode we will be discussing episode 52+53 of Empresses in the Palace or 后宫甄嬛传.There’s some heartbreak, some scheming but also just a lot of eyerolls in these 2 episodes for us to discuss! If you are new to the podcast, please start with our intro to the drama and intro to the podcast episodes to see what we’re talking about.

 

Alright team. We are slogging through these section of the series where 甄嬛 is technically a Nun at 甘露寺 or 甘露  temple. What happens here? 

 

This first segment…sigh…

 

[Karen]

It’s been 52 episodes and this person who is not very intelligent finally has her comeuppance. In the last few episodes, we were introduced to the beautiful but cold 叶澜依. She was a horse tamer maid in the summer palace but captured the attention of the emperor and was swiftly made into a concubine. While the emperor is very happy with this new fling, our new concubine is not happy at all. She is in love with the 17th prince, she couldn’t care less about this Emperor. The other ladies in the imperial harem are unsurprisingly jealous and envious. This woman may be beautiful and intriguing to the emperor, but to the other women in the harem, her birth station is way too low. She’s also rude and unwavering in her disrespect towards the empress and other ladies.  In my eyes though, she’s pretty cool. She doesn’t care about riches or fame or the emperor’s attention. She had much more freedom in her low station as a horse tamer but now she’s in a cage.

 

The empress in particular cannot have this woman around so she, in her manipulative ways, comes up with a very simple plan to rid the harem of 2 threats simultaneously. The empress controls the harem with an iron fist. Her primary motivation is to not allow women in the harem to have children. With all the attention this new concubine is receiving, she’s bound to get pregnant. The empress must stop this. The other issue that the empress has at the moment, is the annoying 齐妃. She’s the birth mother of the 3rd prince but is not very bright. In the last episode, 齐妃 revealed to her son how she cannot wait for him to become emperor so she can become the empress dowager. This deeply irked the empress who wanted to be the sole empress dowager. Therefore, she must get rid of this 齐妃 as well. We’ll talk about this distinction at the end of the episode.

 

[Cathy]

So! The empress, in her way, devises a plan. She has 齐妃 over for a chat and they casually discuss how difficult it will be to control the new concubine once she is pregnant. The Empress is incredibly sly. She does not outright say anything about how to proceed and leaves that up to 齐妃. She only heavily hints that preventing the new concubine from ever becoming pregnant will solve a lot of headaches in the future. 齐妃 gets the hint and takes it upon herself to sabotage 叶澜依, the new concubine. What does she do?

 

Her grand plan is to have her maid present 叶澜依 with a bowl of red date soup. The thing is, the maid openly states that the soup is from 齐妃. 叶澜依 could tell immediately there’s something off about the soup. Even her cat smelled something amiss. But, 叶澜依, hating her life in the harem, drinks the soup anyways. She’s pretty much like whatever. If i die, I die. This place sucks anyways. 

 

Lo and behold, the result is that she has heavy stomach pains. The imperial doctors report to the emperor that she is now sterile. This, understandably, greatly angers the emperor who wants to find the culprit….Which is not hard to deduce. 齐妃’s maid openly said the bowl of soup was from 齐妃。齐妃 is screwed.

 

And when 齐妃 goes crying for help from the Empress, the empress immediately backstabs 齐妃 by pretending to never have told 齐妃 to hurt anyone. 齐妃is shocked by this betrayal but are we? Is anyone? The empress does say the key line here – 齐妃 enacted plans that made it incredibly obvious that she was the one who did it. She didn’t hide  it or try to find a scapegoat. She openly let everyone know that the soup was from her.  With this type of idiocy, only a fool would step in to protect 齐妃 because it would be obvious they’re on the same side. People would trace this act back to the empress which the Empress does not want. 

 

[Karen]

Honestly, I have no idea how 齐妃 was able to give birth to the 3rd prince in the first place with someone as devious and cruel as 皇后 around. The other question is, how did she manage to survive in the harem this long. I guess 皇后 felt she was too dumb to pose a threat and she was easy to order around for certain tasks. 皇后 did mention that 齐妃 had a powerful father who has since fallen from grace which leads me to believe there was some type of consideration back then, but has disappeared now.

 

Unfortunately for 齐妃, the only solution to solve this problem is to commit suicide. She is definitely guilty so it was to wait for the emperor to punish her or for her to resolve it herself. In order to prevent her son from being implicated, she decides to hang herself.  This technically is a big no no. You’re not supposed to commit suicide when guilty because this could implicate your entire family but since the “family” is the 3rd prince, she decided to go this route.

 

When her body is discovered, the empress puts on a great show. She is crying in front of the emperor and saying that 齐妃 just made a mistake. The emperor feels nothing but disgust for this woman. He does mention that the 3rd prince needs someone to look after him. The empress seizes her chance. This is the masterful empress. She is crying her eyes out and interjects the emperor when he’s talking about guardianship. She mentions that she’s been raising the 3rd prince for a while now and that she views all children in the harem as though they were her own. The emperor is like, that’s right, you have looked after the 3rd prince. You’ll have permanent guardianship of him now. 

 

With that, the empress’s grand plans have succeeded She 1) got rid of a potential threat in the form of the new concubine, 叶澜依, 2) she eliminated 齐妃 so she doesn’t have someone to fight her for power when she becomes empress dowager, and 3) has primary guardianship of the 3rd prince which ensures she will have power as the empress dowager. This was a win win win situation for her. It could not have gone more smoothly. The Empress needed someone as idiotic as 齐妃 to do her bidding, and luckily 齐妃 did exactly what she wanted.

 

[Cathy]

While the Empress may have fooled the emperor, the empress dowager is not so easily tricked. On her sick bed, the empress dowager asks the empress to chat and they have a rather frank discussion about all the terrible things the empress has done.. The empress refutes most of the criticism by the empress dowager by hiding behind the shield that all she’s done was for their clan’s glory. The empress keeps on bringing up the fact that the empress dowager and she are from related manchurian clans. In order to maintain the glory and power that comes with being empress and empress dowager for their clan, the empress dowager cannot raise any of these issues to the Emperor even if she knows that the empress has done terrible things. Otherwise, once the empress’s deeds are brought to light, their entire clans would be punished. Everything they fought for would be jeopardized.  

 

The empress dowager says she has already been very patient. The other things she doesn’t care about (which probably means killing concubines), but killing her grandchildren? That she cannot allow. The empress dowager tries to push the empress to stop her horrible ways, but the empress is relishing in her power in the imperial harem and does not back down. Before she leaves, the Empress threatens the Empress Dowager with this line – “Mother, you need to take care of yourself. You’ve been bedridden for a while. You wouldn’t want the Emperor think that you are still distraught over the death of 隆科多”

 

The empress dowager sighs. She acknowledges the Empress’s power in the Imperial Harem. The Empress Dowager is frustrated that there is no one in the imperial harem who is able to counteract the empress. There needs to be balance. This balance and the Empress’s threats to the Empress Dowager heavily influence the Empress Dowager’s decisions in later episodes. There is an interesting line here that will come to light later which is that the empress dowager knows how the previous empress, 纯元 died. She hints heavily that our current empress was involved somehow. We’ll find out more in the future. 

 

[Karen]

Now let’s get to the main story line in episodes 52 + 53. Our main character Zhen Huan and the wonderful 17th prince are finally together and madly in love. They have already consummated their marriage and at the end of episode 51, we find out that she is pregnant with the 17th prince’s child. This was a pleasant surprise because he had just left for a trip by orders of the emperor. Their plan was to elope once he returns. 

 

The 17th Prince promised to return within 40 days, but it’s already been 50 days with no sign or word from him. The loyal doctor 温实处 arrives to check in on 甄嬛 but she’s not doing too well as she’s worried about the 17th prince. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any good news to deliver. Word has reached Beijing that the 17th Prince perished during his journey in 云南. His boat sank in the Yellow River. No corpse has been found. 

 

Nooooooo…. Why does this have to happen? Just as the 2 were planning their happily ever after! 甄嬛 starts choking up blood. She demands more information. How can the 17th Prince just die? The doctor 温实处 agrees that this incident wasn’t normal. The boat the 17th prince was on wasn’t held together by nails but instead just glue and ropes. When the boat started sailing, the glue and ropes broke apart leading to those on the boat to drown. This isn’t normal as the boat was government sanctioned. Something happened when the boat was docked that led to the bottom of the boat being swapped, resulting in the death of the 17th prince. 甄嬛 curls up in a ball crying, lamenting the loss of her true love.  For the doctor though, there’s no time to lose. 甄嬛 is pregnant, her husband just died. They need to decide ASAP on next steps. He offers to continue with the original plan – fake 甄嬛’s death and he will smuggle her away, live together, and raise her child as his own. 

 

This is a sad scene but right now when I watch it, I start chuckling. Onn one hand, i feel like 温实初 is internally saying, “YES. FINALLY. This is my chance to be with 甄嬛”. While 浣碧, 甄嬛’s half sister and maid, also starts bawling. She shuts the doctor down, claiming how can you compare to the prince! Ouch, harsh. Yes, he’s dead, yes I get that you’re in love with the 17th Prince, but there’s no need to put down the kind doctor.

 

My question though is how did the doctor know about all of this? It’s supposed to be a palace secret so why does this doctor know? 

 

[Cathy]

After some scenes of 甄嬛 reminiscing about her time with the 17th prince and mourning his death, 甄嬛 has to make a decision. She has to decide to either abort the child or keep it. This is certainly not one she takes lightly. As a single mother, how would she take care of the child? She has the option of being with the doctor, 温实初. She’d be safe for the rest of her life but she has made the important decision that she will never be with 温实初. Poor guy. WHy does she turn him down? She doesn’t have these affections for him and because she has 3 main considerations. 

 

  1. Her father is sick in 宁古塔 and needs immediate medical attention. If you recall the family was exiled to 宁古塔 for saying disrespectful things to the emperor. It’s a cold and harsh place to live in northern China and there probably aren’t a lot of good doctors around. 甄嬛 needs to get her father back to the city for treatment.
  2. She needs to investigate the 17th prince’s death. From everything she’s heard, it seems that his death was very suspicious. She needs to be in a position to investigate his death and avenge it if necessary.
  3. The last consideration is that she wants her child to have a title. She does not want the 17th prince’s line to end because of her and her child to be seen as a bastard child.

 

As she is discussing these considerations with her maids 浣碧 and 瑾汐, they surmise that there is only one person who is able to help 甄嬛.

 

Can you guess who it is?

 

That’s right. The emperor. 皇上。

 

[Karen]

“Ugh” – “Ew” – “Eye Roll” – This is icky and it certainly is but in her mind, she doesn’t have much of a choice. She has to return to the palace as a concubine. One with the ear of the emperor in order to achieve the things she needs to get done. 

 

They are on a ticking clock because 甄嬛 is pregnant. The only way to do so is to get the emperor to come visit her and make him think that the child is his. As 甄嬛 and 瑾汐 are discussing how this plan will work, 瑾汐 comes up with an idea to get close to the emperor – through his main eunuch 苏培盛。 苏培盛 has been seen throughout the drama and is a powerful guy as he has the ability to sway the emperor. 瑾汐 mentions that the way to convince 苏培盛 to arrange a meeting for 甄嬛 and the emperor is to offer herself. 苏培盛 has everything he could ever want in life, except a partner. As a eunuch, he cannot marry or have children, for obvious reasons. The thing he craves most is to have a family or partner. 瑾汐 is willing to be that partner since the 2 are from the same hometown and he’s always expressed an interest in her. If you rewatch the drama, there are many scenes where he is looking out for her and she him. 

 

The ever loyal 瑾汐 is making a big sacrifice here for 甄嬛. 甄嬛 recognizes as much but 瑾汐 is adamant. She heads off over to meet 苏培盛。

 

[Cathy]

Once she meets 苏培盛, 瑾汐 offers up a sob story that 甄嬛 is very lonely and that she doesn’t want her master to have to be by herself. It would be wonderful for her to return to the palace. With the emperor and 甄嬛 getting back together, she and 苏培盛 can be together as well. These words work like a charm. A few days later, 苏培盛 comes to meet 甄嬛 at her residence in the mountains and says he’ll work on arranging a meeting with the emperor. Classic. Well. Not really.  Part of the reason 苏培盛 is willing to help 甄嬛 is that 甄嬛 was always kind to 苏培盛。 She was never rude to him or demeaning, even though he was a eunuch. Life lesson for everyone here! Be kind to everyone – not just because of someone’s birth status or current situation.

 

After some artful convincing by 苏培盛, the emperor decides to go to 甘露寺, the temple where 甄嬛 is now studying to be a nun, during a festival in February. Once there, he asks after 甄嬛 and how she’s doing. After hearing that she’s been sick, he hurriedly heads up to the mountain peak where she was first banished and then stayed. When he opens the door to the rooms, he sees a sickly 甄嬛 praying. 

 

Her current conditions tug at his heartstrings. He is overwhelmed with emotion at seeing 甄嬛. She plays up how sad, destitute and lonely she’s been, though in an artful way. She mentions that she’s missed the emperor and their daughter ever since she’s left. She uses her special term for the Emperor “四郎” when addressing him to evoke those nostalgic feelings. Her tears, apologetic tone, her weakened state, her simple clothing are all enough to “seduce” the emperor.  

 

Everyone else retreats to give the 2 some privacy.

 

[Karen]

The episode ends with the emperor making the decision that he wants to spend more time with 甄嬛. On 甄嬛’s end, she has succeeded. Them spending time together guarantees that her child will now have a “father”.

 

Let’s pause for a second here and note that I definitely feel icky about this whole thing.  甄嬛 this time does not have any emotion left for the emperor. She’s pretty much using her beauty and body to ensure she gets what she wants. She is using his feelings for her to get power and recognition. 甄嬛 tells 瑾汐 that the emperor hurt her too fully and that she cannot truly go back to him. And yes, the 17th prince is way better than the Emperor in pretty much every aspect.

 

On the flip side, the emperor seems to really miss 甄嬛. He’s eager to have her back. Unfortunately, the boat has sailed from 甄嬛’s perspective. If only the emperor had recognized this earlier and valued 甄嬛 instead of treating her like a shadow of his first wife…

 

Well that’s it for the recap – let’s do some analysis for some interesting topics in these 2 episodes.

 

Analysis

 

 

太后

[Cathy]

Why does the Empress 皇后 take such swift action against 齐妃 after so many years? She reveals her reason why during her conversation with the Empress Dowager. She, the Empress, will become 母后皇太后 but she cannot let anyone be 圣母皇太后. 

 

So what is the difference? 母后皇太后 is the title reserved for the Empress. When her husband dies, she becomes 母后皇太后 even if her son does not claim the throne. 圣母皇太后 is the title reserved for the birth mother of the Emperor.

 

The most famous example of two Empress Dowagers is from the Qing Dynasty with Empress Dowager 慈禧 and Empress Dowager 慈安。Empress Dowager 慈禧 is the more famous of the two but she was a 圣母皇太后. She gave birth to the future Emperor 同治 but was only a consort. The other Empress Dowager 慈安 was Empress during the reign of 咸丰. After his death, she became 母后皇太后. 

 

Typically when we think of Empress Dowager or 太后, we usually assume of just one woman, or at least I thought so but this is not the case. The first instance of two Empress Dowagers in Imperial China actually originates from the Ming Dynasty under Emperor 朱祁钰 or 景泰帝。

 

In Imperial China, despite Emperors having many concubines etc, the title of Empress or 皇后 was extremely important. She was the official wife of the Emperor and held more power in the Imperial Harem. She was the only person whom children of the Emperor could call mother. Birth mothers were referred to as aunties. Usually, regardless of who ascends the throne, the Empress of the previous Emperor will hold the title of Empress Dowager. If the birth mother of the new Emperor is not the Empress, the woman will simply be granted a title of Dowager Consort. 

 

Typically, 母后皇太后 holds more clout and power because she was the Empress, but that is not always the case. In this drama, our Empress 宜修 is rightly worried that if the 3rd Prince ascends the throne, she will have to contend with his birth mother for power. She’d rather deal with the threat now when 齐妃 is just a consort. It would be much harder to kill her once she also becomes Empress Dowager. 

 

Our current Empress Dowager is a 圣母皇太后. She’s lucky, she doesn’t have to compete with another Empress Dowager. All of Emperor 康熙’s Empresses passed before he did.

 

Hopefully that wasn’t too confusing for everyone. 

 

对食

[Karen] 

In episode 53, one person is crucial for 甄嬛’s chances to regain favor. That person is the eunuch 苏培盛。It would take a lot to persuade him but 瑾溪 has the one proposal that will sway him 

 

The literal translation of 对食 is eating opposite of one another. The original meaning of 对食 actually refers to same sex relationships between palace maids. Palace maids had little to no opportunities for sexual interaction with men because the only “male” in the Imperial Palace was the Emperor. So these women turned to each other for comfort. The first record of this phrase is found in 汉书 or the Book of Han finished in around 111 AD.  

 

Over the years, the phrase of 对食 changed it’s meaning to include relationships between Eunuchs and palace maids. 对食 typically refers to a short relationship between the maids and eunuchs. Once a maid and eunuch establish a long term relationship, they are known as 菜户。The couple behaves like a married couple but are not legally married. 

 

Often, these 对食 relationships were kept in secret but not unheard of. For example during the ming dynasty, it was quite normal for these relationships to exist in the Imperial Palace. There are rumors that palace maids were actually mocked if they couldn’t find a partner in certain dynasties. In the Qing dynasty, I’m not sure if the practice was as prevalent because palace maids could all leave the palace at a certain age typically between 25-30. They could marry after their time in the Imperial Palace. 

 

According to this drama, eunuchs had everything they wanted – namely fame and fortune. The one thing they couldn’t do is have children. 瑾汐 gives 苏培盛 the opportunity to fulfill his desire for a “family”. He happily accepts her proposal. For 瑾汐, from a traditional perspective, this is a sacrifice because she could have had the opportunity to marry a man and have children. 甄嬛 states as much. From everyone’s perspective, 瑾汐 is making a huge sacrifice for 甄嬛 because she is giving up this opportunity. She will have a relationship without the physical aspect of that relationship. 瑾汐 is just so awesome and loyal. She’s willing to give up so much for her master. And to be honest, 苏培盛 is not bad. He is very thoughtful, attentive and kind to those who treat him well. He doesn’t step over people unnecessarily like some of the other eunuchs and maids we’ve seen in the palace. He will treat 瑾汐 very well.

 

We will discuss marriage between eunuchs and women in a future episode. 

 

Well that’s that for our discussion of episode 52+53! The next few episodes revolve around 甄嬛’s path back to the palace. It won’t be easy but it’s the path she’s chosen and we are here for it!

 

EPISODE 50 + 51

 

Episode 50 + 51

 

[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas.  My name is Karen, [Cathy] and this is Cathy. Today we are going to be discussing Episode 50 + 51 of Empresses in the Palace, 后宫甄嬛传。For those of you just joining us on this podcast, I highly recommend starting with our intro to the podcast and intro to the drama episodes.

 

The last couple of episodes we’ve seen our main character 甄嬛 move out of the imperial harem and into a nunnery where she is to be a nun, albeit one who does not shave her hair. However, she was treated very poorly and suffered health issues. Fortunately, the 17th prince was around to save her and after sharing his feelings and seeing his devotion, 甄嬛 decided to be with the handsome 17th prince. They are spending some good quality time together as a couple.

 

We’ll start our recap from there. I’ve been nagging on this portion of the drama. These 2 episodes are probably the 2 most boring episodes in the series? I feel like it’s quite a drudge to go through them as not a whole lot of exciting stuff happens but here we are. We will go through the recap and then also do the analysis. 

 

[Cathy]

Episode 50 begins with our faithful imperial doctor 温实初 visiting his love since childhood, the main character 甄嬛. However, he sees that she is painting with the 17th prince and their relationship is very close. He is upset at this sight because he always thought that this was his chance to be with 甄嬛。Unfortunately, 甄嬛 already chose the 17th prince and she explains as much to him. He’s heartbroken but knows deep down she never liked him and walks away. 

 

The couple, the 17th prince and 甄嬛, enjoy their bliss together. You can tell that in this relationship, 甄嬛 can be herself. She never has to worry about her actions towards the 17th prince like she does with the Emperor. She doesn’t have to use wiley means to grab his attention and she can truly be herself. The 17th prince loves her and only her.  This is a pretty wonderful relationship to have and she is very lucky to be with such a great guy. This is also one of the healthiest relationships? But also not quite healthy? I don’t know.

 

[Karen ] – Uh yea because she is technically still his brother’s wife so there you have it.

 

While these two love birds are happily together, the emperor in the palace is not having such a good time.. He’s been stressed lately with matters of court  and has only been staying with 安陵容, the former friend of 甄嬛 who has since backstabbed her and is now working for the manipulative 皇后, the empress.。On this night, the emperor is staying with 安陵容。In the middle of the night, however, 安陵容 hurriedly asks for doctors to be called because the emperor suddenly has a high fever. Everyone is worried and confused as to what’s happening. The empress dowager, the emperor’s mother, upon hearing the news, at first thinks 安陵容 is to blame. However, it is revealed that the day the emperor fell ill was none other than 甄嬛’s birthday. 

 

That’s right – in the Emperor’s subconscious, he still deeply cares about 甄嬛 and cannot let her go even though it’s been several years now.

 

[Karen]

Because of this information, 安陵容 is safe from punishment for now. But when the emperor was discovered to be sick, she quickly tells her maid to dump out some fragrances. Why is that? Knowing her, there’s something that’s deeply icky there and we’ll see this come back to haunt her in the future. 

 

Anyways, the emperor is ill and family members have been called in to tend to him at his bedside. This includes the 17th prince. He has to stay in the palace so he cannot visit 甄嬛. Instead, the two send lovely poetry to one another as a way to express their thoughts of each other during this time apart. We’ll discuss these poems at the end of the episode.

 

One day we see the emperor being tended to by the amazing 沈眉庄 and the 17th prince. 沈眉庄 is the childhood friend of 甄嬛. The empress dowager also comes to check in on the emperor. In his unconscious state, the Emperor mutters “嬛嬛” which is what he always called 甄嬛。However, the 17th prince says that he’s muttering about his first wife – the deceased 纯元 when the empress dowager asks who the emperor is muttering about. Remember that her nickname is “菀菀“ which sounds very similar to “嬛嬛”。 I thought this was very interesting. The 17th prince is steering all direction away from his love. He knows full well that the emperor is muttering about 甄嬛 but he is, i don’t know, trying to protect 甄嬛? Or he’s being more possessive to keep 甄嬛 out of the thoughts of people in the palace. Thoughts?

 

[Cathy]

Oh yea – he definitely doesn’t want people to know that the emperor is still muttering about a concubine that is out of favor, and for his own personal reasons. 

 

While everyone is busy tending to the emperor, a character we haven’t seen in a while decides to visit her son. 齐妃 goes to visit her son, the 3rd prince of the current emperor. For those of you who need a refresher, 齐妃 is the not very intelligent consort who is the birth mother of the 3rd prince. The 3rd prince is the eldest surviving  son, who is technically 1st in line for the throne. 齐妃 is prohibited from seeing her son due to some manipulation by the Empress several years ago, or several episodes ago, who successfully navigated her way to be the guardian of the 3rd prince. By now, the 3rd prince is more or less an adult and is studying quite diligently to become a potential crown prince. Currently, the emperor has not decided who the crown prince will be.

 

This day, the 3rd prince’s mother, 齐妃, sneaks over to see her son and laments how she cannot care for him. She hopes he will become emperor so she can become Empress dowager. This conversation is overheard by the Empress’s faithful maid who immediately tells the Empress, 皇后。 This makes the Empress extremelyangry as she wants to be the one and only Empress Dowager when the 3rd prince ascends the throne. She does not want to share power with this other woman, especially this pretty idiotic woman.. The current empress will always be the empress dowager but since she is not the birth mother of the future emperor, she feels her position is challenged if this woman actually becomes an empress dowager. So of course, the Empress will want to find some other  way to eliminate this threat. Her opportunity comes later.

 

[Karen]

After some care, the emperor finally wakes up. However, he’s not very happy to see the women in the imperial harem and decides to head off to the summer palace, Yuan Ming Yuan. We’ve talked about this place before.  The emperor actually has some funny quotes here. He says that women might have different faces but otherwise they are all the same. He thinks they’re boring. It’s like – ok buddy. You have so many women available to you and you’re not impressed with any of them. But the one person you do care about, 甄嬛, you treated really poorly. Hmmm. Who’s to complain?

 

To add some spice to his life, the emperor turns his attention to the lowest of the low in the palace. He finds interest in a beautiful horse tamer named 叶澜依, another one of my favorite characters in the show, whom he sees taming horses while he’s strolling in the summer palace. As she’s doing her job, he is enraptured by her aura. He sees a level of confidence and unbridled energy as she’s riding these horses that I guess he doesn’t see in the palace. I’ve read that people think she reminds him of the now deceased 华妃. He doesn’t say anything but his trusty eunuch, 苏培盛 knows exactly what the emperor is thinking. This brings us over to episode 51.

 

苏培盛 finds where this woman lives and, by the order of the emperor, makes her into a concubine. This woman, 叶澜依, is not impressed whatsoever. She is like “okay” and “thanks” with a rather rude attitude. Indeed this makes her very different from all other women in the palace who would have loved to have gained the attention of the emperor. She is very direct and actually wants to be as far away from people as possible in the palace. 

 

[Cathy]

The thing is, 叶澜依 is already in love the 17th prince. We find out in this episode that he saved her life a few years back. She has loved him since that encounter. Or more like devoted. She knows, however, that their stations in life are vastly different so she never has actually moves forward with any desires and thoughts about marrying him. She just holds her love for him close to her heart. For example, one day he says he thought she looked great wearing green. Guess what? She now loves wearing green.

 

Not only is 叶澜依 not pleased about entering the palace, the other ladies in the imperial harem are not happy as well. Why would they be? This 叶澜依 has been captured the attention of the emperor so fully that he’s been ignoring everyone else. But not only that, she is just a lowly horse maiden, how can she compare with the rest of them? There’s a lot of jealousy going around. Sadly, 叶澜依 is now stuck in the palace. No one ever asked if she wanted to be there but that is her fate. She hates it so much that she even takes her own birth control because she desperately does not want to be tied down. That’s pretty bold. All women want to have children except for her, it looks like. 

 

The actress for 叶澜依 is called 热依扎。She’s born in Beijing but she is not ethnically han chinese. You’ll notice in her features that she doesn’t look like the other women. Instead, she is from the Kazakh ethnic group in China which is among the 56 ethnic minorities recognized in Country. Kazakh is a turkic ethnic group that has a large population in modern day XinJiang province in China.

 

[Karen]

Back to the 17th prince and 甄嬛. We kind of shifted the narrative a bit to make the recap flow. Anyways – the 2 are on a lovely hike in the mountains holding hands where they encounter a mysterious man writhing on the ground, pleading for help. The two kind people rush to his aid. This part is some hokey tv magic. The 17th Prince magically deduces that the man was bitten by a snake and just so happen to have an antidote or “medicine”. They feed him the antidote which instantaneously settles him. The man awakens 2 seconds later. The 17th prince praises the Dzungar man that it was his own physical health that saved him. 

 

The man is impressed. How did they know he was from Dzungar? The 17th prince briefly explains to him that 甄嬛 noticed the man’s hands had many calluses and was muttering in Dzungar. The man then creepily stares at 甄嬛 praising her beauty and intelligence. Eck – the way his eyes blatantly stares at her with that smirk is a bit gross. 

 

He then openly boasts about his ambition for the Dzungar people to conquer the Qing empire. This man doesn’t know who they, 甄嬛 and the 17th Prince, are but this encounter is important for later events. 

 

[Cathy]

Some time later, the 17th Prince arrives with a surprise for 甄嬛. 合婚更贴 or a marriage contract. We’ll dive into this later. He’s serious about her! He’s been feeling rather jumpy lately, especially with the emperor’s illness and wants to cement his relationship with 甄嬛。He wants the both of them to sign this 合婚更贴. 甄嬛 is at first a little hesitant but after a little persuading, agrees to signs it. They are now man and wife. The 17th prince has come up with a plan. He will fake 甄嬛’s death and elope with her to live happily ever after. 

 

Does this sound familiar? Romeo and Juliet anyone? Yea we know how that turned out…

 

甄嬛 is just ecstatic about the turn of events. She drags the 17th prince over to the bedside and cuts a lock of her hair and creates a knot with a lock of his hair. We’ve talked about this type of knot before, a 同心结 or a love knot. They’ll be of one heart together. Aww…

 

The boy finally gets his girl but we need to get back to business! The Emperor summons the 17th Prince to discuss the unrest in Tibet. The Emperor needs the 17th Prince to quietly travel to the Yunnan and Tibet regions of the Empire to investigate. The 17th Prince agrees and hurries out. Immediately after, the Imperial court minister 张廷玉 is summoned by the Emperor to a) protect the 17th prince on his journey and b) spy on his every move. What the heck emperor? You like that the 17th prince doesn’t really meddle in court affairs which is why you ask him to help but then spy on him to make sure he doesn’t meddle too much. This guy… is exhausting.

 

The 17th prince has to say goodbye to 甄嬛 but assures her that he’s only going to be gone for 40 days or so. It’s a short trip. After that they will fake her death so the two of them can elope. They’ll change their name and live happily ever after. It’s a beautiful dream isn’t it? After a tearful and emotional goodbye, he sets off on this journey… Will they get their wish? Welp! We still have 20+ episodes of this drama left so…maybe?

 

[Karen]

As 甄嬛 is waiting for her beloved to come back, she receives a surprise guest. Her best friend, 沈眉庄。 She has come to pray at the nunnery and on the way decides to visit 甄嬛。 The two friends have not seen each other in many years and it’s wonderful to see each other but 甄嬛 knows something is wrong. So 沈眉庄 doesn’t beat around the bush anymore and tells 甄嬛 that her father is very sick. If you recall, her family was exiled to the far off 宁古塔 for having upset the emperor. 沈眉庄 tells 甄嬛 that she has to find a way to bring her father back to 北京 to heal him. Otherwise, he will die. 

 

To add onto this stress, we find out 甄嬛 is actually pregnant! The episode ends with 甄嬛 sharing this news with her maids. We’ll see how the 17th prince finds this news!

 

Alright – phew. Through these 2 episodes. That was a journey… Trust me. Let’s get on with some of the analysis.

 

Analysis

 

[Cathy]

When 甄嬛 and the 17th Prince are apart because the 17th prince was called away to care for the emperor, they exchange a series of notes. These verses collectively come from a collection of poems called 九张机. They originated in the 宋 dynasty and are based off of a series of songs during the time period. Two of these 九张机 are recorded in a collection of verses called 乐府雅词. It is categorized as a 词牌名 which is a type of tune for the words. The performance style is called 转踏 where there is a combination of dancing and speaking for the performance. There is a specific tone pattern for this poem. Many people have written other verses in this style。

 

The verses of the particular 九张机 that is shown here in this drama reflect a silk weaver’s longing for her beloved when he is away, the loneliness of separation, and her worries that they might not reunite. 甄嬛 and the 17th prince here are sharing their love for one another through these verses. These seem to be made up and follows the verses but not reciting anyone in particular.

 

This is really sweet and everything but in my opinion, why send verses? Maybe they fear that the notes might be intercepted so they don’t want to be very blatant? They are literally just quoting verses and sending them to each other. They both know how the next line goes. Why can’t they actually write something more personal?

 

 

合婚更贴

Next, let’s talk about the marriage slip that both the 17th Prince and 甄嬛 sign. It’s called the 合婚更贴. 

 

This is a common tradition that is still practiced in various parts of China today. When the couple exchanges this red slip, they are engaged or betrothed to be married. The couple will write their name, hometown, and something called 生辰八字。This literally translates to birth time eight characters but in english it’s the Four Pillars of Destiny. Your birth year, month, date, and hour comprise these 8 characters, which are very important in Chinese culture. These are used in fortune telling as well as for marriage matches. 

 

Think of it as your horoscope. For marriage, often what will happen is the  the families will send either their son or daughter’s 生辰八字 to a matchmaker. The matchmaker will compare the information between the two to determine if the man and woman will make an auspicious match. If yes, the hallelujah, proceed with the marriage, if not then find someone else. It’s very, very complicated. I tried and went down the rabbit hole of trying to explain more but I can’t really do that justice. Google 4 pillars of destiny. 

 

 

[Karen]

梁山伯与祝英台

 

Finally let’s talk about 梁山伯与祝英台 or the tragic love story of the Butterfly lovers. Why? Well the night before his departure, the 17th prince says that he and 甄嬛 will not end up like the Butterfly Lovers. So what is it? This literally foreshadows what’s going to happen and is a throwaway line in the show but rather significant.  This story is one of the most famous folk stories in Chinese culture. The first records of the story appeared in the Tang dynasty. 

 

There are many many versions of the story but the most famous one goes like this. 

 

The young woman, 祝英台 wants to attend school but can only do so disguised as a man. On her journey, she meets a fellow young man named 梁山伯. To their surprise, they find out that they’ll be classmates at the school. They take a liking to each other and swear an oath of brotherhood.

 

They study together for the next three years. During that time 祝英台 falls in love with 梁山伯. He is completely oblivious of her feelings for him and doesn’t suspect her true identity in the slightes because 祝英台 is supposed to be a boy at this time One day, 祝英台 is suddenly recalled home. Months later, 梁山伯 visits 祝英台’s family. During this visit, he discovers 祝英台is actually a woman. To her delight, he proclaims his love to 祝英台. But this happiness is short-lived. 祝英台 is betrothed to a wealthy man called 马文才. There’s nothing these lovers can do. 

 

Heartbroken, 梁山伯 wastes away at his job as a county magistrate. He dies shortly afterwards. On her wedding day, a strong gale prevents 祝英台’s marriage procession from continuing. They just so happen to stop near 梁山伯’s grave. 祝英台 realizes where they are, steps out of her carriage to pay her respects to 梁山伯, crying that she wished they could be together. Just then, a bolt of lightning cracks the grave open. Without second thought, 祝英台 jumps into the grave. The grave closes and two butterflies emerge from the grave and fly away together. 

 

And that’s in a nutshell, the tragic story of 梁山伯与祝英台.

 

There are differences in the versions on when 梁山伯 discovers 祝英台’s true identity but for the most part, that’s the general gist.

 

As one of the most famous folk tales in Chinese culture, this story has been past down through the generations in various art forms. There are famous operas, movies, tv shows, plays, and musical pieces all about these butterfly lovers. Most of them are actually quite lovely. 

 

People call this the chinese Romeo and Juliet but this of course preceded Shakespeare’s story by almost a thousand years. 

 

Back to our drama, the 17th Prince declares to 甄嬛 that they will not end up like the Butterfly lovers, one dies of heartbreak, the other marries a person she does not love. HMMMMMM. I wonder what happens in this drama? They were so adamant that this would not happen.

 

Well that’s all for us today on this episode! We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We are working on quite a few additions to expand our reach to fans but that is upcoming. We’ll catch you in next episode to find out what happens with 甄嬛’s pregnancy. Thank you all so much for listening and hope you have a great week!

 

EPISODE 48 + 49

 

[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy. We will be discussing episode 48 and 49 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.

 

Last week, we saw how terrible life was for 甄嬛 at the buddhist nunnery. In these two episodes we squeeze in a complete romance movie. The 17th Prince really has to work for his girl. This probably the most cringe parts of the entire drama but there are some historical components to these 2 episodes, at least in Episode 49 which is quite interesting and I’m excited to discuss.

 

At the end of the last episode, 甄嬛 finds out that the Empress Dowager is trying to find a wife for the 17th Prince. She doesn’t really react but everyone around her is upset at her! Or her lack of reaction?

 

Let’s start from here.

 

The 17th Prince 果郡王 comes to personally deliver the news to 甄嬛 of his potential marriage. He flat out tells her that he will not accept this match. He will persevere until the woman he does want to marry changes her mind. 甄嬛 coldly rejects his professions of affections, even stating that they should stop meeting in the future.

 

Aw, poor guy. 

 

[Cathy]

Fortunately for him, he receives a chance to shine not long after. It’s winter time and 甄嬛 is in the nunnery but it’s evident she’s sick. She’s coughing quite heavily. Right then, a whole group of nuns barge in, led by the cruel 静白. You know whenever this nun is in the picture, nothing good will happen. Sure enough, the nun 静白 immediately tries to kick 甄嬛 out of the nunnery. She accuses 甄嬛 of having 肺痨 or tuberculosis which is a bad omen for the nunnery. Who will come pray at the temple anymore? Who will donate to this ancient establishment? All of the other nuns concur. In order to save their temple, 甄嬛 needs to be out.

 

To add insult to injury, the nun 静白 spots the bowl of the swallow’s nest in 瑾汐’s hand. She immediately draws the other nuns’s attention to it, declaring 甄嬛 a thief. She says that only she and the abbess have access to swallow’s nest. Therefore, 甄嬛 must have stolen the swallow’s nest. The nunnery cannot tolerate thieves. 甄嬛 must leave. Of course, the swallow’s nest which is a Chinese delicacy that has a variety of health benefits according to Chinese medicine, was gifted to zhenhuan by the 17th prince. They cannot disclose that information so they just have to accept these accusations. The abbess arrives but she’s completely useless and kindly suggests that 甄嬛 moves to 凌云峰  which is a mountain peak nearby to regain her health instead of staying here. Sure, let’s move this very sick woman out into a mountain peak where she’s probably going to get even more sick. Really smart move don’t you think? 

 

[Karen]

Sure enough, as the ladies trek out to this peak, 甄嬛 passes out. It’s snowing heavily but there’s not a whole lot that can be done by 浣碧 and 瑾汐。 浣碧 runs off to find help and returns with our knight in shining armor – the 17th prince. He whisks her away to get medical attention. 

 

Let’s take a second to give a shout out to the MVP of this saga – the stern but kind nun 莫言 who stands up for 甄嬛 and helps move them to the peak. 

 

甄嬛 is now at the 17th prince’s mountain estate, 清凉台. She has a very high fever that just won’t come down so what does he do? He goes out to the freezing snow, lays down in the snow to get his body temperature down and then comes back to hug 甄嬛 to help cool her temperature. While she’s fully clothed of course. Gotta maintain her integrity. Thankfully his efforts pay off, i mean, would you have expected otherwise? I also don’t know if this actually works medically but eh we’ll take it.

 

[Cathy]

Her fever subsides and the imperial doctor 温实初 arrives to take care of her. He couldn’t come earlier because he was looking after the empress dowager.

 

The next bit is kinda funny. The two men, both of whom are in love with 甄嬛, are vying for I guess the opportunity to take care of 甄嬛 and are both very ecstatic when she wakes up. Each of them are trying their best to contribute more to her health. I’m sitting here and just laughing at this. 甄嬛 wakes up and can feel the 2 men overly attentive towards her which means she needs to in chinese, the term is 避嫌 or ultimately “avoid unnecessary rumors”. Both of them, are in my opinion, a little pouty haha.

 

When 甄嬛 is healthy enough to walk, the 17th prince is now sick after his display of love? Gallantry? The 17th prince’s trusty servant explains everything to 甄嬛 even though he was instructed not to. She is very grateful and decid es to visit his quarters where he’s still recovering from his illness to check on him and express her gratitude. It seems as though she’s  

 

[Karen]

They’re having a casual conversation but surprise guests arrive. She doesn’t have time to escape the room before the guests come in so she hides behind a screen. Who are the guests? Why it’s the Emperor and the lovely 敬妃 with none other than her daughter 胧月 in tow! That’s quite the shock. 甄嬛 is overwhelmed with emotion at hearing her daughter. The emperor is here to check in on the 17th prince after hearing that he’s sick. They stay and chat for a short while. Just enough for 甄嬛 to realize that it’s dangerous to open her heart up to the 17th prince because there are real ramifications if she does. When the emperor and his family leaves, 甄嬛 switches back to calling the 17th prince his formal title and quickly leaves to the mountain peak she’s supposed to stay at now that she’s healthy, much to the disappointment of the 17th prince. He is soooo in love.

 

I want to pause and say this is probably one of the least plausible things to happen in this drama.  The location where the 17th prince is, is outside of the imperial palace. The Emperor said that he was feeling bored so came out for a stroll and walked passed the 17th prince’s place.  How is that possible. Any time the emperor leaves the imperial palace, it’s a big deal. Especially with concubines and a PRINCESS in tow. They also stopped by for like 5 min before leaving. How is that possible? I really don’t think this made sense. I also totally didn’t realize that 欣嫔 was in this scene. She doesn’t say much and doesn’t do much other than make knowing glances when the emperor brings up the princess’s mother.  Anyways. Rant over.

 

[Cathy]

The episode ends with 甄嬛, now healthy, visiting the 17th prince’s mother at the daoist nunnery. If you recall, the 17th prince’s mother became a daoist nun after his father, the former emperor, passed away. It’s spring time. Who is visiting his mother just as 甄嬛 arrives? You guessed it. It’s the 17th prince. At the request of the 17th prince’s mother, 甄嬛 and the 17th prince play a duet – she on the 古琴, and he on the flute. The 17th prince’s mother recites the famous poem 长相思 as they play to much emotion. This duet further hints at the emotional connection between the two.

 

Sure enough, as we start episode 49, the 17th prince, who is escorting 甄嬛 back to her place, outright declares his affections for her. He says she is now free of the imperial palace and can be with anyone she wants. She, on the other hand, states that she doesn’t want to have anything to do with royalty. Plus she’s essentially an incomplete body. Her words, not mine. She does not want to start anything she knows is going to end poorly. She was heartbroken by the emperor and does not want to endure similar heartbreak again.  He’s quite insistent but she shuts him down again.

 

[Karen]

Her resolve doesn’t hold for too long though. One night after 甄嬛, 浣碧 and 瑾汐 have moved to the mountain peak, a large CGI cat come to scare the heck out of the ladies. The cat was attracted by caged birds provided to 甄嬛 by the imperial doctor to help cheer her up. Who knew that the birds would attract cats! Well they do, and the ladies are screaming at the cat when the 17th prince BURSTS in. It’s not like he does anything and the cat runs away. Everyone is surprised he’s there but it turns out that he hangs outside their place every night. He’s happy to just watch the candlelight of 甄嬛’s residence. 

 

Can we have a vote on if this is romantic or creepy? 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 doesn’t say much this time though is evidently moved by this protective behavior. Later on, the 17th prince is hanging outside playing flute. It’s pouring rain but he perseveres in wanting to protect 甄嬛 by waiting outside. At long last, 甄嬛 goes out with an umbrella to accept his affections. He has finally moved her enough for them to be together. Yay! He does not care about the fact that she was a concubine, that she had a daughter. He loves her and is over the moon. He immediately takes 甄嬛 to visit his mother again to share the good news. She is quite accepting and is very pleased with the match.

 

I will note that 甄嬛”s concerns are very legitimate! They are quite rational. The two of them can essentially only elope and it’ll be difficult for her to truly be his wife. He’s still a royal.

 

And Technically, 甄嬛 is breaking her oath as a nun. She’s not supposed to have relationships but she is totally letting that go now. Her hair is down and made up in a simple way and she’s wearing plain and colored clothes, albeit still a bit muted. But the lavender is quite a fitting reflection of her current emotions. And with that – the 2 love birds are finally together.

 

The two people who are least happy about this are the imperial doctor 温实初 who is still in love with 甄嬛, and 浣碧,甄嬛’s half sister/maid who is in love with the 17th prince. Even though she loves him, she doesn’t try to sabotage her sister’s happiness which I at least give her credit for. As for the imperial doctor, 甄嬛 makes it very clear that the 17th prince 允礼 is no longer an  outsider. 

 

With that! They are supposed to live happily ever after! Awwww. He is the picture of the rom com male lead who after sacrificing himself and stalks his love, earns her affections. Only joking! He’s still a great catch! Educated, kind, loving, handsome. What more can you want?

 

[Karen]

The other main storyline in episode 49 is quite fascinating actually.

 

It depicts the downfall of the famous 隆科多。隆科多 is a famous general/minister that helped the emperor claim the throne. The other guy is the now deceased 年羹尧。   隆科多 has always somewhat been in the background especially because 年羹尧 took up so much attention but with things slowing down, it’s time for the emperor to get rid of 隆科多。

 

Unlike with 年羹尧, we don’t really see what happens with 隆科多 at the Imperial Court. The Emperor simply tells his mother the Empress Dowager that 隆科多 must die. 太后 the Empress Dowager tries to persuade him otherwise, listing the following reasons.

  1. 隆科多 was crucial in assisting our current Emperor seize the throne. The Emperor already killed 年羹尧, another person who was crucial in his claim. It would send a terrible signal to the Empire if the Emperor kills him. The Emperor would be viewed as ungrateful. The phrase the Empress uses is 狡兔死,走狗烹. We’ll discuss this later.
  2. 隆科多 comes from a heralded Manchu family. He’s the younger brother of Empress Xiaoyiren, the 3rd Empress to Emperor 康熙. It would not look well to be killing prominent Manchu officials

 

The Emperor is unmoved by these remarks. He coldly responds, 隆科多 must die because he needs to protect the Empress Dowager’s reputation. Just because my father didn’t know, doesn’t mean I don’t. If you want to protect my throne and your own title as Empress Dowager, you know what to do. The Empress Dowager knows there’s nothing else she can say. She knows what she must do. 

 

We’ll explain what the Emperor means.

 

[Cathy]

In the evening, the Empress Dowager’s maid quietly brings the Empress Dowager to the room where 隆科多 is imprisoned. These two finally meet after several years. So what’s the history between the two?

 

It turns out that 隆科多 and the Empress Dowager were childhood sweethearts. They’ve known each other for a very long period of time. The empress dowager and 隆科多 reminisce about their past for a while. The empress dowager is very grateful to 隆科多 for helping her move up the ranks in the imperial harem and eventually, helping her son gain the throne. We find out that her original plan was to marry 隆科多 but fate didn’t go that way and she ended up a concubine in the palace.  

 

She states that she’ll try to request clemency for 隆科多 from the emperor. 隆科多 is incredibly moved. Little does he know, the Empress Dowager didn’t actually come for that. It was to kill him. He has a sip of the bamboo wine she brought to console him and promptly dies. 

 

[Karen]

Whaaat? Ok – I kind of knew this was going to happen. This woman will always put her son first. She tearfully explai  ns this to his body. 

 

Throughout the years, empress dowager secretly hated 隆科多 as much as she loved him. He purposefully told her to wear something that would attract the attention of the emperor in order to become a concubine. He didn’t want to marry her, he was using her to secure his sister’s, who was the empress’s, position in the harem. The Empress Dowager knew that 隆科多 would not have helped her son capture the throne if his sister had a son. She did not bear sons which is why 隆科多 turned around to help the Empress Dowager’s oldest son, our current Emperor. What the Empress Dowager wanted to believe was that he, 隆科多,loved her, but deep down, she knew he was only using her. She says that he ended her life. She’s doing the same for him.

 

隆科多 could have lived but the Emperor was not going to allow it. In this cruel act, the Emperor forced his own mother to kill her sweetheart. For her son’s throne, for her own clan’s fortunes, and for her own personal reasons, the Empress Dowager agreed. However, this is not something she wanted to do. You’ll notice that throughout the drama, she is worried about the Emperor’s reaction towards 隆科多. She tries to steer the conversation away from him and minimize the negativity around him, hoping that this would be enough to save 隆科多 from the Emperor. Unfortunately, this does not work. Why? It is heavily implied that 隆科多 and the Empress Dowager had an improper relationship/ The emperor may even be 隆科多’s child – that’s just speculation. The Emperor, though, seems to know something about this relationship and cannot tolerate it any longer. Thus, he does everything he can to remove 隆科多。Now, 隆科多is finally dead.  The two officials that we were introduced to in the very first episode of this drama are…dead. Great job emperor. 

 

[Cathy]

The Empress Dowager falls ill after this incident but the Emperor refuses to see his mother. 沈眉庄 is the one who stays tirelessly by her bedside. The Empress Dowager is grateful for her actions and in a rare move, promotes 沈眉庄 from 贵人 or Noble Lady to 嫔 or Imperial Concubine! She is now the same rank as 安陵容 and 祺嫔。 What an ungrateful and heartless son! You tell your own mother to kill the person she probably loves and won’t see her when she is sick. Once again if there is the worst person award in this drama, it does not go to 华妃 or 皇后, the Empress. Instead, it should go to our Emperor!

[Karen]

Now it’s time for our analysis! We have three things to discuss today.

 

The first is 

长相思 which translates to Missing You Forever, or Longing. This is the poem that the 17th prince’s mother recites at the end of episode 48 when 甄嬛 so happens to visit her and the 17th prince is also there. They play a duet on the gu qin and flute while the mother recites the poem.

 

This is a famous poem by one of the most famous poets from Chinese history, 李白。It cannot be understated how famous this guy is. If you’re chinese and had to recite poems, you recited at least 1 of his poems. He’s also involved in a lot of shenanigans during the Tang dynasty that are well documented. 

 

The poem is rather lengthy and is actually split into 3 parts. The mother recites part 2 of the poem. We won’t translate it here. Essentially this poem reflects the longing a person feels for the one he or she loves. Generally this is about a man’s feeling for a woman as there are references to beautiful people throughout the poem. Beautiful people usually refers to women. The poem discusses the sadness of not being with the loved one, the dream state one feels as if the other person were nearby only to be heartbroken when realizing they are not there, among other items. It is a beautiful poem, though rather dense in meaning.

 

The 17th prince’s mother recites this poem as a way to express her feelings towards her late husband, the deceased emperor KangXi. Clearly she is sad he is gone.

The next phrase we want to analyze is this

狡兔死,走狗烹

 

This phrase is mentioned by both the Empress Dowager 太后 and 甄嬛 when they hear of the Emperor’s intentions to kill 隆科多.

 

The full phrase goes like this 蜚鸟尽,良弓藏(cang);狡兔死,走狗烹

 

My translation goes like this – the birds have been shot, so the bow is no longer needed. The wiley hare is dead, so let’s feast on the dog as well.

 

This is a metaphor for a person who will exploit someone or something until it has lost all value, then he’ll discard that person. This is a rather extreme way of dealing with people. Usually people don’t go to such extremes of discarding or ridding people who are of no value. This phrase certainly has more ominous connotations than simply being something that one does. It’s often used to describe an Emperor’s actions towards his advisors, which is what happens here.

 

This phrase first appears in 史记 or the Records of the Grand Historian written by the Han Dynasty historian 司马迁 in 90s BC. It appears in genealogy of 越王勾践世家 or House of King Goujian of Yue. The political advisor 范蠡 makes this remark after helping the King Goujian reclaim his throne, only to be ousted from court and forced to resign. 

 

Finally let’s dive a little bit deeper in to the figure that is 隆科多.

 

His birth year is unknown but he did come from the powerful 佟佳 clan under the Bordered Yellow Banners. He was the younger brother of an Empress to Emperor 康熙. 隆科多 rose to prominence during the later years of Emperor 康熙’s reign, holding various military and court positions.

 

He is perhaps most famous for his peculiar role during Emperor 康熙’s death. He was the only high level official present when the Emperor died and he was the one who read the will. There are many conspiracy theories about his role in declaring Emperor 雍正 the Emperor. If not for his support within the Imperial Court and the general 年羹尧’s military support, the Emperor 雍正 would have had a much more bloody path to the throne. 

 

After 雍正 ascended the throne, 隆科多 was promoted to even higher ranks such as a 一等公 or First Class Duke. He was in charge of compiling various chronicles of Qing Dynasty and Ming Dynasty history and was granted untold riches. 

 

This all came crashing down in 1727 only 1 year after the death of 年羹尧. The Emperor charged 隆科多 and his family with 41 crimes including bribery, corruption, and treason. 

 

隆科多 most likely did build his own faction in court and probably did participate in corruption. The Emperor also probably really wanted this guy dead, so he found charges to indict him. 隆科多 was placed under house arrest and sentenced to house arrest for life but he died only on year later in 1728. There’s no evidence that he and the Empress Dowager had a fling.

 

EPISODE 46 + 47

 

Welcome back!

 

[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy. We will be discussing episode 46 and 47 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.

 

Last episode our main character Zhen Huan birthed a daughter but was also utterly devastated from discovering the truth about her relationship with her husband the Emperor. The Emperor viewed 甄嬛 as nothing more than a replacement to his first wife. 

 

Heartbroken, 甄嬛 requests to leave the Imperial Harem right after she birthed her daughter, which the Emperor permits. As a concubine to the Emperor, there aren’t that many options for her to go and decides to live in a buddhist nunnery 甘露寺 as a nun. Where is this 甘露寺 nunnery? What is it? We will talk about that later on in the episode. Last episode we titled it the death of 甄嬛。 This is the start of 甄嬛’s new life as a nun. To be very honest, these are probably the least interesting series of episodes in the entire drama. I think most people feel this way. When I’m rewatching the drama, I usually stop after 华妃 dies in episode 42 and then skip to when #spoiler alert, 甄嬛 leaves the nunnery. We’ll talk about episode 46 and 47 in this podcast episode though we’ll spend a bit of time talking about the nunnery and that tradition as well.

 

We start episode 46 with 甄嬛 tearfully assigning her maids and eunuch to different palaces. Surprisingly, her maid and also half sister, 浣碧 and the older maid 瑾溪 decide to accompany her nunnery. Say what you will about 浣碧 and we all know that Cathy isn’t a huge fan of 浣碧 but she at least decides to go to the nunnery with 甄嬛 which is not going to be a pleasant experience. That shows some type of loyalty. 甄嬛 leaves her daughter to be raised by the kind 敬妃.

 

The only two people who see them off are her good friend 沈眉庄 and the Imperial Doctor 温实处. It is quite a touching scene. We find out that 甄嬛 ‘s father is alive and well even though the family has been exiled to the north. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛, 浣碧, and 瑾溪 arrive at the nunnery and are greeted by the order of nuns. The abbess seems to be a kind enough woman but bluntly tells the ladies that they are now at the nunnery. They must leave all earthly desires behind.  甄嬛 is also given a new name 莫愁 which literally means “do not worry”. She is now a nun who is able to keep her hair, something we will talk about later on, and her name is now 莫愁. 甄嬛 essentially doesn’t exist.  

 

A sour looking nun 静白 leads the ladies to their living quarters, which turns out to be a shabby and deserted shack. This is a far cry from the luxuries and splendors of the Imperial Palace. They face their first trial shortly after arriving. 甄嬛 starts suffering from cramps due to her recent birth. Her maid 瑾溪 tries to ask for some brown sugar to help soothe the pain but the nuns aren’t very generous. They instead ignore 瑾汐 and dismiss her. This is very counter to how nuns are supposed to behave. Nuns are supposed to be super nice! They’re buddhist nuns for pete’s sake! There is at least one nice soul in the nunnery. 莫言 which means do not talk.. Very interesting names. Again we’ll talk about this later in the episode. A grouchy nun barges in and gives 甄嬛 a bag of brown sugar but that’s just to keep 瑾溪 from bothering everyone. 甄嬛 realizes that life in the nunnery is going to be tooough,

 

Back at the palace, the Empress is playing with 甄嬛’s daughter! The princess’s title is 胧月 or hazy moon. Let’s pause for a sec – Empress, you are the one who created this whole situation! How can you just be playing with the child?

 

Ok, no we know how. A). She knows exactly how to play the devoted wife in front of the Emperor and B). this princess is just a princess. She’s no threat to the Empress. Well, the Empress seized this opportunity to solidify her faction. The Emperor wants to promote other women in the Imperial Harem since he stripped 甄嬛 of hers. The Emperor wants to promote 沈眉庄 but the Empress subtly belittles 沈眉庄, specifically highlighting her ties to 甄嬛. The Emperor is still very salty about the whole 甄嬛 situation so he agrees with the Empress’s decision. Only 祺贵人 who gets promoted from a Noble Lady to Concubine. 

 

[Karen]

There are a couple of scenes showing the abuse that 甄嬛 experiences in the nunnery while the Empress is living her life in the palace.  She doesn’t have much to worry about in the palace Everything is going to plan!  I guess in her boredom, the Empress gets this brilliant idea when she chats with the Empress Dowager. There’s frost in the south, which could damage the next year’s harvest. The Empress Dowager tells the Empress that the Emperor wants the women of the Imperial Harem to pray to the gods for a good harvest. Well, why not pray right at the nunnery where 甄嬛 is currently banished? I feel like you can hear a mwahahaha from the Empress. 

 

That was my first read of the Empress’s actions but gloating was not her only goal. In her own palace, the Empress divulges the real reason as to why she wants to bring the Imperial Harem to pray at the nunnery. Her own posse comprised of 安陵容 and 祺嫔 is waiting for her in the Empress’s palace. As the Empress puts it, the Emperor is still not over 甄嬛, despite her banishment. The Empress points to these examples; his devotion towards the young princess, his dismissal of the older maid 芳若 due to her ties to 甄嬛, and his coldness towards 沈眉庄 for the same reason. The Empress is worried that 甄嬛 might plan for a comeback. She needs to personally see 甄嬛’s current state to be sure that her own position is safe.

 

This woman is always calculating. At the end of this conversation, the Empress 皇后 gifts 祺嫔 a red jade necklace but curiously doesn’t gift anything to 安陵容. 安陵容 makes a comment on it’s peculiar smell…hm…what does that mean? We know 安陵容 is the jealous type, why doesn’t she seem too disappointed about the gift?

 

[Cathy]

It’s already been 3 months since 甄嬛 has left. Her good friend 沈眉庄 is worried about her so she sends the Imperial Doctor 温实处 on a trip to visit 甄嬛. 

 

The good doctor is stunned at what he sees at the nunnery. 甄嬛 doing chores with the rest of the women. What’s worse, 甄嬛 also has small lesions caused by inflammation from exposure to the cold air. Not just her but 浣碧 and 瑾溪 too. There’s not much the doctor can do but give him whatever medicine he has. 

 

Life continues to be basically terrible. The nasty nun 静白 must have a vendetta against 甄嬛 or something. She orders 甄嬛 to wipe the floors in the main hall. The other nuns gossip and belittle her! Again, shouldn’t this be a place of zen?

 

As she’s wiping, a surprise visitor shows up. Why it’s the 17th Prince 果郡王! Yay!  We haven’t seen him in a few episodes and we find out why. The two have a chat at a nearby river. The 17th Prince was “banished” to the city of 盛京 or modern day 沈阳 for speaking up for 甄嬛’s father and he has only just returned. He has a gift for her – a painting of her daughter, 敬妃, and 沈眉庄. Aw, how touching and thoughtful! That’s not it, he’s even brought materials for 甄嬛 to make clothes for her daughter’s first birthday. He’s thought of everything, including the princess’s measurements! Time also is flying! It’s already a year since 甄嬛 left the palace?

 

It’s time for the ladies of the Imperial Harem to pray at the nunnery. Every concubine from the Imperial Harem arrives. 甄嬛 for better or worse, is still stuck wiping the floor. The episode ends on sort of a cliffhanger? How will the ladies react to seeing each other after so long?

 

[Karen]

Let’s dive right into episode 47.

 

The interaction doesn’t go too well. 甄嬛 gets humiliated and stepped on (literally) by the loathsome 祺嫔。 Ugh,  the Empress and her posse just lay on the insults. The nasty nun 静白 doesn’t help either. She declares to all that 甄嬛 is just a common nun. She does all the chores. An accidental step on the fingers isn’t a big deal. She actually says that! Like what? 

 

The Empress in her serene but pretentious way just states – 甄嬛 is the same as the other nuns. She should be treated as such. Basically just implicitly allowing the nuns to continue their horrendous treatment towards 甄嬛. 沈眉庄, the amazing friend that she is, steps up to 甄嬛 to try and help. 甄嬛 is the mother of am princess! She deserves better treatment! This does not go over well with 祺嫔 nor the Empress. The Empress states everyone has their own position in life, a commoner cannot compare to an imperial concubine. Know yours. You have stepped out of your position today – you’ll be punished to pray at this temple for the rest of the day. 

 

[add on]

 

Back at the Palace, the Empress is very pleased with the events of the day. 甄嬛 no longer poses a threat to anyone. It’s the Emperor who still can’t leave everything behind. Now it’s time to gloat. She orders 祺嫔 and 安陵容 to focus on maintaining favor with the Emperor. We also find out that 祺嫔 has also been bribing or instructing the nasty nun 静白 to be horrible to 甄嬛. 

 

[Cathy]

Despite her punishment during the day, 沈眉庄 still tends to the Empress Dowager 太后. The Empress Dowager heard of what happened during the day and agrees that the Empress’s actions were a bit out of line. 沈眉庄 begs the Empress Dowager to help 甄嬛’s situation. The Empress Dowager is a shrewd and calculating woman. She at first hesitates but I think what truly sways the Empress Dowager into agreeing is hearing 沈眉庄’s true devotion to 甄嬛. This type of friendship is rare in the Imperial Harem. That and also 沈眉庄’s framing of the princess’s situation. A princess should not have a mother treated in such a manner. 

 

The Empress Dowager then turns her attention towards 沈眉庄’s own favor with the Emperor but she doesn’t care for it. She requests to move to 碎玉轩, 甄嬛’s old quarters. This is basically a death sentence for her prospects of favor but she doesn’t mind. The Empress Dowager sighs but agrees to this request. 

 

Time flies by – it’s already the Princess’s first birthday. 甄嬛 has completed her gift for her daughter and meets the 17th Prince 果郡王 on the appointed day. The 17th prince is laying on the flirtation but 甄嬛 is either oblivious or too jaded now to care. 

 

[Karen]

On her return to her quarters at the nunnery, she’s excited to see a surprise visitor. The senior maid 芳若! This maid now serves the Empress Dowager. This maid brings some gifts and medicinal supplies from 沈眉庄 and the Empress Dowager. She receives news from 芳若 that the Palace is preparing for a grand celebration for the Princess’s first birthday. 甄嬛 is obviously happy to hear this. 

 

甄嬛  asks who still keeps the Empress 纯元’s belongings. The maid tells her that the vast majority are with the Emperor, then the Empress and a few are with the Empress Dowager. The Empress 纯元 had a favored jade collar necklace that was gifted to her for her wedding night. Upon hearing this, 甄嬛 makes a request. She asks the maid 芳若 to have artisans make a similar collar necklace out of jade for the Princess to wear during her birthday. The maid agrees. 

Even in exile, 甄嬛 is planning for her daughter’s future. Since she can’t do much the few things she can do is to suffer the terrible treatment from the other nuns to loosen the 警惕之心 wariness from those in the palace towards the Princess. If 甄嬛 remains harmless, no one will place their attention towards the princess. She knows full well that the Princess must rely on her father’s favor for any position in the Imperial Harem. She asks for the artisan to make a similar collar necklace for the princess because now she knows how much weight the Emperor puts on things related to the Empress 纯元. She is hoping that that the collar necklace will stir pleasant memories about the Empress 纯元 for the Emperor and if the Princess wears the necklace, the Emperor in turn will favor the Princess. 

 

At least now, 甄嬛 knows the key so to speak to the emperor’s heart. His secrets have been revealed to her so she knows how to manage his attention. 

 

Before the maid leaves, she announces quite loudly for other nuns spying outside to hear that she will return monthly for copies of Buddhist scriptures as requested by the Empress Dowager. This request acts as a shield for 甄嬛. If someone from the palace comes monthly from the Empress Dowager’s palace no less, then other people both at the nunnery and the palace can’t literally kill 甄嬛 or torture her too badly. This is all by the grace of the empress dowager. A simple request that is nevertheless effective. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Well it’s time for the princess 胧月’s birthday! She does have a jade collar necklace on. All of the ladies in the Imperial Harem are doting on her. You can really tell that 敬妃 is a devoted mother. The Emperor arrives and he immediately notices the jade collar necklaces. 敬妃 quickly states that she was the one who asked artisans to make it for the Princess. He isn’t angered, he merely states that it looks familiar. 

 

The kind 端妃 chimes in with the exact words to help the Princess. She says, the late Empress 纯元 had a similar one but 敬妃 entered the harem late, she couldn’t have seen it. There are many layers to this statement. 1) She is invoking the memory of 纯元 so it’s top of mind for the emperor and 2) She is protecting 敬妃 from being accused of purposefully copying 纯元。 甄嬛 was severely punished earlier for accidentally wearing a robe of 纯元. 端妃 didn’t want 敬妃 to be reprimanded for it.

 

The Emperor doesn’t suspect a thing and actually gifts his daughter the necklace from the late Empress 纯元.  This is even better than what 甄嬛 could have hoped for! This necklace will be a talisman for the Princess. If ever the Emperor gets mad at his daughter, if she’s wearing the necklace, he might think twice about any punishment. 

 

[Karen]

What else happens in this episode?

 

Two major storylines: 

 

  1. On his way back from the Princess’s birthday festivities, the Emperor passes by 碎玉轩, the palace where 甄嬛 used to live. He’s surprised to see his own son, the unfavored 4th prince, waiting outside. He asks his son what he’s doing outside of the palace and the 4th prince explains that 甄嬛 was always kind to him when he was young, telling him to read and focus on his studies in order to be a good son. The emperor hears of 甄嬛’s kindness towards the son and decides to enter the palace. He is quite saddened to see that 甄嬛 left almost everything that he had given her. Clearly, he is upset she’s gone and is still not over her.

 

  1. 甄嬛 meets a kind looking nun who turns out to be none other than 舒太妃, a concubine to the previous emperor 康熙 and the mother to the 17th prince, 果郡王。 甄嬛 and this woman are both women from the imperial harem who have left the palace to live out their lives as nuns. 甄嬛 actually has her chinese instrument, the 古琴 that used to be that of this 舒太妃. 甄嬛 accidentally broke it earlier in the e pisode but was able to bring it to this 舒太妃 in order to fix the instrument. Who happens to be with his mother when 甄嬛 comes to visit? Of course, it’s the 17th prince! Lots of conversation ensues primarily around trying to find 浣碧 a husband. The 17th prince thinks she would be good with his servant 阿晋  since they get along very well but 浣碧 is like nope! Not interested.

 

It’s getting more and more obvious to everyone that the 17th Prince is interested in 甄嬛. He even calls her 嬛儿, a very intimate nickname. 浣碧 warns 甄嬛 of the 17th Prince’s affections towards her. This man is the younger brother to her husband! 甄嬛 flatly states that they are 知己 or confidants, The episode ends with the 17th Prince’s servant delivering the news that the Empress Dowager is looking to find a wife for the 17th Prince. 甄嬛 is happy for him but that is not what the servant wants to hear. He asks her – does she truly not know who the 17th Prince wants for his wife?

 

Buddy stop – that’s a very dangerous topic.

 

[Cathy]

This episode will be light on analysis. I will compare these episodes to the training montage of the Dark Knight Rises? Where Batman gets thrown into the pit by Bane? Bane is wreaking havoc in Gotham but Batman has to build himself up from the ground to return to the palace. These episodes are basically 甄嬛’s struggles in the Pit. 

 

So what are we going to talk about today in our analysis? 

 

We’re focusing on the nunnery and 甄嬛’s new life as a nun. Since we are watching a Chinese drama, the discussion we have here is focused around Chinese nuns.

 

Women in the imperial harem leaving to become nuns is not unheard of. It is a potential option for women when their husband, the emperor, dies but this option in the Qing Dynasty is extremely rare.  The alternatives are:

  1. 殉葬 which means you are sacrificed and buried with the emperor. The Chinese were very superstitious in ancient times. Emperors wanted to have a large posse of people with them in the afterlife. So…the women were generally all killed. The methods of sacrifice varied. I guess the nicer ones are that you are poisoned or some eunuchs come with white linen to strangle you. Others are more gruesome such as burying the women alive. This practice differed in each dynasty. It was actually banned in the Ming Dynasty, the dynasty before this one but was reintroduced in the Qing dynasty. The practice of human sacrifice or 殉葬 was finally banned by the current emperor’s father 康熙 in the 1670s.
  2. You live in another palace in the Forbidden Palace. In Qing Dynasty, this meant living in the northwest quarters of the Forbidden Palace. The Empress Dowager occupies the biggest palace with the biggest allowest. A female’s rank after the death of her husband depended on her rank while he was alive, her issue, her family’s position at court, and ultimately what the current Emperor decides to give you. The title includes the word 太 or what we would call Dowager. During the reign of this emperor, anything below a 常在 or a 1st Class Female attendant would not be granted a Dowager title. Life as a Dowager in the Imperial Harem was often tough. They were often neglected, with little allowance, and political influence. For many women, this meant a meaningless life as they could not remarry or leave the Imperial harem.

 

[Karen]

Back to the nunnery – when you decide to become a nun, the biggest physical change you have is that you cut off all your hair. This is part of the ritual to become a m  onk or a nun. In Chinese, the term is to ‘出家’。甄嬛 is allowed to keep her hair, as does her maids but they are now considered nuns. 

 

The other change is that their names have changed. Once you become a nun or are ordained as a nun, you are given a Dharma Name or in chinese a 法号 or 法名。 Generally the names are based by generation depending on when you became a nun. As a nun, you are supposed to study buddhist scripture, pray and strip yourself of the earthly world you once knew. You are to be vegetarian, cannot drink alcohol and cannot marry. In general, you are to do acts of good as a buddhist nun. That is why the fact that there are many nuns bullying and abusing 甄嬛, now known as 莫愁 is surprising. These women are supposed to be kind hearted especially as nuns but that is clearly not the case.

 

I also want to speak briefly about the location of this temple where 甄嬛 now lives. The temple that is mentioned in the drama, 甘露寺, does not actually exist in Beijing. This name is actually the name of the temple as described in the book. Remember that this drama is largely based on a book. The filming location of the temple for this drama is a temple called 戒台寺。 The temple was first built in 622 during the Tang dynasty and has since had renovations in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The fact that this was built in what is now modern day Beijing is quite interesting because the capital city during the Tang dynasty was not Beijing, but rather, modern day 西安。The ordination altar in this temple is one of the 3 largest in the country and this temple welcomes many tourists each year.

 

Well that’s about it for today’s episode discussing episode 46 – 47 of Empresses in the palace! Next few episodes we’ll see the affections of the 17th prince on full display! Please email us at Chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com if you have any questions and we will catch you in the next episode!

 

EPISODE 45

 

Episode 45 – The “Death” of Zhen Huan

 

[Karen]

 

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas in both Mandarin and English. This is Karen and Cathy. We will be discussing episode 45 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.

 

If you are new to the podcast, please start with the intro to the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. Send us any comments/feedback to Chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. Share this podcast with your friends! We just love talking about dramas and dissecting them. Anyone who might like to hear our thoughts, please have them listen in!

 

Episode 45 is what I would call a conclusion of an era. Yes we had Hua Fei die 3 episodes earlier but this is really where all the secrets are revealed to the main character, 甄嬛。 In the last 2 episodes, we see the Empress, 皇后, as well as 甄嬛’s former friend, 安陵容’s true colors. Both of them have been plotting for forever to destroy 甄嬛. This episode, 甄嬛 receives one last revelation about her life in the imperial harem that actually does, in a sense, destroy 甄嬛。

 

The last few episodes have been more plot driven and less on the historical analysis. This episode, there are plenty of poems to discuss as they are relevant to this story. We will also be discussing how the revelation of the Emperor’s affections impacted the whole story up till now.

 

 

[Cathy]

In the last episode, 甄嬛 became ill during her confinement. . Her loyal maid 流珠 sacrificed herself to summon a doctor for 甄嬛.  Her sacrifice was worth it as 甄嬛 found out that she’s pregnant! 甄嬛 tries her best to stay healthy during her pregnancy but other people in the palace are plotting against her. Let’s pick up from there. 

 

I want to prime everyone that things just get worse and worse for 甄嬛 this episode. It’s just plain depressing. 

 

甄嬛 is several months pregnant but the Emperor has not lifted her confinement nor come to see her. Well he did sneak in a visit while she was sleeping but she doesn’t know that. She’s in the garden reminiscing about happier times, specifically when she first met the Emperor. 

 

The drama at court continues to unfold. The whole case involving the civil servant and poet 钱明世 continues to be front and center. In the last episode, the Emperor ordered all of his ministers write critiques about 钱明世 but 甄嬛’s father 甄远道 curiously did not write anything. The Emperor gave him 3 days to write something. Now at court, 甄嬛’s father 甄远道 steps out to declare that he has no intention to do so. His reasoning is that if people cannot freely write their thoughts, the Emperor will only hear praises, which is not beneficial to the empire. 

 

The Emperor, of course, does not want to hear this. How dare someone question his authority? Especially since the civil servant in question, 钱明世 wrote poems praising the now deceased general 年羹尧, one who blatantly flaunted his own power? 

 

甄嬛’s father does not realize the dangerous position he’s in. The Emperor is very suspicious of his motives. Why will he not acquiesce to this simple request? Are 甄嬛’s father and 钱明世 really in cahoots with one another? You can see that the Emperor is getting more and more angry.

 

Two more Imperial Ministers step out, one is 瓜尔佳 鄂敏, 祺贵人’s father. He has been instrumental in putting 甄嬛’s father in this position, sowing the seeds of suspicion in the Emperor’s mind. Well 鄂敏 declares that 甄嬛’s father is clearly a traitor and should be punished. 

 

The other Imperial Minister who steps out is 隆科多. He tries to play the intermediary but I 100% think he’s also trying to destroy 甄嬛’s father. He suggests that while 甄嬛’s father should be punished, his daughter is pregnant, perhaps the punishment should be delayed? 鄂敏 seizes this line to put the nail in the coffin. He says – what will happen to law and justice if punishment is delayed simply because someone’s daughter is pregnant? What kind of message does this send to the rest of the Empire? 

 

The Emperor’s eyes darken. He says – All are equal above the law. Strip 甄远道 of his title and send him to jail. His family are to be confined at home. 

 

[Karen]

It’s the Double Ninth Festival on the 9th Day of the Ninth month of the lunar calendar. It’s a day to pray for good fortune, drink chrysanthemum tea, and visit ancestors. In her confinement, 甄嬛 nonetheless sent some chrysanthemum flowers and wine to the Empress Dowager. They receive a surprise visitor, the Empress Dowager’s personal maid 孙姑姑. She comes to thank 甄嬛 for the presents on behalf of the Empress Dowager. 甄嬛’s fine but she’s missing her family. She then quotes from a poem. 

 

The maid tells her not to worry. It’s customary for family of expecting concubines to be able to come visit during the 8th month of pregnancy, which should be soon. She takes her leave. Outside, another maid is anxiously waiting outside. This maid is 芳若, a senior maid who usually helps out with 甄嬛’s affairs. We find out that she requested aid from 孙姑姑 because she overheard the news of 甄嬛’s father’s imprisonment and didn’t know how to behave around 甄嬛. The two senior maids both agree that it is best to not tell 甄嬛 anything especially at this delicate time. There’s a bug in timing here – I’m not sure when 甄嬛’s father was imprisoned but the Double Ninth Festival happens in the Fall and previously the Emperor gave 甄嬛’s father 3 days to write the critique. Anyways, I just noticed that here.

 

Now we cut to a scene where the Empress and the Empress Dowager are having a chat. The Empress Dowager knows full well that the Empress, 皇后, is not kind to children of other concubines in the palace. 太后 does her best to warn 皇后 not to endanger any more of the emperor’s thereby protecting 甄嬛. This conversation is sort of like a part 2 to a conversation these two women have in the last episode. I’m pretty sure they just filed the 2 scenes back to back but just spliced them here. Lol.

 

[Cathy]

Last time, the Empress Dowager tried to appeal to the Empress by reminding her of their clan’s position at court. The Empress needs to maintain her status. This time, the Empress Dowager is more blunt. 太后 says that it is the duty of 皇后 to ensure the line of the Emperor. If the Emperor does not have children, this reflects poorly on Empress. The empress says well the emperor has 3 sons. The empress dowager shoots back by saying. look at the previous emperor, 康熙. He had 20+ sons and just as many daughters. The Empress Dowager then punishes the Empress by telling the Empress to go stand outside of 螽斯门 to try to get her to think about what she’s done. The Empress Dowager is trying to do two things here. 1. Protect 甄嬛’s child. The Emperor is already in his 40s with only 3 surviving sons. The Empress Dowager needs 甄嬛 to birth a son to protect the Emperor’s line. 2. She is warning the Empress that it’s time to stop whatever dirty tricks she’s been planning. The Empress Dowager knows full well what the Empress has done to other women in the Imperial Harem and this needs to stop. Oh, I don’t think the Empress Dowager cares about who the Empress kills and what not. She only cares if these women have children. It’s all about the children.

 

[Karen]

 

Does it work? Absolutely not. We wouldn’t have so much drama if just reminding the Empress and having her stand outside a door would work. So what is this 螽斯门? – 皇后explains this a little and apparently this door also shows up in other dramas too. The door exists in real life and is in the Forbidden Palace. 螽斯 is a type of cricket that was mentioned in the Book of Poems 诗经。It signifies having many children and the good fortune of this large family. That’s why this door exists and why the Empress Dowager tells the Empress to go there. She should be thinking about having many children.

 

But the Empress is bitter. Her pawn, 安陵容, the former friend of 甄嬛, comes to visit the Empress. The Empress explains that her own son, the eldest son of the Emperor, died when he was a toddler. How can she bear to have the children of other women survive when her own son perished? This right here is her motivation for killing so many children. She’s of the mind that if I can’t have it? Why can others. 

 

安陵容 follows along and says right, any child that you don’t want to live, shouldn’t live. What a crazy and bone-chilling thing to say. The Empress then points out that 甄嬛 is 8 months pregnant. It would be a shame to have anything impact her pregnancy such as finding out about her family’s predicament. That terrible information cannot be told to her.

 

How two faced. 安陵容 knows exactly what’s up. It’s not direct, but those are orders. Do the exact opposite and tell 甄嬛 that her father is imprisoned. Their goal is to trigger 甄嬛 so much that she will have a miscarriage that will kill both mother and child. Why is the Empress ok with doing this? She was tasked with taking care of 甄嬛‘s pregnancy was she not? It’s because the Empress will not be held responsible for 甄嬛 hearing this news or how she reacts. That’s all external and cannot be traced back to the Empress. But the Empress was the one to tell the other concubine, 祺贵人 , and by extension, her father, to bring down 甄嬛’s father. 皇后 is masterful in using the court to achieve her ends in the imperial harem. You know the saying that women in the imperial harem are not to interfere with court? Well this is kind of the opposite. Court is helping interfere with the harem.

 

[Cathy]

Of course, 甄嬛 gets suspicious after a while because her family hasn’t been scheduled to come see her in the palace despite her pregnancy. Not long after, a “new” eunuch comes with some items for 甄嬛 and shares the news, after some money, that 甄嬛’s father has been imprisoned and accused by none other than 祺贵人”s father. This man is a backstabber because he worked with 甄嬛’s father to bring down 年羹尧 and 华妃 baci in episode 40-42. After delivering this news, the eunuch scuttles away. Who sent him to share this news? Yup. It’s 安陵容。 安陵容 also tells this eunuch to go to the prison with plague infested rats so as to infect 甄嬛’s father and kill him. 安陵容 really is a piece of work. She does not care about 甄嬛 at all. Her methods are also incredibly devious and deadly. In my opinion, her and 皇后 are the most annoying/worst kinds of opponents. They have no bottom line they aren’t willing to breach and it’s clearly on display here.

 

甄嬛 is heavily impacted by this news. She confirms this information with her friend, the imperial doctor, 温实初。 We didn’t mention this in the last episode, but it was the Emperor who insisted on 温实初 taking care of 甄嬛 which was a good move. Seems like he is the only doctor that can be trusted in the palace. We haven’t heard of any other doctors around for a while. 

 

[Karen]

As anyone would in this situation, 甄嬛 wants to save her family. She asks for an audience with the Emperor who finally grants her wish. This is the first time they’ve seen each other face to face since the wrong robe incident many months back. The emperor is in his study writing a letter. 甄嬛 shows up and explains that her father was set up, that he is innocent. She tries everything to appeal for her family. Unfortunately, the emperor is resolute in his decision. He coldly says that he’s made the decision to banish her to 宁古塔, a place in the northeast of the empire. 宁古塔 is cold and destitute and is generally where prisoners are exiled to. The place has a horrible reputation for being tough to survive.  However, the emperor says that The family will be spared from slave labor and just be made to live there- that’s already clemency enough. 

 

甄嬛 finally voices her displeasure and retorts – is there really clear cut evidence for this case or are you still sulking about the deceased general 年羹尧 and your 10th brother so much so that you have to be suspicious of everyone? Dang girl! That’s bold. This statement completely angers the Emperor. He flings the papers on his table at her and yells “Do you know what you are saying?”

 

甄嬛 picks up one of these sheets and reads it aloud. It’s a letter the Emperor was writing while 甄嬛 showed up but this letter was written to his deceased wife 纯元. After reading this letter, 甄嬛 is finally and completely heartbroken. We’ll deep dive into this in our analysis section. Essentially she finds out that the man she loves has never actually loved her. All of the affections and favor she received was because she reminded the Emperor of his deceased first wife. He never actually loved her. This revelation is shocking to 甄嬛 and she even screams at the emperor that all her years of affections were misplaced. In the drama, this is one of the most heart wrenching scenes. 孙俪 the actress does an amazing job acting this disbelief and dejection out.  

 

Just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, the eunuch 苏培盛 enters to deliver the news that 甄嬛’s father has fallen ill in jail from the plague. We all know how that happened. 甄嬛 is once again stunned.  Ugh, she sort of falls to the ground upon hearing the news. The Emperor makes a half hearted turn towards but doesn’t motion to pick her up. I can’t.

 

[Cathy]

She quickly turns to the Emperor to beg not for clemency this time but for medical help for his father. Even at this point, when it’s clear that 甄嬛 is not doing well, she’s still wearing those flower pot bottom shoes for goodness sake, he says nothing. She’s pregnant with your child! Do something! But no, he just watches her hobble out of the room.

 

甄嬛’ is rushed back to her palace but she’s already fainted in the carriage and she’s bleeding. News travels fast and 甄嬛 is going into labor prematurely. The Empress is excited, hoping for two deaths. She got exactly what she was planning for. 沈眉庄 however is worried. She wants to help 甄嬛 but she’s quickly stopped by 敬妃. 端妃 analyzes the situation for her. The three of them are all team 甄嬛 which honestly is quite nice to see given how poorly she’s been treated by the Empress and 安陵容. 敬妃 and 端妃 explain that the Emperor himself needs to know just what 甄嬛 went through to deliver the child. If he feels guilty, then there’s hope for 甄嬛 to regain favor. The most important thing right now is to make sure 甄嬛’s father stays alive. If he dies, 甄嬛 and her child will be forever branded as descendents of a criminal which will be a stain on 甄嬛 that cannot be washed away. With that, these two ladies hurriedly summon doctors to rush to jail. 

 

We get a quick scene of 甄嬛 in labor – but it looks like she’ll pull through. I’m not sure why? She didn’t have to work so hard for this child. Perhaps she wanted her to be the last things she does for her love, the emperor after finding out he utterly used her and betrayed her.

 

[Karen]

What’s the Emperor doing? He’s just sitting there facing the wall, cross legged, eyes closed. The only glimpse that we have into his thoughts is how quickly he’s pushing the beads on his buddist bracelet. This is a meditative thing that people do a lot. They hold bead bracelets that they push the beads back. You’ll see monks and nuns in temples with these bracelets. The emperor has a jade one he’s pushing around as he is nervous. Contrast his lack of behavior to that of his eunuch 苏培盛. The eunuch is pacing all around the room. I find that quite hilarious because it’s 苏培盛 who’s like “don’t worry Emperor, don’t rush Emperor, everything is going to be all right”. Clearly we see who is the kinder person in this pair. In a change from earlier, the Emperor does allow doctors to check in on 甄嬛’s father. 

 

At this moment, another eunuch comes rushing in to deliver the good news. 甄嬛 has delivered a healthy baby…wait for it…girl. The Emperor finally opens his eyes, turns around and says – “ A princess is also good”. He then gets up to finally see 甄嬛. 

 

News of the princess travels quickly to the Empress’s palace. She of course breathes a sigh of relief. It’s only a princess. Even if 甄嬛 is still alive, it’s only a princess. Let’s pause there to also say – look at this society where they really do not care about women. This reinforces again that women are nothing but second class in this era.

 

The servants of 甄嬛’s palace are also somewhat disappointed that the child is a girl but they quickly hide their disappointment because at least they are alive.  甄嬛 wakes and takes a brief glance at her daughter. 敬妃 is also here to help out. The Emperor rushes in, takes a peek at her daughter and sits at 甄嬛’s bedside. You can tell he’s extremely pleased. She however, refuses to look at him.

 

[Cathy]

He wants everything to go back to how they once were. 甄嬛 however, cannot accept that. She asks, how is it possible to go back to how it was. 

 

[Karen] – I’m looking at this scene now and think, WOW emperor. You have a huge ego. After everything you’ve put 甄嬛 through you just think everything can magically snap back to how it was before? Wow. 甄嬛 is right to not accept this.

 

 [Cathy] – 甄嬛 is utterly heartbroken at finding out she is indeed just a replacement. Everything she has received is because she is similar to Empress 纯元。 Seeing that 甄嬛 won’t bow down and be the submissive replacement, the Emperor says calmly that she should not stay in the palace anymore. She should go to a buddhist temple to calm down. She actually agrees. There is nothing left for her in the palace and staying will only cause pain for her daughter. Leaving will be the best way to protect her. With tears quietly streaming down her face, she asks that since she’s leaving she wants to name their daughter. Her nickname will be 绾绾。Chinese is very funny because words can sound the same but are completely different characters and mean completely different things. There are so many homonyms. The 绾 that 甄嬛 is proposing to call her daughter sounds exactly the same as 菀 , the nickname of the deceased first wife, and 甄嬛’s own title as a concubine. The emperor thinks is the latter 菀 but 甄嬛 clarifies it is another character. We will discuss this in our analysis later too. She just explains that she hopes her daughter will be able to do the things she won’t be able to for her father. 

 

With that, she has one last request. She asks that her daughter be given to 敬妃 to raise. 敬妃 has always been kind to 甄嬛 and 甄嬛 is helping ensure that 1) her daughter is in good hands and 2) that 敬妃 has someone to depend on in the palace as a way to thank her for all she’s done for 甄嬛.

 

The Emperor agrees and asks if there is anything else 甄嬛 wants to say. 甄嬛 recites one more poem. This is a pretty harsh poem to recite and we’ll explain too. The Emperor is very clearly angered by this and the episode ends with him storming out of the palace.

 

[Karen]

Analysis:

So……we were hoping that this episode would be short on the recap and long on the analysis but we couldn’t make that happen so it will just be long on the analysis and long on the recap! There was a lot to unpack on what happened this episode but just as much to explain the history. Everyone had a chance to digest? Let’s get started again.

 

The first poem to analyze is the one 甄嬛 quotes during the Double Ninth Festival earlier on in the episode just after her father was imprisoned but she was still unaware. The poem’s name is 九月九日忆山东兄弟 or Reminiscing my brothers from Shandong on the 9th Day of the 9th Month by the Tang Dynasty poet 王维.

 

王伟 was a famous poet and painter born in 701 or 699AD, it isn’t quite clear and died in 761. His writings were saved in a collection that includes over 400 works. He wrote this poem when he was only 17. 

 

The full poem goes like this

    独在异乡为异客, 每逢佳节倍思亲。

 遥知兄弟登高处, 遍插茱萸少一人。

 

I’m alone in foreign place as a visitor, every time there’s a holiday I miss my friends and family. 

I know for this holiday my brothers are hiking but this year they are missing a person with a dogwood pouch.

 

This is the best I could translate this. Even in the tang dynasty, for the Double Ninth festival, it was customary to go hiking. People would bring small pouches of 茱萸 or dogwood on their hikes to ward off spirits. I actually think the first two lines fit 甄嬛’s feelings a bit more in that scene. When the poet 王维 wrote this poem, he was already by himself in the capital city of 长安. He’s feeling lonely without his friends and family.  But overall, I think the sentiments for 甄嬛 are the same. She brings up this poem as a way to say that she is missing her family on this holiday where families are supposed to be together often visiting graves of their deceased loved ones. The holiday is still celebrated today in China. This poem is very on the nose because the maid who comes see her knows what befell zhenhuan ‘s family so there is no way 甄嬛 will be able to see them despite 甄嬛 being pregnant and wishing her family was around. 

 

[Cathy]

Next, let’s talk about the letter 甄嬛 reads when she confronts the Emperor. The Emperor had just written it and it’s address to his deceased first wife 纯元. Why does 甄嬛 have such a big reaction to reading this poem? Let’s find out.

 

The letter goes like this. 

寄予菀菀爱妻:念悲去,独余斯良苦此身,常自魂牵梦萦,忧思难忘,纵得莞莞,莞莞类卿,暂排苦思,亦除却巫山非云也。

 

Here’s my translation: To my beloved wife 菀菀. I grieve your departure, as you’ve left me alone in this world. You still move my soul. I often search for you in my dreams. I still cannot forget you. Even though I now have 莞莞 and 莞莞 is like you, she only briefly stops my yearnings for you. For I’ve seen the best clouds in 巫山 and nothing can compare. 

 

Let’s dissect this: We call the Emperor’s first wife 纯元 but her nickname was 菀菀. This 菀 sounds exactly like 莞 from 甄嬛’s title but the characters are different and have different meanings. 菀 for 纯元 is an Aster tataricus or a purple flower.  The 莞 for 甄嬛’s title can mean small smile or else the plants bulrush. The last phrase that translates to – For I’ve seen the best clouds in 巫山 and nothing can compare means that I have had the best, which is 纯元, and nobody can compare, not even 甄嬛.

 

This letter makes it extremely clear that 甄嬛 is nothing but a replacement for 纯元. 甄嬛 might not have completely understood why the Emperor was furious with her before when she accidentally wore the wrong clothes but now she does.  The Emperor was not going to allow anyone to touch his precious 纯元’s belongings even if it’s 甄嬛. This also shows that everything that 甄嬛 has received in terms of affection and favoritism was only a result of her being like 纯元。

 

This is such a sad joke for 甄嬛. The Emperor gave 甄嬛 this title of 莞 way back in episode 2 when he first laid eyes on her. Even at that point, 皇后 asked if the title should have been the other 菀 to refer to the deceased first wife but the emperor changed it slightly. From the beginning, 甄嬛 was always that replacement. Sure there might have been some true feelings from the Emperor but the Emperor always viewed 甄嬛 through the lens of his first wife 纯元. There are many examples throughout the drama that no matter that 甄嬛 did, the emperor still favors his first wife. One that pops immediately into mind is when both 甄嬛 and 安陵容 made pajamas for the emperor. The emperor at first chose the style 甄嬛 created but then made a curious choice. He said I still want to use the ones 纯元 made for me. That’s the best as it is these pajamas are the closest things to me. This statement really stood out to me when re-watching this series. He has 2 perfectly good things in front of him but prefers the ones made by 纯元。 Another example is when 安陵容 came back to favor after having been out due to an illness. The Empress trained 安陵容 to sing like 纯元. This immediately captured the emperor’s attention. While they watched 安陵容sing, the empress says that 安陵容 was trained to sound somewhat like 纯元 but not completely to which the Emperor says that even if its just a little bit, that’s good. This shows again how anything that is close to his beloved 纯元, he will like.  

 

This phrase 莞莞类卿 or 莞莞 is like you is the crux of the issue. The Emperor still puts her in this box, not seeing 甄嬛 for her. This is one hurdle 甄嬛 cannot overcome. Which is why she is so adamant on leaving the palace. In this situation the Empress, ultimately won in terms of removing 甄嬛 as a threat. 甄嬛 now sees that the emperor never saw her for who she truly was. She has no fight left in her. She does not want to try to gain any attention by the emperor. What’s the point? There’s no emotion there. The issue is that from the very beginning of the drama, 甄嬛 has always wanted a true love type of love. One where she and her love will be on the same page. Even though she knows she’s in the palace and that can’t happen, she never expected this. 甄嬛 will not look back because she is very proud. The Empress was banking on this.

 

[Karen]

 

Next let’s talk about more homonyms! 

 

This time the name that 甄嬛 gives to her daughter 绾绾. So many wans.

 

She quotes the phrase 长发绾君心. I’ll translate this to – flowing locks to bind my beloved’s heart.

 

This phrase comes from another 唐 dynasty poet. A female poet at that! Her name is 晁采. The full poem goes like this.

 

侬既剪云鬟,郎亦分丝发。觅向无人处,绾作同心结。

 

I will cut a strand of my hair, my beloved will also cut a strand of his hair. We will find a private place to bind our hair into a true love’s knot. 

 

甄嬛 gives her daughter this name because she wants her daughter to find that one true love. She even says, what I did not accomplish, I want my daughter to. You can really tell that she’s absolutely heartbroken and disenchanted with the Emperor. She wanted true love but she didn’t get it.

 

[Cathy]

Finally, let discuss the lines that 甄嬛 says at the very end episode. 

 

甄嬛 quotes from 诀别书 or the Parting Letter from the Han Dynasty female writer 卓文君. We talked about her before. Her husband 司马相如 wrote this famous song 凤求凰 when he was trying to woo her. He succeeded. Now, years later, this husband gains fame and fortune and wants to bring a concubine into the household. Classic, ugh men.

 

卓文君, mournful of happier days, writes a scathing poem and letter to her husband. We’ll focus on the phrases that 甄嬛 says.

朱弦断,明镜缺,朝露晞,芳时歇,白头吟,伤离别,努力加餐勿念妾,锦水汤汤,与君长诀. 

 

Strings are broken, marriage is done, my youth has gone, it’s time to leave, remember to eat and don’t think about me, your wife, I swear to the flowing river in front of me, to part with you.

 

Essentially, she is saying, we’re parting ways. I’m leaving you. 

 

After everything that 甄嬛 has been through, to find out all she has received was fake, it’s no wonder she makes this choice. This poem, as we’ve translated, is pretty harsh. She shuts down the emperor with this final poem. As we said earlier, the emperor is angered after hearing this poem and leaves.

 

[Karen]

Why do we call this episode the “death” of Zhen Huan? Her heart died today. The illusion she was in from everything she had was finally lifted.

 

Let’s round out this discussion by saying that in the entire drama, the emperor is the one who breaks the most hearts and destroys the most lives. Some people say that he is actually very focused on love as he compares everything to his deceased wife. They say he’s 长情 or very sentimental. But look at how many people he’s hurt in his wake. 甄嬛, 沈眉庄. 华妃. 皇后。 It must be terrible for 皇后 to have to endure her husband talk so lovingly about her sister while never showing the same type of affection to her.

 

Wow that was again a lot to handle. That’s all for our episode recap today. Let us know your thoughts! We are working on creating a website and also publishing transcripts of our episodes so you can follow along if need be especially with all of these poems. Look out for that in the coming weeks. Otherwise, please reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!

 

We’ll catch you in the next episode. Yes, we know it’s not the most exciting episode arc but we will power through it.

 

EPISODE 44

 

[Cathy]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas in both Mandarin and English. This is Karen and Cathy. We will be discussing episode 44 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace.

 

If you are new to the podcast, please start with the intro to the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. Send us any comments/feedback to Chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. Share this podcast with your friends! We just love talking about dramas and dissecting them. Anyone who might like to hear our thoughts, please have them listen in!

 

In the last episode, 甄嬛 fell into a cleverly laid trap set by the Empress. 甄嬛 accidentally wore a ceremonial robe from the Emperor’s first Empress 纯元. The Emperor was furious upon seeing 甄嬛 wear this robe and orders 甄嬛 to be placed under confinement in her own palace. 甄嬛 has fallen from favor, this time it could be once and for all. 

 

Let’s start off from here. 

 

[Karen]

Since the confinement order, life for the residents of 甄嬛’s palace has been bleak. The daily rations are brought in by other servants but they are sour, rancid, and barely edible. A far cry from the swallow’s nests and pastries fit for a concubine. Remember all of the amazing food 甄嬛 received previously? Nope none of that exists anymore.

 

It’s winter. Without coals and proper food, 甄嬛’s health turns for the worse. She’s bedridden but her servants aren’t able to even leave the palace to request for a doctor. Her servants try everything, begging, sweet talking, even bribery but to no avail. Just as 甄嬛 tries to walk about her room, she faints. It looks dire for 甄嬛.

 

Her servants including her maids, 流珠 and 浣碧 and the eunuch 小允子 rush out the door to try and plead for help but are stopped by the guards. One of the guards pulls out his sabre to threaten the maid 流珠. The next scene is absolutely devastating. The maid 流珠 stares at the sabre for a few seconds. You can see the smirk on the guard. He thinks this will scare her into backing off. Instead, she does the unthinkable. She charges right at the sabre, neck first so as to inflict a fatal injury to herself. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, you’ll just have to watch the scene. 

 

Everyone is speechless, stunned by the turn of events. 浣碧 rushes to the bleeding 流珠 but the ever loyal 流珠 continues to mutter the words Summon a Doctor. The guards, seeing the gravity of the situation, finally rush out to find a doctor. There is no hope for 流珠 – she passes away right in front of our eyes. 

 

Why did 流珠 do this? She recognized that unless someone is gravely injured, the guards won’t fetch a doctor. She decided to sacrifice herself in order for a doctor to be summoned. I personally don’t know if she needed to kill herself to achieve this goal? I think she may have jumped the gun a little bit.  Maybe that only with a death will the guards be scared enough to escalate. Maybe I’m thinking too much into this that the servants aren’t super intelligent which is why 流珠 came up with such a fatal idea.

 

Let’s pour one out to 流珠, the most loyal of servants. You were amazing and we’ll miss you dearly.

 

[Cathy]

Because of this death, the Imperial Guards report to the Emperor about the events that just occurred so at least 流珠‘s death was not in vain. It achieved its intended effect. The guards though have the gall to say they were just following orders which is why they wouldn’t let a doctor in to see 甄嬛 who is sick。 The Emperor is enraged at the news. He says – I only confined her, I never said she couldn’t see a doctor. 

 

Ugh – buddy you knew full well that this would happen. [karen] I don’t know that! I feel like people were guessing the emperor’s feelings but didn’t realize he still cared. [cathy]The Emperor quickly orders for a doctor to be sent to 甄嬛’s palace and punishes the guard for blocking the doctor. 

 

甄嬛 finally stirs. She’s surprised to see that she’s surrounded by people, including her friend, the Imperial Doctor 温实处. Of 甄嬛’s maids, we only see 浣碧 and 瑾溪. Poor 流珠, but her sacrifice was worth it. The doctor 温实处 immediately delivers some uplifting news. 甄嬛 is pregnant! What perfect timing! This was actually hinted at in episode 42 – right after the now deceased 华妃 tried to burn down 甄嬛’s palace. 甄嬛 has 沈眉庄 stay over and said that for some reason she’s been very lazy and tired of late, always wanting to sleep. Now we know why. The timing here doesn’t completely make sense because more than 1 month has passed at this point but whatever.

 

甄嬛 hears the news but isn’t overjoyed. She simply dismisses everyone except for the doctor and her maid 瑾溪. The Imperial Doctor 温实处 tries to encourage her. This is her opportunity to regain favor! 甄嬛 is not so optimistic. The Emperor hasn’t lifted her confinement, he hasn’t even said any words of congratulations. Everything she has right now is because she’s pregnant. She’s nothing more than a child-bearing tool. Ok, this is true but at least her situation is MUCH better than before. 

 

[Karen]

Even in her weakened state, 甄嬛 needs to plot her next move now that she is pregnant. She now knows who her enemies are and needs to plan accordingly. She writes a letter to the Emperor requesting that the Empress be in charge of her care during her pregnancy. This is a brilliant move. 甄嬛 knows full well it was the Empress who put her in this position but with the Empress in charge, if anything happens to her, the Empress would also be blamed for negligence. This is the safest option for 甄嬛。

 

Once done, 甄嬛 casually asks for 流珠. She hasn’t seen this ever loyal servant since she’s woken up. 瑾溪 mumbles an excuse.甄嬛’s very early on in her pregnancy and she’s very fragile. Mood swings could cause a miscarriage. The servants don’t want to upset her, potentially endangering the pregnancy. What a tough situation for everyone. 

 

After a few days, 甄嬛 sort of catches on that something isn’t right. She hasn’t seen 流珠 in days. This time, she questions 浣碧. 浣碧 tries to give an excuse that 流珠 is taking a nap but 甄嬛 isn’t having any of it. She demands the truth. 浣碧 finally reveals 流珠’s death to 甄嬛. 

 

This is such a heartbreaking scene. As 浣碧 continues to recount the events, 甄嬛’s own tears are streaming down her face. She knows just how loyal 流珠 was. 流珠 sacrificed her own life for 甄嬛. How else could the Imperial Doctor come into the palace? 甄嬛 knew something was up. At this point, 瑾溪 comes in and quickly figures out what’s happening. She consoles 甄嬛 – 甄嬛 must stay strong, healthy and make sure the baby comes to term or else 流珠’s sacrifice would have been in vain. 甄嬛 needs to stay alive to seek revenge for all who have wronged her. Yes please. 

 

[Cathy]

Let’s take a little detour to talk about two women in the Imperial Harem. 沈眉庄 and the Empress 皇后. 

 

沈眉庄 has shown time and again that she’s 甄嬛’s one true friend. She first tries to plead with the Empress Dowager about 甄嬛’s case.  She then, in a surprising move, tries to directly appeal to the Emperor himself. Both of them shut her down. The Empress Dowager offers her and us some sage advice. The Emperor needs to get over his anger himself, anyone else who interferes will simply be collateral damage.  The Emperor is even more heartless – he won’t entertain any thought of lifting 甄嬛’s confinement.

 

Once again, we see 沈眉庄 completely embody chrysanthemum. She’ll stand resolute in her beliefs to help her friend. Unfortunately, she still doesn’t know how the game is played in the Imperial Harem. She needs to bend so to say to the whims of the Emperor if she wants to persuade him but she refuses to do so. It’s unclear if she could have done more for 甄嬛 at this point but at least she tried.

 

Onto the Empress 皇后. She is absolutely livid that she was placed in charge to care for 甄嬛。She desperately doesn’t want any concubine to birth any child. We’ve seen just what she can do. Remember 富察贵人’s miscarriage? One cat solved that problem. The Empress plays the perfect part of the serene, just Empress in front of the Emperor. She asks all the right questions like asking for permission to do x,y,z. The Emperor isn’t suspicious at all. I can’t say the same for the Empress Dowager. The Empress pays a visit to the Empress Dowager. The Empress Dowager knows exactly what to say to pressure the Empress into not sabotaging 甄嬛’s pregnancy. She pointedly tells the Empress that it is her duty to maintain peace in the Imperial Harem not just because she’s the Empress but because she must retain glory for their clan. The Empress needs to make sure that the Emperor actually has children. Otherwise, this will reflect poorly on the Empress. Pay attention to the excuse she gives. I couldn’t even save my own son, how can I protect another child? This will be important in the future. 

 

Needless to say, the Empress does not heed the Empress Dowager’s warning at all. She and 安陵容 continue to plot how best to cause a miscarriage. Nothing can happen to 甄嬛 but what if 甄嬛 herself has the miscarriage? The best option is to strike a mental blow. A sudden mood swing could cause a miscarriage. Remember the civil servant 钱名世 from last episode? He’ll be crucial in delivering that blow to 甄嬛. 

 

[Karen]

In the last episode, I described how the Emperor was extremely ruthless and petty in dealing with this man 钱名世. Well, now the Emperor is requiring all other Imperial ministers write criticizing memos against him, disparaging his behavior etc. This really did happen in history. However, one man curiously hasn’t written anything. Who is it? 甄嬛’s father. The Emperor is displeased to hear this information. He gives 甄嬛’s father 3 days to write something or else, he will be punished. 甄嬛’s father is not there to defend himself. We’ll have to wait to see what happens…

 

Months pass, 甄嬛 is already 5 months pregnant. Apart from not eating or sleeping well, 甄嬛 seems fine. I don’t know how fine that is, haha. The Imperial Doctor 温实处 arrives for her checkup and delivers the news that 沈眉庄’s burn from the fire way back in the winter has finally healed although there is a small scar. 甄嬛 is surprised – did 沈眉庄 not use the ointment 舒痕胶? 

 

The good doctor pauses, he hesitates but doesn’t say much, only – if 安陵容 gives 甄嬛 anything else, please send it to him. Well of course 甄嬛 becomes immediately suspicious and demands him to spit it out. He waffles a bit but finally reveals that the ointment 舒痕胶 does indeed contain not insignificant amounts of musk. This is the miscarriage inducing substance that is very harmful to pregnant women. If someone rubs it into her skin, it’s the same as ingesting it. 

 

Finally! 甄嬛 knows the truth! She is disgusted by this news. Even her so-called friend had been plotting against her. 安陵容 was the one who gifted this to 甄嬛 and she’s an expert in fragrances. 甄嬛 correctly deduces that 安陵容 is the culprit. Throughout the show, I’ve been hinting that 甄嬛 should have investigated EVERYTHING that she’s been using. She only focused on what she ate but not what she put on her skin. The first time I watched this scene, I was blown away! I didn’t suspect the ointment at all! This was such a clever scheme but it also shows just how early on 安陵容 was plotting against 甄嬛. 安陵容 is now fully team Empress and I think quite evil but she gifted this to 甄嬛 way back when! This is terrifying if you think about 

 

[Cathy]

Remember 甄嬛’s miscarriage way back in episode 29? Everyone attributed her misfortune to the fragrance 欢宜香 from 华妃’s palace but even so, the Empress Dowager questioned, she was only exposed to the fragrance for a short while, how could this have happened? Now we know why. 甄嬛 had been using the ointment liberally to heal her injuries from the cat. The musk in the ointment would have also weakened her body, contributing to her miscarriage. If we look back, it was only because of 欢宜香 as a cover that 安陵容 was able to escape suspicion for so long. There are many scenes where the camera cuts to her facial expression as 甄嬛 discusses her miscarriage and the harmful nature of musk.

 

甄嬛 cannot understand 安陵容’s betrayal. In her mind, she always treated 安陵容 fairly, why would she do this to her? Let’s unpack this a bit. Yes, 甄嬛 has treated 安陵容 fairly but we’ve mentioned throughout the series, she’s never truly seen 安陵容 as an equal. Not the same way as 沈眉庄, which is fair. The two ladies grew up together. However, 甄嬛 also needs to realize 安陵容’s own lowly position within her family and even her father’s lowly position at court. 

 

Look, I’m not excusing 安陵容’s behavior but 甄嬛 should have been more diligent in vetting her friends. As her maid 瑾溪 rightly points out, it’s not about how you treat someone. You can’t expect them to return the favor. People make their own decisions and you have to be ready to respond in kind. To me it’s basically like – treat others the way you want to be treated? Yes, do that but then you need to be prepared as if everyone will backstab you, haha. 

 

[Karen]

It’s now the summer and the Emperor still hasn’t seen 甄嬛. He hears reports that 甄嬛 isn’t doing too well and he quietly sneaks a visit to see that she is indeed not sleeping will. I think he’s thawing a little bit but, ugh you’re the one that put her in this state.  I’m definitely not team Emperor. 

 

We finish the episode with 甄嬛 going out for a walk. I honestly don’t know how the women were able to walk while pregnant in those flower-pot bottom shoes. 欣常在 and 祺贵人 walk by. 欣常在 still delivers the customary greeting but 祺贵人 pulls her away. Why bother with her? She’s out of favor.  Here we see the difference between these 2 women and it hints at who will last longer in the imperial harem. 欣常在 still has respect for 甄嬛 while 祺贵人 is just an arrogant fool.

 

Well nothing good really happens from this episode. 甄嬛’s only saving grace is her pregnancy but at what cost? She lost one of her most loyal servants, 流珠. She was more than a servant, but a sister, a friend. In any match up between 流珠 and 浣碧, who is 甄嬛’s half sister, 流珠 wins every round. 流珠 knows her place in the palace. She knows she is and will always just be a servant for 甄嬛 and acts accordingly. 浣碧 on the other hand, thinks way too highly of herself and expects more than what her current position affords her because she is 甄嬛’s half sister. I’m pretty pissed that we don’t even see a funeral for 流珠. I know it’s all to keep 甄嬛’s baby healthy, but come on! 甄嬛 is down to just 2 trusty maids now. 

 

There’s not much to analyze in this episode so we’ll just take this episode as a breather. Not sure how much of a breather this is but we will see what happens to 甄嬛 and if she can successfully deliver her child.

 

That’s it for today.