EPISODE 75+76

 

The Finale – Pt 1

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! Today is an exciting day where we discuss the events of the last two episodes of Empresses in the Palace – 后宫甄嬛传. We are your hosts, Cathy and Karen.  Can’t believe we’re here! We will discuss these 2 episodes in 2 parts. In this podcast episode, we will discuss more of the plot details of what happened plus some character and plot analysis. We will also have a part 2 where we discuss the history of the events that occur in these last two episodes and our final thoughts on the drama. We thought it would be too much to combine into 1 podcast episode so we’re splitting them in two.

 

Now without further ado, let’s start our podcast! 

 

In the last episode, we had our hearts broken with the death of the wonderful 17th prince, 果郡王. 甄嬛‘s sister also decided to follow her husband into the afterlife so those were the 2 major deaths in episode 74. That utterly depleted any emotion left from 甄嬛 to the Emperor and we now head to the end game.

 

Curiously, 甄嬛’s doctor, 卫临, a student of her good friend, 温实初 notifies 甄嬛 that 宁嫔, the former horse tamer maid turned concubine, is asking for 2 things. 1 the aphrodisiac fragrance that 安陵容 left over, and 2, she wants cinnabar. Cinnabar is a form of mercury sulfide largely used for its bright red pigmentation. However, it does have toxicity. As the doctor informs 甄嬛,using this has detrimental effects to the Emperor because the Emperor has been consuming medicine made from Chinese Alchemy. The medicine contains ingredients that while originally may not be toxic, but will turn toxic once Cinnabar is added. This will cause a person to become much weaker.

 

甄嬛 doesn’t share her suspicions with 卫临 the doctor but we know that 宁嫔 is out for revenge. She was in love with the 17th prince herself and learning that the Emperor killed him must have prompted her to act.

 

[Karen]

The major topic of conversation now within the Palace now is who will be the next Emperor. Establishing the heir is of the utmost importance and therefore, the Emperor needs to decide this sooner rather than later. Of the two remaining princes that are eligible for the crown prince title are the 4th prince, and the 6th prince. There’s heated discussion of who the ministers think should succeed the Emperor.  Some ministers go so far as saying that if the 6th prince is made heir, his mother, 甄嬛 should be killed to prevent her from amassing too much power. There is precedent of this dating back all the way to the Han Dynasty. The Emperor himself decides to converse with 甄嬛 over this matter. After all, she is raising both children.

 

甄嬛, in a surprising move to the emperor, promotes her adoptive son, the 4th prince, rather than her birth son the 6th prince. We know a large reason for this is because the 6th prince isn’t the real child of the Emperor’s. If he were indeed made Emperor, that would cause many issues for the lineage of the Qing Dynasty. 

 

[Cathy]

– i also think though for 甄嬛, she’s actually relatively selfishly for her son. She knows how unhappy life in the Imperial Palace is, with all of the scheming, deception, and pressure. I think she wants for her son a carefree life that his father once had.

 

 The Emperor continues to bait her with the position of the Empress. 甄嬛 kindly refuses this title. Both of these refusals play quite well in the eyes of the Emperor because it shows him she is not in it for power. She is making decisions for the prosperity of the Empire. If she had any other response, he probably would have killed her.

 

From this point forward, we are seeing the move towards the Emperor’s demise. This is largely instigated by 宁嫔 but aided and abetted by the Imperial Doctor 卫临 and 甄嬛.

 

宁嫔 bumps into 甄嬛 in the garden where she tells 甄嬛 the origins of the Persimmon Silk Trees planted in her palace. They were gifted to zhenhuan by 17th Prince and 宁嫔 requested to have them moved to her palace instead. 宁嫔 then whispers into 甄嬛’s ear – 别放过他 or Make him Pay. These two ladies will do just that.

 

[Karen]

The Emperor continues to consume these chinese alchemy pills where on the surface he seems to be increasing his life span and increasing energy, but it’s secretly killing him. 宁嫔 continuously tells him how much younger he seems and 甄嬛 instructs the doctor to make sure the Emperor doesn’t realize he’s not enjoying the effects of these pills. This one line is hilarious where the doctor says that 宁嫔 is using these fragrances originating from 安陵容 and the Emperor is very happily enjoying these aphrodisiacs. With the Empress out of the picture, no one will tattle about the components of these pills.

 

What this tells me is that 甄嬛, 宁嫔 and 卫临 are all in on the fact that the Emperor is being poisoned. Part of me wonders why 卫临 is ok being complicit in this but perhaps he realizes being loyal to 甄嬛 is more beneficial to him than the Emperor. He probably also saw how his mentor, 温实初 suffered at the hands of the Emperor and therefore wants some revenge himself. In any case, ladies and gentlemen, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this drama, it’s that always have an imperial doctor on your side. He will not only help you when you’re ill, hide your pregnancies, but will also help you kill your enemies!

 

As the Emperor is enjoying spending time with some of his younger concubines, his health drastically deteriorates. He begins to cough blood. Shortly after, we hear he’s on bed rest.

 

Now this is where 甄嬛 is subtly abetting in slowly killing the Emperor. She instructs servants to place court dossiers in front of the Emperor for he will surely look at them. While on the surface this looks like she’s doing him a favor by ensuring he’s managing the Empire, she’s actually causing him to be further weakened. It takes a lot of energy to review these dossiers and run the Empire!. If 甄嬛 really wanted the Emperor to rest, she’d stop him from working, but she does not. Quite sneaky here but very effective. 

 

[Cathy]

We could say that the kill the emperor timeline is turned into high gear when the Emperor, after several months of rest, wanders the summer palace gardens and sees his 6th son and the 17th prince’s son playing with each other. As the half brothers get older, their appearances are also becoming more similar. The Emperor watches these 2 boys and notes that they indeed almost look like real brothers, not just cousins. This causes him to go into a shock and passes out.

 

When hearing this information from her sister 玉娆, 甄嬛 rightly becomes worried that the Emperor is once again becoming suspicious of his 6th son’s birth.  Even while bedridden, he instructs his spy to confirm this for him once and for all. 甄嬛 hears about the spy from of course the trusty eunuch 苏培盛. 

 

While lying in bed, 甄嬛 comes to visit him. She comes bearing very troubling news that she was told not to share, but decides to share with the Emperor anyways. She does this knowing full well she will agitate him further and cause additional harm to his health. What is this information? Apparently, right after the Emperor became bedridden, one of his younger concubines was caught, uh, cheating on him, with an imperial guard. Upon hearing this, the Emperor is furious. He shouts that these two should be killed immediately and in the most gruesome fashion. How dare they act this way. He’s the Emperor! Why do they all betray him? Why?

 

陈建斌’s acting is amazing here – you can truly see that he’s furious but weakened. 

 

He hunches over with blood spilling out onto his bed covers. 

 

[Karen]

Gee, isn’t that a great question? Why do they all betray him? There are probably a million answers to that question. 甄嬛 doesn’t even flinch at him passing out and having blood spill out. She’s probably inwardly cheering that finally she is pushing this man she hates to his death.

 

It looks like the Emperor is on his deathbed. The ladies of the Imperial Harem are all kneeling outside his bedroom. 甄嬛 dismisses them and declares that if anyone wants an audience with the Emperor, she must be notified. 甄嬛 is taking control of the palace. Along with 皇贵妃 and 敬贵妃, the three ladies make preparations for the Emperor’s possible death.

 

Elsewhere, 宁嫔 saves the day as she happens to see the Emperor’s spy leaving the 6th prince’s room. She enters to see the servants all unconscious on the floor. With a sigh of relief, she sees that the prince is still alive but notices that the 6th prince’s foot was pricked for blood. 

 

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, she hurriedly brings the prince and princess over to 甄嬛 and asks her the question, who is the children’s father? Why would the Emperor’s spy want to do another blood test?

 

[Cathy]

Episode 76 begins with 宁嫔 continuing the conversation with 甄嬛.

 

甄嬛 actually kneels to 宁嫔 to thank her and reveals that those children are the 17th prince’s. This comes as a complete shock to 宁嫔 but she is surprised and happy to hear this. This news also further fuels her drive to take action against the Emperor because it’s evident that the Emperor is suspicious about the truth and this cannot wait any further. She rushes off while 甄嬛 instructs her head eunuch to get rid of the Emperor’s spy.

 

Now, this part i think is a little unbelievable. How would it be that just a group of Eunuchs can go ahead and capture this spy who I would think has some martial arts knowledge and kill him so easily. Like, I feel like that was a little convenient but hey, we’ve talked about this repeatedly, eunuchs are quite powerful in the palace so who knows.

 

宁嫔 back at her palace picks up a pill she pretends to be from the daoist monks but I’m pretty sure is straight up poison and tricks the Emperor into eating as she tends to him. You can see her hatred as she pretends to be caring to him but cannot wait for him to die. 甄嬛 also arrives and these two revenge filled women exchange kn owing glances.

 

[Karen]

Now it’s time for the last conversation between these two. In this conversation, 甄嬛 finally bares her heart to the Emperor and it is definitely not what he wants to hear. The acting between the two in this scene is absolutely dynamic. 

 

The Emperor doesn’t even try to hide and asks where his spy is. 甄嬛 tells the truth that his spy is no longer needed and has been dealt with. 

 

The Emperor then asks directly whether the 6th prince is his son. She gives a circular answer that yes of course, all citizens are his children. He claims of course, the entire world is his but it will soon be 甄嬛’s. 

 

Even on his deathbed, the Emperor is still the arrogant asshole. The Emperor wants 甄嬛 to call him 四郎, her nickname for him all those years ago. She hasn’t said those words in years. 甄嬛 does not indulge him. She’s done doing that. She coldly tells him, the woman that entered the palace years ago? You personally killed her. I am 钮祜禄甄嬛. 

 

[Cathy] – an absolutely iconic line.

 

Recognizing that things can’t go back to where they were before, he states that she must hate him for what he did to the 17th prince. 甄嬛 doesn’t deny it and you can see the rage, anger and resentment in her eyes. She reveals that even if she hates the Emperor, she will take care of Princess 静和, the daughter of 温实初 and 沈眉庄。

 

This news infuriates the Emperor. He tries to sit up but he falls back on the bed. He’s too weak but he’s still breathing heavily. Such a great acting choice.

 

甄嬛 retorts that she is just doing what he has done to others. Compared to what he’s done, she isn’t nearly as deadly. She tells him that she’s hated every single touch and every moment spent with him since her return to the palace. The Emperor is besides himself. He wants to kill her but he doesn’t have any more energy to call his servants.

 

甄嬛 continues to goad him until at long last, he dies, his eyes wide open. After he dies, 甄嬛 finally calls him 四郎 and closes his eyes. She admits that this perhaps was all a mistake but for him, no tears are shed. She only sheds tears outside, announcing the death of the Emperor.

 

Ladies and gentlemen – the Emperor finally dies. However, I implore everyone to watch this scene. Some fun behind the scenes info. When the  Emperor dies, 陈建斌 the actor purposefully kept his eyes opened to convey the Emperor’s anger and the regr. He needed to wait for 甄嬛’s actress 孙俪 to come and close his eyes. However, she was too immersed in her own role that she’d take a few more seconds that he could hold. He’d meekly tell her after filming that if she waited any longer, he’d have to close his eyes on his own. Haha, that’s hilarious but also a testament to the commitment of both of these actors. 

—–

 

[Karen]

With the death of the Emperor comes a new dawn. As per history, the next Emperor will be the 4th prince, 弘历。 He is the famous 乾隆 emperor. After the funeral where the new emperor was declared, the imperial court heads up the steps of the forbidden palace to greet the new Emperor. This man, who originally was disliked by his father, is now the ruler of the entire Qing Empire. 

 

甄嬛 herself is now the powerful Empress Dowager. On the day of the coronation, she visits the old Empress who is still locked in her palace. It has been 4 years since the Emperor banished her. This Empress is alone and destitute in her palace. She seemingly has aged significantly these last few years. The contrast is quite distinct. 甄嬛 is dressed lavishly in gold, the color befitting her new title. Her hair, clothing, lipstick and makeup have all leveled up to reflect her new status as Empress Dowager. While the Empress on the other hand, is in much darker colors of black, blue, silver and red. A far cry from the powerful Empress. The Empress still believes that with the new Emperor, she will be named Empress Dowager. We’ve discussed, she dreamed that she would be 母后皇太后。甄嬛 was never going to allow that. She informs the Empress that she and the new Emperor have decided that she will still be named Empress while she lives. After her death, she will be buried with Concubines rather than as Empress with the Emperor. The Emperor has previously said, in life or in death, he will never see her again.

 

This is the biggest insult that the Empress can ever receive. She worked so hard for her entire life to leave the fate of a secondary daughter but it backfired on her. After she dies, she will never leave that fate. As a final kick, 甄嬛 tells her that the Empress will also be removed from history. No one will ever know of her.

 

[Cathy]

Shortly after this meeting, we hear news that the Empress passed away. No one is particularly sad or surprised.  After all, she was probably the most hated person in the entire palace.

 

One day, the new Emperor comes to visit 甄嬛 to discuss some family matters. The 19th prince would like to formally adopt the 17th prince’s son to be their own. This son was raised in their family ever since his parents died. 甄嬛 has no objection but the Emperor notes that if this happens, the 17th prince’s line will have no heir. 甄嬛 says that they can always find someone worthy to take this mantle. 

 

With this, the Emperor also recounts an anecdote that we’ve discussed on this podcast about how trouble occurred when a mother overly spoiled her younger son compared to the older son. If this were the case with birth sons, what would happen with an adoptive older son? The story of 郑伯克段于鄢 was discussed in our recap of episode 28.

 

[Karen]

甄嬛 gets the hint and she formally announces that she would like the 6th prince to be moved over to the 17th prince’s line.  The Emperor of course, hurriedly agrees to this and heads back to his palace.  甄嬛 recognized that the Emperor was testing to see how she would potentially treat her birth son in the future so she took this step to prevent the Emperor from ever becoming suspicious of his brother and thereby kill him, like his father killed so many of his brothers. And in this way, as 甄嬛 states, the 17th prince can finally have his son call him father. This, in the end, is the best ending she could provide for her son.

 

The drama ends with 甄嬛,now the most powerful woman in the Qing Empire, reminiscing about all of the events of her life from when she was a young, naive girl just entering the palace, to now the seasoned and hardened woman. 

 

 

[Cathy]

Let’s talk about this last conversation between the Emperor and Zhen Huan. One cannot deny that 甄嬛 had genuine affection for the Emperor when she first entered the palace and he treated her as a shadow of his beloved first wife. When finding out that she was nothing but a replacement, 甄嬛 could not handle this truth and left the palace where she began her relationship with the 17th prince.  

 

However, early on in the drama, she wanted to have a one true love. While she recognized it would be difficult with the Emperor, she had hoped for that true affection. This is a little naive in my opinion. She knew what her position would be in the palace and wanting this romantic relationship was never going to be a reality. While still unfortunate, it was not unexpected she would have her heart broken.

 

[Karen]

The Emperor also expected too much of his women. He, being the almighty emperor, expected everyone to bow down to him. Indeed, he had many women who clearly loved him – 皇后, 华妃, 端妃 but he cared only for 纯元 thus hurting all of these other women. His question of why everyone would betray him was a good one. Think about how suspicious he is and unforgiving. He discards women easily and punishes anyone who threatens his power. I don’t think there is a single person in the Palace who did not scheme against him at one point, if not only to get his attention. In the end, I do feel that he loved 甄嬛 but he realized it too late. He always thought he loved 纯元 more and because of that, did unforgivable things to 甄嬛. You only recognize what you’ve lost once it’s too late. The Emperor, in his last conversations, finally realized that he was the one to cause his own downfall, and the betrayal of so many around him. 

 

[Cathy] – I think that the Emperor finally fell in love with 甄嬛 when she returned to the palace but it was too little too late. He was lenient to her in several ways, including not killing her when he killed the 17th prince. He killed poor 瑛贵人 without second thought and that was when nothing actually happened between her and his son the 3rd prince. 

 

I also want to talk about the Empress 纯元. She’s the woman that played an integral role to the lives of everyone in the palace but was never seen. I will commend the Emperor’s devotion to her but I do think this is another example of loving what you’ve lost. In episode 34, we recounted the story of the Emperor 汉武帝 and 李夫人. She died young and refused to let the Emperor see her face, making him pine for her long after her death. I feel like this is somewhat similar, 纯元 died in her prime. The Emperor only has fond memories of her and did see her age or have to scheme in the palace. Perhaps the Empress was right, the Emperor would have tired of 纯元. There’s some interesting discussions about 纯元. Some people believe that she’s the innocent woman who cared for her sister and staff and loved the Emperor. There’s others who believe that she’s the ultimate schemer who, on her deathbed, begged for the Emperor to take care of her sister 宜修, causing the Empress 宜修 to be never anything more than 纯元’s sister. What do you guys think?

 

[Karen]

Of the women who remained in the palace, we have 甄嬛, obviously, 皇贵妃 , formerly 端妃, 敬妃, now 敬贵妃 and 欣嫔. There may be other women who survived but they were secondary characters and therefore not mentioned. What I found incredibly interesting is that these 3 women all entered the palace before 甄嬛. Throughout the drama, they remained relatively reserved. They don’t have as much political capital since their families or clans were not nearly as powerful as some other well known families and therefore they kept their head down. Each of these 3 women did not actively engage in tactics to capture the Emperor’s attention and were kind in their own way to 甄嬛 and others. It’s not surprising that these women survived to the end when so many others perished. 

 

Of the three women, 皇贵妃 or the previous 端妃 was the most devoted to the Emperor. She, in her own way, truly loved him. She knew that she took the fall for 华妃’s miscarriage but she didn’t care. In this episode, she refuses to meet 甄嬛 after the Emperor’s death. I think because she probably knew 甄嬛 had something to do with it and couldn’t bear to see her.  

 

[Cathy]

One woman who could have survived but decided her own fate was 宁嫔. We see her end her life after the death of the Emperor. She is a fan favorite character and there are many reasons why. Despite her low birth and her often times antagonistic personality, she was able to maintain favor in the palace and gained power. She did not deign to participate in palace schemes even though she was clearly capable of playing games. Her love for the 17th prince is truly touching. trait. She, unlike 玉隐,loves him but does not want to keep him for herself. She recognized that fate meant she will never have a chance with the 17th prince and instead of sabotaging his lover, she does everything in her power to help 甄嬛. Not many people would do this. She protected the 17th prince by protecting and helping 甄嬛. When hearing that 甄嬛’s children were indeed the 17th prince’s, she immediately took action to protect them once and for all. It also speaks volumes that 甄嬛 trusts 宁嫔 enough to tell her this secret. 

 

I personally don’t think 宁嫔 or 叶澜依 needed to end her life, but I guess it makes sense. There is nothing left to live for. She got the justice she wanted and completed her revenge for both herself and the 17th prince by helping end the Emperor’s life. Of all the ladies in the palace, she ranks very highly in my favorites. 

 

[Karen]

Finally – let’s discuss two men in the Imperial Palace. The first is the newly crowned Emperor, the 4th Prince, or 弘历. We’ll talk about this historical figure in another episode but I want to dive into his character right now. This prince is as sharp as a whip. He easily goaded his 3rd brother into meeting their 8th uncle, which ultimately led to his 3rd brother’s downfall. This 4th prince, knows when to keep his mouth shut and when to help his adoptive mother 甄嬛. In their mother son arrangement, both 甄嬛 and the 4th prince know that it’s advantageous to be in lockstep with each other, whether it’s to gain favor or keep their heads down. However, this relationship still can’t replicate the true bond between 甄嬛 and her own son the 6th prince. The 4th prince knows this. Which is why he bluntly asked 甄嬛 about the 6th prince at the end of the series. The story of 郑伯克段于鄢 is the 4th prince’s, now Emperor’s, warning to his mother about the 6th prince. If 甄嬛 had other ideas, such as scheming for the 6th prince to claim power once he’s older, the 4th prince might be forced to act as his father once did to kill his brother. 甄嬛 understood the risks and willingly took her son out of the equation. To the new Emperor, 甄嬛 acts as a great surrogate mother but more importantly as a tactician for the Emperor, just as the previous Empress Dowager was to her son. I think this was the best arrangement for these two.

 

[Cathy]

Lastly, let’s discuss the Eunuch 苏培盛. The man who came out number one in our ranking of cleverest person in the Imperial Harem. This eunuch was loyal to the Emperor but during the last few episodes, he acted more and more in favor for 甄嬛. Whether this was to find the letters the 17th prince sent or to tip 甄嬛 off about the Emperor’s spy, what he did was, in my mind, blatantly against the orders of the Emperor. It could be said that 苏培盛 is grateful for 甄嬛’s rescue of him when his relationship with 槿汐 came out but I think more importantly it’s because he is the ultimate insider in the Imperial Harem. He knew full well who had power in the Imperial Harem once the Empress fell. Not only that, who WOULD have power once the Emperor dies. 甄嬛 has two sons, both favored by the Emperor. No matter who became the next Emperor, she would be the Empress Dowager. It’s better to curry favor with her than even the Emperor because he needs to plan for his own future. And look at that, he’s the senior eunuch at the end of the series. 苏培盛’s story tells us, that you need to treat everyone with kindness because one never knows who will be the last one standing. It’s always good to have a few more allies.

 

[Karen]

Well that’s it for this episode! We are finally done discussing the plot and characters of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace! It’s been an amazing ride with all of our. We have one more episode on this drama where we talk about this drama. We will talk about the history not covered in this episode, behind the scenes stories about filming, the cast, and our final thoughts.  If there’s anything specific you’d like for us to cover in this episode please let us know!

 

—-

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas.  We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. This episode is a really momentous episode as it is our LAST one discussing the classic drama – 后宫甄嬛传. 

 

We did our recap in the last podcast discussion of episode 75 + 76. In this episode we will be spending time discussing history and also any last thoughts on the drama regarding themes, the actors, filming stories etc. 

 

Without further ado, let us get started on some history!

 

Chinese Alchemy – 炼丹 –

 

First up are these pills that the Emperor ingested in the last 2 episodes. These pills or the act of making these pills is a form of Chinese Alchemy that originates from daoist teachings. Essentially you are manipulating and refining various minerals such as cinnabar and gold into these pills for various medicinal reasons but ultimately it’s for the purpose of immortality. But not just living forever, also staying young forever. The origins of Chinese alchemy is disputed but it is a widely known daoist act and has permeated chinese culture and history. The elixirs and potions that are created may have had some type of benefit but are actually often times poisonous.  Just think about it, if you’re eating cinnabar which contains mercury, the possibility of being poisoned is large.

 

Of the people who would be interested in immortality, Emperors are among those lining up for these pills. There is a long list of Chinese Emperors who have sought these elixirs or pills for immortality and many of them died ingesting these pills.  Apparently, it was true to history that 雍正, the Emperor of this drama died after eating these pills. He was very interested in Chinese Alchemy when he was still a prince. He spent a significant amount of time trying to develop pills which helped him seem calm and uninterested in the throne in the eyes of his father. Remember, there was a heated and deadly dispute of the title of crown prince so this was the Emperor’s tactic. By seeming uninterested, his father would be less worried about him and make him look more appealing as heir.

 

As the Emperor aged, he continued to follow this fascination with Chinese Alchemy and these pills. The cause of his death wasn’t confirmed but we can reasonably conclude that these heavily contributed to his death as he died quite suddenly in 1735. It’s interesting to see that this drama, Empresses in the Palace, was able to utilize this from history as a part of this story for the Emperor’s death.

 

[Cathy]

钩弋夫人 – In Episode 75, there was discussion between the Emperor and his court ministers about who should be the heir. There was a suggestion that if the 6th son is selected, the mother, 甄嬛, should be killed. This was to ensure that she does not amass too much power.  

 

Though a throwaway line and a rather harsh act of killing the mother of the next Emperor, this act has a historical anecdote. In the Han Dynasty, the famous 汉武帝 did just that. He made his youngest son, 刘弗陵,the crown prince but not before killing his mother, 钩弋夫人。At the time, the Emperor 汉武帝 was already elderly but his son was still very young and very bright. His older sons were either killed, died or not fit to be crown prince so it was left to his youngest. The Emperor recognized that his son will ascend the throne at a young age and will therefore need advisors but did not want his son’s mother 钩弋夫人 from having that power. So, he had her killed. It’s not known how she died but in tv dramas depicting this story, it’s sometimes portrayed as the Emperor giving her this option. If she kills herself, her son will be the next Emperor. 

 

While this may seem cruel, the Emperor 汉武帝 already had experience with Empress Dowagers taking too much power and wreaking havoc across the Empire. He wanted to prevent that from happening which is why he made this decision.  There have been indeed many examples in Chinese history of malevolent Empress Dowagers and women causing the downfall of dynasties. The famous 慈禧 Empress Dowager could be credited for the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. That is why, in this drama, 甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace, the Emperor 雍正 even directly asked 甄嬛 how she would feel if she had to die. It was his test to see if she was worthy or would cause harm. Of course there are plenty of women who benefited dynasties and were great advisors but still, a consideration nonetheless. 

 

[Karen]

雍正

Let’s dive a little bit deeper to discuss the historical figure of Emperor 雍正. During the Qing Dynasty, the Emperors are more famously referred to by their Era name or 年号 instead of their 谥号 or Posthumus name as is common for other Dynasties so 雍正 is his Era name. 

 

Born in 1678, he was the 4th son of Emperor 康熙. He won the bloody battle for the throne and ruled from 1722 – 1735. As the 5th Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, his economic and cultural reforms and military expansion brought relative peace and prosperity to the Empire. Some of his accomplishments include increasing farmable land, abolishing the untouchable caste, increasing silver’s importance in the Qing economy, defeating the Dzungars, and increasing the Imperial treasury. The Emperor was apparently a very fashionable man and was the first Chinese Emperor to wear Western clothes. There’s actually a painting of him wearing a wig and styled in the Baroque period. While he clamped down on Western religion, he did enjoy western products such as wine and he did use glasses in his later years.

 

However, he is somewhat overshadowed in history by the long reigns of his father 康熙 and his son 乾隆. Emperor 雍正’s efforts laid the foundation for the prosperity of his son’s reign, which some say Emperor 乾隆 squandered. It doesn’t help that Emperor 雍正 is oftentimes portrayed as a cold and ruthless ruler, as is done here in this drama. It is historical fact that he killed and imprisoned his brothers and trusted advisors such as 年羹尧 and 隆科多 as seen in the drama, which may or may not contribute to his image. 

 

He had 10 sons but only 6 were ranked or named as an 阿哥 and 4 daughters. We’ve talked at length about his harem so we won’t discuss those ladies here.

 

[Cathy]

There are several rumors regarding 雍正’s sudden death. Historical records only state that he became gravely ill one day and died the next. One rumor is that he was assassinated by a one 吕四娘 but that’s been mainly brushed off as fiction. The next rumor is that he died of a sudden stroke due to over exhaustion. The Emperor 雍正 was indeed a very fastidious Emperor, pushing reforms and working long hours. We see in the drama that he’s often reading reports and meeting with ministers on matters of state. This seems to be the most accepted rumor. A third rumor is as we’ve discussed earlier that he died from eating poisonous Chinese Alchemy pills. There’s another rumor that in his later years, he spent more time in bed with his concubines to a point where he had erectile dysfunction. He decided to eat different medicine and aphrodisiacs to uh fix the problem, which ultimately contributed to his death. Who knew viagra was deadly? These of course are all just rumors but I do think overexhaustion probably did contribute to his early death.

 

As for Chinese drama appearances, Emperor 雍正 reached his peak popularity in 2011 when he was heavily featured in 4 dramas! 甄嬛传, 步步惊心, 宫锁心玉, and 宫锁珠帘. Still, his drama appearances pale in comparison to his father and son who are extremely popular and most notable.

 

太后

[Karen]

Next up – let’s discuss 甄嬛 or her real life counterpart! She is known to history by her clan name of 钮祜禄 or Niohuru. Born in 1692, she married the 4th Prince, the future Emperor 雍正, in 1704 and birthed his 4th son 弘历 in 1711. She became consort 熹 or 熹妃 when the Emperor ascended the throne and became Noble Consort Xi or 熹贵妃 in 1730. When the Empress died in 1731, 熹贵妃 ran the Imperial Harem but was never elevated to Empress Consort during her lifetime.

 

When her husband died in 1735, she was elevated to Empress Dowager. Her son, now Emperor 乾隆, built 寿康宫 for her and that became the residence of Empress Dowagers. In the drama the Empress Dowager or mother of Empress 雍正 already lived there but that palace didn’t exist during 雍正’s rule.

 

She had a very close relationship with her son, Emperor 乾隆. He would take his mother during official visits across the Empire. During her 80th birthday, the 60 year old Emperor still performed for his mother. 

 

[Cathy]

One could say that her family had very good genes because her father, herself, and her son all lived extremely long lives. She died in 1777 at the ripe old age of 85, making her the oldest Empress Dowager in Chinese history.

 

As the mother of 乾隆, she played an outsized role in his life but he was a very respectful and doting son. She is prominently featured in many many dramas, especially those that focus on Emperor 乾隆, such as 还珠格格 or My Fair Princess, 如懿传 or the Legend of Ru Yi, and of course 延禧攻略, the story of yan xi palace. There’s hilarious memes about her due to 甄嬛传. Fans have placed 甄嬛 in the same universe as My Fair Princess or the Story of Yan Xi Palace and created memes like – hm, you kids have nothing on me. I vanquished level 9 foes! Don’t bother me with your childish games. Or, if in a drama she’s not portrayed as being intelligent, fans will scoff and say that Zhen Huan lost her touch.

 

[Karen]

 

六阿哥 – 弘曕 – The youngest son of 雍正, born in 1733, and was just 4 years old when his older brother ascended the throne. Due to his young age, I don’t think he was in serious contention for the throne. His mother was 谦妃 and therefore did not share the same mother as 乾隆 Emperor. The most interesting fact about this prince is that according to history, he did indeed move over to become the son of 果亲王 or the 17th prince, as was described in this drama. You could say that the 17th prince was his adoptive father.  Of course the relationship between the 17th prince and 甄嬛 was fabricated but it’s again really interesting how the screenwriters were able to intertwine real history with the drama. 

 

In his youth, the 6th prince was a favored younger brother by the Emperor 乾隆 and was given large responsibilities. However, as he grew older, he became more arrogant, corrupt and disrespectful of imperial power. His Brother, tiring of his antiques stripped away his power which caused 弘曕 to fall seriously ill. Due to this blow, he never fully recovered and died at the age of 33. 

 

乾隆

[Cathy]

Lastly, as historical figures go, we’ll touch briefly on Emperor 乾隆. I’m sure we’ll probably do a drama about him in the future so we’ll discuss him more in the context of his father, mother, grandfather, and siblings here.

 

Born in 1711, he was the 6th Emperor of the Qing Dynasty and his Era name is 乾隆 so we’ll just refer to him as that. Before ascending the throne his name was 弘历.

 

The rumor is that when 乾隆 was 10 years old in 1721, his grandfather Emperor 康熙 met the boy and took an instant liking to him. The boy was ordered to move to the palace and grow up under the tutelage of court ministers and professors. It is said that the boy’s performance tipped some favor towards his father when the Emperor 康熙 died. By the time his father ascended the throne, 乾隆’s older brother the 3rd prince had lost favor with the Emperor and the Emperor 雍正 secretly tipped him to be his successor. This was written in a secret edict that was stored behind the tablet over the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity. 

 

[Karen]

He married as his wife a member of the Fuca clan in 1727 and as his second consort a member of the ulanara clan. These two are accurate in the drama and of course very much part of the plot for 延禧攻略 or the Story of Yan Xi Palace. 乾隆 was promoted to Prince of the First Rank under the title of 宝亲王. 

 

He had a loving relationship with his mother and fulfilled his filial piety to the nines. I think it’s actually quite rare to see such a devoted mother son relationship in Chinese history, especially amongst Emperors. 

 

He didn’t have many male siblings so he didn’t have to contend with them for the throne. As we said earlier, he favored his younger brothers and was lenient to a degree. He actually released and pardoned some of his uncles who plotted against his father’s throne. Many of them were getting on in age so they didn’t really pose a threat and he won brownie points for his reputation. 

 

He’s the longest living Emperor and ruled for 60 years. He abdicated after 60 years stating that he didn’t want to rule longer than his grandfather Emperor Kang Xi but nonetheless held onto power for another 2 years. He died in 1799 at the age of 89. What did I say, good genes right?

 

Final thoughts –

 

[Cathy]

The lasting impact of this drama cannot be overstated. Despite not having the highest ratings when it first premiered, it is now heralded as THE classic palace drama in the last decade. 甄嬛传 clearly established palace customs and norms for viewers who may not have been too familiar with the palace titles. For example, this drama clearly delineates what it means to be Consort or 妃 or a noble lady, or 贵人. It clearly states what the various levels are and how to achieve a higher status in the palace. This is useful knowledge for all other palace dramas. Many dramas never made this very clear so the titles were often a jumbled mess that was not accurate in history. Now, these titles are much clearer and viewers take this knowledge gained from 甄嬛传 to other dramas and allows those dramas to not have to explain court titles and schemes. It’s just common knowledge. At least, that’s how I felt watching more palace dramas after watching Empresses In The Palace. 

 

It was the same when discussing the concept of 嫡庶. Or the status of the first born and anyone who is not the first born. This societal norm caused so much pain and anguish for many people in the palace, particularly the Empress who always struggled against her birth of being a secondary or 庶出 daughter. This concept was made explicitly clear throughout this drama and therefore brought about a level of understanding to us viewers of this antiquated societal guideline. This concept will be revisited even more heavily in our next drama, the Story of Ming Lan.

 

[Karen]

One theme that was heavily emphasized throughout this drama and was a hidden constraint for almost everyone, was family. The Empress Dowager, 太后, knew that the Empress killed many women in the palace and even many of her grandchildren but ultimately decided to protect the Empress in order to maintain power of her clan. 甄嬛 had to return to the palace because her father was sick while in exile and she had no means of saving them except for relying on a man she hated.华妃 had a powerful brother she could lean on but was manipulated because of her family and connections. 

 

Each person is tied to how his or her family behaves or where they come from and it’s very difficult to change the fact that you’re tied to those families. Family was a hidden force and can often times be seen as a restriction that drove many actions of our characters and I feel is a key trait of Chinese society.

 

[Cathy]

It is easy to be immersed in the glitz and glamour of these Palace dramas. The clothes, the hair, the accessories, the shoes, the make up, the instruments, the jewelry – all of it is beautifully presented to us in these tv dramas. It was also wildly popular for a time for characters from modern day to travel back in time to various dynasties to live out their lives. While yes, the production of these dramas and the stories they tell are gripping, what I have learned most from these dramas and this one in particular is how restrictive Chinese society was just a few hundred years ago. I don’t want to get into politics about what’s going on today, but seeing how difficult it was for a woman to make her way in the world and the societal restrictions placed on women during this time should push us viewers to reflect on the changes we benefit from today. 

 

Beyond the history and themes of the drama, the drama also either started the careers of many of the actresses or was the pinnacle of popularity for others.

 

[Karen]

孙俪, the Actress for 甄嬛, 蔡少芬, the Actress for the Empress and 蒋欣, the Actress for 华妃 all exploded in popularity from this drama. We’ve mentioned previously but for each of them, when on reality TV shows or being addressed by fans, people will call then 娘娘, as the affectionate title of a consort or Empress. It’s been 10 years and that’s still true. A classic line that 华妃 says, “贱人就是矫情” which roughly translates to “bitches are crafty”, is said all over the internet and we all know where it comes from.  There’s another one, the line 我是钮祜禄, 甄嬛 that 甄嬛 utters in episode 76 has taken a life of its own. It’s simply a declaration of who she is but she fully comes to her own. She’s a badass. Now in pop culture, whenever someone wants to say she is a badass, she’ll just say or the comments will say she’s 钮祜禄 blah blah blah

 

They’ve each had relatively successful dramas since Empresses in the Palace but I would subjectively say that those dramas did not become as classic as this one. However, each of these ladies are still considered a staple in the Chinese entertainment industry with incredible acting capabilities.  Women such as 唐艺昕 who plays 祺嫔, 毛晓彤 who plays 瑛贵人, and 谭松韵 who plays 淳儿 were all incredibly young while filming this drama and have all now achieved a certain level of success.   

 

[Cathy]

 

孙俪 – The actress for 甄嬛 was born in 1982 in Shanghai. One of the most famous actresses today, she had her start from a drama called 玉观音 Or Goddess of Mercy in 2003 that showcased her acting capabilities and brought her to the forefront of people’s minds. Since then, she has acted in several high quality films and dramas. Her notable dramas include a remake of the famous 上海滩 or Shanghai Bund in 2007, Zhen Huan Zhuan or Empresses in the Palace in 2011, The Legend of Mi Yue in 2015 and Nothing Gold can Stay in 2017.  Her notable films include Fearless or 霍元甲 with Jet Li in 2007, Painted Skin 画皮 in 2009 and Shadow 影 in 2018. She has won numerous awards for her various roles and was even nominated for an international Emmy award for Empresses in the Palace. 

 

Sun Li is married to a fellow well known actor named 邓超 and has two children. They’re definitely a super cute couple. Sun Li primarily focuses on acting while 邓超 is also involved in several reality tv shows. He’s also a really good actor, but he’s definitely diversified outside of acting in recent years.

 

Without spending too much more time on 孙俪,I just want to thank her for creating such a classic role and bringing it to us in the form of 甄嬛。 I don’t think anyone could have done a better job than her and this will be her defining and classic drama of her career.

 

[Karen]

 

陈建斌, the actor for the Emperor was born in 1970 and born in Xin Jiang Province. Even before this drama he was a well established actor and like Sun Li, has won numerous awards for his various roles. He is married to one of the most gorgeous women in the Chinese entertainment industry, or at least I like to think so, 蒋勤勤. We’ve mentioned this before that 蒋勤勤 looks similar to 孙俪 and so everyone jokes that 蒋勤勤 is actually 纯元 from the drama. 

 

And while many fans were confused and angry at this casting choice when the drama first came out because he’s not as handsome as some would have liked, I think 陈建斌 did a phenomenal job portraying an overall stoic but calculating and suspicious Emperor. 

[Cathy]

From a production perspective, one cannot deny the beauty and detail on the costumes, hair, set and make up. Each individual had distinctive outfits befitting of their title and period of life. 

 

Something else to highlight is the voice dubbing. The voice dub for 甄嬛 is done by a woman named 季冠森。 While she dubbed many voices previously, her voice dub for 甄嬛 is so iconic that whenever you hear her voice dub in another drama, you’re like – oh that’s 甄嬛’s voice. This definitely happened a couple of times in modern dramas where people say that they’re getting confused hearing 甄嬛’s voice while seeing another person’s face. One could say this is listening fatigue of the same voice over and over but I thought it’s quite funny. 

 

[Karen]

Some background about the filming of the show. Filming began on September 18 2010 at 戒台寺 on the outskirts of Beijing. It’s a beautifully preserved buddhist temple that was built during the Tang Dynasty in 644. The cast and crew stayed in Beijing and shot the scenes for the temple at 戒台寺 and the Summer Palace at Beijing 大观园, which is a replica garden of the famous 大观园 built for the filming of 红楼梦 or Dream of the Red Chamber in 1984. Filming then transferred to 横店 World Studios for the Palace Interior scenes. Finally the cast then travelled back to Beijing to finish some temple scenes and the ice skating scene.  Filming lasted for 132 days,  wrapping filming on January 30th 2011. That’s EXTREMELY fast! For 76 episodes? I didn’t know that. There were over 1800 scenes filmed and the main actress 孙俪 had approximately 960 scenes. 

 

[Cathy]

And that’s a wrap for 后宫甄嬛传. Wow! What an incredible journey to talk about this show after having watched it so many times. I’ve certainly learned many things from drama and hope that you did too. If you have any additional comments or questions, feel free to reach out to us. 

 

[Karen]

There is technically a sequel to this drama that’s called RuYi’s love in the palace or 如懿传. The main character we already met briefly in this drama and that is 青樱. The sequel follows the love story between 青樱 and the 4th prince which was retconned to fit the story. In this drama, they don’t have any real emotional connection between them but in the sequel, they love each other deeply. The sequel mentions some of the events from 甄嬛传 but largely follows a separate path. I thought it was alright but definitely not as classic as 甄嬛传 and if you can believe it, even more depressing and sad. It’s not necessarily a drama I go back to and rewatch all the time like I do 甄嬛传 but that’s just me. 

 

Next up! We are going to be discussing the Song Dynasty drama, the Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 Stay tuned and thanks again so much for your support of this podcast!

EPISODE 73+74

 

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas, the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 73+74 of Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan. Empresses in the Palace. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any comments or questions either at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or else on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.

 

We’re hurtling to the end of the drama. The last episode, we saw the defeat of the vile Empress. Her many terrible atrocities were finally revealed to the Emperor and she has been banished to her palace for life.  Now, we’re wrapping up the rest of the loose ends in the palace. The only main person storyline that’s left is the 17th prince.  While I think 果郡王, the 17th prince is great, these 2 episodes are another slap in the face to romance, if you will. He is such an intelligent man but for love, he…loses many IQ points. In the second half of the last episode, the new Dzungar Khan 摩格 came to visit the Qing Dynasty. But, he’s someone that 甄嬛  and the 17th prince have met before. The Khan accosts 甄嬛 after the banquet to speak which was overheard by the Emperor’s spy which makes the Emperor suspicious as to why they would have met. Episode 73 starts off with the Emperor setting a trap for 甄嬛 to try to figure out the truth.

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor asked to see 甄嬛 in a palace and tells 苏培盛, his head eunuch, to call the 17th prince to wait outside. Inside, he tells 甄嬛 that 摩格 wants 甄嬛 to marry him. 甄嬛 is shocked as from a cultural perspective this is a huge humiliation for the Qing dynasty and the Imperial Family. However, there is a rather famous anecdote that the Khan recounts as a precedent for this type of marriage alliance.  Of course, 甄嬛 doesn’t want to be married off and be away from her children but the Emperor says that in exchange for 甄嬛 and the cure for the plague that is currently devastating the Dzungar army, the Khan has agreed to retreat and stop further war. That’s a very powerful bargaining chip. He pressures her to make a decision.

 

Unfortunately, this conversation was largely a trap set by the Emperor because at this point, none other than the 17th prince bursts into the room and requests the Emperor to reconsider. We had our ranking of the top 25 most intelligent people in the palace, and here we see why the 17th prince ranks below the Emperor, 苏培盛 and 甄嬛。 After he bursts in both 苏培盛 and 甄嬛 try to cut him off to make him stop talking. The Emperor though demands him to continue speaking. The 17th prince doesn’t listen to 苏培盛 or 甄嬛 and boldly states that this marriage is not a good idea.

 

[Karen]

The 17th prince has a lot of good points – that this sets a terrible precedence for the Empire and it is a huge humiliation for the Qing Dynasty.  I mean, all fair points. He even makes the statement that if needed, he will lead troops to push back the Dzungar army as general.

 

With this declaration, the Emperor asks the devastating question – Are you doing this for the Qing Dynasty? Or for her?

 

The Emperor learned from his spy that the 17th prince and 甄嬛 had met outside of the palace. With the 17th prince’s actions and words at this juncture, the Emperor cannot help but believe the 17th prince has inappropriate feelings towards his consort. The Emperor is furious while the 17th prince and 甄嬛 hurriedly tries to convince him that there is nothing between them. The Emperor is incredibly sharp and his suspicions are correct, but he doesn’t have exact proof that 甄嬛 has committed adultery, only that the 17th prince has feelings. As he views zhen huan now as a problem for the Empire, he decides to accept this marriage proposal and send Zhen Huan away.

 

[Cathy]

Zhen Huan is tearful but resigned to her fate. This is something the Emperor decided which she cannot disobey. She says a solemn goodbye to the Emperor and the 17th prince. The 17th prince is told to leave and next we see him discussing his next move with his younger brother, the 19th prince and his wife, Zhen Huan’s youngest sister.  The reality is that even though Zhen Huan accepts, she herself said that she won’t let the Qing Empire be humiliated which means she will commit suicide. 

 

Of course the 17th prince can’t have that. On the evening that Zhen Huan’s marriage procession leaves the Palace, he, in full military gear, decides to chase after her. And this is where we say once and for all, STOP. LISTEN TO EVERYONE AROUND YOU. His remaining consort, Yu Yin, Zhen Huan’s half sister, tries to stop him. She pleads with him to stay and not rush after her sister but he just won’t listen. He, being rather heartless to her, just says he has to do this for her. 

 

[Karen]

This though is once again another trap. While the Khan did ask for Zhen Huan, he was willing to accept just the cure to the plague. So, Zhen Huan was never in the marriage procession, instead just shut in her rooms in the Summer Palace. The 17th prince didn’t know that. This was of course reported to the Emperor by his spies. What’s interesting is that the Khan adamantly refuses to confirm that the 17th prince and Zhen Huan have personal relationships. Looks like the Khan is trying to protect Zhen Huan. So as of now, the Emperor only has his suspicions confirmed that the 17th prince is interested in her, but he has no proof they ever actually did anything. Still, 17th prince! You are usually sooo intelligent. But in love, you just can’t think straight. He literally barrels into every trap set for him. Everyone could see his actions were terrible ideas and he will pay for it.

 

The Emperor is furious to hear that the 17th prince did indeed chase after Zhen Huan.

 

Luckily for Zhen Huan, she has an incredibly bright and charismatic daughter. We didn’t include her in our intelligence countdown list but she’s gotta be high up there. She visits her father the Emperor in his study with her adoptive mother. She, at the tender age of 6, puts on a good show for her father that she’s sad she can’t take care of her sick birth mother, and that she cannot help her siblings who miss their mother. She recites a passage by Mencius recounting the 3 joys of life. This little monologue deeply touches her father and he ultimately just decides to bring Zhen Huan back. 

 

Surprisingly, he doesn’t even punish her. When Zhen Huan comes to see him, he is a little choked up and simply tells her to see her children. They have missed her. To me, this reflects his feelings for Zhen Huan. Remember the poor Ying Gui Ren that his son was interested in? He killed her without a second thought. But here, he doesn’t even punish Zhen Huan. She’s allowed to go back to her palace.

 

[Cathy]

And another supporting reason why 苏培盛 is a god send ally for 甄嬛, the Emperor asks him if he let Zhen Huan off too easy. 苏培盛 responds that this has nothing to do with 甄嬛。This certainly helps calm the Emperor down and he just puts the blame on his brother, the 17th prince. As he left without permission, he is sentenced to being stationed at the border and is not to return without decree by the Emperor. In a surprising move, the Emperor promotes both the 17th Prince and the 19th Prince. The 17th Prince is now a 亲王 or Prince of the First Rank and the 19th Prince is now a 郡王 or Prince of the Second Rank.

 

We now have a time skip of 3 years.

 

The 17th Prince is in his military regalia playing his bamboo flute. I will give kudos to prop master, the writings on his flute do indeed say 长相思. 

 

The 17th Prince – continuing his idiotic streak – has been writing letters to 甄嬛 in his correspondence home. Unfortunately for him, the Emperor’s spies have stolen a few and reported them to the Emperor. 

 

[Karen]

In a private meeting between the Emperor and his minister, the minister commends the 17th Prince’s capabilities at keeping the Dzhungars at bay. However, the Emperor expresses his displeasure at some of the 17th Prince’s recommendations to set up markets and begin trade again. I think these recommendations are quite innocuous and the minister thinks they are good ideas. Unfortunately the Emperor does not want any “help” from the 17th prince and summons him back to the capital. The eunuch 苏培盛 breathes a sigh of relief on the side but this does not bode well for the 17th prince.

 

When he comes back to the capital, he hurriedly heads to the Summer Palace where the Imperial Court is staying for the summer. He bumps into 甄嬛 and his daughter 灵犀. Well, these two, especially 甄嬛 cannot contain her tears. Girl, keep it together!

 

The eunuch 苏培盛 quickly comes to summon the 17th prince for an audience with the Emperor. At dinner, the two men are both drunk but the Emperor of course is here for one thing. At the end of the episode, he bluntly asks the 17th prince if he and 甄嬛 had an adulterous relationship.

 

Episode 74 starts right off at the same place.

 

[Cathy]

For me though, the most important line isn’t when the Emperor asks about the adulterous relationship. It’s actually this next line – are you plotting for my throne because of her? This is what he truly cares about. His throne. He’s always suspicious that someone, anyone, is trying to conspire against him. That’s why he is so wary of the military prowess of his brothers.

 

In the next scene, 甄嬛 is summoned to see the Emperor. She picks up the fan from the eunuch to fan the Emperor. He, in his meditative pose, opens his eyes and SLAPS 甄嬛 in the face.

 

This is the first time he’s hit 甄嬛. He coldly begins his interrogation to 甄嬛. The topic is of course the 17th Prince. Again, the conversations revolves around the Imperial throne. The Emperor even admits his jealousy towards the 17th Prince. If it weren’t for dissenters at court, the 17th Prince would be the Emperor. Now that he has military merit, who’s to say that the 17th prince won’t be eyeing the throne?

 

He then says this line 君要臣死,臣不得不死. Which translates to, if the Emperor wants a subject dead, the subject must die. It’s clear to 甄嬛 – he intends to kill the 17th prince. In response to her disbelief, the Emperor finally reveals his true colors. He actually says – when I decided to fight for the throne, I even plotted against my own blood brother, the 14th prince. I’ve long forgotten that I have brothers.

 

Finally – you admit that you are a cold hearted bastard. He is such a hypocrite. In episode 72, he was railing against the Empress for killing her sister. What has he done? What will he do now? The exact same thing.

 

[Karen]

The Emperor grabs 甄嬛’s hands and heartlessly commands her to murder the 17th prince. Just as he told his mother to kill 隆科多. The Emperor hands 甄嬛 the poison and flatly tells her – to prove your innocence, you must kill him. In exchange, her son, the 6th prince will become the crown prince. He gives 甄嬛 absolutely no option and orders her to meet with the 17th prince immediately. He’s already waiting for the Emperor for a small dinner.

 

The 17th Prince and 甄嬛 meet for a final time. He is surprised when she walks in but is nonetheless happy about it. Wine is brought to the table and she pours two cups. 

The two reminisce about the past including 夕颜 or the Japanese Morning Flower first mentioned in episode 17, to their marriage contract or 庚贴 in episode 51, to their time together.

 

The 17th prince eyes the wine in front of him. He notes the open window and asks 甄嬛 to close it. He comments on the paintings of 合欢花 or persian silk tree flowers on wall. He voices his regrets, especially to the 3 women in his life. They both pick up their cups of wine to conduct a 交杯合卺 or a custom to link arms and drink their wine during a marriage ceremony. They didn’t do it during their marriage.

 

[Cathy]

They embrace for one last hug. 甄嬛 recounts for the 17th prince her children but the 17th prince finally falters. He spits out blood and confesses that he switched the wine cups. 甄嬛 originally wanted to drink the poison herself. He tells her that he knew that the Emperor wanted to kill him. Anything they do is futile. He hands 甄嬛 his beloved flute and pouch that he’s held on to for all of these years. With his dying breath, he tells her that she will forever be his only wife.

 

甄嬛, who is in utter shock, tries to tell him that her son and daughter are actually his, but it’s too late. The poor guy, to his death, never knew the truth.

 

甄嬛 barely holds it together as she stumbles outside. Waiting for her are eunuchs and the Emperor’s spy. Seeing that she’s alone, they confirm the 17th Prince’s death before reading an Imperial Edict. 甄嬛 now controls the Imperial Harem and will act as Empress in all but name. Her sister 玉隐 who was waiting for the 17th Prince rushes over to discover the truth. 甄嬛 finally faints from the heartbreaking events of the evening as she hears her sister scream out.

 

[Karen]

The Emperor receives the briefing from his spy. They will ship the body back out to the border so that everyone will believe the 17th prince died while on duty. He’s just sitting there – no emotion. Ugh – the Emperor claims that he originally wanted to have an extravagant funeral for the 17th prince but to keep the stability in the region, they’ll just have a low-key funeral instead. What a hypocrite.

 

When 甄嬛 fainted, she fell from the from the steps and injured her right knee. She can no longer dance but she doesn’t care. Her heart has finally died.

 

At the funeral, 玉隐 is there along with the 17th prince’s son. She coldly watches the proceedings but when the eunuchs begin to move the coffin. She rushes to the coffin, hits her head and kills herself. 

 

甄嬛 hears the devastating news and she sheds even more tears. Man this episode is just of her crying, I mean I would too. But, in the midst of this, she finds the whole thing suspicious. Why did the Emperor suddenly want to kill the 17th prince. The Eunuch 苏培盛 helpfully confides that it was due to some letters.

 

[Cathy]

Well, the 3 of them, 甄嬛, 槿汐, and 苏培盛 uncover the letters to find that each letter the 17th prince wrote included 熹贵妃安 or hope 甄嬛 is well. Here, i’ll say – COME ON. You are just waiting for someone to catch you.

 

The episode ends with the Emperor coming to visit 甄嬛. This is their first conversation since the 17th prince’s death. He has the gall to ask why she looks so fragile. He’s like – I at least had a relationship with my brother. Hold up – what? Even if there’s nothing between them, you just asked her to kill a royal prince! He then continues to say – you aren’t the same as before. 甄嬛 finally responds – do you treat me the same as before? The Emperor hopes they both are the same before leaving. 

 

[Karen]

These 2 episodes were certainly heartbreaking. The events that transpired were triggered by the arrival of the Dzhungar khan, but while we think the 17th prince is a fantastic person, he caused a lot of this heartbreak on himself. Sure, he shouldn’t have burst into the room at the beginning of Ep 72 to stop 甄嬛 from leaving but as we mentioned earlier, the more crucial mistake is writing that 甄嬛 is well in his mail. 

 

Something that bugged me for a long time is that I’m surprised no one told the 17th prince when he was alive that Zhen Huan’s 2 children are his. His mother and her maid knew, his consort, 玉隐 certainly knew, and the Imperial Doctor 温实初 of course knew. Perhaps they all knew that keeping this from him was best. I wonder if he would be less hot headed if he knew those children were his and would act less impulsively.  This is certainly a regret in his life that he never formally acknowledged his twin children.

 

[Cathy]

I do feel rather sorry for 玉隐, 甄嬛’s younger sister. She fell in love with the 17th prince and ran his household after getting married but he never treated her too well. I guess there would be mutual respect and a familial relationship because she is 甄嬛’s sister but he went off to the border without a second thought for 玉隐. When he returned, he didn’t even want to see his son or 玉隐 first. Sadly, 玉隐 never saw her husband alive after he returned. She is a fool for love, killing herself to be with him. This is a really blunt way to put it, but this whole situation is really, really sad.

 

There’s no wonder why 甄嬛 is now so full of hatred towards the Emperor. The Emperor, in his haste to protect his throne, did not care who he killed or hurt. He doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. With the 17th prince’s death, any remaining emotion 甄嬛 once had for the Emperor is completely eliminated. Anyone in her shoes would feel the same.

 

[Karen]

First let’s talk about 王昭君 – She is the woman that is referenced when the Emperor is deciding whether or not to send 甄嬛 to be married to the Khan. 王昭君 and her story is quite famous and is considered one of the 4 most beautiful women in Chinese history. We’ve discussed 2 of the other 3 women on our podcast before. 

 

The story is relatively simple. 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty, the 匈奴, a group of nomadic people requested a marriage alliance with the Han Empire. The Emperor at the time decided to send 王昭君 who was a palace maid. She was originally sent to the palace as part of a Court Selection but her painting was painted poorly by a corrupt palace artist so she never caught the eye of the Emperor. When she was selected to be married to the 匈奴, the Emperor was stunned at her beauty and intelligence for she was incredibly talented, bright and kind. But by this time, it was too late to change who was to be sent for this marriage.

 

王昭君 went to live with the 匈奴. The legend goes that she brought livestock, farming and water to her clan which made her a positive figure.

 

What we know from history, she helped end years of war, improved diplomatic relations between the Han and the 匈奴 people and helped other minority groups aspire to Han traditions.

 

This story has been passed down through generations. There have been several dramas depicted of this story as well as books, plays, dances you name it. 

 

You can see the parallels here to 甄嬛’s predicament. 

 

[Cathy]

  Next – the princess 胧月 quoted heavily from Mencius in her meeting with the Emperor. We’ve talked about Mencius before – a student of Confucius. 

 

The piece is this 子有三乐,而王天下不与存焉。父母俱存,兄弟无故,一乐也;仰不愧于天,俯不怍于人,二乐也;得天下英才而教育之,三乐也. It comes from Jin Xin from Meng Zi.

 

The James Legge translation is as follows

Mencius said, ‘The superior man has three things in which he delights, and to be ruler over the kingdom is not one of them. That his father and mother are both alive, and that the condition of his brothers affords no cause for anxiety; this is one delight. That, when looking up, he has no occasion for shame before Heaven, and, below, he has no occasion to blush before men; this is a second delight. That he can get from the whole kingdom the most talented individuals, and teach and nourish them; this is the third delight. The superior man has three things in which he delights, and to be ruler over the kingdom is not one of them.’

 

The Princess wants to take care of her parents and her siblings. What a child! So young to be quoting Mencius – she’s way brighter than her older brother the 3rd prince. The Emperor releases 甄嬛 due to her words. I mean I would too – the Emperor wants to be the superior man. This appeals straight to his ego.

 

[Karen]

 

17th prince

 

Alrighty let’s talk about the 17th Prince – 果亲王!

 

He was born in 1697, a full 19 years younger than the Emperor 雍正. As in the drama, he was intelligent and scholarly. There are several works by him that have survived. He had a close relationship with the Emperor 雍正 during his reign. He didn’t participate in the struggle for the throne which is why he was favored. He was given command of multiple banners during his life and appointed to the grand council which oversees military matters of the Qing Empire.. He actually managed 宗人府 or the imperial clan court and 刑部 or The Ministry of Penalty. 

 

He was made prince of the first rank in 1728. When Emperor 雍正 died, he was entrusted to be an advisor to the new Emperor 乾隆。 

 

He did indeed marry as his primary wife from the 钮祜禄 clan which is what 甄嬛 and 玉隐 were a part of when 甄嬛 returned to his palace. He also had a secondary wife with the last name of 孟. He had a son and a daughter but they both died young.

 

He died in 1738 at the age of 41 during the reign of Emperor 乾隆. So he outlived the Emperor in the drama and was definitely not poisoned. However, they needed to follow the thread from the original character from the book so he had to die here.

EPISODE 72

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas, the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 72 of Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan. Empresses in the Palace. As always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any comments or questions either at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or else on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.

 

This episode is split into 2 parts. The first, is the final judgement against the Empress. In our last podcast discussion, the Empress lost her final support system in the palace – her adoptive son the 3rd prince and her servants. Those servants were tortured for information and her multiple atrocities have finally been revealed to the Emperor and he decides her fate. Once that’s done, the episode kinda abruptly moves on to a meeting with the new Dzungar khan whom we’ve actually met in the past. We’ll do an in-depth analysis on the first part of the episode and briefly talk about the second part as it sets up the story for the following episodes. 

 

Episode 72 starts with the Emperor’s head eunuch 苏培盛 presenting the interrogation findings of the Empress’s servants to the Emperor in his study. 苏培盛 shares the bombshell that the Empress was involved in the death of the Emperor’s beloved first wife, 纯元。The Emperor is initially outraged to hear this accusation but 苏培盛 explained that there were several ingredients harmful to pregnant women mixed into 纯元’s food. These included 芭蕉,or commonly known as the Japanese banana, and 桃仁 or peach seeds both of which don’t impact the body immediately but is a slow poison. The fact that the stillborn child had purple and green patches over its body is further evidence of this poison.

 

The reason why this scheme wasn’t initially discovered was because there was another wife that disrespected 纯元. The Emperor thought that this was the root cause for the stillborn child and the eventual death of 纯元。 苏培盛 explains that it’s precisely this reason that this plot wasn’t discovered earlier.

 

With this painful revelation, the Emperor requests the Empress’s presence. He fully believes that she schemed for the throne, that she killed imperial heirs, that she eliminated women in the palace, but this, he has to hear from her directly. 

 

[Cathy]

So now onto one of the most iconic scenes in the drama. It’s iconic for several reasons that we’ll get into. The Empress is kneeling on the ground while the Emperor sits above, listening to her explain herself. 

 

Honestly, after watching this scene, the person I want to punch in the face the most is actually the Emperor. The Empress says that when she and the Emperor first married, he had promised her that if she birthed a son, she would be made 福晋  or the main wife. However, when she did give birth to a son, her sister 纯元 already married into the palace and usurped her position. The Empress’s son is now forever a 庶出 son or the translation is a secondary son because his mother is a secondary wife. 庶出 children are generally seen as second class in society. 

 

The Emperor says that he doesn’t care about the primary or secondary status and that he has always treated the Empress well. But it was never enough for her.

 

The Empress counters that her first wife position was taken, her son’s position of crown prince was taken, and even her husband’s entire love was taken. She would really like to think it was enough, but she cannot.

 

It’s quite heartbreaking to hear what happened to her son. He wasn’t even 3 years old when he became ill with a high fever and tragically passed away without any medical treatment. When her son died, the Emperor didn’t care much because he was so immersed in the happiness of 纯元’s pregnancy. For her crimes, the Empress does not mind if her sister comes after her life, why did the gods have to take her son’s life. Is it not her sister’s child that took her child? How could she allow her sister’s child to survive?

 

[Karen]

To this, the Emperor asks the quintessential question – I was the one who did all this, why don’t you hate me instead?

 

Which is a really fair question. He is the root cause to all of this pain.

 

The Empress responds with – Do you think I don’t want to hate you? You’re so focused on your relationship with my sister, have you ever noticed my love for you?  My love for you is not less than your love for my sister. 

 

Poor woman, she fell in love with the Emperor but he does not care for her very much. 

 

The Emperor doesn’t have much to say to this any more and is ready to remove her of her Empress position. As he’s writing out his decree though, his mother’s head maid hurriedly arrives with one final order from the deceased Empress Dowager.

 

This order was written on the Empress Dowager’s dying breath. It says that if ever there was an instance that the current Empress committed unthinkable atrocities, the Emperor must remember that she is never to be removed.

 

The Emperor is in disbelief. Why would the Empress Dowager write this order? He does not want to keep this woman around who killed his most beloved. The maid, however, reminds him that 纯元’s last wish was for him to never leave her younger sister. He cannot remove the Empress because she, her sister and his mother are all from the same or related families. 

 

The Emperor is furious but cannot outright defy his mother and 纯元’s last wishes. He decrees that the Empress will forever stay in her palace. In life or death, they will never see each other again. The phrase in chinese is 死生不复相见. This is quite a solemn oath.

 

[Cathy]

And that’s it for the Empress! Her crimes have finally come to light and she has been defeated!  Let’s talk about this scene because there are so many things to unpack. Here are a few topics I want to touch on.

 

  1. The Emperor is a complete hypocrite. He keeps on bringing up the fact that the Empress and 纯元 were sisters and therefore he cannot fathom how the Empress could kill her own sister. Um… How many of your brothers have you killed or imprisoned? Even your own blood brother from the same mother and father, the 14th prince, you wouldn’t let your dying mother see. You banished your own son, the 3rd son to be the son of your 8th brother which led to his death. It’s really rich of him to accuse the Empress of not prioritizing familial ties when he himself is not a beacon of light by any means. This just makes my blood boil. 
  2. I truly believe that the Emperor only loves 纯元 so much because she died at a young age. The Empress said it best, she regrets not letting the Emperor see her sister age. The Emperor, to me, epitomizes every saying where you miss what you’ve lost. He lost 纯元 when she was at her most beautiful and kind. She had yet to participate in Palace schemes and did not have to vy for power so she hasn’t turned, so to speak, “evil”. I do not believe that anyone who survives in the palace does not change for the worse and does not scheme. Even if it’s not to harm others, you will scheme to protect yourself. Alternatively, if 纯元 maintained her innocence and kindness, she would have been killed off in some other way. She would have too easily been a victim to one of these schemes. Lastly, we have seen time and again how short the Emperor’s attention span is. If 纯元 survived, who’s to say that the Emperor might have tired of her like he tired of so many other women in the palace? Dying may have been the best outcome for 纯元 because it solidified her existence and imprinted what her behavior was at that specific point in time.
  3. This once again shows the brilliance of the Empress Dowager. She knew full well what her daughter in law did to the women in the Imperial Harem but she decided that the glory of their clan and the position of Empress was more important. Even on her dying breath, she plotted to keep this glory for her clan. The Empress was not deposed nor killed, she is still the Empress, to the Empress Dowager, that was enough. She manipulated her son from her grave and that’s the last gift she could have given to the Empress.

 

Overall, while the Empress is reprehensible, the Emperor is not much better. The two of them are equally terrible people and I honestly think that the Emperor is the worse out of the pair. I don’t think the Empress would have done as many terrible things as she did if the Emperor kept to his word and cared more for her. Ultimately though, the Emperor and the Empress are products of their time. If not for all of these traditions and societal standards, these tragedies may have been limited.

 

[Karen]

Now let’s get to some more mundane matters of politics and the Imperial court, haha. I kind of wish that the drama just ended here?  The rest of the remaining episodes on one hand just adds more heartbreak but does have a rather satisfying ending.

 

The Emperor meets with his minister 张廷玉 to discuss unrest with the Dzungar Khanate or the 准噶尔部落. There’s been much upheaval in the empire but there isn’t a general that can lead the forces into battle. The best option is to have a Lord or Prince to lead the troops. The only person they can use? Why it’s the 17th Prince 果郡王.

 

The Qing dynasty overall isn’t doing too great in this battle. The Emperor receives a report that the the Dzungar Khanate and its new ruler, 摩格is demanding astronomical sums as tribute from the Qing dynasty in order to stop the warfare. Of course the Emperor does not agree and he receives good news shortly after. The Dzungar army has contracted the plague and is currently immobilized.

 

Because of this, the Khan requests a meeting with the Emperor for peace talks. Luckily, the Qing dynasty has a cure that the Imperial Doctor Wen Shi Chu discovered back with the Qing dynasty suffered from the plague several years back. This is their biggest bargaining chip. The Emperor agrees to meet the Khan at a banquet in the Summer Palace and we have a grand scene where this meeting takes place. The Emperor is present with his concubines and children on one side, and his brothers and their families on another. Outside are the various court ministers.

 

[Cathy]

We see the Khan come into the banquet hall to find out that it’s a familiar face. He’s the man that the 17th prince and 甄嬛 saved from a snake bite years ago when they were lovers. Uh oh… this does not bode well for either of them who are in attendance at this banquet.

 

The banquet is a battle of wits between the Khan and the Emperor. The Khan has a challenge for the court – someone needs to solve a 9 ring jade puzzle. It’s shown to members of the court standing outside and members of the imperial family. They all shake their heads to announce their inability to solve the puzzle. Even 甄嬛 declines to answer. Just as the Khan starts gloating, 甄嬛 whispers in daughter 胧月’s ear and she steps up to try to solve the puzzle.

 

The princess grabs the jade puzzle and throws it on the floor, promptly shattering it, and consequently solving the puzzle. The Khan is furious with this act but the Qing court all quietly smirks on the side. The princess was the perfect person to solve the puzzle in exactly this manner. I highly doubt that no one else didn’t know how to solve it. The 17th Prince and 甄嬛 both smiled when they examined the puzzle but the princess is someone who could a, do what she wanted, b, be a slap in the face to the Khan since she’s so small, and c, prevent the Khan from retaliating exactly because she’s so young.

 

[Karen]

The eunuch 苏培盛 enters to mutter some good news to the Emperor, one of his generals was victorious in battle. This gives the Emperor a bit more leverage over the khan and makes a gesture of peace by offering the cure to the plague to the khan. 

 

甄嬛 excuses herself from the banquet to change. However, outside the Khan stops her. He recognizes her as the woman with the 17th prince all those years ago. 甄嬛 denies any of his allegations but he threatens her to be careful. Unfortunately this conversation is overheard by one of the Emperor’s spies. The episode ends with the Emperor ordering the spy to investigate further and he goes to meet with the Khan.

 

 

[Cathy]

Analysis

 

In episode 72, we have the final showdown between the Emperor and the Empress.

 

The Empress will still be around for a few more episodes but we’ll say our goodbye to her here. 

 

The Empress in history was called 乌拉那拉 多棋木里. Born in 1681, she married 雍正, the then 4th prince in 1691. When she was only 10?? She was his primary consort or wife. She gave birth to her son 弘晖 in 1697 and died prematurely in 1704. As in the drama, she didn’t have any more children after her son.  She became empress when her husband ascended the throne in 1723 at the age of 43. In this episode, the Empress quotes from the Imperial edict for her ascension to Empress. The piece she quotes is directly from the Factual Records of the Qing Dynasty or 清实录雍正朝. So again kudos to the drama for this.

 

She died in 1731 at the age of 51, which is actually right around when the final scene between her and the Emperor takes place. The Emperor praised the Empress for her adherence to duty, frugality, and kindness. The whole story of 纯元 is of course fictictional as well as any claims to her plotting to kill the Emperor’s unborn children.

 

[Karen]

This episode features an iconic scene, specifically the phrase 臣妾做不到 that the Empress states a few times as she’s confessing her crimes. This translates to I cannot do it. She could bring herself to hate the Emperor so she says 臣妾做不到. Why is this iconic?

 

Well, this along with a few other phrases from the drama, has been memed, recreated, you name it in all forms of social media in China. It’s taken a life of its own more in a joking manner. So for example, if you wanted to say, I want to stop eating desserts, but I cannot do it. In mandarin, you’ll say, 叫我不吃甜点,臣妾做不到! Ada Choi, the actress, actually perpetuated the meme and she has a ton of fun with it. She posted on her weibo saying – tell me to not love ada choi? I cannot do it! I cannot do it!

 

If you see Ada Choi in reality TV shows, someone will inevitably bring this quote up. 

 

[Cathy]

Speaking of, let’s give a shout out and praise to the actress 蔡少芬, Ada Choi. I’ve watched several of her Hong Kong TVB dramas growing up but she really astounded me here in this drama. She was extremely famous in Hong Kong and gained more popularity in the mainland with this drama.

 

Some fun behind the scenes tidbits. She was 37 when she filmed Empresses in the Palace. Shortly before filming, Ada found out she was pregnant with her first child! She initially contemplated backing out of the production but since she already signed, she decided to conceal her pregnancy and continue filming. A few months in, the cast and crew finally found out about her pregnancy but they were able to carry on. What a trooper! 

 

I’m thoroughly impressed that she was able to act while pregnant especially in those flower pot bottom shoes! Well, I guess that’s what pregnant women had to do back in the day anyways?

 

If you look at interviews with Ada during this time, she constantly jokes that it was relatively easy to adjust especially since she was the Empress. She says that rarely had to kneel or bow and as the Empress, she always had people to hold on to while walking. Ada Choi is an absolute gem! I’m very glad she didn’t pass on this role. I can’t imagine another person as the Empress. 

 

[Karen]

We’ve mentioned this before but her reality tv show appearances are hilarious. Her husband is from the mainland but he speaks Cantonese at home so she doesn’t speak Mandarin much except for her guest appearances. BUT her Mandarin in China has become known as the “Ada Style Mandarin” or “Empress Style Mandarin”. It’s hilarious and cute. I highly recommend googling some of her appearances. There’s a reality tv show called 王牌对王牌 where she reprises her role as the Empress to play some games and such. She’s so charming and a great sport in those episodes. I will warn you, you will roll over laughing. It’s on youtube. To this day, Chinese media will refer to her as 皇后娘娘 or the Empress. 

 

That’s it for this episode. We devoted a ton to the Empress because well, she is the last “boss” in the Imperial Harem. 甄嬛 has more obstacles to face in the Palace but she’s vanquished her foes in the Imperial Harem. With only 4 episodes left, stay tuned to find out!

EPISODE 70+71

Episode 70 + 71

 

Check Mate

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas.  This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. Today we are discussing episode 70 and 71 of Empresses in the Palace, 后宫甄嬛传。 We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.  This podcast is in English with proper nouns pronounced in Mandarin Chinese. As always, we first do an episode recap and then discuss any interesting historical or plot details described in the episode.

 

In the last episode, one of the main themes was the 3rd prince’s infatuation with the beautiful and lovely 瑛贵人. This paved the way to weaken the Empress’s support in the palace as we head into the end game. Episode 70 + 71 we’re combining because they are heavily plot driven and focus on 1 thing, defeating the Empress.

 

I like to think of the Empress as a final boss. Zhen Huan has defeated all of the Empress’s lieutenants while developing a strong army herself. If we look at Zhen Huan’s team, you have 敬贵妃, 皇贵妃, formerly 端妃, 欣嫔, her adoptive son the 4th prince, her own sisters and at minimum 宁嫔。 All of these ladies are very powerful, intelligent and attuned to Palace politics. What about the Empress? She currently only has her servants and the 3rd prince. Now it is time to turn our attention to coming in for the kill. So, what happens in these 2 episodes?

 

[cathy]

First and foremost is to cause the Emperor to lose trust in both the 3rd prince and the Empress. How is this done? The 3rd prince was idiotic enough to serve himself on a platter. In the last episode, the 3rd prince became infatuated with one of the Emperor’s women, the beautiful 瑛贵人. And so, he decides to write a love letter to her. 

 

Unfortunately, this love letter was discovered by 敬贵妃, a member of 甄嬛’s camp. 敬贵妃 presents this evidence to the Emperor who summons 甄嬛, the Empress and 瑛贵人.  While 敬贵妃 explains what she discovered hoping to land a huge blow to the 3rd prince and the Empress, the Empress was able to turn the tables and accuse 瑛贵人 of seducing a prince。The Emperor is furious and swiftly sentences 瑛贵人 to death by hanging. The poor girl is dragged out crying that she is innocent and that’s the last we see of her. Such a sad ending for her and because the 3rd prince couldn’t keep his emotions in check.   

 

But even though the Emperor sentenced her to death, he’s fully aware that she was innocent. He had to do this to protect the reputation of the imperial family. He says as much to the 3rd prince who had been punished to pray in the royal temple in the palace. While the Emperor does not raise his voice, he slaps the 3rd prince for 1) being interested in his father’s woman and 2) being interested in the Emperor’s woman. The Emperor is furious with his son and warns him that if there are any future mistakes, he may not be able to save his son. The 3rd prince is left crying and in shock of what transpired.

 

[side note: I was shocked at those 2 slaps to the face! The Emperor must REALLY be angry]

 

[Karen]

But really? 3rd prince. Why on earth did you think this was a good idea whatsoever? Great job for you, you just killed a completely innocent woman. This certainly causes a rift between the Emperor and his eldest son.

 

The death of 瑛贵人 had collateral damage though. The Emperor is suspicious that the 17th prince and 玉隐, Zhen Huan’s younger sister, may have had a hand in telling 瑛贵人 to seduce the 3rd prince. While this is obviously not true, he becomes distant towards 甄嬛. They had a frank conversation about how this looks. 甄嬛 has sons, who would gain if the 3rd Prince falls out of favor? The Emperor admits it doesn’t look good for her. 甄嬛 is certainly saddened and annoyed that the Emperor would entertain this type of wrongful suspicion on the 17th prince’s household that are completely innocent. But this is the Emperor’s true nature.

 

We shouldn’t feel too bad for 甄嬛 though. As 敬贵妃 finds out when trying to make up for acting to rashly on this matter, 甄嬛 is actually pregnant again. This means that her current loss of favor will resolve itself as the Emperor will be pleased to hear there’s another pregnancy.  What I love about this scene is it again shows that 敬贵妃 knows how to play the game in the palace. It’s just when she decides to act. Here it backfired but her goal was to strike a blow to the Empress.

 

[Cathy]

[Really? I thought this was VERY rash of 敬贵妃 – she even admitted it herself. 甄嬛 has now lost favor, the 17th prince, who has done nothing, is on pins and needles even though he doesn’t know it, and poor 瑛贵人 died. I actually don’t know what she wanted to accomplish]

 

He acknowledges to 苏培盛 that he’s most anxious about ties between the Imperial Court and the Imperial Harem. He’s worried everyone’s calculating against him – well he’s not wrong – and must plan against that. 

 

This is further exacerbated by the pending preparations for the previous Emperor 康熙’s birthday ceremonies. The Empress wants the 3rd Prince to stand out during the proceedings. Unfortunately, it does seem the whole fiasco with 瑛贵人 has sowed the seeds of suspicion towards the 3rd prince. During a meeting with a minister, the Emperor finds out the 3rd Prince has recruited ministers and scholars to discuss political matters. This is a HUGE no no – the Emperor even points out this wasn’t allowed under his father. Why? Well – that’s basically building your own political faction. You’re telling everyone that you want the throne. The Emperor is getting more and more disappointed with the 3rd Prince. So much so that he doesn’t immediately appoint him to lead the proceedings for the birthday celebrations. That’s a big red flag.

[Karen]

Now that the 3rd prince has suffered a blow and has annoyed the Emperor, onto the Empress.

 

In a stroke of good luck, as 甄嬛 is watching the prince princesses play with each other, she is prompted by a sentence Princess 静和 exclaims, which is “My sister chasing my sister”. Yes, the translation is a little off but this is similar to 安陵容’s final words, The Empress kill the Empress. We discussed before how this could mean an action, as in The Empress, Go Kill the Empress, or a statement: The Empress Killed the Empress.  With this epiphany, 甄嬛 discusses with 敬贵妃 and 皇贵妃 who are with her watching the kids play in the palace that could it be possible the current Empress killed the former Empress 纯元。 This would be a bit of a stretch because they were sisters after all but 皇贵妃 shares the circumstances in which 纯元 died. 

 

It turns out, the current Empress was first to marry the Emperor, back then just the 4th prince. The Empress was also not the wife but rather 侧福晋 or a secondary wife. The plan was for the Empress to be promoted to the primary wife after she gives birth. But what happened?  The Empress’s older sister, 纯元 came to the household to take care of the Empress while the Empress was pregnant but when the Emperor met this older sister, he immediately fell in love and requested that she be named wife. The Empress, being younger and born of a secondary wife herself could not argue and accepted this. Later, when 纯元 became pregnant, her pregnancy was extremely difficult. The Empress was tasked with taking care of her older sister since she had a background in medicine. Sadly, 纯元 gave birth to a stillborn child. She also died soon after.

 

[Cathy]

Upon hearing this information, the trio of she, 甄嬛 and 敬贵妃 surmise that the Empress certainly had motive to kill her older sister. After all, 纯元 stole her husband and her coveted wife position. The trio agree to act cautiously and search for evidence of the Empress’s heinous crimes.

 

The plot to bring down the Empress almost falls into place a little too easily. The pregnancy is taking a toll on 甄嬛. She’s not doing great and it’s only 4 months. The Imperial Doctor 卫临 is out of ideas and they have no choice but to summon 温实处 back from his self-imposed exile. After his examination, he delivers the unhappy news. The pregnancy will not last more than 5 months. Heartbroken, 甄嬛 plans for her next step. If you couldn’t tell, she plans to do to the Empress what the Empress was trying to do to her during 安陵容’s pregnancy

 

[Karen]

How will she trap the Empress? The opportunity presents itself when the Emperor surprises 甄嬛 with a present – a large 珊瑚 or Precious Coral. It is said to have mystical properties so this should help 甄嬛 with her pregnancy. 甄嬛 immediately requests for all of the concubines including the Empress to come and enjoy the Coral and said that in order to make sure there is enough good luck, the most powerful people in the Palace should be in attendance. The Emperor agrees. She says this to ensure that the Empress cannot refuse. 

 

The Empress is delayed because well, she doesn’t want to come. She has no idea what 甄嬛 is planning and she doesn’t want to take the blame if anything happens. That’s very much the right thing to do. Unfortunately for her, the Emperor demands her presence and she has no choice but to come.

 

[Cathy]

The episode ends with 甄嬛 requesting that the 4 of them, The Empress, herself, 皇贵妃, and 敬贵妃 place good luck charms on her bedside to ward off the evil spirits.

 

Episode 71 picks right up from where we left off.

 

The Empress, 皇贵妃, and 敬贵妃 all go ahead into 甄嬛’s bedroom to hang the charms but 槿汐 delays 甄嬛 for a moment. She’s holding a bowl of medicine for 甄嬛 to drink – this is the very prescription that 甄嬛 requested earlier from the doctor to help her lose the baby. 槿汐 knew this is a unique opportunity to take down the Empress and nudges 甄嬛 to make the decision. 甄嬛 makes no comment but immediately drinks the concoction, turns around, and enters the bedroom.

 

The Empress finds herself alone with the pregnant 甄嬛 and she’s worried. You can see her eyes darting around. There’s absolutely no way that 敬贵妃 that 皇贵妃 were not in on this and purposefully left these 2 alone. Finally alone, 甄嬛 lifts all pretense and formally accuses the Empresses of the many terrible deeds she’s done, going so far as to grab the Empresses hand. The Empress is shocked and shakes off 甄嬛’s hand but then, 甄嬛 pushes herself onto a table. She cries out in pain as she knocks things over and passes out. 

 

All the while, the princess 胧月 is hiding in the corner watching this unfold.

 

[Karen]

Given the commotion, the Emperor and the rest of the ladies rush to see what happens. Zhen Huan is placed on her bed and the Imperial doctor comes to check on her. When she wakes she is informed that the child has been lost. Of course, this was all part of 甄嬛“s plan but she puts on quite the show, crying and accusing the Empress of harming her child. She feeds into the Empress’s dislike of her that the Emperor knows about. The Empress does a pretty good job of defending herself and evoking an anecdote which we’ll discuss later. The trump card though comes in the form of tada – Princess 胧月! 甄嬛’s eldest daughter. She starts crying and tells her father that she saw the Empress push 甄嬛。 We all know that’s a lie but the Emperor takes this as proof that the Empress did it. I mean, you have to believe a 6 year old child. They’re not supposed to know how to lie! But oh, but little does he know. 

 

The Emperor is furious and places the Empress under house arrest. So now both the 3rd prince and the Empress are not favored. This isn’t the end of them both so 甄嬛’s team continues to act. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 makes clear to her adoptive son, the 4th prince, that the 3rd prince and the Empress are connected. The 4th prince gets the hint and devises a clever plot against the 3rd prince. 

 

The 4th prince meets his older brother and surreptitiously mentions that he went to visit their 8th uncle who is currently imprisoned. This is strictly forbidden and I don’t think the 4th prince actually did this but he cons his older brother into requesting clemency for these imprisoned uncles. The 4th prince mentions how forgiveness of these uncles will reflect well on their father the Emperor. The poor 3rd prince actually thinks this is a wonderful idea and agrees he’ll make this request. 

 

Unfortunately, this was probably the WORST thing the 3rd prince could have done. We’ve explained in this podcast series repeatedly about how the current emperor had to fight his brothers for the throne. He defeated his brothers the 8th prince and the 14th prince and had them imprisoned. Therefore, when the 3rd prince asks his father for forgiveness of these 2 uncles, his father becomes so furious that he tells the 3rd prince to be the son of his 8th uncle. Moving forward, the emperor will no longer have this son. 

 

[Karen]

The 3rd prince is shocked and crying but there’s nothing that can be done。 His father has made his final decision and has made this decree.

 

With that, the 3rd prince is now out of the picture. All that’s left is the Empress. We checked this and the fact that the 3rd prince was moved to be the son of his 8th uncle is in fact true. His father was angry at his arrogant nature and this was his punishment. Sadly, this son died a year after this punishment.

 

 

Now onto the Empress. The Empress and her head maid,剪秋 are shocked to hear this news. All those years of plotting to raise the future Emperor have been wasted. 剪秋 is raging on behalf of her master and decides to take matters into her own hands. This turns out to be the Empress’s final undoing.

 

[Cathy]

Later one evening, the Emperor hosts a family dinner. In attendance are him, Zhen Huan, 敬贵妃, their children, 宁嫔, the 17th prince with his two consorts, 玉隐 and the heavily pregnant 孟静娴, and the 19th prince with his wife, 玉娆。

 

甄嬛’s son the 6th prince is very interested in the pregnant 孟静娴. Of course we know it’s because they’re actually siblings but 甄嬛 continues to highlight that these 2 are cousins to avoid any suspicion. When a soup comes, the 6th prince asks 孟静娴 to feed him which she does. She first takes a sip of the soup to see if it’s hot. Before she can feed any to the 6th prince though, she starts coughing up blood. 

 

Turns out, the soup was poisoned. Both the 6th prince and Zhen Huan’s bowls of soup were poisoned by the famous 鹤顶红. This poison shows up in pretty much every chinese drama. 

 

[Karen]

The Emperor orders an investigation on how these bowls of soup could be poisoned. Very quickly, the guards were able to apprehend 剪秋 the Empress’s head maid. She was the one to put the poison in the soups. She shows absolutely no remorse for what she did and is dragged off to be tortured for information.  The oddest part about this is that she is screaming at the Emperor for not believing his wife, the Empress that she did not harm 甄嬛’s child. I find that quite funny. What about all the other terrible things the Empress has done in the past?

 

WIth that, the Empress now has absolutely no more allies and these servants are bound to spill her secrets. After all, they are undergoing intense torture. 

 

As to 孟静娴,she gives birth to a son for the 17th prince but since she was poisoned, sadly passes away. We find out that her pregnancy was a result of making the 17th prince drunk one night which she feels sorry for. The palace is saddened to hear of this death because she was completely innocent in this. It was a stroke of bad luck that she drank the soup first instead of anyone else. 

 

These two episodes completely deplete the Empress of any and all allies in the palace. 甄嬛 and team are closing in to finally defeat this formidable foe. It’s some what sad to see how weak the Empress is, completely isolated and weakened. But let’s take a look at 甄嬛’s faction now. Not only does she have amazing allies in the form of fellow concubines, her adoptive son, the 4th prince is incredibly cunning as well。 He totally manipulated his brother into visiting their uncle which is banned. His brother didn’t give it a second thought. This guy also did not care whatsoever that he essentially sentenced his brother to death by his suggestions. 甄嬛’s daughter, 胧月, is also dare i say even more cunning and intelligent than her mother. This young princess takes to heart what her adoptive mother says about protecting her birth mother and straight up lies in front of her father.  With a son and daughter like these, 甄嬛 has absolutely nothing to worry about in the future. 

 

—–

[Cathy]

Ok – On to some historical analysis

 

In episode 71 when the Empress was being accused of murdering 甄嬛’s unborn child, she says that she is similar to the Tang Dynasty’s 王皇后 or Empress Wang。 Empress Wang was framed for killing another concubine 武媚娘’s infant daughter and was severely punished for it. But the truth was that 武媚娘, this concubine, killed her own daughter, in order to bring down the Empress. What’s this story?

 

It’s actually quite a famous one that is often portrayed in television dramas. The Concubine who’s daughter was murdered is none other that the famous 武则天, the one and only female Emperor of China. There are many dramas and tales of this story but essentially when 武则天 was still a concubine, then commonly known as 武媚娘,this 王皇后 or Empress Wang was in power. The two women were at odds as 武媚娘 was heavily favored by the Emperor. Soon after 武媚娘’s first daughter was born, the young princess was found dead in her crib. It was said that 王皇后 was just in the palace where the princess was and without a strong alibi, the Emperor 李治 became furious with her. It paved the way for stripping 王皇后 of her Empress title and turning her into a mere citizen in the future. The catch is, it was never clear how the young princess died. There are stories that it was actually 武媚娘 who murdered her own child in order to frame the Empress. We will never know. 

 

As I said, this scene is portrayed in numerous Chinese dramas. Of the ones I’ve seen, yes, 王皇后 was framed but it was not 武媚娘 who killed the child. Instead, it was some made up character.

 

In our current drama, this is quite the apt comparison. The Empress is being framed for the death of a child that she did not kill. It was a powerful antidote to bring up but unfortunately for her, a lying 6 year old princess quashed the Empress’s hopes for a murky alibi.

 

 

One last item to chat about is this poison that killed 孟静闲 but was originally planned for 甄嬛 and her son. 鹤顶红. This poison pops up in so many Chinese historical dramas at this point, it’s almost a cliche. It’s pretty much just, Arsenic Trioxide. The direct translation of this name is the Red on top of a Heron. Historically, it was believed that that part of the heron was poisonous but that’s not the case. Nowadays it’s white but back then since the components were not pure, it looked red. In modern day, there are some medicinal purposes to it but historically, this was a poison that people favored because it didn’t have any taste or smell. Though for the poison to kill, it would take much longer than what was displayed here. 孟静闲 had one bite of soup and started coughing blood. That’s a little aggressive. 

 

Also – 鹤顶红 has been mentioned a few times in this drama. Typically when a concubine dies in the palace, she has three choices, this 鹤顶红, white silk, or a dagger. I guess most people choose silk to hang themself instead.

 

EPISODE 69

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas.  This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. Today we are discussing episode 69 of Empresses in the Palace, 后宫甄嬛传。 We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.  This podcast is in English with proper nouns pronounced in Mandarin Chinese. As always, we first do an episode recap and then discuss any interesting historical or plot details described in the episode.

 

In the last couple of episodes, main character Zhen Huan has been working to dismantle her prime enemy, the Empress’s faction. She has successfully removed both key concubines that did the Empress’s bidding. Now that the Empress’s team is effectively destroyed, the drama turns to her last remaining support, her adoptive son, the 3rd prince, who in this drama, effectively showcases that his intelligence level is on par with his not so smart mother. 

 

Right now, in the palace, we have the 3rd prince, raised by the Empress and the 4th and 6th princes raised by Zhen Huan, the former an adoptive son, the latter is actually not the son of the Emperor’s but rather her love child with the 17th prince. The 3rd prince doesn’t have the highest intelligence whereas the 4th prince is very hardworking and the 6th prince is too young to matter.

 

[Cathy]

The episode starts with the 3rd prince being reprimanded by his father the Emperor for not being able to explain historical political discourse about the Tang Dynasty which for us nerds is quite interesting and we’ll talk about in the analysis portion of our episode. Zhen Huan, the 4th prince and 叶澜依 or now 宁嫔, the former horse tamer maid turned concubine, are waiting outside the Emperor’s residence. They hear this tirade and Zhen Huan actually kindly consoles the 3rd prince when he comes out. But already you hear the tension between the 2 brothers. The 3rd prince is the eldest surviving son of the Emperor and raised by the Empress. Undoubtedly there are high hopes but unfortunately, he is not gifted and struggles with his studies. The 4th prince, on the other hand, was abandoned for most of his childhood but is highly intelligent and hardworking. He has memorized all of the books his older brother cannot. He also displayed in this scene his ability to keep his head down by lying to 宁嫔 and saying he doesn’t know these books even though he has them fully memorized. What’s at stake here is obviously the position of crown prince, or the throne as the next Emperor. The awkwardness though is that Zhen Huan’s real birth son is favored by the Emperor and even the 4th prince himself to be the crown prince but as we know, that’s not a good idea because the 6th prince is not the son of the Emperor’s. Zhen Huan tactfully deflects all conversations around this topic. 

 

[Karen]

In the next scene we see the Empress, Zhen Huan, 敬贵妃 and her daughter 胧月 in the Imperial Garden helping the 3rd prince select a wife. There is a line of beautiful young women being presented to him as potential options. He doesn’t much have a preference but the Empress has her eyes set on her niece, 青樱, hoping to consolidate power of her clan。However, the 3rd prince is rather cold towards 青樱 which is somewhat justified because she is rude towards Princess 胧月 when she comes over to make small talk. Now that it’s been a few years, 胧月 has blossomed into a cute young girl and is very loving towards her two mothers, Zhen Huan, her birth mother, and 敬贵妃,her adoptive mother. 

 

To help the 3rd prince get some fresh air from this match making session, 胧月 is instructed by her adoptive mother to take the 3rd prince for a stroll. This leads to disaster waiting to happen. As they’re out in the garden, the brother and sister pair encounter the beautiful 瑛贵人 admiring some flowers and the 3rd prince is immediately smitten. 瑛贵人 is a relatively new addition to the palace. She was uh gifted to the Emperor by 玉隐, the concubine of the 17th prince. 瑛贵人 used to be a maid in the 17th prince’s household but has evidently gained favor by the Emperor. I will say that in this scene, she is absolutely gorgeous. The trio have a brief conversation about flowers and it is evident that the 3rd prince is mesmerized by her beauty and poise.

 

[Cathy]

This infatuation is taken to the next level in the next scene. The Emperor is listening to 瑛贵人 play the Chinese Zither. We’ll talk about this instrument later in our episode. As she’s performing, the 3rd prince just so happens to arrive to greet the Emperor. He requests pushing off selecting a wife in order to focus on his studies which the Emperor allows. Before he leaves though, he compliments 瑛贵人’s zither skills, clearly trying to get on her good side. 瑛贵人 doesn’t think too much of it.

 

Meanwhile, the Empress’s niece 青樱 is thoroughly annoyed that the 3rd prince decided to not ask her to be his formal wife. The Empress’s head maid tells 青樱 she should first just be a lowly concubine and at least she’ll be a part of the 3rd prince’s household but 青樱 refuses and says hurtful things about the Empress. The Empress, hearing this, becomes frustrated and decides to appoint 青樱 as a concubine to the 4th prince as a slap in the face to both of them. The woman the 3rd prince doesn’t want is now given to the 4th prince as a consolation prize. 

 

[Karen]

Now for those of you who have watched RuYi’s Love in the Palace which is kind of a sequel to this drama, this is technically the same person as RuYi, meaning 青樱 is 如懿. However, in RuYi’s Love in the Palace, the story was retconned such that RuYi and the 4th prince were actually lovers and childhood friends. In this drama, Empresses in the Palace, it is clear that RuYi and the 4th prince had no relationship prior to meeting.  Both the 4th prince and 青樱 are rather disdainful of this pairing but the 4th prince accepts it for the greater good. 

 

This acceptance of this match is another example of the intelligence between these two brothers, the 3rd and 4th prince. While the 4th prince accepts this new concubine, the 3rd prince accosts 瑛贵人 in the garden again and tries to declare his love for her and grabs her hand. 瑛贵人 is rightly shocked and tries to get him to stand down but he is does not back down. She runs away with him chasing behind her. We don’t need to tell you that this relationship is taboo. She is his father’s woman. A woman of the emperor. Technically the 3rd prince’s mother. Why on earth the 3rd prince would think there is any way on earth a relationship between the two of them would ever work showcases that he doesn’t use his brain enough. He has no clue how this could harm both him and 瑛贵人 and does not think of any of the consequences.

 

[Cathy]

Unfortunately, 敬贵妃 saw the 3rd prince chasing after 瑛贵人 and is able to deduce something about their relationship being amiss and instructs her subordinates to pay close attention.

 

After this failed attempt of wooing 瑛贵人, the 3rd prince has the gall to write a letter to send her expressing the feelings. That’s totally going to go over well right? Yes, absolutely. NOT. We shall see the aftermath of the 3rd prince thinking too much of romance and not enough about social norms.

 

[Karen]

The other thread in this episode is the growing tension in the 17th prince’s household. He currently has 2 secondary concubines, one is 玉隐, or formerly known as 浣碧 and is the half sister of 甄嬛. The other is 孟静娴. Remember, none of them are considered his wife, just secondary concubines or 侧福晋。

 

甄嬛 is out for a stroll with 敬贵妃 and 瑛贵人 where they bump into the 17th Prince and 孟静闲. Is it just me or is he looking quite scraggy? We rarely see him unshaven so I’m like…what’s happening at home?

 

Well – this is the first time 甄嬛 has met 孟静闲 and she’is surprised to find them here by themselves. Where’s 玉隐, this is unbecoming, she must pay her respects to the Emperor! The 17th Prince quickly gives the answer that 玉隐 is had matters of the household to attend to and couldn’t come. Listen to 孟静闲’s response – 玉隐 is very capable whereas I’m always sick and only a burden to others. Since 玉隐 is your sister, if it isn’t too bold, I would like for you to treat me as a sister. Then when the 17th prince tries to motion to leave, she purposefully grabs his hand. Everyone of course sees this and 敬贵妃 immediately teases the 17th prince for his luck for having such a loving relationship. 甄嬛 looks slightly uncomfortable, obviously jealous which he acknowledges and immediately removes his hand from 孟静闲’s grip. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 returns back to her palace to find a surprise visitor, 宁嫔。Now two women who love the 17th prince are gossiping about the politics of the 17th Prince’s household. It’s hilarious – 宁嫔 warns 甄嬛 that 孟静闲 is no pushover. 玉隐 needs to be careful. Based on what we just saw? I agree. Don’t underestimate a woman’s love or jealousy!

 

The 17th prince has to delicately balance these two women in his household. If he shows favor to one side, what will the other side think? What will their families think? 孟静闲 and 玉隐 both come from powerful families – it’s a tough choice for the 17th prince. Maybe that’s why he’s looking so scraggy, haha. Well as 宁嫔 leaves, she comments that she hopes 玉隐 doesn’t lose herself in this battle for favor and that she (宁嫔) is ready to watch how this’ll play out. She’s so funny – she’s like, I’m just gonna grab my popcorn and watch this firestorm break out.

 

Sure enough, 玉隐 decides to stay with 甄嬛 for a few days. She’s annoyed at 孟静闲 and all of her doe-eyed actions to keep the 17th prince who seems to be paying her more attention than 玉隐. The servants in the household also see where the wind’s blowing and are beginning to sideline 玉隐. Girl! You gotta step it up!

 

[Karen]

Just then 孟静闲 arrives. 玉隐, not wanting to see 孟静闲 quickly hides in a corner. Small digression – is it me or does 孟静闲 have the deepest curtsies in the show? Well 孟静闲 drops a bombshell. She’s pregnant. WHAT? But then she curiously says, the 17th Prince doesn’t love me, he just pities me. I know how I became pregnant…hm…what does this mean? 

 

She then also says – I originally thought that the 17th prince and 玉隐 were meant to be but it doesn’t seem like it. 玉隐 is also trying everything she can to please the 17th prince. I can’t figure out the reason. 甄嬛 coldly gives some advice and 孟静闲 takes her leave. 玉隐 comes out of her hiding spot worried. She says – this woman is too smart and saw too much. If she keeps this up, her suspicions will kill him. 

 

甄嬛 tries to console 玉隐 and I suspect try to console herself. 玉隐 must take care of the child, the baby is the 17th prince’s first “official” child and to represent her family, 玉隐 must do her part. I think this is also a warning to 玉隐 to not do any funny business with the pregnancy. We all know how easy it is to cause a miscarriage.

 

[Cathy]

Oh my gosh! I just had a great idea, this part of the episode should be called – the harem of the 17th prince. It’s like 4 ladies each being jealous of the relationship the 17th prince has with the other ladies. I’ll end the recap here on this note. 玉隐 and 甄嬛 are slowly recognizing the intelligence of 孟静闲.  甄嬛 of course is team 玉隐 because of their sister relationship. 玉隐 has a long road ahead of her – did she make the right choice in marrying the 17th prince? We’ll find out.

 

Alrighty, now onto the analysis. There’s tons to talk about today! We haven’t had a history and analysis driven episode in a while. 

 

First, let’s discuss Qing dynasty education。

 

The Qing Dynasty took the education of princes extremely seriously. Not only were they expected to continue the athletic manchu traditions of horsemanship, archery etc, they were also expected to excel in academics. Princes were sent to study at what was called 上书房 with renowned tutors and court ministers starting at the age of 5. Their days were long, waking up before dawn to begin their studies of history, classical texts, politics, military strategy. The princes got little respite from the daily grind and were expected to study daily. They stayed in the study until adulthood. Some dramas including 康熙王朝 depict the strict regimen these princes adhered to, but that also explains why many Qing Dynasty Emperors themselves were very intellectual and highly accomplished.

 

The Political Program in Zhenguan Times or 贞观政要 is the the topic at hand for the Emperor to quiz his son the 3rd prince. Compiled by the Tang Dynasty Historian 吴兢, it is a monumental work. Spanning 10 volumes and 40 chapters, it chronicles the politics and military strategy of the 23 years of the 贞观 era of the early Tang Dynasty. I can’t even imagine reading all of that but hey, I’m not vying for the throne.

 

[Karen]

Another document that’s brought up is 谏太宗十思疏 which roughly translates to 10 Suggested Reflections for the Emperor. This Emperor is the 2nd Emperor of the Tang Dynasty, 李世民 one of the most famous in Chinese history. This document was written by 魏征,one of this Tang Emperor’s most trusted advisors who is well known for speaking his mind about the Emperor and even criticizing him when warranted. This document basically gives 10 reflections for the emperor on how to rule and be effective. It’s a throwaway document that’s mentioned but still interesting nonetheless.

 

古筝

 

[Cathy]

Let’s talk about the Chinese zither! We’ve mentioned this instrument before but this instrument is highlighted today. 古筝 is another popular traditional chinese instrument. With records of the instrument dating back all the way to the Warring States period some 2500 years ago. It actually started out as a weapon and then gradually transformed into the instrument we see today. I read basically you just used it to swing at people when it was a weapon. Hard to imagine right? It grew in popularity throughout Chinese history and the number of strings grew for 13 to 21 or 26.

 

筝 holds its own compared to the 琴 and 琵琶. The 古琴 has been prominently featured in this drama but not so much the 筝. The instrument is meant to be plucked. Today, you’ll tape turtle shell nails to your fingers to get the crisp plucking sound. You’ll notice in the scene, 瑛贵人 isn’t wearing any extra nails. Historically, people would just pluck with their nails but it is quite tough to get the same sound. The modern zither has 21, 25 or 26  strings depending on the number of octaves you want. It is made of wood and there’s a whole range of wood you can use from the more common 桐木 or Paulownia to very rare 金丝楠 or Phoebe Zhennan. Some of the decorations on these Zithers are exquisite. Strings are now made of steel coated in nylon but were historically made of horse hair, deer tendons. A funny anachronism – if you take a look at the zither or 筝, there’s green strings on it. That’s definitely a modern string. I highly doubt they had those in the 1730s. 

 

[Karen]

The piece 瑛贵人 performs is called 高山流水 or High mountains, running water. It is named one of the 10 most famous classical pieces of Chinese traditional music.  It started as a 古琴 piece and was transposed for 古筝 over the centuries. Legend has it, the legendary musician 俞伯牙 composed the piece during the Warring States period. He played the piece in a lonely forest where woodcutter 钟子期 was able to comprehend the imagery evoked in the piece, from the towering peaks of 泰山 to the rushing water of the stream. 伯牙 was surprised to meet this kindred soul so much so that when 钟子期 died, 伯牙 destroyed his 琴, never to play again. 

 

People still perform the piece and it’s one that I’m trying to learn on the Zither as well. It is a gorgeous piece with the highs and lows and different dynamics of the piece. You can really imagine the rush of water when listening to it. Check it out on youtube if you can!

 

[Cathy]

Now, the talk about who will take the title of the crown prince has got me thinking about the Emperor’s sons. In the drama, the sons we see are the 3rd, 4th and 6th prince. The 1st and 2nd prince died at a young age.  It’s been years since this drama has been out and a question has always plagued me as to where the 5th prince is.  Why haven’t we seen him in this show? Long story short, the 5th prin ce didn’t serve a purpose to the story of Empresses in the Palace and therefore, he wasn’t featured. There was a brief mention of him by the Emperor but he is never on screen. 

 

But apparently, the 5th prince in history lived for quite a long time, dying at 58 years of age and had quite the close relationship with the 4th prince or the future emperor. The problem is that he was rather uh ridiculous. According to historical records, he was arrogant and abusive of his power. He would play ridiculous games and was an alcoholic. Therefore, this meant he was not a threat to the Emperor and his throne. Thus some historians may say that this prince was actually very intelligent by acting this way so that no one would view him as a problem to be eliminated. This was his method of survival.  

 

That’s it for today’s episode! Not as heavy on the drama but more with the history. Hope you learned something. If you have any comments, questions, please let us know. We look forward to having you with us in our next episode!

EPISODE 68

Episode 68

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. Today, we are going to be discussing episode 67 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. As for every episode, we first do an episode recap and then discuss the historical significance of any interesting items raised in the episode. If you have any questions or comments, email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or follow us on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.

 

Today’s episode will be all about 安陵容。

 

Episode 68

 

Last episode, we learned that 安陵容 is pregnant. To celebrate this, she was promoted to a consort or 妃 and then given a title of 鹂 which means oriole. But 甄嬛 was able to accurately deduce that 安陵容’s pregnancy would not last and they discovered that 安陵容 is using an aphrodisiac which was how she secured favor by the emperor. Both of this information will be used against 安陵容 in this episode.

 

[Cathy]

The episode starts with the Emperor visiting 安陵容 and admiring her belly. She’s around 5 months pregnant. But as soon as he leaves, she gasps in pain and promptly requests the imperial doctors to come see her.

 

News travels fast to 甄嬛’s ears who doesn’t have much to say. She does admire a bouquet of beautiful lilies brought to her by a eunuch. Seeing that these could potentially help 安陵容’s sleeplessness, she instructs the eunuch to also send a bouquet to 安陵容’s palace. 

 

Well this bouquet of flowers becomes the key to 安陵容’s downfall. These flowers were initially examined by palace doctors and nothing amiss was discovered. However, on the night of 安陵容“s birthday when she is having dinner with the Emperor, 甄嬛 personally puts together a bouquet of lilies to be put in 安陵容’s room. The flowers work their magic and the emperor, who believes 安陵容’s pregnancy is stable, decides to spend the night together. This unfortunately was the wrong move. 

 

[Karen]

A eunuch rushes to 甄嬛’s palace to inform her and 敬妃 who was visiting that 安陵容 has miscarried.

 

[Cathy] Side bar – the two look so cute with their hair down just doing normal stuff like reading and embroidery. I feel like we don’t get a lot of scenes like that.

 

[Karen] haha ok back into the action. 

 

安陵容 miscarried while she was intimate with the Emperor. The Emperor himself is in a state of shock and is sitting aside in a daze. The ladies hurry over to 安陵容’s palace to assess the situation and confirm that the child is no longer. You’ll notice the glance 甄嬛 gives to her maid, 槿汐 which is a signal to remove the flowers from the room so as to not leave any trace of evidence.

 

The Emperor blames himself for what happened and the fact that he couldn’t control himself. He says he normally could but for some reason today he couldn’t. 甄嬛, 敬妃 and the Empress console the Emperor as there’s not much that can be done now. The child is gone. 

 

The next day at the Empress’s palace, she is lamenting the fact that they lost this round. Initially they were going to try to use this child to topple 甄嬛 but the only person they scared was the Emperor. The child is also now gone so they don’t have any more leverage. The Empress doesn’t have any evidence that 甄嬛 was involved somehow but she just has a hunch 甄嬛 is entangled in yesterday’s events. Unfortunately, she can’t do a thorough investigation because this will unearth the truth about 安陵容”s pregnancy which will expose the lies they’ve told in regards to her condition. The Empress can’t have that so this miscarriage will just have to stand the way it is. 

 

Understandably, the emperor is in a dour mood. We all know that he has done many terrible things that has caused the death of his children or else prevented him from having children. If anyone needs a refresher, he’s most likely talking about 华妃 and the women that was collateral damage because of 华妃 such as 敬贵妃 and 端妃 now 皇贵妃。 He originally thought that since so many children have been born in the palace now that he’s been forgiven but the truth is that he is still being punished by the heavens. He yells at a concubine who comes in trying to capture his attention.

 

[Cathy]

What I think is funny is that none of the children born in the last few years are actually his children. 甄嬛’s twins and 沈眉庄’s daughter are both not the Emperor’s.

 

Anyways, 安陵容 is also rather heartbroken at losing her child but her feeling is resigned. She knows she’s done terrible things to 甄嬛 so she views this as her karma coming back to her.

 

And indeed losing her child was just the beginning. In the next scene, we see that the 4 most senior ladies in the palace, the Empress, 皇贵妃, 敬贵妃 and 甄嬛 are at the Empress’s palace. 皇贵妃(who used to be 端妃) brings up the topic of fragrances and steers the conversation towards a special fragrance she discovered at 安陵容’s palace. She informs the Empress that this fragrance ensures that the Emperor will spend time with 安陵容。 At first the Empress doesn’t fully believe the accusation but 皇贵妃”s maid provides clear evidence of this fragrance’s existence. The Empress has no other option but to do an investigation and search 安陵容’s palace. 

 

What we learn here is that the Empress did not know about this aphrodisiac. 

 

To me, that’s interesting – it may be that the Empress just ordered 安陵容 to find a way to keep the Emperor in her bed and didn’t question the specifics or it may be that 安陵容 was just really good at hiding it. There were several scenes where she ordered her maid 宝娟 to dispose of any of the aphrodisiac.

 

[Karen]

苏培盛, the Emperor’s head eunuch is in charge of the search of 安陵容“s palace. She is extremely rude to him but is rather stoic given the potential consequences of this palace search. 

 

With the hard evidence of this aphrodisiac unearthed, they go up to see the Emperor. 

 

The Emperor, upon hearing this discovery, is unhappy but leaves a sliver of pity towards 安陵容 for having lost a child. Aphrodisiacs, while I guess are used in the palace, aren’t viewed as proper. This is not acceptable for concubines to use. He initially decides to remove her title and demote her to a 答应, a 2nd class female attendant. And here is where 甄嬛 is now a master manipulator herself. Instead of affirming this punishment, she instead says that since 安陵容 lost her child, she’s already learned her lesson. Additionally, fragrances are not all without their benefit. 甄嬛 brings up this cream that 安陵容 made for 甄嬛 after she was scratched by a cat several years ago. The cream was to prevent scarring and indeed, she doesn’t have any scarring. Based on this benefit, she recommends not punishing 安陵容。 

 

As she brings up this cream, the Empress’s face turns pale. 皇贵妃 takes this opportunity to remind everyone about the timing of this cat scratch and using this cream. It was when 甄嬛 had her first pregnancy and not long after miscarried. At the time, everyone thought it was because 华妃 had forced 甄嬛 to kneel outside in the sun. But now thinking back, that doesn’t sound right. The Emperor takes the bait and asks to see the imperial doctor 卫临, student of 温实初。 Hilariously, he just so happens to be outside, obviously planted by 甄嬛. 卫临 comes to investigate the cream and tada!!! Loudly says that there is a heavy amount of 麝香 or musk in the cream.

 

We all know by now that 麝香 or musk is an incredibly harmful product to pregnant women and would cause them to miscarry. 

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 puts on a show and cries about how ruthless 安陵容 is for having killed her first child. Yes, she’s sad but she has known for years by now that 安陵容 was the culprit. The other ladies, 皇贵妃 and 敬贵妃 reiterate how terrible this is. 皇贵妃 even brings up that it was 安陵容‘s servant that spoke to 沈眉庄 which ultimately caused her death. 

 

To make all of this even more impactful, 苏培盛 shares a box he discovered after searching 安陵容’s palace. The doctor confirms that the objects in the box are incredibly potent and expensive balls of musk.

 

That’s the last straw for the Emperor. 安陵容 is summoned to see the Emperor who asks her why she did what she did. Her ruthlessness is 100x that of other people in the palace. She takes full responsibility of her actions and does not try to request for any leniency. Not that the emperor would have given it. Her final punishment is to create a living hell. She is not going to be killed, she is even going to keep her rank and title. But, every day, someone will come to slap her across the face. And every day she is to kneel in front of buddhas to repent for her misdeeds. Her palace will become her cold palace and will not be allowed to leave. Her servants will either be killed or sold as slaves.  We find out later, that her father was sentenced to death by beheading.

[Karen]

The episode ends with 安陵容 requesting to see 甄嬛. She asks 甄嬛 to bring bitter almonds with her which she does and they have one final conversation.  It turns out that the reason why the Emperor couldn’t control himself that night was because 甄嬛 added the fragrance to the flowers herself and only for that one night. The flowers that were sent every other time were perfectly clean. Only that bouquet was embedded with the aphrodisiac and caused 安陵容’s downfall. Quite genius if you think about it. 

 

甄嬛 arrives at 安陵容’s palace. It’s stark and cold, void of all the luxuries mentioned in the last episode. The makeup team did an excellent job showing some slap marks on 安陵容’s face, as a reminder to us of her punishment.

 

安陵容 calmly says she’s not the same naive girl when they first entered the palace. If she was, she would’ve died one hundred times over. She begins to narrate her sad, pitiful story. Starting from how her mother did everything for her father, only for him to discard her after her beauty waned. She recounts the helplessness she felt when she first entered the power, cowering under the tyranny of 华妃. 

 

甄嬛 coldly responds – everyone was in that situation in the beginning. You shouldn’t have schemed against those who treated you as a sister.

 

安陵容 scoffs at this. She says – I once foolishly thought you treated me as a sister. You have everything, beauty, noble birth, and the Emperor’s favor. Then I figured it out, you needed me to win favor to strengthen your own position in the palace. That’s the only reason why you pushed me to the Emperor’s bed.

 

[Cathy]

During the conversation, 安陵容 starts and continues to eat the raw almonds. 

 

安陵容 continues – I didn’t want to just be a pawn but what can I do? I don’t have a family, I don’t have money, I can only obey. The Empress just needed me for her faction. The Emperor didn’t love me. In the end though, I hate you the most. You have everything, and I have nothing. 

 

甄嬛 has nothing more to say. She sees that 安陵容 feels no remorse for any of the actions she’s done, especially what she did to 沈眉庄. For 甄嬛, they aren’t enemies, they aren’t friends. 安陵容 is nothing to her. 甄嬛 leaves.

 

Right before 甄嬛 leaves – 安陵容 cries out this words in Chinese “皇后杀了皇后”. It’s hard to translate in english because of the tenses but the literally translation is as such. The Empress kill the Empress. So perhaps 安陵容 is saying, The Empress, kill the Empress as an action for 甄嬛 to take or let’s think about it the Empress killed the Empress. This is shocking news regardless of the meaning. We definitely keep this in mind as we speed towards the end of the show.

 

The scene of 甄嬛 turning to glance at 安陵容 though is iconic. Right at the 40:30 mark. It’s a frightful glare but oh so good!

 

After 甄嬛 leaves, 安陵容 finally falls to the ground. She dies finding i guess some peace. She couldn’t choose her birth, she couldn’t choose a lot of things, but at least she could choose how she died. 

 

With that, 安陵容 dies, with the song that she sung to capture the Emperor’s attention way back in episode 31. The song is called 采莲曲 and is a fitting end to this character. Now, of the ladies that entered the palace with 甄嬛 only she remains.

 

[Karen]

Phew that was our recap. Today will focus on 安陵容. 

 

安陵容

 

After all this time, 安陵容 finally meets her end. Looking back at her speech, you can’t but help feel conflicted. On one hand, she did terrible things. She betrayed her friends, 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 which caused 甄嬛 to lose a child and 沈眉庄 to lose her life. But on the other, she is a product of her time and upbringing. She came from a very poor family and had none of the political currency that 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 had to survive in the palace. This translated to not having much education or money to spend in the palace. The money piece is important. In the earlier episodes in the palace, you could see that 沈眉庄 would tip her servants quite handsomely. That’s something she was conditioned to do as a daughter of a relatively powerful man. This meant servants would treat her well. 安陵容 on the other hand, was constantly belittled by servants because she didn’t have this money. 

 

People wonder why or how could 安陵容 betray her friends so badly. A huge part of it was 安陵容’s personality. She is overly sensitive and likes to overanalyze things in a negative way. Certain things that people said would heavily impact her and make her suspicious of 甄嬛 or 沈眉庄”s motives. She is also jealous of when she’s not getting as much attention by 甄嬛 or 沈眉庄 compared to say the little foodie, 淳儿。 But, we should also recognize that 甄嬛, while she treated 安陵容,kindly, never treated her as a sister to the extent that she treated 沈眉庄 or 淳儿。 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 were childhood friends and so that’s understandable. No matter what, 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 both came front he 8 banners with father’s at court. They were members of the nobility. 安陵容 was not. I don’t think 甄嬛 was fully aware of the difference in treatment and affection she showed towards 安陵容 but I do think deep down 甄嬛 did look down on 安陵容. No matter how much she fooled herself, 甄嬛 didn’t treat 安陵容 as an equal. 安陵容 wanted stability and comfort from 甄嬛’s friendship that she couldn’t give. When she couldn’t find this stability, she turned to the Empress and essentially sold her soul. 

 

[Cathy]

To me, 安陵容’s inferiority complex also sealed her fate. She only noticed the position she was in and envied everyone around her, whether it was 甄嬛, 华妃, or even 祺嫔. She only focused on what they had and tried to claw her way to power and fortune. She however never thought to share her riches with others. Time and again, we saw how ruthless she could be, especially to servants. At first, she felt helpless when her maids were killed but when she suspected a mole in her palace, she was more than happy to throw a maid under the bus or killed. Ok that part isn’t unique to her but we didn’t see her show her maids much kindness. She’d often times yell at her maid 宝娟 and we’ll talk about her shortly. 

 

During this episode, when the eunuch 苏培盛 is ordered to search her palace, 安陵容 says the phrase – it’s not something a “阉人” should have an opinion. 阉人 is a derogatory term for eunuchs in Mandarin. 安陵容 says this straight to 苏培盛’s face. He coldly reminds her – no matter what, eunuchs are still humans with feelings. 安陵容’s inferiority complex makes her disparage on people who she sees as beneath her. She never learned that 苏培盛 is that one person you need to have on your camp. He might have offered a hand but nope, she decided to treat all of the servants like dirt. Well you reap what you sow. No one came to her aid at the end. 

 

This character is such a hated character that the actress 陶昕然 struggled for many years to get positive roles. Many of the roles you see her in are those of the antagonist. I feel so bad for her because weibo would be blown up with negative comments. If we want to be an optimist about this, one could say that she did such a great job in the role that the audience can’t tell her apart from that character. But still.  It’s sad to hear this. We’ll give a shout out to 陶昕然 – she did an amazing job. 

 

[Karen]

One character that we haven’t really talked about but is up for much debate is actually 安陵容’s maid, 宝娟。宝娟 was assigned to 安陵容 from the first day she stepped into the palace. Now, we never know for sure, but I’ve read some theories and actually think this might be the case that 宝娟 was actually working for the Empress. If you watch certain scenes throughout the drama, the Empress receives information about 安陵容 that is very private. How would the Empress have been provided this information if not for a spy? A prime example is the last episode. 安陵容 was upset to hear that the servants selecting her title were punished. She thought those characters were very good. In the next scene we see the Empress and her maid mocking 安陵容 for her anger. How would they know? The only other person 安陵容 was speaking to was 宝娟. 

 

Bitter Almonds – now in case people are confused about how or why 安陵容 suddenly died, it’s because she was ingesting a large number of bitter almonds. Bitter almonds, different from their sweet almond counterpart, are poisonous in their raw state. They contain cyanide and therefore it is plausible that 安陵容 would have died after eating them. 

 

[Cathy]

Now there is no way that 甄嬛 didn’t know of the properties of the bitter almonds. I think this was her last act of mercy towards 安陵容. For 安陵容 though, there is another purpose of picking bitter almonds. This ties directly to the phrase she cries out The Empress kill the Empress. We won’t divulge too much here but again, let’s keep this in mind.

 

That’s that for today’s episode! Thank you very much for listening!We are doing a top 25 countdown of the most intelligent people in the palace for this month. Follow us on instagram and twitter to find out who we think they are. Let us know your thoughts about our rankings! Until next time!

 

EPISODE 67

 

Episode 67

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. Today, we are going to be discussing episode 67 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. As for every episode, we first do an episode recap and then discuss the historical significance of any interesting items raised in the episode. If you have any questions or comments, email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or follow us on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.

 

The last couple of episodes were focused on marrying off 甄嬛’s 2 sisters, one to the 17th prince and another to the 19th prince. Now, we’re back to drama in the palace. There’s not a whole lot of historical analysis in this episode but there is quite a bit to discuss character wise that ties into history which we’re eager to chat about. 

 

[Cathy]

Empress Dowager’s death

 

We start up right at the Empress Dowager’s bedside. She’s on her dying breath. The Emperor has rushed over to her bedside after the wedding of 玉娆 and the 19th Prince which is perfect timing because when there’s a grand death, such as the death of the Empress Dowager, the country has mourning rites where no one is allowed to get married for 3 years. This is what Zhen Huan tells us as well in the last episode. The rest of the concubines in the Imperial Harem are already there. The Empress Dowager starts muttering in her sleep. The Emperor understands what she is saying and immediately dismisses the women to have one final conversation with his mother.

 

Mother and son try to have a heartfelt discussion but it ends in disappointment for both of them. The Empress Dowager wants to see her other son the 14th Prince. It’s been years since the current Emperor ascended the throne but the 14th Prince is still imprisoned. The Emperor coldly denies this request. He claims that his brothers forced his hand. She begs him with tears streaming down her cheeks but he is not moved by this. This goes back to the entire story about how the Emperor gained his throne. We’ve discussed this earlier in this series but his younger brother from the same mother, the 14th prince, decided to back another prince for the throne. In total, there were 9 princes vying for the position of Emperor. Those that were not on the Emperor’s side were either killed or banished. The 14th prince is one of them. 

 

[Karen]

The Emperor then starts numerating his own filial piety towards her. He claims he didn’t say anything about her relationship with 隆科多, he’s treated 纯元 and the current Empress well. This was all for the Empress Dowager. His final words to her are – thank you for dealing with 隆科多, you spared me from sullying my own reputation. After hearing this, the Empress Dowager gasps her last breath and passes away. Remember that the Empress Dowager went and poisoned 隆科多 who was one of the Emperor’s trusted advisors but the Emperor had no use for him any more and needed to get rid of him.

 

The Emperor, seeing this, kneels at her bedside to recite a childhood song. She never sang it to him, can she sing it to him one last time?

 

[Cathy]

Usually we leave the analysis of scenes at the end of the episode but this is all fresh in our mind so I want to talk about this right now. I’m going to go on a rant.

 

First and foremost – ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Once again, this Emperor shows that is a childish, petty, selfish, self-centered man. Your mother sacrificed so much for you, you even acknowledge this! She paved the path for your throne, scheming, building alliances, and even killing her beloved to secure your throne. Let’s recall that the Empress Dowager and 隆科多 knew each other before she entered the Imperial Harem. She was the one who killed him because the Emperor couldn’t be seen killing all of his ministers. All the Emperor had to say is, you should thank me for NOT revealing your past with 隆科多? On her deathbed??? Even at the very end, he’s lamenting what she didn’t do for him, like singing a child’s lullaby. There’s a reason why he won’t let her see the 14th prince, his own blood brother. He’s still jealous of the relationship they had so even on her deathbed, he won’t grant her this request. Sure there might be political motivations and everything but i think it is more to do with his own jealousy and insecurity. The Empress Dowager dies disappointed at her son and I’m honestly disappointed too. 

 

I will commend both actors in this scene especially 陈建斌 the actor who plays the Emperor. He’s stoic face breaks when he realizes his mother has passed but he quickly composes himself as he kneels at her bedside.

 

[Karen]

Anlingrong’s pregnancy

 

With the Empress Dowager’s passing, the whole Empire is in a state of mourning. It’s the new year and all of the celebrations were muted. The Emperor commends the Empress for her frugality. There’s some small talk and the Emperor makes some subtle jabs at the Empress. Well I don’t think he realizes it but she certainly took it that way. He says things like, you haven’t had children in a long time, you probably forgot how difficult it is to raise one. The Empress is like – nuh uh – i’m over this. She stands up and congratulates the Emperor, she exclaims 安陵容 is 3 months pregnant!

 

What? This is surprising news. 宁贵人 is the first to get all snarky – she’s like…isn’t this opportune? If we remember from the last episode, 安陵容’s father is in prison and she’s been looking for a way to save him. This is her trump card. The Empress immediately uses this opportunity to push 甄嬛 into a corner. She says – well, we need to make another 齐妃 fiasco doesn’t happen again. 甄嬛 understands the context. Remember 齐妃 was worried that 宁贵人 would get pregnant, so she stupidly sent a bowl of 藏红花 or basically infertility medicine to 宁贵人 and she drank it. For her trouble, 齐妃 committed suicide. 甄嬛 right now runs the palace, if anything happens to 安陵容 during her pregnancy, the responsibility will fall under 甄嬛. This is basically what 甄嬛 did to the Empress the times she got pregnant. She asked for protection under the Empress which meant that the Empress couldn’t actually do anything. 甄嬛 agrees to “protecting” 安陵容.

 

[Cathy]

Seeing this settled, the Empress then makes another request; promote 安陵容 to the rank of Consort or 妃. Her father is still imprisoned, the news of a promotion will lift 安陵容’s spirits. In the palace there can be 4 consorts, currently there are only 3. There’s space enough for 安陵容. I’ll applaud the Empress – she knows how to get what she wants. She told 安陵容 last episode that getting pregnant is the only path forward and now with 安陵容 pregnant, the Empress can ask for higher titles and solidify her alliance.

 

甄嬛 back at her palace is surprised. How can 安陵容 be pregnant? She knows full well the lengths 安陵容 took to regain favor including taking large amounts of mus which means she cannot get pregnant anymore. Something’s fishy…

 

Anlingrong’s consort title

 

Shortly after, 甄嬛 brings some desserts for the Emperor. They include lotus leaf soup and lotus and osmanthus cakes, all specialties of the now deceased 沈眉庄. Why does 甄嬛 bring these specific desserts? Let’s pay attention to that because I have my thoughts. 

 

[Karen]

Right after, the eunuch 苏培盛 presents three characters that the Ministry of Internal Affairs or 内务府 determined as options for 安陵容’s consort title. She currently still is referred to by her last name. As a consort, there is justification to gift her a title. Just as 甄嬛’s title is 熹or 沈眉庄 ’s title was 惠. The Emperor allows 甄嬛 to help pick the title. 

 

Let’s take a look at them

肃 – means serene or stern. Doesn’t really fit 安陵容 so 甄嬛 dismisses this.

文 – when paired with 静 means gentle or peaceful but by itself, 文 means text so as a title, the person must be learned and cultured. It’s widely known that 安陵容 hasn’t read many books so this does not fit her. However, listen to what 甄嬛 says, instead of belittling 安陵容 outright, she says, if we give her this name, 安陵容 might have extra thoughts. The subtext is that she might think everyone else is mocking her. The Emperor agrees, haha

 

This leaves 俪. 俪 by itself means companionship. 甄嬛 then adds this also represents the deep affection between husband and wife, using the idiom 伉俪情深 which uses the word 俪.The Emperor initially agrees but after further examination disagrees. 安陵容 is just his concubine, how can she use the title 俪 which is used to describe the love between husband and wife?

 

甄嬛 comes up with a different solution. Why doesn’t the Emperor just gift a title for 安陵容?The Emperor agrees and orders 甄嬛 to come up with a suggestion. What does she write?

 

鹂 or Oriole. 甄嬛 explains – the oriole has a charming voice, is gentle, and only has one mate. The eunuch 苏培盛 chimes in – oh yes, I hear orioles also have many offspring this will be a good omen for 安陵容。 

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor doesn’t think much of it, agrees and orders 苏培盛 to tell the Empress the good news. 苏培盛 chuckles as he exits the palace, going so far to tell a young eunuch to grab 50 orioles to gift to the new 鹂妃 to congratulate her.

 

We’ll dive into this in our analysis because instead of this being a complimentary title, it is instead a slap in the face for 安陵容.

 

Palace promotion!

 

Well, with 安陵容’s title settled, 甄嬛 has other important matters to do such as manipulating the Emperor into promoting her own faction so as to better counter the Empress.

 

She starts off by reminiscing about her dear friend 沈眉庄 who tragically passed away and asks the emperor to provide her with some type of title now that she is gone. He agrees. She continues to ask for similar rewards for other women who have passed such as 齐妃, the 3rd prince’s mother we mentioned earlier. The Emperor on his own volition brings up 华妃 as well.

 

[Karen]

Now the 甄嬛 knows the Emperor is in a giving mood, she brings up the women in the imperial harem that are still alive. She says she agrees with the Empress in that there are many positions in the harem that are still empty and it’s a good idea to fill those positions with capable people so as to strengthen the camaraderie in the palace. And the most important line she says here is that no matter how the Emperor wants to promote, 端妃 must be at a higher position that her.

 

This is surprising because normally, people would want to move up the ranks as much as possible themselves but here, 甄嬛 is showcasing her gratitude and respect towards 端妃 who helped her when she first entered the palace. This is also showcasing that 甄嬛 doesn’t care too much about power. Yes, power to some degree is good, but it is better to share that ability with others. This is again, a difference in managerial style between 甄嬛 and the Empress.

 

The Emperor agrees to 甄嬛‘s suggestion and of his own volition, decides to promote 敬妃 to 贵妃 or Noble Consort, which is the same rank as 甄嬛 and 欣贵人 to 欣嫔 or Imperial Concubine.端妃 is to be promoted to 皇贵妃 which is the equivalent to vice empress. All three of these women are on 甄嬛’s team which most certainly bodes well for her stability in the palace. One last highlight is that the Emperor point blank asks whether 甄嬛 wants any type of reward. She actually says no, she has the Emperor’s favor and that’s enough. Her strength comes in knowing when enough is enough and that when others prosper, she does too.

 

[Cathy]

After this conversation, we have an interesting scene at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Head Eunuch is giving orders about the promotions and reminding the other eunuchs who are the most important people in the Harem. He then asks for the eunuchs that provided those words as potential titles for 安陵容. Instead of praising them, he instead has them beaten and sent to do hard labor. He tells the remaining eunuchs that trying to cozy up to the wrong person will have this result. Clearly, he can see through that even though 安陵容 was promoted to 鹂妃, she is not someone that should be valued. 

 

Ouch that is harsh. I’ve seen this scene many times and can’t help but wonder if 甄嬛 had a hand in manipulating those eunuchs into providing those titles to the emperor. She came to see him just in time for him to choose those words and was the one to direct the conversation on what words work better than others, and the one to finally give 安陵容 the title of Oriole. We’ll never know but that’s my hunch.

 

[Karen]

The rest of the episode circles around 安陵容’s pregnancy. The Empress and 安陵容 need the pregnancy to last as long as possible so 安陵容 has the Imperial Doctors do what they can to stabilize the pregnancy, using traditional methods such as burning 艾草 or Chinese mugwort.

 

At the promotion ceremony, everyone is in attendance except for 安陵容. The excuse is that she’s pregnant so it’s not safe for her to attend. Of course 安陵容 takes offense to this but what can she do. Everyone has gotten promoted, even 宁贵人 and the new 瑛常在 who was provided to the Emperor by 玉隐,the 17th prince’s consort and 甄嬛’s 2nd sister. They are now 宁嫔 and 瑛贵人。So again, everyone from 甄嬛’s team is getting promoted.

 

Some time passes and the ladies of the imperial harem visit the bedridden 安陵容. There’s 甄嬛, 敬贵妃 and now 欣嫔。 They make some lighthearted jabs at the luxuries that 安陵容 now has including the silk pillows, tea, and curtains. 甄嬛 covers these comments by saying oh my this is just a reflection of your favor from the Emperor!

 

[Cathy]

While on the surface 甄嬛 is being kind and sisterly, this entire scene is rather passive aggressive on 甄嬛’s part. She comes in with all these compliments and even reminding 安陵容 on what to avoid in order to protect herself but this is more or less putting on a show. She has multiple women accompany her to visit 安陵容,plus she has everything she is gifting 安陵容 examined by doctors to confirm that none of those items will harm the baby. She doesn’t want anyone to frame her for anything. You can tell that 安陵容 is a little uncomfortable with all the attention.

 

The whole purpose of this trip though was for 甄嬛 to investigate 安陵容’s pregnancy. As she was talking to 安陵容, 卫临, who is the student of her friend 温实初, was scoping out 安陵容“s medical condition while 小允子,甄嬛’s head eunuch, scoped out 安陵容’s palace for anything amiss. Sure enough, the eunuch discovered a weird type of fragrance. After they leave 安陵容’s palace, 卫临, the doctor first informs 甄嬛 that her suspicions were correct. 安陵容 will not be able to keep her baby. All the signs are there that her pregnancy is in danger. This is important information to protect 甄嬛 from being alone with 安陵容. She knows that the Empress and 安陵容 will try to pin any harm to 安陵容”s baby on her, 甄嬛 so she now must stay away. 

 

As for the fragrance. The doctor informs 甄嬛 that it is a very potent aphrodisiac. It contains monniers’s snow parsley and ylang ylang. Obviously, it is used to seduce the Emperor. This is another useful piece of information that 甄嬛 will be using next episode.

 

Official State of Mourning –

 

Empress loses her biggest ally

 

History

 

[Karen]

鹂 – Why is this word such an insult. The nickname for 安陵容 amongst all the chinese chat channels are to call her 安小鸟,or little bird.  It is because it reflects how the emperor feels about 安陵容。 He has no real emotions towards her, but rather, he sees her as a pet, a play thing that is very demure, talented, well trained and even cute. 安陵容 comes from a poor family and this is a huge slap in the face for her. If you look at the titles of the other ladies in the harem, such as 敬妃 or 端妃, those are all respectable titles. Indeed, 敬 means respect, and 端 means composed. The only person in the harem with an animal for a title is 安陵容。 While 甄嬛’s explanation was quite nice that the oriole or 鹂 has a beautiful singing voice, which reflects how 安陵容 first came to favor, and is also a calm natured animal, but this title is indeed insulting. Everyone in the palace picked up on the insult except for the Emperor himself. That shows his selfishness again since he doesn’t see anything wrong with placing 安陵容 on the same tier as an animal.

Next let’s discuss some history, specifically the Empress Dowager. The Empress dowager came from the powerful乌拉那拉 clan and a member of 正黄旗 or the Plain Yellow Banner. She was born in 1660 and entered the Imperial Harem in 1675 when she was only 15. She steadily climbed the ranks within the imperial harem, becoming a consort in 1681 with the title of 德 or virtuous. She had 6 children which reflects her favor with the Emperor 康熙. She had 3 sons and 3 daughters, her two most famous sons are of course the 4th prince and the 14th prince. Her other children died relatively young. The Empress dowager in history died 1723which is different from a timeline perspective. We are in around 1730 i would say. There is also no historical record of any romantic ties between her and 隆科多. He died in 1728 so there’s no way she could have poisoned him. 

 

As for the 14th prince, he was imprisoned in 1725 and not released until 1735 after the death of 雍正. He died in 1755.

 

Finally, let’s give a shoutout to the actress for the Empress Dowager 刘雪华. Born in 1959, she became a well known Hong Kong actress in the early 80s but she reached the zenith of her popularity acting in 琼瑶 dramas in the late 80s and 90s. 琼瑶 is of course the author of other popular dramas such as 还珠格格 and 情深深雨蒙蒙. She still acts in tv shows nowadays but they’re mainly empress dowager roles. 

 

EPISODE 66

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. Today, we are going to be discussing episode 66 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. As for every episode, we first do an episode recap and then discuss the historical significance of any interesting items raised in the episode. If you have any questions or comments, email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com or follow us on instagram and twitter @chasingdramas.

 

In this episode, there are 2 main threads as we head into the end game. On one hand, 甄嬛’s sister is getting unwanted attention from the Emperor so they need to deal with that and on the other, 甄嬛’s enemies are imploding. Overall, 甄嬛’s life is moving into the right direction so let’s see how things play out.

 

[Karen]

This episode starts with the Emperor chatting with 甄嬛 and her youngest sister 玉娆 at 甄嬛’s residence. They’re discussing the funeral activities for 甄嬛’s best friend, 沈眉庄 who died giving birth to her daughter. As they;re discussing how terrible 祺贵人 was for instigating the drama that caused her death, the emperor turns to 玉娆 and starts discussing her name. He thinks her name doesn’t match with her rather resolute temperament. He suggests the word 婉 instead. We’ll talk about the significance of poem he recites here but this suggestion immediately sets off alarm bells for 甄嬛. He initially says this word is better for her because it’s praising beauties but the word comes from a poem that is discussing a wife who died. Both 玉娆 and 甄嬛 immediately pounce on the word and it’s quite funny actually. 玉娆 doesn’t like it because the word comes from a poem about someone who died whereas she is still alive and 甄嬛 says the poem is about a late wife。Does the emperor have the expectation of making 玉娆 his wife?

 

Ding ding ding – we have a winner. 

 

You have to commend 甄嬛 for being quick to pick up on the emperor’s real motives. She can tell exactly what the emperor is thinking at this point. The emperor with his beady eyes, doesn’t outright deny it. Instead, he waffles about how there are clear rules between wife and concubine. He has a wife, the Empress. He has no inclination of changing that but… And before he can say anything further, 甄嬛 cuts him off and basically chastizes him for expecting that all of her sisters should become concubines instead of wives. As we’ve discussed before, the title of wife or 妻子 is the highest one can be or the best position a woman can achieve in this society. The Emperor recognizes that this was not a good subject to bring up so he decides to drop the new name conversation.

 

After he leaves, 玉娆 tells her older sister that the emperor gave her a jade pendant. 甄嬛 looks at this and tells us and 玉娆 this crucial piece of information. She thinks 玉娆 probably looks too much like the Emperor’s first wife, 纯元。 Once again, the Emperor is enamored by the young 玉娆 not because of her, necessarily, but because she looks like his first wife.  Another really important point to highlight about the word 婉 that the Emperor tried to give to 玉娆 is that it sounds exactly like the nickname for his first wife. The characters are different but the sounds are the same. 

 

[Cathy]

Now, let’s shift to the first of 甄嬛’s enemies that implodes. 甄嬛 and 敬妃 are playing a round of Chinese Go. 敬妃 languidly smiles and remarks the downfall of the 瓜尔佳 clan. Members of the family, including the father of the now demoted 祺贵人, have been tried for corruption, bribery, and several other counts. 甄嬛 responds with a smirk – oh yes, the Emperor has been busy this past month. He’s rounded up the entire faction. The whole lot of them have been imprisoned, sentenced to exile, or executed. The father of 祺贵人 has even committed suicide in prison. 

 

In the next scene, rain is pouring from the sky and a distraught woman is running in the palace trying to plead to the Empress. This woman is none other than the nasty 祺贵人, or rather her full name is 瓜尔佳文鸢, who’s been banished to the cold palace for her role in the accusation against 甄嬛. No longer wearing her usual luxurious clothes, she’s dressed in well-worn clothes, shoeless, and running around in the palace desperately trying to find someone to help her clan’s plight with guards at her heels. The Empress’s doors remain coldly shut so she runs to the Emperor’s study. She’s not allowed in the door so she begs for an audience in the rain. It’s a pitiful scene. Unbeknownst to her, 甄嬛 is with the Emperor grinding ink for him as he declares his sentence. All men over the age of 14 are to be executed, those under will be exiled, women will all be sold as slaves. As for the despicable 瓜尔佳文鸢,she will be spared from death but reduced to a commoner. The Emperor motions for his eunuch 苏培盛 to deal with her outside. 甄嬛 makes no remarks and just continues to grind. 

 

[Karen]

Unfortunately for 瓜尔佳文鸢, this idiotic woman begins hurling insults to 甄嬛 as she’s begging for leniency for her family. She says, I’ll become a ghost to haunt you. 甄嬛 you’re a bitch. Well…that doesn’t go over nicely with 苏培盛. The god-send, the best person to have on your side. He orders the guards to “take care” of 瓜尔佳文鸢。The woman could have been spared her life if she kept her mouth shut but with the end of her story and her life is for her to be mercilessly beaten to death by the palace guards and unceremoniously tossed into a mass grave. 苏培盛 even spits at her direction which is probably one of the most derogatory things we’ve seen from the eunuch. Another example of why you don’t piss off eunuchs or servants overall. 

 

The Emperor tells 甄嬛 that he’ll restore her father’s position at court but she doesn’t want it for him. He’s too old. He’ll be happy with a secure job.  She got her revenge but cannot seem too vindictive. The Empress and 安陵容 watch 瓜尔佳文鸢‘s body pass by them. The Empress doesn’t so much as blink – the woman was of no use to her anymore. A useless woman is the same as a dead woman. There’s no difference – the Empress doesn’t care.

 

[Cathy]

The other huge blow to the Empress’s team is on 安陵容’s side. 甄嬛’s expanded network, and by network I mean 欣贵人, comes to tell her that 安陵容”s father has been imprisoned for corruption. 安陵容 is distraught and has been kneeling outside of the Emperor’s palace in an effort to try to get him to reduce any sentence he’s been thinking of placing on her father. 

 

甄嬛 is invited to dine with the Emperor and she walks by the kneeling 安陵容。 The conversation between them is quite a highlight. On the surface, they are cordial, but you can hear the sarcasm and the underlying derision from 甄嬛’s side.  甄嬛 address’s 安陵容 as her sister and warns her of possible mice running around the palace. 安陵容 says how is it possible for there to be mice outside the Emperor’s palace. 甄嬛 says, you’re right. Mice is found in prisons. 

 

In front of the Emperor, 甄嬛 is nothing but complimentary and caring for 安陵容。 She requests that the Emperor not punish 安陵容 and such. While, again, on the surface, this sounds like she’s being a kind sister, this is pushing the Emperor to be more disgusted by both 安陵容 and her father’s behavior.  He comes out with 甄嬛 to see the kneeling 安陵容 and orders her to return to the palace. If she stays any longer, he will kill her father.

 

安陵容 has no choice but to leave. She begs the Empress for help and the Empress actually gives her a solution: Become pregnant. Once she becomes pregnant, the Emperor will surely reduce her father’s sentence. The Empress even gives 安陵容 a prescription that will ensure she becomes pregnant. 安陵容 is very skeptical because as we know, she ingested medicine that has caused her to become infertile but the Empress says that all she needs to do is become pregnant. Who cares if she actually gives birth? 安陵容 doesn’t have any other option than to accept this.

 

[Karen]

The rest of the episode is another victory for 甄嬛 in that she is able to successfully marry her sister to the one she loves, rather than be another unfulfilled soul in the imperial harem.  玉隐 or, formerly known as 浣碧, comes to visit 甄嬛。 Now that she’s no longer a maid but rather a rather powerful concubine of a Prince, she visits with a changed attire. Her hair is different and her outfit is that befitting of someone her station. As the 2 are talking, their youngest sister 玉娆 comes in and 玉隐 teases 玉娆 for liking the 19th prince. 甄嬛 is surprised to hear this but it’s clear that 玉娆 and the 19th prince have feelings for each other. 玉隐 and 甄嬛 think that this is actually the best solution because otherwise, the emperor order a marriage. But if 玉娆 is matched to his brother, he can’t say no or do much to stop the wedding.

 

With that plan in place, the other idea is to provide another distraction to the emperor. So 玉隐, now totally comfortable in her role as manager of the 17th prince’s household, decides to gift one of her maids to the emperor. This maid is 采蘋 played by the beautiful 毛晓彤. 毛晓彤 has been in many dramas now and I’m pretty sure she got her start here. But can we all get a collective sigh. The fate of women, particularly maids. They are being traded like commodities. And another sigh for the emperor being so predictable in taking these so called “gifts”

 

[Cathy]

By now it’s clear that the 19th prince and 玉娆 are in love with each other so the 甄 sisters do their best to make this happen.

 

In the imperial garden, 甄嬛 is walking with the Emperor and they happen upon the 19th prince and 玉娆 enjoying the scenery as well and being very cute. The emperor is annoyed at this scene, as he says to 甄嬛, she must tell how he feels about 玉娆. 甄嬛 rather calmly responds that the Emperor should also be intelligent enough to see that 玉娆 has no interest. What good would this do? The emperor walks away in a huff and decides to spend time with 安陵容 instead. This at least gives her the opportunity that she’s been looking for to get pregnant.

 

The next scene we see 玉娆 playing the 古琴, an instrument we discussed earlier on in this drama, by herself at her sister’s residence. Who happens to walk in? It’s the Emperor.

 

The two of them have a rather unguarded discussion. THe emperor frankly shares that he likes 玉娆 but 玉娆 asks why he likes her. His main reason is that she reminds him of his wife. 玉娆 thinks she does not look like the Empress at all and the Emperor quickly corrects her by saying that the Empress is not his wife. His wife already passed away. 玉娆 explains that her childhood dream has been to be her beloved’s wife. Not a concubine, not the most important woman at his side, but his wife.  Since the Emperor already has a wife, he cannot fulfill her dream. She kneels and requests that the Emperor helps her fulfill her dream by decreeing her marriage to the 19th prince. The two of them love each other and she will not care what her title is. As long as they are together, she will always be the 19th prince’s wife in her heart. Just like how the emperor’s first wife is his wife in his heart, even though he has a wife in the Emperor.  The emperor doesn’t say much after hearing her speech and accepts the jade pendant she returns to him. The jade pendant was a gift by his beloved wife. After hearing 玉娆’s impassioned speech, he decides to formally gift the jade pendant to her and walks away.

 

[Karen]

That night, the emperor is in a mood at his residence and the god-send and most helpful person in the entire palace comes to see him. Who is this? I’m of course talking about 苏培盛, the emperor’s head eunuch. The emperor asks 苏培盛 what should he do if he’s interested in a woman who isn’t willing. The god-send 苏培盛 simply says that no matter who this woman is, she will not be better than his first wife. Any woman worthy enough to be with the emperor is simply helping his first wife take care of him. What wonderful words. Those are the exact words that the emperor wanted to hear because right after that, the Emperor decides to plan the wedding of 玉娆 and the 19th prince. 

 

The episode ends with the wonderful wedding of 玉娆 and the 19th prince. This time, 玉娆 is to be his wife and so it’s a really big deal. If we take a step back, 甄嬛’s family has also produced an incredibly powerful group of daughters. The eldest is the favored concubine of the emperor, the second daughter is a valued concubine of the 17th prince and the 3rd daughter is the wife of the 19th prince. That is quite impressive wouldn’t you say so? You can’t get any more powerful than that can you? I’d also say that 玉娆 is probably the luckiest and happiest woman of the entire drama. She married the one she loves and her love is reciprocated. No other woman has such fortune in their marriages and this was done by the help of many people. She certainly has many people to thank for her luck. 

 

The other main thread in this episode is the deteriorating health of the Empress Dowager.  She has been bedridden for some time now but her time has come. As she is struggling and coughing up blood, she tells her maid that she has to do something to protect her clan and the Empress. She knows full well how manipulative and deadly the Empress is but because they are from the same clan, the Empress dowager must do something to prevent her clan from losing power. She instructs her maid to keep a will she writes for this purpose and to bring it out when it is necessary.

 

The next episode will show her last breath.

 

—-

[Cathy]

Let’s discuss the fate of the two women from the Empress’s faction. 

 

First up, 瓜尔佳文鸢, the once haughty 祺贵人. Let’s go all the way back to episode 40(?) when she first entered the palace. She bumped into the then disgraced 华妃 and instead of showing any kindness towards the woman, belittled her. 华妃 warned her that she might have the same fate as her but the then arrogant 祺贵人 dismissed this warning. 

 

Throughout her time in this series, she played her part to perfection, as the loyal pawn for the Empress and performed her duties required of her. Her only “powers” was the backing of a powerful family. She was obedient which is why the Empress kept her around. I doubt 文鸢 ever knew about the truth about the musk necklace the Empress gifted her. She must have wondered why she never got pregnant but she probably never thought to suspect the Empress. This woman showed us time and again why having money and status could get you far but won’t save you. She could barely keep up with 安陵容, whom she despised. She was going to be no match for 甄嬛. Well I guess 华妃 showed us that too.

 

The funny thing is, when 文鸢 accused 甄嬛 of adultery only a few episodes ago, the oath she made was that her story was true or else her entire clan will cease to exist. She lost that battle and the oath came back to bite her. She and her entire clan died due to their misdeeds. The writing was probably on the wall long before 文鸢 made her oath but it still came true. 

 

Now look at her, a faceless body in a mask grave. 

 

[Karen]

I won’t spend too much time on 安陵容 today. Her story is far from over but let’s discuss both her and 文鸢’s actions this episode. They both came to plead for their family’s case, at great risk to themselves. 文鸢 was a spoiled child so it made sense based on her connection to her family but 安陵容 has expressed dislike for her father several times throughout the series. Her mother was treated poorly in her family and she herself was not favored by her father. Despite that, she still pleaded for her father. Throughout the series, we’ve seen these concubines, whether it’s the two in this episode to 沈眉庄 to 华妃 to of course 甄嬛, plead for their father and their family. It struck a chord with me that even though in this world, women are viewed little better than accessories and discarded as such, they still nonetheless were willing to try to beg the Emperor. 文鸢 could have survived but she took the gamble to plead for an audience with the Emperor. Regardless of my other feelings for her and other women in the series,  I will commend them for their bravery and the loyalty for their families.

 

One of 甄嬛’s main motivations to return to the palace was to seek revenge against those who wronged her in the first place. This includes the 瓜尔佳 clan for what they did to her father and her own clan and of course 安陵容 for what she did to her father in prison, specifically letting plague infested rats into his cell. She got her wish with the former and she’s waiting patiently for the latter. I read comments that the only reason that the Emperor decided to act was to please 玉娆, which might be somewhat true, but I don’t think 甄嬛 cared about the motivation, she just wanted the results. 

 

[Cathy]

A short snippet about the fate of the 瓜尔佳 clan. The character of 文鸢 and 鄂敏 are fictional and this entire decimation of the clan is fictionalized. The 瓜尔佳 clan is one of the 8 largest and oldest manchu clans and is actually often named as the top manchu clan. The power of influence of this clan continued throughout the Qing dynasty. I didn’t research too deeply but the Emperor 康熙 and many of his sons had consorts from this clan but not entirely sure about Emperor 雍正. The mother of the last emperor of china 溥仪 is actually from the 瓜尔佳 clan. Many descendents sinicized the last name to 关.

 

Alrighty – next lets actually get to some history.

 

First is 永怀赋 by 张华. This is the poem that the Emperor references when trying to give a new name to 玉娆 at the very beginning of the episode.  张华 was born in 232AD and died 300. He was a poet and politician during the Three Kingdoms era. He served primarily in the court of Western Jin. He gained literary recognition with his 鹪鹩赋 jiao1 liao2 (Eurasian wren) which is a collection of poems that are on the surface about birds but really an avenue for him to voice his own political commentary of the time. 

 

The piece 永怀赋 or Rhapsody of remembrance was written as an ode to his deceased wife. 

 

The two lines 扬绰约之丽姿,怀婉娩之柔情 – which are quoted in the drama have been used since it’s inception to praise the beauty and virtue of women. 

 

In this show, I’m glad 玉娆 called the Emperor out for this. He’s never getting over his wife 纯元 so stop trying to bed every single woman who looks even slightly like her.  

 

 

 

Next up: 

襄王有梦神女无心

 

甄嬛 mentions this anecdote during her rather pointed discussion with the Emperor about 玉娆. The story comes from 神女赋 or Ode to the Goddess (that’s my translation anyway). It was written by the poet 宋玉 during the warring states period some time during the 3rd century BC.

 

宋玉 was a poet for the kingdom of 楚 and most famous for his verses of 楚。 

 

The story is about the xiang king of chu. He recounted the dream he had of the goddess. In this dream, he pursued the goddess and wanted to ahem bed her. The majority of the poem or fu actually describes the beauty of the goddess. At the end though, the goddess departs, leaving the king distraught and saddened. 

 

This is a very famous poem and this story is often used as an anecdote to describe a man pining for a woman. This poem actually also has many descriptions of the beauty of women that are still widely used today.

 

Finally: 

玉娆 performs a piece on the 古琴 or the zither called 淇奥. 淇奥 the text comes from 诗经 or the Book of Songs, which we’ve mentioned before. It’s one of the classic texts in Chinese culture. Well the song of 淇奥 praises the ideal man. He is genteel, he is learned, and courteous.  Bamboo is used often in this song to describe the elegance of a man.  

 

When the Emperor walks in, he recognizes this piece and immediately asks 玉娆 if she loves another, leading to that whole conversation.