Ep 15+16

 

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. I am your host for today, Karen. Cathy and I are traveling the next couple of weeks so we’ll be swapping around who is available for each podcast. 

 

Today we are discussing episode 15 + 16 of Yanxi Gong Lue or the Story of Yanxi Palace. These two episodes have 3 distinct topics if you will that serve to help further the development and conflict in the overall drama. 

 

If you have any questions or comments, do let me know! Always happy to answer them,

 

In the last episode, we met the bawdy Prince Yi or 怡亲王,cousin to the Emperor. He tried to kill Ying Luo for 高贵妃 and 嘉贵人。Fortunately his little games did not succeed and he was reprimanded by the Emperor. At the end of Episode 14, we see that the palace is preparing for a ritual where the Emperor rewards court officials and imperial officers with meat. This meat is called 胙肉。 As explained by 尔晴, this meat is just cooked with water with no other seasoning. Often times the meat could be raw. Despite this being a “reward”, it’s not really one. Apparently, an official previously passed out from eating the meat but was beaten for his disrespect. Ying Luo takes this opportunity to seek revenge. How? She gives salt in a package to 傅恒 who she still thinks killed or humiliated her sister for the meat. If he is discovered to have added salt, he’s toast. She also bumps into Prince Yi again as well who haughtily laughs that she will never touch him.

 

The day of the ritual arrives and it is a grand affair. In Episode 15, the members of the imperial family, court ministers and the imperial guards are all given a slice of unappealing meat. As they’re cutting up the meat and taking a bite though, the Emperor is informed of something and each person’s plate is investigated. Turns out that this Prince Yi has added salt to his meat. The Emperor is enraged at hearing this as this act is complete disrespect for their ancestors and tradition. He has Prince Yi removed from his post and sent to be investigated. In the first 6 minutes of episode 15, Ying Luo rids herself of another meddlesome foe for it was she who spilled that there was salt in the meat. The Emperor then gives an angry speech about the importance of this ritual and investigates everyone else only to find that no one else added salt.

 

Ying Luo is confused and goes to speak with Fu Heng. At first she puts on an act that she was worried about him but quickly drops the facade when he confronts her. She promptly accuses him of harming her sister but he adamantly denies it. He doesn’t have evidence to help him on the contrary so he only promises that he didn’t do it or 发誓 which we talked about in previous episodes and even gives Ying Luo a knife to kill him with if she doesn’t believe him. She actually does stab him in the chest but not deep. He doesn’t dodge it and she lets go of the knife before running away.

 

She thought that her life was over because she couldn’t kill him and made such a terrible error in harming 傅恒. The Empress summons her in anger but instead of punishing her for injuring her brother, she is furious that Ying Luo messed with Prince Yi. Evidently Fu Heng didn’t say anything about his injury to his sister. Ying Luo is punished for what she did to Prince Yi but is also told to go give medicine to Fu Heng who was injured at practice. 

 

Once at Fu Heng’s place, the two finally have an open discussion on Ying Luo’s sister. He says that he doesn’t know who she is but her story was heard all throughout the palace. He also denies any knowledge of why his jade pendant was with her sister the night she died. Ying Luo finally lets down her guard and is now more believing of his words. Fu Heng, that cheeky guy, takes this opportunity to press whether or not YIng Luo didn’t stab him harder because she was scared or because she has true feelings. He even grabs her hand when asking her this question. Evidently, this guy is quite smitten with Ying Luo even if she doesn’t have feelings yet or know if she has feelings yet. Their little intimate moment is interrupted by Fu Heng’s friend, Hai Lan Cha which causes Ying Luo to flee. 

 

We turn now to 娴妃 who was given custody of the 4th prince, son of 嘉贵人. In the last episode, this was done by the Emperor as punishment for 嘉贵人‘s behavior and actions towards Ying Luo and leveraging Prince Yi to get rid of her. 娴妃 now is in charge of raising the 4th prince but the cute little bumpkin isn’t too fond of her. 嘉贵人 also constantly begs to see her son.

 

One day after feeding the 4th prince some congee, 娴妃 hears that the 4th prince is ill. 嘉贵人 and 高贵妃 are both there with 嘉贵人 blaming 娴妃 for not taking care of her son properly. At this point, the Emperor also arrives to hear 嘉贵人 blame 娴妃. These two ladies put on a show that despite the faults of 嘉贵人,the 4th prince shouldn’t have to endure not being with her birth mother. 高贵妃 also chimes in that she could raise the 4th prince and have 嘉贵人 nearby to help since they’re in the same palace.

 

Just as they’re about to succeed though, 纯妃 arrives with the imperial doctor. The doctor diagnoses the 4th prince with him having caught a cold. 纯妃 steps in to question why would he catch a cold with so many warm blankets, clothes and blankets around him? The doctor replies that this could happen if the child is bundled up too heavily causing him to sweat and then catch cold. After some further inquiry, the wetnurse reveals that she was instructed to bundle up the 4th prince by 嘉贵人 in order to make him sick so that it would be easier for her to bring him back. 

 

Sigh. This 嘉贵人. She’s not too smart. Her tactics are too easily revealed.  And so, the Emperor has her demoted all the way to 答应 and banished to the cold palace. The 4th prince is to stay with 娴妃. 

We now turn to episode 16. 嘉贵人 or now 金答应 is crying in her new accommodations in 北三所 or essentially the cold balance. She is mistreated by the servants but still has a temper. Soon after, she is visited by none other than 娴妃。 At long last, 嘉贵人 finally lets out her frustration at her predicament in life. She cries that she does not have any qualms against the Empress or many other women in the palace but she is forced to help 高贵妃 because her family has power and status that surpasses her own. She, 嘉贵人 has no choice but to help 高贵妃 because she has no support whatsoever. She only has her son. She argues that no one loves her son more than her but you have to understand she was the one to harm him in the first place to get him back. So… you decide if that makes her a good mother. Her issue is that she blames everyone but herself for her fate rather than realizing that she should take responsibility.

 

娴妃 isn’t here to laugh at 嘉贵人 though. She wants to know whether or not it was Prince Yi at the behest of 高贵妃 that snitched on her, 娴妃‘s, father. 嘉贵人 confirms this which is a revelation for 娴妃。 Her brother and mother’s deaths and her father ending up in prison were all due to 高贵妃. 嘉贵人 though just laughs and puts the blame back on 娴妃。 It’s because of 娴妃’s weakness and actions in the palace that caused her family to be destroyed. Triggered by 嘉贵人’s words and what her mother told her right before she died, 娴妃 finally snaps. With a long white cloth she brought with her? To be honest I don’t know where that cloth came from, she strangles 嘉贵人。 This is the final turning point for 娴妃。 She vows that she will enact revenge on every single person that hurt her in the palace. This is the type of woman who is most dangerous in the palace. On the surface she is calm, serene and kind, but underneath has so much hatred and anger just ready to be unleashed. As she explained to 嘉贵人, she was the one to invite 纯妃 to her palace. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so coincidental for her to arrive to help 娴妃 with uncovering the truth. 娴妃 is not incapable in the palace but previously just didn’t bother,. Now she has finally snapped and will make people pay.

 

 

We now move onto the 3rd part of these two series and that is the lily or 百合 relationship that was possibly exhibited in the palace. We return back to the Empress and her palace. 尔晴 despite the Empress’s indignation reminds her that it is time for the Empress to produce an heir. This is of the utmost importance for the Empress in her position. But at night, we see the Empress shivering with cold which is rather odd. Soon after, 纯妃 is invited to 长春palace and the Empress requests that only the two of them stay. Every other maid is told to wait outside. THis piques the interest if 明玉  who doesn’t understand why the Empress has ushered them away. 纯妃 returns back to 长春palace every day for up to 4 hours per visit with just the two of them in the rooms. 

 

Rumors start flying as 高贵妃 hears this peculiar news and finds this rather odd. And then comes up with the possibility that these two women may be more than just friends. After all, 纯妃 doesn ‘t spend time with the Emperor at all but spends most of her time with the Empress. The only reason that could be is that they must have some type of forbidden and taboo relationship in the palace. So she takes it upon herself to start spreading the rumors. This woman really needs to just calm down. She’s such a drama queen. 

 

She even takes it upon herself to have opera singers sing an opera that alludes to this forbidden relationship when the Emperor is walking by. After hearing this he is of course, furious and rushes over to Chang Chun Gong to see the Empress and catch her in the act. Ying Luo just so happens to have seen the Emperor hurry this way and runs back as well. Just as the Emperor is about to enter the palace, he runs into Ying Luo who had a bucket of water with her and spills it all over him. She loudly proclaims that it was just an accident but the Emperor doesn’t have the time for her. He storms into the Empress’s palace to find…that she and 纯妃 were just painting. 

 

They explain that the two of them are secretly trying to prepare a gift for the Emperor’s birthday that is coming up. They wanted to create a surprise and that the idea was for the Empress to paint a painting herself for the Emperor. Except she was never pleased with any version of the painting she’s done so far and thus has been painting non stop. 

 

This helps quell the Emperor’s suspicion and he goes off to change out of his wet clothes before complaining to the Empress that he thinks 璎珞 totally ran into him on purpose and did so because she wants to get his attention. The Empress can only smile at his accusations because she thinks he is prejudiced against 璎珞 so cannot see any good side of her. With that, the Emperor at least is happy that th rumors were fake after all and takes his leave.

 

Afterwards, the Empress and 纯妃 explain to ying luo that 纯妃 has been helping the Empress manage her health through acupuncture after it deteriorated rapidly post pregnancy and even worse since winter. This helps explain the sweating but often cold nights the Empress has had and we have seen. The reason that 纯妃 must help the Empress in secret is because if word got out that the Empress probably was not fit to bear children, that would be a threat to her position as Empress. 

 

And with that, this ludicrous rumor is dispelled. 

Before we jump into culture and history – I want to share a couple of real time reactions from fans back in the day for these couple of episodes.

 

  1. Consort Xian or Charmaine’s character has gone FULL Niu Hu Lu! She’s now a badass and won’t take anyone’s BS anymore. She knows how to play the game – she just didnt deign to do so. When episode 15 first came out, I remember everyone PRAISING Charmaine cause she just does EVIL so deliciously well
  2. This’ll be hilarious because if I point this out maybe you listeners will follow as well but by this point, I remember everyone saying how this palace drama isn’t like other palace dramas because the only one truly “fighting” in the harem is 高贵妃. In Chinese the term is 宫斗 or quite literally Palace Fighting. 高贵妃 is all – how do I get rid of my enemies,  how do I make the woman have a miscarriage, or how do I win the Emperor’s favor. She’s on the correct 宫斗 path. The other ladies? Nah – they all have their own storylines, just not surrounding the Emperor which is HILARIOUS. The Empress is all serene and kind. She and 魏璎珞 have their own CP going. Chun Fei is all about helping the Empress so they have their own little CP. Meanwhile consort Xian or Charmaine’s character hellbent on revenge! Where’s the Emperor?? Poor guy – he’s off focusing on his career. I’ll continue to mention this in future episodes cause it was a running joke that Noble Consort Gao is the only one focused on 宫斗. Compare this to Empresses in the Palace where ALL the ladies are focused on 宫斗 -> we had the Empress, hua fei, 安陵容, and Zhen huan all caught up in the battle. Here? It’s just 高贵妃. 

 

Let’s talk a little bit about culture in this drama because for once, we get to talk about homosexuality or implied homosexuality.

 

In episode 16, Consort Chun and the Empress become very close. Consort Chun applies ancient chinese herbal practices on the Empress in hopes of helping the Empress heal her body so that she may conceive again. This of course means that the two are together in a room for long periods of time with no one around. Rumors begin flying around in the palace that the two become really close. 

 

News reaches Noble Consort Gao. Please pay attention to what Gao Gui Fei says – what can be strange about two women? It’s not as if…

 

She doesn’t say anything more.

Ok – I’ll pause here. This is and probably will be THE closest that any Chinese drama comes to naming lesbianism. But pay attention because not once is it named, it is just heavily implied. Homosexuality or anything remotely referencing non-heterosexuality is heavily censored in China so the fact that this rumor becomes a plot point in any drama in China made my jaw drop when I first watched it. 

 

In Chinese history, there were written accounts homosexuality but much more in reference to gay or bisexual relationships than lesbian relationships. There’s a term in Chinese called 断袖 or cut a sleeve which is specifically used to reference gay relationships. This term is often used in Chinese dramas when the female lead pretends to be a man and gets close to the male lead. Then people will say oh are you a 断袖 which means gay. Now that’s a story for another time.

 

Back to lesbian relationships. They’re a bit more hush hush in Chinese culture, but that didn’t mean lesbian relastionships didn’t exist. Lesbianism was just kind of VERY discretely accepted, especially in the palace where there’s only 1 man, women often did turn towards one another to satisfy sexual desires. 

 

In this drama, we only get half an episode of implied lesbianism which is more than I ever dreamed of in a Chinese drama so it was quite refreshing to see.

 

 

From a historical perspective, let’s discuss the 分福吃肉 ceremony or share prosperity by sharing meat. 

 

The origin of this ceremony is as discussed in the drama. The founding Khan of the later Jin Dynasty and Qing Dynasty left his family at a young age. He and his loyal followers survived by boiling meat in water. Once the Manchus conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty, this custom was upheld and continued throughout the centuries as a reminder to the later generations to never forget the hardships their ancestors suffered.

The sacrificial meat in question is pork – specially 2 black male pigs. The butchering must happen in front of the spiritual tablets. At the same time there’s praying from the devout and ceremonial music that’s played by the shamans. Each part of the pig has specific uses for the ceremony. The innards are placed onto a spiritual pole to feed the crows which are revered in Manchu religion. The pork meat is cut into squares and called 胙肉.

 

The palace where all of this happens is 坤宁宫 or Palace of Earthly Tranquility . If it sounds familiar, it’s because yes, it’s typically where the Empress resides but mainly for Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty Empresses. During the reign of Emperor 雍正, the Empress moved out of 坤宁宫 to live other palaces so that 坤宁宫 was left as mainly a Palace for ceremonial rites. If we recall, in this drama, the Empress lives in 长春宫 and in Empresses in the Palace, the Empress lived in 景仁宫。

 

During the Qing Dynasty, 坤宁宫 had daily sacrifices. These daily sacrifices required 2 pigs. For grand sacrifices, such as ones to celebrate the new year, they required 39 pigs. Each year, around 1000 pigs were sacrificed for this ceremony. A ledger noted that for a full year, the cost for these pigs was around 15000 taels of silver!

 

Now, it might seem like a tough meal but it was a real honor for ministers and officials to be allowed to eat this meat. This meant that they were viewed as “important”. There are folk legends that when ministers died, they had their families create banners stating that they ate meat at the Palace of Earthly Tranquility cause you know, it was such an honor.

 

But I guess for ministers and members of the royal family who had to eat this pretty regularly, it was a bit of a challenge. There was no flavor to the meat, and as was described in the drama, sometimes the meat was raw. Some ministers would quietly add some flavor to the meat by adding some sauce to the serviette so that they could use the knife to add flavor onto the meat. Of course – the Emperor himself could decide when and whether or not to make a big deal of his subjects cheating. 

 

The funny thing is, even though his subjects ate basically raw or flavorless meat, the Emperor himself was allowed appetizers and soup to go along with his meal! There’s a record of Emperor Qian Long’s, so our Emperor, meal early in his reign in which there’s clearly soup and some other greens that went along with his sacrificial meat. Things got much better in the later 清 dynasty in which salt was given to the ministers so that it wasn’t AS terrible. 

 

There were some crazy stories about this ceremony and sacrificial meat though. Apparently during the reign of Emperor Yong Zheng, some  eunuchs dared and succeeded in swapping out the sacrificial meat to sell outside the palace walls. It got so bad that the Emperor decreed that if anyone got caught selling or swapping the meat out, they would be subject to 40 canings. 

 

There’s another guy, 阮元, who was 76 and retired. The year was 1839 This was during the reign of Emperor 道光. During one of these ceremonies, the Emperor suddenly remembered this retired minister and gifted this sacrificial meat to him. Well, his son was at court. This son had no choice but to accept the meat, quickly wrap it in salt, and sent it immediately back to 扬州. Ladies and Gentlemen – that’s like 1000 kilometers. The journey took 17 days. Because this was sacrificial meat, the retired minister brought his entire family out to receive the gift and had it boiled and eaten on the spot. It was a great honor but apparently the whole family had to wash their meal down with a bunch of water due to how salty it was.

 

Fast forward to today – eating white pork meat is still a custom that lives on. If you head to 北京, it’s a famous casserole pot dish called 砂锅白肉. It’s quite good because obviously there’s flavor and all of that. There’s a restaurant called 和顺居 that’s been open since the days of Emperor 乾隆 which specializes in this dish.

 

Last up!

 

快雪时晴帖 or The Bright Sky after Fast Snow Calligraphy by 王羲之. This is the gift that Noble Consort Gao gifts the Emperor.  

 

This was written by the famed calligrapher 王羲之. We already discussed him in one of our Story of Ming Lan Episodes but here’s a refresher. 

Born in 303–361 during the Jin Dynasty, he hailed from the famous 琅琊 Wang family. 王羲之, is sometimes known as 书圣 or the Master Calligrapher! He was indeed a  master calligrapher, especially of running script or 行书. His most famous work, or at least to me is 兰亭序 pr Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion written in 353. The calligraphy script in question for this drama is 快雪时晴帖 or The Bright Sky after Fast Snow Calligraphy. This was written in 王羲之’s later years. It has 4 lines with 28 words and is about a jovial greeting towards family and friends in the bright sunlight after a heavy snow. The calligraphy itself uses a mix of running and regular script.  It is really a beautiful work. 

 

This piece of calligraphy, along with the other 2 named in the drama which includes 王献之的“中秋帖” Autum ,王珣的“伯远帖” and Boyuan, were bestowed the name 三喜贴 or the Three Rare Scripts by Emperor 乾隆.

 

Another reminder to our listeners that unfortunately, no original work from 王羲之 has survived. But this one is probably the one that comes up for debate the most as an original work. In regards to this particular work, during the Northern Song Dynasty – 11-12th Centuries AD, they believed it to be an original work. However, nowadays, it’s widely believed that this piece is a very good replica from the Tang Dynasty. 

 

The history of ownership of this piece is also quite astounding. It was first gifted to the Tang Dynasty Prime Minister 魏征 and then was gifted to a family of scholars in the northern song dynasty. By the time of the Southern Song Dynasty, the work was gifted to the Emperor. It passed through the hands of calligraphy collectors and royal households until it finally was acquired by Emperor 乾隆 in 1746. The current drama still isn’t there in terms of timeline but I’ll give it props for correctly placing this calligraphy as a treasured collector’s item in Emperor 乾隆’s collection. This piece was placed in the Beijing Palace Museum in 1925 but was transferred south during World War II. In 1949, the Chinese Nationalist Party brought this to Taiwan. This timeless work is now found within the National Palace Museum right outside of Taipei. Man – had I known about this when I visited the museum a few years ago, I should have taken some pictures! However, I don’t know how often this goes on display so maybe check if anyone of you are interested in seeing it in person!

 

Ep 13+14

 

[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 13-14 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode

 

Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We have just revamped our website with ALL of our drama and movie podcast transcripts uploaded so please do take a look. There are specific pages now for The Story of Ming Lan as well as Zhen Huan Zhuan. We also are now doing episodes on the latest pop culture and dramas that are airing!

 

[Cathy]

 

There are a couple of threads to follow in these two episodes. A primary one is the evolution of Xian Fei and the other is we meet 怡亲王 or Prince Yi.

 

In the last episodes, 璎珞 offered to dispose of Gao Gui Fei’s dog after it wreaked havoc during the Empress’s tea party and destroyed her lychee trees. We start off this episode with 傅恒, the handsome imperial guard and younger brother to the Empress, finding out that Ying Luo didn’t actually kill the dog, but rather, stashed it away for safe keeping. This lowers 傅恒’s alertness around 璎珞, warm  ing up to her more and offers to take the dog away to be raised by a loving family. Little does he know that 璎珞 did all of this in order to lower his suspicion of her. She calls herself a bad person but we see that she’s not all bad. 

 

Elsewhere, 娴妃’s brother has been embroiled with a corruption scandal. She only just got some money as a reward from the Empress to send to her brother for medical care as he’s been jailed and has fallen ill. But one night, the Emperor arrives to visit 娴妃。He is utterly furious because 娴妃‘s father has used the reward money for bribery! The goal is to try to reduce 娴妃’s brother’s sentence. But now, 娴妃’s father has landed himself in jail because this is something that the Emperor cannot tolerate. 娴妃 is in utter shock. Her father raised her to be righteous and outstanding. She does not believe that her father would stoop so low as to bribe anyone. 

 

[Karen]

The Emperor permits 娴妃 to go to prison to ask the truth herself from her father. She does so and sadly, her father confirms that, at the pushing of her mother, he did try to bribe officials to help her brother. 娴妃’s world comes crashing down in an instant. She feels betrayed by her father for what he’s done especially given how hard she’s had it in life in the palace.

 

On her way back to the palace, she meets her mother waiting for her. This mother is a real piece of work and I feel bad for 娴妃 because it’s all because of her mother’s nagging that caused her father to bribe in the first place. She is a selfish woman who wants to use her family to further her position. But it doesn’t matter anymore as news comes to the mother daughter pair that 娴妃’s brother has passed away in prison. 娴妃‘s mother is absolutely distraught and yells at her daughter for being useless. Right after these harsh words, she runs towards a wall and kills herself. Poor 娴妃 in one day, she lost 2 loved ones and her world has been turned upside down.

 

The Empress, saddened by what has transpired, pushes the Emperor to go lightly on 娴妃‘s father to which the Emperor agrees. But, after thinking through everything that she has endured, 娴妃 wakes up the next morning, a completely new woman. As we like to joke, she is now niu hu lu xian fei. She recognized the importance of power and true strength in the palace and will take steps to secure her position. In a way, she played the game and lost.

 

[Cathy]

Turns out, all of this was orchestrated in part by 高贵妃 and 嘉贵人 with the aid of 怡亲王 or Prince Yi. Prince Yi, despite being a prince, is only a cousin of the Emperor and not someone who is entirely favored. He wants to partner with 高贵妃’s family to further his career. 高贵妃 and 嘉贵人 think it prudent to use him to get rid of the current adversary, 魏璎珞.

 

And so, 怡亲王 partners with 璎珞’s old friend, and I say that ironically, 庆锡 the imperial guard who used to have a thing with 璎珞‘s late sister.

 

Meanwhile, 璎珞 starts learning to write calligraphy under the tutelage of the Empress. 璎珞’s calligraphy skills are abysmal but at least she’s learning. It doesn’t take long for Ying Luo to amass a large number of pages with her written words. She also created a rather rudimentary contraption to help secure her hand while writing Chinese calligraphy. It’s a skill that she’s learning late but better late than never.

 

One day, as 璎珞 is sending something somewhere, a line of guards walk by her. At the end of the line is 庆锡 who whispers to her that he knows the truth about her sister’s death and to meet him that night in the imperial garden. But just as she is thinking about those words back at her room, she realizes that one of the pages of her writing deck has gone missing. 

 

[Karen]

That night, 璎珞 goes to the agreed upon spot. 庆锡 arrives and tries to drag 璎珞 off but the moment he tries to do so, she loudly yells that there’s a bad guy and for ppl to come beat him up. Immediately a huge crowd of eunuchs arrive and start kicking and beating 庆锡。Not long after, 怡亲王 arrives to break up the fight. 庆锡 hurridely tattles that it was this 魏璎珞 that was trying to seduce him. 怡亲王 immediately tries to punish 璎珞 for breaking palace rules but 璎珞 is not going to take this so easily. She says that she’s here at night to pick up some herbs for the Empress. Why else would she have brought so many eunuchs with her? There’s no way she was here to sneak a meeting with 庆锡。But it’s not like 怡亲王 cares. Just as he’s about to drag 璎珞 off, 傅恒 arrives and requests that the resolve this matter in front of the Emperor who just so happens to be playing chess with him nearby.

 

In front of the Emperor, 庆锡 claims that 璎珞 has been trying to seduce him for a while and asked him to meet her at the garden tonight. He, 庆锡 set up a trap in order to catch her because he knows this is against palace rules. He even brings out evidence that she was the one to ask him out. He produces a letter that he claims he wrote her to meet him tonight. 璎珞 takes one look at the note and is able to loudly say that that note is fake. She produces her own evidence which is her wad of papers with her own calligraphy writing. There are a couple of holes in 庆锡‘s plot. First, Ying luo has numbered all of the pages with her writing and just today, she noticed the 28th page has gone missing. Second, the paper that was used to write the note for QingXi uses an entirely different, much more expensive kind of paper than what she has been using. And lastly, her writing has improved in the month since she wrote that 28th page. If they compare her writing today vs the writing on the page that was stolen, there should be vast differences. This means that she must not be the one to have written that note.

 

[Cathy]

Seeing that the truth is about to be revealed Prince Yi and Qing Xi immediately start blaming each other for the events of the evening. 璎珞 continues further to suggest that this is not as simple as trying to harm a lowly maid. Given that she works for the EMpress, this was a plot to question the Empress’s abilities to rule and perhaps remove her from power. Realizing that the stakes now just got a lot bigger, The Emperor orders 100 canings for 庆锡 and he is to be removed from his post and investigated. 璎珞 is told to return back to the palace and practice writing 100 more times. 

 

After everyone leaves, the Emperor turns his ire to Prince Yi. The Emperor even lands a couple of pretty harsh kicks on this cousin. (Honestly, this Emperor likes to kick ppl too much. Which is certainly a no no.) After much pressing, Prince Yi reveals that it was 嘉贵人’s father who asked Prince Yi for help to get rid of this maid given that 璎珞 was the one to cause 嘉贵人 to get demoted. This infuriates the EMperor and immediately order that 嘉贵人’s son is taken away from her.

 

We’ll end the episode recap there as the rest of the episode links directly onto episode 15 and we’ll discuss that in more detail.

 

[Karen]

Before we talk about history – let’s discuss a little bit about pop culture related to these couple of episodes.

 

We now have the initial form of 令后 cp -> Consort + Empress CP! In China, people love to pair different characters with characters and form CPs or couples with each other. 魏璎珞’s future title is consort 令 so right now it’s 令后 cp. Everyone LOVED the relationship between 魏璎珞 and the Empress because it’s so wholesome! The Empress is kind of like the big sister that 魏璎珞 lost. This is one to watch in the upcoming episodes because I remember reading the comments saying – who needs the men, can the ladies just get on with their lives?

 

We also of course have the competing couple of 魏璎珞 and 富察傅恒 but that’s a little bit more hidden right now. 

 

Lastly – let’s talk about Charmaine’s character. 娴妃. In history, nothing like this happened to her family, so this is all for the drama. Moving past that, we now get the beginnings of niu hu lu xian fei! Tie this all back together to Empresses in the Palace! She needs a little bit more pushing but 娴妃 begins her turn to the dark side. Charmaine does an amazing watch and it’s GREAT to see!

 

 

[Cathy]

First up is the discussion from between 魏璎珞 and the Empress towards the end of episode 13. 魏璎珞 is practicing calligraphy and quotes 

 

有天下者,天下之主;有一国者,一国之主。我固其主矣

 

This quote comes from 资治通鉴外纪 which is a derivative of Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance. This was also a historiography that was compiled by the northern song scholar 刘恕 and was published in the late 11th century. This includes history of the Zhou Dynasty. 

 

The story is essentially what the Empress discussed during the episode. The King in question is King Wen of Zhou or 周文王. He lived from roughly 1152 to 1056 BC. Hey, I don’t think he lived like 100 years. Wikipedia has him listed at having died at the age of 62 but baike noted that he died at the age of 97. Both places do have him like the full 100 years as a rough estimate. Maybe he did live that long!

 

Anyways 周文王 was posthumously granted the title as the found of the Zhou Dynasty. In Chinese culture and legend, he is one of the most famous kings, to the point that he is named the culture king. Many hymns in the Classics of Poetry or 诗经 praise the legacy of this King Wen of Zhou. 

 

The story is as such – The King Wen of Zhou was out in the wilderness and spotted a skeleton lying on the ground. He asked his guard to bury the skeleton. The guard said – this is a skeleton that no one wanted. To which the King responded, the owner of the riches of the world, is the owner of the world. The owner of the land of a country is the owner of the country.  As such, I am the owner of this skeleton. How can I let him or her lay out in the open? The land and its people are the responsibility of the King. This story is to paint the King as a benevolent ruler.

 

I will say – this phrase is a really good phrase to practice calligraphy. The characters aren’t hard and it’s a great way for 璎珞 to learn from the Empress the ways of the world.

 

[Karen]

铁帽子王 – Iron Capped Prince!

 

In the drama, the Empress often tries to persuade 魏璎珞 to be wary of 怡亲王 or the Prince of Yi because of his status as a 铁帽子王 or an Iron Capped Prince. What is this?

 

Well, in the 清 dynasty, sons do not automatically inherit their father’s title of the same rank. The rank will be downgraded a level for each subsequent descendent. As a favored son of an Emperor, typically, the son would be awarded the status of 和硕亲王 or Prince of the First Rank. This Prince’s son would be downgraded to the title of Prince of the Second Rank, or 郡王. He wouldn’t inherit the title of 亲王. Of course there would only be one son who inherits the official title. It’s somewhat tough luck for the other sons who do not inherit titles but might be granted some other courtesy titles. 

 

If we compare to the English aristocracy, think of it as if Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex’s son Archie doesn’t inherit his father’s title but can only be granted the title of Marquess. This is just an example because I know that Prince Harry declined titles for his children but this is just a what if scenario.

 

Back to the drama and iron-capped princes. In the 清 Dynasty, there are 12 iron cap princely peerages which meant that the title could be passed down to subsequent generations without being downgraded. This means that a 亲王’s son would also be granted the title of 亲王.  Compare this to Downton Abbey – where the Earl of Grantham’s heir will still inherit the title of the Earl. Please note that even if a Prince was convicted of a crime, the peerage would not be abolished, instead, the peerage would pass to another descendent. 

 

These iron capped princes enjoyed more privileges than even a normal Prince of the First rank. This includes of course first 世袭罔替 which means the title isn’t demoted and sons automatically inherit the title. It also includes a special house or manor for the family and a basic salary of 10 thousand taels of silver and 10 thousand hu of rice. If you are ever in Beijing, some of these princely houses are open to the public.

 

The first 8 were granted to sons and family members who were directly involved in conquest of China and were descendents of either 努尔哈赤 or 皇太极. The founder of the Qing Dynasty and the second Emperor of the Qing Dynasty respectively. Some famous princes include 代善, 多尔衮, and 多铎。They all enjoyed Imperial Tablets / Plaques found within the Imperial Ancestral Temple. We talked about this in episodes 8-9 as being a big deal.

 

[Cathy]

This brings us to 怡亲王 – or the father of the current 怡亲王 was the first Iron Capped Prince to be granted by Emperor 雍正. This 胤祥, who was the 13th prince, son of Emperor 康熙 and one of Emperor 雍正’s biggest allies. He was one of the few princes who allied with Emperor 雍正 during the Nine Lords War. For his services, Emperor 雍正 granted him the title of 怡亲王, making him the 9th iron cap prince. There were only 3 more iron caps granted after this. 

 

Let’s now turn our attention to the 怡亲王 in this drama. His name is 弘晓 and was the 7th son of 胤祥. What’s interesting is that he wasn’t the first born or born from the main wife and inherited the title when he was only 8, which is when his father died. There’s some speculation that 胤祥 deliberately chose this because this would reduce some wariness from the Emperor. If he chose a more established son, the Emperor might purposefully find ways to strip his family’s power. 

 

Nevertheless – that still happened. During the reign of Emperor 乾隆, our Emperor, in 1739, 弘晓’s older brothers were caught in the middle of a palace scandal and punished. 弘晓 or the Prince of Yi was only allowed to be an Imperial Bodyguard – similar to what we have in the drama. After a couple of years, he was demoted from that role by the Emperor because apparently he didn’t have a small knife with him while praying to the ancestors. THis is a little different than in the drama but let’s just say, he had a rough time.

 

What’s worse! Emperor 乾隆 even gifted one of the residence that was previously gifted to the first prince of yi to 富察傅恒. This prince of yi’s family then had to move out and find someplace else to live.

 

After this the Prince of Yi or 弘晓 turned his attention to the gentlemanly arts. He made quite a name for himself as a writer and poet. He enjoyed reading more common books and was close to some of the most famous writers of the day. He also had a prized collection of books. There was an attempt at archiving them and a preliminary list had the number at over 4500 books. 弘晓 died in 1178 at the age of 57.

 

The title of the Prince of Yi was passed down to 8 generations with 9 princes. The last prince of yi died in 1948.

 

[Karen]

Finally let’s talk about 宣纸 or Rice Paper!

 

This is a kind of paper that originated from China and is used for writing and painting. Paper 纸 is one of the 4 treasures of the study or 文房四宝. The 4 include brush, ink, paper, and ink stone. 

 

The most famous rice paper is called 宣纸 and comes from 安徽 province specifically 泾县. This is the rice paper used as planted evidence against 璎珞. Indeed, 宣纸 comes from the Xuan Prefecture in which the Jing County resides. 泾县 is famous for its production of 宣纸. The moist climate and various flora make the perfect location for paper production. This tradition has lasted to this day. The primary tree used for paper production is 青檀树 or Pteroceltis. It is endemic to China and the fiber from its bark is used to make the Xuan Paper. In 2015, there were around 300 companies producing various types of 宣纸 totally around 800 TONS of paper. 

 

The first records 宣纸 dates back to the Tang dynasty when it was listed as an Imperial Tribute item. 

 

Xuan paper has been greatly favored as paper of choice for millenia. Countless Chinese books and paintings used this type of paper. It makes a ton of sense that they did. The paper has a smooth surface, is pure, and has a clean texture. It’s also very resistant  to corrosion, moth and mold. There are pieces of art and books that have survived millenia on this type of paper. 

 

In episode 13, we also see the Empress’s maids cutting, ironing, and indeed spraying water on the paper. Typically what happened was that the 宣纸 or rice paper comes in large sheets. They then need to be cut or resized to the desired length. Of course, there are some that are pre-cut with lines. Ironing was done to help smooth out some of the creases. That’s also the same with spraying water. When I first watched episode 13, i was like, why are the spewing water? Well – that’s the reason!

 

We do have quite a stack of 宣纸 at home to practice calligraphy. We aren’t super fancy to know all the different elaborate types of rice paper but there is a marked difference in some of the paper we use. If ever you get the chance to find some rice paper, check out where it’s from!

 

[karen]

 

 

 

Checkmate (2022) 民国大侦探

Summary:  Set in Republican Era (民国) China between 1911-1949, we follow the lawyer turned detective Si Tu Yan (ft Hu Yi Tian 胡一天) and his wealthy police best friend Lu Shao Chuan (ft Zhang Yun Long 张云龙) solve mysterious murders and crimes in the northeast city of Harbin 哈尔滨. They, along with an insightful young woman Zhou Mo Wan (ft Zhang Xin Yu 张馨予) and local reporter Jin Qi Ming (ft Xuan Yan 宣言), comprise of a motley crew to solve some of the trickiest murders in the city. Checkmate is billed as the first Chinese adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple stories.  

 

Total Episode Count: 24

Initial Airing Date: Aug 10, 2022

 

Initial Rating: 7.5/10

Initial thoughts [12 episodes]: This is a pretty serviceable adaptation of the adventures of Agatha Christie’s Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple. It reunites Hu Yi Tian (胡一天) and Zhang Yun Long (张云龙) back together again after their surprising 2020 hit My Roommate is a Detective (民国奇探). They bring back they easy bromance and partnership back in this drama which makes it easy to draw the viewer in. The show will cover 8 “murders” or mysteries, which is quite brisk for a 24 episode show. That averages to around 3 episodes per mystery. The first mystery is an adaptation of perhaps one of Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery, Murder on the Orient Express. I won’t spoil the rest of the mysteries but it’s fun to guess which of the stories ties to the corresponding Agatha Christie mystery. 

The setting of Harbin 哈尔滨 during the Republican Era 民国时期 adds a lot of unique flavor to the drama.  Being in the northeast part of China, Harbin had a mélange of Manchu, Han and European influences. The Russian influences are especially obvious in the city’s architecture.  This backdrop allows for some of the more “Western” mysteries to unfold in this multicultural city.  

So far, it’s a fun breezy watch. The acting is good, the stories are gripping (I mean, it’s Agatha Christie so I don’t think they will be too bad), and the fashion is gorgeous. Check it out if you enjoy some murder mysteries!

 

Full review after the full drama airs

Cathy

 

 

Love Between Fairy and Devil (2022) 苍兰诀

Summary:  Set in a fantasy land, Xiao Lan Hua (ft Esther Yu) as a kind-hearted young orchid fairy with limited powers and no real name. (Xiao Lan Hua literally just means little orchid). She watches over the written fates of all beings. One day, she accidentally realized that her secret love, the powerful Chang Heng (ft Zhang Ling He) will be in danger and rushes over to protect him. This results in her a life changing encounter with Dong Fang Qing Cang (ft Dylan Wang), the powerful leader of the Yue (Moon) clan who had been locked away for 30,000 years.  This interaction changes the fates of all three individuals. 

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: Aug 7, 2022

 

Initial Rating: 7.5/10

Initial thoughts [18 episodes]:  This is a romance fantasy drama that is exceedingly cute. It’s actually quite popular right now only 6 days after airing and is pushing Love Like the Galaxy and Immortal Samsara onto the backburner for many viewers, myself included.  The relationship between Xiao Lan Hua and Dong Fang Qing Cang is quite natural and Dylan Wang does a pretty good job portraying the unemotional yet powerful leader of the Moon Clan who struggles with his budding emotions for Xiao Lan Hua. It’s not like this drama doesn’t fall into tropes but the first couple of episodes are hilarious because this weak orchid fairy swaps bodies with the all powerful Moon Clan leader and after the switch back, Dong Fang Qing Can realizes that every injury and emotion Xiao Lan Hua feels, he feels himself. Thus starting an amusing series of events where Dong Fang Qing Cang has to protect Xiao Lan Hua from herself while Dong Fang Qing Cang has to surpress his frustration at being tied to someone as weak as Xiao Lan Hua.  Luckily, she’s super sweet and treats him as an equal.

Final Rating: 7/10

An above average drama for this genre, Love Between Fairy And Devil started strong in the first half but was unable to carry the momentum towards the ending. That does not detract from the strong main trio of characters and an even more interesting secondary plot between the ill-fated teacher/student pair, Chi Di Nv Zi and Rong Hao. Wonderful special effects and a great original soundtrack allows me to see why this drama is loved by fans.

The Love Between Fairy and Devil or 苍兰诀 was THE breakout hit of the summer. After airing with little fanfare, the drama reached a peak popularity index during its finale of 10500. For context, most dramas would love to break 9,000 but this drama did so quite easily and continued to peak. The online platforms don’t release viewership stats anymore so it’s difficult to see exactly how many views or hits the drama has but it’s clear from the number of trending topics on weibo that this was a popular drama.  Even now, days after the finale, there are many trending topics on weibo for the drama and the main stars, especially the main male lead 王鹤棣 skyrocketed in popularity. His weibo followers increased dramatically and there’s been plenty of fan service and interaction between the main stars. 

Dong Fang Qing Cang 东方青苍


Played by 王鹤棣 or Dylan Wang – Leader of the moon clan or 月族. In this instance, instead of a demon clan, they’re called the moon clan. Imprisoned for more than 30,000 years at the hands of his foe, Chi Di Nv Zi. He is currently the most powerful being across the land.

Xiao Lan Hua 小兰花


Played by 虞书欣 or Esther Yu – She is a little orchid flower who doesn’t have a real name. She is a very young flower of just 1,500 years old and she lives in 司命殿 where she helps watch over all of the fates of each being. She is a member of the fairy clan but doesn’t have many friends because she is rather weak.

Chang Heng 长珩


Played by Zhang Ling He 张凌赫 – he is the younger brother of the current Fairy clan leader and newly named general or zhan shen 战神 of the fairy clan. He is betrothed to Xi Shan Shen Nv 息山神女 a powerful mythical woman who has gone missing for 30,000 years and so their marriage has stalled. 

Chi Di Nv Zi 赤地女子


Played by Guo Xiao Ting 郭晓婷. Another general from the fairy clan, she sacrificed herself in a ferocious battle between the fairy clan and the moon clan in order to seal away Dong Fang Qing Cang and also freeze 100,000 moon clan soldiers. She is the teacher of Rong Hao

Rong Hao 容昊


Played by 徐海乔 – Fairy clan member – student of 赤地女子 and best friend of 长珩. He was devastated at the loss of his teacher and has sought for the last 30,000 years to bring her back and now has a two different identities

 

 

 

Plot Overview:

Dong Fang Qing Cang was banished to a magical tower as a result of his fight against the powerful 赤地女子 from the fairy clan. For many thousands of years, the moon clan and the fairy clan fought against each other and their lives are entwined with hatred towards each other because both sides have lost loved ones in the ensuing battles.

赤地女子managed to seal away 东方青苍 by sacrificing herself and for 30,000 years there has been peace in 仙族 or the fairy clan as the Lord of the Moon clan has been banished. Fighting between the two clans has since ceased but the moon clan fell into chaos as different factions sought to gain control of the clan after 东方青苍‘s demise. 

With the big picture conflict out of the way, we are introduced to 小兰花. She is just a weak little orchid flower that watches over the fates of each being in her lonely hall of 司命殿。 Her teacher left 1000 years ago to travel leaving the young xiao lan hua all by herself.  She watches over the fates that are written on leaves of the fate tree which she helps to protect and repair if ever there is damage to them. She does have someone she likes though. The handsome 长珩仙君 or just 长珩. 长珩 saved 小兰花 when she was very young and therefore she wants to thank him personally for helping him and has always nursed this bit of gratitude or infatuation towards him. 

Her and 长珩’s fates should have been entwined but one day, when 长珩 and the other fairy lords worked together to try to reinforce the magical tower that confined 东方青苍,小兰花 foresaw that this could be the end for 长珩 due to her powers working with fates so she steps in to protect him. She blocks a blast from the tower meant for 长珩 and while he is protected, she is instead sucked into the tower.

Once in the tower, 小兰花 unwittingly restores the powerful 东方青苍 back to his human form, with a kiss no doubt, where he was before just wisps of consciousness and in the process swaps bodies with him. This is utterly unacceptable for 东方青苍 because he cannot be trapped in the body of someone so weak and feeble as 小兰花 while 小兰花 is having a blast having the enormous power of the leader of the moon clan. 东方青苍 manages to swap bodies again with 小兰花 to regain his former strength and believes all he has to do is kill 小兰花 and there will be no issues with him escaping the tower and reclaiming power again. But the twist he finds out is that the two are now bound together by some mysterious power. Any time 小兰花 is hurt, he will suffer the same injury on his body. And her emotions? He will feel them as well. If she cries, he’ll start crying. If she’s scared, he’ll start feeling scared. 

Ultimately, 东方青苍 escapes from the tower with 小兰花 and return to her place of residence and hilarity ensues. The cold, calculating and menacing 东方青苍 is subject to being 小兰花‘s personal caretaker because he has to nurse her back to health after their foray in the tower. The reason being is that 东方青苍 has uncovered the fate of a woman named 谢婉卿 that looks to be related to his mortal enemy, 赤地女子. He needs 小兰花 to repair this fate so he can see exactly what he needs to do to recover his mortal enemy so that he can release the 100,000 moon clan troops that were frozen in time and then destroy the fairy clan. But 小兰花 doesn’t care too much for restoring the fate and is too weak anyways. She also totally mishears 东方青苍’s name and just calls him 大强 rather than his real name which if she knew who he was she would have been too scared to interact with him. After all, 东方青苍’s name is known throughout the land.  But because she thinks he’s just 大强 and is a fairy who has been imprisoned for some past wrong and has nowhere to go, she takes him in. 

Thus the relationship between the most powerful being 东方青苍 and the weak 小兰花 begins. 东方青苍 has been stripped of his emotions in order to earn his strength but through his interactions with 小兰花, he is touched by her kindness, optimism, determination and thoughtfulness. He slowly starts to regain some emotions which, in this drama, is represented by a tree. At the beginning of the drama, it is a frozen tundra with no leaves whatsoever. After interacting with 小兰花 something changes in him. 

While he is experiencing some changes, we learn that 长珩 actually also likes 小兰花. He is betrothed already to someone already but after meeting 小兰花 in a chance encounter has grown attracted to this kind hearted orchid flower. She offered to protect him while no one has ever done that for him. Yet he is very respectful of his feelings towards her because he knows he is betrothed and any affection he shows towards 小兰花 could mean her demise which he does not want and does his best to protect her despite his obvious interest. 

All of this comes to a head with 小兰花 is revealed to have a different past, one different from the other fairies of the fairy clan. Despite 东方青苍 saying he does not care for 小兰花, he steps in to protect her in front of the entire fairy clan court who accused her of being a spy from the moon clan and was about to sentence her to death. Using his unique brand of fire power which turns blue, he pushes back against the fairy clan lords and takes 小兰花 with her. 长珩 steps in to try to take 小兰花 back but is easily defeated by 东方青苍. With this one battle, the future relationship between these three individuals becomes clear. 

That’s the general recap of the first 10 episodes or so. The story goes on to develop the relationship between these three individuals and also a stint into the mortal realm as they search for more answers about the fate of 赤地女子。 

 

 

 

Review: 7/10

One of the better romance dramas of this genre that is a fun breezy watch with some memorable moments. I have a more tempered opinion of the drama than perhaps what weibo and other fans think though I can understand the hype, especially for younger fans.  

The drama really shone in the first half, particularly at the beginning when 东方青苍 was figuring out how to interact with 小兰花. Episode 9 where 东方青苍 steps in to protect 小兰花 is one of the most badass scenes of the summer. There are plenty of cute scenes and belly laughs in the first half especially considering what the all powerful 东方青苍 is subject to in order to help 小兰花 who has no clue how to protect herself and is somehow always getting hurt. 东方青苍 and 长珩 in particular have two well written parts that make you naturally really like them as these powerful members of the moon clan and fairy clan respectively. I do believe that the two main male leads 王鹤棣 and 张凌赫 have bright futures ahead of them and were the stronger of the trio compared to 虞书欣’s 小兰花.  王鹤棣 in particular was able to showcase his acting range in this drama in ways that are subtle yet very apparent, though I don’t think he as handsome as some of the other male actors out there.

The special effects are quite good and in my opinion has come a long way for fairy romance dramas though some of the wire work for the actors could be improved. The original soundtrack especially the title song called 寻一个你 by 刘宇宁 is an instant classic and I’ve been listening to it on repeat for the last several weeks now. 

I personally really enjoyed the secondary storyline between 赤地女子 and her pupil 容昊. Let me just take a second to discuss the actors for 赤地女子 and 容昊. Both of them you could say won this year with two amazing roles in two different dramas. 赤地女子‘s actress 郭晓婷 has been on the small screen for many years, playing notable roles in both Chinese Paladin 3 as Xiao Tu Dou and also Startling With Each Step as 敏敏格格 all when she was under 18. She is a strong actress but hasn’t had good luck in notable roles for a while. But this year, she’s killed it with her role here in this drama for 赤地女子 and also in her role as 顺德仙姬 in 与君初相识 or A Blue Whisper. She is absolutely crazy but stunningly beautiful in A Blue Whisper and in this drama, portrays the ill-fated mortal woman 谢婉卿 with jaw-dropping grace. It’s hard to take your eyes off her when she is on screen. 容昊 is played by 徐海乔 who we just saw as 欧阳旭 in 梦华录 or A Dream Of Splendor where he was lauded by fans for his fanatic portrayal of the man that betrayed 赵盼儿 and then applauded him in his role here for the faithful student that suffered for thousands of years and betrayed his soul to find ways to bring his teacher back to life. For me, their storylines were the most intriguing part of the drama despite it not having too much screen time. 

But unfortunately, the drama does falter towards the end with convoluted conflicts and eye-rolling cliches and I docked 0.5 from my initial score because the drama lost momentum. 

 

So, if you’re looking for a fun and cute drama to watch with handsome lead actors, this is certainly a drama to try out at least for the first 20 episodes or so.  It is not a classic drama but it was an enjoyable watching experience. 

 

Karen

Ep 10-12

 

[Cathy]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 10-12 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode

 

[Karen]

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We have just revamped our website with ALL of our drama and movie podcast transcripts uploaded so please do take a look. There are specific pages now for The Story of Ming Lan as well as Zhen Huan Zhuan. We also are now doing episodes on the latest pop culture and dramas that are airing!

 

Let’s begin with the episode recap

Ying Luo has moved over to Chang Chun palace to serve the empress but with the express goal of uncovering the truth about her sister’s death. She had picked up a jade pendant from the Empress’s brother and he confirms that it was his but denies knowing a woman named 阿满. She has to do some further investigating.

 

[Cathy]

The key development in episode 10 is that the Emperor meets Ying Luo and actually recognizes her as the maid who made that whole story about scratching the itch for the Emperor’s sacred tree. The encounter was quite unlucky for Ying Luo as she was explaining her view of the relationship between 董鄂妃 and 顺治.  董鄂妃 was the love of Emperor Shun Zhi’s life, the second emperor of the Qing dynasty, who passed away at a young age after the death of her infant son. She was only 21 when she died. The Emperor 顺治, could not handle the death of his beloved concubine. He fell into heavy depression and died not too long after at 24.. There is a lot of mystery surrounding his death. In some books, they say he didn’t actually die but went to become a monk and lived the remainder of his life in a monastery. Regardless, this was a tragic love story. Except, 璎珞 chimed in that she would rather the Emperor not have any feeling which was overheard by our current Emperor. He was about to drag her off for punishment before the Empress saves her. 璎珞 also thinks quickly on the spot to avoid punishment. But, the Emperor now recognizes who she is and is full of annoyance. He’s also annoyed at his head eunuch 李玉 for missing this woman during his search. Quite a hilarious scene ensues. 

 

My one question mark in this scene is that Ying Luo says she is not very learned and hasn’t read many books but was able to whip out stories and anecdotes of previous Emperors. Does that sound like someone who doesn’t have any education??? 

 

There’s a quick scene with ying luo and fu heng where ying luo gifts a heated pouch to fu heng which can be viewed as a heartfelt gift in the bitter winter cold. In reality, it’s a way for ying luo to mess with fu heng as that pouch was made to burst. Luckily for Fu Heng and unluckily for his friend 海兰察, 海兰察 was on the receiving end of the burst pouch and burned quite badly. When Fu Heng goes to interrogate ying luo about it though, she roudnyl denies any knowledge that this would happen. 

 

[Karen]

Elsewhere, 娴妃 hears word that her brother has contracted dysentery in prison and desparately needs money. Her family has none left and she unfortunately only has her annual allowance which is paltry for what she needs. The Imperial Household Department also is refusing to give her the annual allowance ahead of time for an internal audit they’re doing. Except the department has fallen under the control of Noble Consort Gao’s father which means the comings and goings of such requests are naturally told to 高贵妃. That night, 娴妃 instructs her maid 珍儿 to help sell some of her beloved jewerlry and accessories outside of the palace for money for her brother. They meet two eunuchs who are able to help bring the goods outside. But just as 娴妃 gives these two the jewelry, 高贵妃 and company arrive. Selling property from the palace I guess is a crime and 高贵妃 takes this opportunity to humiliate 娴妃. At least she only attempted to sell her personal belongings, not anything gifted from the EMperor. But that doesn’t mean anything as 高贵妃 forces 娴妃 to kneel for forgivness and also has her servants destroy the jewelry. What’s also unfair is that one of the eunuchs turned on the other eunuch and laid blame on this transaction on that eunuch. The add insult to injury, 珍儿 also claims that this eunuch and her were the ones to work together to steal from 娴妃 in an effort for 珍儿 to take the blame away from 娴妃 in front of 高贵妃. This eunuch is extremely upset at this injustice for being dragged into something he knew nothing about but was punished to 100 canings. This eunuch is one to watch and this interaction where he was the fall guy for 娴妃 will be important for the rest of the drama. In episode 11 we see him be mercilessly bullied by other eunuchs for his fall from grace. He is now responsible for waste sanitation in the palace which is the lowest of the low for eunuchs in the palace. He also does not get to eat and resorts to stealing dog food in order to survive in the palace. Poor thing. This guy’s name, is 袁春望。

 

Meanwhile, let’s turn back to the true star of these few episodes. 雪球- 高贵妃”s dog. 嘉嫔 who works for 高贵妃 must not allow 愉贵人 from birthing a smart son to surpass her own and therefore must find a way to prevent her from giving birth. One day, 嘉嫔 invites 高贵妃 and her dog to the garden for a walk. The Empress, 愉贵人 and 璎珞 are also on a walk with 愉贵人 feeling much better after the scares from prior episodes. Yet 愉贵人 is scared of dogs and the moment she sees 雪球, she hastily requests to leave. But, 嘉嫔 and 高贵妃 do not let 愉贵人 leave and in an instant, 雪球 jumps to attack 愉贵人 who screeches in fright before 璎珞 steps in to save her by kicking 雪球 away. 愉贵人has her wits scared out of her again and is taken away for another check up. It’s not lost on anyone of the women that 雪球‘s actions were done to harm 愉贵人’s child. This time, it wasn’t 高贵妃 who made the orders but 嘉嫔 instead. Though I am impressed that 高贵妃 knows exactly why 嘉嫔 did it. For her son, the 4th prince. 

 

More nefarious plots are uncovered by 璎珞 against 愉贵人 by Jia Pin and they decide to set traps to catch this manipulative 嘉嫔 in the act.

 

[Cathy]

The opportunity arrives soon after when an imperial tribute consisting of lychee trees arrive from Fu Jian province to the Capital. These trees are a special gift from the Emperor to the Empress. These precious trees are given to 璎珞 to manage as the Empress wants to hold a tea party with these lychees as the piece de resistance. 

 

Originally set to be a grand and pleasant affair turns into one with multiple twists and turns. Behind the scenes, 璎珞 and company are trying to catch 嘉嫔 giving harmful medicine to 愉贵人 on the day of the tea party only for 璎珞 to realize it was a trap. When she returns back to the rooms where the lychee trees are kept, she finds that the trees have been destroyed and all of the lychee are now fallen onto the ground. What is ying luo to do?? These trees are to be specifically revealed in front of the Emperor and Empress to enjoy and pick for the freshest taste possible. How will they be able to do that now? 

 

Ying Luo again thinks on her feet. She quickly runs over to the 愉贵人‘s palace and requests her presence at the banquet. This will be important to aid the Empress in Ying Luo’s idea. The tea party continues with a number of lychee dishes but 高贵妃 and 嘉嫔 insist that it’s time to see the actual lychee tree for some fresh fruit. All of this was part of their plan and they cannot wait for this to unfurl. But shortly after, 愉贵人 arrives and takes her spot just as ying luo also arrives with one tree that is covered up. The moment they remove the covering, the dog 雪球 bursts from the tree and runs around the room much to the fright of everyone in attendance. 愉贵人 in particular is scared out of her wits again and points to 高贵妃 that her dog already scared her last month, does she want to scare her again to kill her child? 

 

The emperor hears this and is furious to know that 高贵妃’s dog has wreaked such havoc in the last few weeks and especially today. It doesn’t help that the Empress and 纯妃 all step in to blame the owner of the dog rather than the dog itself which 高贵妃 was attempting to do. Both she and 嘉嫔 are at a loss at what to do because their plans are completely foiled now and the blame has been pushed onto them. The result is 嘉嫔 is demoted to 贵人 and restricted from leaving her palace for 3months. 高贵妃 has her income suspended for one year and told to reflect on her mistakes. The dog is also never to appear in front of the Emperor again.

 

[Karen]

The saga of the dog is now over. It’s not long before the Emperor realizes that something’s off. The entire tree was destroyed. The dog could probably only destroy the lower part of the tree there’s no way the dog could destroy the entire tree. This must be something that Ying Luo planned but recognizing that this was done to protect the Empress, doesn’t enquire any further.

 

Elsewhere, the Empress used a rather clever excuses of rewarding the person who gifted her her favorite birthday gift to reward 娴妃 with the much needed money for saving her brother. While 娴妃 doesn’t necessarily want to take money from anyone, particularly the Empress or 纯妃, she now has the money to save her brother. In particular, she is now indebted to 纯妃 who told the Empress about her need for money.

 

History

 

[Cathy]

Let’s talk about our fluffy little Pekingese that is the center of our story! In mandarin, they are called 北京犬 or 京巴犬,又称 中国狮子狗、宫廷狮子狗. Or Lion Dog.

 

The Pekingese were the favored pets of the Imperial family spanning millennia. Pekingese dogs are said to have been favored by the royal family dating back all the way to the 秦 dynasty in 226BC. In the Tang Dynasty, there are clear records that no one outside of the imperial palace was allowed to breed or own a Pekingese. There are indeed records of people who tried to smuggle Pekingese outside of the palace and were tried for their crimes. During the Tang dynasty, these dogs were so favored that they were buried alongside Emperors when they died so that they would also be reincarnated with the Emperor in the next life. Because of their status as royal dogs, these were purebred dogs and one of the only dogs to remain as the “royal“ dog for that span of time. 

 

During the 清 dynasty, these dogs were still very much favored by the royal family. The famous Empress Dowager Cixi reportedly had over 1000 Pekingese in the Forbidden Palace and had dedicated departments of eunuchs to take care of them. In the drama, the poor eunuch 袁春望 is treated like dirt compared to the dog but that’s not too far from reality. If palace maids accidentally touched a favored Pekingese, they could be sentenced to death. If normal people saw these dogs, they had to bow to them. 

 

[kc]

There are a couple of legends related to the origins of the Pekingese. Most are related to Buddhism. There’s one legend in which a lion and a marmoset which is a type of monkey fell in love but the lion was too big. The two told buddha about their troubles. The buddha the made the lion the size of the monkey and that’s their descendants are the Pekingese. Not sure HOW much I buy into this one maybe the monkey is off because marmosets are indigenous to the New World and these dogs have been around for like thousands of years. Maybe the story is the same, it’s just the monkey that’s different.

 

The next story kind of mixes up legend and history. In buddhism, the lion is a symbol of strength and protection. Buddhism gradually made its way to China and became a popular religion. A Han dynasty emperor 汉明帝 who lived from 28 AD to 75 AD said, well, I need to have a lion too. This Emperor then asked – what does a lion look like? Someone then said – it looks like a fluffy tiger creature. This Emperor said ok – find me something like a tiger and voila – this lion tiger or 狮子犬 or Pekingese was presented to the Emperor. 

 

Over the millenia, the Chinese often prayed to the gods and mythical creatures for good luck and protection. This includes stone lions and stone versions of a mythical creature called 麒麟 but if you look closely at these stone lions outside of Chinese homes, they resemble the Pekingese!

 

[cathy]

There’s a couple of stories on the introduction of the Pekingese to the West. Pekingese were unknown to the Western World until the 1860s during the Second opium war. The Emperor 咸丰 and his court fled the old summer palace 圆明园. One story is that an elderly aunt stayed behind. When the Anglo-French forces stormed the palace, she committed suicide. The invaders found 5 pekingese dogs mourning her body. 

 

A British Soldier, Captain John Hart Dunne, brought the first one to survive the voyage back to England and presented the dog to Queen Victoria, who named it Looty. Other dogs were also sent back including a pair from Lord John Hay who gifted them to his sister the Duchess of Wellington. 

 

Currently, purebred Pekingese are extremely rare, if not almost extinct. Most of the ones seen now globally are crossbreeds. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t popular. Pekingese are apparently one of the most popular breeds in China, having lost its status as the royal dog. They are nonetheless fluffy, loveable, and great guardian dogs. A Pekingese named Wasabi won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show in 2021!

 

If you have a Pekingese, let us know, we’d love to see it!

 

[Karen]

Next up is the fruit that is the focus of these episodes 荔枝 or lychee!

 

The Lychee tree is native to the Southeast and Southwest provinces in China. The Canton or 广东 and 福建 provinces are the most bountiful in terms of lychee harvest. 福建 is the province where the lychee are sent from for this drama. Currently, Lychee can be found in the rest of southeast asia including Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Lychee trees need to be grown in a tropical climate that is frost-free. It also needs a lot of rainfall and humidity, which makes sense because 广东 and 福建 provinces are literally just that.

 

The lychee fruit is either round or an oval shaped berry about like 5cm long and 4 cm wide. The outside is a bumpy red skin that must be peeled. Red is when it’s ripe. When it’s not, it’s more of like a green color. The lychee itself bears a fleshy fruit that is very moist and sweet. There’s an inedible dark brown seed in the center. So please watch out when eating it to not bite through the whole thing!

 

This is super interesting because I was reading wikipedia to start off my english notes and wikipedia says that the earliest cultivation of lychee dates back to 1059AD with unofficial records in China referring to lychee dating back to 2000 BC. 

 

If I read Chinese baike, the first mention of the fruit or 离支 dates back to the Han Dynasty so 202BC. A rhapsody by the famous Western Han Dynasty poet 司马相如 who lived from 179 to 118 BC clearly mentions the fruit. Lychee has been an imperial tribute item dating back all the way to the Han dynasty. The Emperor Han Wu Di even tried to plant a lychee tree in the Imperial Palace but was unsuccessful. 

 

The name of the fruit changed to 荔枝 in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Lychee has long been a part of the Chinese culture and psyche. Indeed – there are countless poets who wrote poems, ballads, rhapsodies, what have you about this fruit, from the the Tang Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty. So like – for me, if there are poems talking about this fruit in like the 800s, I kind of get the feeling the wikipedia is wrong on this? There’s no way cultivation only started in 1059AD. 

 

[Cathy]

In episode 11, the Empress herself recites one of these poems about lychee.

 

It’s written by the famous Tang Dynasty poet 杜牧。

 

长安回望绣成堆⑵,山顶千门次第开⑶。

一骑红尘妃子笑⑷,无人知是荔枝来⑸。

 

My translation roughly goes like this

 

Looking back at the Li mountain from the Capital of Chang An, the scene looks like a fine silk

The palace doors at the top of Li Mountain open to reveal the splendor of 华清宫

Outside the palace a horse races through with dust in the wind, the concubine inside the palace smiles

No one knows that the lychee has arrived

 

What do you think about the poem? It’s kind of odd right? The last part about lychee doesn’t really make sense. What do you mean, no one knows that the lychee has arrived. But that’s like the greatness about it!

 

This poem is a very subtle but scathing commentary on the lavishness that Emperor 玄宗 bestowed on his beloved concubine 杨贵妃. For his concubine, the Emperor spend countless wealth to please her. The line – no one knows that the lychee arrives isn’t taken to be literal. The Concubine knows, the Emperor knows, and the rider knows. But the world doesn’t know. The world DIDN’T know that the Emperor “wasted” all this money and effort to get a smile from his concubine.

 

The Emperor stopped paying attention to state matters which led to a revolt led by 安禄山。 The Emperor, court ministers and this favored concubine had to flee. The Emperor forced 杨贵妃 to commit suicide as a way to appease everyone’s anger. In the end the revolt was quashed but the Emperor would lament the death of his love. The Consort died in 756, the author of the poem 杜牧 lived 802年-852年. He lived in the aftermath of the rebellion and surely had a lot to say about the Emperor and his lavish spending that ultimately led to the demise of his reign. 

 

Now back to this drama. The Empress’s point was that the 唐 emperor had fast horses race the lychee fruit to the capital, how did Emperor Qian Long do it here? 

 

If you just listened to what I said about the poem, there would have been absolutely NO way that the Empress would have dared to recite this poem in front of the Emperor. This poem was basically a jab at saying that the Tang Dynasty Emperor was a terrible guy, who for the one smile of his concubine, basically destroyed his Empire. Emperor 乾隆, who in this drama so far, was all about solidifying his empire, wouldn’t have been too happy with an accusation like that. 

 

Hm – maybe he would have been fine with it? Maybe he thought – well the Tang Dynasty emperor was an idiot and wasted his time on the concubine. I’m better than him because not only can I have the lychee sent via canals, but my Empire also won’t fall!

 

What do you think? I’m on the camp of – the screenwriter picked a wrong poem to quote. 

 

[Karen]

This whole scenario isn’t true to history but here just for our enjoyment. In the Qing Dynasty archives, there’s clear documentation that in the 25th year of Qian Long’s reign, 20 lychee fruits were presented to the Emperor as tribute. The fruits were then gifted to the Empress dowager, then the rest of the Imperial Harem. We’re currently only in the 6th year of Qian Long’s reign so that’s like a bug. That meant that even 15 years later, the Empress herself could only get like 1 or 2 fresh lychee fruits. 

 

However, there are records in the Qing Dynasty of trying to transport whole lychee trees but that wasn’t super successful.

 

Historically – Lychee was only introduced outside of China to Myanmar in the late 17th century and then onwards to India and then hawaii in the 1880s and 1890s. 

 

For those of you who have never had it, please try it out! It’s a delectable treat. The flowers bloom in the spring and the fruit is harvested during the early summer. I typically see them available in June and July. We’re recording this episode in August and it’s already kind of rare to find delicious lychee. I have a really good friend who LOVES lychee so I try to always make sure I have some if I know she’s visiting. 

 

[Cathy]

Lastly – let’s discuss the saying that the Emperor 乾隆 quotes when he asks who will take the blame for the destruction of the Lychee.

 

虎兕出于柙,龟玉毁于椟中,是谁之过与?

 

The translation is as such

The tiger and the rhinoceros fled from the cage, the jade tortoise was destroyed in the box. Who’s fault is it?

 

This originates from 论语 or the Analects of Confucius which as a collection of sayings and ideas that are attributed to Confucius and his contemporaries. This was first compiled roughly around the warring states period between the 5th and 3rd century BC and was finalized during the Han dynasty.

 

This particular phrase comes from Chapter 16 or 季氏 of the Analects. The premise is that the Ji Clan from the Kingdom of 鲁 wants to invade a neighboring smaller country of 颛臾. Confucius’s disciples come to him to discuss the potential battle. Confucius roundly chides his disciples for allowing this to happen saying that they must find a way to stop the battle. He then says the phrase 虎兕出于柙,龟玉毁于椟中,是谁之过与?basically as a way to say – if those who want to fight end up destroying something, it’s the fault of those who could have prevented the tragedy.

 

I’m SUPER oversimplifying it. There’s also a lot more to this chapter – it’s quite dense. If we have some Confucius scholars here please chime in. This chapter reflects Confusius’s aversion to warfare, instead trying to find alternate ways to solve the issue, whether that’s through reallocation of wealth or land. 

 

In the drama, the Emperor uses this to chide 高贵妃 by saying that the issue with the dog is because she is the owner. I guess the whole thing makes sense but the whole Confucius anecdote obviously flew over everyone’s head except for 璎珞. 

 

I feel like the drama did sort of square it that 璎珞 only knew a couple of lines from the Analects but I also felt that they needed her to speak up to round out the whole scene. 

 

Ah well – 魏璎珞 better watch out because she got the favor the Empress but now the Emperor is kind of annoyed at her!

 

 

Ep 8+9

 

[Cathy]

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 8+9 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode

 

[Karen]

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We have just revamped our website with ALL of our drama and movie podcast transcripts uploaded so please do take a look. There are specific pages now for The Story of Ming Lan as well as Zhen Huan Zhuan. Our full review of A Dream of Splendor is Up and you can catch Karen’s initial thoughts on Love Like The Galaxy on the website as well. 

 

[Karen]

Episodes 8-9 have 2.5 story lines. I am going to move around the plot threads in the episodes for a more cohesive recap. I will say that the pacing of these few episodes are a little jumbled with the various threads.

 

On one hand, Ying Luo has successfully made her way to the Empress’s palace of Chang Chun Gong. Her primary motiviation for going is to get closer to Fu Heng, the Empress’s brother, in order to discover more about why her sister would have his jade pendant when she died. Ying Luo suspects that Fu Heng might have something to do with her sister’s death and needs more evidence.  

 

After arriving at Chang Chun Gong, she does successfully pique the interest of Fu Heng once she pretends to drop his jade pendant. He seeks her out and confirms that the pendant is his which only further raises the suspicion that Fu Heng was the one to harm her sister. But before Ying Luo can think too much on it, she is dragged back to reality that as the new maid in the palace, she’s going to have a difficult time integrating.

 

[Cathy]

The Empress has two close maids, one is Er Qing, the other is Ming Yu. Ming Yu is much easier to anger and she let’s it be known that she does not like the new Ying Luo. She complains to the Empress about Ying Luo and leads the other maids of the palace in bullying Ying Luo as well. But the supposed laziness of Ying Luo doesn’t last long as it is seen that she was the only maid to help protect the Empress’s beloved flowers one thunderstorming night. From then on, it was evident that while Ying Luo doesn’t like being bullied and has a sharp tongue, she is a hard worker and thoughtful of others. 

 

Luckily she established that rather quickly because soon after, Gao Gui Fei arrives with Jia Ping to cause some chaos. She is furious that Ying Luo tricked her previously and is annoyed that Ying Luo has made her way to the Empress’s palace. At Chang Chun Gong, Gao Gui Fei attempts to have Ying Luo’s tongue cut out which, excuse me, why does a eunuch just randomly have a dagger at the ready for this type of corporeal punishment? Aren’t weapons banned in the palace? Whatever. Not going to think too much about that. Fortunately for Ying Luo, the Empress appears and imposes her authority over Gao Gui Fei. She is not to punish any of Chang CHun Gong’s maids. Gao Gui Fei does not realy have any standing as she really cannot harm one of the Empress’s maids. After experiencing this rebuttal, Gao Gui Fei returns to her palace with Jia Pin in fury. Jia Pin though, turns Gao Gui Fei to the more urgent matter at hand which is what to do about Yu Gui Ren’s pregnancy.  They can’t have her successfully birth a child now can they?

 

[Karen]

One day, when Ying Luo goes to visit 愉贵人, she just so happens to see that the palace is empty of any servants and the door is shut. But Ying Luo does hear muffled screams. She bursts into the room only to find a eunuch trying to strangle 愉贵人. On the floor though is oddly a number of paper money and fire pit for 愉贵人 to burn money. Ying Luo immediately jumps into action, first smashing a vase onto the eunuch’s head to gain his attention. A heated struggle ensues where the eunuch and Ying Luo try to subdue each other. While Ying Luo successfully does so, she rushes out of the palace to cry for help, only to realize that 高贵妃 has arrived. This was clearly a plot by 高贵妃 to kill 愉贵人. Ying Luo barricades herself in the palace while Gao Gui Fei’s men try to push their way through the door. In a last ditch attempt, she fuels the flames in the room such that the smoke will attract someone’s attention for help. 

 

Just in the knick of time, Fu Heng arrives with men to help put out the flames as 高贵妃’s eunuchs also managed to break through the door and were about to strangle 璎珞 as well. I will give props to 高贵妃 for her quick thinking because she turned it around on 璎珞 and said it was she who wanted to kill Yu Gui Ren and 高贵妃 herself is here to kill the murderer. 傅恒 at least pauses because he recognizes 璎珞. A stalemate ensues where 高贵妃 insists that 璎珞 arrived to kill 愉贵人 while 璎珞 insists that she was here to save 愉贵人. The offending eunuch who was severely injured by 璎珞 wakes up and shockingly confesses that it was the Empress who instructed he kill 愉贵人. At this point, the Empress also arrives to visit 愉贵人 only to arrive under false accusations. 高贵人 insists that the Empress and 璎珞 came here to kill 愉贵人 and should be investigated. Unfortunately, the eunuch takes poison before they are able to get any more information out of him.  However, Ying Luo doesn’t take this too easily and pokes a bunch of holes into 高贵妃‘s accusations. Why would Ying Luo arrive if th eEmpress already sent a killer. Why would the eunuch have so many injuries from Ying Luo. Why doesn’t she have any weapon to kill Yu Gui Ren? And also why does 高贵妃 have so many eunuchs with her as well? Gao Gui Fei does not have any satisfactory answers to this and is forced to apologize to the Empress for her false and unfounded accusations.  With this, the saga closes and 愉贵人 is taken for inspection by an imperial doctor. Thankfully, her and her child are safe. 

 

[DISCUSS] – I feel like this episode was a waking call for the Empress to start playing the mindgames of the Imperial harem. She is like the complete opposite of the Empress from Empresses in the Palace – she’s wayy to nice and has nothing to respond to when 高贵妃 just starts accusing her of murder. 

 

[Cathy]

The injured 璎珞 is given some medicine by 傅恒 who seeks her out afterwards. His guard around her is slowly falling and he actually lets out a smile in her presence. I would say it’s a rather muted but heartwarming smirk which 璎珞 remarks on. Yet, when 璎珞 asks about whether or not he knows a woman named 阿满 he quickly denies this, befuddling 璎珞 even further. 

 

Back at the Empress’s palace, they go over the events of the day. They surmise that it must have been 高贵妃 who ordered that eunuch to kill 愉贵人 and to make it look like she hung herself. 高贵妃 arrived so promptly because she wanted to see 愉贵人 die. What kind of person does that? But the Empress does not want to escalate to the Emperor. For one, the witness has died so they have no evidence left about what happened. The other is that 愉贵人 was secretly morning the death of her friend, 怡嫔。 This is strictly forbidden in the palace which if exposed, could lead to bigger consequences for 愉贵人. 

 

This saga ends with 高贵妃 admitting defeat for now but still keeping her sights on 愉贵人. In the meantime, we are introduced to her beloved pet dog who enjoys more authority than many servants. This dog will be the main character in the upcoming episodes. 

 

[Karen]

The other conflict at hand is political. The purpose? To turn the kind hearted and conflict avoidant 娴妃 into someone who must learn to play the game in the imperial palace. 

 

At the end of episode 8, the Emperor calls in two of his trusted court ministers, 鄂尔泰 and 张廷玉。 We’ll talk about them more in depth later on in this episode. I do like this scene not for the political intrigue per se but because 聂远 the actor does a great job portraying the wrath of the young calculating Emperor. The aura and presence depicted on screen allows the viewer to believe that yes, this could be what an Emperor was like back in the day. The Emperor is not happy. He has discovered that these two powerful and trusted advisors are embroiled in a corruption scandal. But more than that, they have started creating political factions – something that the Emperor fundamentally despises. The Emperor gives a stern warning to 鄂尔泰 and 张廷玉 that this cannot continue further. As for the corruption scandal? Anyone involved is to be executed. 鄂善

 

Problem is, 娴妃’s younger good-for-nothing brother, participated in bribing 鄂善, the man primarily implicated in this scandal. He is going to be tried as part of this scheme.  Yet despite her mother’s pleading, 娴妃 does not want to beg the Emperor for forgiveness. She knows that the Emperor is trying to set an example and if she pleads for her brother, it will be viewed extremely poorly by both the Emperor and by the public. 

 

Chun Fei also arrives to suggest that 娴妃 ask the Empress for help. After all, if the Empress says something to the Emperor, there might be more hope than if 娴妃 asked herself. But 娴妃 tries to stick to her morals. She does not want wealth or riches but only to live without guilt. She also recognizes that by asking for help from the Empress means that she will fall under the Empress’s camp which she does not want to do. At this point, 娴妃 wants, to the best of her ability to remain neutral in the Palace. But what do you guys think? Is this something that she’ll be able to do? She seems extremely idealistic in what she believes life will be like later in the palace. 

 

 

[Cathy]

Next up! On to history!

 

There’s a lot of ministers names being thrown around in this episode so let’s talk about a few of them.

 

张廷玉

First up is 张廷玉. Born in 1672年10月29日-1755年5月19日. He was a Han minister who rose through the ranks and held positions at court during the reigns of 3 emperors. Kang Xi, Yong Zheng, and Qiang Long. If you recall in Empresses in the Palace, the Emperor 雍正 references this guy 张廷玉 quite a bit. He was one of the first members of Emperor Yong Zheng’s Grand Council. When Emperor Yong Zheng died, 张廷玉 was already appointed as a Grand Councillor and indeed became Chief Grand Councillor in 1731-1732. In 1739, he was put in charge of comipiling the History of Ming or 明史. It includes 332 volumes and covers the history of the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644. His relationship with emperor Qian Long did deteriorate in the 1740s and 1750s including a whole fiasco about his retirement. Nevertheless, Emperor 乾隆 did agree to his father’s orders and had 张廷玉’s plaque placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙. 张廷玉 is the only Han officer to receive this honor during the 清 dynasty. Having a plaque in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙 is a big deal because it meant that even the Emperor had to pray to him when he died. We did talk about this in one of our Story of Ming Lan episodes. Madame Wang’s entire family believes they are still hot stuff BECAUSE her father had a plaque in the Imperial Ancestral Temple.

 

[Karen]

鄂尔泰

 

鄂尔泰 or Ortai(1680 [39]  —1745年)is a Manchu official from the Bordered Blue Banner. Like 张廷玉, he held positions at court during the reigns of 3 emperors. Kang Xi, Yong Zheng, and Qiang Long. During the reign of Yong Zheng, he primarily governed the southwest regions of China, including modern day 云南 and 贵州. He also put down several Miao uprisings during his time as Viceroy. Miao is another ethnic group from that region. 

During the early years in the reign of Qian Long, he became chief grand councillor until his death in 1745. He also had a plaque placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙. 

He and 张廷玉 were rivals at court, especially during the early years of Qian Long’s regin with each leading their own ethnic factions. 鄂尔泰 led the Manchus and 张廷玉 led the 汉 Chinese. Apparently, they were at court together for 10+ years, and sometimes would just not talk to each other. 

One of his sons was embroiled in a corruption scandal that came to light. This son was ordered death by suicide when he was found guilty and died in 1749. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Early in episode 9, Charmaine’s character 娴妃 is struggling to write a letter back home. On the sheet of paper is a reminder to her family that the law must be adhered to, even if it ultimately ends in tragedy for the nala clan. 

 

The letter kind of combines two anecdotes together but the drama only shares one. The first one is pretty minor. Oh – a fun little bug that I picked up. The handwriting on the paper that 娴妃 “finishes” writing and the one that 纯妃 unravels to read is different. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just want to pat myself in the back a bit because I’m pretty happy that I can tell the difference these days. 

 

Back to the anecdote. The first one is not really an anecdote but a line. So in the drama – the first line is 法者,非一人之法. The Law, is not one person’s law. This is very similar to a writing by 唐太宗 or Emperor 太宗 of the 唐 dynasty who lived from 598 to 649 AD. He wrote 法者非朕一人之法,乃天下之法也, which translates to The Law isn’t just my law, meaning the Emperor’s law. It’s the law of the people. What the Emperor means is that the Emperor is not above the law and that everyone must adhere to the laws that have been set forth. The line 法者,非一人之法 is written in the drama which is very close to 法者非朕一人之法 which was written by the emperor. 

 

Next is the anecdote about King Zhuang of Chu who lived roughly from 613–591 BC during the Spring and Autumn period which was around 770 to 476 BCE. His personal name was Xiong Lü (Chinese: 熊旅; pinyin: Xióng Lǚ) but we know him by his posthumous title was King Zhuang. So in Chinese it would be 楚庄王.

 

The anecdote that 纯妃 recounts the story of the Law of the Mao Gate which was written by the Han Fei Zi. He was a Chinese philosopher and statesman who lived roughly from 280 BC to 233 BC during the Warring States period. He was also a prince of the state of Han. 

 

茅门之法 – The law of the Mao Gate. The story is written in prose by Hang Fei Zi and the story is similar to what was told by Consort Chun or 纯妃.  The law was written so that no horse drawn carriage could not touch the puddles of water on the ground in front of the Mao gate. Kind of weird law but hey. The punishment was death to the carriage driver and destruction of the carriage. The Crown Prince’s carriage drove right through the water and his poor carriage driver was killed. Angered, the Crown Prince went to his father King Zhuang of Chu to have the official who carried out the law to be executed. His father, the King responded, those who obey the law, respect their ancestors and the kingdom are loyal to the kingdom. How can I kill a man who obeys the law? Those who disobey the law, disrespect the kingdom. This means that the subject is above the king who passed these laws. The king has lost power. If all the subjects were to fight against every law, then the power of the king’s position will be greatly threatened. The kingdom will be threatened. What will I leave for my heirs? After the Crown Prince heard this from his father, he quickly left the palace and stayed outside, kneeling to the north, and asked to be executed.

 

In the drama 娴妃 realizes that her brother was in the wrong. She thought that there was nothing that she could really do about it. In her own way of arrogance and aloofness – she allowed her brother to die. This will haunt her in the future. Look I agree that bribery is a big offense and yes that law must be upheld but mayyybee she could have fought for it like a little bit?

 

 

That is it for today’s podcast episode. We are chugging along now that Ying Luo is in Chang Chun Palace.

 

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