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 supress his frustration at being tied to someone as weak as Xiao Lan Hua.  Luckily, she’s super sweet and treats him as an equal.

I realized that I need to brush up on my Chinese fantasy translations. Cathy and I have no issues translating historical dramas but these fantasy dramas are hard!!!

Full review after the full drama airs

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.

 

If you like watching Chinese dramas and movies, do check out our sponsor Jubao tv.

 

As a reminder, we have revamped our website so please check that out as well,. 

END

 

 

Love Like The Galaxy (2022) 星汉灿烂

Summary: Cheng Shao Shang (ft Zhao Lu Si), daughter of brave generals, was left at home to be raised (neglected) by her grandmother and aunt while her parents fought on the battlefield. The result is that despite Shao Shang’s natural intelligence, she was not raised as a “proper” young girl – one who can read and write or knows proper etiquette. Ling Bu Yi ft Wu Lei, is a hardened young general raised in the Imperial Family but bears a terrible burden. The two paths cross multiple times and a romance emerges.

 

Initial Rating: 6.8/10

Initial thoughts [after 30 episodes]: The drama is… just fine.  I binged the first 18 episodes over a weekend which tells me it’s at least palatable.  The older cast is more enjoyable to watch than the younger ones particularly those outside of the main pair of Zhao Lu Si and Wu Lei.  Perhaps my view is colored by the more muted tones and grayer skies of the production after enjoying the brighter hues in A Dream of Splendor.  Zhao Lu Si is fine in her role as Cheng Shao Shang but it seems like she plays similar characters in other dramas. Wu Lei as the handsome general is far more intriguing though his screen time in the first half of the drama was rather limited. There are some genuinely funny moments in the drama yet also a number of unreasonable scenes which I did not know needed to be there. I do think part 2 of the drama is picking up to be more intriguing than part 1.

Full review after the full drama airs

Karen

 

Ep 8-13

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. If you like what you hear in this podcast, please please please do us a favor and leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to!

 

This is the 4th in a 4 part series for the drama and today we will discuss the plot, characterization, and history of episodes 8-13. We are breaking these podcast episodes to reflect the first couple of “cases” in the drama. As always, I’ll finish with a quick book comparison since the drama is based off of a book.

 

[Karen]

We began the 4 part series by highlighting that this drama focused more on the struggles of power and what it meant to rule. Those challenges are fully displayed in these next upcoming episodes. For the crown prince, it is the sacrifice of his love for political reasons. For his father, the Emperor, it is seeing his court officials lourding power over him and he must plug the gaps. 

 

The fight between the crown prince and his older brother Prince Qi or 齐王 continues to brew in the background with 齐王‘s father-in-law and current Chancellor, 李柏舟 as the primary antagonist  

 

Let’s start off with episode 8. In the prior few episodes, we saw the Crown Prince wrapped up in a debacle at the imperial entrance exam that resulted in the resignation of his beloved teacher because he, the crown prince, plotted against his brother. In order to protect his disciple, 卢世瑜, took the blame and is told to leave his post and return home. The Crown Prince is understandably upset at the turn of events but there is not much he can do. It is a valuable lesson that he learned.

 

The best thing to have come out of the exam scandal, however, is for the Crown Prince to have “met” our female lead, 陆文昔。 I say quote on quote “meet” because she had never revealed her countenance to him. In his presence, she always wore a cap that had a veil to cover her face, as is customary at the time. But, that does not deter from their attraction towards each other especially after they worked together to help save the Crown Prince’s best friend and cousin, 顾逢恩 and her brother, 陆文普 from being implicated in the exam cheating scandal. 

 

[Cathy]

Both of their hearts are separately fluttering after being impressed by each other’s intellect and capability. On the Crown Prince’s side, he didn’t even want to go see the results of the imperial entrance exam with his friend 顾逢恩 but eagerly agreed after hearing 陆文昔 would be there. 陆文昔 was also full of anticipation to seeing the results first hand in hopes of meeting her prince but was cold-heartedly told to stay home by her brother. The crown prince, was of course, annoyed that 陆文昔 was not there and also found out that he may be betrothed to the daughter of the Minister of Justice, who’s last name is Zhang. This shocks 太子 who hurries to get confirmation from his teacher, 卢世瑜 who is also the Minister of Justice’s teacher. It just so happens that on this day, after being rebuffed from seeing the exam results, 陆文昔, was at 卢世瑜’s manor helping him dry his catalog of books. We will talk about this in our explanation as it is quite interesting why this scene would appear. 太子 encounters 陆文昔 while drying books and, behind a curtain so he once again does not see her face, have another thoughtful and engaging conversation. 太子 is over the moon about this girl and is set on marrying her. He knows she is 陆文昔, daughter of well known court official who has recently returned to the capital, but has never seen her face. 

 

This relationship serves as the next round of conflicts between the two brothers. We have already established that 太子 is interested in 陆文昔 but in order to further secure power for 齐王, 李柏舟 wants 陆文昔 to marry 齐王 as a concubine. This chancellor rather forcefully pushes this message onto 陆文昔’s father, 陆英. 陆英 is extremely reluctant to have his children used as pawns for political gain and also hates being bullied in this way and thus asks the crown prince for help. 

 

[Karen]

What happens?At the end of episode 9 and into episode 10, the Emperor is having a pleasant evening with Prince Qi and his mother, the royal consort. In this brilliant scene, 齐王 is preparing tea for his father using the traditional tea preparation method we actually saw in The Story of Ming Lan. It is an elaborate process to prepare a bowl of tea and Qi Wang does a fine job as his father even compliments him. At this point, 太子 arrives and also prepares a bowl of tea for his father. The crown prince uses tea that he brought himself which was procured [xxxx ELABORATE]. One sip of the tea and the Emperor spits it out. It tastes horrible. The Emperor quickly dismiss Prince Qi and the royal consort as this has suddenly become a political matter.

 

Turns out, the tea that the Crown Prince made is connected to a policy in the drama called 茶马政 whereby, the government trades official tea with neighboring territories for military horses fit for war. This is an important matter as it directly feeds into the military power of the Empire. The Crown Prince brings forth 陆英 who explains that Prince Qi’s maternal Grandfather has been keeping all of the official tea for himself and selling it for huge profits causing waves of outrage by the local citizens. And the tea sent to be traded for horses are of extremely poor quality or of not enough weight which means that no military horses are traded for the army. The Emperor is furious that such corruption has happened under his nose with ties to stability of his nation’s border and questions why he has not heard a peep. 陆英 reveals that he had sent numerous documents detailing these events but they have all been ignored. Who did the ignoring? The Chancellor, 李柏舟. 

 

The Emperor summons 李柏舟 as well as the Minister of Treasury or Revenue but instead of even apologizing or acknowledging the corruption that happened, 李柏舟 uses the excuse that he’d been too busy these last few weeks to have looked at the dockets from 陆英. 李柏舟 pushes away any and all responsibility for his involvement in this scandal again. Poor Emperor. He knows that 李柏舟 is bluffing but his primary concern is not to dole out punishment. Instead, he has to figure out how to find money to purchase more tea in order to trade for military horses.  This is where you see that while the Emperor may not be the fairest father to the crown prince, his number one priority is ruling the empire. 

 

[Cathy]

Realizing that her father has been caught up in such a big corruption scandal, the royal consort was, you could say, intelligent enough to proactively apologize and seek punishment. She even said her father is willing to give up his entire fortune to the treasury in order for this to not go public. Only then, does the Emperor finally calm down. But, once again, it is clear that 齐王 and 李柏舟 have conspired against the Emperor. 

 

Throughout the rest of episode 10 and 11, the drama focuses once more on the relationship between 太子 and 陆文昔。Because 李柏舟 was dealt such a huge blow, he wants to retaliate against 陆英 by having his daughter marry 齐王 as a concubine. The Crown Prince and 陆文昔 are both devastated at hearing the emperor has agreed but ultimately, by grace of 齐王’s wife, the decree never gets delivered so the marriage is held off. Key takeaways here are that geez, 李柏舟 is a cold hearted father for pushing his daughter to have to share a husband with a concubine and that the Emperor is showing us he’s a conflicted character. He ignores the Crown Prince’s pleas that he wants to marry 陆文昔 not necessarily because he doesn’t want his son to marry for love, but there are important political implications if this marriage goes through. In any case, the two are separated for the time being.

 

[Karen]

I’ll wrap up our plot recap by turning to the next big event. We saw the two princes training for the 射柳大赛 or archery competition earlier on and they are now headed to the competition site along with the Emperor. It is a grand affair as it is not simply a competition but an opportunity for the Emperor to survey military strength. A rather heavy set general, General Lv, comes to greet the Emperor and the two princes and it is this general who will aid in the competition. 

 

On the surface, we have this competition to enjoy where the sons will vy for the winning prize as the Emperor formally declared that the winner will win whatever they wish. This clearly stoked a fire for the Crown Prince who’s prize would be 陆文昔. But what I’m more interested in is the Emperor’s true motive in coming out here. He wants to see one of his close confidantes, 李明安 with the aim of discussing how to remove military power from our dear 李柏舟 in order to weaken this Chancellor’s power while strengthening support along the empire’s borders as well as pose a check against General Gu, 太子‘s uncle who is currently on the front lines and wields tremendous military power. This conversation came right in time because the Chancellor was in cahoots with General Lv. The Emperor knows this and needs to figure out what is a gift that can be given that cannot be refused so as to force the Chancellor to let go of military power…

 

[Cathy]

Next day at the archery competition, we see that it is a grand affair. The two brothers are ready to show off their skills and each is eager to win. The Emperor and many officials at court are present, including the CHancellor and General Lv is in charge of the whole event. Unexpectedly or expectedly, the Crown Prince gets some nasty surprises from his horse who had been tampered with. By whom? Easy guess, it’s Prince Qi and General Lv. Well we hear  it from 顾逢恩 who saw the whole thing and reported it to 太子。This whole scene though is funny to me because Tai Zi is still too focused on his love life while his father has a dramatic showdown in front of court for that army of General Lv’s. He openly requests for this battalion which shocks 李柏舟 but he is quick to retort back as to why the Emperor should and cannot take this battalion. It’s a fantastic back and forth and showcases why these more seasoned actors also add a lot to the drama. 

 

The drama turns back onto the field as the combat between the Emperor and 李柏舟 become manifested in 太子 and 齐王。The final comptetion that will decide which prince is the winner is to shoot a special gourd at the end of the arena. The two princes gallop down the field with Prince Qi purposefully running into Tai Zi’s horse to knock him off course. General Lv also on horseback gallops the opposite direction towards the emperor. Despite the Crown Prince severely wanting to win, he saw a flash of light coming from General Lv and recognized that the General was wearing armor. Wearing armor in the presence of the Emperor is tantamount to treason. For the General to wear this armor meant that he wanted to harm the Emperor. The Crown Prince made a split second decision and promptly turned his horse around and chased after the General while Prince Qi, completely oblivious to what happened, galloped towards the gourd. The Crown Prince with his bow in hand, screams for the General to stop who refuses and thus, left with no choice, the Crown Prince raises his bow to take down the General. However, the direction of his arrow was pointed in the direction of the Emperor. This alarms the entire crowd as they, including the Emperor, thought the Crown PRince wanted to harm the Emperor. The Emperor himself demands a bow and arrow to defend himself. Three arrows flew as the three men each hit their target. 齐王 hit the gourd, the Crown Prince hit General Lv and the Emperor hit the Crown Prince…’s horse. 

 

[Karen]

General Lv is captured and revealed that his troops also all wore armor. The Emperor also suddenly realized that his son the Crown Prince was trying to save him but took this invaluable opportunity to deal a blow to the Chancellor by seamlessly taking command of General Lv’s battalion. To placate him, the Emperor gifts a jade belt to the winner of the archery competition. [ xxxxxx continue ]

 

[Cathy]

晒书 – episode 8

 

In episode 8, the Crown Prince and 陆文昔 have another “meet cute” when 陆文昔 is drying books. So what is this? In Chinese, it’s called 晒书 or drying of the books. Hm -朱彝尊 i guess that’s the best translation I have.

 

The purpose of 晒书 is to of course preserve books. This is to protect them from bookworms and mold. The days to do so were in the summer because those were the driest days. People didn’t just dry books but clothes as well.

 

The practice of 晒书 has been recorded for thousands of years, dating back to the eastern han dynasty so 1st century AD. It wasn’t as big of a deal in 隋唐 dynasties – so the 7th century AD. It was really during the 宋 dynasty that 晒书 became more common practice.There are official documents recording the process / practice of doing so. During the 宋 dynasty, they had it as the 7th day of the 7th month as the day to dry books.

 

Some other stories around 晒书 It actually became an official folk holiday that occurs on 6th day of the 6th month on the lunar calendar. One involves a trip where this Emperor 康熙 was dressed as a commoner on a trip. He was emperor during the 17th century. He saw a scholar 朱彝尊, sunbathing while also drying his books. Well it is more like he was fully clothed but showed his chest / belly. The Emperor approached the man to discuss what he was doing. The goal really is because there are idioms called 满腹经纶 or 饱读诗书, which mean a belly full of knowledge. So the guy shows his full belly with his books to show that he is FULL of knowledge. Afterwards, the Emperor agreed to make this sort of an “official” holiday. The drying of books that is.

 

What’s hilarious is now in common vernacular people still use 晒书 as a term to flaunt how intelligent or learned they are.

 

梅雨季 – episode 8

 

Plum rain or the East Asian rainy season. According to Wikipedia, it is caused by precipitation along a front known as the Meiyu front for nearly two months during the late spring and early summer. Timing can range from late May to early July. This stretches in East Asia between mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Northern Vietnam and the Russian Far East. Some main characteristics include persistent rain, high temperatures, and high humidity. I’ve been in Southern China when this happens and my goodness, I got destroyed by the mosquitos.

 

The season is called as such because that is also when the plums or 梅子 ripen in the area. It unfortunately also a time that due to the humidity also causes a lot of close to grow moldy, so people also call it 霉雨. 发霉 means to grow moldy and 霉 also means mold. So it’s a homonym and a very clever one at that! 

 

This season has been named from ancient times. There are several famous poems from poets dating back to the Tang Dynasty around the 8th century. 

 

To this day, people take their clothes, carpets, furniture out to the sun to dry if there is a sunny day during that time to avoid having their possessions grow mold.

 

[Karen]

茶道 – episode 9

 

Since this drama is set in the Song Dynasty, Tea and tea brewing is also a big part of the culture. We discussed this in episodes 9 and 10 of our recap of the Story of Ming Lan but let’s do another recap here. The art of brewing tea is called 点茶。

 

So how does this work? First up, is actually grinding tea into powder. You take 团茶 which are compressed tea medallions and either pound them or else grind them into fine powder. In the drama, the tea is broken off of the medallion and gently pounded. Then it is grinded into a powder. After the tea is ground into fine powder, it is placed into a sifter so only the finest powder is kept. With that done, the tea is placed to the side.

 

Next up, is preparing the tea cup. You first place a certain amount of hot water in the tea cup which is called 盏。 It’s more like a bowl than a cup. You swirl the hot water around to allow for even warmth along the bowl.  Dump the water out and clean the top of the bowl.

 

After this, you place a few teaspoons of the tea powder into the cup and start adding hot water. At first, only enough to be at the amount of tea powder in the bowl. Then, you take a tea whisk and start whisking. This step is called 调膏。

 

Whisking starts slowly in a circular motion until the tea texture becomes creamy. Next, you continue to add hot water and continue to whisk. After starting off slow, the whisking increases speed quite significantly until the final texture is beige, creamy and frothing with bubbles!

 

And that my friends, is Song dynasty 点茶。It’s certainly very different from tea brewing we’re used to today. Just pop in a tea bag or else put in loose leaf tea. 

 

[Cathy]

 

茶马政 – Tea and horse policy

 

One of the biggest political strategies or policies that are discussed in these few episodes include 茶马政 which is the Tea and horse policy. It originated during the Tang dynasty so think 8th century and was very prominent during the Song Dynasty, so 11th century. The main policy was essentially trade between the Chinese Dynasties and the kingdoms to the west, especially the Tibetan plateau. You can think of it similar to the silk road but the focus here wasn’t silk.  What was traded? The Chinese traded tea in exchange for horses – for this drama, it was war horses. China controlled the secrets of tea and needed horses. Horses were used in the cavalry and that definitely meant whoever had the horses had the upper hand. Which is why, in this drama, the Emperor plots against the Chancellor to gain control of the horses and of course the troops. The policy lasted for over 00 years and only ended in the 1700s during the reign of Emperor 雍正

 

[Karen]

 

射柳大赛 – 射义  – episode 12.

 

There’s a whole archery competition, specifically 射柳大赛. So what is it?

 

The archery competition occurred on 端午节 or Dragon Boat Festival or 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar. 

 

We briefly discussed it in episode 2 of the Story of Ming Lan about Archery. 

 

君子六艺

 

A gentleman has six arts. The 6 arts are the basis for chinese gentlemen’s education and this tradition dates all the way back to the Zhou dynasty over 2500 years ago. 

 

The six arts are 礼、乐、射、御、书、数. 

 

Rites (禮)

Music (樂)

Archery (射)

Chariotry (御)

Calligraphy (書)

Mathematics (數)

 

Specifically for archery, there were five ways to master the skill which is why it’s called 五射 or five type of archery. Last time we mentioned that during the Zhou Dynasty, men were expected to know archery. The 6 arts is a reflection of this tradition. 

 

[Karen]

射柳 means to shoot a willow. Yes a willow tree. This had origins from nomadic tribes such as the 匈奴. 射柳 primarily occurred in the North and was formally a competition during the 辽 dynasty. For the competition, in the center, the bark was cut off to make a target. Competitors would shoot at the target. Whoever was able to topple the tree was the winner. During the 明 dynasty, it shifted somewhat so that the custom was to put a bird in a gourd. Competitors would shoot the gourd to try and free the bird, as we saw in the drama. The custom slowly died out by the end of the Qing Dynasty, so the late 19th and early 20th century.

 

[Cathy]

 

I’ll quickly close out on book differences. Since this is our last episode recap, I will give some book / show spoilers.  Up until now, the events still really don’t occur in the book. They are mentioned in the book. For example, the 5th prince tries to become a student of 卢世宇 but is denied. The Emperor has his confidant in 李明安. 

 

Spoiler – The book story begins roughly around episode 21 – 23. What I mean by that is – 陆文昔 has entered into the Crown Prince’s palace as a maid and gets close to the Crown Prince. It is a beautiful and sad love story. The book is much bleaker than the drama and the drama is already pretty bleak. 陆文昔’s father and older brother die before the start of the book and all she has is her younger brother and mother. She acts as a spy – not for the Prince of Qi but actually the 5th prince 萧定楷. He is a much bigger player in the book. 

 

[Karen]

And there you have it! Episodes 8-13 of Royal Nirvana. These episodes focused on the the relationships between 太子 and 陆文昔, the pressures on the Emperor, and quite frankly, the inability of both of his sons to understand their father. If I’m honest, 萧定权 is a good kid, but man, can you be more rational? 

 

Alright! That’s it for today and that’s it for 鹤唳华亭!If you’re interested, please continue watching. If you want to watch the show and are in the US, it is on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special!  On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. If there’s more interest, we can explore doing more episodes. There’s a lot more history to discuss from here. Printing is one of them!

 

We will move onto the next drama – The Story of Yan Xi palace

 

Thank you all for listening

 

Ep 4-7

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. If you like what you hear in this podcast, please please please do us a favor and leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to!

 

This is the third of a 4 part series for the drama and today we will discuss the plot, characterization, and history of the first 4 episodes. We are breaking these podcast episodes to reflect the first couple of “cases” in the drama. As always, I’ll finish with a quick book comparison since the drama is based off of a book.

 

[Karen]

The case of the day is cheating at the imperial entrance exam! The imperial entrance exam is the most important exam in a scholar’s life and is a brutal marathon of an event. We will discuss it in more detail at the end of this podcast episode. For now, the key point is that this exam is overseen by court officials and is of the utmost importance to the Emperor. What happens?

 

In the second half of Episode 4 in 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana, we move on from the capping ceremony saga and turn to the imperial entrance exam that is coming up. This exam takes place once every three years in spring and is called 春闱.  The two primary examiners are 卢世瑜, the teacher of the Crown Prince or 太子, and 李柏舟, chancellor and father-in-law to 齐王 or Prince Qi, the older brother of our Crown Prince. It doesn’t take much to realize that you have the two brother’s represented on each side. As you can imagine for an exam that determines the future of the examinees and is the pipeline of talent for the empire, there is no room for error, and particularly, no room for cheating. 卢世瑜 and 李柏舟 oversee the sealing of the exam question that 卢世瑜 mocked up which is then locked safely away before it is unsealed at the beginning of the exam. Only these two men know what the test question is. 

 

The night before the exam starts, 太子 pays a visit to 卢世瑜 to wish him a happy birthday because his teacher’s birthday falls during the exam which means he won’t be able to celebrate it on the day. The crown prince is upset to find that his teacher wants to resign from office after the exam and burns his teacher’s resignation letter. In a sense, he’s acting as a child but it’s because he wants his teacher to remain close to him as one of his closest family. 

 

Meanwhile, 李柏舟 is out inspecting the exam rooms. There is one room in particular where the roof has been partially destroyed.

 

[Cathy]

Now let’s turn to the examinees. There are quite a number of them but there are two in particular we want to focus on at the beginning. The first is 顾逢恩, he is the cousin to 太子 and already a count. His title is 嘉义伯 which means he’s already a member of the aristocracy. As 太子 notes, 顾逢恩 technically doesn’t need to prove himself in the exam because he already has a high ranking title. We have talked about this in the Story of Ming Lan that members of nobility will be given titles and positions at court without having to pass any exam but to do so is an impressive feat. It means that the man wants to prove his intelligence and worth rather than rely on his family. This is the case with 顾逢恩。The other strapping young man partaking in the exam is 陆文普. The older brother of our female lead, 陆文昔。We haven’t seen the female lead outside of a brief interlude in the first episode but we now turn to her as she is helping her brother prep for the big day. 

 

The examinees, all wearing the uniform given to them for the exam, head into the examination center where they are closely searched to prevent anyone from bringing materials that would help them cheat. But, we do see one of the examinees bribe an official to allow him to bring a cheat sheet. The rest get in without issue. 

 

[Karen]

Let’s pause the recap here to insert the history and provide some more context on the Imperial Entrance Exam. We did this for episode 12 of the Story of Ming Lan but this is a good reminder for our listeners and new listeners.

 

科举 or the Imperial Examination was formally established during the Sui dynasty. It was how men were chosen to be a part of the state bureaucracy through a more meritocratic method.  This was the ticket for men to rise up in the world. 

 

In the drama, we don’t hear exactly which exam this is but i would say that it would be the 会试 or the metropolitan exam because that’s during the spring and also known as 春闱, which is explicitly discussed in the drama. 会试 or the metropolitan exam was actually added in the 明 dynasty. This exam was of course taken in the capital city. Overall, the imperial examination continued through the centuries. The final exam took place in 1905.

 

There are various subjects or disciplines that you can take the exam for. The most difficult is 进士科 or the 进士 discipline or presented scholar. For the 进士 discipline, test takers were required to have a thorough knowledge on Confucian classics, history, poems, rhapsodies, inscriptions, political discourse and much more. Poems and rhapsodies were actually abolished later in the 宋 dynasty as a testing requirement. The reason is that, even if someone can write beautiful poetry, if he does not know the classics, how can he govern? This is the most rigorous discipline and the one, if you score well, will give you the best chances for entering court and climbing the ranks, so much so that it became a prerequisite for high office. Well it also does offer prestige and status. After the song dynasty, the other disciplines were slowly phased out.

 

The exams take place once every 3 years.. For the exams, especially the metropolitan exams, they span over several days. In the Ming dynasty, examinees would be required to participate in 3 sessions each lasting 3 days for the various topics covered, which is more akin to what we see here. Many could not handle the rigor and simply passed out. 

 

[Cathy]

Throughout the years, there have been various changes to the examination in order to make it more fair so to speak. Essentially it’s to quash corruption and cheating.  Exam takers are sequestered into exam rooms in the examination hall. They are not allowed to meet or talk to anyone. They’re stuck there basically. None of the materials they bring can have any writing on it.

 

Rules were set to reduce bribery, corruption, and cheating. Some measures included that the attending examiners could not be from the same county or prefecture where the exam is taking place. Names on the exam papers were covered in order to anonymize the exam papers.It’s not to say cheating didn’t happen, but yea…it was tough to cheat. 

 

This is very relevant for these episodes because the whole case is of course about cheating! One weird thing I noticed though, according to my research the exams were held on 二月初九至十五日 of the lunar calendar; that’s around March in the gregorian calendar. Um – i don’t think it should be snowing THAT much.

 

[Karen]

Now back to the recap!

 

It isn’t long before the guards are alerted of fraud. All of the exam takers are pulled outside and stripped of their clothes to find evidence of cheating. Unsurprisingly, there’s quite a lot of cheat sheets. 卢世瑜 and 李柏舟 are alerted to the fact that the actual exam question was leaked. Only 2 people have seen it, and that’s only 卢世瑜 and 李柏舟 so how was this possible? After a thorough search of each examiner’s rooms, they find the exam question in 3 examinee’s rooms. Those of 顾逢恩,陆文普 and a new character 许昌平. 

 

 The men are taken to prison for questioning and the scandal has alerted even the Emperor. 太子 is of course worried about the turn of events because it involves one of his best friends and also his teacher. He wants to protect them and prove their innocence. At the prison, he also comes face-to-face with 陆文昔, our female lead who turns up to try to save her brother. Of note, 陆文昔 wears a cap with a veil to protect her face. As is customary of the time, women of gentry who were not married were not supposed to reveal their faces to men not within their family. After thorough questioning by the Crown Prince in prison and also by 卢世瑜, the Crown Prince’s teacher, the biggest suspect for how the exam question was leaked was 卢世瑜’s close servant, 赵叟( sou3).

 

Who is the person most gleeful about this turn of events? It’s 李柏舟. From 太子‘s questioning, it turns out that plenty of cheating occured because 李柏舟 allowed it to happen. The goal being to push the blame of such cheating onto 卢世瑜。 But that doesn’t explain how the exam question was leaked. And indeed, it was this elderly 赵叟 that stole the question and faked the seal to make it seem like no one had opened it. The motivation for him was to steal the question for his relative, 许昌平 who was taking the exam. Problem is that 赵叟 was discovered by 李柏舟 whilst in the act of theft and told to do his bidding. The aim for 李柏舟 is of course to topple 卢世瑜 with this scandal.

 

[Cathy]

At this point, the emperor and 齐王 arrive to follow up on this scandal. 齐王 gloats about the fate that befalls the likes of 顾逢恩 who will be punished for cheating. It doesn’t look good for the crown prince’s crew as they are implicated in leaking the exam question. 太子, however, wonders aloud to the group what happens if the exam question appears at the manor of 齐王? The group is stunned. How could that be? In fact, 太子 planted the exam question at 齐王’s manor because 许昌平 conspired with 齐王 to plant the leaked exam questions into the rooms of 顾逢恩 and 陆文普。 These two men are innocent while 齐王 and 许昌平 are not. 

 

[Karen]

In episode 7, the examinees are released to continue taking the exam and at first glance it looks like 太子 has once again one the fight against 齐王 and 李柏舟。But unfortunately, the truth is revealed after 卢世瑜 discovers there’s a missing room number. Because there was a room that was unusable, the room numbers for the examinees was skipped by one in order to avoid that room where the roof was broken. This became a huge plothole that ultimately the Emperor also discovered. The entire cheating scandal was actually engineered at first by the Crown Prince himself. He was the one to create the opportunity for 赵叟 to steal the exam question and to lure 李柏舟 and 齐王 into the trap. And the falsified exam question replicas? Why the only person in the entier world that could falsify 卢世瑜’s handwriting that well is 太子 himself. But because 许昌平‘s instructions were to leave the leaked exam questions into specific rooms, they should have been at the wrong room due to one room being discounted. 太子 exposed himself by having the exam questions leaked in the original rooms they were meant for which means that he caused his friend and 陆文普 to unnecessarily be implicated. That plus the evidence of the duplicate document he created meant that there is ample evidence to prove that 太子 conspired against 齐王 and 李柏舟。 This is an unforgivable crime that could cost him his crown prince title. Fortunately or unfortunately for 太子, the Emperor has already decided on a scapegoat for him – his teacher 卢世瑜。To protect 太子 and keep his opponents at bay, 卢世瑜 agrees to retire from his post nad return home. This devastates 太子 but serves as a valuable lesson to him as to what he should and should not do as a Crown Prince. In the first scandal, he proved he was capable of protecting himself in political games but in this case, he showed that he shouldn’t use his intelligence to proactively attack others. This will only end poorly for him. 

 

In other items – we are also briefly introduced to 萧定楷; the 5th prince and younger son of 赵贵妃 or Noble Consort Zhao

 

 

[Cathy]

Before we move onto history – I do want to point out, in my humble opinion, a lot of bugs in whole case. Not to say that it wasn’t thrilling, but I sat on it a bit afterwards and kind of came to the conclusion that the players were very intelligent but the whole setup was flawed.

 

  1. For the actual exam question – i feel like it should have been a wax seal on the envelope? That would have made it MUCH hard to fake
  2. I know this was for plot purposes but in a regular cheating scandal, why would 赵叟 actually have to steal the paper to make a copy? He probably could have just read it, memorized it and then put it back. 
  3. The whole room situation is kind of weird. Wouldn’t there be someone missing an exam room if everything was pushed out? Wouldn’t someone be checking DURING the exam of where people are sitting? 

Again – I’m just nitpicking on the setup. The players playing the chess pieces were masters. Everyone except for the crown prince. It’s just the board that was created for them to play wasn’t as good.

 

 

[Karen]

Let’s now discuss history!

 

晨昏定省 – attend to one’s parents in the morning and evening. In episode 4, the crown prince goes to see the Emperor and formally bows.

 

According to the etiquette trainer for the series, they decided to have the crown prince use 再拜礼。 再拜礼 -> bow two times. This has been recorded as a formal bow in 仪礼 or the Book of the Etiquette and Ceremonial. This text was written and compiled during the Zhou Dynasty and contains information about propriety, rites, and customs of people during that time.

 

In the drama and the book, 太子 always asks 圣躬安和否. Is the Emperor well? But this is VERY formal? Usually it would be like – 你好么? But of course as the crown prince, he must be formal. 

 

This is listed in the book of rites of the proper etiquette for a son. The book of rites dates back to the Zhou dynasty, over 2000 years agao.

 

礼记·曲礼上:“凡为人子之礼,冬温而夏清,昏定而晨省. Hence we have 晨昏定省

 

 

[Cathy]

 

Let’s discuss the 3 dishes that constantly popped up for these couple of episodes and which of course, signified the resignation of 太子’s mentor and tutor.

 

The story goes like this – 张翰 with the courtesy name of 季鹰 lived during the early Western Jin dynasty, which ruled part of china from 265AD to 317AD. His father 张俨 was a high ranking official in the Eastern Wu kingdom. Shortly after his father died, the Western Jin dynasty conquered the kingdom. As such, he did have some amount of animosity towards this new ruling family. While talented, he was somewhat aloof. However, he nevertheless gained favor from the Emperor and rose to a high rank.

 

In 291 the Rebellion of the Eight Princes or 八王之乱 broke out, which was a series of civil wars with members of the royal family all vying to claim regency of the Emperor Hui of Jin who was developmentally disabled. Now 张翰, seeing this did not want to be caught in the conflict.

 

According to the Book of Jin, 张翰 saw the autumn winds and reminiscent of his childhood foods from the 吴淞sōng river. This is very close to modern day Shanghai. The foods included 莼菜 Watershield, 鲈脍 Weever, and 菰菜 Zizania latifolia or Manchurian wild rice. He decided that man should be content, resigned his post and retired.

 

He also wrote a poem called 思吴江歌 – ode to the wu river

 

秋风起兮木叶飞,吴江水兮鲈正肥。

三千里兮家未归,恨难禁兮仰天悲。

 

The autumn winds pick up with the leaves falling, the weever in the wu river are the fattest

I have not returned to my home three thousand miles away, it’s hard not to look up to the sky and lament

 

This story is the basis for the idiom 莼鲈之思 or to reminisce the watershield and weever

 

In the drama, 太子 knew immediately what his teacher meant when he listed those dishes. Despite his best efforts, by the end of episode 7, the crown prince had to personally gift these 3 dishes to his teachers for his mistakes.

 

[Cathy]

 

I’ll quickly close out on book differences. These events don’t happen in the book. 许昌平 is a mysterious man with an interesting background. He seems innocent enough here. He isn’t introduced to the Crown Prince until later in the book. The drama also needed to introduce 陆文惜 earlier on in the drama and to showcase that she is an intelligent young woman. She and the Crown Prince are attracted to each other but what comes of it? Let’s continue to watch and find out.

 

[Karen]

And there you have it! Episodes 4-7 of Royal Nirvana. We learned quite a bit about the imperial entrance exam but also about the cost of trying to harm others. If you want to watch the show and are in the US, it is on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special!  On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. F

 

Alright! That’s it for today! For the remaining episodes of our podcast series, we will move onto the Archery competition case. 

 

Thank you all for listening

 

Ep 1-4

 

[Karen]

 

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

 

Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. 

 

This is the first of a 4 part series for the drama and today we will provide a high level overview of what the drama is about, introduce key characters and the actors that portray them as well as some historical insights. As with many dramas, this one is based off a book of the same name which we will also discuss. 

 

[Cathy]

 

鹤唳华亭

 

Royal Nirvana or 鹤唳华亭 is a 60 episode historical Chinese drama that first premiered in November 2019. It stars Luo Jin and Li Yi Tong as the main male and female lead respectively. We move away from our last two dramas that were primarily female focused and revolved around the trials and tribulations of women during their lifetimes. In this drama, we shift more to the male perspective. Specifically, we observe the challenges of a crown prince desperate to do the right thing and keep his loved ones close to him while contending with both personal and political challenges. At the personal level, he has an older brother that wants to take his crown and a father who is dealing with his own emotional baggage of his deceased wife, the crown prince’s mother that manifests in unfair treatment of the crown prince. At the political level, he must protect his title and his allies from the factions on his brother’s side. Mix all that in with a love interest whose family was wrongfully executed and we have the general conflict of this story. 

 

For me, there are 2 primary reasons to watch this drama.

  1. Male lead acting and the acting of the seasoned supporting cast. 
  2. History/Culture

 

Let’s get a little more into the first reason by introducing the cast of this drama.

 

[Karen]

罗晋 饰 萧定权 – Born in 1981 in Jiang Xi Province. He graduated from the Beijing Film Academy and is married to the lovely actress Tiffany Tang or 唐嫣 whom he worked with several times。They are one of THE model couples in the Chinese entertainment industry. He first garnered attention in the 2010 drama 美人心计 Beauty’s Rival in Palace which starred Ruby Lin or 林心如。That was the first drama that I saw him in. He bopped around a few dramas here and there but got his big break in the 2017 hit drama, 锦绣未央 or Princess Wei Yong which he starred as the male lead with his wife Tiffany Tang. It was after that drama that the two confirmed their relationship and started a family. 

 

He solidified his status as an actor with his turn in this drama, Royal Nirvana or 鹤唳华亭 in his role as the crown prince 萧定权。He is the third son of the Emperor but the son of the late Empress which means he has a more legitimate claim to the throne and was named crown prince at a young age. In the drama, he’s supposed to be in his late teens or early 20s which did cause some derision from viewers when the drama first aired because 罗晋 was in his mid 30s while filming this but his acting won audiences over. In this role, he portrays the role of a young man eager for validation and love of those around him but one who is beaten down constantly by his title and responsibility as crown prince. Luo Jin is shedding tears constantly. I don’t think I’ve seen a male actor have to cry this many times in a role in quite some time. You see glimpses of his boyishness when he meets his love interest or when he’s with his friends and teacher but then for much of the drama he has to manage his despair at the unfairness placed upon him due to his responsibilities. It’s quite captivating to watch. 

 

[Cathy]

李一桐 饰 顾阿宝/陆文昔- Born in 1990 in 山东 province, she graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy. She got her start in acting in the 2016 drama Demon Girl or 半妖倾城. She landed the title role of 黄蓉 in the 2017 remake of Legend of the Condor Heroes. That show was quite a decent remake. Much better than the other more recent WuXia remakes. 李一桐 has been the female lead of several other dramas such as 剑王朝 or Sword Dynasty and 骊lí歌行 or Court Lady. Most recently her show 特战荣耀 or Glory of the Special Forces just finished airing.

 

李一桐 is somewhat of an interesting actress. She’s quite good at acting and lands the lead roles in these dramas, however, she’s never really made it to the top echelon of popularity. Her fans might take offense, but I think the overarching reaction to her is, she’s kind of forgettable? The roles she takes don’t really give her much of a chance to shine. It’s either the male lead that gets the attention or else the overall storyline isn’t as good and kind of wastes her talent.

 

Royal Nirvana and Legend of the Condor Heroes are definitely the most well regarded dramas in her filmography. 李一桐’s character in the drama is a complex one. In the beginning, she’s the intelligent and beautiful 陆文昔. She had a loving family and a bright future ahead of her, namely, marrying well. Unfortunately, her family was dragged into a political scandal. Her father was executed. To save her family, 陆文昔 had no choice but to infiltrate the Crown Prince’s palace under the name of 顾阿宝. She must seek revenge, protect her family, and navigate her complex relationship with the Crown Prince.

 

Let’s actually move on to the older generation of actors

 

[Karen]

黄志忠 饰 萧睿鉴 or the Current Emperor.- This guy is a powerhouse actor and you can tell that while Luo Jin does a fine job in his role, it’s the older actors that make this drama even more intriguing. 黄志忠 is one of them. He graduated from the Central Academy of Drama and was born in Tian Jing Province. Overseas audiences might not know him very well as he primarily focuses on war or family dramas that the older generation would enjoy. I was first introduced to him in the 2009 drama called 人间正道是沧桑 or The Road We Have Taken, a Chinese civil war drama which won both the Golden Eagle Award and the Magnolia Award For Best Drama, two of the highest tv drama awards one can receive. (Wow, every time we say these things I totally feel old). Anyways, I didn’t recognize him at first with his mustache in the drama but I was like, hey, this Emperor is a great actor, I’m really impressed. Only to then realize – oh duh, that’s Huang Zhi Zhong. 

 

To be honest, I think he is one of the most interesting characters in the drama. Huang Zhi ZHong gives a powerfully nuanced performance of an Emperor who struggles to balance his authority as an Emperor and love as a father, particularly towards his di chu son who he is conflicted with because of his love towards his late wife, the crown prince’s mother. You want to say he’s a bad father for his unfair treatment of the crown prince but there was a powerful scene where he blows up at his concubine in defense of the crown prince. The key takeaway for me from this drama is that these people all need family therapy. Family therapy will result in a much happier outcome for everyone!

 

李柏舟 – 张志坚 – He is the Oldest Prince’s father-in-law and one of the most powerful officials in Court. He is played by 张志坚, another powerhouse actor. I think in every show I’ve seen him in, he’s the bad guy. He had a role in The Road We Have Taken I mentioned earlier and is also highly well known from his role in 人民的名义 or The Name of The People. That was a 2017 drama about anti-corruption which broke a ton of viewership records at the time. And 张志坚 was, spoiler alert, the big bad. He even was the bad guy in My Dear Guardian last year in that drama with Li Qin and Huang Jing Yu. Anyways, in this drama, Zhang Zhi Jian is a formidable foe to the Crown Prince.

 

王劲松 饰 卢世瑜

[Cathy]

Born in 1967 in Jiansu province, 王劲松 was trained as a stage actor in the city of 南京. He is most famous for his roles in 大明王朝1566  Ming Dynasty in 1566 (2007), Nirvana in Fire (2015) 琅琊榜, Sparrow (2016) 麻雀, and The Advisors Alliance (2017) 军事联盟. For me, he really rose to fame due to his role as the 言阙 in琅琊榜. He did a fantastic job in that role and the drama really kickstarted his career. If you look at his most recent output, he’s had at least 5 dramas air yearly since 2018. He might not be the lead but he very much gets important supporting roles. Honestly, when he’s on screen, you can’t help but pay attention. That’s very much the case in this drama. He plays 卢世瑜, Minister of personnel and Grand tutor to the Crown Prince. He is the father figure to the Crown Prince and taught him how to become a man. Unfortunately, to protect his beloved pupil, he gave the ultimate sacrifice. The Crown Prince grew up to be a benevolent man, maybe to a fault. Does his teacher regret how his pupil turned out? Perhaps not but maybe this benevolence wasn’t a good fit for a future emperor.

 

刘德凯 饰 顾思林

 

Born in 1953, 刘德凯 hails from Taiwan. He was once one of the most popular actors in Taiwan. He rose to fame acting in many 琼瑶 dramas in the 90s, especially the original 一帘幽梦 or Fantasies behind the Pearly Curtain. That came out in 1996 and was a smash hit. Although, ladies and gentlemen, I would NOT recommend that drama for plot purposes. It’s very outdated in my eyes. Like the main character is wrong in every count. In 2002, he acted in 孝庄秘史 or the Xiaozhuang epic. That was an instant classic. The plot, the acting, and the music were all top notch. I highly recommend this drama to anyone today. 刘德凯 portrayed Hong Taiji, the founding emperor of the Qing Dynasty. 

 

He’s had steady output over the past 2 decades so he may be pretty familiar to folks who watch a decent amount of Chinese dramas. 

 

 顾思林 in the drama is the Marquis of Wu De 武德. He is the Crown Prince’s maternal uncle and comes from the heralded 顾 family. He is 萧定权’s shield and does his best to protect his nephew. Unfortunately, the Emperor is at odds with the amount of military power the 顾 family wields.

 

苗圃 饰 赵贵妃

 

The last of the older generation of actors includes 苗圃 pǔ 饰 赵贵妃. Born in 1977, 苗圃’s parents were both stage performers. She graduated from the Beijing Film Academy and has since had a very illustrious career both in dramas and film. Some highlights include May Sophora Flower Perfume 五月槐huái花香, The Judge in Song Dynasty 大宋提刑官 which both came out in 2005 and Mu Guiying Takes Command 穆桂英挂帅 which came out in 2012. In that drama, 苗圃 and 罗晋 collaborated for the first time. 穆桂英 is a famous female heroine of the Northern Song Dynasty in which she participated in battles against the Khitans. Her story is quite legendary and folks who aren’t familiar with her story should definitely go check it out.

 

苗圃 has reduced her output in recent years but she’s still a great actress. I do want to point out again the issue that is prevalent in both hollywood and chinese media, namely pairing age appropriate men with women. 苗圃 and 罗晋 collaborated for the first time in 2012, they acted as husband and wife. Less than 10 years later, 苗圃 is now the mother-in-law while 罗晋 is still the main lead now with a romantic relationship to someone 10 years younger. 罗晋 does a great job in this role BUT in the story, he’s supposed to be only 20. Mid-30s is definitely stretching it, whereas 苗圃 is actually age appropriate in this role.

 

Concubine Zhao is the mother of Xiao Dingtang and Xiao Dingkai. She is power hungry and plots to overthrow the Crown Prince to install her son Xiao Dingtang as the Crown Prince and future emperor.

 

As for the younger generation of actors, we have  

[Karen]

金瀚 饰 萧定棠, the oldest son of the Emperor and is constantly at odds with his brother. A little cliched now in the conflict but Xiao Ding Tang wants the title of crown prince himself and has the backing of his powerful father in law. 

 

Jin Han I thought did an OK job in this drama portraying this prince but last year was ridiculed by pretty much every reviewer after his portrayal of the male lead in Jun Jiu Ling 君九龄 . People would often comment on how he was acceptable in Royal Nirvana but his attractiveness went down several notches for Jun Jiu Ling. That is to say, people prefer Royal Nirvana. Haha

 

郑业成 饰 顾逢恩 – Cousin to the Prince and his trusted friend. I really like the character in the drama as well as Zheng Ye Cheng as well. He is slowly gaining more popularity with his more recent dramas including My Sassy Princess 祝卿好. Part of the reason is that he has a background in Chinese Opera which means he can do martial arts very well and has a strong level of stage presence. This quality is something that is quite lacking in the Chinese entertainment industry these days so many fans are now recognizing that Zheng Ye Cheng is one of the few who can actually do fight scenes and has good posture. Unlike, unfortunately, Jin Han. 

 

 

That covered much of the cast! Let’s now move onto a little bit of culture and history!

 

鹤唳华亭 meaning

 

The name of the drama comes from the anecdote – 华亭鹤唳 岂可复闻乎. It was spoken by a Western Jin scholar 陆机 before his death. 陆机 was born in 261 AD and was a scholar originally from the Wu Kingdom but then headed to the Jin Kingdom after the Wu Kingdom’s demise. 华亭 is actually the historical name for Song Jiang area of modern day ShangHai. He wanted to make a name for himself and was embroiled in the political battles for power. He was too eager to continue climbing and led troops into a trap. Realizing that he was doomed to fail, he resigned himself to his fate and uttered the words 华亭鹤唳 岂可复闻乎 which in plain terms means, Where can I hear again the Heron’s birdsong from Hua Ting. This phrase represents his regret for taking the path to becoming a scholar which led him to his demise. It’s an interesting anecdote and applies to this drama in that the crown prince just wants to enjoy a simple life of love and happiness but his title means this wish will forever be out of his grasp. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Now let’s get onto the second reason why this is an interesting drama to watch:

 

The drama is set in a fictional world, but it draws heavily from the end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period to the early Northern Song Dynasty, so 10th Century to 11th century AD. For those listeners who just finished the Story of Ming Lan with us, you’ll see many similarities in dress and customs, especially for men. However, it’s a little bit different for the women. 

 

I’m very happy to be able to have dramas like this show us just how much detail went into recreating this era. As we discuss the drama, we’ll discuss the main events that occur and the historical significance of these events. I’m very excited! The production crew for Royal Nirvana went painstakingly through much research to try and recreate the costumes and customs of that era. In a behind the scenes video, the etiquette coach shares that they created almost 30 types of greetings for each possible character and setting. We’ve rarely seen such detail to etiquette especially amongst men so please keep an eye out on them. Similarly, many events in this drama such as the Crown Prince’s capping ceremony are simply not shown in tv dramas, so it’s a real treat to see it here in this drama. What fascinates me about this drama but also all the dramas we talked about, is that, there’s written accounts of how things are done, but it’s very difficult to tease out how in motion things were done. For example, a bow can be clearly stated as right hand on top for women, but how is that done in action when bowing to the empress, to the princess, to a senior official? There were no cameras back then so it’s up to the drama to work with historians to present this us the audience. 

 

I will say that this drama might even be a little too dense for audiences with just how chalk full of culture and etiquette this drama has. 

 

 

The drama is based on the book of the same name. The author 雪满梁园 was also a screenwriter for this drama, which is probably why it translated well to the drama. Many of the people and events that were only mentioned in passing in the book are fully fleshed out in the drama. This includes 李柏舟 and 卢世瑜. 

 

The book, published in 2014, is written quite beautifully. It is a much more difficult read than for example the Story of Ming Lan or the book that drama is based off of. The reader does have to be more familiar with the ancient texts that the author references. The dialogue is also much more subtle. I, as the reader, really had to spend time comprehending all of the twists and turns that occur in the book because it’s rarely stated outright. I personally enjoy books where there’s no time traveling involved more. Because the characters really inhabit the world and it’s how they actually react based on the cards they are dealt with. Oftentimes, for books in which the main character time travels, he / she just uses his / her knowledge from her previous life to “win” at this new life. That was basically the case in the book for the Story of Ming Lan. In this book, I really felt the struggles and desires and ultimate helplessness of many of these characters. For this drama recap, I’ll do my best to point out the differences and similarities to the book. 

 

[Karen]

The drama, like the book, isn’t a very happy one. 

 

Well, there are two endings for the drama. Royal Nirvana has 60 episodes and there’s a Royal Nirvana Special with 12 episodes. In chinese it’s called 别云间 which premiered a year later in 2020. It’s essentially content that the director had to cut from the original version of Royal Nirvana but was like meh here you go, I’m going to splice together what I was going to show for the full drama. 

 

Now where can you watch this? Both Royal Nirvana and the special meaning 鹤唳华亭 and 别云间 are available on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special! This drama WILL make you cry but it will also be binge worthy. I literally binged like 20 episodes over 3 days. Not healthy but hey, that’s the joy of Chinese dramas right? On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. For those of you not in the states, it’s available on youtube as well. 

 

Alright! That’s our introduction to the drama! For the remainder three episodes of our podcast series, we will discuss several cases that span multiple episodes. They are quite interesting as each case is based on an important facet of Chinese history – we will start off with the Crown Prince’s Coronation ceremony case, then move on to the Imperial Entrance Exam Case, and finally the Archery competition case. 

 

 

玉珠九旒 liu2

https://www.sohu.com/a/352156791_99992249

 

Ep 6+7

 

[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 6+7 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 or else the drama if the episode is light on history.

 

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 so do take a look at that as well. The Story of Ming Lan episode transcripts are fully uploaded for those that are interested in reading. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know! 

 

[Karen]

We are reminded that while there’s plenty happening in the palace, Ying Luo’s primary motivation for being in the palace in the first place is to discover the truth about her sister’s death. She makes some headway after rather directly questioning Zhang Mo Mo who manages the seamstresses in the palace. It turns out that Ying Luo’s sister was caught one night after having an amorous relationship with someone. Despite her saying she did it willingly, she was punished to 50 canings and expelled from the palace. Zhang Mo mo further explained that sadly, Ying Luo’s sister hung herself of shame but was shocked to hear that Ying Luo reveal someone actually murdered her sister. She then produces a jade pendant she retrieved from her sister’s belongings. Zhang Mo Mo reluctantly reveals this pendant belongs to Fu Cha Fu Heng. And now, 璎珞 has more clues and another target. For now, she suspects that Fu Heng was the one to potentially rape her sister and cause her death.

 

We next turn to the concubines in the palace and see first hand just how little the soft spoken 纯妃 wants to see the Emperor. It appears that every night or at least often enough, she takes cold baths in order to make herself sick. And, on the occasion that the Emperor DOES visit, she tries all manner of things to push him out. This time, she raises her concerns about how disrespectful 高贵妃 is towards the Empress and wonders why the Emperor condones this behavior. 纯妃 skillfully raises her concerns about the Emperor’s predicament at court which infuriates the Emperor. As we all know, women in the palace are not to discuss or involve themselves with affairs of court. The Emperor sternly remindsd 纯妃 of this rule before storming out. 纯妃 exhales a sigh of relief while the Emperor also recognizes this was just another ploy for 纯妃 to alienate him. It’s rather odd that she would do this because all women in the palace want the attention of the Emperor but not her. 

 

[Cathy]

 

In any case, the Emperor heads over to the Empress’s residence of 长春宫 ot let off some steam from what just happened. She tries to console him that 纯妃 isn’t purposefully behaving this way (even though we think she is) and changes the subject. The Empress proposes that the various palaces in the palace start cost cutting. There’s been too much lavish spending recently and will create wasteful behaviors if not reigned in. She wants to lead by example first by cost cutting first and foremost in her palace. The Emperor doesn’t have much to say to this and agrees. This cost cutting measure comes in handy for 璎珞 later on.

 

The big event that the seamstress maids now have to work on is creating a phoenix robe for the Empress for her birthday. Ying Luo has been given the role of lead for this project which, as expected, causes many of the other seamstress maids to pipe up in indignation. Chief among them is 玲珑 who must capture this opportunity to sabotage 璎珞。Her method involves the valuable peacock thread that 璎珞 is supposed to use for creating this phoenix robe for the Empress. As  璎珞 describes in the drama, this peacock thread uses peacock feathers as well as gold and silver thread mixed together for a beautiful thread. 

 

[Karen]

Ying Luo spent days creating this phoenix robe with the peacock thread and also alternated with the naive and simple-minded 吉祥 to watch over the robe and thread. One day though, Ying Luo finds that 吉祥 had come to find her and immediately recognized that something must be off. Indeed, after she rushes back to their main workstation, the robe has been slashed into pieces and the valuable peacock thread has also been stolen. I mean, it’s not hard to deduce who did it but the ladies don’t have time to think about the culprit for now. The Empress’s birthday is just around the corner and they have to create a robe or else the entire group of seamstresses will have to be sentenced for negligence. [Why didn’t they realize this to begin with???]

 

Under immense pressure to somehow save the seamstresses and the robe, 璎珞 finds an interesting substitute for the peacock thread and again spends sleepless nights making final touch ups to the recreated robe. 

 

It’s the day of the Empress’s birthday and all of the ladies are in their formal wear presenting their gifts to the Empress. Most of the concubines brought thoughtful gifts for the Empress but then Noble Consort Gao appears, conspicuously late I might add, and reveals her gift as a pure gold Child Gifting Guan Yin statue. Immediately the Empress’s face drops as this is essentially a slap in the face to her. This statue is given as a prayer to wish for more children. The Empress is still mourning the loss of her son and therefore this is quite a touchy subject. Noble Consort Gao is clearly insulting the Empress with this gift. ALl of the women present could see how disrespectful this is to the Empress but the EMpress cannot do anything but accept this gift with a smile. Unfortunately for Ying Luo, the Empress is now in an extremely bad mood. She is left waiting outside, preparing to present her robe as a gift and then purposefully tries to delay her presentation because she says she’s waiting for something. Just as she’s about to present her gift after not being able to delay any further, the Emperor’s gift arrives and she breathes a sigh of relief.

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor gifted the Empress an intricately modified clock that now is actually a makeup box but accurately tells time. There’s a little spot for the cuckoo to pop out to announce the time as well. Such an elaborate and thoughtful gift certainly brought a smile to the Empress but what was more satisfying is that Gao Gui Fei loudly announced she wasn’t feeling well and haughtily leaves the hall as she was jealous of the Empress for receiving such a grand gift. Jia Pin also leaves to follow 高贵妃. 

 

That part was hilarious cause she was SO pissed.

 

At long last, 璎珞 finally presents her robe to the Empress. It’s not lost on the crowd that the thread used is not the usual gold, silver or peacock thread. But, 璎珞 skillfully explains that the thread used animal fur as a way to reflect the Empress’s wish to reduce the extravagance in the palace and also remind everyone the hardships their ancestors underwent in order to establish the Qing dynasty. This does bring another smile to the Empress’s face and she accepts Ying Luo’s explanation. The Embroidery Department is given rewards for their good work, much to the disappointment of at least one seamstress.

 

[Karen]

 

Yet, that night, 璎珞 does not return back to the Embroidery Department. Instead, she kneels in front of the Empress’s palace and reveals her deception that day to both the Empress and 尔晴。 She explains that she had to use the fur thread because the peacock thread was stolen and had no choice. THe Empress said that she knows something must have been off but didn’t want to expose 璎珞 in front of the crowd and for something unpleasant to happen. She then presses why 璎珞 kept on delaying her presentation. 璎珞 reveals that it was to leverage the Emperor’s gift which will cause the Empress to be much happier which then will mean she won’t be AS displeased with Ying Luo’s gift.

 

The Empress does shout that this is too bold for a maid to use the Emperor in such a way and Ying Luo is adequately scared but does find that Ying Luo is quite amusing. It takes bravery for Ying Luo to come up with such an excuse and is quite intrigued by this maid. As punishment, the Empress orders Ying Luo to create another outfit for her but then, because the Empress thought Ying Luo was so interesting, orders Ying Luo to be moved over to serve in her palace.

 

We learn that Ying Luo proactively revealed the truth to the Empress with the express hope that she will get to move over to Chang Chun Gong in order to get closer to 傅恒 to discover the truth about her sister. 

 

[Cathy]

The remainder of episode 7 revolves around finding the culprit for who actually stole the peacock thread. Like I said, it’s not hard to deduce that 玲珑 was the one to do it. Yet, sadly, before they have enough evidence to raise that she was indeed the thief, she managed to trick the naive 吉祥 on her birthday into grabbing a package in the department. Unfortunately, the package just so happened to be the peacock thread that was stolen and the moment 吉祥 picked up the package, she was caught by 张嬷嬷 and 吴总管, the eunuch responsible for the Imperial Household Department. Despite 张嬷嬷“s pleads that there must be a mistake, 吴总管 orders 吉祥 to be beaten to death. 

 

If 吉祥 was the main character – she probably would have been saved by a dashing Imperial bodyguard. Alas – she’s just a minor character and bites the dust. I honestly was very surprised that they killed her off so quickly. I thought she’d at least stay for half of the series and have like a growth plot where she becomes a head seamstress or something. Good on the drama for showing us the real stakes of being in the palace. 

 

[Karen]

璎珞 is internally devastated but doesn’t show it to the rest of t he seamstresses. You know who does show her “devastation”? 玲珑. She’s over there crying her eyes out and saying all sorts of things like – omg, I’m so sad she died. I’m so bereft. Like – whatever, we know what you did.

 

璎珞’s work product falls drastically to the point where 张嬷嬷 has no choice but to offer the next opportunity to make a robe for the Emperor up to 玲珑. 璎珞 of course doesn’t want to lose that to 玲珑. The two ladies agree on a bet. The winner’s robe will be sent to the Emperor. 

 

One night 璎珞 tries to catch 玲珑 as the thief. 璎珞 tries to get 玲珑 to confess her crimes but 璎珞 doesn’t have enough evidence to pin it on her. I swear – does 玲珑 sleep at all? I feel she’s paying attention to 璎珞 every night. It must be exhausting. Sure enough – the night before the deadline, 璎珞 goes to sleep late and 玲珑 walks out of their sleeping quarters to do some shady stuff. We don’t see what she does though.

 

On the final day of the bet, Ying Luo wakes up late to see her work product switched. Ling Long stole YIng Luo’s completed outfit and presented it as her own. This was already brought over to the Emperor. Ling Long thought she would finally win this time but unbeknownst to her, Ying Luo had another trick up her sleeve. When the Emperor put on the outfit, he cried out in pain. Everyone in the palace freaks out to see that there was a needle left in the fabric that pricked the emperor. The Emperor is furious of course for such carelessness. Ling Long is taken away by 吴总管 but not before crying out that the outfit actually came from 璎珞. She is dragged off – her punishment, 80 canings and exile, never to return to the Beijing.

 

History

 

[Cathy]

虞美人

 

虞美人·炉香昼永龙烟白

 

The first poem that I want to discuss is 虞美人. This is the poem that the Emperor brings ups in his discussion with 纯妃. The author of the poem is 欧阳修. Born in 1007, he was a politician, calligrapher, and poet during the Northern Song Dynasty. He passed his imperial entrance exams in 1030 and that started his career as an official. He was a crucial member at court for 3 Emperors. 

 

The poem – The Beauty or 虞美人 is a ci. Ci is a type of lyric poetry. The whole poem goes like this.

炉香昼永龙烟白。风动金鸾额。画屏寒掩yǎn小山川。睡容初起枕痕圆。坠花钿。楼高不及烟霄xiāo半。望尽相思眼。艳阳刚爱挫cuò愁人。故生芳草碧连云。怨王孙。

 

My rough translation is of this – in the long white days, the Ambergis scent wafts from the incense burner. The wind gently moves the golden luan bird at the top of the curtains. The mountains on the panel screen slowly get darker. After waking from an afternoon nap, there’s still some remnants of pillow imprints. The 花钿 has also fallen. The highest towers can’t reach the sky. No matter how far one looks, one cannot see far. The spring sun mocks the melancholy person. The grass turns green. This scene only further adds to the yearning of ones beloved.

 

The Ci or poem is about a woman who is missing her beloved. She has nothing really to do during the day. Even during the sunny spring season, there’s an air of sadness as she waits for her beloved to return.

 

Back to the drama – the Emperor says that the Beauty plays with the fire and incense ash to write out her feelings. I didn’t really get that from this poem. Perhaps the Emperor was trying to get a response from 纯妃 to see if she was pining for someone, him perhaps? Unfortunately 纯妃 responds quite neutrally and successfully enrages the Emperor into leaving. She is thinking of someone but not him.

 

[Karen]

孔雀羽线

 

Next up is the gold peacock thread which is the main plot point of the episode! Gold peacock thread is a lost art from China. In 1958, archeologists unearthed a gold peacock threaded dragon robe that was worn by Emperor 万历 of the Ming Dynasty who lived from 1563-1620. There are photos of the gold threaded dragon with peacock feathers. Even after over 400 years, the needlework looks stunning. Apparently, some team tried to replicate the dragon robe. They gathered fallen peacock feathers and finally created a 300 meter thread to ultimately make a 17 meter robe. The whole process took 5 years. Now what about the golden thread? How does that work? This is also very difficult. First – the gold must be melted and then ground to a very fine consistency. Then, the gold needed to essentially be melded into the silk thread. Now I’m not a seamstress so apologies if I very much simplified the process. According to an early 清 dynasty book called 阅世编, one single foot of a peacock threaded fabric was worth 50 taels of silver. That’s a LOT of money. For comparison, one could comfortably buy a whole house in Bejiing with 20 taels of silver. The fabric was extremely rare which made it of course very valuable. 

 

In the book – 红楼梦 or Dream of the Red Mansion, there is a clear reference to a 孔雀裘 or a peacock cloak. The cloak was threaded together with peacock flowers. The book was first published in the middle of the 18th century, so right around the time of this drama. Through the contemporary book, we can see that peacock thread was used for the aristocracy. 

 

The 平金法 is the type of embroidery that 魏璎珞 uses to begin her embroidery for the ceremonial robe. It is one of the traditional types of embroidery from china. It is a Suzhou Silk Hand Embroidery Art. The 平金法 uses gold thread to primarily embroider flowers and waves. 

 

[Cathy]

送子观音

 

Avalokiteśvara -> avalokiteshvara

 

观音 is a bodhisattva (baaduhsaatvuh) associated with compassion. She is the East Asian equivalent of Avalokiteśvara from Buddism.

 

Songzi Guan yin is a manifestation of Guan Yin. SongZi translates to Child-giving. She is primarily venerated as a fertility goddess. In Chinese culture, people prayed to her for hopes of having children. Usually portrayed in statues and painting as a reclining white-robed young woman with a child sitting on her lap. In the drama, Noble Consort Gao gifts a gold version of this GuanYin. Everyone’s face turns white when they see this gift because it’s a big slap in the face to the Empress. She’s been mourning the death of her son and has barely come out of it. Noble Consort Gao has the gall to say – I’m still young but you aren’t! You should get going with a son. Man – I wanted to slap her in the face!

 

Today people still pray to Songzi Guan yin at different buddhist temples.

 

[Karen]

送钟

 

Let’s discuss the emperor’s gift to the empress. It wasn’t a clock but a makeup box. The eunuch 李玉 has a line that says, it’s not proper to gift these things during one’s birthday, hence why the Emperor ordered the clock office to change it to a makeup bock. 

 

We briefly talked about clocks in Empresses in the Palace so let me give a refresher. The first records of clocks in China actually date back to the Ming Dynasty in 1602. Clocks grew in popularity during the Qing dynasty. The most famous collector was actually Emperor 乾隆, our current emperor. One of the clocks in his collection sold at auction for roughly $7M in 2010. 

 

The Chinese were very superstitious and strove to avoid back luck from every aspect of their lives. This included language, gifts, and customs. One of the big no-nos was to gift a clock. This is because of the homonym of the word for clock. 钟 = clock. 终 = end, which could also mean the end of one’s life. 

 

To gift a clock 送钟 sounds exactly like 送终. Which means to attend to a dying person, or to pay one’s respects at a funeral. That’s a terrible homonym. Which is why in China, one never gifts a clock on one’s birthday. I feel like this custom has relaxed somewhat but in more traditional families, you bet that this is still adhered to.

 

In the drama, the eunuch never outright says 送钟 because that would have been a pretty disrespectful or essentially wishing her death. All he says is – it’s not proper to gift these THINGS. So yes – words are VERY important for this context.

 

[Cathy]

发誓 – swearing oaths

 

Lastly – I want to discuss the concept of 发誓 or swearing an oath. In the drama, 玲珑 swears oaths left right and center to gain the trust of the other women and throw them off her scent as the thief. This drastically backfires on her when she swears that she was the one who sewed the Emperor’s robes. 

 

In China – 发誓 or swearing an oath is something that is taken very seriously. In dramas, you’ll see characters swearing oaths of love or fealty. I feel like it’s the self-induced punishments are typically quite intense. It’s not your usual – I swear on my mother’s grave. Not to say that that isn’t a bad punishment, but let’s take a look at what 玲珑 swears the oath in front of 吉祥 – she says, I swear on the heavens that if I lie, I’ll die a horrible death. Some other people go even further and say I will be drawn and quartered or struck to death by lightning a la 天打雷劈 or 五雷轰顶, or I won’t be reincarnated. 

 

The reason why 吉祥 was so quick to believe 玲珑 – apart from her naivete, is because no one just willy nilly swears an oath. This was serious stuff. Sometimes, people swore in front of their elders or in the family shrine to declare duty, fealty, what have you. 玲珑 used this to her advantage, first against 吉祥 and again towards the other seamstresses. She swore that the Emperor’s robe was hers and the others believed her. Notice how 魏璎珞 didn’t swear? That was a big factor in the other’s decision. Of course, 魏璎珞 figured out that 玲珑 was lying scoundrel and used her oath against her. Typically in dramas, if a character reneges on his or her oath, she gets punished some way. Think karma. 玲珑 got caught here – so maybe it is karma. Moral of this story – don’t make oaths you can’t keep!

 

 

Ep 5

 

[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 5 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 or else the drama if the episode is light on history.

 

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. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know!

 

[Cathy]

Episode 5 showcases one of the reasons why this drama differentiates itself with other palace dramas in that we’re not subject to our lead character being framed by some bad guys and then having to wait for a random guy, usually the male lead, to save them for no apparent reason. This drama also negates the need for there to be growth on the main characters side before retaliating. I think we’ve seen plenty of dramas where the main female lead is way too nice and doesn’t fight back. Snooze. 

 

So what happens. At the end of episode 4, Ying Luo was called over to Noble Consort Gao or 高贵妃‘s palace because she found out Ying Luo told 愉贵人 about her nefarious poison attempt and 高贵妃 is upset her plot was foiled by some lowly seamstress maid like YIng Luo. Fortunately, Ying Luo was smart enough to hatch a plan which is to show she was mentally ill in front of 高贵妃 which allowed 高贵妃 to reduce her suspicion of Ying Luo and ultimately let her leave. The thing is, poor Ying Luo was subject to eating 7 full bowls of lotus rice balls in order to complete her ruse as a mentally slow individual. 

 

While this seems to have fooled 高贵妃,her ally, 嘉嫔 is not so easily tricked. She recognizes that if 璎珞 is indeed faking this, she must be a powerful adversary because she thought of a plan to save her life during the walk over to 高贵妃’s palace. Not many people can think so quickly on her feet.

 

[Karen]

 

Back at the maid’s quarters, 璎珞’s friend, 吉祥 is the only one worried about 璎珞‘s whereabouts while the others, namely 锦绣 and 玲珑 start gossiping that 璎珞 is probably out secretly meeting imperial guards. But these ladies are left speechless when they see 璎珞 return in one piece. 

 

The next day at breakfast after all the other ladies have left, 璎珞 point blank confronts the culprit who spilled the secret to 高贵妃. It wasn’t hard to deduce that it was 玲珑 who told 高贵妃’s maid in order for 高贵妃 to kill 璎珞。 玲珑 immediately goes pale at 璎珞’s accusations and tries to play innocence but 璎珞 is having none of it. She slams out a bowl of the lotus rice balls from last night down on the table to force 玲珑 to eat as a way to teach her a lesson to not snitch on people. This is highly satisfying as 玲珑 tries to refuse but 璎珞 is extremely forceful and shoves a ball into 玲珑‘s mouth to eat. Even as 玲珑 tries to cry out for help, she is rebuffed by 璎珞。璎珞 is an absolute beast in her retaliation and tells 玲珑 that this is a lesson for her to not use such vile tactics if she is jealous of someone. 玲珑 is reduced to crumpling to the ground after eating a couple of the rice balls and ultimately throws it up. I must say, we rarely get to see such a retaliation so early in a drama. Normally we see it towards the end where the female lead has suffered too much and turns “evil” but nope. In this drama, 璎珞 out the gate comes out swinging.

 

[Cathy]

One maid has been subdued at least for now, and another continues to wreak havoc. THis time, it’s 锦绣 with her rumors that 璎珞 is secretly in an amorous relationship with an imperial guard. We mentioned last episode that this is strictly forbidden in the palace which…gets relaxed in later episodes but anyways, for now this is taboo. As we recall, the guard 璎珞 met is 庆锡 who had a fling with 璎珞’s deceased sister and so 璎珞 met with him to get details about what happened. There’s no relationship whatsoever. That doesn’t stop 锦绣 from flaming the rumors to all of the seamstress maids who are willing to listen. 张嬷嬷, who manages the maids, kindly reminds 璎珞 about these rumors and that even though she believes 璎珞 there’s nothing going on, it’s important to figure out next steps. 

 

Shortly after, 璎珞 puts her plan in action. At night, she sneaks out and doesn’t return till morning, only to be followed by 锦绣 who saw her leave. 玲珑 also heard her leave their sleeping quarters. The next day, they head over to share this news with 方姑姑 another auntie who despises 璎珞 and wants to get rid of her. She wants 玲珑 to continue spying on 璎珞 in order to catch her in the act. 玲珑 is a little hesitant after the lesson she was taught by 璎珞 earlier but 锦绣 doesn’t mind. She is more than willing to help 方姑姑 spy on 璎珞。They confirm that the man 璎珞 met previously was 庆锡.

 

Next, 锦绣 sees 璎珞 actually give something to 庆锡 while he’s on duty before she hurriedly rushes away. 庆锡 is a little surprised to have received a gift but after seeing exactly what she gave him, he’s befuddled to see a rock. Unluckily for him, this scene was also observed by 傅恒 who punishes the guards for interacting with maids. Bad luck for 庆锡 I guess but we don’t know if this was also on purpose by 璎珞。 

 

[Karen]

Three months pass and the good old indicators that 璎珞 might be pregnant pop up. She feels gross during breakfast one day and rushes out to throw up. When 张嬷嬷 comes to measure the maids for new clothes, she remarks that 璎珞’s stomach grew substantially. This all piques 锦绣’s suspicion that 璎珞 might be pregnant. She confirms this as she spies 璎珞 changing clothes one day and her stomach is indeed quite a bit rounder than previous months. 锦绣 immediately tattles to 方姑姑 who then informs the higher ups. 

 

Since this is a serious accusation, all of the seamstresses are brought out to the yard as 璎珞 is interrogated by 吴公公,the eunuch who manages these maids. 方姑姑 has a huge smirk on her face accuses her in front of the group that she has conceived a child. 锦绣 is her witness to this accusation. 璎珞 adamantly refuses such claims and requires there be physical evidence before anyone can make judgement. 吴公公 agrees and has 璎珞 examined by two 嬷嬷 ultimately to see if she is indeed pregnant. 锦绣 and 方姑姑 are both strutting with their belief that they have 璎珞 in a corner. But, 璎珞 returns and the examining 嬷嬷 confirms that 璎珞 is still a virgin. How can she be pregnant?

 

This stuns 方姑姑 and 锦绣。Her stomach is indeed much bigger, how can she not be pregnant? 张嬷嬷 steps in to explain that ever since 璎珞 ate those lotus rice balls, she’s felt bloated so her stomach right now is just bloated. These two are almost like goldfish out of water, grasping for air as they realize they’ve been duped. 吴公公 at least is very fair and has no patience for the likes of 方姑姑 and 锦绣 who slander others. The two start tearing at each other’s throats, accusing the other of being the main instigator for this whole debacle which shows just how paper thin their alliance was. Each takes an opportunity to beg 璎珞 for forgiveness. But 璎珞 doesn’t have a bleeding heart that other dramas see. She doesn’t give 方姑姑 or 锦绣 a second chance and turns to 吴公公 to dole out punishment befitting of their crime. 

 

[Cathy]

吴公公 doesn’t hesitate and orders 锦绣 to be beaten with 20 canes and sent to 行者库 which is essentially a department for heavy labor. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes as, spoiler alert, 璎珞 also gets sent there later on in the drama. 方姑姑 is to be caned 40 times and expelled from the palace. 

 

Afterwards, 璎珞 visits 方姑姑 before she is kicked out and reveals that this was a plan all along. She purposefully snuck out numerous times in order to trick 方姑姑 and 锦绣 into thinking something was going on. And then she also had to create a real enlarged stomach so she went to the ceramic factory and procured some of their material that causes stomach bloating but isn’t harmful. With just that, these two fell for her trap. 

 

The episode ends with 璎珞 finally getting some answers from 方姑姑 about 璎珞’s sister. After rather forceful coaxing, 方姑姑 gives 璎珞 her sister’s belongings and also tells 璎珞 that her sister was expelled from the palace for having done something extremely shameful. Her last words to 璎珞 are to stop investigating her sister’s death because it will only cause her trouble in the future. 

 

And there we have it! Episode 5 was in one word, satisfying. 璎珞 got rid of two of her adversaries in the palace with relative ease but also because they weren’t too intelligent in their plot against 璎珞. It is important to realize that throughout this whole process, 玲珑 didn’t outright provoke 璎珞 but she certainly made hints to 锦绣 and 方姑姑 to lead them down their path. 

 

[Karen]

 

Up next is history!

 

We’ll continue on our discussion of fashion today with a focus on shoes!

 

I hope viewers have noticed that the costumes found in 延禧攻略 differ from what we saw in Empresses in the Palace and the Ruyi’s Love in the Palace. I’ve mentioned before that there are stylistic choices and liberties that all of the dramas take. 延禧攻略 is one that chose to accurately depict or more accurately depict shoes of the women in the Imperial Harem.

 

The shoes depicted in the show are called 元宝底鞋 or a Sycee Shoe. A sycee or 元宝 is a gold or silver currency that was used in Imperial China. They are often shown in Chinese dramas to showcase vast amounts of wealth. These   shoes are a type of 高底鞋 or high top shoe that were worn by Manchu women. 

 

Typically in Qing dynasty dramas, we see the flower pot bottom shoes 盆底鞋. They are also called horse hoof shoes for their shape. These are the shoes we saw worn by the ladies of the harem in Empresses in the Palace. Those were favored by the aristocracy in the late Qing period. 

 

Now, in some articles, I read that servants typically wore the sycee shoes or 元宝底鞋 and the concubines and noble ladies wore the flower pot bottom shoes. In others, it was more of an era situation. This drama chose the latter, as in all of the ladies, whether servants or the Empress herself, wore the sycee style shoes. 

 

For the sycee style shoes, the elevated section were typically made of wood with white cloth. The shoe portion was sewn on top of the wood. These shoes were usually styled with additional adornments such as tassels, embroidery, or jewelry.

 

Women in the Imperial Palace wore these shoes but for palace maids, it was fine to wear regular cotton or canvas shoes to work. It was more important to wear these shoes during formal events. In Chinese dramas, usually the servants are shown just wearing flat shoes, as is the case in Empresses in the Palace. For this drama, they chose to have all the ladies wear some form of these shoes.

 

[Cathy]

Next let’s talk about palace maids and the whole situation of leaving the palace.

 

In 1677, which is in the reign of Emperor 康熙 of the Qing Dynasty, the first rules were that palace maids left the palace at the age of 30. In 1723, during the reign of Emperor 雍正, that age was changed to 25 and became the standard.

 

For any palace maid who reached the age of 25 and had no strikes against her, was given rewards for her service. For the women who served the Empress Dowager, Empress, and high ranking concubines to the level of 嫔 or Concubine, their masters would gift the rewards. I read somewhere as a joke that a gift from the Empress Dowager was enough to buy a nice apartment in the Upper East Side of New York. 

 

If the maid served the lower ranked concubines, there were levels of rewards that were documented. For women who worked in the palace for over 15 years, they were rewarded 30 silver taels. For under 15 years to 10 years, they were rewarded 20 silver taels. For under 10 years of service, they were rewarded 10 silver taels. It’s quite hard to convert the value but I found a helpful article. During the reign of Emperor 乾隆, which is our emperor, the monthly rent of a nice 四合院 or family compound in beijing was around 1 silver tael. The monthly wage was about that much too. With 20 silver taels, you could buy a whole compound. So while 30 silver taels might not seem like a lot because the aristocracy just throws out values like 10 thousand taels, it is nevertheless not a small amount for the palace maids.

 

Now, if you were punished or expelled from the palace, you wouldn’t receive any awards. That’s what the character here was so bitter about. She was about to leave with probably a lot of money and now nothing. 

 

Once a palace maid leaves the palace, she could not re-enter the palace, she could not share any information, she couldn’t send people to check-in on her previous masters, and she couldn’t really keep ties with the palace eunuchs. Think as though you’ve signed an NDA. Or really, you quit your job from like the CIA and you are sworn to secrecy. 

 

I read in some comments, which, quite frankly, I agree with. The BEST option for these ladies was to reach the age of 25 and leave the palace. They got money and experience. Leave that Imperial Palace and live a cushy life in your mansion! Yes, there are instances of maids “making it” by becoming favored concubines. But that’s like few and far between. However, that’s the point of our story right? 魏璎珞 definitely doesn’t leave the palace at the age of 25.

 

[Karen]

END

 

And that is it for today’s episode! Hope you guys learned something today!  Just a couple of notes that I am still figuring out what intro music i want to learn and play for this drama so let me know if you have any thoughts. I do have to spend time learning it. Haha. 

 

If you are looking for a place to watching chinese dramas…

 

Thank you all so much