Dr. Tang (2022) 关于唐医生的一切

Summary: Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) is a very talented cardiothoracic surgeon who suddenly returns to China after spending years abroad. She is appointed as the director of Cardiology at the An He Hospital where she builds her own critical surgery team. She quickly wins over her team with her experience, skill, and grit. As she settles into her new role, she also begins building relationships with her fellow co-workers. However, a reminder from her past comes back to haunt her. She must find her way through professional and personal struggles as she must navigate the best paths for her patients and her heart.

 

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: June 25, 2022

Platform: CCTV8, iQiYi

 

Final Rating: 8/10

I decided to go down a Qin Lan (秦岚) rabbit hole since we’re covering The Story of Yanxi Palace (延禧攻略) for our main podcast. I saw previews and some fan videos of this drama during the summer with Qin Lan 秦岚 and Gao Lu 高露 (of famous Mistress Lin 林小娘 from The Story of Ming Lan 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦) so I thought, hey why not check it out!

I personally really enjoyed it. It was a down to earth drama that I thought did a great job telling individual stories, fleshing out characters, and developing our titular character of Tang Jia Yu 唐佳瑜. The plot moves quickly as Tang Jia Yu and her team diagnose and resolve over 20 cases over the course of this drama. Most of the show was focused on Tang Jia Yu and her relationships with her team and patients. The subplots were neatly connected back to the overall storyline.

This drama doesn’t skirt from the ethical questions that doctors must face when having to choose between the life of their patient and what is medically available, and I thought that really hit home with one of Tang Jia Yu’s patients. The drama also presents a pretty feminist lens as it gives the viewers different choices that different women take. The men, surprisingly, actually reflect on their choices and their goals.
I think 秦岚 really shone here by portraying the hardships of being a doctor, the struggles in her own personal life, and the resentment she feels towards her own family. But in general, I thought the acting from the cast was very comfortable, relaxed, and authentic.

I don’t watch that many medical dramas, so I don’t have much to compare. I’m also not a doctor so I don’t know how accurate any of the cases or the medical procedures are, but nothing really took me out of the experience, so as the casual viewer, it hit its mark.

 

Tang Jia Yu 唐佳瑜 – Qin Lan秦岚


The director of Cardiology at An He Ji Sheng Hospital. She at first seems to be cold-hearted and arrogant, but she’s really a kind-hearted and caring doctor who oftentimes builds personal relationships with her patients. Her patients are her top priority, often to the detriment of her personal life. She escapes back to China to flee from her personal life, but the same troubles come to find her. She finally agrees to support the development of artificial hearts once she sees the future benefits that it could have for her patients.

Ye Yi Ming 叶弈明 – Wei Da Xun 魏大勋


An anesthesiologist at An He Ji Sheng Hospital, he is a very caring and considerate guy. Hailing from a family of doctors, he chose anesthesiology instead of following in his father’s footsteps in surgery. He partners with Tang Jia Yu in several of her operations, and to their surprise, find that they make a great team. The two become closer but Tang Jia Yu needs to fight through her own demons before accepting him.

Liu Feng 刘沣 – Huang Jue 黄觉


Deputy dean of An He Ji Sheng Hospital and a Pulmonology surgeon, he is gunning for the role of Dean and was the one who invited Tang Jia Yu to take up the director position. The two dated some years back and he has always admired her skill and talent. He continues to be one of Tang Jia Yu’s biggest supporters especially in the development of artificial hearts. However, he is experiencing his own marital troubles that has him reassess his own career goals.

Ou Yang Zhen Yu 欧阳真予– Gao Lu 高露


The Medical Director at An He Ji Sheng Hospital and organ transplant coordinator. She is direct, meticulous, and unflinching. Because of her personality, she doesn’t have many friends but is viewed as a great employee. When Tang Jia Yu first arrives at the hospital, Ou Yang Zhen Yu wasn’t very pleased with this new doctor. However, after getting to know each other, they become each other’s best friend as they navigate their journeys at the hospital

 

 

Plot Overview:

Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) is a very talented cardiothoracic surgeon who suddenly returns to China after spending years abroad by invitation of Liu Feng, the current deputy dean of the An He Ji Sheng Hospital, to lead the cardiology department. She quickly forms her own critical illness team. Faced with swirling rumors between herself and Liu Feng because they used to date, she nonetheless wins over her team and the rest of the hospital with her experience, abilities, and perseverance.

As she settles into her new role, Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) finds a great operating partner in the form Ye Yi Ming, a rising star in the anesthesiology department. Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) moves into the unit next door to Ye Yi Ming due to its proximity to the hospital and the two begin to form a closer bond. Ye Yi Ming was warned by Liu Feng that dating Tang Jia Yu will have its own difficulties, but he nevertheless begins to fall for her.

As the new department lead, Tang Jia Yu (唐佳瑜) must also adhere to proper medical practices and procedures. These are overseen by the meticulous and distant Ou Yang Zhen Yu. The two women spar at first but they develop a begrudging respect for one another. The two quickly become friends after Ou Yang Zhen Yu comes to Yang Jia Yu for relationship advice.

 

The hospital believes that the R&D of artificial hearts will bring extra revenue to the hospital and hope that Tang Jia Yu will lead the research. However, she’s hesitant on this project as she believes she doesn’t have the time and energy to make it successful.

With each successful surgery, her team continues to learn from her, but individual team members each face their own personal pressures and must decide whether to continue a career in medicine.

The sudden return of Tang Jia Yu’s husband surprises everyone at the hospital, including Tang Jia Yu. He cheated on her with one of his students but wants to rekindle the relationship. She agrees to give him a chance. Ye Yi Ming is heartbroken at this news. However, Tang Jia Yu’s relationship woes are only compounded when her husband’s former fling also arrives to continue the affair. When the woman is diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Tang Jia Yu has no choice but to save her. After the surgery, Tang Jia Yu finally files for divorce from her husband.

Over the course of the drama, Tang Jia Yu is faced with constant challenges. Some difficult cases include what she must do when one of her friends falls into a coma while waiting for a new heart. Her stepsister has a rare heart condition, and she must decide whether to proceed with a surgery while pregnant.

Tang Jia Yu finally agrees to support the R&D for acritical hearts, but they collaborate with the engineer to agree on a proposal and obtain funding.

As Tang Jia Yu finds peace with her own career and family, she must finally choose the relationship that she wants to have with Ye Yi Ming.

 

Overall thoughts:

I binged watched this show in the summer and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.

To me at least, it wasn’t really a drama that was really a romance drama cloaked under a medical drama, but the opposite. Tang Jia Yu’s team had to solve medical cases and we saw the aftermath of how those cases impacted each of the characters. The focus was on the patients and the cases. The subplots and romances grew organically out of those cases.

I particularly enjoyed the range in cases that Tang Ji Yu and the rest her team had to face. I won’t spoil too much of them here, but many also involved ethical and financial questions. For example, how should a patient decide whether to move forward with a surgery if it will cost $40K but they don’t have the money? What if the patient does have the means to pay but that $40K will only buy a few more days of survival in hopes of finding another donor? What is the risk a patient is willing to take for not fully vetted treatment?

These are questions and cases that the characters in the drama need to choose. I liked that many of the answers were intentionally gray because those are tough choices!

In general, the whole drama just feels alive. The show doesn’t hesitate to show how tough life is for a doctor. Tang Jia Yu is constantly exhausted. She doesn’t cook. She looks frazzled and when she does have days off, all she wants to do is sleep. Hey, you know what, I totally feel her! I’m not a doctor but when work is really tough, that’s all I want to do as well. But when she is at work, she’s at the top of her game. She’s a badass surgeon who is also a tough but fair boss. That’s so refreshing because oftentimes, we just see female characters in Chinese dramas wearing heels and a full face of makeup performing the most ridiculous tasks that don’t fit their occupation at all.

I literally breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that all of the female doctors were wearing sneakers, had minimal makeup, and just put their hair up in a ponytail when not in the operating room. Based on what I know from my doctor friends, no one has time to get dolled up.

Which brings me to my next point. In the drama, each person has her or his own life and we only get a glimpse of it outside of the hospital. Which is good, because otherwise, it would be a different type of show. People are ambitious and behave as you would expect in the workplace. There isn’t really a “bad” person in the drama. The one “bad” character just has his own agenda, but he doesn’t try to sabotage a patient for the sake of a promotion.

We also find out more about the different characters based on their interactions with patients and hospital staff. Ou Yang Zhen Yu is an avid romance reader. There’s an attendant who is struggling to pay the bills because well, they aren’t paid that much. Another doctor is mourning the death of his fiancée. The Deputy Dean of the Hospital, Liu Feng, is shocked to hear that his wife is depressed but tries to make amends. Each subplot moves forward without bickering and cattiness.

The only person who is a bit of a wet noodle is unfortunately our male lead Ye Yi Ming叶弈明. He’s a nice guy or in Chinese a 暖男 (Warm Guy) that’s there to support Tang Jia Yu  and that’s about it. He’s just nice. Even his sister in the show is more interesting than him. That being said, that’s basically Wei Da Xun’s 魏大勋 M.O. He’s just the nice guy so this character fits the bill.

In general, the acting from the cast was great. As I mentioned, it was comfortable. The interactions between the characters didn’t feel forced and I thought they all did admirably in the surgery scenes.

The cast is filled out with many familiar faces including the aforementioned Gao Lu. The actress for Ming Yu in The Story of Ming Lan also makes an appearance. There’s tons of cameos from other actors and actresses so please do try to see who you recognize in the drama.

I liked that at the end of each episode where this is a case, the drama added doctors or had the cast provide more details about the medical illness or condition that was being treated. Again, I’m not a doctor but it did feel like the drama did its homework with regards to the individual cases.

 

I’ll take some points off due to the prolonged will they / won’t they relationship between Tang Jia Yu and Ye Yi Ming. That whole plotline went for way to long at the end. I totally didn’t understand why Tang Jia Yu just left him hanging for so long.

I also think that maybe the drama was a little too rosy? As in each person was ultimately a nice person or had grand gestures. Perhaps because this is a medical drama and the show wanted to bring out the best in people so that’s why they did it, but there was basically no truly selfish person in the show. Yes, it’s supposed to be a lighthearted drama but I thought it went a little overboard at some points. For example, a patient says that she has no money and another character basically says, don’t worry about it. I’ll pay for your tens of thousands of dollars operation. Uh – I don’t think that’s how it work? If it is, who does that and where can I sign up?

All in all, this was a very comforting watch. It’s nowhere near as dramatic as Grey’s Anatomy but it does tug at your heartstrings at certain points. I was rooting for all of our characters by the end of the drama and I hope you do too.

Let me know what you think!

 

Cathy

 

New Life Begins (2022) 卿卿日常

Summary: Set in a fictional world that is largely reminiscent of China, women from the 9 unique regions of the land are sent to Xin Chuan, the ruling region, to be selected as tribute for the princes of Xin Chuan. Li Wei tries desperately to avoid being selected but being the only tribute from Ji Chuan, she is matched to the unfavored 6th prince, Yin Zheng. This comedic story revolves around this unlikely pair as they grow together but is added unique color by the other princes and their respective wives.

 

 

Total Episode Count: 40

Initial Airing Date: Nov 10, 2022

Platform: iQiyi

 

Initial Rating: 6.9/10

New Life Begins aired with little fanfare but did quite well since, reaching over 9000 on the iQiyi popularity index in it’s first 28 hours of airing. My first thoughts from this drama is that this is a super easy and fun watch with many comedic moments that will have you burst out laughing, but the chemistry and acting of the main leads leave something to be desired. 

The drama’s strength actually lies in the supporting cast as the main female lead, Li Wei, is thrown into the world of the royal family. Each of the princes of Xin Chuan is unique and many of them adorable, their wives even more so. The 5th prince is a weakling who is not a strong student nor a good fighter but married a powerful princess as wife. You can only imagine what that’s like. The 3rd prince loves to believe he is the most handsome man in the land when the truth is quite the contrary, and he has a slew of concubines that have a better relationship with each other than with him. 

Because the wives or concubines of the princes come from different regions of the land, we do get to visit many different locales that are very reminiscent of different regions in China and so, it is a fun tour of the country as well.  It’s almost like the Hunger Games where people are characterized by the district they come from except here, there’s no fight to the death. Because there are so many regions, the cast is quite large and you’ll recognize many of them from different dramas. Joy of Life pops into my mind immediately.

In a refreshing change, all women support each other and work together despite coming from different backgrounds and competing in class which I find very heartwarming. I’m almost more inclined to just watch a drama of their day to day rather than focus on the relationship of the main pair.

I will report back after the drama airs on final thoughts!

-Karen

 

 

 

Main Characters

 

Li Wei 李薇 – Tian Xi Wei 田曦薇


The tribute from Ji Chuan 霁川, she has loving parents and an adorable younger brother who all want her to fail the selection process so she can return home with them. Unfortunately, their plans fall flat and Li Wei is sent to marry the 6th prince as a concubine. Li Wei doesn’t have too many skills but is quite the foodie. Though her kind hearted nature brings much needed warmth to the 6th prince’s home.

Yin Zheng, 6th prince 尹峥 – Bai Jing Ting 白敬亭 


The 6th prince of Xin Chuan. He recognizes the challenges of gaining his father’s favor because he has so many brothers and is also wary of his 2nd brother’s, heir apparent, authority. Yet he wants to fight for more. Incredibly bright and accomplished, he brings Li Wei into his home to help secure his political future. But after spending time with Li Wei, he begins to recognize that he enjoys her company and the relationships she’s helped him build in his own family. 

Yuan Ying 元英 – Liu Ling Zi 刘令姿


The business oriented princess from Jin Chuan 金川, Yuan Ying was ordered by her father to marry the 6th prince as his main wife. Yet she has no affection towards him. Instead, she helps train Li Wei to become an adequate partner to Yin Zheng and she helps Yin Zheng manage the household. She has high ambitions that are outside of household.

Hao Jia, 郝葭 – Chen Xiao Yun 陈小纭


Childhood friend of Li Wei. Hao Jia comes from Yan Chuan 胭川 and becomes the concubine of the 2nd Prince. Though she is learned in various arts and crafts, her family upbringing was challenging which turned her into someone who views marriage as a job. While she thought she was marrying someone who can take care of her, the reality is far from imagined.

Zhao Fang Ru 赵芳如 – Chen Zi Han 陈紫函


Wife of the 2nd prince, Zhao Fang Ru is outwardly cold but at her core a good person. She hails from Dai Chuan 黛川 and her family owns a number of mines。 This monetary strength made her a perfect match for the ambitious and conniving 2nd prince. 

Yin Song 尹嵩, Second Prince – Zhang Xiao Chen 张晓晨


The son of the main wife, the 2nd prince is an abusive husband and ruthless brother. He treats his wife and concubine as objects and restricts them from partaking in many activities.  He is also terrified that one of his brothers will impact his current political standing and tries to destroy all obstacles in his path.

Shang Guan Jing, 上官婧 – Fan Shuai Qi 范帅琦


The sister of the current ruler of Dan Chuan 丹川, Shang Guan Jing is an independent and martial arts oriented woman. She marries the 5th prince and becomes fast friends with Li Wei. She enjoys practicing martial arts and caring for her weapons while not caring much for academics. Shang Guan Jing tries her best to adjust to life in Xin Chuan despite coming from a place where women have more power than men whereas Xin Chuan is the opposite.

Yin Qi, 5th Prince 尹岐 – Chang Long 昌隆


Physically weak and not a great student, the 5th prince makes up for these weaknesses by being a supportive brother to the 6th prince and an adoring partner to his wife Shang Guan Jing. He is without a doubt the comedic relief of the cast.

Dong Hai Tang 董海棠- Liu Meng Meng 刘萌萌


The kind hearted wife of the 3rd prince, Hai Tang hails from Cang Chuan 苍川. She is left to take care of the 16 women her husband roped into their household but instead of being antagonistic, she creates a friendly environment with all of the concubines because they all dislike the 3rd prince and how he treats women.

Yin An, 3rd Prince 尹岸 – Liu Guan Lin 刘冠麟


An extremely pompous man with a wife and 16 concubines whom he named after Chinese solar terms. Problem is, apart from his wife, he cannot tell his concubines apart. He loves to consider himself one of the handsomest men in all of Xin Chuan and believes all of his actions are correct.

 

 

 

 

A Familiar Stranger (2022) 虚颜

Summary: A short drama where each episode is only 10 min, the story revolves around a fateful night where the stunning beauty Shen Qin, daughter of the Chancellor, seeks a painter, a young woman named Seventeen. Using Seventeen’s sister’s life to threaten her, Shen Qin forces Seventeen to take her place and marry the handsome general Xiao Han Sheng. But the catch is, Shen Qin swapped faces with Seventeen. Unbeknownst to Seventeen, this General turns out to be the exact young warrior that saved her life three years ago.

 

Total Episode Count: 18

Initial Airing Date: Sep 23, 2022

Platform: MangoTV

 

Final Rating: 7.5/10

This drama was recommended to us by a fan of Chasing Dramas and because it’s only 18 episodes long and 10 min each, I decided sure, let’s check it out. And I surprisingly really liked it! To me, it is one of the better dramas of the year. Short dramas have become more popular this year with episodes ranging from just 2 min to 20min. A rather different format from the standard 45 min dramas we’re used to but that doesn’t mean there’s no quality content!

My first impression is that this is the equivalent of a steamy romance novel brought to life. Because of its short episode length, the drama is very tightly and well written. The chemistry between the two main leads is palpable and you end up watching this drama with a smile on your face.  It’s cute, romantic and sometimes thrilling. The cast is relatively unknown but I think they did a great job. It is not a drama you can think too much about in terms of setting and cultural restrictions because there are some plot holes and questionable actions by key characters but that does not detract from a breezy and fun watch. The length was perfect for this drama.

 

Seventeen 十七/Shen Qin 沈沁 – Ke Ying 柯颖


Originally just a young painter at a brothel who specialized at portraits, Seventeen is forced to swap faces with the beautiful Shen Qin and takes her place to marry the handsome general, Xiao Han Sheng. However, she is stunned to find that he is the warrior that saved her life three years ago and whom she loved ever since. She is torn on how to behave given that she is threatened by the real Shen Qin to do her bidding in the General’s home.

Xiao Han Sheng 萧寒声 – Cheng Lei 丞磊


A young and kind General forced to marry Shen Qin, the daughter of the chancellor, even though he fell in love with a young woman he saved years ago. After spending time with Shen Qin though, he started to suspect that she is connected to the woman he loved.

Shen Qin 沈沁/Seventeen 十七 – Song Zhao Yi 宋昭艺


A cruel and manipulative woman with stunning beauty, she forces Seventeen to swap faces with her and marry Xiao Han Sheng so that she can stay with her love, the philandering Prince Ning.  

Prince Ning 宁王 – Wang Ze Xuan  王泽轩


A philandering prince with eyes on the throne, he instructs Shen Qin to marry Xiao Han Sheng in order to get intel on the Crown Prince’s death even though he had romantic liaisons with Shen Qin before marriage. But once she’s actually married, he starts becoming jealous of her new attachment to the general.

 

 

Plot Overview:

Young painter Seventeen is simply trying to make a living painting portraits and find her older sister when she is paid an unexpected visit by a mysterious but beautiful Shen Qin. She is the daughter of the Chancellor who must marry the general Xiao Han Sheng the next day. Using Seventeen’s sister as a threat, Shen Qin first forces Seventeen to paint Shen Qin while she’s having an amorous liaison with Prince Ning.  Despite Shen Qin’s protests, Prince Ning forces her to continue with their plan for Shen Qin to marry Xiao Han Sheng in order to gain intel on Xiao Han Sheng and their knowledge on the crown prince’s death. In order to escape the marriage, Shen Qin forces Seventeen to swap faces with her and sends Seventeen in her place.

When Seventeen wakes up, she shrieks in fright at seeing her new face and is shocked at the fact that she is now getting married. But even more surprising is that the man she is married to is precisely the man who saved her life three years ago and who she fell in love with. Xiao Han Sheng is a capable general who at first respects Shen Qin but also starts suspecting something was amiss when Shen Qin starts behaving like the woman he fell in love with.  How will Seventeen, now Shen Qin, act after being caught in between Xiao Han Sheng’s kindness and Shen Qin’s threats?

 

 

Overall thoughts:

This is a drama that falls into familiar tropes but the viewer accepts that because the pace of the show is so fast and the chemistry between the leads is so strong. You’re just happy to be along for the ride and watch the unfolding of the romance before your eyes.  It is a fairytale romance drama that even older viewers would enjoy.  I appreciated that there were more risque themes throughout the show which showcased some of the freedom that the director and writers have for this drama format. It was a refreshing change from the much more conservative turns for the popular romance dramas in recent years.

The best aspect of this drama is that because it is so short, there’s no need for any secondary plot points or storylines. It’s just this one main thread from start to finish. Many dramas nowadays add filler characters which can drag down the drama if not done well (looking at you The Blue Whisper). But here, there’s no concern with that. And because each episode is so short, you’re able to easily consume the entire drama with ease.

The acting for the cast was great, especially the two female leads who portray the different roles with a distinct contrast so you can easily tell when one is Shen Qin vs Seventeen. I also really enjoyed Xiao Han Sheng’s actor. He reminds me so much of Allen Ren with his earnest gaze and kind features. I hope this helps him garner more roles in the future. 

Plus, the cute little bumpkin that is Xiao Han Sheng’s adoptive daughter is just adorable. 

In terms of improvements, this is a drama you cannot spend too much time thinking about the details. You have to just willfully accept that a mysterious person can swap the faces of two people over night with no side effects and certain life-threatening injuries are healed pretty quickly.  And it’s quite obvious that this drama has a smaller budget but again, that does not detract from the quality show. As long as you enjoy the show in it’s little contained world, there’s plenty to enjoy. 

Let me know what you think!

 

Karen

 

The Blue Whisper (2022) 与君初相识 恰似故人归

Summary: Ji Yun He (ft Dilraba Dilmurat) is a powerful and talented spirit master who grew up in the Thousand Flower Valley. She dreams of freedom to explore the world but is restrained by the secrets that shackle every spirit master who resides in the valley.

Changyi (ft Allen Ren) is a merman who was captured by the cruel Fairy Shunde (ft Cristy Guo). She wants the spirit masters of the valley to subdue the merman for her pleasure. She has three demands: The merman must speak human words, cut his tail as a gift to her, and finally give his merpearl to swear loyalty to her.

At first, Lin Hao Qing (ft Aero Xiao), Ji Yun He’s adopted brother, accepts the task, but Ji Yun He requests to join in the efforts. She plan for her freedom from the valley in exchange for Changyi’s freedom. However, as she spends more time with the innocent Chang Yi, Ji Yun He finds herself struggling more and more to proceed with her plan. She must decide whether to sacrifice Changyi’s freedom for her own.

Total Episode Count: 42

Initial Airing Date: Mar 17, 2022

Platform: Youku

 

Final Rating: 6.5/10

The Blue Whisper was touted as an eastern fairy tale drama that tells a story of freedom, love, and sacrifice. I thought it was a serviceable drama that had some great highlights but also some pretty bad low points. This drama is an adaptation of the 2019 novel “Yu Jiao Ji” (驭鲛记) by Jiu Lu Fei Xiang (九鹭非香). She is the same author as 苍兰决 or the drama Love Between Fairy and Devil.

At first glance, this seems to be your typical immortal romance drama, but after the first few episodes, it becomes clear that most of the characters are fighting for a greater goal. Whether that is freedom of self, freedom of oppression, or freedom to love, each character is fighting for some form of freedom. Oftentimes, romance comes second.

Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is a female character who is powerful from the get-go. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) as a character is resourceful, intelligent, ambitious and driven. She’s also compassionate and loving. To me, this is mostly shown, yes with her interactions with Chang Yi (长意), but also her spirit attendant Luo Jin Sang / Luo Luo (洛锦桑 / 洛洛). She will unflinchingly be the first to save her friends and loved ones but she doesn’t do it without thought. She fights, she plans, she schemes to try and get the best outcome for everyone. Only when all else fails does she decide to make the ultimate sacrifice. It’s been a long while since we’ve seen a female character willing to do so. I thought the end message that true freedom is ultimately having the freedom to choose who you want to be, who you want to be with, and where you want be was a really touching one.

In a twist, it is our male lead, the merman Changyi (长意), who is the innocent outsider, unaware of the evils and trickery of people and has to undergo what he believes to be betrayal and growth to finally become the leader of the north.

The special effects were pretty good in this drama. The martial arts direction was top notch. In the first few episodes, there are group battle scenes that rely on both martial arts and special effects and the blend of both in this drama was a delight to watch because we rarely get those in the TV shows these days.

Overall, I thought the drama was a decent adaptation of the source material. The biggest misses in this drama and the reasons for my low rating are where the screenwriter decided to shoehorn entire storylines and change characters altogether.

This drama aired in March 2022 and was one of the top streaming dramas of March and April. This drama also increased user downloads and daily active users onto Youku’s platform.

Ji Yun He 纪云禾 – Dilraba Dilmurat 迪丽热巴


The strongest Spirit Master in the Thousand Flower Valley, she is outwardly ambitious and calculating but deep down she’s a caring and compassionate. She meets the innocent merman Changyi (长意) during one of her missions. She is touched by his innocence and the two gradually fall in love. However, seeing no other option to save his life, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) pretends to betray Changyi (长意) while she get’s captured. In her efforts to gain her freedom both from the Frost Mark in the Thousand Flower Valley and from the Fairy ShunDe, she endures humiliation and torture from her captors. Throughout the series, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) fights for freedom and equality for all of the celestial beings against the repressive regime of the Immortal Master.

Changyi 长意 – Allen Ren 任嘉伦


A Prince of the merpeople, Changyi (长意) was captured by Fairy Shunde when he rescued her in the ocean. He was sent to the Thousand Flower Valley for the spirit masters to subdue him to be a loyal servant for the Fairy. His innocence to the ways of the world moved Ji Yun He (纪云禾) who vowed to free him from his captivity. However, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) could only succeed by sacrificing herself and pushing Changyi (长意) off a cliff. Believing that he was betrayed, Changyi (长意) vows vengeance against Ji Yun He (纪云禾). He, along with Kong Ming, head north were Changyi (长意) becomes the leader of the north. He rescues a frail Ji Yun He (纪云禾) from captivity, but it’s too late to save her

Fairy Shunde 顺德仙姬 – Cristy Guo 郭晓婷


She is the most noble immortal in the the realms. She is arrogant, haughty, and cruel. As ruler, she gets whatever she wants but she only wants the love of her master, the Immortal Master. Discontent brews under her oppressive rule until finally a faction in the north rebels against her. After becoming disfigured from a fight against Ji Yun He (纪云禾), she seeks vengeance against all who wronged her. She finally discovers the truth of her master’s favoritism towards her, but this pushes her to the brink of madness and she vows to destroy the world.

Lin Hao Qing 林昊青 – Aero Xiao 肖顺尧


The Young Master of Thousand Flower Valley and Ji Yun He’s adopted brother, he always competed against Ji Yun He (纪云禾). Like Yun He, he’s outwardly calculating, cold, and ambitious but he’s always tried his best to protect Yun He from the worst of the world. He hid his love for Ji Yun He (纪云禾) throughout his life and sacrificed himself to be a pawn for Fairy Shunde so that Ji Yun He (纪云禾) and Changyi (长意) might have a chance to finally defeat her

Xue San Yue 雪三月 – Fiona Fan 范桢 


A spirit master, she is Ji Yun He’s best sister-in-arms. She seems at first stern and distant. She harbors a secret. She is in love with the cat spirit Li Shu (离殊). She tries to flee with Li Shu (离殊) with the help of Ji Yun He (纪云禾) but Li Shu (离殊) has different plans.

Li Shu 离殊 – Ci Sha 此沙


A cat spirit who is Xue san Yue (雪三月)’s spirit attendant and lover. At first, he targeted Xue San Yue (雪三月) to enter into the Thousand Flower Valley in order to save the Blue Feather Bird, who had once saved him in his youth. However, he truly fell in love with Xue San Yue (雪三月) and willingly sacrificed himself to protect her

Luo Jin Sang / Luo Luo 洛锦桑 – Hu Yi Xuan 胡意旋 


A butterfly spirit who is Ji Yun He’s spirit attendant. She is Ji Yun He (纪云禾)’s only friend an confidant, who in the beginning, was only thinking about earning spirit stones to buy goodies to eat. When Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is held captive by Fairy ShunDe, Luo Luo does everything she can to try and free her friend.

Kong Ming 空明 – Wang Zi Teng 王子腾


A wandering immortal with a talent for medicine, he saves Changyi (长意) after he falls off the cliff. Wanting to overthrow the repressive regime, he persuades Changyi (长意) to head north and join the Fox spirits in the north to form a rebellion.

Blue Feather Bird 青羽鸾鸟 – Tong Lei 童蕾


Played by 徐海乔 – An ancient and powerful bird spirit, she was wrongfully imprisoned for one thousand years. After she was saved by Li Shu (离殊), she decided to seclude herself from worldly affairs. However, after seeing the suffering of the world and a stern lecture from Luo Luo (洛洛), she finally agrees to support the northern rebels to overthrow the cruel ShunDe (顺德仙姬).

 

 

Plot Overview:

For this drama review, I’ll try my best to keep to the Youtube translations so as not to confuse readers. This will be a recap of the first 14 episodes. The drama itself is split into 2 parts, the first 22 episodes are 与君初相识 which translates to “When I First Met You” and the second 20 episodes are called 恰似故人归 or “It’s as though someone familiar has returned”.

In the beginning of time, there were two clans. The Celestial Immortals maintained order while the Earth Immortals often broke order. The Celestial immortals created a group of spirit masters to moralize and subdue the earth immortals or “spirits”. The Celestial Immortals are not allowed to fall in love with the earth immortals.

The members of spirit masters (御灵师) reside within 万花谷 or the Thousand Flower Valley. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is a very talented spirit master, rising to the rank of guardian, but she secretly longs for freedom away from the Valley. She is in constant competition against her adoptive brother Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) for the top post in the Valley. The Master of the Valley, who is Lin Hao Qing (林昊青)’s father, keeps a tight leash on all the spirit masters in the valley with a secret mark called the Frost Mark. Any who dares to defy the Master will suffer the effects of the Frost Mark and ultimately die.

One day, the Fairy Shunde (顺德仙姬) arrives at the valley with a gift or a task. She has captured a rare merman and orders the spirit masters to subdue the merman and complete three tasks.

1. He must speak human words
2. He will cut his tail as a gift to her
3. He will give his spirit pearl and swear loyalty to her

At first this task is given to Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) but Ji Yun He (纪云禾) also volunteers. The two agree that it’ll be a competition on who succeeds first. In the next few days, Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) uses force whereas Ji Yun He (纪云禾) tries to gain his favor by becoming friends with him or “training heart”. Ji Yun He (纪云禾)’s initial plan was to fulfill the Fairy’s request and then finally leave the valley onto freedom with her spirit attendant Luo Luo (洛洛), a butterfly spirit.

Over the course of their interactions, Changyi (长意), at first suspicious, can tell that Ji Yun He (纪云禾) means no harm. Changyi (长意) finally says her name, thus fulfilling the first task. Ji Yun He (纪云禾), becomes racked with guilt as she continues on with her deception towards the innocent and kind Changyi (长意).

Xue San Yue (雪三月), a fellow spirit guardian returns with her spirit attendant, the cat spirit Li Shu (离殊). Xue San Yue (雪三月) and Ji Yun He (纪云禾) quickly become allies once they believe that each of them know each other’s secret, namely that they both fell in love with a spirit. This was true for Xue San Yue (雪三月) at that time and Ji Yun He (纪云禾) was beginning to fall in love with Changyi (长意).

Li Shu (离殊) also harbors a secret. He secretly became Xue San Yue (雪三月)’s spirit attendant in order to make his way to the Thousand Flower Valley and break the Ten Directions Formations that was imprisoning the powerful Blue Feather Bird. She had once rescued him when he was young and came to repay his debt. In doing so however, he was greatly weakened and sacrificed himself to protect Xue San Yue (雪三月).

Changyi (长意) and Ji Yun He (纪云禾) get accidently pulled into the broken formation. There, they meet a residual spirit of the Blue Feather Bird. Changyi (长意) believes that they should tell the spirit the truth, that the man she was waiting for died a thousand years ago. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) though believes that lies are more helpful in this situation. But after seeing the resolution of the spirit, she changes her mind. She now knows that seeking to be free from the valley wasn’t real freedom. She wants the choice to be free with whoever she wants. They declare their love for each other and promise to never part as they leave the formation. Changyi (长意) gives Ji Yun He (纪云禾) his spirit pearl. Thus, the third task cannot be completed.

Back in the valley, the two are captured. As punishment, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is forced to suffer the full effects of the Frost Mark. Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) gives Changyi (长意) an ultimatum. If he doesn’t cut his tail, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) will die. With no other choice, he does so. Task two is complete.

Upon hearing this, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) is at first furious at Lin Hao Qin but shortly after understands that he was pressured by his father to do so. The two decide to form an alliance to help Ji Yun He (纪云禾) and Chang Yi escape and kill the current Master of the Valley. Unbeknownst to them, the Master of the Valley was always aware of their plan. Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) though could not go through with the plan. Heartened by this, the Master of the Valley reveals the truth, that he too suffers from the Frost Mark and dies due to his wounds from his mark. This was always a mark to enslave the spirit masters from the Immortal Master.

Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) becomes the new master and receives the Fairy Shunde (顺德仙姬) who comes to retrieve Changyi (长意) to bring him as a present to her master and witness the presentation of Changyi (长意) ’s spirit pearl. Ji Yun He (纪云禾), seeing this, cannot bear to have Changyi (长意) further imprisoned. She devises a plan with Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) to free Changyi (长意) on the road to the Immortal Master in which she will sacrifice herself to ensure Changyi (长意)’s freedom. The two spend one last carefree night in the mortal realm and make promises to never part. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) prepares her goodbyes and free’s Luo Luo (洛洛) from her service.

The bliss lasts for only a few hours and the two are surrounded by Shunde (顺德仙姬)’s guards. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) and Changyi (长意) flee to a cliff. Ji Yun He (纪云禾) declares to him that she never loved him, that she was only lying to gain power with the Fairy. In a final blow, she stabs him and pushes him off the cliff.

In probably the most badass scene in the drama, Ji Yun He (纪云禾) turns around to face Shunde (顺德仙姬) and her guards. She stands her ground against the group and makes a final stand. However, she is overpowered by the group and kneels on the ground succumbing to her injuries. But, in a surprise, she leaps back up, now not as a celestial immortal but as a fox creature with nine tales! This new powerful Ji Yun He (纪云禾) successfully fends off Fairy Shunde (顺德仙姬) is about to deal a killing blow until the Immortal Master finally steps in to save the Fairy and capture Ji Yun He (纪云禾).

That’s the general recap for the first 14 episodes. The story continues with Ji Yun He (纪云禾)’s imprisonment, Changyi (长意)’s rise to power as the leader of the north, and their reconciliation and final defeat of Fairy Shun De.

 

 

Review: 6.5/10

As I mentioned up above, I thought this was a serviceable drama.

The drama was at its best when it closely followed the source material. The first 14 episodes, which culminates in a climax where Ji Yun He (纪云禾) valiantly protects Changyi (长意) and ultimately transforms into a half fairy half spirit creature was probably the best in the drama. Weibo went crazy over her transformation scene in episode 14. The second half, when it does stick close to or expanded the source material, the drama definitely worked.

I thought the ladies really stole the show in this drama. I really enjoyed the different individual female storylines (except one). Each had their own motivations, their own path, and growth. It was refreshing to see platonic female relationships. The friendships were touching, and we saw each of them support each other unconditionally. The guys on the other hand, were overall a bit weaker.

迪丽热巴 Dilraba really embodied the character of Ji Yun He (纪云禾). We saw how easily she could manipulate characters but we also saw how she struggled with the guilt of deceiving Changyi (长意). She was a complex character who learned over the course of the show that she found freedom by choosing to do what she wanted and what she wanted was freedom for everyone. In the second half of the drama, the character of Ji Yun He (纪云禾) falls severely ill due to her long periods of torture and confinement from Fairy Shun de. To prep for the role, Dilraba 迪丽热巴 lost a bunch of weight to the point where the casual viewer actually thought she was sick. We believed that she was about to break so that when she did, it fit her character. I remember weibo going crazy to prepare for her first death because this happened in the books but everyone still cried a bunch of tears when she died.

I also really enjoyed Guo Xiao Ting’s portrayal of Fairy Shun De (顺德仙姬). She truly portrayed the unhinged fairy with aplomb. I despised her and her cruelty towards others but as we saw more of her story, I pitied her. Guo Xiao Ting also had to act completely differently as the master of the Immortal Master Ning Xi Yu and the difference between the two portrayals is jarring, which just shows the range that Guo Xiao Ting has.

I thought Allen only an okay job here in this drama portraying the at first innocent and sweet Changyi (长意)to the stern yet still caring ruler of the north in the second half of the drama. I don’t think his performance here lives up to some of his other period dramas. It might just be me but he seems to be always scowling in the second half, which yes, is what he was supposed to do but being cold doesn’t mean scowl all the time. This is the first collaboration between 迪丽热巴 (Dilraba Dilmurat) and 任嘉伦 (Allen Ren) and I thought they paired up well enough with each other.

Lin Hao Qing (林昊青)’s actor Aero Xiao (肖顺尧) was the standout for the actors for me. He truly brought life to the character. In the book, he was more one-dimensional and didn’t have a starring role. In this drama, we really see the struggle that Lin Hao Qing faced with regards to duty to his father, his love for Ji Yun He (纪云禾), his duty to the spirit masters, and even his spirit attendant. The actor portrayed Lin Hao Qing (林昊青)’s pains, struggles, and hopes very well. I just hope you guys don’t google some of his cooking videos, they’re absolutely hilarious.

This drama is the second collaboration between Dilraba 迪丽热巴 and the director Chu Yui Pan (朱锐斌). Funnily enough, they discussed this role while the two were still filming 长歌行 or The Long Ballad. Dilraba 迪丽热巴 just happened to be reading the book when she was talking to the director who said that it was his next project, which led to this second collaboration. I personally prefer the story of The Long Ballad to this one but I think the director was able to showcase more of the actors’ strengths here. The CGI and group acting was better in this drama.

 

Ok – with all of the pros, why did I give this drama such a low score? Well, because the lows are unfortunately quite low.

After episode 14, the writers decide to drag out episodes with the superfluous storyline of Changyi (长意) and Kong Ming (空明) heading to the north to meet the Fox Clan. The whole Fox Clan plot wasn’t in the book at all and the characters were all idiotic. There was a meme floating around saying that these must be the not so intelligent foxes because boy, were they annoying. There was also a randomly inserted female character who fell in love with Changyi (长意)but thankfully he never showed any sign of interest. Why include her if she ultimately didn’t matter? That is like a whole 1.5 deduction because it was very pointless.

The next big ding is the character of Kong Ming (空明). In the book, he is a handsome and distant monk! Now the whole monk character had to be changed because of censorship but I’m sorry, there is a lot to be desired from the actor for Kong Ming (空明). I would have found it more ok but Kong Ming (空明) as a character was also SO annoying and I thought acted out rather poorly. I remember everyone online saying – Luo Luo (洛洛), can you please just ditch him because he is so not worth it, which I agree with.

The OST is also just meh – nothing to write home about.

The screenwriters did make some good adjustments with the adaptation, such as including Blue Feather Bird throughout the drama, giving Lin Hao Qing (林昊青) more scenes, and giving Shunde (顺德仙姬) more of a backstory, but some of the other decisions were baffling. They cut 5-6 episodes worth of content in which Changyi (长意) brings Ji Yun He (纪云禾) to the ocean in order to save her after she saves him from the lava as A Ji. Xue San Yue (雪三月) and Li Shu (离殊)’s storyline was kind of meandering towards the end. This brings us to the most egregious example, which is the ending! What was the ending? I won’t spoil it right here but if you literally need another cartoon scene to explain to the viewer the actual ending, then you know that the ending was terrible.

Overall – if you’re looking for a decent fantasy drama with good acting, cgi, and want to shed some tears, then The Blue Whisper is the one for you. Definitely watch up to episode 14. Just skip some of the pointless storylines in the middle.

 

Cathy

Ep 32

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 32 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.  In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!

 

[Karen]

Today we are only focusing on one episode as there’s a lot of history to unpack and we also want to give a proper farewell to someone special.

 

It all starts in episode 32 with the Emperor arriving with Consort Xian or Xian Fei to meet Noble Consort Gao or Gao Gui Fei who is currently watching the preparations for a performance for the Empress Dowager. The performance itself is called 万紫千红 or in the drama they call it A Blaze of Colors. The direct translation is ten thousand purple one thousand red which ultimately reflects the burst of colors where molten iron is blasted out into sky into a burst of sparks that light up the night sky. It is quite stunning and I am impressed with how the drama filmed it. As we will discuss later, it’s also called the iron flower show

 

However, don’t you think the first moment you see this that wow that’s dangerous. Molten iron just being splashed around and no safety measures whatsoever!

 

Gao Gui Fei does not care though does she. She even steps forward to look more closely at the show and begins devising how better to put on a show. But just as she steps forward by herself with her maid, one of the performers direct a burst of sparks right at Gao Gui Fei and it hits her full on in the back. The Emperor wants to protect her but is held back by Xian Fei. In the chaos, the offending performer slips away while other performers create a diversion. The imperial guards immediately tell the performers to stop and then spread out to seek the perpetrator but it’s too late for Gao Gui Fei. She has been severely injured.

 

[Cathy]

The imperial guards search high and low for the perpetrator and even head to Xin Zhe Ku where Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang are working to see if the culprit hid there. They are not able to find anyone but Yuan Chun Wang knows what happened. He confronts YIng Luo and surmises that she must have planned to help the attacker a long time ago. She even purposefully shouted that she had no more connection to the Empress in order to prevent the Empress from being connected to anything that Ying Luo does. This does seem to be the plan that Ying Luo worked with one of the craftsmen for the performance in the last episode to carry out. 

 

Poor Gao Gui Fei. Her entire back is bloodied by burns from the scorching molten iron. She screams that she doesn’t want medical attention either if it means that it will leave scars on her back. You do have to feel bad for this type of injury of hers. What’s worse is that, as the doctors find out, the injury isn’t just from molten iron. But it’s actually gold water. The drama explains that gold water is where feces water has been added to the mix which causes any burns be unable to heal fully due to repeated infections from the feces. This is a rather low blow if you ask me.

 

[Karen]

 

The Emperor goes to visit Xian Fei and explains all of this to her while also checking up on her injuries. The thing is, even though she herself is injured, you look at her smile. This was all an act on her part to showcase how much she cares for the Emperor and for him to see that she cares a lot about him. Once again in Xian Fei’s eyes, you can see her calculating gaze.

 

BUT it ‘s not like I’m not thoroughly enjoying this hardened Xian Fei. We find out that Gao Gui Fei has not been a good patient and therefore has made recovery pretty much impossible. The infections on her back cannot be healed. Even the imperial doctors are at a loss at what to do. It seems like Gao Gui Fei only has but a few days left.

 

It is at this opportunity that Xian Fei comes in to gloat her success. Gao Gui Fei is shocked to hear that it is Xian Fei who mixed in the feces water to the molten iron mixture. Though I do find it interesting that Xian Fei said that she just helped “HER” aka Xian Fei knows it was Ying Luo who was involved in retribution against Gao Gui Fei but just added the final blow. This is Xian Fei’s revenge against Gao Gui Fei for how she treated her. Not only did Gao Gui Fei humiliate Xian Fei but she also had a direct hand in destroying Xian Fei’s family. This in Xian Fei’s eyes is fully justified.

 

[Cathy]

How did Xian Fei know about this though? Might I remind you that in the last episode Jin Xiu, the maid who dislikes Ying Luo oversaw Ying Luo speaking with one of the blacksmith performers and ran off. I’m assuming Jin Xiu went and told Xian Fei who then devised her own plan. She leveraged Ying Luo for this little revenge attack against Gao Gui Fei.

 

I do commend Gao Gui Fei though. After hearing what befalls her even if she does get better, she decides that nope. I’d rather 10000 people hate me than one person pity me. She cannot stand the thought that even if she’s healed, the Emperor will always pity her. She decides to end things on her own terms.

 

[Karen]

In front of the Emperor, she forces herself to dance one last dance. You can tell that this was an excruciating experience as her dress soon becomes soaked with blood from her back during her dance. As she falls to the ground, the Emperor and she finally have a heart to heart. She’s not blind to the fact that her favoritism from him is just that. Favoritism. Not love. He is wary of her family’s power and connections and so everything given to her always came with a hint of suspicion. Her last request is to have her mother be buried in the family shrine so that her spirit will have a place to rest. Say what you will about Gao Gui Fei, she is a good daughter to her mother.

 

Soon after, Gao Gui Fei adorns a lavish outfit. She does one last performance in her extravagant outfit before throwing out that white cloth. She decided to end her life on her own terms.

 

The Emperor fell silent upon hearing the news. He ordered that Gao Gui Fei be promoted to Imperial Noble Consort or Huang Gui Fei and her funeral be a joint effort of different ministries. He reflected upon her last words before remaining somber for the night.

 

[Cathy]

Behind the scenes!

 

There’s some juicy behind the scenes that I want to share here regarding 高贵妃 because this is the last time we’ll see of her!

 

Ok, when the drama aired back in 2018, there were official photos that were posted of 高贵妃 and 魏璎珞’s sister 魏璎宁 together that raised a few eyebrows from people. In them, 高贵妃 was dressed up as a male opera singer who is seen comforting the crying 魏璎宁. The scene is set in the day time and 魏璎宁 is seen crying in 高贵妃’s embrace. The whole drama aired and we didn’t get any actual scenes between the two of them so what happened? Of course, it was cut for the final airing.

 

Rumors were RAMPANT and I mean RAMPANT on what this all meant. Were we finally going to get an actual lesbian relationship? Fans were trying to guess what was cut. Some theories included 高贵妃 actually thought very highly of 魏璎宁. They perhaps encountered each other when 魏璎宁 sent clothes to 高贵妃 and 魏璎宁 caught 高贵妃’s eye. When 魏璎宁 was defiled by 弘昼, she went to seek some solace with with 高贵妃 which is where fans believed led to these photos. They also thought that this must have been the reason why 高贵妃 was able to so quickly gather the evidence for 魏璎珞. 高贵妃 must have believed that it was the 富察 family who committed the crime and one of the reasons why she kept on targeting the Empress. 

 

Alas, this was all conjecture. In an interview, the actress for 魏璎宁, 邓莎, dispelled the rumors and told us what was REALLY supposed to happen. Basically 高贵妃 was the bad guy in the photos.

 

So, 魏璎宁 was  upset and was wandering around in the palace. I don’t know if this was after her incident or just another instance when she was sad. 高贵妃 caught wind of this and then decided to dress up as a male opera singer to “pretend” to cheer her up and console her. 魏璎宁 finally cried in her arms. 高贵妃’s goal though was not to actually be nice to the poor girl. It was so that other maids would see this scene in broad daylight, mistaken 魏璎宁 as cavorting with another man, and be punished and kicked out. 魏璎宁 didn’t get kicked out then but was beaten up by a few other palace maids, sooooo…this didn’t turn out to be a good story for 魏璎宁.

 

——

 

[Karen]

Alright, next up! In this episode, before she dies, 高贵妃 makes a brief mention her 2 younger sisters. We don’t get any real indication of their fate until the next episode when in a voiceover, it is mentioned that her two younger sisters also died. Well, I can’t remember if it was a cut scene or not but basically, 高贵妃 ordered her two younger sisters to be poisoned so that they could not enter the palace to garner favor with the Emperor. As we saw in the show, she loved her mother and her brother. She did not want her younger sisters to enter the palace and ruin the gift that she requested from the Emperor, which is a proper burial for her mother. Say what you will about the woman and killing her sisters, but at least she really loved her mother. Her father – yea, a pretty scum of a human.

 

Next! Let’s talk about costumes! In this drama, 高贵妃 has roughly around 10+11 costumes, depending on how you count it. That’s actually not that much compared to the other women in this drama. I was doing some research on her clothing and it’s difficult to say what’s the truth. There’s a lot of creative licenses that the drama took for the show but they also tried in many places to stay true to history. That is the same for 高贵妃. The most iconic of hers is either the pearl shawl outfit which we see her wear in this episode or else her golden opera outfit.

 

[Cathy]

高贵妃 was a han woman so that meant that her costumes in this drama are slightly different. If you’ll notice with her clothing, they’re less form fitting that the other consorts in the drama, especially with regards to the sleeves as compared to the Empress and 纯妃 who are Manchu women. That was the case for early 清 dynasty women in which Han women and Manchu women dressed differently.

 

As for her hairstyle – she is one of the few in Chinese Qing dynasty dramas to not have a two pronged headpiece. This is more of a one piece headpiece or 旗头座. That style was much more popular during the late Qing dynasty, so the late 19th and early 20th century. We do have a photo right now of 婉容 who was the wife and empress consort of the last emperor of China with something similar to the hairstyle that 高贵妃 has.

 

Side note, there are many MANY posts of people pointing out the historical inaccuracies to this drama, especially with regards to costumes. We might focus on a couple if there isn’t much history

 

[Karen]

First up is the poem that 娴妃 recites when she first witnesses the 万紫千红show. It is the 14th of a collection of poems called 秋浦歌 or the 秋浦 ballads

 

Theses poems were written by the famous Tang dynasty poet 李白 in the mid 8th century when he was traveling to the area of 秋浦 which is now modern day 安徽 province. The one that is recited in the drama is the 14th out of 17 poems. It’s a standard Chinese quatrain or 五言诗 with 4 lines and 5 words.

 

The poem goes as such

 

炉火照天地

红星乱紫烟

赧Nǎn郎明月夜

歌曲动寒川

 

The fire from the furnace illuminates the earth and they sky

Red sparks shine amidst the purple smoke

In the moonlit night, the hard-working smelterers

Song reverberate throughout the cold mountain valley

 

The poet 李白 wrote these poems during his exile from the capital city of Chang An. He traveled the empire to explore and write poems. The village of 秋浦 was known for its silver and copper mines. He actually traveled to 秋浦 3 times in his lifetime. He most likely wrote these poems around 753. During this time though, he was pretty disappointed with the ways of the Empire as he saw the writing on the wall of 安禄山’s rise and future rebellion.

 

[Cathy]

 

Next, let’s talk about 万紫千红. It is more commonly known as 打铁花 or the iron flower show.

 

The history of this skill is quite long in China. There are some places who write that the skill dates back to the warring states period in China some 2500 years ago. Basically when China entered into the iron age. However, on 百科 it says that this tradition started probably in the Northern Song Dynasty. That is to say, this still has at least 1000 years of history. Please do NOT try any of this yourselves because it is an extremely dangerous skill.

 

Nowadays there are 2 ways to perform the show. The first one is the one we see in the drama, which is to say, the melting iron is poured onto a willow block and then struck to make the iron flowers or in our drama 万紫千红. I mean it absolutely looks gorgeous. I kind of wish that in the drama they gave us a proper depiction of the art instead of one in the night with scaffolding around because I’m watching some performances on youtube and chinese media and the shows are absolutely breathtaking.

 

There’s another way to create the effect and that is more of a spraying motion and “paints” the iron flowers onto a city wall.  Basically you have a large wooden spoon made of willow which has been soaked in water for 3 days and nights and coated with fire proof material. Then the performer sprays the wall with the melting iron in a circular motion. This method is more recent, having a history of around 500 years and originated in the 河北 province during the 明 dynasty. There are still remnants of city walls that have the residue of iron flowers on the walls. 

 

As of now, there’s only a handful of people who know how to perform this skill. I mean I don’t blame them, this is an extremely dangerous performance. The performers still basically wear the same clothes as their ancestors for the performance, goat skin and a wet straw hat. It’s still common to get injured or sprayed by the melting iron. For reference, the melting iron can get up to 1600 degrees celsius! 

 

In some of the more modern performances, I do see people wearing much better fire protection but I’ve also seen people wear pretty scrappy protection. As much as it is a beautiful sight, I really do hope people protect themselves when a) performing this show and b) when watching the show. As we see in the drama, getting injured with this is no joke.

 

[Karen]

At the end of the episode, right before 高贵妃 commits suicide, she sings the last lines that Noble Consort Yang sings in the opera 长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth. We talked about it in episode 27 so this is a slight refresher. 

 

长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth was written in 1688. The first half again recounts the love story between the Emperor 唐玄宗 and the concubine 杨贵妃 but it is also a criticism on the lavishness of the palace and the Emperor’s dismissal of his Empire, leading to the An Shi Rebellion. So this scene right now is aT the end of the first half of the opera.

 

The story of 唐玄宗 and 杨贵妃 is a constant motif that runs throughout the scenes we have with 高贵妃. She views herself as the tragic character of 杨贵妃 but unfortunately Emperor 乾隆 in this drama definitely does not see himself as the Emperor 唐玄宗.

 

Another point of comparison for Gao Gui Fei is actually with Li Fu Ren who was a concubine for Han Wu Di. We talked about her during our podcast series before but Li Fu Ren was ill and did not let Han Wu Di see her on her deathbed because she wanted him to always remember her beauty and be filled with regret for not being able to see her. I’m reminded of Li Fu Ren with Gao Gui Fei who wanted to die beautifully and be remembered as such than to die a painful death and wallow away with age.

 

Which leads us to finally talking about the historical counterpart of 高贵妃.

 

Posthumously granted the title of 慧贤皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble consort 慧贤. She came from the 高佳 clan and was a member of the bordered yellow banner. However, as we discussed before, her family previously was of han descent in the 包衣 class. Due to her favor with the Emperor 乾隆, her entire family was lifted to the status of manchu people. She was the first Noble Consort or 贵妃 and Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 of 乾隆’s reign. 

 

It isn’t really clear when was born, probably around 1711 or right around then. She died on Feb 25th 1745. 高贵妃 first entered the palace as concubine to serve the then 4th prince 弘历. She was then promoted to 侧福晋 in 1734, basically the second rank under the main wife. When Emperor 乾隆 ascended the throne in 1735, her whole family was lifted to the status of manchu people and she was granted the status of 贵妃 with the title of 慧 which means intelligent. 

 

She fell ill in 1745. 2 days before her death, the emperor granted her the title of Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 but she didn’t survive for the actual ceremony. 

 

[Cathy]

 

There unfortunately isn’t really much on her apart from the praises of her during her promotion ceremonies. However, the Emperor must have really liked her because he wrote many poems about her and reminisced about her lifetime. Her funeral was extravagant with many more prayers performed by the monks and lamas than was required for an imperial noble consort.

 

She did not have any children. There are official portraits of her in the proper gold gown and black hat. I do wish we saw a shot of this during the show but alas, all we got was the black formalwear.

 

In the drama, 高贵妃 dies of suicide. This would have been an absolute no no because the family of women who commit suicide in the palace were severely punished. Which is why it was a pretty good incentive to NOT commit suicide. I know this was for drama purposes but let’s just keep that in mind.

 

In the 1730s, her father 高斌 was also appointed an official post to manage the rivers in the southern parts of China or 河道总督. This is true to history as we see in the show. 高斌 also served as the Minister of Personnel or 吏部尚书 and Grand Secretary of Pavilion of the Imperial Library 文渊阁大学士 in the 1740s before falling into disgrace in the 1750s and ultimately dying in 1755 on the job. 

 

Last piece on 高贵妃 – the drama needed a bad guy so they chose her to be the first “bad” guy that we meet in the drama. I highly doubt she would have been evil if the Emperor cared this deeply about her especially years after her death. So listeners, please don’t let this drama color your perception of the true to life version of her.

[Karen]

With that – let’s give a round of applause to her actress 谭卓! Born in 1983, she started acting in 2009 with a film called Spring Fever 春风沉醉的夜晚. Since then, she has been in various films, dramas, and stage productions, focusing more on films rather than dramas. I would say her breakout role was probably this one in The Story of Yan Xi palace. She certainly turned a lot of eyes with this role. She doesn’t really follow the typical “pop” idol route and prefers to vary it up with modern and period pieces. I thought she did admirably here in 延禧攻略 and is probably one of the top 3 actresses in my book for this drama. Her gravitas really did shine throughout the drama and it was obvious that she put the work in for this role especially during her opera scenes.

 

高贵妃 – you were a pretty annoying character but in the end, you knew exactly who you were and I commend you for it. 

 

Ep 30+31

[Cathy]

Turning of the Tides

 

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 30+31 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

 

In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!

 

—-

 

[Karen]

In the last 2 episodes, we followed Ying Luo work hard labor at Xin Zhe Ku, the department of hard labor. This creates an opening for those wanting to harm the Empress as she now doesn’t have such a protective servant helping her. What’s more problematic is that the Empress is pregnant as well which makes the women of the palace even more eager to strike.

 

We return to the family feast the Empress Dowager organized for the Double Ninth Festival. It’s quite dark out and one of the maids brought over a plate of deer blood for the Empress’s hot pot. But she didn’t want to eat it so the maid retreated. But as she stepped back, she dropped the plate of blood. Immediately a swarm of bats appear out of no where, apparently attracted by the fallen plate of blood which looks so fake it’s rather disturbing. Anyways, the bats attack the ladies indiscriminately and it’s absolute chaos. The result is that Gao Gui Fei takes this opportunity to push the Empress down a railing so that she falls unconscious. Gao Gui Fei herself slams her arm into a pillar to pretend that she injured herself while trying to save the Empress. 

 

But it was too late to prevent harm to the Empress. She is brought back to her palace and tended to by a number of doctors. She has a large bruised forehead and is now unconscious. The Emperor is absolutely distraught at hearing what happened and stays at her bedside but the Empress is now left in precarious health. It’s unclear when she’ll be healthy again or even wake up.

 

[Cathy]

Elsewhere, Xian Fei impresses the Empress Dowager as she took charge of the situation with quick thinking and leadership poise while the bats were attacking. Xian Fei managed to keep some semblance of order until the imperial guards arrived. After the chaos subsided, the Empress Dowager was so impressed with Xian Fei that she decides to give more power to Xian Fei. With a power vacuum now present in the palace given the Empress’s state, Xian Fei will now easily fill that role.

 

Ming Yu who feels terrible about not having been able to protect the Empress from such an unfortunate attack and goes to find Ying Luo for help at Xin Zhe Ku. I do feel bad for Ming Yu who was not equipped to handle a million bats attacking the group. Ying Luo already has a gut feeling after hearing it was Gao Gui Fei that first found the Empress that it was probably she who orchestrated this whole thing.

 

[Karen[

And yep – it was her that planned the attacking bats. She injured herself in order to steer any and all suspicion away from her. She is absolutely relishing in her victory against the Empress despite the pain she placed upon herself.

 

What is surprising is that when Ying Luo is dragged by Ming Yu to go check on the Empress, Ying Luo suddenly turns extremely cold towards the entire staff of Chang Chun Palace. In front of all of her old colleagues, she states that what happens to the Empress is none of her business any more. They are no longer connected after the Empress banished her so she, Ying Luo should not have to bother thinking about the Empress whatsoever. This angers all of the other maids at Chang Chun palace. Fu Heng, who is impatiently waiting for news about his sister, is also similarly rebuffed when he tries to talk to Ying Luo. She wants nothing to do with them because her current life is indeed extremely harsh.

 

Shortly after, Ying Luo is goaded into sending milk over to Chu Xiu Gong where Gao Gui Fei lives by Jin Xiu which she accepts. Gao Gui Fei is of course still ecstatic at the fact that the Empress has met her downfall and even more pleased to see the likes of Ying Luo act as her lowly servant. Despite Gao Gui Fei’s injuries, she humiliates and even steps on Ying Luo’s hands as Ying Luo prepares a bath for Gao Gui Fei using the milk she brought.  Luckily for Ying Luo, it is at this point that the Emperor arrives to visit Gao Gui Fei. He happens upon a disheveled looking Ying Luo with clear injuries on her hand. She is dismissed by Gao Gui Fei but then is followed by the Emperor because he could tell something was amiss. He followed Ying Luo in the pouring rain to see her hunched in a corner of the garden next to some rocks looking dazed. 

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor is furious at Ying Luo’s respectful greeting to him, looking pitiful in the rain and angrily throws her his umbrella but not before telling her to get out of his sight. This is an interesting scene to me because it shows that the Emperor cares about Ying Luo though even he might not know why he cares about her. He returned to his study but paced for a hot second before turning around and stomping back to where Ying Luo hid in the garden. He remembered just how injured she looked. But by the time he went back to her hiding place, she had gone, leaving the umbrella behind.  He’s annoyed that she didn’t accept his kindness which is fair but he also forbids anyone to use milk for bathing ever in the future. It’s an expensive and lavish habit to keep. This is implicitly punishing Gao Gui Fei for what she did to Ying Luo even if he wasn’t blatant about it. 

 

Meanwhile, Ying Luo, having been out in the rain and suffering numerous injuries, passes out along side one of the corridors of the palace. It is at that moment that Xian Fei’s procession happens by and she, in an off handed comment, asks for a doctor to tend to Ying Luo. I don’t think Xian Fei even knew who this maid was but was kind enough to call for a doctor to check up on her. As one of the eunuchs who helped drag Ying Luo off the main road noted, Ying Luo must thank Xian Fei for her kindness. No other person in the palace would help the likes of Ying Luo in her current state. This is an extremely important fact to remember.

 

Both Ying Luo and the Empress are sick which gives Xian Fei the opportunity to fully showcase her skills.

 

[Karen]

At the end of episode 30 and onto 31, we turn to Xian Fei’s management abilities. After being given authority to manage the palace in the Empress’s stead by the Empress Dowager, Xian Fei has come up with a number of new ideas to help reduce waste in the palace and garner more funds. Her management style is starkly different from the Empress’s who focused on cutting costs whereas Xian Fei is identifying new ideas for growth. 

 

She does also suggest to the Empress Dowager with Gao Gui Fei sitting to the side that she plans to set up a porridge tent or equivalent to a soup kitchen for recent flood victims that have escaped to the Capital. Xian Fei enjoys the full support of the capital, much to the chagrin of Gao Gui Fei and sets off to do her task. Though I do greatly appreciate Gao GUi Fei seeing through Xian Fei’s act. Her line that Gao Gui Fei can see through actors very easily was quite on the nose. As we know, Xian Fei is not the innocent and uncompetitive lamb we’ve met at the beginning of the drama.

 

[Cathy]

 

The day of charity arrives and Xian Fei oversees the hungry crowd. The palace staff that help out in giving food come from none other than Xin Zhe Ku. Ying Luo is too ill to join but Yuan Chun Wang watches with his beady eyes as flood victims at first orderly get food but then shortly after turn into a mob.

 

A number of disgruntled refugees start making a scene, arguing that the amount of food is not nearly enough to feed the crowd and they start getting violent. As Xian Fei and company are about to get overwhelmed, Yuan Chun Wang forcefully steps in and slays one of the troublemaking refugees. I think this is a little overboard to be honest. Like a eunuch can just kill someone out right on the streets? Ok? His reasoning is that he can tell these people causing a scene are not actually refugees. Their shoes are in too good condition for them to be refugees traveling from far away. 

 

Hong Zhou, the Emperor’s brother, arrives at the knick of time with a number of soldiers/guards to create order in the crowd.. Hong Zhou originally wanted to skip town and watch over his mother’s grave for 3 years but was pushed back by the Emperor. The Emperor knows that Hong Zhou pretended to play dumb for years but is furious that even after the Emperor ascended the throne, Hong Zhou never focused on giving back to the Empire. After these harsh words, he accepts Xian Fei’s invitation to help out at the charity event and thus, arrived like a knight in shining armor. 

 

[Karen]

This entire scene gave both Yuan Chun Wang, Xian Fei and Hong Zhou an opportunity to shine. Yuan Chun Wang, in front of both royals, clearly pointed out the individuals inciting a riot which Hong Zhou then promptly had captured. Yuan Chun Wang also pointed out that there are many people in the crowd pretending to be refugees hoping to get free food. That’s why the crowd is so big. Xian Fei immediately understands the predicament and orders that in order to receive food for the day, the receiver must work. This immediately thins out the crowd because only those that are truly hungry with no where else to go, aka refugees and flood victims, would want to make such an exchange. Everyone else who doesn’t want to do labor will naturally fade away.

 

And so, a successful day of charity is concluded. We see that Xian Fei is extremely capable at management and she has the unparalleled skill of understanding human nature. 

 

As for Yuan Chun Wang, he is given the post as head of Xin Zhe Ku by Xian Fei. A substantial promotion from his original role.

 

In the next episode, we will turn to Xian Fei guiding the Emperor, who heard of Xian Fei’s successful exploits today to check out the birthday gift that Gao Gui Fei had been putting together for the Empress Dowager to disastrous results. But that will be for next episode.

 

The only other main point to bring up today is that Fu Heng has directly rejected Er Qing’s affections. She mentioned that the Emperor wanted to pair them together for marriage which Fu Heng promptly refused. Er Qing is dazed by this response but the person who is equally distraught at this news is none other than Chun Fei. She has been tending to the Empress’s bedside during her illness and is shocked to hear that Fu Heng is interested in marrying Ying Luo. We will see more of that storying line later as well.

 

 

 

Now onto history!

 

[Cathy]

We’re gonna dig a little bit more deeply into the banquet and the little creatures involved that led to the Empress’s unconscious state. These were also flashed at the end of episode 29, but because episode 30 is the main focus of the banquet, I’ll talk about it here.

 

First up – let’s talk about the hot pot or 火锅 that is specially prepared for the Empress! Unfortunately in this scene, we don’t really see the Empress eat anything but we do see a beautiful display of mushrooms and of course venison blood.

 

What is hotpot! It basically is a cooking method where you have a large pot with soup or broth as a base and let the broth come to a boil. Then you add a variety of sides into the soup until it’s cooked to your heart’s desire. Then you pick out the food from the pot, dip it into whatever sauce you’d like and voila! That’s hotpot!

 

The Chinese have had records of hot pot dating back over 2000 years ago. More concretely, historians believe hot pot became more popularized during the Three Kingdoms period between 220-280AD with the advent of copper hot pots.

 

Hotpot flourished throughout millenia and by the time of the 清 dynasty, it became very popular not only with normal people but also with the royal elites as well. Indeed, our Emperor 乾隆 REALLY enjoyed hot pot. There are records that during one year, Emperor 乾隆 had some form of hot pot as a meal for over 200 meals! That’s a LOT of hot pot!

 

Let’s see what he had – in the spring, there was pickled cabbage hot pot and venison tendon and duck hot pot. In the summer, he had yam and duck hot pot and even swallow’s nest hot pot! There are records that in 1783, Emperor Qian Long held a hot pot banquet that had 530 tables! Emperor Qian Long also loved traveling to the Southern parts of his Empire. Wherever he went, he also brought hot pot with him and added different flavors to his hot pot meals. This is what happened with the addition of swallow’s nest to his hot pot rotation. 

 

In the Palace Museum in Beijing, they still have some of the silver pots that were used by the Emperor. What’s fascinating is that hot pot was also available to the palace maids. There are records during the qing dynasty of palace maids saying that they basically ate 3 months of hot pot

 

The one that we see in the drama is a pretty traditional Beijing copper hot pot. Typically it would be a red copper pot with a clear water base on a charcoal flame. In the north, it’s more called a 涮锅 and more meat heavy, specially with lamb. 

 

Different regions have different styles for hot pot. Perhaps the most famous from china is the 四川 or Chongqing hot pot – famed for it’s spiciness and mala flavors. If you’ve never had hot pot, please try it out! You can try all different types of flavors with all different sides from vegetables to meats to noodles! It’s always a good time.  Karen and I just went to haidilao in NY earlier this month, and it was great!

 

[Karen]

Let’s also talk about the food in question – venison or deer blood. In chinese culture, deer blood has medicinal and nutritional properties. It was typically reserved for the royal family. Now, typically blood for eating is coagulated, which is why in the drama you see the deer blood in blocks or cube shaped forms. In certain areas of china, coagulated blood is commonly eaten with hot pot but it’s mainly pig blood 

 

 

Next up – I’m going to talk briefly about the bats. The whole plotline of bats  is just a convenient little interlude conjured by the screenwriter. In China, there are no bat species that feed solely on blood. There are 3 species but they all reside in South America. Those are of course the vampire bats. So unless 舒贵人 was able to have her family take a boat or trade with the modern day Central Americans and South Americans, the whole bat being attracted to and attacking people is just here for plot purposes. There are indigenous bat populations in China, namely the Rickett’s big-footed bat, but they surprisingly eat fish and bugs. The Rickett’s big-footed bat actually did live in buildings in Beijing but they are more commonly found in the southeastern and southern parts of China. Beijing is quite north comparatively.

 

[Cathy]

Lastly – let’s briefly talk about 北京护城河 or the Moat of the Forbidden City. For the drama, we don’t actually see the moat but basically this is where Consort Xian has to set up the soup kitchen. 

 

Construction of a canal into the city that would become beijing began in the late 12th century. The actual moat or what is known as 筒子河 Tongzihe formally began construction during the Ming Dynasty under the reign of emperor Yongle in 1420. The moat encircles the Forbidden City and is only 20m away from the palace wall. The moat was built mainly for military defense, fire prevention and drainage of rainwater.  The moat system in Beijing was pretty complicated as it had outer, inner, imperial and palatial sections. Unfortunately today, there isn’t much left of the moats but the city of Beijing is trying to preserve and rebuild parts of the moat in efforts to preserve its history. What’s crazy is, Beijing is such a massive city right now, that on a map the current remnants of the moat seems pretty small. But when you go to the Forbidden City or the Palace, that in it of itself is huge. So it’s kind of a different perspective on the size of the moat and of the Palace itself. 

Ep 28+29

[Karen]

The Story of Yanxi Palace: Ep 28+29

 

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 28+29 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

 

In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history.

 

[Cathy]

We return to episode 28+ 29 to see the aftermath of YIng luo enacting revenge against Yu Tai Fei who killed YIng LUo’s sister. Despite YIng luo making it seem like Yu Tai Fei died due to the heavens punishing her for lying, the Empress and Emperor are not so easily deceived. They know immediately when they hear that Ying Luo was around that Ying Luo probably had a hand in Yu Tai Fei’s death. To protect YIng Luo, the Empress banishes her to Xing Zhe Ku to do hard labor. 

 

When the Emperor arrives to punish YIng Luo for himself, the Empress actually steps in to protect Ying Luo. That’s where we begin episode 28. The Empress tearfully explains that she wants to protect Ying Luo so that she can be the person that the Empress cannot be. The Emperor does not understand this and so the Empress recounts her first ever visit to the palace as his wife. She was reprimanded by the the Empress for saying one more sentence than her husband. From that moment on, the empress knew that her entire life’s role was to be behind the Emperor. As a wife, she should speak less and be more restrained. Her entire life must revolve around her husband and she must be the best Empress possible. One mistake could spell disaster for the empire.

 

[Karen]

This surprises the Emperor and to me shows his blindness as a man as well. He says that he never wanted to restrict the Empress and commends her for being the best Empress there is. But that doesn’t matter what he thinks, does it? SHE doesn’t think so. She lost herself in the rules and restrictions that bind her as Empress. She is no longer FU Cha Rong YIn. Instead, she is only the Empress. She can only be lenient, kind and follow rules. She recognizes that’s her fate but for Ying Luo. The Empress appreciates that Ying Luo can be herself in this palace that forces everyone to lose themselves. THat is why she must protect Ying Luo – as a way to protect her former self. 

 

As the Emperor walks out, he pauses and reflects that today he realizes he may have never fully understood his wife. 

 

[Cathy] I want to pause here because I LOVED this monologue from the Empress. It’s so rare in dramas, especially palace dramas for a woman to tell the Emperor exactly how repressive the system was to women back in the day. The Empress was the paragon of virtue but she felt stifled in the palace. It was such a breath of fresh air to have someone say it out loud that hey, it’s not easy being Empress.

 

[Karen]

Poor Ying luo. She now is working at Xin Zhe Ku or the Department of Hard Labor. It is certainly a big step down from her position with the Empress. We’ll discuss what exactly goes on at Xing Zhe Ku but for now, Ying Luo must work to clean waste barrels in the palace. The worst and lowliest job in the entire palace.

 

But at Xin ZHe Ku, Ying Luo meets two people. One is Yuan Chun Wang, a eunuch we haven’t seen in quite some time but he was punished and sent here after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is responsible for transporting waste barrels and I guess is a colleague of Ying Luo’s. 

 

The other is Jin Xiu. She’s a maid that was with Ying Luo at the Embroidery Department but was also punished to work at Xin Zhe Ku. Jin Xiu is still mad at Ying Luo for what happened between the two even though this is entirely her fault. Regardless, Ying Luo’s life in the palace now is challenging as she stinks from her work all day and she is bullied nonstop.

 

The thing is, this Yuan Chun Wang is considered one of the most handsome eunuchs in the palace so all of the other maids in Xin Zhe Ku are interested in him. Jin Xiu is one of them. Uh part of me is like – you ladies know he’s a eunuch right but also, is he that handsome??? I don’t think so. Anyways, Yuan Chun Wang though is extremely cold to all of these maids and doesn’t talk to anyone. He also just ignores YIng Luo when she tries to talk to him.

 

[Cathy]

 

With Ying Luo settled into her new life, we turn back to the ladies of the palace. Gao Gui Fei is over the moon at hearing that Ying Luo is now at Xin ZHe Ku. Meanwhile, Xian Fei has decided she needs more allies and goes to the funeral for Yu Tai Fei. There, with the help of a jade pendant she kept, she skillfully reminds Hong Zhou, the prince’s brother and son of Yu Tai Fei, that she saved his life many years ago. Apparently, Hong Zhou went out on a solo excursion when he was young and got his money stolen. He happened upon Xian Fei’s family property and it was Xian Fei, with this jade pendant, that gave him food and saved his life. Now, Hong Zhou recognizes who this woman is and will be more willing to help her in the future. He is also still rather upset at his mother for forcing him to play dumb his entire life to make way for his brother. 

 

 

Meanwhile Fu Heng finds out that Ying Luo has been sent to Xin Zhe Ku and goes to find her in the dead of night. Thinking they’re alone, he reiterates his feelings towards her even though she tries to turn him away. He even vows to wait for her for however long it must take for her to change her mind. I think it’s very sweet –  his declarations of love but also rather naive. The various points she makes about why he should back off are actually all valid. He comes from a good family, is accomplished and has a fantastic future ahead of him. He shouldn’t throw it all away just for her. He right now doesn’t care and even refuses her physical advances why she uses to see if that’s all he wants from her. He remains the upstanding gentleman and just gives her a quick kiss on her forehead before leaving her untouched. 

 

[Karen]

Back to Ying Luo’s life doing hard labor, we find out there’s ugly things festering there as well. The head of Xin Zhe Ku, a eunuch himself, has his eyes set on Yuan Chun Wang for his looks and gets rather handsy with him. I’m again shocked that they have these scenes in the show but good for them. Yuan Chun Wang has refused all of his advances even if it means that he must remain doing the most medial and gross work in the palace but at least he won’t be a play toy of this department head. 

 

Yet, these conniving eunuchs have found an opening. Every night, Ying Luo brings food for Yuan Chun Wang. He normally does not touch the food from the hall and instead scrounges for leftover and foul food. THere’s good reason for that. One night, Yuan Chun Wang finally takes a bite of the food Ying Luo brings him, it’s been drugged. As yuan chun wang lies on the floor helpless, this department head sneaks over and tries to overpower Yuan Chun Wang to have him for himself. Uhh… Once again. I’m impressed with this 5 min storyline. 

 

In the knick of time, Ying Luo comes and beats the perpetrator unconscious, thereby protecting Yuan chun wang. THe two then load this person into a carriage and sneaks him out of the palace after taking his name placard. By doing so, this means that he left the palace on his own and would be punished for breaking rules. The implication is that he would not return to the palace. 

 

[Cathy]

 

I’m a little concerned as to whether or not this guy survived because Yuan Chun Wang said he’ll take care of it. Who knows what Yuan Chun Wang actually did.

 

Regardless, the next day, Yuan Chuen Wang and Ying Luo’s relationship dynamic completely changed. In a change from his prior coldness, Yuan Chun Wang is now quite a jokester with YIng Luo. He opens up to her and shows deep affection for her. I’m honestly kind of confused with his stance of changing so quickly. Like I get he’s grateful to her but then he’s all like, don’t like Fu Heng blah blah blah, like me instead. I just have many question marks over my head as to where this is coming from. Ying Luo rejects his advances but agrees that they will make a pact together and become brother and sister. That way, the two of them will have some support in the palace. Together, they will help each other survive in the palace.

 

[Karen]

I still think Yuan Chun Wang is just overly creepy and weird but whatever. The only other scene to note is that Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang notice during their shifts, some outsiders. One includes a boy who is crying because his hands have been severely burned for a i’ll simplify it as a iron sparks show. They are preparing for the Empress Dowager’s birthday but the gimmick requires a lot of physical strength which the poor boy does not have yet but they are forced to practice in order to make the show a success. Ying Luo doesn’t have much power to help the poor boy and as Yuan Chun Wang states, it’s a difficult life being in the Forbidden Palace. Only if one makes it to a position of power can he or she make change and help others. For now, al they can do is keep their heads down.

 

Ying Luo seems rather settled into the palace but that gives the likes of Gao Gui Fei and Xian fei the opportunity to strike back at the Empress. If we recall, the Empress is now pregnant and while she and the Emperor are extremely pleased with this news, Gao Gui Fei is not. Xian Fei uses her skills of manipulation to goad Gao Gui Fei into striking and an evening banquet during the Double Ninth Festival or Chong Yang Jie is the perfect opportunity. 

 

Which annoys me a lot because the Empress even pushes her power as Empress to split between Chun Fei and Xian Fei so they can help her since she is pregnant.

 

The feast begins and it’s an extravagant sight. I for one love Empress Fu Cha’s hair style this episode. It’s simple but suits her well. For her meal, she is brought up a plate of blood which makes her convulse so she 

 

 

[Cathy]

In episode 28, 高贵妃 or noble consort gao is frustrated from painting some orchid leaves. She goes onto destroy what uh I think were just OK flowers. Like i’m not crying from destroying that painting, haha.

 

In Chinese culture, the orchid or 兰花 has represented purity. The leaves of the orchid are long and thin, and the flower itself gives a very pleasant aroma. In all, the orchid just gives positive, pleasant, elegant, and virtuous vibes.

 

The orchid has long been admired by poets, scholars, painters, and musicians in Chinese culture and are commonly mentioned in poems, songs, and paintings. There are plenty of idioms that feature the word 兰 to represent its nature. Some include 兰质蕙心, which usually is referred to a woman who is pure of heart and has an elegant nature. If we recall from Empresses in the Palace, 沈眉庄 was granted the title of 惠妃 in reference to this idiom. 

 

The orchid or 兰花 is known as the gentleman of flowers or 花中君子. Because of its elegance and I would say resiliency, the flower has long been favored by the Chinese as representative of the learned and scholarly -> hence why the gentlemen of flowers.

 

In Chinese dramas, characters will say – let’s become sworn brothers or even in this episode, 袁春望 said that he’ll become 魏璎珞’s brother. Typically, people will say let’s 结义金兰 – the 兰 is of course the 兰花 or orchid, once again representing the pure and unbending nature of the orchid or the relationship.

 

In our drama, 高贵妃 quotes Confucius and sneers at 纯妃’s mask of virtue. The first line 芝兰生于幽谷 translates to Orchids are found in valleys. That isn’t exactly the quote from confucius. The line is 且芝兰生于深林,不以无人而不芳,君子修道立德,不谓穷困而改节. This translates to the orchid is found in the deep forest. Even with no person around, the flower is still fragrant. As such, a gentleman should still be noble and virtuous and should not change in spite of poverty.

 

These lines come from 孔子家语·在厄 or a chapter in the Family Sayings of Confucius. It is a collection of sayings of Confucius which were written as a supplement to the Analects. 

 

The main purpose of course is to say that as a person, he or she (typically a he) should remain steadfast and noble despite outside circumstances such as poverty. Even at the worst of times, a person shouldn’t throw his virtues away. 

 

[Karen

I find it super interesting because in the drama, 高贵妃 scoffs at this. She goes on to say – sure the gentleman of old wanted to tell the world of their lofty morals and independence but isn’t that in itself a signal for compliments and comparison? I think in her subtext, she’s saying, in the face of true poverty or financial gain, who can TRULY stay resolute in their convictions? No one.

 

What’s interesting is that she’s also showing her disdain for 纯妃 and the mask of nobility and virtue that 纯妃 puts on. 高贵妃 knows that 纯妃 has an ulterior motive, she just doesn’t know what it is though.

 

[Cathy] Yea – you know in here, we see that 高贵妃 isn’t uneducated. She just doesn’t bother with it. That is a difference between her and 华妃 in Empresses in the Palace. 华妃 was shown to not be as educated. 高贵妃 is educated maybe not as much as 纯妃 but as she haughtily said in this episode. I don’t care! I just want to sing opera – which, you know, good for her.

 

[Karen]

Ok – next up! Let’s talk about 辛者库. 

 

In a lot of chinese dramas, a typical punishment is to send a maid or eunuch to 辛者库 to perform hard labor. This makes it seem as though 辛者库 was ONLY for hard labor or for those who committed a crime. But that was not the case. 

 

辛者库 was an organization under the Eight Banners of the Manchu people. A little similar to the 包衣 group that we have mentioned previously. However, while the baoyi group were bond servants, the people in 辛者库 were typically of the slave caste. Those in the 辛者库 caste were organized under the Imperial Household Department or 内务府. The baoyi were of higher rank than the slaves in 辛者库 because the baoyi were ultimately free people. 

 

The ancestor to the qing dynasty, 努尔哈赤, took many Ming Dynasty people and courtiers as war prisoners or slaves during his conquests in the early to mid 17th century. A lot of them were put under the organization or the 辛者库 slave caste and these people made the foundation of 辛者库 . The 辛者库 slave caste was hereditery so people could not easily leave the caste and were bound to it.

 

Only manchu people from the eight banners and han courtiers who committed a crime were punished to the slave caste of 辛者库 so it wasn’t like any normal crimnal was punished to go there.

 

As with the bao yi, the people from 辛者库 also served masters of the upper or lower banners. Those in the upper banners had slightly higher statuses and worked in the imperial palace. Those in the lower banners primarily worked for the aristocracy. 

 

The slaves in 辛者库 had a wide array of chorse and tasks such as cleaning, deweeding, chopping wood, sewing etc. Most of the hard labor was completed by the slaves of 辛者库. The servants from the baoyi class often didn’t have to work hard labor. 

 

[Cathy]

It kind of sucks to be a slave of the 辛者库 class right? Yes, comparatively to their masters. However, what’s interesting is that the slaves of the 辛者库 class had a lot more power, rights, and privileges, than compared the slaves in the US. Those in 辛者库 had proper residence status. They could get married with people of the non-slave caste. They were permitted to take the civil exams. They could own personal property AND other slaves or maids. 

 

Because I guess they were technically under the Imperial Household Department, they still were I would say a level above typical peasants. They had opportunities for wealth and power. Indeed, several concubines and famous cabinet ministers during the Qing Dynasty came from the 辛者库 class. This goes to my final point. The people of 辛者库 weren’t only women or eunuchs, because well, how do they inherit the status if there are no men! So 辛者库 isn’t necessarily a department but a caste or group of people.

 

[Karen]

Finally – I want to talk about a word or phrase that 袁春望 mentions after a eunuch tries to sexually assault him. The phrase is 兔爷 or Rabbit Man.

 

We’ve talked about lesbianism before for this drama. Now let’s turn to homosexuality! 兔爷 is what was colloquially known as a male prostitute. The 兔儿神 was the rabbit god of homosexuality. So if someone in any drama mentions 兔爷, that person is referencing a homosexual relationship.

 

[Cathy]

Based on my surface level research, the phrase was recorded in the late 18th century. So we’re a little bit in the wrong time frame to use this phrase. However, the phrase might have been used before it was written down. 

 

So, according to What the Master Would Not Discuss or 子不语 which was first published in 1788, the legend goes as such. A very young and handsome imperial inspector was sent to Fujian Province in the southern part of China. A local man called 胡天保 was drawn to the inspector due to his beauty and fell in love with him. Wherever the inspector went, 胡天保 would follow. One day, 胡天保 was caught peeping at the inspectors uh bum while the man was in the bathroom. After some interrogation, 胡天保 finally confessed his affections, to which the inspector then sentenced him to death.

 

After a month, 胡天保’s spirit appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream. He claimed that his punishment was just for peeping but his crime was one of love. The underworld officials laughed at him but were not angry with him. They decided to appoint him the god and safeguarder of homosexual affections. Please erect a shrine under my name.

 

So after this dream – the man did so. I’m not QUITE sure how the rabbit came into the picture, BUT i think it had been a slang term previously so that’s why the temple is of the Rabbit deity. It became very popular in Fujian and for those seeking homosexual relationships. These temples did become targets for government suppression throughout the centuries but I think there are more modern temples around these days for people to pray to the 

 

Pretty cool right! So – if you see the translation of 兔爷 in any drama, then you’ll know that it’s code for a homosexual relationships!

Ep 26+27

[Karen]

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

Today we are discussing episodes 26+27 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

I feel like pacing for these episodes are a little mixed with storylines interspersed acrossed a few episodes. In the last two episodes we found out that Ying Luo’s sister was um humiliated by Hong Zhou, the Emperor’s brother but then was actually killed by Hong Zhou’s mother, Yu Tai Fei. Ying Luo is unable to at the moment exact complete revenge against these two incredibly powerful and connected individuals in the palace so she must learn to wait. 

In the meantime, for episode 26, we turn back to Fu Heng who after 20+ episodes is finally clear of his feelings. He wants to marry Ying Luo. He says as much to his sister, the Empress. And in front of her, he makes it clear that he wants to marry Ying Luo as his wife, not as a concubine. The Empress is shocked that he would make such a decision because she is extremely clear of Ying Luo’s character and attitude. The problem is that she is extremely stubborn and competitive which could spell disaster for the FuCha family and him if he doesn’t fully understand what he’s getting into. But Fu Heng implored his sister that he knows his heart and Ying Luo IS the one he wants. Outside, Er Qing, the Empress’s head maid, overhears this exchange and is feeling quite jealous.

[Cathy]

And so, we start seeing some of Er Qing’s true colors seep through. She sees that Ming Yu and Ying Luo now have a rather good relationship or at least one that has tempered from the initial clashes earlier on and therefore Er Qing must turn Ming Yu against Ying Luo once again. She goes and essentially whines to Ming Yu that it’s unfair Ying Luo’s life is so good to have the support and backing of the Empress while she, despite being from a rather powerful family, can only remain a maid.  Uhh… eye roll.

But this is cut short as we hear that the Empress has passed out. Yet the cause of this is actually quite happy news. She is pregnant! When the Emperor hears this, he is absolutely over the moon. The rest of Chang Chun palace are equally pleased to hear this as finally, the Empress will have some more support.

While all of this is happy news, plot deems it necessary to have some additional conflict. On the way to see the Empress, Xian Fei meets an imperial doctor who just tended to the Empress. On the way out, he let slip that he’s very sad to not have been able to save her brother. Xian Fei is puzzled and the doctor explains that he was sent to tend to Xian Fei’s brother in prison but was recalled. Perhaps if the Empress didn’t recall the doctor then maybe Xian Fei’s brother might not have died. This shakes Xian Fei to her core because now she thinks that the Empress is just faking her kindness. To make matters worse, Xian Fei hears the Empress say these exact words that she instead of sending a doctor for her brother, changed her mind to give money to Xian Fei instead. This was also an idea from Chun Fei to boot. Xian Fei doesn’t hear this nor does she hear the fact that the Empress feels tremendous guilt for not having done more and wants to apologize to Xian Fei thus sowing more seeds of discord between the two women.

[Karen]

Xian Fei now is completely enraged at the Empress for her hand in destroying her family. I totally feel this scene was contrived but whatever. It sets the stage for Xian Fei’s eventual turn. 

With that interlude out of the way, we turn back to Fu Heng and Ying Luo. Fu Heng is fully smitten with Ying Luo and doesn’t mind letter her know that she is his 心上人 or the person on his heart. Yet when he presents to the Emperor that he wants to marry Ying Luo, the Emperor does not rejoice for them. Instead, he is furious. He absolutely cannot allow Fu Heng to marry Ying Luo.

Fu Heng leaves quickly but not before reiterating his stance that he, no matter what, wants to marry Wei Ying Luo, much to the Emperor’s fury. 

The only phrase that I have for the Emperor right now is 阴阳怪气。 I don’t think he even recognizes what he’s feeling towards Ying Luo right now. On the surface he detests that she doesn’t follow protocol and does not show deference to rules or imperial authority but he really is quite attracted to her. He has a warped view of her and thinks she’s only interested in Fu Heng for his power and status and so he actually quite aggressively questions her why she doesn’t come to him if it’s power and status she wants. He can give her everything. 

But, he’s upset to hear her answer. She’s not interested in him. I don’t think anyone has ever rejected him like this before and so he storms out of the room.

What I think is EXTREMELY interesting in this scene is that everything the Emperor said about what he thinks Ying Luo is, is actually what Er Qing is. Sure, Er Qing likes Fu Heng, but when reflecting that the Emperor could help Er Qing raise the status of her family, she is now turning her sights on the Emperor and to be the Emperor’s woman. Problem is this backfired on her so now she’s even more jealous of Ying Luo that not only does the Fu Heng show more interest in Ying Luo, so does the Emperor. 

[Episode 27]

Karen

In episode 27, Er Qing continues to show her more vile side as she suggest to the Empress that maybe it would be a good idea to gift Ying Luo to the Emperor. That way, she can help the Empress secure her position in the palace. The Empress actually calls for Ying Luo and point blank asks her if Ying Luo wants to be a woman of the Emperor. She again declines. By now, we’re seeing the dichotomy between the two people. Ying Luo doesn’t care for status or power, just her relationship with the Empress and serving her. While Er Qing does not care too much about her relationship with the Empress but rather getting what she wants which includes power and status. Ying Lu isn’t blind to Er Qing’s attempts to create chaos in the Palace and gives a stern warning to her to stay away from the Emperor.

And in a very clear moment of communication between Ying Luo and Fu Heng, she makes it very clear to him that while she might like him, her main motivation and goal in life is revenge for her sister. She doesn’t care about relationships and love. She has more important things to worry about. Additionally, she is very clear that she and Fu Heng come from entirely different backgrounds which would spell disaster for the two of them. This is one of the reasons why YIng Luo is so beloved as a character. She doesn’t care just for romance – she has more important things in life to focus on. 

We’ll let this rest for a bit as we turn back to Ying Luo’s revenge. It just so happens that in the next day, it’s forecasted to have severe thunderstorms with powerful lightning that is set to afflict the capital city. Ying Luo immediately has the wheels turning in her brain.  

At Yu Tai Fei’s palace, eunuchs are installing screens with shades in front of her palace. But, Yu Tai Fei’s maid notes that the fabric on the shades are rather stiff, not at all the floaty material she’s expecting. 

Later that night, Ying Luo bursts into Shou Kang Gong where Yu Tai Fei lives. The shades have been set up and the evening is set to start raining. Before the rain starts, Ying Luo starts screaming for everyone at Shou Kang Gong to hear that Ying Luo is here for revenge. She publicly shouts the horrible deeds that Hong Zhou and his mother did to her sister. By now an entire crowd of eunuchs and maids have heard the words and are now muttering under their breaths. Yu Tai Fei actually continues her facade that she has never harmed a single person but Ying Luo dares her to make an oath. If Yu Tai Fei lied then the gods will give their punishment. At this point, the sky turns and lightning streaks across the sky. Yu Tai Fei continues to claim that she has never hurt a living soul in her life and is willing to accept divine punishment if she lied.

Just as Ying Luo is being dragged off, screaming at the top of her lungs that the heavens will give their just punishment, Yu Tai Fei touches the shades of her palace and is immediately electrocuted by lightning. She falls to the ground while her palace is set ablaze. Yu Tai Fei dies soon after and the entire palace of onlooking maids and eunuchs can only kneel and beg for the heaven’s mercy. 

There’s a lot missing in this episode to explain what really happened which we’ll get into later on in the podcast. But at least now, YIng Luo has enacted revenge for her sister. 

Her actions have consequences though. While to everyone else she can claim that YU Tai Fei died by divine punishment, both the Empress and the Emperor are not fooled. THe Empress is livid to hear what Ying Luo has done and even though Ying Luo denies any actual involvement in Yu Tai Fei’s death, the Empress knows Ying Luo must have had a hand in int. Angry that Ying Luo does not recognize the gravity of what she’s done and believing that she, the Empress can no longer restrict the actions of Ying Luo, Ying Luo is banished to do hard labor at Xing Zhe Ku. In a surprising twist, Ming Yu is the one to cry for YIng Luo’s sudden departure and pleads for her to not leave. How has their relationship changed.

The Emperor, hearing that Ying Luo was there the night Yu Tai Fei died, storms to Chang Chun Palace to interrogate Ying Luo. But the Empress responds calmly that he’s too late. She has already been sent away. WHile on the surface the Empress’s punishment of exiling her to Xing Zhe Ku, she is actually protecting her. Only this way, can YIng Luo avoid the wrath of the Emperor. 

[Cathy]

Behind the Scenes!

Ok – the biggest mystery of like question mark that I had was in episode 27 when the Concubine Dowager Yu or 裕太妃 somehow just dies from lightning. 

There’s a couple factors to why this scene is so confusing. 

Apparently, there was a crucial scene that was cut in this episode. In episode 27, one of 裕太妃’s maids comments on how the silk curtain seems a bit off, as in it doesn’t look like the most lavish type of silk used for the curtain. We don’t get any other explanation and the scene just moves on. So apparently what was cut was a scene in which 魏璎珞 sewed tiny metal threads to the curtain that was to be used for 裕太妃’s LOCATION. Now I don’t know if there’s a scene that also shows 魏璎珞 providing that curtain to the eunuchs that set the LOCATION up but at least we know that 魏璎珞 did indeed have a hand in 裕太妃’s death. 

The way the drama is now just has us guessing as to what 魏璎珞 actually did. She neither confirms nor denies the allegations when the Empress questions her. I personally don’t know why the show cut it out? Maybe to give some more plausibility?

At the same time – let’s talk about the history of this. Growing up in the US, I was always taught that Benjamin Franklin was the first to discover or write out the principle of the lightning rod in 1749. This is the very fun image of good ole Ben Franklin getting electrocuted with lightning via a kite.

So in the context of this show, we’re in the early 1740s. The timing doesn’t work for 魏璎珞 to know how to conduct electricity. HOWEVER, the Chinese have been using something similar to lightning rods for centuries. The Chinese just didn’t really have the scientific reasoning for it. There are records dating back to Tang Dynasty that recounts a story from the Han Dynasty so 2000 years ago where a sorcerer recommended placing a fish shaped copper plate on the top of a roof to prevent “sky fires”. So it looks like the Chinese have unknowingly been using lightning rods for centuries. Typically it would look like a Dragon head with the conductor inside the mouth.

Maybe 魏璎珞, in all of the random knowledge that she has, knew of this and tried her luck with the metal threads in the curtains. 

Speaking of – let’s now pivot over to history because there was a decent amount covered in this episode.

[Karen]

First up – I want to talk about 裕太妃. 

She is the mother of the Prince of He or 弘昼. This lady in history lived a whopping 96 years from 1689 to 1784. That’s CRAZY! She even outlived Queen Elizabeth the second! May she rest in peace. I don’t know what kind of genes she had because that’s incredible!

Her last name was 耿 and came from a middling family, nothing noble. We’ll just continue to call her 裕太妃 though so that it doesn’t confuse you. She married Emperor Yong Zheng when she was only 14 and gave birth to 弘昼 in 1711. When Yong Zheng ascended the throne in 1723, she was granted the title of concubine or 嫔. She was promoted to the title of Consort or 妃 in 1730. 

Apparently she was quite favored by the Emperor Yong Zheng because she was a healthy and intelligent woman who could hold her liquor. So she did indulge in drinking with the Emperor on occasion.

During the reign of Emperor Qian Long, so our current Emperor, she was granted the title of 皇考裕贵妃 which roughly translates to Noble Consort Dowager Yu. In 1778 – she was the bestowed the title of 皇考裕皇贵太妃 or Imperial Noble Consort Dowager Yu. 

It boggles my mind that she lived for THAT long. Like how is that possible?? And this just shows that this is completely different from the show. I doubt the Emperor 乾隆 would have bestowed such titles to 裕太妃 if she was a conniving woman.

I’m looking at 百科 and guess who they list a drama version of 裕太妃 in Empresses in the Palace? Why – none other than 端妃, the sickly woman who was forced to be infertile by 华妃! If you’ll recall in that drama, she was one of 2 other concubines or consorts that were alive by the end of the drama. The other was 敬妃. In this drama of the Story of Yanxi palace, the screenwriter kills her off so that 璎珞 can avenge her sister and I think to push the plot forward and focus on 璎珞’s relationship with the Empress.

[Cathy]

Next is the topic of 包衣抬旗

尔晴 brings this up when she talks to 明玉 about how 魏璎珞’s status will improve if she marries 傅恒 because the Empress will grant 魏璎珞’s family banner status. Ok – so what does that mean?

魏璎珞’s family, as we mentioned before has the status of 包衣 or Booi Aha. The Booi Aha of the 8 banners under the Qing regime. In mandarin they are called 包衣. They are basically bondservants or servile household members of the Manchu elite or members of the 8 banners. The members of the 包衣 have a lower status than a regular manchu. Maids chosen for menial tasks usually had no education but maids of the aristocracy usually meant being relatively well educated so as to serve their masters. In the drama it seems like all of the maids, 尔晴, 明玉 and 魏璎珞 all have the status of 包衣. 

As mentioned by 尔晴, the three banners – Plain Yellow, Plain White and Bordered Yellow are called 上三旗 or top 3 banners. They reported directly to the Emperor and were the ones that were selected for the imperial guard. The rest of the 5 banners were called Bottom 5 banners and focused on regional management and overall capital protection. The act of 抬旗 meant to raise someone from the lower banners to the upper banners. 

Now for members of the 包衣 class, that status was hereditary. They belonged to their respective banners and couldn’t change the banners they served. They aren’t slaves and did have proper identifications – think about your driver’s license or passport. However, the baoyi members of the upper three banners enjoyed better status and jobs. The only ways to change that status and station in life are the following

  1. Raise status of a concubine / consort’s family
  2. Military honors
  3. Contributions to court
  4. Overturned conviction

So for the ladies – the only option was of course to become a favored concubine, which is what 尔晴 mentions.

Funnily enough – there are only 2 women during Emperor 乾隆’s reign in which he raised his consorts banners. Do you want to guess who they are?

  1. 高贵妃
  2. 魏璎珞

Two women who we are VERY familiar with!

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. 

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 24 +25  of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. 

 

Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We’ve posted some more drama reviews so take a look and let us know your thoughts!

 

For these episodes, we do a drama episode recap and then go into history and culture discussed in the drama.

 

 

In the last episodes we finally found out who was the person that harmed Ying Luo’s beloved sister and killed her. He is the Emperor’s brother, The Prince of He, or 弘昼。弘昼 is an arrogant man who loved playing pranks on people and played with women. Despite Ying Luo’s anger at 弘昼 though, there is not much she can do in terms of revenge because he publicly states in front of the Empress herself and Fu Heng as well as Ying Luo that not only will he consider her deceased sister as his concubine, thus giving her status in his household, he will also help her father gain a post in the Imperial Household Department. This will provide the Wei family with much needed prestige as well. 

 

Faced with these pressures, Ying Luo has no option but to back down and let this main get off scott free. Though, we know YIng Luo. She’s not going to take things so easily. 

 

However, an issue with Fu Heng so publicly helping Ying Luo resolve her matter of her sister is that his actions are very blatant in his attention towards her. Observant individuals, aka everyone, can see that he behaves unusually towards Ying Luo which starts garnering jealousy of at least one person in the palace. We will see more of this in future episodes. 

 

The absurd and unruly behavior from Hong Zhou travels all the way up to the ears of the Empress Dowager who discusses this unruly son with her mother, 裕太妃, a new character in the drama. She is shown to be extremely kind and a devoted follower of buddhist teachings. She has her work cut out for her because her son causes so much drama. 

 

And indeed she does because just after 弘昼 settled his affairs over Ying Luo’s sister, he turns his untowards gaze towards 璎珞. Ugh. What a creep. He doesn’t care that her sister is dead because of him at all or the fact that he raped her and now he wants Ying Luo. The fundamental issue is that 弘昼 thinks he’s above all retribution because he has so much power and authority. After seeing Ying Luo walk around the palace, he thinks that she’s rather pretty, prettier than even her sister so why not. He wants to see what he can get.

 

That night, he sees Ying Luo walk off with a basket filled to the brim and he decides to stalk her. He swaps clothes with his eunuch and that’s how he’s able to remain in the palace at night when technically he should have left the palace as per palace rules. He follows Ying Luo in the dark to the gardens where she brings out candles that she says she’s using to pray for her deceased sister. They play a rather flrtatious game where Hong Zhou states he has to turn her in because such acts are not allowed in the palace while Ying Luo is rather cozy with her pleas to not do that. 

 

But, this was all a ruse on Ying Luo’s part. She pretended to be flirty with Hong Zhou only to take out a candle with sleep inducing powers. Her goal is to personally enact revenge and kill Hong Zhou for what he did to her sister. Problem is that her actions were too rash this time and Hong Zhou was able to escape into the trees while Ying Luo tried to attack him. He runs off screaming for help and shortly after catches the attention of the Emperor who orders his guards to figure out where the screaming came from. Seeing that she won’t be able to kill him that night, Ying Luo swiftly changes tactics and tears open her clothes. She drowns out his screams for help with screams of her own and runs over to where guards and the Emperor are. In front of the Emperor, she yells that it was 弘昼 that sneaked behind her and wanted to kill her. 

 

Why do I feel like Ying Luo’s intelligence fell for half a second when she was trying to kill Hong Zhou and then instantly came back? I feel like she could have killed him if she wanted to or if the plot allowed. Haha but that’s just me.

 

Hong Zhou tries to deny Ying Luo’s claims and instead turn it back on her but Ying Luo cries that the palace doors are locked already. Why is he in eunuch’s clothes in the palace this late at night? He must want to do something untoward which is why he’s here. And i mean, yea it looks bad for Hong Zhou because she’s not wrong. The Emperor even turns his suspicious gaze onto Hong Zhou and tells him to shut up when Hong Zhou tries to argue back. 

 

In a surprising move, the Emperor slaps Hong Zhou across the face when he gets up to try to attack Ying Luo. He is dragged off for the Emperor to question them back in his palace. I feel like the drama is moving at a lightning pace because just as Ying Luo is being questioned by the Emperor, the Empress arrives to cover for Ying Luo. The Empress knows just how close of a relationship Hong Zhou and the Emperor have together and steps in to protect YIng Luo. Awwww their relationship is absolutely the best in the palace.

 

The other person that arrives to protect her charge is 裕太妃, 弘昼‘s mother. She is told about what Hong Zhou did tonight and is appalled. She takes out a whip which she just so happens to have on hand and in front of the Emperor, the Empress and YIng Luo,beats the living daylight out of him. She hit him so hard that he passes out. Mwahahaha. This is fantastic. Even if Ying Luo didn’t kill him, you could tell she was quite pleased with the fact that this guy was beaten to a pulp. To make matters better or worse, depending on your perspective, Hong Zhou is paid a visit by Fu Heng who also threatens him to stay away from Ying Luo. What a bad ass Fu Heng. Hahaah. Yay!!!!

 

Often times, not always, when there are individuals that behave the way Hong Zhou does, it’s because he’s been spoiled his entire life. In his case, it’s not only by his brother, but it seems also by his mother. After the debacle with Ying Luo, 裕太妃 actually goes to 长春宫 to apologize to 璎珞 for her son’s actions. She doesn’t just apologize, she actually kneels in front of Ying Luo. That’s a huge sign of respect and quite a step for 裕太妃 to take. Yu Tai Fei begs Ying Luo to forgive Hong Zhou but…Ying Luo point blank refuses. I feel like that’s certainly something Ying Luo could have been a little less adamant on at least to Yu Tai Fei’s face. 

 

Trouble finds her immediately as Ying Luo goes to return some medicine to the doctor Ye Tian Shi but finds him bound and gagged on the side. Immediately a eunuch attacks Ying Luo and tries to kill her. She manages to escape and does an impressive dash out of the yard, staving off a number of assassin eunuchs. Luckily, her knight in shining armor, Fu Heng arrives and helps protect her. None of the killers stay alive though so they are left without evidence of who sent them. Except, out of all of the people in the palace who would want to kill Ying Luo, there’s only one person who would want to do it this way. It’s not Hong Zhou who’s currently bedridden due to his injuries and it’s not the Emperor who would not use such tactics to kill Ying Luo. 

 

Instead, we see the Emperor being given a lotus flower pastries that Yu Tai Fei made herself. While very delicate, the Emperor knew immediately that this was a reminder from Yu Tai Fei about Hong Zhou. It turns out that when the Emperor was young and not named crowned prince yet, he was given a plate of lotus flower pastries from his brother the 3rd prince. Before he could take a bite, the 5th prince, Hong Zhou, ran off with the pastry. It’s implied that the pastry was poisoned and caused the 5th prince to subsequently have ill health. This pastry is a reminder that the Emperor owes Hong Zhou his life. Now I guess we get another reason for why the Emperor has turned a blind eye to so many of the atrocities Hong Zhou has done. 

 

We get a brief and funny interlude however as we’re now in summer time. Everyone in the palace is sweltering in the summer heat and looking for ways to cool down. The imperial household department sends over blocks of ice to the respective palaces to help keep the masters cool. Ying Luo, comes up with an interesting tactic. She pretty much creates a refrigerator that uses lead? I think, and allows the cabinet to keep drinks and fruit cold which will help with the heat. 

 

Ummm Ying LUo is most definitely a modern woman who went back in time. Hahaha. It’s just hilarious how many things she’s invented or done that are way ahead of her time. 

 

The Emperor arrives and is quite impressed with the cabinet and instructs a few more be created for the Empress Dowager and others. He does take this opportunity to inform the Empress and also Ying Luo who’s on the side that Hong Zhou is extremely ill. You see that smirk on Ying Luo’s face? But the Emperor sternly states that he will make judgement after Hong Zhou is fully recovered and will not allow anyone overstep their authority before that.  Clearly, this was said for Ying Luo to hear him.

 

Ying Luo, though, immediately gets an opportunity to get back at the Emperor. After learning that the Emperor loves eating cold grapes in the summer, she immediately gifts an extra refrigerator ice cabinet thing to the Emperor. This allows the Emperor to eat tons of grapes while working. But just as he’s wolfing down large quantities of grapes, he starts getting a stomach ache and rushes to the bathroom. Poor eunuchs that have to tend to the Emperor when he’s dealing with an upset stomach. Turns out, this was all Ying Luo’s doing. Well partly. We find out that you’re not supposed to eat too much frozen grapes paired with tea because that will cause diarrhea. And who’s been eating tons of grapes and also drinking tons of tea? The Emperor. So this is Ying Luo’s little trick to get back at him. Hahahaha. 

 

After that interlude, let’s get back to the main conflict. Yu Tai Fei is not as kind as she seems. She is extremely angry at Ying Luo for what she’s done to her precious son. Highly displeased with Ying Luo, she calls Ying Luo to her palace under the guise of helping her create an ice cabinet. At her palace, her guise comes off and she turns lethal. It makes sense since Ying Luo actually placed a bloody hand of one of the assassins in the ice box given to Yu Tai Fei that scared her. Ying Luo is not blind and could tell that it was Yu Tai Fei that ultimately killed her sister and order the attack on her. Behind the facade of being a devoted believer of Buddha, she is as lethal as they come in the palace.

 

Yu Tai Fei doesn’t deny any of Ying Luo’s claims. She says she did it because she cannot stand these filthy women seducing her son. She then threatens Ying Luo that if she does anything against her or her son again, she will bring down the entire Wei family as well. 

 

This deeply impacts Ying Luo as she now realizes that she cannot enact her true revenge. Back at the Chang Chun Palace, Ying Luo is persuaded to join the other maids in a game. Ying Luo is in no mood for games but joins in, determined to succeed. The game is rather simple. In a bowl of clear water, try to drop a needle into the bowl so that it floats rather than sink. Ying Luo fails repeatedly but continues to try deep into the evening and even after all of the other maids have left.

 

THe Empress arrives and seeing Ying Luo in her troubled state, tries to console her. She understands that Ying Luo is upset at what befell her sister and also what she’s endured. She urges Ying Luo to learn to be patient. Only until she has the inner strength and when the fates align, should she retaliate. Aww… The Empress is so good. Don’t you wish you had a mentor like her???

 

The episode ends with Ying Luo taking those words to heart and we transition to the matter between Ying Luo and Fu Heng which we will explore in episode 26. 

 

 

叶天士

 

Let’s actually discuss 叶天士, the physician. He played an important part in saving the 5th Prince so he uh is stuck as an Imperial Doctor.

 

But, this is a real guy in history! 

 

Ye Tianshi (1667–1747) was a medical scholar and physician who was the major proponent of the “school of warm diseases”. In this drama, he seems to be in his 40s or so but he’s actually supposed to be in his 70s in history.

 

叶天士 comes from a family of physicians and grew up in present day 苏州 China. He started his apprenticeship under his father at the age of 12 and was lucky enough to study under over a dozen physicians.

 

Over the course of his career, he was a major proponent of the school of warm diseases that developed during the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was one of the first to diagnose scarlet fever in China and specialized in smallpox. He had many pupils during his lifetime and his teachings were the basis of the Ye School of Medicine. His sons were also physicians but their skill was overshadowed by their father. 

 

He didn’t write much during his lifetime because of his busy schedule so his 3 major works were compiled by his pupils in his later years. 

 

His major work, Wen-re Lun (Discussion of Warm Diseases) was published in 1746. The main takeaway of that work was the manifestations of diseases into four stages: wei (defensive phase), qi (qi-phase), ying (nutrient-phase), and xue (blood-phase). 卫、气、营、血

 

He is looked upon very favorably by historians. He was an excellent physician in many medical fields including pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine, and surgery. He sought continued study and was a model for his pupils. 

 

In my research, it doesn’t seem like 叶天士 was an imperial doctor, even for a while. But let’s just say that he was indeed a very influential physician during his time. Oh, in his portraits, he looks to be a much skinnier man with a skinny beard and mustache – so not like this drama portrayal at all.

 

冰鉴

 

Next up is ice! We talked about ice in episode 11 of Empresses of the Palace so here’s a refresher and also some additional information. 

 

The usage of ice dates back thousands of years in China. There are records of buying and selling ice all the way back to the 唐dynasty some 1400 years ago. The main clientele for ice was of course, the rich and powerful. Ice vaults were built underground some 4-5 meters deep and straw would be placed on the ground. Depending on where you are, ice would be transported from the north to these vaults. During the winter, ice was mainly cut from frozen lakes. It was important to also have thick blocks of ice as they wouldn’t melt as easily. They then are lowered into the vault and sealed with dirt and more straw. When summer came, people would open the vault for consumption. Because ice was such a luxury item, the rich pre-ordered their ice and came to pick it up once the vault was opened. In the palace, there were special lead and tin containers that could keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time which is what we see in the drama. 

 

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the storage and usage of ice became more ubiquitous. In the capital city, there were several vaults dedicated to ice storage. The Ministry of Works was in charge of distribution of ice from the government vaults to government officials. There was essentially a food stamp system. 

 

Now the name 冰鉴 or essentially the ice box was first named way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago. The name can be found in 诗经 or the book of song. They were typically made with wood and lined with tin or lead. The wood used could be rosewood, Cupressus funebris. Sometimes the containers were made with porcelain enamel. There were various styles of ice boxes and the type shown in the drama is one kind. Well – typically it was the ice was placed on top, then there was a second layer on the bottom to keep the fruit and vegetables fresh. 

 

 

乞巧

 

The game the ladies are playing, as discussed in the drama, is called 乞巧. On the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year, all of the women pray to the 织女 star or Vega star for for nimble fingers and luck. Women pray to 织女 because she is the weaver girl star. The phrase is called 乞求智巧 which is shorted to 乞巧. The 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year is also known as valentine’s day in China. The women pray to 织女 to have nimble and crafty fingers or 巧手 so that they can marry a nice man. 

 

The festival dates back to the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago and has continued till today. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills, in hopes being blessed with good luck. Different regions have different traditions but several staples include attempting to thread needles in different conditions, baking, and crafting various items. 

 

There are records of the festival dating back to the Han Dynasty with women threading seven needles in the moonlight as a symbol of good luck. 

 

In  东京梦华录 The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, is a memoir written by 孟元老in 1127, it recounts the various pastries and desserts that were made for the QiXi festival. Typical ingredients included oil, flour, honey, and sugar. 

 

During the Song and Yuan Dynasties – the 七夕 or 乞巧 festival was a big festival. There are records stating that it was difficult to travel by carriage during the festival. 

 

The game that the maids play in The Story of Yan Xi Palace is true to history. It was called 丢针儿 or dropping the needle. This was popular during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The purpose was of course to see if the woman was “skillful” or 巧 enough to have the needle float on the water.  

 

In conducting my research – it seems like there was a lot of prep that went into this game, especially the water. The water must be gathered at night and left outside for the duration of the next day. The sunshine will create a small layer at the top of the water that will allow the needle to float. Now I’ve never tried this so I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe there’s some mysterious oils that people put in the water to cheat. 

 

Nowadays, there’s a resurgence in the celebration of 七夕 in China although it’s turned mainly into a shopping holiday. Places in china are bringing back traditions though to celebrate this day and they can be quite extravagant.

 

 

 

Strange Tales of Tang Dynasty (2022) 唐朝诡事录

Summary:  Based off a book by the same name, the thriller detective drama follows the seasoned local official Su Wu Ming and young general of the imperial guard from Chang An, Lu Ling Feng solve a series of mysteries that plague the thriving Tang dynasty. This drama follows 8 different cases that this unlikely pair must solve to protect the empire.

 

Total Episode Count: 36

Initial Airing Date: September 27

Platform: iQiYi

 Final Rating: 7/10

This drama was not on anyone’s radar when it first aired but has garnered impressive reviews since. Currently it has a 7.7 rating on Dou Ban and quickly became a sleeper hit post the summer craze. While its popularity has not reached the likes of other iQiyi dramas, it’s still done remarkably well from an interest and review perspective overall.  So, I’m giving it a shot.

This is a horror detective/crime drama that can be quite dark and gruesome so fair warning for the faint of heart. But perhaps perfect for the Halloween season.  As with Checkmate, this drama revolves around a series of cases for the main characters to solve that culminate into a bigger scheme.  The set design and costumes are reminiscent of Luo Yang and The Longest Day in Chang’An, which makes sense as these dramas are set in the roughly the same period. You can tell the budget/production was not as large as the two other dramas but that doesn’t detract from the bone chilling cases and fast paced plot. While the drama can raise hairs on the back of your neck, there are still moments of lightheartedness to balance it out. 

There is a lot to like about this drama, notably strong acting by the individuals in the separate cases. This brought about a certain level of depth in the world building of this show and kept me watching even if it meant peeking through gaps between my fingers and being wary of jump scares.  There is also quite a bit of interesting history and culture portrayed in this drama but even I found it to be a little dense which I guess you can consider is saying something.

However, it certainly took some time for me to warm up to the main characters who don’t have the same chemistry as the two main leads in Checkmate or are not as likeable.  Some of the cases were more interesting than others and I did find a couple overly gruesome. But I feel like this is more of a personal preference.  If you’re looking for a thrill, this is a great drama but if you’re looking for something to watch casually on the side, as was the case with me, Checkmate is more your speed.

Karen

 

 

Lu Ling Feng 卢凌风

Yang Xu Wen 杨旭文

A young and handsome general of the imperial guards in the Tang dynasty capital of Chang’An. He hails from the famous Lu family from Fan Yang. Despite his impressive martial prowess, he was not accepted as a student of the famous Judge Di Ren Jie, one of his biggest regrets.  This is in part due to his self righteous and entitled nature. He is a member of the Crown Prince’s faction.

Su Wu Ming 苏无名

Yang Zhi Gang 杨志刚

Sheriff of Chang’An and student of the famous Judge Di Ren Jie. Su Wu Ming does not know martial arts but is exceptional in his deductive skills and has an excellent ear. Beyond this, he brings forth intelligence and calmness when solving crimes. Despite trying to stay away from court politics, he is backed by the Princess, sister to the Emperor. 

The drama takes place during the reign of Li Dan, 8th Emperor of the Tang Dynasty and son of the famous Emperor Wu Ze Tian. Right off the bat, the drama brings you in to solve the cases of numerous murdered brides on their wedding day as well as a newly murdered sheriff of Chang’An. At the center of this plot is also a popular Chang An Red Tea, a blood red tea that everyone in the capital is paying top dollar or gold to get their hands on. 

Su Wu Ming is brought forth to examine the body of the most recent victim who was killed on her wedding day. The mask of a famous exorcist was melded onto the face of victim. He and Lu Ling Feng with their separate orders work together to uncover who is behind the killings but their different approaches to the case cause them to butt heads. Lu Ling Feng, in particular, is displeased to be working with a student of Judge Di when he himself was rejected. Their leads take them to the wild unknowns of the Ghost Market where a mysterious and deadly woman leads the guards into a trap, killing a number of Lu Ling Feng’s men. 

In reviewing their clues, Su Wu Ming discovers that the deaths of the brides are connected to the appearance of the Chang An Red Tea. Once a bride is killed, a new batch of tea would appear on the market days after. Thus, Su Wu Ming and Lu Ling Feng set up a trap with the help of Fei Ji Shi, a homeless but brilliant doctor that the pair encounter in the Ghost Market, and Pei Xi Jun, the daughter of an important official at court who fell in love with Lu Ling Feng.  Using Pei Xi Jun as bait by pretending she is a bride, Lu Ling Feng and Su Wu Ming were able to track down the main culprit of the deaths to their hiding place in the Ghost Market. Turns out, the real perpetrator had been killing brides and using their blood to create the Chang An Red Tea and cause the nobility and aristocracy in the capital to become addicted to the tea, thereby controlling all of Chang An in the near future. 

While Su Wu Ming and Lu Ling Feng were able to apprehend the main perpetrator, Lu Ling Feng was demoted for insubordination and completely stripped of his post. Meanwhile, Su Wu Ming was promoted to Nan Zhou. With nowhere to go and nothing else to do, Lu Ling Feng partners with Su Wu Ming to his new post where they work together to solve additional crimes that ultimately bring them back to the Capital and under the service of the Emperor, Princess and Crown Prince.

 

What I liked

The various cases are certainly highlights of the drama. I thought the Chang An Red Tea case as well as the Ren Mian Hua which tells of a type of makeup that burned the skin off of the wearer to be the most interesting.  But this drama isn’t only focused on solving who the murderers are.  No, there’s plenty of social and political commentary embedded into the various cases that forces the watcher to think about society both then and now. What led to a poor or wealthy person to behave in a certain way that led to tragedies. What does it really mean to be a scholar? What led to a village to blindly follow a cult? And, as I mentioned, this drama is dense with history that even I feel like I need to brush up on what was portrayed to fully grasp the extent of what I’m seeing and hearing on screen. 

Furthermore, despite being a smaller budget drama, you could tell the drama put a lot of thought and care into costumes and set pieces and also tried its best to showcase the grandeur of the Tang dynasty. The dresses, hair and make up for many of the ladies (apart from the main two) were fascinating. The random dance scenes were intricate as well.  The Tang dynasty as we’ve seen was an extremely metropolitan and diverse dynasty with merchants from all over the world. In this drama, we get glimpses of that as people of different ethnicities, not just Chinese people, were portrayed on screen. 

What is also often most interesting in these types of detective storylines is that the main characters often take a backseat to allow the surrounding cast showcase their skills. There was a diverse cast of individuals spanning different ages which allowed a wide variety of actors and actresses to take full advantage of their limited screen time, and quite honestly, they were often times more interesting than the main cast.

 

 

 

What I Didn’t Like

While I understand that you’re supposed to enjoy the growth storyline of Lu Ling Feng, I don’t think the drama made him sympathetic enough at the beginning to make you want to root for him. He was portrayed as a pompous and condescending individual who needed to tell the entire world that he came from the famous Lu family from Fan Yang. He always acts first with punches and then thinks later. It made this character seem more one sided. When he was punished by the Crown Prince for his actions, I could not help but agree with the Crown Prince. There are good qualities about him for sure but the first half of the drama certainly did not let that shine through which made him less interesting half of the pair to watch. That also cut into the chemistry between him and Su Wu Ming as I often felt like Su Wu Ming was looking after an immature child.

And oh gosh.  I do like Pei Xi Jun as a person, but she is so focused on Lu Ling Feng, or the man he pretended to be and the real person died, which led Pei Xi Jun to mistaken Lu Ling Feng to have died. The first several episodes were just her incessant whining that she wanted to find the man she loved and follow him into the afterlife. This was after ONE meeting with Lu Ling Feng… She exhibited top notch art skills after realizing that Lu Ling Feng didn’t die which helped him and Su Wu Ming on a number of cases but still. The first impression was not pleasant.

Lastly, one of the key themes in the drama that was constantly reiterated is that there are no ghosts, demons or gods. Only people and their imagination. With each case, Su Wu Ming especially was able to lift the veil of deception that culprits created to harm their victims by playing to the unknown and the supernatural.  Yet the drama did not give me a sense that this is fully to be believed. There are many fantastical elements to the drama that were entertaining to watch but then undercut the message of being more grounded. A shape shifter who could fly on wooden birds that were weaponized to shoot arrows? What about the man who floats and could change gender? To me, those cases were less interesting than for example, the smaller scale reveals of how a woman survived over a hundred years and was a member of the Sui Dynasty court. 

 

Let me know what you think!

Karen

Ep 24+25

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. 

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 24 +25  of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. 

 

Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We’ve posted some more drama reviews so take a look and let us know your thoughts!

 

For these episodes, we do a drama episode recap and then go into history and culture discussed in the drama.

In the last episodes we finally found out who was the person that harmed Ying Luo’s beloved sister and killed her. He is the Emperor’s brother, The Prince of He, or 弘昼。弘昼 is an arrogant man who loved playing pranks on people and played with women. Despite Ying Luo’s anger at 弘昼 though, there is not much she can do in terms of revenge because he publicly states in front of the Empress herself and Fu Heng as well as Ying Luo that not only will he consider her deceased sister as his concubine, thus giving her status in his household, he will also help her father gain a post in the Imperial Household Department. This will provide the Wei family with much needed prestige as well. 

 

Faced with these pressures, Ying Luo has no option but to back down and let this main get off scott free. Though, we know YIng Luo. She’s not going to take things so easily. 

 

However, an issue with Fu Heng so publicly helping Ying Luo resolve her matter of her sister is that his actions are very blatant in his attention towards her. Observant individuals, aka everyone, can see that he behaves unusually towards Ying Luo which starts garnering jealousy of at least one person in the palace. We will see more of this in future episodes. 

 

The absurd and unruly behavior from Hong Zhou travels all the way up to the ears of the Empress Dowager who discusses this unruly son with her mother, 裕太妃, a new character in the drama. She is shown to be extremely kind and a devoted follower of buddhist teachings. She has her work cut out for her because her son causes so much drama. 

 

And indeed she does because just after 弘昼 settled his affairs over Ying Luo’s sister, he turns his untowards gaze towards 璎珞. Ugh. What a creep. He doesn’t care that her sister is dead because of him at all or the fact that he raped her and now he wants Ying Luo. The fundamental issue is that 弘昼 thinks he’s above all retribution because he has so much power and authority. After seeing Ying Luo walk around the palace, he thinks that she’s rather pretty, prettier than even her sister so why not. He wants to see what he can get.

 

That night, he sees Ying Luo walk off with a basket filled to the brim and he decides to stalk her. He swaps clothes with his eunuch and that’s how he’s able to remain in the palace at night when technically he should have left the palace as per palace rules. He follows Ying Luo in the dark to the gardens where she brings out candles that she says she’s using to pray for her deceased sister. They play a rather flrtatious game where Hong Zhou states he has to turn her in because such acts are not allowed in the palace while Ying Luo is rather cozy with her pleas to not do that. 

 

But, this was all a ruse on Ying Luo’s part. She pretended to be flirty with Hong Zhou only to take out a candle with sleep inducing powers. Her goal is to personally enact revenge and kill Hong Zhou for what he did to her sister. Problem is that her actions were too rash this time and Hong Zhou was able to escape into the trees while Ying Luo tried to attack him. He runs off screaming for help and shortly after catches the attention of the Emperor who orders his guards to figure out where the screaming came from. Seeing that she won’t be able to kill him that night, Ying Luo swiftly changes tactics and tears open her clothes. She drowns out his screams for help with screams of her own and runs over to where guards and the Emperor are. In front of the Emperor, she yells that it was 弘昼 that sneaked behind her and wanted to kill her. 

 

Why do I feel like Ying Luo’s intelligence fell for half a second when she was trying to kill Hong Zhou and then instantly came back? I feel like she could have killed him if she wanted to or if the plot allowed. Haha but that’s just me.

 

Hong Zhou tries to deny Ying Luo’s claims and instead turn it back on her but Ying Luo cries that the palace doors are locked already. Why is he in eunuch’s clothes in the palace this late at night? He must want to do something untoward which is why he’s here. And i mean, yea it looks bad for Hong Zhou because she’s not wrong. The Emperor even turns his suspicious gaze onto Hong Zhou and tells him to shut up when Hong Zhou tries to argue back. 

 

In a surprising move, the Emperor slaps Hong Zhou across the face when he gets up to try to attack Ying Luo. He is dragged off for the Emperor to question them back in his palace. I feel like the drama is moving at a lightning pace because just as Ying Luo is being questioned by the Emperor, the Empress arrives to cover for Ying Luo. The Empress knows just how close of a relationship Hong Zhou and the Emperor have together and steps in to protect YIng Luo. Awwww their relationship is absolutely the best in the palace.

 

The other person that arrives to protect her charge is 裕太妃, 弘昼‘s mother. She is told about what Hong Zhou did tonight and is appalled. She takes out a whip which she just so happens to have on hand and in front of the Emperor, the Empress and YIng Luo,beats the living daylight out of him. She hit him so hard that he passes out. Mwahahaha. This is fantastic. Even if Ying Luo didn’t kill him, you could tell she was quite pleased with the fact that this guy was beaten to a pulp. To make matters better or worse, depending on your perspective, Hong Zhou is paid a visit by Fu Heng who also threatens him to stay away from Ying Luo. What a bad ass Fu Heng. Hahaah. Yay!!!!

 

Often times, not always, when there are individuals that behave the way Hong Zhou does, it’s because he’s been spoiled his entire life. In his case, it’s not only by his brother, but it seems also by his mother. After the debacle with Ying Luo, 裕太妃 actually goes to 长春宫 to apologize to 璎珞 for her son’s actions. She doesn’t just apologize, she actually kneels in front of Ying Luo. That’s a huge sign of respect and quite a step for 裕太妃 to take. Yu Tai Fei begs Ying Luo to forgive Hong Zhou but…Ying Luo point blank refuses. I feel like that’s certainly something Ying Luo could have been a little less adamant on at least to Yu Tai Fei’s face. 

 

Trouble finds her immediately as Ying Luo goes to return some medicine to the doctor Ye Tian Shi but finds him bound and gagged on the side. Immediately a eunuch attacks Ying Luo and tries to kill her. She manages to escape and does an impressive dash out of the yard, staving off a number of assassin eunuchs. Luckily, her knight in shining armor, Fu Heng arrives and helps protect her. None of the killers stay alive though so they are left without evidence of who sent them. Except, out of all of the people in the palace who would want to kill Ying Luo, there’s only one person who would want to do it this way. It’s not Hong Zhou who’s currently bedridden due to his injuries and it’s not the Emperor who would not use such tactics to kill Ying Luo. 

 

Instead, we see the Emperor being given a lotus flower pastries that Yu Tai Fei made herself. While very delicate, the Emperor knew immediately that this was a reminder from Yu Tai Fei about Hong Zhou. It turns out that when the Emperor was young and not named crowned prince yet, he was given a plate of lotus flower pastries from his brother the 3rd prince. Before he could take a bite, the 5th prince, Hong Zhou, ran off with the pastry. It’s implied that the pastry was poisoned and caused the 5th prince to subsequently have ill health. This pastry is a reminder that the Emperor owes Hong Zhou his life. Now I guess we get another reason for why the Emperor has turned a blind eye to so many of the atrocities Hong Zhou has done. 

 

We get a brief and funny interlude however as we’re now in summer time. Everyone in the palace is sweltering in the summer heat and looking for ways to cool down. The imperial household department sends over blocks of ice to the respective palaces to help keep the masters cool. Ying Luo, comes up with an interesting tactic. She pretty much creates a refrigerator that uses lead? I think, and allows the cabinet to keep drinks and fruit cold which will help with the heat. 

 

Ummm Ying LUo is most definitely a modern woman who went back in time. Hahaha. It’s just hilarious how many things she’s invented or done that are way ahead of her time. 

 

The Emperor arrives and is quite impressed with the cabinet and instructs a few more be created for the Empress Dowager and others. He does take this opportunity to inform the Empress and also Ying Luo who’s on the side that Hong Zhou is extremely ill. You see that smirk on Ying Luo’s face? But the Emperor sternly states that he will make judgement after Hong Zhou is fully recovered and will not allow anyone overstep their authority before that.  Clearly, this was said for Ying Luo to hear him.

 

Ying Luo, though, immediately gets an opportunity to get back at the Emperor. After learning that the Emperor loves eating cold grapes in the summer, she immediately gifts an extra refrigerator ice cabinet thing to the Emperor. This allows the Emperor to eat tons of grapes while working. But just as he’s wolfing down large quantities of grapes, he starts getting a stomach ache and rushes to the bathroom. Poor eunuchs that have to tend to the Emperor when he’s dealing with an upset stomach. Turns out, this was all Ying Luo’s doing. Well partly. We find out that you’re not supposed to eat too much frozen grapes paired with tea because that will cause diarrhea. And who’s been eating tons of grapes and also drinking tons of tea? The Emperor. So this is Ying Luo’s little trick to get back at him. Hahahaha. 

 

After that interlude, let’s get back to the main conflict. Yu Tai Fei is not as kind as she seems. She is extremely angry at Ying Luo for what she’s done to her precious son. Highly displeased with Ying Luo, she calls Ying Luo to her palace under the guise of helping her create an ice cabinet. At her palace, her guise comes off and she turns lethal. It makes sense since Ying Luo actually placed a bloody hand of one of the assassins in the ice box given to Yu Tai Fei that scared her. Ying Luo is not blind and could tell that it was Yu Tai Fei that ultimately killed her sister and order the attack on her. Behind the facade of being a devoted believer of Buddha, she is as lethal as they come in the palace.

 

Yu Tai Fei doesn’t deny any of Ying Luo’s claims. She says she did it because she cannot stand these filthy women seducing her son. She then threatens Ying Luo that if she does anything against her or her son again, she will bring down the entire Wei family as well. 

 

This deeply impacts Ying Luo as she now realizes that she cannot enact her true revenge. Back at the Chang Chun Palace, Ying Luo is persuaded to join the other maids in a game. Ying Luo is in no mood for games but joins in, determined to succeed. The game is rather simple. In a bowl of clear water, try to drop a needle into the bowl so that it floats rather than sink. Ying Luo fails repeatedly but continues to try deep into the evening and even after all of the other maids have left.

 

THe Empress arrives and seeing Ying Luo in her troubled state, tries to console her. She understands that Ying Luo is upset at what befell her sister and also what she’s endured. She urges Ying Luo to learn to be patient. Only until she has the inner strength and when the fates align, should she retaliate. Aww… The Empress is so good. Don’t you wish you had a mentor like her???

 

The episode ends with Ying Luo taking those words to heart and we transition to the matter between Ying Luo and Fu Heng which we will explore in episode 26. 

叶天士

 

Let’s actually discuss 叶天士, the physician. He played an important part in saving the 5th Prince so he uh is stuck as an Imperial Doctor.

 

But, this is a real guy in history! 

 

Ye Tianshi (1667–1747) was a medical scholar and physician who was the major proponent of the “school of warm diseases”. In this drama, he seems to be in his 40s or so but he’s actually supposed to be in his 70s in history.

 

叶天士 comes from a family of physicians and grew up in present day 苏州 China. He started his apprenticeship under his father at the age of 12 and was lucky enough to study under over a dozen physicians.

 

Over the course of his career, he was a major proponent of the school of warm diseases that developed during the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was one of the first to diagnose scarlet fever in China and specialized in smallpox. He had many pupils during his lifetime and his teachings were the basis of the Ye School of Medicine. His sons were also physicians but their skill was overshadowed by their father. 

 

He didn’t write much during his lifetime because of his busy schedule so his 3 major works were compiled by his pupils in his later years. 

 

His major work, Wen-re Lun (Discussion of Warm Diseases) was published in 1746. The main takeaway of that work was the manifestations of diseases into four stages: wei (defensive phase), qi (qi-phase), ying (nutrient-phase), and xue (blood-phase). 卫、气、营、血

 

He is looked upon very favorably by historians. He was an excellent physician in many medical fields including pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine, and surgery. He sought continued study and was a model for his pupils. 

 

In my research, it doesn’t seem like 叶天士 was an imperial doctor, even for a while. But let’s just say that he was indeed a very influential physician during his time. Oh, in his portraits, he looks to be a much skinnier man with a skinny beard and mustache – so not like this drama portrayal at all.

 

冰鉴

 

Next up is ice! We talked about ice in episode 11 of Empresses of the Palace so here’s a refresher and also some additional information. 

 

The usage of ice dates back thousands of years in China. There are records of buying and selling ice all the way back to the 唐dynasty some 1400 years ago. The main clientele for ice was of course, the rich and powerful. Ice vaults were built underground some 4-5 meters deep and straw would be placed on the ground. Depending on where you are, ice would be transported from the north to these vaults. During the winter, ice was mainly cut from frozen lakes. It was important to also have thick blocks of ice as they wouldn’t melt as easily. They then are lowered into the vault and sealed with dirt and more straw. When summer came, people would open the vault for consumption. Because ice was such a luxury item, the rich pre-ordered their ice and came to pick it up once the vault was opened. In the palace, there were special lead and tin containers that could keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time which is what we see in the drama. 

 

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the storage and usage of ice became more ubiquitous. In the capital city, there were several vaults dedicated to ice storage. The Ministry of Works was in charge of distribution of ice from the government vaults to government officials. There was essentially a food stamp system. 

 

Now the name 冰鉴 or essentially the ice box was first named way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago. The name can be found in 诗经 or the book of song. They were typically made with wood and lined with tin or lead. The wood used could be rosewood, Cupressus funebris. Sometimes the containers were made with porcelain enamel. There were various styles of ice boxes and the type shown in the drama is one kind. Well – typically it was the ice was placed on top, then there was a second layer on the bottom to keep the fruit and vegetables fresh. 

乞巧

 

The game the ladies are playing, as discussed in the drama, is called 乞巧. On the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year, all of the women pray to the 织女 star or Vega star for for nimble fingers and luck. Women pray to 织女 because she is the weaver girl star. The phrase is called 乞求智巧 which is shorted to 乞巧. The 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year is also known as valentine’s day in China. The women pray to 织女 to have nimble and crafty fingers or 巧手 so that they can marry a nice man. 

 

The festival dates back to the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago and has continued till today. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills, in hopes being blessed with good luck. Different regions have different traditions but several staples include attempting to thread needles in different conditions, baking, and crafting various items. 

 

There are records of the festival dating back to the Han Dynasty with women threading seven needles in the moonlight as a symbol of good luck. 

 

In  东京梦华录 The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, is a memoir written by 孟元老in 1127, it recounts the various pastries and desserts that were made for the QiXi festival. Typical ingredients included oil, flour, honey, and sugar. 

 

During the Song and Yuan Dynasties – the 七夕 or 乞巧 festival was a big festival. There are records stating that it was difficult to travel by carriage during the festival. 

 

The game that the maids play in The Story of Yan Xi Palace is true to history. It was called 丢针儿 or dropping the needle. This was popular during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The purpose was of course to see if the woman was “skillful” or 巧 enough to have the needle float on the water.  

 

In conducting my research – it seems like there was a lot of prep that went into this game, especially the water. The water must be gathered at night and left outside for the duration of the next day. The sunshine will create a small layer at the top of the water that will allow the needle to float. Now I’ve never tried this so I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe there’s some mysterious oils that people put in the water to cheat. 

 

Nowadays, there’s a resurgence in the celebration of 七夕 in China although it’s turned mainly into a shopping holiday. Places in china are bringing back traditions though to celebrate this day and they can be quite extravagant.