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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Raise status of a concubine / consort’s family
- Military honors
- Contributions to court
- 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?
Two women who we are VERY familiar with!
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas.
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.
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.
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.
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.