Ep 8-13



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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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



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


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


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



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


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



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


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



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


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



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



晒书 – episode 8


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


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


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


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


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


梅雨季 – episode 8


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


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


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


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



茶道 – episode 9


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


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


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


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


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


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




茶马政 – Tea and horse policy


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




射柳大赛 – 射义  – episode 12.


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


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


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




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


The six arts are 礼、乐、射、御、书、数. 


Rites (禮)

Music (樂)

Archery (射)

Chariotry (御)

Calligraphy (書)

Mathematics (數)


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



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




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


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



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


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


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


Thank you all for listening


Ep 4-7



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


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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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



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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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



Now back to the recap!


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


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


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



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



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


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




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


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

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




Let’s now discuss history!


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


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


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


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


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





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


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


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


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


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





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

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


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


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




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



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


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


Thank you all for listening


Ep 1-4




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


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


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






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


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

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


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



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


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



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


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


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


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



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


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


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


王劲松 饰 卢世瑜


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


刘德凯 饰 顾思林


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


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


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


苗圃 饰 赵贵妃


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


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


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


As for the younger generation of actors, we have  


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


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


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



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


鹤唳华亭 meaning


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




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


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


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


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



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


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



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


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


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


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



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