Ep 10-12

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

Let’s begin with the episode recap

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

History

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[kc]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

长安回望绣成堆⑵,山顶千门次第开⑶。

一骑红尘妃子笑⑷,无人知是荔枝来⑸。

 

My translation roughly goes like this

 

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

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

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

No one knows that the lychee has arrived

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

虎兕出于柙,龟玉毁于椟中,是谁之过与?

 

The translation is as such

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Ep 8+9

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

[Cathy]

Next up! On to history!

 

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

 

张廷玉

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

 

[Karen]

鄂尔泰

 

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

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

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

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

 

[Cathy]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

END

 

Ep 6+7

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 6+7 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode or else the drama if the episode is light on history.

 

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We have just revamped our website so do take a look at that as well. The Story of Ming Lan episode transcripts are fully uploaded for those that are interested in reading. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know! 

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

That part was hilarious cause she was SO pissed.

 

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

 

[Karen]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

History

 

[Cathy]

虞美人

 

虞美人·炉香昼永龙烟白

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

孔雀羽线

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

送子观音

 

Avalokiteśvara -> avalokiteshvara

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

送钟

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

发誓 – swearing oaths

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Ep 5

 

[Karen]

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

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 5 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode or else the drama if the episode is light on history.

 

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know!

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

 

Up next is history!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

END

 

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

 

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

 

Thank you all so much

 

Ep 4

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 4 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with pr oper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode. 

 

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It will help us bring you more content!

 

[Karen]

Today’s episode will be rather plot heavy.

 

We left off episode 3 with maids all squealing about the appearance of 富察傅恒. He’s an imperial guard but also the younger brother of the current Empress. Naturally, many of the young maids in the palace would love to catch the eye of the handsome 傅恒. One of the seamstress maids, 锦绣  is no different. The episode starts with 锦绣 fallign to the ground in front of 傅恒 as he walks by hoping that this will be enough for him to notice her but 璎珞 promptly grabs 锦绣 and moves her elsewhere. They get into an argument because 锦绣 doesn’t care if she needs to become a concubine. She is willing to be one in order to marry the likes of 傅恒。 璎珞 is much more critical of these imperial guards and gives off her reasoning as to why men like 傅恒 are not worth it. These guards can have their fun and may not be reprimanded for it. Unfortunately, the maids aka women will most likely pay for it with their life.

 

Unfortunately these harsh words are overheard by 傅恒 who stops 魏璎珞 as she leaves to confront her about what she just said. This is the first time the two interact with each other but it most definitely will not be the last.

 

We next follow 傅恒 as he heads to 长春palace to visit his sister, the Empress. The moment he walks in to see her holding a locket, he grabs it and tosses it out into one of the bushes in the courtyard. This infuriates the Empress who starts screaming at him for this. The locket belongs to her son who passed away 3 years ago. While  傅恒“s action may seem harsh, the point of his visit is to help her sister walk out of her grief. The Empress has been grieving the death of her young son ever since he passed away and has neglected her duties as Empress since she does not have the willingness to manage the Palace. She has also developed longstanding frustration against the Emperor because she thinks he does not care their son has passed away. After all, she rilesl that he can have more women and more children but she cannot. She thinks he is too cold hearted.

 

[Cathy]

 

In my view, this scene already reveals the key underlying differences between the Emperor and the Empress. They may love each other but the Emperor sees himself first and foremost as the Emperor of the Qing dynasty. The Empress, however, sees herself as a mother and a wife. Not the Empress. She is hoping for the love and care that normal families or non-royal families can have but she has not yet realized that the lifestyle she wants will never be in her grasp. Though I will say it is heavy handed for Fu Heng to just say that it’s been three years. She needs to get a grip. Depression and grief sometimes take entire lifetimes to resolve and should not necessarily be measured by time. But clearly, the Empress would have benefited greatly from having a grief counselor or therapist to help work through her grief. Something of the sort does show up momentarily. 

 

After Fu Heng leaves, he runs into 纯妃 who is on her way to greet the Empress. He asks her for a favor. 

 

纯妃 is the Consort who has been ill and this is the first time we see her. She is shown to be very attentive towards the Empress but not the Emperor. She generally pretends to be ill so as not to spend time with the Emperor. Soon after, a maid enters with tea but is seen to have been crying. When the Empress asks, 纯妃 steps in to explain that this maid has reached the age of 25 but has not yet been released from the palace. Her fiance does not want to wait any further. This news shocks the Empress because she feels terrible that her close maids have been neglected on this front. She, as Empress, should have released this maid so that she can be married. 

 

[Karen]

This little show was planned by Fu Heng and acted by 纯妃 to help remind the Empress of the mistakes or cracks that happen when she is not running the palace. Things like releasing maids from the palace when they’re of eligible age to be married outside are under her purview. If she cannot remember such things for her personal maids, what of the other tasks that require her attention? This also shows us that the Empress is truly benevolent and a kind Empress who cares about her subjects and staff.

 

The Empress recognizes where she needs to improve and also finally takes a look at the box that Fu Heng brought from the Emperor to help the Empress step out of her stupor.  She opens the box to find a decree written by the Emperor himself the first year he ascended the throne. He named 永琏, their son, the crown prince of the Qing dynasty. This realization that the Emperor placed so much value onto their son came as an incredible shock to the Empress. She immediately burst into tears. She thought that the Emperor did not care about their son but with this decree, she realized that in fact, he did. Enough to pronounce him as the next Emperor. The Emperor did not only lose a son but his successor as well. The Empress understands now that she wanted the Emperor to grieve the same way she does but the Emperor had his own way of grieving. She feels ashamed that she has not been taking her duties as Empress seriously and resolves to step up.

 

The next day, we see the Empress undergo a dramatic transformation. The ladies of the palace are called to Qing An or greet the Empress. It seems like the Empress has not been present in many of these greetings in the recent past so the group of ladies are quite surprised when she shows up. Today she looks regal and composed – just how one expects an Empress to act. The person most displeased to see this is of course, 高贵妃 or Royal Consort Gao. In attendance we also have 娴妃, 纯妃,嘉嫔, the newly pregnant 愉贵人, 舒贵人 and a few others. 

 

[Cathy]

In front of the group, she gives out her orders as Empress. 高贵妃 cannot help but to rebuke the Empress’s orders, namely the fact that 怡嫔 who committed suicide is to be buried respectfully. Concubines who commit suicide is tantamount to a crime itself and generally should have their families punished, not given a proper burial. But the Empress says that she announced 怡嫔’s death as succumbing to illness. Who said anything about suicide? She then presses the rest of the ladies. Who do they agree with? Her, the Empress? Or 高贵妃? All of the ladies voice the agreement with the Empress, much to the fury of 高贵妃 who fumes about it back at her own palace with 嘉嫔 at her side. There are so many parallels to 甄嬛传 between 高贵妃 and 华妃 and 嘉嫔 with 曹贵人。

 

After this court greeting, the drama does take a few moments for 纯妃 to interact with 娴妃 so that we get a sense of the characters of these two women. Long story short is that 娴妃 is known throughout the palace for her kindness and does not like to choose sides between the Empress or anyone else. She likes to stay in her own lane and spends most of her time focused on the Emperor. 纯妃 on the other hand, is quite the mystery. 娴妃 does not fully understand what her motivation or drive is in the palace as she doesn’t pay much attention to the Emperor but does focus on the Empress a lot. When asked further, 纯妃 skillfully deflects the question before the two part ways. She will remain a mystery for qutie a bit longer.

 

[Karen]

We’ve spent most of the episode with the powerful ladies in the palace and now we close off the episode by returning to the maids. 玲珑 is a maid that consistently wants to rid the palace of 璎珞 since she’s jealous of 璎珞。 She let slip to 高贵妃’s maid that it was 璎珞 that notified 愉贵人 of the poison in new loquat leaves. This immediately spells trouble for 璎珞 as that night, she is dragged off to 储秀宫 where 高贵妃 awaits her. But, 璎珞 being the quick thinker that she is, recognizes she may be in trouble and therefore feigns retardation in front of both 高贵妃 and 嘉嫔 when questioned about the loquat leaves. She speaks extremely loudly and even asks about the bowl of lotus rice balls in 高贵妃’s hands. The group are so shocked to see how weird this girl is behaving and so 高贵妃 gifts the bowl to 璎珞 and also another 6 bowls. She is able to leave with the 7 bowls to finish but at least she still has her life. 

 

[Cathy]

The first piece of history is to discuss the 正大光明匾 and the selection of Crown Prince. This revelation in episode 4 finally made the Empress realize that her husband truly loved their son. 

 

So what does this mean?

 

The 正大光明匾 or the Righteous and Bright Plaque is placed squarely above the throne in 乾清宫or Palace of Heavenly Purity. This palace is in the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. It is the largest of the three halls in the inner court and served as the Emperor’s audience hall during the Qing Dynasty. 

 

In the Qing Dynasty, starting at the end of reign of Emperor 雍正, the Qing Emperors would secretly place an Imperial Edict behind the 正大光明匾 or Righteous and Bright Plaque. This Imperial Edict clearly stated the heir and successor to the Qing Empire. There were 2 copies of this edict. The one hidden behind the plaque and one that was with the Emperor at all times. 

 

When the Emperor died, the Ministers would concurrently take the hidden edict from behind the plaque and the edict carried by the Emperor to compare the contents. Once confirmed of the validity of the Imperial edict -> basically making sure the two had the same contents -> the Ministers would declare the new Emperor. 

 

The reason for this action is because Emperor 雍正, himself the victor of a decades long bloody struggle to seize the throne while his father was alive, wanted to avoid the usual political plotting, securing of factions, and harem infighting that was all too familiar to him. 

 

Let me remind listeners that the Qing Dynasty didn’t have the custom of declaring the crown prince who was the son of the Empress. That custom was called 立嫡立长 -> or the declaring the crown prince the first born son of the Empress. He was to be called 太子. Let’s recall the drama Royal Nirvana, the crown prince was not the eldest of the Emperor’s sons, but he was borne to the Empress so he was crowned 太子 or the Crown Prince. 

 

During the reign of Emperor 康熙, 雍正’s father, he did crown the second prince who was the Empress’s son as Crown Prince. However, the Crown Prince disappointed his father so much that he was deposed of his title twice! Without a Crown Prince, the rest of 康熙’s sons plotted for the throne. This of course resulted in 九子夺嫡 or the Nine Lords’ War. To the victor the spoils and 雍正 in the end imprisoned or killed many of his brothers. We discuss this much more at length in our Empresses in the Palace series. 

 

To avoid this type of political struggle, Emperor 雍正 decided that in his lifetime, he would never select a crown prince while alive. The new Emperor would only be selected after his death. This is how our current Emperor 乾隆 came to rule. The custom of secretly hiding an Imperial Edict with the selection of the heir lasted for 4 emperors – 乾隆、嘉庆、道光、咸丰. Emperor 咸丰, who died in 1861, had only one son, and Emperors 同治 and 光绪 had no sons, so there was no more need to hide an Imperial Edict. 

 

Back to this drama – the Empress finally realizes how much the Emperor loved their child when she saw that he placed their son 永琏’s name as heir behind the Righteous and Bright Plaque. The Emperor was in his prime and didn’t need to clearly state an heir, but he did so, showing the Empress and us the audience that he did have high hopes for their son.

 

This is true to history. Emperor 乾隆 did place the hidden edict behind the plaque in 1736, the first full year of his reign. He ascended the throne in 1735. 乾隆 and Empress 富察’s son 永琏 died in 1738 when the boy was 9 years old. The Emperor was deeply distraught and saddened by this news. The wording of the edict is exactly as was shown in the drama so kudos to the show for replicating that. However, unlike the drama, the edict was declared when 永琏 died. He was buried in accordance with the customs of a crown prince and his posthumus name is of a crown prince. 

 

35 years later, in 1773, Emperor 乾隆 placed another hidden edict in behind the plaque. That wasn’t taken out until the year he abdicated in 1795.

 

[Karen]

That was a lot of talk about successions and heirs. Let’s move onto costumes! 

 

Today I want to introduce a discussion on shawls capes because we finally have all of the main female concubines in one scene! Why I say introduce is because we’ll see different examples throughout the drama so I’ll highlight them when I see them. The focus is on episode 4, the scene where all the ladies greet the Empress. We see noble consort gao or 高贵妃 wearing a pearl shawl or cape. We’ll see this pearl shawl show up quite a few times. 

 

The purpose of this pearl shawl is to showcase the lavish and extravagant lifestyle that 高贵妃 lives. She’s the only one in the drama that wears this. This costume draws heavily from history but not of the exact time period. 

 

Empress Dowager 慈禧, who effectively ruled the Qing dynasty for 47 years, from 1861 until her death in 1908, loved pearls. Like LOVED pearls. There are surviving photos of the Empress Dowager wearing variations of pearls. From bangles, to earrings, to shawls, pearls were EVERYWHERE. She had a pearl shawl which served as the inspiration for the one we see in this drama. Definitely look it up because it’s quite cool to see. Now, I don’t really know how many pearls make up the shawl we see in the drama but I saw one estimate for the one worn by Empress Dowager 慈禧 to be around 3500 pearls. There’s apparently one pearl dress that consists of 32K pearls! That’s CRAZY! It is basically a priceless artifact. 

 

The funny thing is, when the drama first aired, everyone was like – why is 高贵妃 wearing either

  1. A pearl fish net or
  2. The same shawl that 猪八戒 or the Pig wore in 西游记 or Journey to the West

 

It is certainly out of place with the other ladies of the palace but hey, she wears what she wants! I’m still chuckling about the Pig reference because I remember watching that episode when I was younger and I was also like Wow, the resemblance is uncanny!

 

[Cathy]

Lastly for today, I want to discuss something called a 压 or my translation is a clothes holder. I know it’s a terrible translation. If we have any fashionistas who can help correct me, I’d be very grateful. 

 

Take a look at episode 4, Consort chun and Consort Xian are having a conversation while walking. On the right, beneath their collars, they each have a jade accessory dangling from the second knot of their garment. That accessory is the 压襟. They are accessories that basically hold the woman’s clothes in place or to protect the garment from flailing if there’s wind. The reason is because traditionally, women’s clothes weren’t really form fitting and honestly pretty loose. The accessory essentially prevents the clothes from fluttering too much in the wind. 

 

Now with this information, look at all of the women, especially concubines in the palace. They all have a 压襟 dangling on their right side. 压襟 were first used during the Tang dynasty – so think 7th century AD and of course widely used in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Typically, the 压襟 are comprised of 3 parts during the Qing Dynasty for Manchu women. The top section typically contains a silver hook or a silk knot that can neatly hang from the second knot of the garment. The middle section is the main accessory. It has to be relatively heavy so that it can keep the garment flat. This could be jade, ivory, carnelian, silver etc. The bottom section is then typically a tassel or maybe a small bell. In the drama – the Empress uses her buddhist beads as her 压襟, which was also fine. It’s relatively rare to see this shown in dramas – we didn’t see it in Empresses in the Palace so kudos to this drama for this accurate depiction.

 

 

[Karen]

End

 

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

 

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

 

Thank you all so much

 

Ep 2+3

 

[Cathy]

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

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 2 and 3 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode. 

 

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It will help us bring you more content!

 

 

[Karen]

Now that we’re in the palace we are treated to two versions of the palace. First up is Noble Consort Gao. 高贵妃. In the palace, her status is second only to the Empress and she rounded up the existing ladies in the harem. Each woman outside of her is holding her breath awaiting her scolding. But, after hearing that the emperor isn’t going to call any of the ladies to stay the night, she immediately leaves. A quick refresher on how this works. Each night, the Emperor during the Qing dynasty is given trays and trays of name plaques with each woman in the palace’s name on it. Whomever he chooses or “flips” the plaque of, spends the night with him.

 

Elsewhere, our main character 魏璎珞 shows off that she is not someone that will easily be bullied. That night, the young women who were accepted to become embroidery maids are sent to the small room where like 10 of them are staying. A couple of the young ladies begin bullying 璎珞 because they were annoyed and jealous that 璎珞 helped the other maid 吉祥 in the last episode and earned praise. One of the maids poured tea water on 璎珞’s blankets and dared her to tattle. In any other drama, 璎珞 probably would have just taken in and be told to let it go. But nope! In this drama, 璎珞 walks out and straight up comes back with a whole bucket of water that she then splashes on the offending maid and also pours water all over their blankets as well. For once, we quickly see a main character who is willing to push back straight from the get go. 璎珞 is not afraid to escalate and also fight tooth and nail for herself. Good for her!

 

But why is she in the palace anyways and with such a big temper? We get a flashback scene that reveals she’s here to discover the truth about her beloved older sister’s death. The Wei family stated that her sister died of suicide but after inspecting the body, 璎珞 clearly saw marks around her sister’s neck that suggests she was asphixiated. Her sister was a maid in the palace as well and therefore the only way to get to the bottom of why she died is to enter the palace.

 

[Cathy]

The next day, the two groups of ladies continued with their respective paths. 高贵妃 randomly wakes up and realizes something must be wrong with 怡嫔 last night who said that 愉贵人 was ill. And so, with the stature worthy of a noble consort, she goes to interrogate 愉贵人 because 高贵妃 doesn’t believe that she’s actually just ill.  怡嫔 feeling that something isn’t right, rushes over to the Empress’s palace to beg for help. And indeed, when the group arrives on the scene, 高贵妃 has 愉贵人 pinned on the floor with an imperial doctor trying to force her to drink medicine. At this point, 怡嫔, trying to help her friend, 愉贵人, reveals that 愉贵人 is actually pregnant! They can’t treat her this way! A square off occurs between 高贵妃 and the Empress plus 怡嫔 who believe that 高贵妃 is trying to harm 愉贵人 and also her child. At first glance, this certainly does seem like what’s happening. 高贵妃 uses the excuse of looking after 愉贵人’s sickness to force her to drink medicine which includes 枇杷膏 or loquat cream that is supposed to help her cough but actually cause her to miscarry. But we’ve seen that too many times in palace dramas haven’t we? After the Empress’s own doctor inspects the medicine and reveals that the medicine is perfectly fine do we realize that 高贵妃 may not be that incapable in the palace. It would have been too obvious that 高贵妃 tried to kill a child of the Emperor. The point of this scene is to reveal that the Empress does not have the power or perhaps the capability to combat the likes of 高贵妃 in the palace. We are presented with an aggressive foe in 高贵妃 who now gets to punish 怡嫔 however she likes. 

 

Meanwhile, 魏璎珞 starts to investigate exactly what happened to her sister. Her first stop is to ask 张嬷嬷 who manages the seamstresses whether or not she’s heard of 魏璎宁. 张嬷嬷 pauses but tells 璎珞 that she should not ask such things in the future. Additionally, since 宁 is a character that matches with the name of 高贵妃, the maid probably had her name changed since staff cannot have names that match their masters. This is something we’ve talked about in previous podcast episodes. Shortly after, 张嬷嬷 asks 璎珞 and another maid 玲珑 to come with her on a task. They’re to help measure 愉贵人 for new clothes because she is newly pregnant. The women head on over only to find that 怡嫔 is being punished severely outside. 高贵妃 ordered her maid to slap 怡嫔 across the face multiple times as punishment for her insolence earlier. Poor 怡嫔‘s face is bloodied and bright red. 愉贵人 rushes out to try to protect her friend but is pushed back. All of this is seen by 璎珞 who is clearly impacted as it reminds her of the relationship she had with her sister. 

 

[Karen]

The seamstresses head inside to help measure 愉贵人 but she is still extremely upset by what’s happened. She wonders how it’s possible that the loquat cream 高贵妃 gave her to eat was not discovered to be poisonous. It must be! That’s when 璎珞 steps in to explain that the loquat cream when using new leaves are poisonous but older leaves are fine for medicinal use. The cream must have used new leaves which would only be poisonous after repeated use and would be difficult to discover in smaller quantities. This riles up 愉贵人 who wants to bring 璎珞 in front of the Empress to explain what happened. 张嬷嬷 though actually steps in and begs 愉贵人 to let 璎珞 go. 张嬷嬷 knows that if 璎珞 goes with 愉贵人 it might mean death for 璎珞. 愉贵人 relents and lets the seamstresses return back home while she goes to see the Empress herself but is ultimately turned away by the Empress’s maid.

 

What is interesting is that the aunties or 嬷嬷 in this palace a strict but still protective. This 张嬷嬷 certainly went out of her way to protect 璎珞 on her first day in the palace when she clearly didn’t have to. She did however, punish 璎珞 to kneel in front of everyone once they returned. For an entire day, 璎珞 kneeled on the ground to repent for her mistake. But she doesn’t think she did anything wrong. She knows that 张嬷嬷 is trying to help her but when 张嬷嬷 came to ask if she understands her mistake, 璎珞 is adamant that what she did in saying those things to 愉贵人 was right.

 

[Cathy]

张嬷嬷 then brings 璎珞 to see exactly what her fate would be in the palace if she continues talking the way she does. They head back to the palace where 愉贵人 and 怡嫔 live only to see that 怡嫔 has hung herself. The humiliation was too great for her so she decided to end her life. 

 

You would think that 璎珞 learned a valuable lesson today after seeing 怡嫔’s death but nope. In front of 张嬷嬷 on the way home, 璎珞 openly calls 怡嫔 a coward for dying in the face of this humiliation. If it were her, she would stand up for herself even if it meant death. She would not end her life without fighting back. And that ladies and gentleman, is the stubborn character we have in this drama. 

 

Luckily she is not only stubborn but does have a quick wit which she used to full effect in the next scene and into episode 3. After running off from 张嬷嬷, she is seen throwing small punches on a tree to vent off some of her anger. Bad luck would have it that she is overseen by the Emperor and his servant and the tree she hit? Is an important cypress tree spirit that helped the Emperor years before. How dare she hit the tree?

 

[Karen]

But before she can be dragged off for punishment for desecrating the tree, she comes up with a hilariously random story that she dreamt the tree was itchy the night before and therefore was here to scratch the tree’s back! The head eunuch 李玉 was like what the hell are you talking about, this is clearly a lie but 璎珞 just pushed back tht if the tree is an important spirit why couldn’t it come to her in a dream. The Emperor actually lets 璎珞 go to literally everyone’s surprise because uhhh what a dumb story. 璎珞 hurriedly leaves with 张嬷嬷 because yea, once the Emperor realizes that this was just a joke, he’ll definitely be angry.

 

And now we follow the Emperor to see what he’s up to. On this morning, we see him visiting his mother, the Empress Dowager. Yayyyy!!! It’s 甄嬛! Not really but whatever. Same historical character. But actually though, when this drama was airing and in the comments, everyone was like hey! It’s 甄嬛! There were sooo many expectations of this Empress Dowager so we’ll see how she fares compared to our classic character.

 

As with all Empress Dowagers it seems, this one is similarly urging her son to take a look at the women in his palace and also worry about his health. The Empress Dowager 太后 tries to recommend the new 贵人 who came to the palace from the court selection process called 舒贵人 by sharing the tea with the Emperor that she brought for the Empress Dowager. Problem is, the Emperor now realizes that he was duped by 璎珞 and hurriedly makes excuses to leave the Empress Dowager. After rushing back to the tree and not finding 璎珞, he orders his head eunuch 李玉 to find her but not before kicking him a few times to vent off his anger for tattling on him to his mother about his recent food intake. This is certainly one of the funniest Emperor’s I’ve seen in quite some time. 

 

[Cathy]

He also isn’t oblivious to what’s happening in his palace. In another hilariously humiliating move, after he went to visit the Empress and I’m assuming did some own research, he sent his servant to gift 高贵妃 a 5000 word sutra text for her to copy. This is his punishment to her for how she’s behaved in the last couple of days and in his words, via the servant, that she has too much anger right now. So far so good for the Emperor!

 

What about Ying Luo? As she’s heading off with other seamstresses to send clothing, she is dragged off secretly by a nearby imperial guard 庆锡 who used to be her sister’s lover. 璎珞 is super pissed that this guy didn’t protect her sister at all which resulted in her death and he’s all like if you need help just let me know. Yea right, who needs this kind of guy. The fact that they’re talking though was seen by 玲珑 one of the seamstresses who immediately went to snitch on 璎珞 with 方姑姑 the maid who also manages these seamstresses. They angrily arrive to try to catch 璎珞 and the mysterious guard which is taboo in the palace but 璎珞 cleverly manages to get herself out of the situation and helped 庆锡 escape. She does, in this carfuffle, learn that her sister’s name was changed to 阿满 and that she was expelled from the palace for some mistake she made.

 

[Karen]

 

We’ll end off the episode with 李玉, the Emperor’s head eunuch, searching high and low for the maid that tricked the Emperor, aka 璎珞. He has every single maid in the palace repeat the same lines that 璎珞 said to search for her. Luckily, while 李玉 was investigating the seamstresses, 2 new concubines in the palace just so happen to also stop by. They were the new concubines from episode one. 张嬷嬷 craftily helped 璎珞 leave with these two concubines so as to escape the investigation by 李玉. So far, it seems that 璎珞 is safe. As they’re walking, all of the maids are squealing in delight because the handsome 富察傅恒 has walked by. We’l see more of him in the next episode.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s turn our attention to the history for these episodes! We’ll start with some references from episode 1 because we couldn’t cover everything last time.

 

The first topic is on the paintings that the Emperor “gifted” the concubines. 

 

十二宫图 – ugh. Yu ZHeng. WHYYYY did you put all of these painting in here? So much additional work for us! Haha. But it’s all good because we’re learning stuff too! The Emperor gifted 12 women in his palace these paintings and apparently, this was true to history that Qian Long did this. We will only talk about the paintings that are mentioned in the drama. Each of these paintings honestly can be a whole drama in it by itself so I’m going to just keep it short and simple and focus on the 3 paintings explicitly gifted to the 3 women in the drama. 

 

The first one is 太姒诲子图 or Lady Tai Si teaching her sons. Lady Tai Si was wife to the King Wen of Zhou or in mandarin 周文王. She is a legendary woman who probably lived between the 11th and 12th century BC. Her sons include King Wu of Zhou – the founder of the Zhou Dynasty. She was renowned for her beauty, wisdom, and work ethic. She was also an upstanding role model for her simple life and taught her sons to be virtuous men. The Emperor Qian Long in this drama gifted this to the Empress as a reminder of Empress’s duty to her people and to try and have her come out of her stupor from the death of her son. 

Next is 西陵教蚕图 or The Xi Ling Madame Harvesting Silkworms, which is the one sent to Noble Consort Gao. This is about Léi Zǔ also known as the Xi Ling Madame. She was the legendary wife to 黄帝 or the Yellow Emperor. Legend has it, she discovered silkworms when She is known as the silkworm mother and the goddess of silkworms. On the surface, I would have the same question as Noble Consort Gao – what does the emperor want me to do? Go and grow a bunch of silkworms? Nah – the Emperor basically wanted her to go back to more primitive or original times. This is also a knock on her as a reminder to focus on running the palace instead of trying to wreak havoc in the palace.

The next one is 徐妃直谏图 or The Persuasions of Consort Xu. This is gifted to Consort Xian or Charmaine’s character. Consort Xu was a married to Emperor Tai Zong 李世民 of the Tang Dynasty. So think early 7th century AD. Consort Xu was very educated and intelligent. While married to the Emperor, she often persuaded him not to enter into military campaigns but to focus on the prosperity of the Empire instead. The underlying meaning that the Emperor 乾隆 had for this concubine was a reminder of Loyalty. 

Unfortunately – the only one that survives till today is the one gifted to 钟粹宫 or 纯妃 with the one 许后奉案图. We don’t see that painting in episode 1 – the rest of the paintings in the drama are just what the production team decided upon as we don’t have the originals to compare to.

[Karen]

皇珐玛 – in Episode 3, the Emperor refers to his grandfather as 皇珐玛.珐玛 is the Manchu phrase for grandfather so this usage is correct. We rarely hear this used in Qing Dynasty dramas as they often just state the previous Emperor’s title or call him 爷爷. 爷爷 means paternal grandfather but that’s the 汉 phrase.  珐玛 is the correct usage here.

碧螺春 – 吓煞人香

Let’s talk about the tea 碧螺春! This comes up in discussion in episode 3 between the Emperor and Empress Dowager. The current name is 碧螺春 or Green Snail Spring. This tea has a history of more than 1000 years and has been sent to the Imperial Palaces as tribute since the Tang Dynasty. It is one of the ten major teas in China. It is a green tea that is harvest primarily in the 洞庭 mountains near Lake Tai in the Southeast region of China. 

The original name, as mentioned in the drama, was called 吓煞人香 or Scary Fragrance Tea. Legend has it, a nun was walking around in the mountain and plucked a couple of the leaves to make tea. The aroma was so strong that she said the Fragrance is so strong that it is scary – hence the name Scary Fragrance Tea. During the reign of Emperor Kang Xi, so think late 17th century to early 18th century, he thoroughly enjoyed the tea but thought that the name was uncivilized and thus gifted the name of 碧螺春 or Green Snail Spring. Green for its bright green color, snail for the shape the leaves make as they’re curled like a snail, and spring for the season that they’re harvested. 

碧螺春 is a very popular tea to this day. There are seven grades to rank this tea. True to its name, it has a very vibrant color and is quite aromatic. I’ve never had it fresh to drink near Lake Tai or 太湖 because well, I’ve never been. However, for another type of Green Tea – 龙井, I did have the pleasure of sitting next to 西湖 to drink fresh green tea. It was such a relaxing experience! If you’re able to buy some of this tea – I highly recommend trying it.

When watching this scene in the drama, I was immediately reminded of Pearl Princess. There was a small plot point in the drama that highlights Emperor 乾隆’s love for 碧螺春 so this tea has always been in my brain as a great tea to drink.

[Cathy]

御前侍卫

Lastly – let’s discuss the job of 御前侍卫 or Imperial Guards! Imperial guards as a job or role was established during the early years of the Qing Dynasty.

As mentioned in the drama, only Manchu and Mongolian bannermen were allowed to become Imperial guards at the age of 18. Their job was to protect the Forbidden Palace, the Emperor and the Emperor’s family. There were the Guard Corps who protected the imperial palace, the vanguard who marched ahead when the emperor left the palace and the imperial bodyguard, who protected the emperor. 

We’ll focus on the Imperial Bodyguards or 御前侍卫. They were primarily from the upper three banners which includes 镶黄、正黄、正白 or Bordered yellow banner, plain yellow banner, and the plain white banner. These Imperial Bodyguards were of course in charge of protecting the Emperor. There was an Imperial Bodyguard office that managed the overall management of guard shifts, guard selection, practices, and promotion of guards. Even amongst the Imperial Bodyguards, there was a strict hierarchy and a corresponding rank for the level with the top being a 1st rank officer. These roles were highly coveted because at the highest level, they gave the officer direct access to the Emperor. On the flip side, the Emperors only picked those he knew were loyal to him to become his personal bodyguards. These men were allowed to have swords in the Imperial Palace, which in any other dynasty, was NOT allowed. They were also paid pretty well – hey if you’re paid well, you won’t be bribed to uh kill the emperor?

This Imperial Bodyguard role was quite frankly a good way to give jobs to bannermen. If they all didn’t have jobs, they probably wouldn’t have been bored and maybe plotted uprisings. This route offered them a possibility for promotion, wealth, and riches. Note – these men didn’t have to take the Imperial Entrance Exams to get their role. BUT by this time, there were martial arts exams that one could partake in from humble beginnings to become an Imperial Guardsmen. A relatively high percentage of officers started with roles as Imperial Bodyguards and then were promoted to other formal court roles. Others were promoted to official roles in the military. 富察傅恒 was one of them.

Now for Chinese dramas, having Imperial Bodyguards is another common trope. Similar to in Empresses in the Palace with Doctors. These Imperial Bodyguards fall in love with the maid or the concubines in the palace. Why these IMperial Bodyguards? Well – they are the only men wandering around in the Palace! Otherwise, it’s just eunuchs and the scandals aren’t QUITE as salacious with eunuchs.

END

 

 

Ep1

 

[Karen]

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

 

Today, we are discussing episode 1 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode. I totally forgot just how much history and culture is showcased in episode one of this drama so hang on tight as we share all of our research!

 

If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It will help us bring you more content!

 

In episode 1, We are back at the forbidden palace this time under the reign of Emperor Qian Long. I don’t think I can overstate just how many dramas were filmed about Qian Long or at least under his reign because it was just easy and there’s so much material about him. The drama starts with the 6th year of Qian Long’s reign and instead of following a court official daughter’s journey in the palace like we did with Empresses in the Palace or 甄嬛传, we start our journey following a number of palace maids. But just like Empresses in the Palace, the story begins on the day of 选秀. This is the grand process whereby the Emperor selects women to become concubines in his harem. 

 

Like I said last episode, we will try our best to not repeat history or information that we already discussed in Empresses in the palace. However, in the first couple of episodes, we will have to repeat some information just to get everyone situated and remind everyone of context.

 

Yet, because there have been so many Qing dynasty palace dramas before Yan Xi Gong Lue and also thanks to Empresses in the Palace, (but maybe I’m just biased), we are immediately shown that women eligible for the selection process are born of higher status than the women who are maids. In any case, our main character 魏璎珞 is in a procession of maids that accidentally bump into a young woman who is awaiting the selection process or you could call her a 秀女。The woman is extremely angry at the maid,玲珑,who bumped into her and caused her dress/shows to be ruined. This 秀女 wants to punish 玲珑. Luckily, 魏璎珞, steps in and immediately quells the conflict by artfully creating a fragrant powder for the 秀女 to step on because her shoes have lotus flowers etched onto the bottom. After stepping onto the powder, each step this woman takes leaves traces of the lotus flower and is quite fragrant. The 秀女 is extremely pleased with this as it means it may bring her additional attention during this selection process and lets the maids leave. 

 

[Cathy]

In this one scene, we are introduced to the fact that 魏璎珞, our main character, is a quick thinker and learned. She references an interesting anecdote to appease the 秀女 which we’ll explain later in this podcast episode. We are shown that these 秀女 can be condescending and brutal towards staff but within the maids, we’re also already seeing cracks form between the young women. In my mind when watching the drama, I’m always thinking, how many episodes would this woman survive in the palace. We will see just that in a bit.

 

On this important day for the Emperor, it’s not just the young women who are eager to show off, but it is an important day for the existing women in the palace to assess their competition. Our serene and graceful Empress, in pale colors and minimal hair accessories, is shown as not being too bothered by this whole affair. Meanwhile, 高贵妃 is shown to be much more jealous. Her makeup is certainly more aggressive with her smoky eye and elaborate hairstyle and is in attendance to watch the young women. To be honest, she reminds me a lot of 华妃 in 甄嬛传

 

Shortly after, our emperor, Qian Long, arrives in full court dress. I’m bringing in my views of the world now in reiterating how important 甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace was to explaining Qing dynasty traditions because guess what, we aren’t even given an explanation of what the Concubine selection process is anymore. It’s just assumed that you know because Zhen Huan Zhuan or Empresses in the Palace told you. In this case, for women eligible for this process are quite young. We see them being announced at 15 or 16. Those who are not selected are given a flower.

 

[Karen]

After a couple of brutal comments towards a selection of young women that stepped forward, our rude 秀女 from earlier is called forth and leaves behind the imprint of the lotus flower on the floor. In an instant, everyone notices and calls her out. But instead of being impressed like she was hoping, she is immediately severely chastised by the Emperor for referencing a wicked woman in an effort to mimic her. She is ruthlessly dragged out of the room where not only she, but her father will be punished as well. Clearly, this court selection process is not an easy one and trying to gain favors through these paltry tricks are not going to help. 

 

In this scene, we are shown that the Emperor is not someone to be trifled with and is quite blunt in his criticisms while his wife, the Empress is much more forgiving. 高贵妃 on the other hand is also quite critical and condescending. At least to start, this drama keeps up with what one expects the intelligence levels should be in the palace. After all, 华妃 from 甄嬛传 would have deposed of this 秀女 very quickly as well. 

 

Meanwhile, 魏璎珞 and her group of maids are showing off their needlework to see if they can stay as seamstresses in the palace. In this battlefield, the maids also have no chill. 吉祥 who’s hand was injured earlier bled onto her fabric which rendered her work worthless. She was rather distraught but 璎珞 steps in and swaps their fabrics. She decides to help 吉祥。The end result when the inspecting eunuch arrives to evaluate each woman’s embroidery was that there were two finely crafted pieces. When one of the maids tried to expose the two women for cheating, 璎珞 shows that the two designs actually complement each other. It’s not cheating at all. The inspecting eunuch agrees and drags off the woman who cried foul. This teaches the rest of the maids that random accusations are not tolerated in the palace even for maids. In any event, 璎珞,吉祥 and a number of other maids pass their inspection and are kept to continue working in th palace.

 

[Cathy]

Back at the court selection process, the Emperor only agrees to keep one young woman, 纳兰淳雪 because she has three ear piercings which is a reflection of maintaining manchu customs. We’ll talk about this later on in the drama but this one thing caught the Emperor’s eye for its importance to their heritage. Right after her, the Emperor walks off, leaving the Empress to manage the remainder of the event. 高贵妃 seeing that the Emperor left, saunters off as well.

 

After the event and at back at each woman’s respective palaces, we first turn to the Empress’s palace. Her maid 明玉 is furious on behalf of her master for how Noble Consort Gao disrespected the Empress. The Empress’s other maid, 尔晴 is more understanding and tries to calm 明玉 down.

 

Shortly afterwards, a number of maids appear with a plaque with the words 敬修內則 and a painting of 太姒诲子图 or Lady TaiSi Instructing Her Son. Once these are received, the Empress’s face immediately hardens and turns away. The maids accept the painting but leave the Empress for some peace and quiet. We learn that the Empress is currently still grieving the death of her son, the 2nd prince. According to historical reports, this second prince 永琏 passed away 3 years earlier at the age of 8 and was the first born son of the Empress. She has become much colder towards the Emperor after her son’s passing and their relationship has not yet been restored to their original state even though it is evident that the Emperor cares dearly for his Empress. The Empress is also shown as a woman who does not want to play the games of the imperial harem and seeks peace rather than engaging in the games. While the Empress does not say anything about the received painting, the maids speculate what they think the gifted painting means.

 

[Karen]

It seems though, that the Empress is not the only person to have received a painting. Elsewhere at 高贵妃‘s palace, she is fuming because she received a 西陵教蚕图 or a painting of Lady Xi Lin and the Silkworms. But, she is calmed down by another combine, 嘉嫔,who tells her that the Emperor gifted 12 paintings to women in the palace. Each with their own meaning. It’s not specifically to humiliate one woman or another. 嘉嫔 then goes on to list a whole list of paintings which is going to kill us to research and translate but we’ll try our best. 高贵妃 is calmed by hearing this and evaluates her next steps.

 

Elsewhere, we are introduced to 娴妃 played by Charmaine Sheh who has also received a painting but is pestered by her mother who wants her to rise even further in the palace. 娴妃 ignores the verbal abuse by her mother and instead prays for her husband, the emperor, and his good health. This shows us that she is currently a conflict avoidant and caring woman even if her husband does not spend too much time with her. 

 

But what is it with these paintings? Why did the Emperor gift all of these out? His head eunuch poses the question to him only for the Emperor to reveal that he sent them as a prank! He knows that with such a gift, all of the women will be racking their brains to figure out exactly what the deeper meaning is which will leave him with some peace and quiet. It was all just a joke! Woww Emperor. Wowwww.

 

The episode ends with Noble Consort Gao calling a meeting with the ladies in the harem to discuss the latest comings and goings. The most important information from this scene though are the two people who are missing, 纯妃 and 愉贵人。We will see more of them later. 

 

 

[Cathy]

Before we jump into the history of the drama – let’s talk about why the first episode drags us, the viewer in so quickly!

 

First – we’re introduced to 魏璎珞, our heroine. Unlike MANY other dramas, she isn’t a 傻白甜 or a silly, sweet, and innocent girl. She comes right out of the gate with her claws swinging. She came into the palace with a mission and she’s not to be trifled with! How many times have we seen the innocent woman rise up to become the calculating scheming woman? Basically every time. This is a breath a fresh air to see 魏璎珞 be a badass in the first episode.

 

Second – we are introduced to the other established women of the Imperial harem and their various characterizations. The beautiful and serene Empress! She’s just so lovely. Side note, I LOVE 秦岚 (the actress for the Empress’s) voice. It’s so soothing. I’ve begrudgingly loved it SINCE her role as 知画 in Pearl Princess 3. That character was SO deliciously evil. I’m so happy to hear her voice here. We also have Noble Consort Gao who just does her thing and of course Charmaine Sheh who also isn’t bothered with the newcomers in the selection. I’ll be completely honest, even I don’t remember all of the palace maid names and concubines. So, it’s TOTALLY ok if you don’t either.

 

Third – we have an emperor who is HANDSOME. 聂远 was and is a very handsome guy. In the past, we haven’t had many “in their prime” depictions of emperors. The dramas are either of the Emperor in his late 40s or 50s and just “older”, so we didn’t REALLY understand why the women fell so heads over heels for Emperors. With 聂远, yes, I get it. He was in his late 30s when he filmed this drama but he still looks great. Sorry 雍正 from Empresses in the Palace, your son here has you beat. This is I think also one of the rare chances where I hear 聂远’s real voice. It’s usually dubbed so that’s a double treat here.

 

Lastly – we get the plot really quickly. 魏璎珞 is on a mission. She’s in the palace. That’s it. We want to see what’s happening so episode 1 comes to a quick conclusion

History

 

[Karen]

Setting

前朝后宫

The main setting of this drama is the emperor’s harem, or 后宫. Though it means “harem” in English, the direct translation of the words is “palace in the back”. This contrasts with 前朝 which is the Emperor’s court in which he conducts his ruling affairs, but the direct translation to those 2 words are “front court”. So you see, the emperor must manage two aspects of his life. The court, for ruling, and the harem, for continuing his progeny. There is a clear delineation of his roles and, of course, the role of women. In this drama, we see the harem from the eyes of a maid. So we see how difficult it was to survive as a lowly palace servant rather than a woman from a high ranking family.

 

The women that reside in the 后宫 place their fortunes for the rest of their lives on how many children she can have for the emperor and how successful these children are. To ensure purity of the bloodline, there is literally only one “man” in the 后宫. The men that serve the consorts/concubines are all eunuchs. For those that don’t know, eunuchs are typically castrated at a young age and they grow up in the palace to serve the members of the court. Eunuchs have been employed by imperial households for thousands of years. They were very quintessential to palace life. 

 

(Cathy)

后宫制度

Women have rankings in 后宫. Your rank depends on a number of factors – your age, your favoritism from the emperor, the number of children you have, and your family connections. You must be appointed the rank by either the emperor, empress dowager or the empress.

 

A quick recap on the ranks in the Qing Dynasty. you have one empress or 皇后, that rules the harem on behalf of the emperor. She is what is considered the “main” wife. Every other woman is, or supposed to be, subservient to her. There is normally a 皇贵妃, the Imperial Noble Consort. Then the next rank is 贵妃, the Noble Consort. Then four women are generally appointed 妃子, Consort。The next tier is 嫔, Imperial Concubine。Of the above ranks, you are able to have your own, or at least control your own palace quarters. You can refer to yourself as 本宫 (owner of a palace) and servants will address you as 娘娘. Anything below that, you must live and listen to the 妃 or 嫔 who runs that palace apartment. Of course, if you are tasked to live elsewhere, you must do so. Below 嫔, in this drama, are 贵人, Noble Lady, 常在,First-Class Femal Attendant, 答应, Second-Class Female Attendant. Servants will address you as 小主 (little master).

 

(Karen)

Typically, every three years or so, there is a selection process where women from all over the country are sent and assessed as to whether or not she can be a concubine in the Imperial Harem. This practice has also been around for millenia. Part of the reason this is done so frequently is to ensure, again, that there is a healthy line of offspring.People die of illness or of childbirth or of the drama that occurs in the palace so people need to be continuously replaced. Additionally, sometimes, servant girls will catch the eye of the emperor. Many try to seduce the emperor, but this is dangerous and could result in death from jealousy of another consort or the emperor himself. However, if successful, these women turn from servant to owner. That is how they improve their own careers. Several women have become incredibly powerful through this route – in this drama our own 魏璎珞 rises from the ranks of a maid BUT lets just say her motives aren’t purely about the Emperor.

 

(Titles)

I also want to highlight titles and names just so people aren’t confused. We may alternate how characters are addressed. Generally, people have their given names and then their titles. It’s the same as in English. You have the Duchess of Cambridge, but her name is Catherine. In Chinese history for the harem, you are generally called the rank plus your last name, unless formally given a title by the emperor, empress or empress dowager. So for example, if I am a consort with the rank of 妃 and my last name is 高, I will be called 高妃。But, if I am given a title of, for example, 纯, I will be referred to as 纯妃。 I hope that makes sense.

 

[Cathy]

The selection (or 选秀)which literally translates to “selecting beauties” generally occurs once every 3 years and it’s a way for young ladies from prominent families to enter into the palace. Translations may vary but we’ll call it the Selection. So how does the selection work? It’s pretty simple. In this drama at least, ladies from specific banners who are selected for this final round interview are presented to the Emperor and Empress in small groups. The emperor and empress will evaluate you on a number of factors – obviously your beauty, your family line, among other things. If you are chosen to stay to be a concubine in the palace, You will be given a perfume sachet. Pretty much a pouch with perfume in it. Otherwise, you’re given a flower and sent home. 

 

The actual selection process is long and arduous. There are many levels of selection across the empire. We only see the final selection at the Forbidden palace to speed things up a bit. Only the ladies who have passed those other rounds are sent to Beijing. Of course, it is a huge honor to be given a perfume sachet. It elevates the status of your family to have produced a daughter worthy of the emperor. To that point, it is HARD to catch the eye of the emperor so that’s why women try all manner of tactics like we see in the drama, which brings us to 2 specific topics.

 

For listeners of Empresses in the Palace, I hope this is just a quick recap. For the others, hopefully this will clear up some questions you might have.

 

[Karen]

The first is 步步生金莲 which is a negative anecdote. The one poor / evil woman up for selection was foolish enough to believe that the lotus flowers from her shoes would catch the eye of the Emperor. Alas, she was dragged away and thoroughly dismissed. 

 

So what is the story behind this? 步步生金莲 means a golden lotus behind every foot. The story comes from the scandalous relationship between consort 潘 and the Southern Qi Emperor 萧宝卷. This guy ruled from 498 to 501. You know something’s wrong when he only ruled for like 3 years. Anyways, this guy 萧宝卷, elevates this woman 潘玉奴 to the rank of a noble consort. He’s a terrible ruler – he orders for his subjects’ homes to be destroyed so that he can build new palaces for his beloved consort. He even ordered holy items from buddhist temples to be melted and recast as accessories for her. With the new palaces he built, he had golden lotuses built on the floor and had his concubine, Noble consort 潘 walk on the golden lotuses so that each step would be a golden lotus. That’s the origin of the story 步步生金莲.

 

From then on the phrase 金莲 or golden lotus has been used to describe women’s feet. 

 

As for the Emperor? He did SUCH a terrible job killing subjects and spending lavishly that in 501, he was overthrown by another family member. This guy 萧衍 yǎn killed 萧宝卷, Noble Consort Pan and many other courtiers. 萧宝卷 was so hated by contemporaries that they stripped him of his Emperor title and left him as 东昏侯 or my translation Eastern tyrannical marquis.

 

It’s no wonder why the Emperor 乾隆, who wanted to be remembered as a positive ruler, threw a fit and chucked that woman out. I mean, i would too. That woman was basically saying she wanted to pull the Emperor into depravity!

 

[Cathy]

Earrings

 

Listeners! Please pay attention to the earrings that all of the ladies wear in this first episode! Notice how the Empress and all of the concubines have three ear piercings for each ear? That is very much true to history! This is an old Manchu tradition that dates back to before the Qing Dynasty, so think before 1644. 

 

The phrase is 一耳三钳 or one ear, three rings or three dangles. Manchu girls had their ears pierced when they were babies and kept wearing the earrings until old age. In earlier years of the dynasty, it wasn’t clearly stated how many piercings women had to have, so if you look at portraits, some empresses or concubines had 4 to 5 piercings in one year. One ear piercing on the other hand was a han trait. In a quick search on Baike, the chinese equivalent of wikipedia, it states that our Emperor 乾隆 commented on the criticality of keeping this tradition. Indeed, apparently to this day, manchu women from the northeastern provinces of China still uphold this tradition and have 3 ear piercings。 

 

Indeed one of the women in the selection process caught the eye of the emperor because of her decision to keep the 3 piercings on each ear. Now lets look at the ladies in the drama because each woman wears different types of earrings based on her rank.

 

At this point, in episode 1, our main heroine 魏璎珞 only has one earring. We don’t even see rings on the rest of the ear. That’ll change in a couple of episodes.

 

Let’s now take a look at the Emperor’s harem – all of the women have 3 piercings. The dangles themselves though denote rank. The women wear 东珠 or Eastern pearls. These pearls are extremely rare and known for their size and beauty. It’s usually 2 pearls on one dangle. Only the Empress and Empress Dowager were allowed to wear the rarest of these pearls. Imperial Noble consorts and Noble Consorts such as 高贵妃 were only allowed to wear pearls of subsequent ranks or tiers. As for the rings themselves, they were made of gold, silver, copper etc and that denoted rank.

 

There’s a beautiful painting of the Empress with her 3 sets of earrings and dangles. You can clearly see the pearls in the painting so kudos for this drama to bring this to life.

 

From a drama perspective, many productions didn’t require women to have 3 piercings so the women didn’t do it. There were interviews with the cast where they discussed their decision to agree on this. It looks great on them! There ARE dramas that did have women have 3 piercings such as Ruyi’s love in the palace and even before, but they didn’t do it in Empresses in the Palace. 

 

[Karen]

 

There’s still a ton of history to discuss, namely about the paintings that each of the ladies receive but we’ll leave that for the next podcast episode.

 

That is it for today!

 

 

[ DO NOT COPY for transcript]

https://www.zhihu.com/question/286063976

 

https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/41364587

 

http://www.takungpao.com.hk/culture/237140/2019/1207/387125.html

 

https://www.toutiao.com/article/6583483059213959688/?&source=m_redirect

 

长春宫——《太姒诲子图》

太姒这个名字听起来有点容易混淆,主要是和历史上有名的周幽王烽火戏诸侯,为博褒姒一笑中的褒姒相像,但虽一字之隔,却是天差地别,一个是为人赞叹的贤后,另一个则是人人喊打的妖妃,可见两者之间的本质。说起周文王,周武王,大家是熟悉的,然而提起太姒,大多数人不知道是谁,唯有换一种说法,周文王的妻子,周武王的母亲,这个印象才会深刻起来,太姒诲子,从古籍中查找,是周室三母(太姜、太妊、太姒)中最为贤德的一位,具有“文母”之名,而将此图赐予皇后是希望其能当此大任,对于痛失爱子、意志消沉的母亲来说,更有一种劝诫之意。

启祥宫——《姜后脱簪图》

姜后,似乎又是周朝的,为周宣王之妻,周宣王,大家可能印象不深,但他是周厉王之子,周幽王之父,他在其中起纽带的作用。周厉王,因为不接受大臣的意见,性格暴虐,收到百姓的指责,但迫于威压,国人道路以目,可见百姓的愤怒,以至于后来国家暴动,他逃跑到偏远地带,与猪为伍。可能是想要吸取父亲的教训,周宣王在位还算勤勤恳恳,不过姜后肯定是重要人物,为了告诫君王不要沉迷美色,她自己脱簪披发,声称自己罪孽深重,才有了后面周朝一时的复兴。到后来周幽王那一代,宠妾灭妻,使西周快速覆灭,就可以看出端倪,相夫教子从来不是空谈。

延禧宫——《曹后重农图》

曹后,北宋慈圣光献皇后,是宋仁宗第二任皇后,在位期间常常带领宫嫔出宫耕种,多年不忘农事,贤良淑德。提起宋仁宗,感觉很陌生,但大家都知道这样一个故事,狸猫换太子,传说宋仁宗就是那个被换的太子,北宋第四任皇帝,在位期间较有作为,而农业作为一国之本,显得格外重要,曹皇后的提倡农事,重视农事,显然也提到了一个字眼“勤劳”,贵为一国之后,她完全可以不用做这些粗活儿,但不能否认这不是一个好习惯,勤劳是任何时刻都不应该忘怀的,要不等待着的就是地狱的悲歌,相比较北宋的励精图治,南宋的醉生梦死就足以让一个国家彻底灭亡,贪图享受,只是在消耗前人的勤劳。

钟粹宫——《许后奉案图》

许平君,史称孝成许皇后,是汉宣帝第一任皇后,历史上较为熟悉的故事是故剑情深,汉宣帝即位后,坚持立糟糠之妻为皇后,用一把剑来告诉大臣自己的心意,可见用情至深,而今天的落脚点显然不是这里,相反是许氏侍奉在案前,给太后上食的故事,昔日如此,今日也理应如此。孝道一直都是最受人们重视的,和老一套的说法差不多,要重视本源,不管后来的儒家发展成什么样子,宋朝的程朱理学,逐渐过渡到明朝的陆王心学,都提出了本源的重要性,万变不离其宗,可见孝道不容被忽略。

储秀宫——《西陵教蚕图》

嫘祖,西陵氏之女,最先开始养蚕缫丝制衣的创造者,被后世奉为“蚕神”,嫁于黄帝,生两子,可以说是被镀了一层光的神话人物,而这幅图赐给高贵妃,看上去很普通,就是一个女人养蚕织物的故事,却绝不是让高贵妃去养蚕那么简单,相反是比较平淡的事情才能看出其中意义,社会发展的过程中,回归最原本的状态,另一方面也在告诉高贵妃不要滋生事端,应该做一些务实的事情,或者是不断创新显然比徒坐更有意义。

承乾宫——《徐妃直谏图》

徐妃,原名胡惠,唐太宗李世民的嫔妃,自小明事理,辩是非,四岁通读《论语》、《毛诗》(即《诗经》的一个通用种类),八岁文笔流畅,嫁于唐太宗,上疏劝诫其少动干戈,不要大兴土木,以休养生息为主。自古明确后宫不得干政,可以说徐妃是冒天下之不为来做这件事情,而且还是直言上奏,极其冒险,可称得上“忠直”二字。后唐太宗去世,哀伤成疾,不日病逝,死后谥号为贤妃。唐太宗时期,我们记得武则天,却很少记得徐贤妃,唐朝虽然民风开放,亦要勇敢无畏地直言谏书。

 

Intro to the Drama

 

[Karen]

This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Well here you have it, due to popular demand, we are starting our discussion of 延禧攻略 or the Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.

 

For those of you that are new to the podcast, our aim is to geek out on historical CHinese dramas while also sharing the Chinese history and culture that is portrayed in the drama. This is a great way to get in depth insights into these popular historical shows and to help clarify some interesting customs you see on screen. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter at chasing dramas or email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com  Do also check out our website www.chasingdramas.com for our latest drama reviews or commentary. Transcripts of prior podcast episodes are also in the works of being uploaded. 

 

[Cathy]

For this podcast, We will be using proper Mandarin to pronounce all names. We are not going to attempt to translate the names into English and we would rather not Westernize the pronunciation. We will pronounce the proper nouns as they are done in the drama. In some cases, if the noun is referring to a Manchu last name, for example, we will still use the Mandarin pronunciation.

 

In today’s episode, we will provide an overview of the drama and cast as well as introduce the historical individuals that the drama portrays. In future episodes, we will continue on with plot recap and historical analysis as we usually do.

 

 

[Karen]

We’re back in the Qing dynasty to discuss the super popular 2018 drama, The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略。The drama stars 吴谨言 as the main character, 魏璎珞, 聂远 as the Emperor Qian Long, 秦岚 as the Empress 富察容音, 许凯 as 富察傅恒,Charmain Sheh as 娴妃。The series premiered on iQiyi from July 19, 2018 to August 26, 2018 and was a massive hit both in China and overseas. 

 

At a high level, the story revolves around the young maid 魏璎珞‘s journey in Qian Long’s palace first as a maid entering the palace to investigate her sister’s death but then becomes embroiled in imperial harem conflicts. Determined to avenge her sister’s death and to repay the Empress’s kindness, she ultimately takes center stage as the famed 令妃。There is an accompanying book but that came out after the drama, so this time Cathy won’t do any book differences! But don’t worry, she’s off reading a million other Chinese books that will turn into dramas.

 

For our intro to the podcast episode for Empresses in the Palace, we discussed a lot about the Qing dynasty. We’ll reference them but for this season, we’ll do our best to point out new items. If there are specific topics that you’d like for us to cover, let us know!

 

[Cathy]

 

Let’s talk about our main cast – we’ll first go over the actors and actresses themselves and then discuss who they’re playing and their historical counterpart. 

 

吴谨言 – 魏璎珞 – 吴谨言 was born in 1990 in sichuan province and is a graduate of the Beijing Film Academy. She actually studied as a dancer for a number of years in her youth before heading to the film academy to pursue a career in acting. You could say she hit the lottery with the drama, The Story of Yanxi Palace which propelled her to widespread acclaim. However, her career has faltered a bit since then. Her subsequent dramas such as 皓镧传, The Legend of Hao Lan which was another pairing with 聂远, 我的砍价女王 My Bargain Queen and 尚食 Royal Feast, never reached the same heights as The Story of YanXi Palace. Hao Lan Zhuan and Shang Shi I tried watching or skimming through but couldn’t finish it… However, as of this podcast airing, she has another drama out with many of the cast from The STory of Yanxi Palace called 传家 or Legacy that’s currently airing and 吴谨言 is also on the hit reality tv show, Sister Who Makes Waves or 乘风破浪的姐姐 in season three to show off her singing and dancing skills. 

 

She plays Consort 令 or 令妃 who is mother to the next Emperor, Jia Qing. She was born in 23 October 1727 – 28 February 1775), of the Manchu Bordered Yellow Banner clan and her family was actually Han Chinese. Her father, named 魏清泰Qingtai was an official in the Imperial Household Department or 内务府. Not a whole lot was recorded of Ling Fei prior to entering the palace but she did get her start in QIan Long’s palace as a maid. After entering the palace, she quickly rose up the ranks. You can guess how much she was favored by the emperor because she birthed 4 children within 10 years, including the 15th prince and subsequent Emperor, Jia Qing. 

 

[Karen]

Nie Yuan – the Emperor – 乾隆。What can I say about 聂远。 We have watched him in tv dramas for the last 20 years. Born in 1978 and a graduate of the Shanghai Theatre Academy, he has been a staple in the business for decades. If you just look at his filmography on Baidu, it’s huge. I loved him growing up in 机灵小不懂 and 隋唐英雄传. His roles are quite varying as he aged throughout the years and for him to come back into the limelight as the Emperor was a fun and pleasant surprise. 

 

Qian Long, or his original name is 爱新觉罗弘历 – 25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799, the 6th emperor of the Qing dynasty. There are books and books and books written about this guy and so many dramas you can’t even keep track. It’s because he ruled for a whopping 61 years and lived to be 87 years old. One of the longest reigning monarchs in history and longest lived. Can you believe that? There’s just too much content to work with.  He actually stepped down from throne and abdicated his position to his son in order to not rule longer than his grandfather, Kang Xi. What a filial guy right? As we all know from watching Empresses in the Palace, he was the 4th son of Yong Zheng. He and his grandfather Kang Xi are two of the most famous Emperors during the Qing Dynasty which makes sense because they lived for so long. Historians say that the Qing dynasty reached its zenith during the reign of QianLong but also started to decline in his later years. Qian Long was an extremely capable leader both on horseback and in cultural matters. He led military campaigns to strengthen and expand borders but also was quite the scholar. He was knowledgeable of both manchu and han cultures and loved making trips down south to experience southern Chinese lifestyles. Peking Opera also developed during his reign. He had 17 sons and 10 daughters, of which, his 15th son took the throne. As for the women in his life, eh. This drama will show you just how many there were. By comparison, his father could only be considered as boring. 

 

In this drama, everyone calls 皇帝 大猪蹄子. The literal translation is Big Pig Feet. It’s actually used to describe a man who is womanizer and plays the field. Basically if you have the guy who’s currently with one woman and constantly pines for another, then he’s a 大猪蹄子. Basically all the Emperors are 大猪蹄子. Since this drama came out, people have started calling 雍正 from Empresses in the Palace a 大猪蹄子 as well.

 

[Cathy]

秦岚 – Born in 1979 in LiaoNing Province, she got her big break in playing 陈知画 in the third part of Pearl Princess. That came out in the early 2000s.  I cannot tell you how conflicted I was at that time watching 秦岚 play 知画. She was soooo beautiful and poised in that drama but her character was just awful. How dare 知画 come between 小燕子 and her husband? Ugh. 

 

She was absolutely gorgeous.

 

Anyways, 秦岚 grew in popularity after her next popular role in the remake called Dream Link or 又见一帘幽梦 in 2007. She was great in that role. The whole plot of that drama was ridiculous but the scenes in Provence, France were nice. She’s since been in dramas and films here and there but nothing too popular until her role as the Empress in The Story of Yanxi Palace. This was a career changer for her as everyone fell in love with this kind-hearted, beautiful and serene empress. Her career has taken off since then, helping her land many leading roles which is challenging for women in their 30s. I would say that the entertainment industry has become more accepting of older women particularly because they still look absolutely gorgeous. I’m personally really happy for her because you want to see people do well.

 

In the drama, she plays 富察容音, the First Empress of Qian Long. Born in 1712, she died in 1748 at the age of 37. True to history, she was the older sister of 傅恒. She married the Prince 弘历 in 1727 when she was only 15. When her husband ascended the throne in 1735, she was naturally crowned Empress.

 

She came from the powerful 富察 of the Bordered Yellow Banner or 镶黄旗. We see quite a bit of it in the drama but her family was very important to the founding of the Qing Dynasty and a member of the aristocracy. Empress 富察 had a loving relationship with her husband, was well respected in court and surprisingly the Imperial Harem, and also managed to have great relationship with her mother-in-law. Which we will joke and call 嬛嬛 because that’s 甄嬛 from Empresses in the Palace! She had 4 children in real life but only one princess survived to adulthood.

 

While her husband, Qian Long, was very much a 大猪蹄子  or a player, he truly did love and respect his first wife. When she died, he was quite bereft and bestowed her the posthumus title of 孝贤 or Filial and Virtuous.

 

Funnily enough, she wasn’t really front and center in many dramas. If you think of Pearl Princess or 还珠格格 and 如懿传, the focus isn’t on her. In the former, she’s already dead. In the latter, she’s kind of the antagonist. This is really the first drama that puts Empress 富察 in the spotlight. When the drama came out, everyone called her 白月光 or the white moonlight because she was so loving and caring. Frankly, she was awesome.

 

佘诗曼 – 辉发那拉·淑慎 or 娴妃

 

Next up we have the lovely Charmaine Sheh or in Mandarin 佘诗曼! She is a hong kong actress who has had a VERY illustrious career. She was the runner up to the Miss Hong Kong pageant in 1997 and signed a contract with TVB in 1998. TVB is the main Hong Kong TV network and they had so many hits over the years. I watched a TON of TVB dramas when I was a kid. I don’t really speak Cantonese but I basically learned it from watching these dramas. Charmaine was of course the star in many of them. This includes The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre from 2000, War and Beauty in 2004, Maiden’s Vow in 2006, and Can’t buy me love in 2010.

 

The TVB drama called War and Beauty is also a palace drama and is set in the 1800s. It is considered to be THE origin of palace dramas. It is absolutely fantastic. I recommend everyone go watch it. Charmaine plays one of the main characters and she plays her role so well.

 

Back to this drama. She plays 辉发那拉·淑慎 or 娴妃. This character becomes the Emperor Qian Long’s second Empress. She is one of the antagonists in the story. It’s quite a tragic story and Charmaine acts the character very well. In recent years more and more Hong Kong actors have turned to the mainland to act and Charmaine was one of them. Ada Choi in Empresses in the Palace was another. Charmaine did experience another wave of popularity after this drama and quite frankly outacted Tiffany Tang or 唐嫣 in 燕云台 or The Legend of Xiao Chuo.

 

Charmaine also looks amazing! She was in her mid-40s when she filmed this. I want to look as good as she does when I get to her age.

 

As for the the character she plays, she portrays Hoifa-Nara Shushen or the Hoifa-Nara tribe. There’s debate over her maiden name and which Nara clan she came from so in this drama, she’s Hoifa-Nara Shushen or the Hoifa-Nara tribe whereas in  Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, that character is based off of Ula-Nara Ruyi/Qingyingor the Ula-Nara clan.

 

Born in 1718, she was granted the title of consort Xian or 娴妃 in 1738. She was elevated to the rank of Empress in 1750 after the death of Empress 富察. She had 3 children 2 sons and 1 unnamed daughter. 

 

She died in 1766 at the age of 48. The Emperor really despised the Empress at that time because she was buried only with the honors of a 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort and NOT the Empress. She was not even buried with her husband but next to another IMperial Noble Consort.

 

In pop culture, everyone remembers the evil Empress from Pearl Princess or 还珠格格. Growing up, in my mind, Empress = bad at least Qian Long’s empress. Unfortunately in this drama, she is still the antagonist.

 

许凯

 

Next, let’s briefly talk about 许凯 the actor for 富察傅恒。

 

Born in Guangdong China in 1995, his role as 富察傅恒 was his breakout role. He was only 22 or 23 when he filmed it. Since then, he’s been in several dramas such as The Legends, Court Lady, and Ancient Love Poetry, and Royal Feast. None have really lived up to the hype of this drama though. He’s still pretty young and has a bright career ahead of him. 

 

富察·傅恒 was born in 1722. He became a senior court official and minister during the reign of Emperor Qian Long. He held many positions at court including an imperial guard, as we see in the drama, rising to the Minister of the Ministry of Revenue, all the way up to a position of the 1st rank. He also led the troops in the Sino-Burmese War in the 1760s. He died of Malaria in 1770. In folk culture, the most interesting stories do revolve his son 福康安 and the wild rumors that this man was actually the Emperor’s son. 

 

 

We cannot talk about 延禧攻略 without also discussing 如懿传, RuYi’s Love in the Palace. It is the sequel to Empresses in the Palace and has pretty much the same cast of characters as 延禧攻略 but tells a very different story. 如懿传 certainly suffered from having premiered shortly after The Story of Yanxi palace purely because audiences were confused about the similar plotlines and characters or also fatigued by the same story. But, it cannot be denied that 如懿传 is a highly artistic creation on its own. That drama is also extremely long and details the journey of 青樱 who then changes her name to 如懿 in the palace and her relationship with 乾隆。In this drama, 如懿 is 娴妃 and a subsequent Empress but also true love of the Emperor. Essentially the relationship lines between the Emperor and various women in Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace was flipped compared to The Story of Yanxi palace. While the Story of Yanxi palace can be considered a successful revenge drama where viewers are pleased with how much 魏璎珞 is able to push back and stand on her own, Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace can only be considered a beautiful tragedy. We saw in Empresses in the Palace how hard it is to find true love in the palace and that theme continued in Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace. I can’t tell you how much I cried watching Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace. That’s just fair warning for whoever might be interested in watching it. But don’t let that put you off. The drama’s production is fantastic as the cast spent over 200 days filming. Every one of the women in the palace were absolute beauties. The main female lead is of course, 周迅, who has won numerous awards for acting and is a force to be reckoned with in the Chinese film industry. My favorite actress in the drama is my personal bias 李沁 who plays the cold but fiercely loyal 寒香见. [xx]

 

服化道

 

Let’s move onto the costume, make up, and style.

 

When we watch the drama, we’ll see that it looks somewhat different from other Qing Dynasty dramas. It also looks different from Empresses in the Palace. All of these dramas take liberties in how they want to dress the characters and the certain aesthetic that they want to achieve. For this drama, there are certain choices that are more historically accurate and then there are others that aren’t. Top of mind would actually be all of the earrings that we see the ladies wear! 

 

As always, we’ll do our best to point them out. 

 

 

Removal of the Story of Yan Xi Palace and RuYi’s Love in the Palace.

 

In 2020, both the Story of Yan Xi Palace and RuYi’s Love in the Palace were officially censored by the Chinese government and taken off the web. They were taken down from the platforms of iQiYi and Tencent. In recent years, the Chinese government has limited what type of dramas can air in China, what time they can air, and on what platform. A big bucket of that included historical dramas or costume dramas and especially palace dramas. It’s rumored that there’s a couple of reasons for this. 

  1. The palace dramas often show opulence and scheming – something that the government believes will impact society and actually be a detriment to society
  2. A lot of the palace dramas beautify Emperors or people of the past – which is not always good and um don’t reflect socialist values
  3. These palace dramas became more and more commodified

 

I won’t say if any of these points are right or wrong. I’ll just say, AS a result. We’ve seen basically NO palace dramas since 2020. If you were wondering why, this is the reason why. Empresses in the Palace has been spared this purge so, in China, you can still see it on Youku.

 

 

That is it for our first introduction to the Story of YanXi Palace!

 

In future episodes, I’ll touch on the pretty famous screenwriter and producer 于正. He’s quite as famous / popular as the actors and actresses themselves. The drama itself is on youtube.

 

If you want to watch other shows and are in the US, please head on over to our sponsor Jubao TV.. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo.com to search for shows and movies. On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour.

 

Thank you all for listening, we’ll catch you in the next episode.