EPISODE 28

 

Episode 28

 

[Karen]

Welcome to Chasing dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV shows. This is Karen and this is Cathy! Today we are going to discuss episode 28 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace! 

 

This episode will be a little different. We’ll do all of analysis during the plot summary.

 

Let’s get started!

 

[Cathy]

One evening, 皇上 comes to visit 华妃 and shares that her brother and nephew have helped win battles on the front lines. He is extremely pleased and as a reward, her brother, 年羹尧 and her family will be promoted with extravagant titles. He even says that she, 华妃 has been a 妃, or Consort, for a couple of years and it’s time to promote her to the next rank. That’s generous of him. She is of course extremely pleased with this information. 

 

The next day, all of the ladies are at the empress, 皇后’s palace, for the customary greeting. The ladies curtsey to 皇后 but then also curtsey 华妃. 华妃 is surprised and people explain to her that it’s to congratulate her on her pending promotion. Of course, it wouldn’t be a fun court greeting if there wasn’t some type of verbal spat. 

 

华妃 asks 皇后 what type of promotion she thinks she’ll receive. 皇后 responds that above a 妃, is 贵妃, or Noble Consort. Above that is 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort. 华妃 explains that no, above the Imperial Noble Consort is 皇后,the Empress. The empress is of course like, oh, you’re interested in my royal throne?

 

华妃 says that well I’ve just heard that the Imperial Noble Consort, or 皇贵妃, is essentially equivalent to a Vice Empress. [Karen – Kind of like a Vice President] She then recounts how earlier in the Qing Dynasty, there was an Imperial Noble Consort who was so favored by the emperor at that time, that the Empress basically had no power or position. Basically the Imperial Noble Consort usurped the love, attention and position of the Empress. Clearly, 华妃 is trying to parallel the situation and suggest to the current Empress that maybe she should be worried. 

 

[Karen]

Let’s discuss this anecdote a little bit as it’s quite important for the rest of the episode and an interesting story overall.

 

Who is 华妃 referencing? This tragic love story is famous and there have been many TV dramas made about this story. One of my favorites is 孝庄秘史,for those who have extra time now and want to learn about the origins of the Qing dynasty. Another one is 少年天子 (The Young Emperor) that describes this story more beautifully. Both are older dramas that came out in 2003 but quite classic.  We were actually thinking that it might be good to discuss the events of 孝庄秘史 (The Epic of XiaoZhuang) as a drama for this podcast because it’s full of history and just very good.

 

(Cathy – I loved watching xiaozhuangmishi as a kid. I was obsessed with that show)

 

Let’s set the stage. The three characters are: Emperor 顺治, his favored concubine, 董鄂妃 (Consort 董) and the Empress, 博尔济吉特皇后 (Borjigin)。Emperor 顺治 is the first Qing dynasty emperor who ruled from Beijing as its capital. There was a ton of drama surrounding his upbringing, which is also the subject of many dramas, but he came to the throne at a very young age – at age 6. He was a puppet under his regent which he fought hard to rid of. He, as the emperor, has his arranged marriage with 博尔济吉特. They’re married very young – in their mid teens. This is very much a political marriage and things are probably fine between the two as arranged marriages can be. This woman gets promoted to become the Empress as she also comes from a very powerful family. But, not too long after, 董鄂妃 comes into the picture and is selected to be a concubine. At this point, these players are still in their mid to late teens. The emperor, 顺治 falls head over heels in love with 董鄂妃. It’s documented that she’s really sweet and kind. Given a lot of drama that the emperor suffered growing up and being from an imperial family, he probably appreciated that. In any case, 顺治 quickly promotes this woman through the ranks to become the Imperial Noble Consort, or 皇贵妃。 She was the Qing Dynasty’s first Imperial Noble Consort. As you can see, Emperor 顺治 really loved her. So much so that he was willing to get rid of the existing Empress and make her the Empress but that never happened.

 

The two lived in bliss for a few years and 董鄂妃 even birthed a child. The 4th prince of the emperor. The Emperor was so ecstatic, he wanted to make the newborn the heir apparent immediately. This didn’t go over too well with court but it didn’t really matter. The child, the 4th prince, only lived for a couple of months before passing away. This was a huge blow to 董鄂妃 who in her despair also passed away not too long after. 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. He was 24 when he died. 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 of what happened, it’s clear that he dearly loved 董鄂妃. 

 

This is definitely an oversimplification of the drama that happened. The key points to remember are that the Emperor loved this concubine and even wanted her to supplant the existing Empress. Indeed, after her death, the concubine was memorialized as an Empress tho she was never one in life.

 

Back to our current drama, you can see why bringing this story up is actually a threat to the current Empress. 华妃 is goading 皇后。皇后 retorts with a long explanation that even if the position of the imperial noble consort is that of vice empress, she will never be the formal empress. 

 

Hopefully that makes sense.

 

[Cathy]

it’s clear though that 华妃 and her family don’t know how to balance all of this power and has let their arrogance get to their head. This is clearly exhibited in this next example.

 

There’s a whole reason why the Emperor doesn’t want 隆科多 to meet the Empress!

 

One late evening, the concubines in the palace are told that the Empress is suffering from terrible migraines and the ladies must come help tend to her illness. 甄嬛 along with a few others head over to the Empress’s palace. Once there, they see the Empress in a lot of pain but there is no imperial doctor in sight. It turns out, 年羹尧, 华妃’s brother and mighty general, has asked for the doctors to come see his wife who was ill during the day and were not allowed to return back to the palace. Thus, there is a shortage of doctors in the palace. When asked if anyone told the Emperor of the Empress’s condition, the Empress’s maid says that the Emperor is currently with 华妃 and so she didn’t want to bother them. In the end, the Empress spent a restless night without doctors because 年羹尧 needed them.

 

We’ve recently been focusing on different different concubines. This episode is no different. Our focus this time is 齐妃. She constantly affirms her low IQ and EQ throughout the episode. The first example happens here. 齐妃’s fussing about and orders the servants to wake the Emperor. This is a big deal! The Empress is not feeling well! How can there be no Imperial Doctors on hand? The Empress, hearing this, immediately commands her servants to NOT go. Oh it’s not worth it, this is normal. I don’t want to worry his majesty. Everyone else knows to keep her mouth shut except for 齐妃. Can’t she tell, something is up?

 

[Karen]

The next morning, 华妃 hears this news and quickly tells her servants to tell her brother to send the doctors back as she prepares breakfast for the Emperor. The thing is, you see that even though 华妃 cares a lot about power and money, she really does love 皇上。 She notices what he eats and where to place food because it seems like he didn’t like a certain dish. She prepares his favored tea every night even though he may not visit her. She just doesn’t know how to love in a nicer way…  One that does not involve murder and corruption.

 

While she’s preparing breakfast, servants stop by with new clothes for her upcoming promotion. However, the clothes are for the Imperial Noble Consort (2 steps up), not the Noble Consort (1 step up). 华妃 is extremely pleased by this because she feels like it means that the emperor wants to promote her to Vice Empress. The emperor, who has woken up by now, sees this scene and is most definitely not pleased. 

 

I wonder who sent those clothes though. Is it indeed the emperor?  Or was it someone else.

 

At court later that morning, many court officials report the audacity of 年羹尧 for being so rude and ignoring court etiquette and rules such that the Empress does not have a doctor when she needs it. 年羹尧 is being pummeled by these reports/criticisms. Everyone is looking for punishment by the Emperor but the Emperor, doesn’t get too mad. He instead actually commends 年羹尧 for being so thoughtful of his wife’s illness. That’s perplexing isn’t it?

 

[Cathy]

Later that day, 甄嬛 is able to speak to her childhood friend, the imperial doctor, 温实初 to get a better understanding of what the protocol is in the imperial harem for seeing doctors. It turns out that even if there are not enough doctors in the palace at night, it is still possible to request doctors to come into the palace. Though that process will probably be cumbersome and alert everyone in the palace. Still, it can be done. 甄嬛’s maid says maybe the Empress didn’t want to bother everyone with her illness which is why she didn’t call for the doctors but 甄嬛 makes a good point by saying if the Empress really didn’t want to bother anyone, why did she tell all of the concubines to come tend to her. That’s begging for everyone to be talking about this and cause drama. 甄嬛 is guessing that this act was on purpose.

 

[Karen]

After watching this, i’m wondering if 皇后 even actually had migraines to begin with or if all of this was a show. She found out that the doctors were told to tend to 年羹尧’s wife and decided to fake all of this in order to incite anger at 年羹尧 and 华妃 for their arrogance. 

 

Later on, 甄嬛 is enjoying some quiet one-on-one time with the Emperor in his study. He asks what she’s reading and she says she’s reading a story from the Spring and Autumn Period. She thinks the story is very relevant to the politics of today. Let’s dive a little deeper into this tale.

 

[Cathy]

The story of 郑伯克段于鄢 which translates to Duke Zhuang of Zheng Defeats his Brother Duan at Yan comes from 左传 or the Commentary of Zuo. The book originates from the Spring and Autumn Period, published in the 4th century BC. This book is a historical chronicle of the Spring and Autumn Period from 722BC to 468BC. It is considered one of the classics in Chinese culture and a primary work for later generations to learn Chinese history. The book recounts battles, assassinations, royal intrigue, amongst many other stories. As such, it was not particularly suitable for women to read. This is again highlights 甄嬛’s uniqueness.

 

I tried reading the story. It’s surprisingly short but incredibly dense. This was apparently the style back then. Even reading the baidu notations of this, there’s over 70 annotations for this barely 700 character story. Random characters appear in the story which makes it extremely hard to follow.

 

The story goes like this.When the Duke Zhuang of Zheng was born, his mother had a difficult birth with him so the Duke was not favored. So much so that his name even means “difficult birth”. Instead his mother favored his younger brother Duan. As such, his mother continuously plotted for her younger son Duan to seize the throne over this older brother. Talk about favoritism Nevertheless the Duke ascended the dukedom after the death of his father. 

 

His mother requested a fiefdom for Duan, the younger brother, to which the Duke reluctantly agreed. All of his courtiers were skeptical of this request but the Duke waves away their concerns. The Duke continues to indulge his younger brother with his heart’s desire. After arriving at his fiefdom, Duan immediately began stockpiling weapons and fortifying his fortress. News of this reached the Duke and his courtiers. They all begged him to take precautions and actions against Duan. The Duke does not, stating that there’s no proof of a planned rebellion. He then says this famous phrase. 

 

多行不义必自毙

The wages of sin is death (Bible)

Translation: He who is unjust is doomed to destruction. This phrase is incredibly famous.

[Karen] – I did not know this phrase came from this story and has its roots back to the 4th century. That’s fascinating. 

 

子姑待之

Just wait and see

 

After a short while, the Duke is called away for business to another state. Seizing this opportunity, his mother quickly dispatches a message to Duan ordering him to invade the capital city of Zheng. She’ll open the gates for him. Duan successfully invades the city but the Duke was prepared for him. He orders his courtier 吕 to attack the city with 200 carriages. The people of the capital city also revolt against Duan. With nowhere to go, Duan retreats to the city of Yan. The Duke has a final confrontation with Duan at the city of Yan. Defeated and humiliated, Duan flees to the nearby state of Gong 共. Hence why he’s called 公叔段。

 

I’ll quickly gloss over the rest of the story. The Duke banishes his mother and declares he’ll see her in the next world. After a while, he regrets the declaration. He orders a tunnel to be dug so that he can see her and they mend their relationship. That part to me is a bit wild.

 

[Karen]

The main lesson 甄嬛 points out here is that the Duke just let his brother and his mother continue on with their schemes and indulge them in order to lure them into a false sense of security. The Duke, however, was always aware of their plots. He indulged his brother until everything erupted and it was easy to destroy them in one fell swoop. If his brother Duan and his mother were content with their lives, nothing would have happened to them. But they weren’t and plotted the rebellion. Which is why, back to 甄嬛, both she and the Emperor write the same phrase. 

 

多行不义必自毙 子姑待之 – He who is unjust is doomed to destruction. Just wait and see. 

 

The Emperor is very much in tuned to Imperial Court and the arrogance of 年羹尧. He won’t act yet because it’s not the right time. He’s waiting for a fatal mistake to take him down. In order to do that, they need to continue to indulge this arrogance. Only until then, is it possible to remove all  remaining supporters. 

 

This story will be referenced again later in the series but for a different purpose.

 

[Karen]

Moving on, 华妃 receives her promotion edict. Contrary to the previous signals, she’s only promoted to 贵妃 or Noble Consort not 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort. She’s hugely disappointed and the eunuchs say that the previous outfit was sent in error.. She barely waits one second before she lashes out at her servants.

 

Don’t think we need this.

Upon hearing the news, 沈眉庄 storms into 甄嬛’s palace to discuss the news. I love how 沈眉庄 refuses to refer to 华妃 as 华贵妃. She’s like not on my watch. 甄嬛, after her discussion with the Emperor, is much more relaxed. She even brings up another anecdote from the previous reign. A concubines father was only the subordinate of the famous 鳌拜. He was still sentenced to death. What do you think will happen to 年羹尧? She’s giving 沈眉庄 hints of what most likely will happen to 华贵妃.

 

[Cathy] 

Another 请安 or greeting! Another example of how foolish 齐妃 is! I’ll quickly highlight 华贵妃’s coiffure and hair accessories have all been upgraded to reflect her new rank. So have 甄嬛 and 敬妃’s who were all recently promoted.

 

齐妃 literally throws herself out there to be chewed out. She’s like – oh even if someone gets pregnant, if it’s only a daughter, that doesn’t mean much. 华贵妃 immediately retorts – even if someone has a son, if the son is intelligent but dull, it doesn’t matter because if you recall, her son, the 3rd prince is not well liked.

 

甄嬛makes the mistake of responding to the Empress and says it doesn’t matter if her child is a boy or girl. If it’s a girl, I’d like for her to be as cute and charming as 曹贵人’s daughter. 华贵妃 immediately seizes this opportunity to deride 齐妃 even more. ”Even 莞嫔 wants a daughter over your dunce of a son”. 

 

齐妃 without even a pause turns to 甄嬛. She says – How is it that you become pregnant but then immediately 富察贵人 has the miscarriage? Did your child kill her child?

 

The words she use is “克死“. I don’t think there’s a direct translation but it’s extremely superstitious and has a very negative connotation. She’s saying the arrival of your child killed the other child. This must be a demon child. The Empress quickly stops her from continuing to make a fool of herself. 齐妃 is a hot headed person. She didn’t even pause to let these slights pass. She had to get the last word. She made a laughing stock of herself.

 

[Karen]

Later, the Empress and 齐妃 have tea together where the Empress chastises 齐妃 for her behavior.  Pay attention here to a masterful performance by the Empress. She’s casting her net and will claim her prize in the next episode. 齐妃 is just too dumb to realize this. The Empress first consoles her into saying don’t worry about 甄嬛’s unborn child. Your son is the eldest, there’s no way her child can usurp her. 齐妃 seems mollified by this but then the Empress throws a wrench into this. Well – 甄嬛 is very much in favor. She’s also from the Han Banners with a similar background to you. You never know, she might be able to rise to the same rank as you. 

 

Then the Empress brings up the story of Emperor 顺治 and his beloved Consort 董鄂妃 that we discussed earlier. Her punchline though is – the Emperor immediately wanted to make him the crown prince. Unfortunately the baby died in infancy. I wouldn’t want that on anyone but it would have been better if he was not born. She’s all repentant – I shouldn’t be talking about such a sad story! Forgive me! What a performer!

 

The wheels begin to turn in 齐妃’s mind. She cannot have 甄嬛 successfully have the baby. Well what is she to do? 安陵容 comes to give the solution! 安陵容 bumps into 齐妃 admiring some Nerium Oleander flowers. 安陵容 “helpfully” tells 齐妃 to not stand too close as they are poisonous. She then drops this useful bit of information – thankfully there aren’t any of these flowers near 甄嬛’s palace. This is very poisonous to her unborn baby. 安陵容 takes her leave and the wheels start turning a bit more in 齐妃’s mind. 

 

安陵容 comes to visit 甄嬛 at her palace. They exchange some pleasantries. One of 齐妃’s maids arrive with water chestnut pastries for 甄嬛. I love that the camera pans quickly to 安陵容. She knows exactly what will happen. 

 

[Cathy]

 

There are two options right now. 安陵容 can either not say anything or warn 甄嬛. For my first viewing, I honestly thought 安陵容 wouldn’t say anything, but she’s on team 皇后 or the Empress. There’s a bigger prize the Empress wants. 

 

安陵容 makes a big show of it. Don’t eat it! Something’s not right! She then miraculously deduces that the pastries contain Nerium Oleander. She then explains the poisonous properties to 甄嬛. 甄嬛 is stunned – why would 齐妃 do this? 安陵容 responds – she’s jealous! Your child could usurp her son’s position! 甄嬛 wants to immediately tell the Emperor but 安陵容 persuades her with a different option – first confirm the poison before the next step.

 

The episode ends with 齐妃 still anxiously waiting for news of 甄嬛’s “death” or “miscarriage”. She doesn’t receive this news, instead, she is summoned by the Empress for a “chat”.

 

Again – how dumb can you be? You send a poisonous plate of pastries and don’t even conceal the fact that you were the one to send those pastries. Even if 甄嬛 ate it, literally everyone can trace this back to you and you will be punished for it. Do you not think people will realize that the miscarriage happened because of you? What will happen to your son in this case? It’s been a while since we’ve had to deal with such an idiotic plot. 

EPISODE 27

 

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas! Here, we talk about Chinese culture and history through Chinese Dramas. I’m Cathy and Karen !  Today, we are going to discuss episode 27 of 后宫甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace. If you are new to the podcast and the drama, we recommend listening to the Intro To The Drama episode to get your bearings and what this drama is about. You can always watch this drama on Youtube, just search Empresses in the Palace and it’ll pop up. I don’t know if there are English subtitles moving forward so we’ll do our best to recap.

 

Let’s get started! This episode is a doozy!

 

The Emperor 皇上 visits 沈眉庄. She was previously very favored by the emperor. But she fell victim to a fake pregnancy scandal and was demoted. With some help from 甄嬛, the truth came out and she was reinstated to her rank of Noble Lady. The emperor is willing to mend their relationship but she very much is opposed to this. She backs away at his attempts to even touch her. She’s not rude, but she’s not welcoming.

 

Is it me or is her clothing even darker now? She wore purple before but this is a darker shade of purple. She seems more subdued.

 

[Karen]

You’ll recall that we talked about chrysanthemums in episode 4 of the drama. 沈眉庄 loves chrysanthemums because of the 气节 or integrity of the flower. The chrysanthemum would rather wilt on its stem that blow into the north wind. This attitude is fully being reflected by 沈眉庄。 She’s basically saying that you don’t trust me anymore, you have discarded me. I will not bend back to be your lover. She holds her ground against the emperor.

 

Which honestly – is really quite an action. In the imperial harem, without the emperor’s attention, you really can’t survive. She is totally ok with that. It seems like she’s resigned to being stuck/left in the palace without attention. I’m impressed. She’s really commendable for doing so. If there is anything to be said about 沈眉庄 is that she is like her favorite flower. She has that level of integrity, which may be seen as stubbornness. 

 

[Cathy]

Spurned by 沈眉庄, the Emperor visits his favorite concubine 甄嬛. Remember, she’s pregnant now. He has a gift for her. A pear blossom that plucked himself. He’s in a happy mood, praises her to high heaven. No one can compare to your beauty. Another flower for us! Pear blossoms represent the purity of love. 甄嬛 laments that no one has done a pear blossom makeup. There’s the famous plum blossom makeup but white isn’t very conducive for makeup. The Emperor disagrees – it’s not hard to do so. 

 

He then paints a pink pear blossom on her forehead, using rouge with white to make the pink. 甄嬛 remarks, this is beautiful but it doesn’t look real. To which, the Emperor responds, “it doesn’t have to be real, as long as it’s beautiful.“ Let’s bookmark this for later. He names the style “姣梨妆”, Beautiful Pear Makeup.

 

The topic then shifts to 沈眉庄 and the plague. There’s still remnants of the plague within the palace. Rumor has it, the two doctors 江诚 and 江慎 are taking bribes from the servants. Whoever can pay will get the antidote. This is a sticky situation for the Emperor. He doesn’t want doctors like them in his employ but they are the only ones with the cure. Finally, 甄嬛 reveals that the imperial doctor 温实处, her childhood friend, was actually the one who wrote the original cure. These two other doctors merely stole it.

 

甄嬛 wants to dispatch these two but doesn’t have a solution. They are a part of 华妃’s posse. It wouldn’t look good to have two doctors suddenly sentenced to death. The Emperor waves that worry away with his response. There’s plenty of ways to eliminate them.

 

The conversation then shifts to 甄嬛’s birthday. The Emperor wants to make a big hullabaloo about it for her and the baby. Now pay attention to this next line. 甄嬛 naively asks – you love children and you’re always at 华妃’s place. Why is she not pregnant? The Emperor, without missing a beat, kind of like nonchalantly responds – she will never have children. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? This is shocking news to 甄嬛. She presses a little bit but the Emperor doesn’t respond. You also realize that this was a brain fart on his end. He shouldn’t have said it but he let it slip.

 

That night , there’s some ominous music and The Emperor orders his corp of assasins 血滴子 to murder the two 江 doctors. He says that it has to be discrete. No one can find out about this. He tells 夏刈, the leader, to keep a close eye on the Imperial Court, especially for anyone with rebellious tendencies. The two 江 doctors are quickly dispatched. 华妃 is stunned at the news – she quickly reports this to the Emperor. He, of course, acts all somber and tells her that he’ll get to the bottom of this.

 

Let’s rewind. 华妃 and these two doctors were accused by the doctor 刘畚 for the pregnancy scandal with 沈眉庄, but the Emperor could not punish them because they found the cure for the plague. With the news that 温实处 was the original author of the cure, the Emperor was free to eliminate these two doctors, dealing a blow to 华妃. This is the first time we see the Emperor taking action against 华妃. 

 

[Karen]

Now….

 

The Emperor is making a big deal of 甄嬛’s birthday! So much so that he invited the handsome 17th Prince 果郡王 to help plan it. We haven’t seen him in a while. They are enjoying the 虢国夫人游春图 – The Lady Guo Guo Spring Outing. We’ll discuss this painting later.

 

It’s April 17th – Everyone is at the Peony Pavilion in the Summer Palace 圆明园 for 甄嬛’s birthday. 华妃 is extremely jealous that 甄嬛 got this honor. The camera pans to the wives of the princes in attendance. They all have the Beauty Pear Blossom makeup on their forehead! 曹贵人 loudly describes that this is very much in vogue throughout the capital city and it’s all thanks to 甄嬛. 

 

The rest of the concubines get very salty. 

 

甄嬛 checks in on 沈眉庄. She reminds 沈眉庄 that  even if you don’t care, you still need the Emperor’s favor. That’s how you survive. 沈眉庄 is apathetic to this remark – she’s over it. 

 

甄嬛 then talks to the wife of a prince sitting nearby. The Beauty Pear Blossom Makeup is all the rage in Beijing. 甄嬛 is the trendsetter. The socialites also want to show that they have happy marriages. If your husband has time to draw this for you, then it’s a sign of a tranquil and harmonious marriage.

 

The conversation is interrupted by the 17th Prince 果郡王 because… it’s time for her present! They head out to the lake to watch what surprise he has. And what a sight to behold! A sky full of kites greet them. The Emperor then brings 甄嬛 closer to the lake and they see that the  lotus flowers are in full bloom. It’s capped off with 果郡王 walking up to them, performing a piece called 凤凰于飞 Phoenices in the Sky on his bamboo flute. 

 

This truly is a special birthday gift. It’s April on the lunar calendar, most likely May in the Gregorian calendar. In Beijing it’s still relatively chilly and not the season for lotus flowers to bloom. The 17th Prince 果郡王 planted the lotus roots and diverted warm water from the nearby hot springs into this lake to make the flowers bloom during this season! Now that’s dedication.

 

We’ll analyze this a bit more later. 

 

[Cathy]

The celebration ends with 甄嬛’s mother also receiving an honorary title of the 3rd rank – 诰命夫人. Back at her palace, 华妃 looks as though she can murder someone because this is quite a high honor for a woman. 华妃 doesn’t like that 甄嬛‘s family is getting so much attention. This is very much a threat to her own position. Unfortunately 曹贵人 bears the brunt of 华妃’s anger, receiving vicious insults. 华妃 openly declares her desire to eliminate 甄嬛. It’s not easy being 曹贵人。 

 

Unfortunately, the rest of the episode isn’t as um rosy. Remember the cute and bubbly 淳常在? She’s the adorable foodie that’s really young but loves hanging out with 甄嬛. She’s no threat and is genuinely a cute person. She has no nefarious thoughts and just likes spending time with 甄嬛 and eating food. She’s hanging out with 甄嬛 and they decide to go out to fly kite. Or at least, 淳常在 flies the kite while 甄嬛 watches. 

 

Problem is, 淳常在’s kite breaks and she goes to grab it by herself but in the process overhears 华妃 discussing some shady business. 

 

(side note – there’s a quicky costume continuity error. When 淳儿 is flying the kite, she’s still wearing her flower-pot bottom shoes. When she climbs up the rocks to grab her kite, she’s wearing flat shoes)

 

[Karen]

Basically, 华妃 is enacting her corrupt plans which of course she wants to keep quiet. 淳常在 hears this but isn’t sneaky. 华妃 discovers 淳常在 overhearing the conversation. And….the result is that 淳常在…the adorable girl is eliminated by a eunuch. 

 

Nooooooo. It really doesn’t pay to be a foodie! She was only around for a few episodes! She was so cute! Why did she have to die!

 

During this whole scene, 曹贵人, who is the concubine on team 华妃 sees everything that happens. She actually goes to intercept 甄嬛 as she’s waiting out in the garden and prevent 甄嬛 from discovering anything was amiss. They have a conversation which we’ll discuss in more detail but ultimately, 曹贵人 tips off 甄嬛 that something is wrong.

 

甄嬛 frantically asks her servants to find 淳常在。 Later that evening, the servants report that 淳常在 was discovered… She drowned…

 

甄嬛 is heartbroken as are we. I’m sooo sad!!!

 

The episode ends with 甄嬛 hearing from a servant that there’s no way 淳常在 could have drowned because she is actually a good swimmer. So 甄嬛 can only surmise that 淳常在 was murdered but as they have no evidence, there’s nothing they can do….

 

Ugh. So far, the death of 淳常在 has been the saddest. She didn’t do anything except for be friends with 甄嬛 and be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

[Cathy]

It’s now time for our analysis! There’s a lot to discuss here!

 

The first will be the specific painting `12122国夫人游春图 – The Lady Guo Guo Spring Outing on display for the Emperor and the 17th Prince. This specific painting has a very storied history!

 

The original painting was commissioned and completed during the Tang Dynasty in 752 by the artist 张萱。The main subject of the painting is Lady Guo. She is the third sister of the famous 杨贵妃. We talked about 杨贵妃 before in previous episodes. It is one of the prime examples of court life during the reign of 唐玄宗. Lady Guo was known for her opulence. She is the lady in the center behind the male guard in white. She’s traveling with her other sister and has a cadre of guards and servants in the painting. It is peculiar that the focus of this painting is a woman. Before this time, females were rarely the focus of art. The painter 张萱 led some of that change with this piece. 

 

The original painting is lost. Unfortunately, none of the original pieces by 张萱 survive. Only replicas of his paintings from the Song Dynasty survive. This replica was in private collections during the Ming and early Qing dynasties. Emperor 乾隆 acquired it for his collection during his reign, so this here is another bug. We are currently in the reign of 雍正. With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the last Qing Emperor 溥仪 smuggled this piece along with other treasures out of the Forbidden Palace. In 1945, 溥仪 wanted to smuggle these to Japan but was caught. The Lady Guo Guo Spring Outing has been in the collection of the 辽宁省博物馆 museum since 1948.

 

[Karen]

The next topic to discuss is the birthday presents from the 17th Prince 果郡王!We haven’t seen him in a while and he definitely knocked this one out of the park.

 

The kites were cool but the big wow factor were the lotus flowers. He explained how he was able to get the lotus flowers to bloom. I also think there’s another hidden meaning as to why he picked lotus flowers. Back in episode 19, 甄嬛 snuck onto 果郡王’s boat after visiting 沈眉庄 who was under house arrest. They had this whole conversation about Lotus Flower and the purity of the flower. Maybe he’s trying to evoke some of those memories?

 

He also performs a piece 凤凰于飞 Phoenices in the Sky on his flute.  This story originally comes from the Book of Songs which was compiled during the Zhou Dynasty back in the 11th to the 7th centuries BC. Phoenices in the sky represent a harmonious marriage and is commonly used as a phrase of good fortune for newlyweds. I don’t know if this specifically is very apt for the occasion though…甄嬛 is not the Empress. The Phoenix is the symbol of the Empress and this could very much be misconstrued in a negative manner. 

 

Phoenices in the Sky is the end credit song of this drama. Sung by 刘欢. It describes a very moving love story but not between 甄嬛 and the Emperor. The lyrics at the end 凤凰于飞,梧桐是依。噰噰喈喈 (yong1 yong1 jie1 jie) ,福禄攸归 actually comes from a work written in the Tang dynasty describing the Phoenices in the sky, leaning together in the Parasol tree, harmonious and content. Pretty cool right?

曹贵人

[Cathy]

We’ve discussed her at length before. In this episode we get some more examples of how calculating she is. We have a quick scene that reveals 曹贵人’s own shaky predicament. She can only do 华妃’s bidding. On the surface, she’s firmly on team 华妃, but there are several times where she tries to play the game to protect herself even from 华妃.  华妃 is overbearing and abusive in many ways. She used the daughter of 曹贵人 as a tool to gain favoritism and destroy others which 曹贵人 cannot forgive. So she’s trying to figure out the best way to protect her daughter. 曹贵人 is constantly analyzing each situation in the imperial harem to see what’s the best move.

 

The first example – during 甄嬛’s birthday celebration, she snarkily informs the rest of the concubines about the 姣梨妆 – the Beauty Pear Makeup. I can’t tell if 华妃 knows about the origins but 华妃 becomes extremely upset at this news. I think 曹贵人 is purposefully stirring the pot to make the other concubines jealous but why doesn’t she insult 甄嬛? She wants to draw more attention to 甄嬛? Her words just make 华妃 more pissed off. I guess this is to also make the other concubines jealous as well.

 

Here’s the second example – 曹贵人 and her maid are actually the ones who first spot 淳常在 overhearing 华妃’s bribery scheme. 曹贵人’s maid wants to verbally warn 华妃 but 曹贵人 quickly prevents her from doing so because she says it’ll draw too much attention, instead she throws a rock into the pond to draw 华妃’s attention. 

 

Throwing the rock is a very shrewd choice – by throwing the rock, she doesn’t draw attention to herself. It’s not clear if 曹贵人 knows about 华妃’s bribery scheme. She could put herself in danger if it’s known she’s also privy to this information. 曹贵人 knows exactly what fate might befall 淳贵人 but warns 华妃 anyways but she doesn’t make it known she was the one who warned her. You could also construe it as yelling would draw attention away from 淳儿 so it’s open for interpretation.

 

Finally – let’s break down this conversation between 曹贵人 and 甄嬛。曹贵人 accosts 甄嬛 in an attempt to divert her attention away from discovering 淳常在. 甄嬛, none the wiser of what’s going on, has a pretty frank conversation with 曹贵人. And basically says she suggests that 曹贵人defect to help someone, such as herself, instead of being on 华妃’s team. 曹贵人 in this conversation is considering her options. She hear’s 甄嬛 and certainly feels that she may be right. That’s why at the end of the conversation, 曹贵人 tells 甄嬛 to look “over there” which is basically a hint that something is wrong. Otherwise, 甄嬛 may still be in the dark about what happened to 淳常在。

 

[Karen]

In summary – for 曹贵人, we have to pity her and also admire her. Everything she’s done has been for her daughter. We know that having children in the imperial harem is very difficult with so many miscarriages so the fact that she was able to come to term was impressive. We learn in this episode that she had a difficult birth so she was not completely free from the nefarious deeds but ultimately, she was smart enough to birth a child. Fortunately it’s a princess. Who knows what other people would have done if it was a prince.

 

[Karen]

That’s it for this episode – episode 27. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!

 

On a completely different tangent that’s been bothering me a while. The actress for 浣碧 is dubbed.  Everything seems fine but I can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s actually saying when she says “小主”。 The mouth shape doesn’t look the same – I don’t know. Just wanted to point that out, haha

EPISODE 26

 

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas! Here, we talk about Chinese dramas and also the history behind the drama. I’m Karen and Cathy!  We are currently discussing episode 26 of 后宫甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace. If you are new to the podcast and the drama, we recommend listening to the Intro To The Drama episode to get your bearings and what this drama is about. You can always watch this drama on Youtube, just search Empresses in the Palace and it’ll pop up. There are english subtitles available

 

This episode to me was REALLY confusing the first few times I watched it. It’s funny to a degree and heartbreaking as well.

 

Last episode, we had a lot of chaos where there was a miscarriage but surprisingly discovered that our main character 甄嬛 is two months pregnant. This pregnancy is quite the surprise and is causing a lot of anxiety and stress in the imperial harem. People who were happy about the miscarriage are now upset to hear there is another pregnancy. 

 

Continuing on the conversation from the last episode, the empress dowager and the empress are still discussing the miscarriage. 太后, the empress dowager, basically says, nothing more can be done about the miscarriage but nothing can happen to this pregnancy because it’s 菀贵人。It’s clear that 太后 cares more about 菀贵人,甄嬛 than the other concubine 富察贵人。I guess that’s generally a lesson on being a good person because 富察贵人 was really quite the snooty and pretentious person. Now this tragedy has befallen her, and no one really cares.

 

[cathy to interject] – I don’t think so…I think it’s more like there can’t be two miscarriages. That would be too obvious, no?

 

[Karen]

 

I am highlighting here that 太后 is essentially threatening 皇后 and saying that nothing better happen to 甄嬛’s kid. But of course, this is the Imperial Harem, they can’t say such direct things but the message was abundantly clear.

 

皇后 agrees but we shall see what happens. The acting here is great because 皇后 is not being aggressive or defensive. Instead, she’s being really passive and agreeing to everything the dowager says. 

 

She closes the conversation by pointing out that our lovely 华妃 has requested to see a doctor from outside the imperial palace. Clearly this is a reputation issue for the imperial family. The empress dowager ultimately says it’s fine but at the end, requests that if this external doctor is a good one, she would like her own head maid to get a chance to see the doctor as well. Pretty innocent and simple right? She’s being a good master and wants her maid to get a check up. No big deal.

 

 

[Cathy]

With the news of 2 pregnancies so close together, the person that is most upset in the imperial harem is none other than 华妃。 She is sitting in her palace and utterly heartbroken that it seems like everyone in the palace can become pregnant except for her. She stuffs her face with as many pickles as possible and when she starts throwing up, she exclaims! Look, I’m pregnant. It’s really quite sad because you know she really wants to have a child. 蒋欣 – the actress does such a good job here.

 

In her fit of rage, 华妃 storms into the palace of none other than the sickly 端妃。 It’s 26 episodes in and we finally understand what happened to 端妃 and why she is so sick. 端妃 is one of the oldest serving concubines in the harem. Since we were first introduced to her, she has been very frail – even if you look back in episode 2 when the new ladies were being introduced to the palace.

 

The reason she is so frail is because 4 years ago, it would seem that 华妃’s miscarriage was caused by 端妃. 华妃 drank a bowl of medicine that 端妃 gave her. Her pregnancy was 6 months along and it was clear she was going to have a baby boy but right after drinking this medicine from 端妃, she had a miscarriage and lost her child. 华妃 was devastated and in her hatred, turned around and forced 端妃 to drink saffron (藏红花). In TV magic, the amount of saffron she drank meant that she would never be able to have children.

 

[Karen] – we talked about 麝香 or musk pods as one of the most commonly used ways to induce a miscarriage. Saffron or 藏红花 is another. Saffron does have some harmful properties for pregnant women but there’s little evidence that it’ll make a female infertile.

 

[Cathy]

From that point on, 端妃 has been frail and bedridden. Because of this action, 端妃 absolutely hates 华妃. In her mind, she never actually did anything to hurt 华妃. She didn’t know how or why 华妃 had the miscarriage, it wasn’t by her hand but 华妃 won’t believe it. 华妃 firmly believes that 端妃 caused her miscarriage because she was the one who brought her the bowl of medicine whihc was actualy supposed to help her pregnancy. 华妃’s revenge was that 端妃 unfortunately will never be able to have children, which in 端妃”s eyes, is worse than death. She will never have any type of support in the palace and basically her value as a woman is gone. The whole point of being a woman in the palace is to produce children and 华妃 took that ability from her.

 

[Karen] 

The two women hate each other. The reason why 端妃 has been helping 甄嬛, our main character, is clear now after so many episodes. 端妃 hopes 甄嬛 will help defeat 华妃 because she cannot do it herself.

 

Because 华妃 is so powerful, she has been able to restrict pretty much everything for 端妃。 端妃 can’t have fresh food, can’t have lots of servants, can’t get laundry done externally, has limited access to medicine – pretty much everything that should be given to her as a consort of her rank, has been stripped because 华妃 hates her. That’s honestly terrible. And as we found out in the conversation, every time there’s a pregnancy announcement, or whenever 华妃 is upset, she’ll come over and verbally and physically abuse 端妃。

 

The interesting piece here is that 皇上 believes that 端妃 didn’t do anything wrong. The ultimate reason why 端妃 is still alive is because 华妃 cannot outright kill 端妃 or else 皇上 will be mad. The emperor and empress dowager seem to have made it clear that 端妃 is not to be touched. Otherwise, 华妃 most definitely would have killed 端妃 long ago. Why is this? That’s odd. But I also can’t imagine that 皇上 doesn’t know that 端妃 is suffering but he seems to be fine with it. There’s just a lot of oddities going on here. The acting of the two ladies in the scene here is phenomenal. Especially 蒋欣,the actress for 华妃, you see how much she hates 端妃 but is also so sad that she lost a child. You end up kind of pitying her because yes, she does scary stuff, but a lot of it originates from her sadness of having lost a child she desperately wants.

 

[Cathy]

To try to fix this situation, 华妃 has asked her brother to invite a doctor he knows (so outside of the imperial harem) to see if there’s any way to help her become pregnant. 

 

Well the old doctor comes to the imperial palace and is being escorted by the Empress’s main eunuch. NOW HERE it is quite confusing. On the face of it, nothing seems to really be happening so let’s take a look at how things are progressing.

 

Before they go to see 华妃, the doctor makes a stop at the Department of Imperial Doctors. The director of the doctors meets with this new dude and is really nice and even gives this doctor all of 华妃’s medical notes. That’s pretty nice of him no? The director says that 华妃 is of course adored by the Emperor so their department always pays careful attention to her and has had at least 20 top tier doctors take a look at 华妃 so she’s in good hands. Well the new guy is like “great!” and goes off to see 华妃。

 

[karen]

华妃, being 华妃, of course gives the doctor money and then threatens him with his life if he does a bad job of looking after her. But the doctor says that she is fine. There are so many doctors who have attended to her and they all say she’s fine. She’s not terribly impacted by her previous miscarriage and therefore, as long as she tries not to be over eager, should still be able to bear children. 华妃 is ecstatic to hear this and offers the doctor more money. 

 

As the doctor is being escorted out by a eunuch, he is sweating profusely. That’s odd right? The eunuch then asks whether or not the doctor can take a look at the Empress Dowager’s maid since he’s in town. He, of course acquiesces and goes to see this woman. 

 

This interaction is EXTREMELY important. The doctor checks the maid’s pulse and says there is nothing wrong with her. She is completely healthy. But the maid insists that other doctors in the imperial palace said she is very sick and needs to spend quite a bit of time to recover. She then goes on to say that if someone is not sick but everyone else says she is sick and only you, say she’s healthy, what will ppl think of you? On the flip side, what if someone IS sick and everyone keeps on saying she’s healthy but you are the only one to truthfully say she’s sick, what will people think of you? He jokes and says that people will think I’m crazy! The maid then responds, exactly. Your entire reputation will be ruined if you tell the truth. He then asks, what happens if another doctor tells the truth. The maid says that that will never happen. The imperial doctors will all have the same response. This doctor thinks for a bit and says, ok, I will also have the same response.

 

Ummmm ok so what just happened? This scene and a scene from the previous episode require spoilers to discuss. We’ll talk about it at the end of the episode if it’s confusing. Again on the face of it, it’s like ok fine, but as with all things in the palace, the true motives are much more nefarious.

 

[cathy]

The rest of the episode is rather simple. The emperor who has been absent for all of this drama, finally returns to the imperial palace and immediately checks in on 甄嬛。 He’s super worried about her and excited about their first child together. He wants to spend all his time with 甄嬛 and is even willing to neglect 皇后 on the day that is dedicated to her. I think we’ve mentioned before but every 1st and 15th of the month is when the emperor is supposed to see the empress. This day is the 15th but he decides to blow 皇后 off for 甄嬛。 皇后 is really saddened by this and cries alone at night. 甄嬛 at least urges 皇上, the emperor, to go see the empress for food the next day if he won’t go spend the night.

 

The next big event on the docket is the 册封 and 晋封 ceremonies. These are the promotion ceremonies for both 甄嬛 and 敬嫔. 甄嬛 is currently a 贵人 or Noble Lady. 敬嫔 with the rank of 嫔 is a Concubine. They each are promoted up one level. 甄嬛 to 莞嫔 and 敬嫔 to 敬妃. Concubine and Consort respectively. 

 

In preparation for the ceremony, 太后, the Empress Dowager, gifts a familiar hairpin to 甄嬛. It’s the same one she gifted 沈眉庄 all the way back. It’s the same one that got damaged when the Emperor learned of 沈眉庄’s fake pregnancy. 

 

[discuss]

 

 [Karen] 

甄嬛 is back at her palace marveling at all of the medicinal ointments and creams that have been gifted to help with her recovery. 安陵容 arrives with another gift. She has her own family cream made with very valuable ingredients to help with the scar from the cat. There’s powdered pearl, peach flowers, honey, fish bone collagen and even white otter marrow? Dang – that’s extremely valuable. We’ll discuss more about this in the spoiler section.

 

It also doesn’t look as though 淳儿, the young bubbly girl, will last too long. 华妃 is extremely annoyed at her.

 

The episode ends with 甄嬛 and 敬嫔 at the ceremony. I think it’s quite a simple ceremony – they left a lot of things out. There are documents, seals, and rituals that need to be adhered to. We’ll dive deeper into the 册封 ceremonies in later episodes.

[Cathy]

Let’s start with our analysis!

 

The first is the promotion of our ladies 甄嬛 and 敬嫔。 This is actually quite an honor for both of these ladies. There are only 4妃 or Consorts designations and 6 嫔 or Concubine designations. There’s a reason why 华妃 was so pissed off in the last episode. We now have 4 Consorts – 华妃, the sickly 端妃, 齐妃 who is the 3rd prince’s mother, and now 敬妃。I don’t think we have any other 嫔’s or Concubines now. As a Concubine, you now run your own palace. You can refer to yourself as 本宫 – in third person. It basically means – owner of a palace. Servants will no longer call you a 小主 or little master. They will refer to you with the proper name of 娘娘, basically the equivalent of your ladyship/your highness depending on your rank.

 

Next I want to talk about our bedridden 端妃. She is this mysterious character that keeps popping up at random times. Let’s add some things together. Yes, it was a very sad scene between her and 华妃. She is a tragic character BUT we see subtle glimpses of her intelligence in this episode and the previous episode. In this episode – 端妃 is able to even threaten 华妃 with 富察贵人’s miscarriage and 甄嬛’s injuries. She points out – you’re scared. You need the emperor’s favor. If he suspects you, you’re done. That’s true. 端妃 knows though, that 华妃 didn’t do it! She went to 甄嬛’s quarters just now to relay her suspicions of foul play but NOT from 华妃. I don’t 甄嬛 thought to this point just as yet but it looks like 端妃 knows. 华妃 straight up denies she did anything and we as the audience knows she didn’t do it. The fact that 端妃 knows this though, makes a very compelling case for how she’s able to survive in the Imperial Harem despite her illnesses.

人彘就是把四肢剁掉,挖出眼睛,用注入耳朵,使其失聪(熏聋),用喑药灌进喉咙,割去舌头,破坏声带,使其不能言语,然后扔到厕所里,有的还要割去鼻子,剃光头发,剃尽眉发(不只是把眉毛和头发剃光,还包括眼睫毛),然后抹一种药,破坏毛囊,使毛囊脱落后不再生长,永不再长毛发,然后一根根拔掉,有的嫌累,就一起拔掉。如果有皮掉下来,或者在行刑中就死了,刽子手就会被人嗤之以鼻,甚至丢掉饭碗。也有在行刑过程中就死了的,没死的就被放在厕所里做成了人彘。最出名的是汉朝的吕太后戚夫人做成了人彘,还安排了专人“照顾”,然后丢弃在茅厕中任其痛苦死去,割掉耳朵,甚至把脸划花。这是吕后发明用来对付戚夫人的一种非常残忍酷刑之一。

 

皇后

 

That’s it for this episode – episode 26. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!

 

Spoiler Section

 

EPISODE 25

 

 

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen and Cathy here discussing Episode 25 of 后宫甄嬛传! 

 

[Karen]

This episode is quite action packed, especially in the second episode. We have a flower viewing party that ends with a miscarriage but also another pregnancy announcement. We see 皇后’s true face. This podcast episode is going to be a little different. We’ll of course discuss the plot and analysis on some of the texts/themes but we’ll also freely discuss the characters and the drama thus far. That section will be full of spoilers so if you haven’t watched the drama and don’t want things spoiled for you, we’ll let you know when to duck out.

 

[Cathy]

The first half of the episode is pretty simple. 华妃 is getting a check up from one of her imperial doctors and she is asking when she’ll become pregnant. He says that she has nothing to worry about. 

 

富察贵人 is pregnant, as we found out two episodes ago.  She is lauding this fact over everyone, even during the daily court greetings with 皇后, the empress and the other ladies. She is gifted intricately made make up by the emperor and the make up was specifically made to not include certain scents like musk scent which is not very good for pregnant women and instead, uses other scents that are safe. 富察贵人 is of course very pleased.

 

Elsewhere in the palace, 甄嬛’s friend 沈眉庄 is recovering from her bout with the plague. She is being treated by 甄嬛’s other friend, the imperial doctor 温实初。 He is very attentive and 沈眉庄is looking much better. He questions, though, how it’s possible for 沈眉庄 to have contracted the disease when it first originated in the city and then directly after it popped up at 华妃’s palace. It’s odd for the disease to then end up at 沈眉庄’s place when she is already isolated from most people. They deduce, accurately,  that 华妃 purposefully infected 沈眉庄 in order to get rid of her. 沈眉庄is livid but of course, there isn’t a whole lot they can do at this point.

 

[Karen]

Here is where the fun starts.

 

The last couple of episodes, we have been discussing how 安陵容 has been drifting farther and farther away from 甄嬛。 It’s looking like she’s beginning to side with 皇后. Well 皇后 continues to show who is the master manipulator in 后宫, the imperial harem. 安陵容 is at 皇后’s palace. She’s been spending more and more time there. 安陵容 gifts a perfume sachet to 皇后 but 皇后 says that she does not use perfume so doesn’t accept the gift. 安陵容 apologizes for not being perceptive of this fact but 皇后 isn’t angry. She instead says that it isn’t that she doesn’t like perfume, but if some of the fragrances are not used adequately, they can hurt one’s health. She then says that since you understand perfume and fragrances, then you know what terrible things can happen when not used properly. 

 

Cue 皇后’s cat 松子 who makes an appearance. You’ll recall that this cat was introduced quite a few episodes ago and 甄嬛 does not like cats. 皇后 casually says that it’s spring time and other cats during spring time meow because it’s courting/mating season. Her cat, however, likes to jump on things.

 

安陵容 doesn’t skip a beat and says that cats are not easy to tame during this period in the spring but they like smelling certain smells and CAN be tamed after smelling something for a while. She says she’ll go back to her palace and develop a fragrance that will help tame 松子, the cat.

 

皇后is very pleased and says that the flowers of her palace have all blossomed. She wishes to invite the ladies of the imperial harem to enjoy the spring view.

 

[Cathy]

OKAY… What just happened here. This seemed innocent enough right? The first couple of times I watched this I did not fully understand the implications. Because, what happens next? 

 

Essentially, 皇后 invites all of the ladies of the harem to view the flowers that have bloomed in her palace. Inevitably, whenever you have all the ladies together, drama ensues. 华妃 says some pretty rude things to 皇后 but 皇后 is ultimately saved by 甄嬛. However, as the ladies are viewing the blossoms, 安陵容 baits the cat with some fragrance that had she developed. This causes the cat to leap onto the pregnant 富察贵人, specifically her stomach. Everything gets thrown into chaos. Someone pushes 甄嬛 forward into 富察贵人 but 甄嬛 is also scratched pretty badly in the neck by the cat.

 

[karen]

富察贵人 takes a very hard fall and is in a lot of pain. Everyone is scrambling because she has lost a lot of color and doesn’t look well. They call for doctors and the result…unfortunately is that she has a miscarriage. This craziness even causes the empress dowager, someone as we’ve said previously who doesn’t bother much with affairs of the imperial harem, to come rushing into see what happened and whether or not the baby can be saved. She’s sad that it seems she has lost another grandchild. 

 

甄嬛 who was pushed into the crowd by someone (probably the devious 曹贵人) is also being looked at by the doctor due to the scratches on her neck and other injuries. Surprisingly though, the doctor congratulates her because… SHE”S 2 MONTHS PREGNANT! What???? Everyone is extremely shocked. 甄嬛 can’t believe her ears but is very pleased nonetheless. The empress and the empress dowager tell her that she has to take care of herself now that she is with child.

 

So right now, we have one child gone, but another one gained.

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 returns to her palace and her friend 沈眉庄 comes to visit. 沈眉庄 is very happy to hear the news but tells 甄嬛 to be careful because there have been too many accidental miscarriages in the palace. What if these aren’t all accidents?

 

Let’s pause here for a second to discuss this. As of now, we know of 4 miscarriages that have happened in the palace:

 

  1. 芳贵人 – She was the previous inhabitant of the palace where 甄嬛 lives currently. she had a miscarriage – remember that pot full of ___? After this miscarriage, she went crazy and is now living in the Cold Palace
  2. 欣常在 – she’s a 1st class female attendant in the palace. When 甄嬛 first came to the palace, now 2 or so years ago, this lady JUST had a miscarriage. It was because she slipped and fell. If you go back to our earlier episodes, we discuss her situation. She’s still around and has managed to keep her head down though she is still just a 1st class female attendant, a step below 甄嬛。
  3. 华妃 – we learned that 华妃 had a miscarriage a few years back, before 皇上 ascended the throne
  4. 富察贵人 – and now, we have the most recent miscarriage which was caused accidentally, but we know that it was on purpose, by the cat

 

[Karen]

It is clear that whoever is pregnant, becomes a target in the imperial harem and it is not good. We’re not the only ones to have caught on to the fact that there have been lots of women who have had miscarriages. The sickly 端妃 who hasn’t appeared much in the drama except for a few scenes here and there, meets 甄嬛 late at night to tell her that she discovered a fragrance box. This may be the key to what happened today because it’s odd that the cat would only attack the pregnant 富察贵人 and no one else. 

 

端妃 isn’t the only one to have noticed an issue. 太后, the empress dowager has seen right through the devious plan and calmly confronts 皇后. 太后 knows full well that 皇后 was the mastermind behind the miscarriage today. She warns 皇后 that there are some things she is ok with letting go, others, she cannot.

 

 

—-

 

Analysis – 

[Cathy]

In the midst of all the miscarriage drama and the true natue of the evil 皇后, I want to take a break to discuss a poem that 甄嬛 recites while the ladies are enjoying the flowers at 皇后’s palace.

 

华妃 starts discussing two flowers – 牡丹 and the 芍药。 牡丹 is a Chinese Peony. 芍药 is another type of peony. 

 

Let’s bring a lot of what we’ve discussed to this scene right here! Back in episode __, 甄嬛 was gifted with 椒房之礼 which is usually reserved for the wife. The color used is red. The Empress 皇后 picked a pink peony, to which 华妃 immediately responds by picking a red garden peony. She boldly claims – “I’m picking red, only concubines enjoy pink”. This brashness is extremely obvious to all the attendees. 

 

皇后 doesn’t have a good response. 

 

庭前芍药妖无格2,池上芙蕖净少情3

唯有牡丹真国色4,花开时节动京城5 

 

The garden peony in the courtyard is bewitching but lacks substance, the lotus in the pond is clean but lacks emotion

Only the peony is the true national beauty. When it blooms, the entire capital notices

 

This poem was written by 刘禹锡 during the Tang Dynasty in the late 820s. We talked about the Chinese Peony before. Way back in episode 2. The Chinese Peony is considered the national flower then and now. As the national flower, it represents the Imperial Family and in turn the Empress. 

 

甄嬛 here says, no matter what color you pick, you’ll always be subservient to the Empress. The use of this poem is extremely ingenious because the phrase 庭前芍药妖无格 directly insults 华妃. 甄嬛 accuses 华妃 of bewitchery and a lack of substance.

—–

 

EPISODE 23+24

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. It’s Karen and Cathy here to continue discussing chinese history and dramas. In this episode, we’re going to be discussing Episode 23 and 24 of 后宫甄嬛传! 

 

We’re a third of the way through this drama and it’s quite fascinating to see what each of us focuses on actually. I find certain things interesting while Cathy hones in on other things.

 

[Cathy]

Regardless, let’s get started! Episode 23 + 24 is very plot heavy so our discussion will be more revolved around what happens in the drama rather than historical text. 

 

Starting off in episode 23,  the ladies of the Imperial Harem are at the Empress Dowager, 太后’s, Palace for the customary rituals for the LaBa Festival. 太后 takes a liking to 甄嬛 and requests that she copy Buddihst sutras. Pretty harmless right? 

 

[Karen] Is it though? I don’t think so. When I saw this scene, I took it to mean that 太后 was testing 甄嬛 and also taking the opportunity to see 甄嬛 for the first time. Copying buddhist sutras can some times be seen as a passive aggressive way to punish someone because you are literally telling them to copy pages of text. On the other hand, copying buddhist texts are seen as a way to show your devotion to Buddha and will help you get karma. So it’s two fold. I feel like 太后 was seeing whether or not 甄嬛 would complain for having to do such a tedious task and when 甄嬛 did not, 太后was pleased. You’ll also remember that WAY back in the beginning of the drama, 太后 didn’t care to meet 甄嬛。 She said she’ll meet 甄嬛 when she becomes a 嫔, so a level above what 甄嬛 currently is. 甄嬛 has made quite the impact on 后宫 such that even 太后 wants to meet this woman.

 

[Cathy]

太后 knows full well of 甄嬛’s favor. She’s using this excuse to remove 甄嬛 from the harem and frees the Emperor to “spend time with other ladies”. Doesn’t matter who, but someone else. She even says as much in this coded message – the heavy snow has broken all of the tree branches. 甄嬛 is the snow and she’s covering up all of the other concubines. She needs to find some more peace and calm while here in 后宫. 甄嬛 takes this advice? Warning? To heart which is why she suggests that the Emperor check in on the rest of the Imperial harem. Hey – at least she listens. This puts her in good favor with the Empress Dowager too. Let’s see here – we now know that despite what it seems, the Empress Dowager very much pays attention to what his son is up to in the 后宫.

 

After this scene…the ladies are at the Empress 皇后’s palace for their daily greetings. We haven’t focused on these for a while. For once, it’s relatively cordial. 淳儿, the cute bubbly girl, is joking around, saying that she needs to stop eating. 安陵容 gets all jealous of 淳儿 because 甄嬛 remembers all the food that 淳儿 is eating and doesn’t do the same for her。

 

We don’t spend too much time on this because…富察贵人 drops a big bombshell. She’s pregnant! Everybody’s face falls. Her? How? Does anyone even remember who the heck 富察贵人is???  I don’t think I remembered her the first time I watched this drama. She entered the palace with 甄嬛 and company but has had very little presence in the drama thus far. She’s in the background here and there so it’s just as surprising to hear that she is pregnant!

 

欣常在 – another attendant makes some snarky comments. This is hilarious because 富察贵人 doesn’t get it. 欣常在 says “I know the Emperor is very busy. He only visits you once every few months and you got pregnant!” She then says “Not everyone has the fortune of being blessed with a son”.  富察贵人 is all pleased with her pregnancy and doesn’t get the insult. She just thinks that 欣常在 is jealous. I love the close up on 华妃. She is furious. She’s thinking,
How can this woman get pregnant before her??”

 

[Karen] 

A KEY piece of information here is that we here from 富察贵人 that she is only a few months pregnant and so her pregnancy is not stable. This is important!

 

[Cathy]

Unsurprisngly, 甄嬛 is also little bit disappointed at the news because, like 华妃,she’s surprised that 富察贵人 is pregnant. Outside of the Empress 皇后’s palace, she’s called back by 曹贵人 who tries to rub some salt to the wound. How is it that the Emperor visits you the most and there’s still no news? Rude!

 

However 甄嬛 clever deflects it and turns this against 曹贵人 by asking forgiveness from 华妃. She says 华妃’s the one who’s seen the Emperor the most. I’m sorry if 曹贵人 offended you. After hearing this, 华妃 immediately pushes 曹贵人 away and snidely says if I get pregnant, it’ll be a boy. A daughter’s useless. Ouch. But nice job 甄嬛! You’re learning to play the game.

 

华妃 and 曹贵人 are still fuming about news of the pregnancy when 华妃’s Eunuch 周宁海 hastily rushes in to break the news. There’s a plague in Beijing! This is a huge deal. Everyone in the Imperial Palace is scrambling. Interestingly, the first place with the plague is actually in 翊坤宫. 华妃’s palace. That’s odd don;t you think? My theory is that 华妃 has too many ppl coming in and out of her palace with all the bribes she’s getting and that’s why ppl in her palace contracted the disease.

 

The Empress 皇后 takes this very seriously and even requests 华妃’s help in the matter. 

 

[karen] However, I want to point out that we’ve seen in previous episodes the glimpses of how devious and manipulative 皇后is. While giving orders to 华妃, 皇后 specifically tells her to not forget 沈眉庄。I personally think that 皇后 did this on purpose. There was absolutely no need to do so but she knows that 华妃 hates 沈眉庄 and wanted to use 华妃 as a way to kill 沈眉庄 thereby removing another competitor in 后宫。

 

华妃 is easily manipulated and while she is picking up the slack by making sure every place is sanitized with boiling liquor and burning herbs, she is reminded that 沈眉庄 is still alive. The doctor involved in this whole fiasco, 刘畚, is too. What a perfect opportunity! Let’s, uh give her a used tea set from someone who just died from the plague. She’ll catch the plague, die, and no one will be the wiser. How convenient. 

 

甄嬛 is visiting 安陵容, again bringing her these medical sachets and checking up on her. They overhear an altercation outside between the pregnant 富察贵人 and some eunuchs. 富察贵人 orders all of the dried mugwort and atractylodes rhizome to be brought into her palace leaving none for 安陵容. 甄嬛 hurries outside to argue with 富察贵人 about these medicinal plants.  富察贵人 gets all haughty – she’s the pregnant one, of course I deserve everything. 安陵容 can just get her own. There’s a few back and forths but 富察贵人 doesn’t back down and demands everything be delivered into her quarters. Once again, 甄嬛 does this for 安陵容 but will she value this? No…

 

[Cathy]

More and more people are dying due to the plague. One day, 甄嬛’s head Eunuch rushes to deliver the news that 沈眉庄 has also contracted the plague. 甄嬛 rushes over to 敬嫔’s to get the details. They confirm the news. Unfortunately none of the Imperial doctors are free to look after this lowly Second Class Female Attendant. It looks like 沈眉庄 is left for dead. But wait! There’s an Imperial Doctor waiting in the wings. It’s a been a little while since we’ve seen 温实出。 He’s 甄嬛’s childhood friend that is in love with 甄嬛 and wanted to marry in episode 1. 甄嬛 requests for his help to attend 沈眉庄. Since he’ll do anything for 甄嬛,he accepts and starts looking for a cure to the disease.

 

At the Imperial Infirmary, 华妃 is storming about trying to find a cure. It is quite funny seeing her try. But it looks like her fortunes may just now be up. 甄嬛’s people have found 刘畚!He’s the slimy fake doctor that made 沈眉庄 believe that she was pregnant and ran away when his job was done.  甄嬛 immediately brings this doctor to see the Emperor where he confesses his crime. He finally admits that it was 华妃 who bribed him to fake 沈眉庄’s pregnancy! The Emperor orders 刘畚 to be imprisoned. With the culprit in custody, 甄嬛 spends some time going over the case with 皇上. There was no reason for 沈眉庄 to fake the pregnancy. She couldn’t have known.

 

The Emperor 皇上 agrees and actually admits he wronged 沈眉庄. What! He immediately starts using a term of endearments – 眉儿 instead of her title 沈答应. He restores her title to Noble Lady with the name 惠 again Virtuous. 甄嬛 tells him the truth about 沈眉庄’s condition. He grants her order to have the Imperial doctors immediately look after 沈眉庄。I’m impressed, the Emperor takes it a few steps even further. The Imperial Doctors who aided 华妃 in this plot are granted suicide and 华妃 is to be demoted to 嫔 or Concubine and stripped of her honorary title. This is HUGE! He’s ordering this despite the fact that her brother just came back from the front lines! Even the Emperor’s head eunuch 苏培盛 is shocked at this. 

 

Yay!!! Finally – some good news for 沈眉庄. However, the Emperor is a suspicious man. He makes his suspicions known to 甄嬛 and asks her if this is her plot to accuse 华妃. 甄嬛 is thoroughly hurt by this accusation and defiantly tells him no. 

 

This entire time –  the Emperor’s facial expression is still the same. He says these things, demoting 华妃, promote 沈眉庄, kill the doctors. No change in voice or tone. He just does a lot of blinking. Truly an emperor to be afraid of.

 

News of 沈眉庄’s reinstatement travels to her quarters. Everyone is all teary eyed but of course, 沈眉庄 is not conscious to hear the news. Somehow 安陵容 gets wind of the news too and heads over to the 沈眉庄’s palace to congratulate her. Of course, she’s making this calculated move that she won’t actually be allowed in. Just the gesture is enough. The episode ends with 安陵容 finding out 刘畚 was caught from the eunuch outside. 

 

—–

 

[Karen]

Really quickly before I recap episode 24. 刘畚’s caught, 沈眉庄 is restored to a Noble Lady, and 华妃 is about to be demoted to a Concubine. Pretty simple – 华妃 will finally get some comeuppance right? Let’s see what happens.

 

安陵容 is turned away from 沈眉庄’s palace. She’s heard the news of 刘畚’s capture. She comes up with the brilliant plan to rub it into 华妃’s face. According to her logic, once 华妃 hears the news, she will run to the Emperor and beg for forgiveness, annoying him even more, resulting in further punishment. Yes, that’s what I should do. She has her maid run along to tell the guards of 华妃’s palace. 

 

Ugh, I am SO mad at her! We have here on display 安陵容’s blatant selfishness and idiocy. She doesn’t think that there’s other alternatives for 华妃! Her idiotic gesture just so happened to give 华妃 an easy out! Let’s see this play out.

 

华妃 hears about 刘畚’s capture and is indeed frightened. However, she immediately starts thinking of next steps, informing her brother, pretending to be ill, and ordering the two Imperial doctors to stay quiet. 曹贵人 however provides the best strategy. Give the Emperor what he most needs right and all will be forgiven. What does he need right now? A cure for the plague!

 

华妃 rushes to see the Emperor the next morning with the two Imperial Doctors implicated in the case. 甄嬛 just so happens to be there. The edict for 华妃’s demotion hasn’t been given yet so no one says anything as of yet. 华妃 presents a cure for the plague and has the two doctors confirm that they’ve experimented with some eunuchs in the palace. 

 

What wonderful news! The Emperor immediately tells the doctors to make more doses for the rest of the place an 惠贵人 (沈眉庄’s restored title). 华妃 reacts to the restored title by congratulating 甄嬛 too. Then, in a stroke of genius, she begs for forgiveness for any of her past discretions, she wants to make sure the Emperor is ok. Well the Emperor can’t say anything now. She just found a cure! He can’t punish her now. He even uses the two words 爱妃 – my loving consort. Definitely not demoted. 

 

Upon seeing this, 甄嬛 quietly slips away. The head eunuch 苏培盛 asks if the edict still needs to be delivered. 甄嬛, crestfallen, says no. It won’t be demotion, more like a promotion.

 

[Cathy]

Some time later, the Emperor comes to 甄嬛’s place to console her. He must look at the bigger picture. 华妃 and the Imperial doctors have done a great service for the Empire. He cannot ignore this. He leaves, leaving 甄嬛 utterly disappointed. This is not how she envisioned the end of this case. Yes, 沈眉庄 has her title restored but nothing happened to 华妃. The Emperor killed the doctor 刘畚 so there are no more witnesses. All was for naught. 甄嬛 is disenchanted with the results and more so to the fact that the Emperor suspected 甄嬛 of doing this to win favor.  

 

[Karen] And this drama, no matter how popular it is and how glamorous the clothes and food are, shows us how terrible it was to be a woman in this system. You are constantly fighting over the favor of one man and it only matters if this man believes you. If he doesn’t believe you, you have no future. It’s quite a sad existence.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s return to 安陵容. Everything would have been in the bag, so to say, but she just had to blab her mouth. Her timely news gave 华妃 the time to think of a plan and avoid punishment! Here’s the difference between 安陵容 and 甄嬛. Upon hearing that 华妃 delivered a cure, 甄嬛 does not bring up the case. There’s no point to draw any ire onto herself in this situation. 甄嬛 is constantly leveraging the costs and benefits. 安陵容 makes no such calculation. She was so dumb to think that 华妃 would just let everything happen. She’s only thinking about self gratification, to see someone else suffer. She doesn’t think about the grand scheme of things, timing, just who 华妃 is. 安陵容 thought that 华妃 would suffer even more humiliation but what happened NOTHING. Just UGHH.  

 

[Karen] I don’t know though. I wonder if 安陵容 knew that this is going to hurt 甄嬛 instead.

 

It is pretty suspicious that 华妃 was able to find a cure in such a short time. We do get a quick scene with the Imperial Doctor 温实处. There’s something funny with that cure. We’ll get back to it later.

 

By now things seemed to have calmed down with the plague. The Emperor 皇上 receives a report that 年羹尧’s second son 年富 vanquished a revolt. He heads over to 华妃’s place for lunch and she casually brings up the revolt. She starts asking the Emperor about 年富’s reward, even requesting a knighthood for him and she is relentless in her request. The Emperor doesn’t show it but he’s pissed. He finally agrees but when he’s back in his study, he lashes out to 苏培盛. Someone is sending messages between the Imperial Harem and the Imperial Court which is not acceptable. Otherwise, how would this news travel so fast? Remember that the harem should not be involved in court affairs. 

 

Well obviously we know that this is the case. 华妃’s entire bribery scam is propped up by her messages to her brother.

 

安陵容 is summoned to the Emperors study. 甄嬛 is too but 甄嬛’s matters are more serious. 赵之垣 has accused 甄嬛’s father of disobeying the Emperor’s orders and bad manners in regards to 年羹尧. 赵之垣 is the guy from the last episode that literally paid his way back into favor. He and 年羹尧 are on the same team. The Emperor needs to thoroughly think this through and dismisses 安陵容 who has been waiting outside in the cold for a while. 甄嬛 tries to excuse herself but to no avail. Unfortunately, once again, 安陵容 thinks 甄嬛 purposefully made her wait outside. 

 

The Emperor decides to demote 甄嬛’s father due to this indiscretion. 华妃 and 曹贵人 are extremely pleased with the news. We find out that 华妃 told her brother about this meddlesome 甄嬛. She’s pleased with 赵之垣’s rapidity in this matter, though we as the viewers know that this is simply a trap.

 

[Cathy]

安陵容 is preparing to spend the night with the Emperor. She has the gall to say, in a way, I’m happy that 甄嬛’s father got demoted. I feel closer to her now. We aren’t as distant! ARGH I can’t even. The Empress and Emperor have a conversation and after a suggestion from the Empress, the Emperor decides to summon 甄嬛 instead of 安陵容. Once again, 安陵容 thinks 甄嬛 purposefully did this. It doesn’t help that the pregnant 富察贵人 is right there laughing at her. 安陵容 has this internal monologue – why do you have to steal what’s mine? I feel bad, I’ve been doubling down on 安陵容 this entire time. She is in a bad situation but girl, you have to fight for yourself.

 

[Karen] – BUT ALSO! AGAIN! 皇后, the empress is the one who caused this drama. She is SO slick. She’s not outright nasty like 富察贵人 or also 华妃. She likes to manipulate things into her favor. She purposefully brings up 甄嬛 and her father. She then coaxes him to spend more time with 甄嬛 instead of 安陵容. She even says, they’re sisters. I’m sure 安陵容 won’t mind. The Emperor of course doesn’t think any more of this and agrees. I however think this is all a clever ploy by the Empress! She’s intentionally creating these misunderstandings between the two ladies. 甄嬛 of course doesn’t know what’s happening and 安陵容 just thinks that 甄嬛 is trying to steal all of her time with the Emperor. No one suspects 皇后. Genius if I must say so. 

 

[Cathy]

There’s a quick scene in which the Emperor restores 华妃’s power in the Imperial Harem to manage the internal affairs. 敬嫔 is also promoted to 妃, from concubine to consort! Yay! This definitely is a reward for taking care of 沈眉庄. I’m genuinely happy for her! 华妃’s facial expressions are hilarious. She’s super resentful. 

 

The episode ends with 甄嬛 checking up on 沈眉庄. She’s recovering but it looks like she doesn’t care about her restored title and all of that pomp and circumstance. 

 

There’s also this thread throughout the episode where 甄嬛 constantly feels tired, is a bit lethargic, and overall doesn’t have a big appetite. What do you think is happening there? We’ll find out soon enough.

 

[Karen] 

 

Now the interesting item in these two episodes is of course the disease that rocks Beijing.  Throughout Chinese history, there have been records of various epidemics. Of course Chinese traditional medicine was used to treat patients as western medicine did really exist. 艾叶 or Chinese mugwort, which is a type of plant, is frequently discussed as something to burn to help ward off the disease. This plant is also supposed to help with menstruation and issues with infertility. Mugwort. Such a funny name. We’re not Chinese medicine experts so we can’t comment too much on the medicine that was used. At least, 沈眉庄 is still alive and a cure was found.

 

Let me say sonethimg

 

That’s it for this episode – episode 23 and 24. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!

EPISODE 22

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy. In this episode, we’re going to be discussing Episode 22 of 后宫甄嬛传! This episode on the surface is pretty straightforward but there are a TON of interesting snippets to discuss especially when the ladies of the imperial harem go to the opera! So let’s get started. 

 

[Cathy]

Episode 22 is more centered around 华妃’s corruption and the continued arrogance of 年羹尧, her brother who is a decorated general。It’s nearing the New Year and 华妃 needs money, lots of it, to buy more clothes, jewelry and gifts. 华妃’s scheme of accepting bribes has been pretty successful but she needs even more money! One gentleman by the name of 赵之垣 is willing to send 50,000 taels just for a meeting. 

 

50,000 taels! Taels is a form of measurement for money used in ancient China. It’s usually with silver. Silver is definitely way more valuable than bronze coins and truly only the rich could use it. I went down the rabbit hole of trying to figure out how much that is in today’s money but it’s very difficult. You can convert it to dollars but that doesn’t really measure the purchasing power of what you could buy. The base measure is based on how much grain or rice you could purchase. There was a huge range but let’s just simplify and say that this 50,000 taels is over $1M USD. That’s a LOT for just a conversation. 

 

年羹尧 does indeed meet this 赵之垣 and requests an audience with the Emperor who just so happens to be playing Chinese Go with the 17th Prince so 年羹尧 has to wait outside for his turn. The Emperor wins the game of Go to which he says “I need to painstakingly place all the pieces in the right place in order to win the game”. Foreshadowing much?

 

The 17th Prince 果郡王 leaves the Palace and sees that 年羹尧 was waiting outside in a chair (which, is a big no-no). 年羹尧 sees the 17th Prince but doesn’t even get up to kneel – another huge sign of disrespect. The 17th Prince brushes it off though, he reminds his own servant that living under the radar is the only way to survive with this Emperor. Look at what happened to his own brothers.

 

[Karen]

During the audience with the Emperor, 年羹尧 requests for 赵之垣’s position at court to be restored. It’s obvious that the Emperor doesn’t want to but he relents after several back and forths. This really frustrates 皇上 since 年羹尧 is about to have more power than him! But what can he do? It’s not the time, he needs to put all of the pieces in place. He asks for 甄嬛 opinion when she comes in. Once again, she quotes a Song Dynasty poet to answer the question. I’ll discuss this part later too.

 

华妃’s extremely pleased with all of the “donations” from 赵之垣. The man apparently said one sentence and convinced her brother to change his mind. What was that sentence? 300K taels will be sent to the General and 100K taels will be sent to 翊坤宫. Now who can refuse that? Bribery and corruption at its finest. 

 

[Karen]

Elsewhere in the palace, 安陵容 and 甄嬛 have been working on separate projects. Unfortunately, they are both working on the same thing, a night shirt/or pajamas more or less for the Emperor. These two ladies making the same thing at the same time separately for the emperor? What could possibly go wrong? The Empress 皇后 arrives in 养心殿 to clear the accounts with the Emperor. She bluntly points out that 华妃 is overspending her allowance. Something must be fishy with where she got all the money because it’s way over what was ever given to her. The Emperor acknowledges that he has an inkling of where she’s getting the money from but he’ll let it pass and pointedly tells the Empress to let it go as well. At this point the two night shirts are presented to the Emperor. 

 

A few days later, 淳儿, the cute, bubbly and young concubine is showing off her makeup to 甄嬛 and 安陵容. The ladies are joking around and somehow get to a conversation about what the Emperor looks like in bed. Rather a personal discussion don’t you think? He noticed 淳儿 staring at his nightshirt and graciously says he’ll cut out the Golden Dragon Emerging from the Clouds pattern and gift it to her. He puts on a nightshirt that has a Two Dragons fighting over a Pearl pattern on it. The Emperor proceeds to say he likes this one, it’s more comfy. Shall we guess who made which one? Yup, the one that was cut was from 安陵容and the other one is from 甄嬛. 淳儿 just unknowingly insulted 安陵容. Ouch. 安陵容’s face is not very pleasant and takes her leave.

 

甄嬛 realizes that something 淳儿 said must have offended 安陵容. She brings out a very precious pair of Hetian Jade [earrings?] to gift 安陵容 to appease her. 瑾溪 delivers the gift and all seems fine. 瑾溪notices 菊青, a maid outside crying and tries to comfort her. This is overseen by 宝娟 which confirms her suspicious that 菊青 is a spy for 甄嬛. You’ll recall that in the last episode, 宝娟 pushes 安陵容 into thinking that 菊青, who was gifted to 安陵容 as a maid by 甄嬛 was done so purposefully and is spying on 安陵容. I really don’t think this is true but it doesn’t matter because it’s how 安陵容 perceives the relationship/

 

[Cathy]

Back inside, 安陵容 is being all petty about the gift that 甄嬛 gives her. She even says 甄嬛 and I are both concubines of the Emperor. Why is it that I have never received such a rare gift from him? She’s so jealous of 甄嬛. Here’s where I think she really gets it wrong. She uses the idiom 平起平坐 which means equal footing. Ok yes, they are both concubines of the Emperor but they are definitely not equal. 安陵容 has no background, no real education, and she doesn’t have the favor of the Emperor. How is she equal? She looks down on 淳儿 because she’s young and has no real talent other than being a foodie and is angry at how flippant 淳儿 was just now, openly insulting her needlework. 

 

[Karen] – Discussion

 

[Cathy]

Let’s remind everyone that 安陵容 is only a 1st Class Female Attendant, the same as 淳儿. What is 安陵容 angry about? That she received favor first? She sneers at the gifts that 甄嬛 sends her.  甄嬛 doesn’t care about her, she just cares about 淳儿 and 沈眉庄, and is only sending her gifts to make her feel better. On one hand, yes that’s true but honey, did you not forget that 甄嬛 also just got humiliated by 华妃 because of you? She volunteered to go with you in the last episode when she did not have to! Ugh, 安陵容’s only looking at what she wants to believe. There is some truth to what she says about 甄嬛. I don’t think 甄嬛 even realizes the biases she has but 安陵容 shouldn’t be making enemies with her friends.

 

I guess all this crying over the night shirt was for naught because we find out that the Emperor is not even wearing 甄嬛’s shirt, instead favoring an old one from his deceased first wife 纯元皇后. Some more foreshadowing?

 

[Karen]

The ladies of 后宫 are invited to go to the Theater! They are watching Opera. This opera right here is Peking Opera. There’s a lot of sniping back and forth between 华妃 and 皇后. The usual stuff. 甄嬛 comes to the rescue 皇后 after seeing her begin to lose the battle. 安陵容 then pipes up to say something and is roundly humiliated by 华妃. Once again 甄嬛 has to come to the rescue but I’m not sure 安陵容 appreciated that. We will go in depth about Peking Opera

 

The episode ends with all of the women in 后宫 paying their respects to the Empress Dowager 太后 for the LaBa Festival.

 

That was a lot of information – let’s start off with our analysis

 

[Cathy]

Let’s talk about the conversation between 甄嬛 and 皇上 after he has the unpleasant audience with 年羹尧。In giving her opinion, 甄嬛 paraphrases from 朋党论 or Discourse on Factions written by 欧阳修. 欧阳修 was a Song Dynasty historian, poet, calligrapher, politician, and writer. He is one of the Eight Masters of the Tang and Song [karen – which I didn’t know was a thing but here you have it]. We’ve already talked briefly about 苏东坡 in previous episodes. This was written in 1044AD as a proposal to the Song Emperor. 欧阳修discusses elite politics and the importance of factions. Gentlemen have a responsibility to uphold moral principles while 小人 or despicable men merely aim for profit. He argues that throughout history, dynasties thrived when the Emperor listened to these gentlemen.

 

甄嬛 says 小人同利之时,暂相党引成为朋党。等到见利而争先,则极力相争,which basically means that when these 小人 or despicable men have the shared profits, they will have temporary alliances or 朋党. But once they have to compete for profit, they will turn to fight each other. Basically, 甄嬛 is saying that the Emperor shouldn’t have to worry about such people because they will be their own demise. The Emperor is very pleased with this answer – he shouldn’t be too worried about 年羹尧. 

 

What’s important here is that this is the 2nd time 甄嬛 uses other historical writings to discuss current politics. Unlike the previous time, she is now directly quoting political texts. She is getting bolder and bolder with her ideas, however, is that good for her? We’ll see. Remember that women in the imperial harem, or women in general, are not supposed to talk about politics, but here she is making rather bold suggestions. We also get to learn about this Discourse on Factions!

 

[Karen]

Next we want to discuss is Chinese Opera! The ladies of the imperial harem are watching some Peking Opera/Beijing Opera. Bear with us as there’s a lot to take in. First let’s do a little introduction on Chinese Opera. Chinese opera or 戏曲 is a form of musical theater dating back thousands of years. It’s an amalgamation of various different art forms including dance, singing, acrobatics and comedy. The stories used for Chinese Opera range from legends, to local folklore, to history.

 

[Cathy]

Today we’ll talk about Peking Opera or Beijing Opera. Peking Opera got its start in the late 18th century during the reign of 乾隆, who is our current emperor’s SON, around 1790. So this scene right here is an anachronism – we are currently in the 1720s. I will give them credit, they don’t state that it’s Beijing Opera.

 

Beijing Opera is the most famous of Chinese Opera, also known as the national opera, but there are a variety of different types of Chinese opera from the different regions of China. They include SiChuan Opera, Cantonese Opera, Yue Opera etc. 

 

Peking Opera began when the Four Great Anhui Troupes (south central China) came to perform for Emperor Qianlong’s 80th birthday party. That type of opera is called 徽剧 and became extremely popular. The opera form incorporated aspects from other opera including styles of singing, stories, martial arts and melodies. 

 

There are 4 types of characters in Peking Opera, Sheng (male character), Dan (female character), Jing (painted face male role), and Chou (male clown role). On stage in the drama, we have the Dan (female character) and Sheng (male character). During this time period, only men could perform in Opera. I can’t quite tell here but that would be another anachronism if the person playing the Dan is a female.

 

[Karen]

In this scene, the audience can request pieces and stories for the troupe to perform. This scene is great because concubines are using the opera pieces they select to again start sending veiled, or not so veiled messages. 

 

Let’s take a look. When they enter, 华妃 snags the first pick. 刘金定救驾 – it’s the story of a Song Dynasty female general who protected her country from invaders. 华妃 uses this to signal – oh, my brother just came back from the front lines, our family is important to the stability of the Empire. She then goes and orders two more operas 鼎峙春秋 and 薛丁山征西 – two more war stories. Obviously she wants to rub it in everyone’s face and remind them just who she is.

 

[Cathy]

The Empress 皇后 doesn’t even blink and asks see 劝善金科 and 瑶台. The first piece, 劝善金科, is a story with roots about Buddha’s disciple Maudgalyāyana (apologies for the pronunciation). The story is about his filial piety and devotion to his mother, saving her from the preta world. The second piece 瑶台 then refers to the celestial palace of 瑶台. Both of these stories are about kindness and doing good which obviously is a jab at 华妃. I also think 皇后 selects these two operas to mock 华妃’s lack of children.

 

Later on, 华妃 brings up 薛丁山征西 again and says we can’t talk about 薛丁山 without discussing 樊梨花。What’s the significance here. 薛丁山 is a fictionalized character based off of a Tang dynasty general. 樊梨花 is his wife and also a very popular historical figure. She’s a general, a brilliant strategist, heroic, basically every awesome adjective. However, she is a little hot headed. 薛丁山 divorces her three times due to misunderstandings and jealousy. He also has two other wives so that complicates things.  And you have to remember that “divorce” in China was a huge no-no back in the day and meant a lot of terrible things for the woman to be “divorced” so the fact that she was divorced multiple times is fascinating.

 

华妃 uses this story as a jab at 皇后 to say this woman couldn’t keep her husband. I don’t want someone who’s heart isn’t with me. 皇后 icily responds – the wife is the wife, no matter how many times she was divorced, 薛丁山 still came back to her because there would be no three divorces, if the husband 薛丁山 didn’t marry 樊梨花 three times. No concubine can take that position of being the wife away from her. 

 

[Karen] If you couldn’t tell, 皇后 is trying to hint that no matter how powerful 华妃 is, she is still just a concubine while she, 皇后 is the main wife. Nice. 华妃 – immediately fires back. Well that only worked since 樊梨花 was the daughter of a head or first wife. If she was the daughter of a concubine, she wouldn’t have been able to do anything. This time, it’s a jab at 皇后 since she also wasn’t born from the main wife and was instead, the daughter of a concubine. This really hurts 皇后 and she doesn’t have anything to say.

 

[Cathy]

 

Fortunately, 甄嬛 comes to the rescue, she requests to watch 南柯记. It’s a story about a ranger/man who meets 3 beautiful ladies outside of a temple. They are here to find a husband for their princess and they select the ranger. He weds the princess and spends 20 happy years with her, living in luxury. Ok – I’m skipping a lot.  There’s a lot of drama within these 20 years. He gains power and money and fame, depending on how the story is told. But All good things can’t last and he loses everything due to some enemies at court. He’s awoken from his dream, realizing that none of the last 20 years happened.  Everything was in his mind which is devastating. There’s a heavy buddihst theme to this story and he eventually gives up everything and becomes a buddha. 甄嬛’s point here is that, the higher you go, the harder you fall. No one will care about your parentage or your previous wealth, it will all just be a dream…I’d say that’s a pretty apt description and warning for 华妃.

 

[Cathy]

The Empress smiles to acknowledge 甄嬛 as she is thankful for the clever idea and support. 安陵容 then piques up to make a comment about love between two people which is quickly shut down by 华妃. Once again, 甄嬛 comes to the rescue but I don’t think 安陵容 really appreciates this. 

 

[Karen]

 

PHEW – are you exhausted by all of these stories? This exchange at the opera was quite tiring for us to research too actually. We knew a few of the stories but not everything so it’s interesting and fun to piece together the deeper meaning behind each of these opera titles and I appreciate that once again, the insults are hurled in a very concealed way.

 

That’s it for this episode – episode 22. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!

EPISODE 21

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy. In this episode, we’re going to be discussing Episode 21 of 后宫甄嬛传。 This time it’s one episode only because there’s quite a bit to discuss and combining episodes would have been a bit too long. Let’s get started.

 

[Cathy]

This episode starts off with 华妃 summoning our main character, 甄嬛 and her friend 安陵容 to come sing for her and the emperor, 皇上。It’s a little awkward and of course intimidating. 安陵容, who is known for her singing abilities, tries her best and sings a wonderful song with 甄嬛 accompanying her on the 古琴,the string instrument we’ve talked about. 华妃 is not particularly impressed and humiliates 安陵容 before asking her to continue singing but because 安陵容 is not feeling well, she is unable to sing any more. At this point, 甄嬛 steps in and instead of singing, recites a poem with the 古琴 accompaniment. We’ll discuss the two poems/songs that are performed later on in the episode. 皇上 is more or less appeased and, recognizing that 华妃 is just asking these two ladies to perform as a means of humiliation, says it’s getting late and that they should retire. 

 

Well actually, 华妃 spots all the eye flirting between 皇上 and 甄嬛 and immediately kicks them out. 

 

甄嬛 and 安陵容 return back to 甄嬛’s place. 安陵容 is in tears because 华妃 is treating them like common street artists. Remember how we said that actresses, singers and performers are generally seen as lower class similar to prostitutes? 安陵容 is upset because they’re concubines, not street artists and shouldn’t be treated as such. But 华妃 doesn’t care, she loves humiliating others.

 

The story of this night’s events reach the ears of 皇后, the Empress, and she is actually quite impressed at how composed the quiet 安陵容 is throughout the process and decides to pay more attention to her…

 

[Karen]

It’s winter time and it’s snowing heavily at the Forbidden Palace. 皇上 is sitting with 甄嬛 enjoying a lovely winter day and the cute 淳常在 comes to visit. 淳常在hasn’t been around much in previous episodes so let me remind everyone of who she is. She is a cute girl that was selected to be a concubine and entered the palace when 甄嬛 also entered the palace. 淳常在 was living with 甄嬛 in 碎玉轩 but had to move because of 甄嬛’s fake illness. It’s been a while and she’s back hanging out with 甄嬛 and is cute as a button. She’s a little foodie and in general very naive. She doesn’t plot against people and just wants to be happy in the palace. She even brought 甄嬛 a few branches of red plum blossoms to add color to her palace. She was too young to ahem serve the emperor when she first entered the palace but it’s been 2 years. 

 

Well what does the Emperor do? He selects 淳常在 to spend the night and is now a proper concubine. Ugh, the mentality of men back then! The Emperor is saying all this romantic stuff to 甄嬛 and immediately that night beds another woman.

 

淳常在 starts to receive more and more favor by the emperor and she asks 皇后, the empress, if she can move back in with 甄嬛。 皇后 agrees and she moves in, which slightly upsets 安陵容 because they were living together. Another concubine asks why, if 安陵容 and 甄嬛 were such good friends, didn’t 甄嬛 ask 安陵容 to move in together as well…to which 安陵容 has no answer. The cracks are getting bigger and bigger between 安陵容 and 甄嬛 but 甄嬛 doesn’t know any of this is happening.

 

[Cathy]

Since the evening that she was humiliated by 华妃, 安陵容 has generally been staying in her palace. She has requested that her maid, 宝娟, not make her bed and we find out the reason is because 安陵容 has decided to make a voodoo doll to try to curse 华妃. She is hiding this voodoo doll under her pillow. We’ve talked about voodoo dolls before. You make a doll in the shape of the person, or in this case, decorated with an item from that person, you are trying to curse and then stab it with needles to try to curse that person. It’s strictly taboo in the palace. 余莺儿 that maid from earlier episodes, got caught with a voodoo doll and was sentenced to death for it. 

 

A few days later, the empress comes to visit 安陵容 and check in on her because she’s been sick. Guess what, she just so happens to find this voodoo doll. 皇后 reprimands 安陵容 for being foolish enough to believe that this would even work and that if anyone other than herself found this doll, 安陵容 would be dead by now. She lets it go and 安陵容 is grateful for being forgiven. However, she is upset and wants to know who told 皇后 that this doll exists. 皇后is  VERY sly and says “of course, it is one of your closest sisters”. We’ll discuss this a bit more later since this interaction is rather contentious.

 

I think 皇后 says some really useful stuff in this scene. She very bluntly points out that fortunes are made by taking action, seizing the opportunity. If voodoo actually worked, everybody would be dead by now. I don’t think this thought ever crossed 安陵容’s mind? Does she really think 甄嬛 just so happened to get favor because she’s pretty? No, 甄嬛 seizes each opportunity. This is a pretty rude wake up call for 安陵容.

 

[Karen]

Later on, we see 皇上 meeting with his trusted advisor, 张廷玉, who describes the arrogance of 年羹尧, 华妃’s brother, when he returned from the battlefield. The details that are provided by 张廷玉 give further evidence that 年羹尧 does not respect the authority of the emperor and sees himself as the ruler instead of the emperor. 华妃 is also fretting about her monthly allowance. What she receives from the palace is nowhere near enough and she needs more money to pay, bribe, whatever she does to keep her lavish lifestyle. Her maid suggests this brilliant idea that 华妃 should accept “donations” for her to put in a word with her brother 年羹尧. What a wonderful idea! She’s not discussing anything related to court, all she’s doing is telling her brother to meet them. Easy enough!

 

[Cathy]

The episode ends with a feast where everyone in the palace is in attendance as the 17th prince returns from a trip to central China. Even the empress dowager is at the meal. There is an exchange about how expensive and nice 华妃’s clothes and hair decorations. When it gets to be too much, the empress dowager excuses herself

 

Analysis

[Karen]

菩萨蛮

Let’s go back to the beginning of episode 21 where 安陵容 and 甄嬛 are performing for 华妃 and the emperor.

 

安陵容sings a song called 菩萨蛮 (man2)。菩萨蛮 is actually a style of song and originated in the Tang dynasty, A Tang emperor, 唐宣宗 (around 840 AD era) really like this style of song and the lyrics were updated by scholars and poets of that time. This particular song describes a young woman who is waking up from slumber, getting up and fixing her hair, makeup and getting dressed in new clothes. In this process, the song expresses her longing for love. The lyrics are quite exquisite and more difficult to explain compared to some of the other poems we’ve looked at. 

 

This song isn’t, as 华妃 notes, as um, “lovey dovey” as she would like and is instead reflective of a more somber tone, one of longing. 华妃 is a total mean girl in this scene because she’s saying, why can’t you sing with love. Is it because I’m here with the emperor? Which…She knows the answer to that. It’s humiliating for 安陵容。

 

So 甄嬛steps in and recite another poem with her 古琴 accompaniment when 安陵容 is incapable of singing.

 

Again, this drama uses poetry and song to convey feeling. The first was with 安陵容, and now 甄嬛。 甄嬛 recites a poem called 鹊桥仙·纤云弄巧 by a Song dynasty poet – 秦观。This poem is referencing the famous valentine‘s day story of 牛郎织女。I don’t think we will be discussing this story in this drama so let me give a brief overview – this is one of the most famous love stories in China. Essentially there’s a fairy named 织女, which directly translates to seamstress or weaver, who lives up in the heavens. She secretly comes down to earth where mortals lives and marries 牛郎, or a cow herd.

 

Their marriage angers the heavenly father and they are punished, separated forever. But, their love is so moving that magpie birds build them a bridge such that the two lovers may meet on the magpie bridge every year 7th day of the 7th Month – or valentines day. The title of the poem that 甄嬛 recites, is named after this magpie bridge. Given this context, this poem describes the annual meeting of the two lovers but the last two lines are the most important. The last two lines are: 两情若是久长时,又岂在朝朝暮暮, which translates to, if love is meant to be long lasting, one does not need to be together every day. 

 

These two lines are definitely famous for describing long distance relationships and pops up a lot in dramas where there’s hardships along the way. 甄嬛 is reciting this poem while looking DIRECTLY at 皇上, which I take to hint that, you may be spending time with 华妃 now but it’s alright because of our love will last. We do not have to be together every day.  You should see the look on 华妃’s face. I don’t think she really understands this poem but when 甄嬛 says these last 2 lines, 华妃is looking between 甄嬛 and 皇上 and doesn’t necessarily like what she’s hearing/or seeing so she hurriedly ends the evening. Clearly, 华妃 feels that spending all day and all night with the emperor is the only reflection of love. That was fun wasn’t it? I’ve heard those two lines everywhere but didn’t realize it was from this poem. You learn something new all the time with this drama!

 

[Cathy]

Finally, I want to discuss 皇后 and 安陵容 In this episode, 皇后 has decided to use 安陵容 as her pawn or more accurately, 皇后 has decided that 安陵容 is worthy of being her pawn. This is one of the first times we start seeing just how manipulative 皇后 is. She knows that 安陵容 has a voodoo doll and could have punished her for it but decides instead to pretty much blackmail her into being part of her team. Now, 皇后 never states who told her about the voodoo doll and we the viewers are never told this either. 宝娟,安陵容 ‘s main maid cries indignantly that it wasn’t her when 安陵容 accuses her of telling 皇后。 Instead, 宝娟 suggests that it was another maid, 菊青。 The problem with 菊青 is that she was given to 安陵容 by 甄嬛 literally in the first couple of episodes. So the seeds of doubt and distrust are sown. It’s unclear who ultimately betrayed 安陵容。 I still think it’s 宝娟。 There are a lot of theories about the fact that 宝娟 was probably given to 安陵容 by 皇后 the moment she entered the palace. Regardless, 安陵容 now starts to resent 甄嬛, much in part due to 皇后. 皇后 is a master manipulator and we start seeing that now.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 19+20

 

[Cathy]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy

 

Today we are discussing episodes 19+20 of 后宫甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace. It’s been sort of doom and gloom as of late, 甄嬛 just hasn’t had much luck. Today’s going to be different! We’ve got everything in these two episodes! A blossoming romance, outsmarting 华妃, and confronting a backstabbing sister! Let’s get started.

 

[Karen]

In the last episode, 甄嬛 set into motion a plot to trick 华妃. Let’s see what happens! We open with the Emperor 皇上 arriving on the scene. 华妃 is making a ruckus outside of where 沈眉庄 is banished because she thinks that 甄嬛 is visiting 沈眉庄 which is strictly against the Emperor’s decree. She’s hoping to catch her red handed and dispatch this meddling foe. 

 

Right on cue, 甄嬛 and 敬嫔 arrive which is a surprise to 华妃. Isn’t 甄嬛 supposed to be inside? What’s going on? 甄嬛 calmly answers that she was just chatting with 敬嫔. They heard the commotion and came to take a look. Now 华妃 is the one in trouble. Since she doesn’t have a decree from either the Emperor or the Empress, she’s the one in the wrong for trying to enter into 沈眉庄’s quarters. HAHAHAHAHA

 

The Emperor 皇上, obviously annoyed, orders his Eunuch 苏培盛 to investigate. He comes out to confirm that no one else is in the room. 华妃 immediately kneels in front of 皇上 because she knows she’s in trouble. The Emperor 皇上 is disappointed and punishes 华妃 for this ridiculous evening by not restoring her powers to rule the Imperial Harem. He orders everyone to leave but not before 敬嫔 asks to have half of the guards removed from watching 沈眉庄, which he acquiesces. 

 

STOP SAYING AND!

 

[Cathy]

After the Emperor leaves, 华妃 and 甄嬛 have their first one-on-one confrontation. 华妃 is absolutely livid she walked into 甄嬛’s trap. This is literally the first time 甄嬛 has won a round so she’s feeling quite cocky too. They exchange some verbal blows and 华妃 walks out in a huff. 

 

The acting here is just so great! I love 华妃’s facial expressions in this scene. 蒋欣, the actress, does such a good job! Like how her eyes just narrow when she hears 敬嫔 add more fuel to the fire. I love the smirk that 敬嫔 gives when she hears that 华妃’s powers will not be restored. So good! 甄嬛 also has a smile on her face after this event but the MVP definitely goes to 蒋欣. 

 

With everyone gone, 甄嬛 quickly changes into a maids dress and sneaks into 沈眉庄’s room. She’s appalled at the destitute situation that 沈眉庄’s living in. Ok – it’s not absolutely terrible but let’s face it, she probably would have died if it weren’t for 敬嫔 and the maid 芳若. 沈眉庄 has accepted the harsh reality that the Emperor 皇上 is just cold-hearted and that she lost the game. Yes, she should have known about her own body but as she also points out, there wasn’t any reason for her to fake the pregnancy. She had enough favor with the Emperor, she would have gotten pregnant at some point! 

 

甄嬛’s time is up to talk to 沈眉庄 and she rushes out. She tries to hide from the guards and jumps onto a small boat. Who else just so happens to be on that boat? Why the handsome 17th Prince 果郡王 允礼! What a coincidence?

 

[Karen]

The 17th Prince, 允礼, agrees to row 甄嬛 back to her quarters and they set off. She sees that there’s a bunch of lotus flowers, 荷花, on the boat. They strike up a conversation about Lotus Flowers and 杜若 or Japanese Pollia. I swear, every conversation now is about flowers.

 

Japanese Pollia or 杜若 symbolizes love or admiration. Who does the 17th Prince like? Well the 17th Prince then comments how he’s honored to be in the presence of 西施. 甄嬛 becomes annoyed at this and they have a  short conversation about this. I will talk more into this anecdote. 

 

Anyways, 甄嬛 notices that the 17th Prince dropped a small pouch. She picks it up and finds the paper cut of herself she put on the Plum Blossom last year inside. She’s astonished. How could he have it? Does he know that it’s her? At the same time the 17th prince quotes a few lines about love from 牡丹亭. I’ll talk about this too. 甄嬛 returns the bag – she’s getting a lot of dangerous signals right here. The 17th Prince says that it’s a beloved purse, he’s wearing the scent of 杜若. Does he like her?? Does he know that the woman in the cutout is her? She quickly tells him to not show anyone this bag and to not think too much into love. Ouch. Once they get on land, she asks him to not tell anyone they’ve met. She also rejects the two times he offers to help her off the boat. She knows that being associated with him is dangerous and she wants to nip everything in the bud. She knows he’s at least attracted to her but at this point in time, she’s committed to the emperor.

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 returns to see 浣碧 is pacing around nervously. Ugh – what a two-faced snake. Time to confront this backstabbing sister. 甄嬛 essentially tells 浣碧  that she knows that all the issues that’s happened the last few months have been because of her dear “sister”. 浣碧 confesses her crimes and gets all teary eyed. She didn’t know that 甄嬛 knew they were sisters. Ugh – I can’t even.

 

浣碧 confesses that she wanted to improve her station in life and the best way to do so, at least in her mind, is to become a concubine. It’s clear that 浣碧 isn’t super smart because after all the things that Zhen Huan has had to endure, 浣碧 still thinks being a concubine is worth it. This entire drama is about how it is NOT. In my mind, this is also a commentary on the strict social hierarchy during this time period. The reason why 浣碧 is so petty towards 安陵容 is because she looks down on her. She thinks that as the daughter of 甄远道 (甄嬛’s father), she’s more worthy than 安陵容. If 安陵容 can win favor from the Emperor, she can too. 

 

However, 甄嬛 coldly points out that 浣碧 is not recorded in the family genealogy so no matter what she does, she still is just a maid. She can be discarded in an instant. Didn’t she already see so many examples? 甄嬛 grand plan for her sister was to find a respectable husband from the Eight Banners and marry her off as an offical wife, not a concubine. 浣碧 would have been made a god daughter of the family, added to the family geneology, and lived a respectable life. Which is way better than a concubine! What does 浣碧 do? Throw it all away for the likes of 曹贵人? If there’s no 甄嬛, there’s no 浣碧.

 

[Karen]

We also get confirmation that 浣碧 has been conspiring with 曹贵人。 You’ll remember that a few episodes back, 浣碧 was caught by 曹贵人 burning paper money for her dead mother. That is when this relationship started and 曹贵人 essentially blackmailed 浣碧 into being an informant. Sure it was blackmail, but this also wouldn’t really work if 浣碧 didn’t comply. 浣碧 could have told 甄嬛 what happened. 

 

This is why you have to watch this drama multiple times because that innocuous meeting of these two women a few episodes ago was the cause of the issues 甄嬛 experiences now, but the show never explicitly says it. The fans of the show definitely do not like 浣碧 but fortunately, 甄嬛 is able to stop her from causing too much additional damage. I mean I definitely don’t like her.

 

[Cathy]

That’s pretty much for episode 19, but can I say, what a night! 甄嬛 delivered a standout performance! Look at all she accomplished.

  1. She wins a round against 华妃
  2. She confirms her suspicions that 浣碧 is the mole
  3. She gets to see 沈眉庄
  4. She gets valuable information that the alliance between 曹贵人 and 华妃 isn’t as strong as it seems.
  5. Successfully flirted with 果郡王! 

You go girl. 

 

[Karen]

In episode 20 we start out with eunuchs coming to give 甄嬛 a very beautiful and extravagant pair of shoes made of very expensive silk. These are so beautiful and nice that many people in the palace become quite jealous (cough cough 华妃). 华妃 receives 2 rolls made of this type of silk but quickly “gifts” them to 甄嬛 once she discovers what flowers are embroidered on the silk. We’ll discuss these shoes and clothes more in depth but they are quite beautiful and nice. 

 

[Cathy] – I think there’s a lot of meaning behind the silk that 华妃 gives to 甄嬛. Karen disagrees – we’ll talk about it.

 

[Karen]

华妃 obviously can’t stand 甄嬛 having such nice things so what does she do? She goes to see 太后, the empress dowager. She brings 太后 a lovely cape and goes on a long discussion of how she is no longer too young and that others in the palace have much nicer things. It’s hilarious because right after 华妃leaves, 太后’s maid is like, you also think there’s too much vinegar in the air? I think it’s funny because for those of you who don’t know, in Chinese, being jealous is described at eating vinegar.

 

But, 华妃 gets what she wanted from her meeting with 太后. By bringing this cape made of exquisite black fox pelt, she reminds 太后 that 华妃 needs more attention from 皇上。 太后summons 皇上 and they have another long winded, round about discussion about where 皇上 should be spending time with. He agrees to spend more time with 华妃。

 

Now the MOST interesting line in this episode is here: 太后 says that the special perfume given to 华妃 called 欢宜香 has almost run out. The manufacturing of this perfume is very difficult, should we still continue to give 华妃 this perfume? Ladies and Gentlemen! If you’ve watched this drama already, then you know what this perfume is. We’re at episode 20 and we see hints of the true nature of 皇上 because he says, of course we need to keep giving her this perfume. 太后 doesn’t say anything and just accepts this decision. AHHH! Another reason why I love this drama and these two when they talk. There are a bunch of layers of their discussion and nothing is explicitly stated. 

 

[Cathy]

The timing of this conversation is perfect because 年羹尧 comes back after having successfully defeated the rebellion in the north west and 雍正 is hosting a celebratory meal with 年羹尧 and 华妃. We haven’t really seen scenes like this where it is more formal with officials from court. Normally, it’s just 皇上 sharing an informal meal at a concubine’s palace. In this scene, he’s eating with 年羹尧 and there’s a lot of rules. For one, you saw that for each dish that was placed in front of the emperor, a eunuch had to test it with silver to see if there was poison. Another rule is that you’re to have a eunuch serve you each bite of food you want. Technically, in the drama they don’t show this, but the eunuch is supposed to take a bite first of the food, some say to test for poison, others say it’s more of a taste test, before the emperor can eat. Because there’s this rule of having a eunuch serve you food, 年羹尧 angers 皇上 by asking 皇上’s head eunuch 苏培盛 to serve him food. 

 

As we see in the drama, 华妃 is petrified by the audacity of her brother in asking for such things and this is where 陈建斌, the actor for 雍正, does a fantastic job. His pancake face remains stoic and he doesn’t really show anger but you can tell by the long pauses that he is not happy with how rude 年羹尧 is to him and to his head eunuch. 皇上 even dumps away his food because he’s annoyed, but doesn’t say anything. After all, they need to keep 年羹尧 happy so that he can continue to serve him. 

 

The Empress 皇后 is stunned by the news of 年羹尧’s favoritism. This in turn has translated into 华妃’s regained favor. This does not bode well for 皇后, it could mean her own Empress position is in peril. She’s devastated to hear that the Emperor 皇上 has been spending all of his time with 华妃.

 

Sure enough, we see the Emperor 皇上 enjoying a night with 华妃. The episode ends with 安陵容 being summoned to sing for the Emperor and 华妃. 甄嬛 goes with her mainly to make sure nothing happens to 安陵容.

 

Phew – that was a lot to recap. Let’s get on with our analysis! Karen – where do we want to start?

 

[Karen]

范蠡,西施 – 

 

The 17th prince compares 甄嬛 to 西施 but surprisingly, 甄嬛 does not want to be compared to 西施, one of the most beautiful women in Chinese history. They have a discussion and the 17th prince is amazed at 甄嬛’s analysis. What’s the story behind this. 西施 is one of the most famous women in China as she is on the list of the 4 beauties of Chinese history. We mentioned another of these beauties previously, 杨贵妃 and now we are discussing 西施。 She lived during 春秋时代 or the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history around 500 BC so a looong time ago, even before the first dynasty, the Qin dynasty. There are many, many stories, books, dramas, or operas about 西施,her beauty, how she brought the demise of a kingdom and her romance with 范蠡。 It’s a big compliment to be compared to 西施 and in many of the dramas that portray her, fans are often saying things like “this actress is not pretty enough to be 西施”

 

In a nutshell, during this era, there were smaller kingdoms/states and the story is that the king of 越,named 勾践  was defeated by the king of 吴, 夫差 and wanted to exact revenge against 夫差。 So, he finds beautiful women to offer to 夫差 as a way to destroy the king and the kingdom since 夫差 loves women. The King of 越 has a minister named 范蠡 who discovers the beautiful 西施 and offers her to the king of 吴。 The plan ultimately works and the kingdom of 吴 is destroyed and the king, 夫差,commits suicide. This is in part thanks to 西施。Now history isn’t super clear on this, but it seems that the minister 范蠡 and 西施 developed a romance and after the fall of the kingdom of 吴,the legend goes that the two lovers 范蠡 and 西施 go off on a boat and disappear forever to live happily ever after. Other stories say that 西施 drowned.

 

Regardless, you have 西施 who is exquisitely beautiful and someone who is considered a destroyer of a kingdom. In this drama we’re watching, 甄嬛 comments that people always discuss 西施, this beautiful woman for having caused the downfall of a kingdom, or else blame the king of 吴 for being seduced. 甄嬛, however, wonders why no one pays more attention to 范蠡 because he was the one who sent his lover 西施 as tribute. No matter what, that is extremely cold hearted and even though 西施 decided to forgive this action and be with 范蠡, the feelings and relationship after having been sent away must not be the same as their original relationship.

 

This is an interesting view because 范蠡 has a pretty good reputation in history as being a good military advisor so 甄嬛 being critical of 范蠡 is a general deviation of opinion. No one really ever talks about 范蠡 in this manner so it’s understandable that the 17th prince is impressed by 甄嬛’s explanation.

 

[Cathy]

 

The next thing I want to briefly discuss is the two lines of song that 果郡王 says right after this conversation. 

 

He says 情不知所起,一往而深,生者可以死,死可以生.

 

This comes from the song 牡丹亭 by 汤显祖. It was written in the Ming Dynasty. These two lines roughly translate to Love can start from anywhere, deep and lasting. The living can die for love, and dead can come back for love. Very touching right? 果郡王 is on the boat expressing his views of love. He’s willing to die for his loved one. 

 

[Karen] – Awww he’s so in love.

 

甄嬛 hears this and finds the paper cutout from his pouch. She puts two and two together and is like oh no oh no! Mayday mayday! I need to stay away from him! 果郡王 is already in love with the woman from the cutout. She definitely doesn’t dislike him but she knows nothing can come of it.

 

These two lines from the poem encapsulate their relationship completely. It cannot end well…

 

[Karen]

花盆底鞋/蜀锦

 

What else do we want to talk about –

 

[Karen]

The shoes that 甄嬛 were gifted by the emperor! These types of shoes called 盆底鞋 or pot bottom shoes we haven’t really discussed but is a staple for Qing dynasty dress. Women in the han dynasties before this manchu ruled dynasty did not wear these shoes. I remember watching 还珠格格 20 years ago and being so fascinated with these types of shoes. As you see in the drama, the shoes have a very thick heel in the middle of the shoe and that was the style of shoe for the royalty and the wealthy. 

 

There are photos of women in the royal family from the Qing dynasty wearing these shoes. I haven’t tried them on but I feel like it would be an interesting experience. Pretty much every drama now that is set in the Qing dynasty requires women to learn how to wear these shoes to be more realistic with history. In interviews, 陶昕然, the actress for 安陵容 would say how at the beginning of shooting the drama, all of the women were struggling to walk in these shoes and would roll their ankles constantly. But by the end of the filming, they’d pretty much learned to fly with them on. Quite funny I guess.

 

There are varying reasons why this shoe style became popular including: 1) women wanting to increase their height, 2) giving space so their clothes don’t drag on the floor, 3) the thick soles and materials of the shoes provided insulation during the cold weather times. Something interesting is that manchurian women did not historically bind their feet as the han women did for centuries, so another supposed reason for these shoes is to achieve the look of women who had their foot bound, but did not.

 

In any case, these lovely shoes are made by a special fabric called 蜀锦. What is it? 蜀锦 is expensive silk fabric or brocade made from the 蜀 region which is present day 成都, or more broadly, 四川. This type of fabric has more than 2000 years of history and is distinct from silk fabrics from other places in China. There are 4 major types of 锦 from 南京的云锦、苏州的宋锦、广西的壮锦一起,并称为中国的四大名锦

 

The 蜀锦 is extremely expensive, extravagant and technically demanding to make. Fortunately, you can still get 蜀锦 now though it is very rare. I was watching a documentary about this type of brocade and it’s funny because they literally quote this drama in describing this brocade. It takes months to finish a piece of fabric but the end result is exquisite.

 

[Cathy]

 

I also want to talk about something specific with this brocade. 华妃 receives two rolls of silk. At first she’s extremely pleased and quite happy with the embroidery. She doesn’t recognize the flower. However, once 曹贵人’s maid states what it is, the ladies immediately want to discard it. The flower is none other the 夕颜 or 牵牛花. Where have we heard this flower before? In episode 17! 甄嬛 and 果郡王 允礼 had a lengthy conversation about this flower. It only blooms once at night and is therefore viewed as unlucky by the 华妃. She wants to throw it out but 曹贵人 tells her to “gift” it to someone else. Who else to give it to? 甄嬛 of course – something to match her shoes. 

 

Ok – 甄嬛 receives them and doesn’t say anything. She extremely suspicious about the gift from 华妃 and she does recognize the 夕颜花. I don’t think she thinks anything more about it. Here’s my hypothesis, 果郡王 wanted to send 甄嬛 the brocade but he couldn’t send it directly to her. So he sends the brocade to 华妃. I believe he knew that he would transfer them to 甄嬛 because of the flower’s meaning. This is super roundabout but he’s a very smart guy. I mean who else knows about that flower? Too much of a coincidence. Right??

 

[Karen]

Let’s finish this episode with a little chat about 年羹尧. This episode is just a highlight reel of everything 年羹尧 does that annoys the Emperor. Can I say this? 年羹尧 may be a brilliant general but he is extremely stupid with politics. He’s too cocky, he thinks his military power is enough to get a seat at the table. He repeats the Emperor’s statements that they are one family. Are they though?? Well the Emperor certainly makes it seem like it. This is where 年羹尧 is dumb – power is the most important thing to the Emperor. No one is reading the signs on the walls – not 年羹尧, not 华妃, and not 皇后.

 

We’ll see where this storyline goes. 

 

That’s it for this episode!

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 17 + 18

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy

 

Today, we are discussing episode 17 and 18 of Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan, Empresses in the Palace. I feel like we’ve established quite a bit of the characters, motivations and background that it makes more sense to combine these episodes. And although, we love talking about this drama, we also recognize that at the pace we’re going, it’ll take us years to complete. So hopefully this will help us pick up the pace a bit so that we can also move onto other dramas we wish to discuss!

 

Let’s get started with episode 17!

 

[Cathy]

浣碧, 甄嬛’s half sister/maid is parading around the gardens wearing the clothes that 安陵容 gifted 甄嬛. Unfortunately she’s spotted by 安陵容 and of course 安陵容 is irked that 浣碧, a maid, is wearing something that she gifted 甄嬛.

 

浣碧 brings some water chestnuts sweets for 甄嬛 and also 木薯粉 【tapioca] cassava powder to make for dessert. This comes into play later in the episode. 

 

甄嬛 is at the Empress 皇后’s place and we find out that 甄嬛 is frightened of cats.

 

It is 七夕, the 7th day of 7th month on the Lunar Calendar. For those of you who don’t know, it’s essentially Chinese Valentine’s day. There’s the usual performances for the holiday. What a difference from Princess 温宜’s birthday celebration only a few episodes ago! 沈眉庄 is not invited and 安陵容 has come into favor! This time, 甄嬛 is not the object of jealousy but 安陵容. She has also been promoted to 常在.

 

[Karen]

甄嬛 excuses herself to go for a walk to clear her head. She and 瑾溪 wander over to 桐花台, where 甄嬛 runs into none other than the 17th Prince 果郡王 允礼。They talk about quite a range of topics, from flowers, to his mother, to love. 17th Prince 允礼 gives 甄嬛 some much needed clarity about 安陵容‘s new found favor. 甄嬛 needs to recognize that it’s 后宫, she can’t get too emotional. It’s much safer to share favor from the Emperor and it’s much better when the ladies who share favor are on your team.

 

 甄嬛 returns to the banquet but the festivities are quickly disrupted by the news that Princess 温宜 is sick. 

 

We get a brief scene of the sickly 端妃. In this scene, 端妃 foreshadows so much about the rest of the series that I didn’t catch earlier. She comments that 安陵容’s voice sounds like 黄鹂 which is a Black-naped oriole. She reveals that she absolutely hates 华妃 and was forced to drink saffron that caused her and the decline of her overall health. She wants revenge and there is only one person in 后宫 who can help her do it. 

 

The next morning, everyone goes to 华妃’s palace to take a look at the princess. She won’t settle down which is highly suspicious. The Imperial doctors inspect her food and conclude that there’s something wrong with the water chestnut soup. An imperial taste tester confirms that some tapioca powder was mixed into the water chestnut soup. 

 

[Cathy]

tapioca is fine as a power but the root is poisonous. As a powder, it’s fine for adults but harmful to children. This looks like a ploy to poison the princess! 华妃 immediately chimes in to agree – they must find the mastermind! The eunuchs from the Imperial Kitchens answer that only 莞贵人’s maid requested for the cassava powder 4 days ago. Uh oh! 华妃 then summons 2 other maids who declare that they saw 甄嬛 walk towards 华妃’s palace during the 七夕 festivities. 

 

It’s a one-two punch and now both 华妃 and 曹贵人 because accusing 甄嬛 of her wickedness. The Emperor 皇上 asks if anyone else can be her alibi. 甄嬛 cannot mention anything about meeting the 17th Prince, because as we’ve mentioned before, it is pretty much forbidden for these two to meet. They need to keep a distance otherwise,  甄嬛 could be further punished. She’s also actually protecting the 17th prince because if they’re found out to have spent time together, he could also be in trouble. With no alibi, the Emperor has no choice but to “ground” her until further they get to the bottom of this. 华妃 is looking mighty smug. All seems lost for 甄嬛 but then dang dang dang dang – 端妃 swoops in to save the day. She says 甄嬛 was with her that evening! 

 

华妃 tries everything to poke holes in this alibi. It doesn’t help that the Emperor is pre-disposed to believing 甄嬛. The entire thing is called off when the maids cannot definitely confirm that they saw 甄嬛 walk into 华妃’s palace. The Emperor walks away in a huff, the maids are punished to 80 slaps in the face, 甄嬛 walks away free and 华妃 is seething that 甄嬛 walked away free. 

 

Away from 华妃’s palace, 端妃 catches up to 甄嬛 to have a chat with her. She says some pretty obvious things about how 甄嬛 needs to be more careful and how she can’t save her another time. There are some subtle hints she drops though! We need to bookmark what she says here as we get to future episodes! She says – 曹贵人’s shouldn’t have had this child. It isn’t the right time. What does this mean?? At first 端妃 says 曹贵人 had a difficult pregnancy and she almost lost the child but there’s definitely more to that. 

 

The episode ends with 华妃 berating 曹贵人 for this failed plot. It is quite sad that 曹贵人 is reduced to using her own daughter as a pawn for 华妃.

 

[Karen]

Onto episode 18!

 

The Empress 皇后 informs the Emperor 皇上 that 华妃 found the culprit. It was a lowly chef that got the water chestnut and [tapioca] cassava mixed up. What should they do? At this point, everyone in that room knows what happened. 皇后 wants to set an example and give a warning to 华妃 but 皇上 decides to just let it be. 华妃’s brother just sent word that he was successful on the battlefield. The Emperor can’t punish 华妃 or else things might get dicey out on the western front. The poor chef is sentenced to death and that’s that.

 

Moving on, we see 皇上 looking at reports and 曹贵人 comes to visit him with a plate of 莲子 or lotus seeds. We’ll discuss this more because I think it’s quite a touching scene and focuses on word play. The end result of 曹贵人 bringing this plate of 莲子, or lotus seeds is that she is able to take back her daughter from the care of 华妃。

 

皇上 is ultimately annoyed at 华妃 but, as we’ve discussed numerous times before, he has to appease her and spends the night with her because her brother is on the front lines defending the empire so he can’t punish her. But, he balances his time out with breakfast at 甄嬛’s place the next morning.

 

The 2 are eating breakfast and he’s very happy because there’s good news from the front lines. There’s discussion of whether or not 华妃 should have her power restored but 甄嬛 is able to suggest otherwise. We’ve spoken before about how 后宫 is not supposed to discuss politics of 前朝 but that always depends on the emperor. He’s fine with it and waves off the discussion.

 

The best part of this episode is that here, as the emperor is wrapping up eating breakfast with 甄嬛, he notices 浣碧. She’s added more hair decorations, and paired her clothing in a jarring and perhaps gaudy way. (Pink and green is not a good combination). he says as much,clearly indicating he has no interest in her, which causes her to run out crying. She’s not a fan favorite because, if you couldn’t tell by now, she’s trying to get the attention of the emperor. She thinks that because she’s 甄嬛’s sister, she should be able to also become a concubine. She thinks she’s better than 安陵容. If you look back at previous episodes starting back even in episode 7 or 8, there were definitely snippets here and there where 皇上 did notice 浣碧 for how similar she looks to 甄嬛 (which makes sense since they’re sisters). Because of that she is starting to think very highly of herself.

 

[Cathy]

甄嬛 is also understandably upset that her own sister is trying to undermine her and surmises that a lot of her recent troubles were due to a mole from her palace. She concludes that it has to be 浣碧. She probably was sharing confidential information with 曹贵人 and 华妃 that has been used to harm her。

 

I think it’s actually a little sad though because 华妃 is starting to get an inkling or a feeling that some of her favoritism by the emperor is due to her brother but her maid is able to convince her that the emperor likes her for her. We as the audience know differently. The irony is quite high.

 

Given that 甄嬛 suspects 浣碧 and 曹贵人 are conspiring against her, she decides to take action and visits 曹贵人, giving her all sorts of gifts, tho the most important one is a box of perfume that is very expensive. This scene in my opinion, is quite exhausting to watch, because they’re basically saying a whole lot of nothing. It’s exhausting to listen to so I’m sure it’s exhausting trying to play this game of pretending to be nice but ultimately hiding daggers behind everything. 曹贵人 throws everything away but keeps the expensive box of perfume.

 

[Karen]

Two lines that are important to remember – we hear that 皇后 does not like using perfume. THIS IS KEY. We’ve heard this in a previous episode before where 皇后 tells a servant to not use 檀木perfume and instead use fresh fruits and flowers to clear the air.

 

The other, people to focus on 荣华富贵 won’t have a good future.

 

The end of the episode is quite fun – 甄嬛 sets up a trap to lure out not only 华妃 but also 浣碧。甄嬛 lets slip that she’s going to visit 沈眉庄 which is strictly forbidden because she’s still under house arrest. So we’ll see what happens in the next episode!

 

夕颜花

 

[Cathy]

We’ve explained already that flowers are a very important theme throughout Chinese culture and this drama. In Episode 17, we discuss another 2 flowers – 夕颜.

 

牵牛花 or Japanese morning glory is the flower that 甄嬛 and the 17th prince 果郡王 允礼 discuss in their evening encounter. Here the 17th Prince discusses the other name of the flower as 夕颜 – night beauty. 

 

There’s a bug here – 牵牛花’s other name is actually 朝颜 which means morning beauty. The flower that should be used is 葫芦花 or Tropical White Morning Glory. That’s what the author actually wrote in the book. However, the crew couldn’t find any of the white flowers, so they used the purple ones instead. So let’s just pretend that it’s 夕颜 – it’s this name that’s important.

 

The name of 夕颜 actually comes from the Japanese book The Tales of Genji. The story goes that 夕颜 or Lady of the Evening Faces was a beautiful womzhenhuanan. She came from a respectful family but she fell on hard times after her parents died. She caught 1 the eye of young Genji and they had an affair. She dies at the young age of 19 after she is possessed by a spirit. The flower 夕颜 has the reputation of being a 薄命 or unfortunate flower because of its short life. 甄嬛 and the 17th Prince have a pretty deep conversation about this and what it means to live in 后宫. This is a drama, something will definitely happen between the two of them. There is good chemistry! 

 

At least he looks better than 皇上. The flower of 夕颜 will come up again later in the series so keep that in mind.

 

[Karen] 

莲子 – In episode 18, 曹贵人 brings a plate of 莲子 to 皇上 to eat and there is quite an interesting discussion. 莲子, or lotus seeds, are very common in Chinese medicine and cuisine. You add it primarily in soups or congee, or at least, that’s how we’ve eaten them growing up, and are also very popular as a paste in different types of pastries such as mooncakes. They are little white oval shapes generally and actually taste quite bitter. At least I personally don’t like eating them. Whenever they are in soup, I just eat around them.

 

[Cathy]

In this scene, 曹贵人 brings this plate of lotus seeds which is then used to discuss her daughter, 温宜 who, is still in the poor care of 华妃. She mentions that she removed the 莲心 or the core of the lotus seed which is the most bitter. The emperor is very smart and he knows what she is talking about – her 怜子之心。 莲子 can mean lotus seed, but change the first word to another 怜, and it means pity, sympathy or tender love. Here, he’s talking about 曹贵人’s motherly love for her daughter. Another play on words is that 苦 can mean bitter in terms of flavoring, but also the same word is used to mean difficulty or hardship as in 辛苦. The discussion of this lotus seeds is a metaphor for the hardship she feels as a mother trying to care for her daughter who is suffering at the hands of 华妃。

 

皇上 next brings up 万历皇帝 and his concubine, 景妃 who used her children as bait in order to gain favor of the emperor. There isn’t a whole lot of consequence to this story other than it sets historical precedence for some of the terrible things that 华妃 in this current time has done. 万历 was an emperor from the previous dynasty, the 明dynasty and has a poor reputation. He loved his drink and his women and didn’t do a whole lot of governing。

 

 

I think that’s pretty much all we wanted to discuss for these 2 episodes. We’ll see how 华妃 reacts to the trap that 甄嬛 has set for her next! 甄嬛 is more on the offensive now instead of the defensive which is great.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 16

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical chinese dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy

 

Today, we are discussing episode 16 of Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan, Empresses in the Palace. I personally really like this episode because of the poem/song that is sung which I am super excited to discuss! Like this poem is one of the reasons why I wanted to start this podcast so we can talk about stuff like this! We are going to do a brief episode recap and do some more in-depth analysis. 

 

Now let’s get started on this episode!

 

[Cathy]

The emperor, 皇上,is currently playing Chinese Go, or 围棋 with 敬嫔. 敬嫔 is the kind concubine who rules the palace where the disgraced 沈眉庄 lives. It seems innocuous enough. The new head of the Interior Household Department (内务府), has come to ask for advice from the Emperor. You’ll recall that in the last episode, the previous head eunuch of this department, 黄规全 ran afoul of the emperor and 甄嬛  and was removed from his post and punished. This new head stops by to ask a question regarding makeup distribution for something called 螺子黛. We’ll discuss this a little bit later since it’s quite interesting.

 

The key piece we learn at this moment is that 敬嫔 is here to play Go is but is also here to inform 皇上 that 沈眉庄’s food was poisoned, which he thanks her for. I want to point out that I think it’s interesting that 敬嫔, who has since been relatively quiet and removed from the drama in the palace, came to stick up for 沈眉庄。And another, that 皇上 cares enough to say thank you. He says he appreciated the information to avoid drama in the palace, but, continuing on the analysis we had in the previous episode, I think that 皇上 still likes 沈眉庄 and doesn’t actually want 沈眉庄 to die.

 

[Karen]

Next, we are at 华妃‘s palace. She’s putting on hair accessories with 曹贵人。华妃 hears that 甄嬛 also received the 螺子黛 makeup and throws an absolute hissyfit. She’s upset that, again, 甄嬛 has regained favor by the emperor and decides that, in order for 曹贵人, to continue to serve her, she is going to take 曹贵人’s daughter and raise her in her palace. This sounds nice at the onset because 华妃  has better amenities in her palace, but truly, she’s keeping 曹贵人’s daughter hostage to make sure that 曹贵人 does her bidding. It’s quite cruel. It’s not just because 华妃 is a cruel person to begin with, but because she never had children and can therefore not understand what this does to a mother (at least, this is a lot of what the drama tells us to believe). All because 甄嬛 received some makeup. 华妃 even straight up says ”杀了她” – kill her.

 

And indeed, throughout the episode, there are instances where you see that 华妃 doesn’t treat 曹贵人‘s daughter too well – even feeding her sleeping pills to get her to stop crying at night. The maids who witness this are appalled but of course, 华妃 tells the maids to keep their mouths shut. Fortunately, one of the wet nurses tells 曹贵人 about the horrible treatment that the princess is experiencing right now. 曹贵人 is upset but there really isn’t much that she can do. Even 皇上 notices something is amiss and wants 华妃 to return the princess to her rightful mother, but 华妃 is able to keep her.

 

[Cathy]

The cracks between these two women are starting to appear. Remember that 华妃 currently only has 曹贵人 on her team so causing drama isn’t the smartest move. 华妃’s quote on quote “humiliation” continues when the Emperor leaves her bedside to go and comfort 甄嬛 in the middle of the night because of a thunderstorm. The Empress 皇后, upon hearing this development, just coldly remarks – this is what she experienced and it’s time for 华妃 to get her lesson.

 

The rest of the episode revolves around 甄嬛 developing alliances. 沈眉庄 is out of favor so 甄嬛 is alone which puts her in a rather precarious situation. 沈眉庄 is able to pass on a message to 甄嬛 and instrcturs her to support 安陵容 and to push 安陵容 to receive favor. Catching the eye of the Emperor is an art unto itself and 安陵容 needs to stand out so they hatch a plan.

 

Preparations are made – new dresses, new hairdos. Everything needs to be planned, from where 安陵容 stands, to what she sings, to what 甄嬛 wears. 安陵容 sings her song and she successfully catches the ear of the Emperor. Karen is so excited to discuss the particular piece that is sung here so we’ll dive into that. Unfortunately, this whole plan is almost derailed by 华妃. She overhears 安陵容 singing and is about to punish the ladies for it before she’s stopped by the Emperor. 甄嬛 and 皇后 all subtly push 安陵容 and 皇上 together right in front of 华妃. Two episodes ago, 甄嬛 pledged her allegiance to 皇后 to help 安陵容’s father. 皇后 is willing to help, anything to divert favor from 华妃. 

 

(Karen)

安陵容 finally becomes a real concubine after her blowing her first chance and she is over the moon about it. It means that she has a future in the palace and will not wallow away to die.  甄嬛is a little sad because she “loves” the emperor but it has to be done in order to secure her foothold in the palace. It’s a little crazy to think about, honestly. Though, 甄嬛 is not the only one a little upset by the rise of 安陵容。浣碧,甄嬛‘s half-sister/maid is quite annoyed and upset that 安陵容 is now in favor. People are noticing her behavior and 甄嬛 needs to step in to squash the pettiness before huan bi causes unwanted damage.

 

What an episode! 沈眉庄 is totally out of favor. It looks like 甄嬛 is in the clear but now new alliances need to form so 安陵容 is the new woman. Cracks are starting to form between 华妃 and 曹贵人. 

—-

 

There’s some cool things to discuss, so let’s start the analysis!

 

(Cathy)

First off let’s talk about this mysterious makeup that 华妃 is willing to outright declare her wish murder 甄嬛. 螺子黛 – the literal translation is snail dye or pigment. It’s the ancestor to the eyebrow pencils and pens we use today. The dye is made from minerals and processed into a certain shape for use. It was quite easy to use. Just dip it in water or add some water and you can apply it to your eyebrows. In this show, you see that they look like individual snail pens! 

 

螺子黛 were imported from Persia and extremely rare and expensive. Only members of the royal family and court could have access to this. In this episode there are only 3 that are available for the ladies in 后宫 this year, much less than the normal 20+ in previous years. There are historical records of ladies using 螺子黛 dating all the way back to the 隋 and 唐 dynasties in the 6th and 7th centuries. 

 

In the scene where the Emperor is delegating who should receive the dye, he comments that 华妃 favors 长眉 (long brows) whereas 甄嬛 favors 远山眉 (mountain brows). If you look carefully at 华妃 and 甄嬛’s eyebrows, the way they style their eyebrows really is different so again kudos to the crew for making the differentiation. We mentioned before that the 远山眉 style was crucial to 甄嬛 getting back in favor in the last episode. A little fun fact – there are still records of what 远山眉 looked like from the Tang Dynasty. So if any of you ladies want to try them out, you can find them online.

 

All other ladies in 后宫 use 铜黛 or copper dye. It was made out of copper carbonate and had a greenish hue. 皇后 is the Empress and obviously deserves one. 甄嬛 is a lowly noble lady – she typically would not get to use this. There are other higher ranking consorts that technically should deserve this. 华妃 is one of them.  By giving 甄嬛 a 螺子黛, 皇上 is signaling to the rest of 后宫 that 甄嬛 is still very much in favor. 华妃 did all of this scheming, getting that doctor, faking 沈眉庄’s pregnancy. Only 沈眉庄 is out but 甄嬛 looks very much still to be a threat. Of course 华妃 is pissed!

(Karen)

[金缕衣】

 

And it’s time to finally talk about this wonderful poem/song – 金缕衣. Yay! Can you tell how excited I am?

 

The composition of this song is really pretty and in the drama, everyone is praising how lovely 安陵容’s voice is. We must thank the wonderful 姚贝娜 for being the singing voice for 安陵容.The beauty of 安陵容’s voice is itself enough to capture the interest of the emperor, but the real beauty of this scene is the poem that she sings as well. The song is called 金缕衣 and there are many layers to this poem.

 

金缕衣 – what is it? Do NOT google translate 金缕。 I tried and Google translate translates it to “Witch”. Um…not sure what Google Translate is thinking about there. It’s actually means golden thread and 衣 means clothes, so the poem’s name is “Golden Threaded Clothes”. 

 

The full poem is this: 

 

劝君莫惜金缕衣,

劝君惜取少年时。

花开堪折直须折,

莫待无花空折枝

This poem is from the Tang Dynasty, about 1000 years before the Qing dynasty and this poem is quite famous, especially the last two lines. It gets referenced a lot in various ways be it books or dramas. So what does this poem mean? I really like this poem in general not just because the song that 安陵容 sings is very catchy and beautiful so you learn pretty lyrics, but because it is a great reminder of focusing on the important things in life.

Broad strokes translation is this: I urge you to not value the wealth and riches of the Golden Threaded Clothing, I urge you instead to value your youth and capture that time – just like flowers on a branch which require you to pick at the right moment. Don’t wait until there are no flowers left on the tree and pick empty tree branches.

Pretty good poem right? Again, I really like this poem and this song. I practice calligraphy a lot by reciting this poem as it is a great reminder of what is important in our lives.

Now, when 皇上 hears this song, he is not only listening to the amazing voice that 安陵容 has, but he also listens to her lyrics. The lyrics are telling him to capture what’s in front of him instead of letting it slip away. So of course, he is enamored with 安陵容 and asks her to stay behind, to sing to him and to have her spend the night and become a real concubine. 

Another reason why I love this scene is also because of the interaction with 华妃。 华妃 hears the beautiful song and in her fit of jealousy tries to punish 安陵容 and 甄嬛 for singing about flowers, which is inappropriate. She knows that 安陵容’s voice is beautiful and could pose a threat, but also she just wants to punish 甄嬛 because she hates her. I’ve missed this the first couple of viewings of the drama because I didn’t fully understand the poem yet, but in this scene, 华妃 is showing once again, that she is not well educated. She recites the line “花开堪折直须折“ and says that generally, 花, or flowers are an analogy for women. To sing such a song, are you hoping to attract unwanted attention? Even 甄嬛 says that this poem is called 金缕衣 and tries to explain the true meaning of the poem, not that 华妃 truly cares and tries to punish these ladies until 皇上 steps in.  

In just one scene, we get many, many moving parts. Isn’t this fun? I thought it was fun. 

(Cathy)

Before end the episode, I want to point out that it’s very clear to us that 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 may treat 安陵容 as a friend, but 安陵容 is not truly a friend or “sister” to the two ladies. Why didn’t they help her gain favor earlier? Why now, only after 沈眉庄 has fallen from grace? It’s not to say that these two ladies are mean or disingenuine to 安陵容 because they do send her stuff and spend time together, but they don’t view her as their true equal. And it’s fair because 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 grew up together and have a much stronger bond than with 安陵容。It’s just that, 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄helped 安陵容 gain favor when it was convenient for them. 

Additionally, we’ve said previously that 沈眉庄 isn’t as good at defending herself from verbal attacks by the likes of 华妃,安陵容 is no different. When 安陵容 and 甄嬛 were acosted by 华妃,安陵容 did not really know how to defend herself whereas 甄嬛 was able to more easily deflect the things 华妃 was saying. The key character trait for 安陵容 is to be 卑微 which is a result of her poor background and upbringing. 

 

Now 安陵容 is a real concubine. 华妃 really really wants to kill 甄嬛. What is up with 浣碧? Stay tuned for the next episode.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.