The Story of Ming Lan(知否知否应是绿肥红瘦)

The Story of Ming Lan is a hit 2018 Chinese historical drama that follows the life of Ming Lan during the peak of the Song Dynasty. Born as an unfavored daughter in the Sheng family, she is sent to live with her Grandmother after the death of her birth mother. Despite her Grandmother’s protection, Ming Lan learned at a young age that she must exhibit patience and be observant of her surroundings in order to survive at home against her cruel and overbearing female relatives. Despite this, she initially catches the eye of Qi Heng, the son of a Duke. She ultimately secures a happy marriage with Gu Ting Ye, the son of a marquis, after her relationship with Qi Heng falls through.


Full series podcast episodes are available anywhere podcasts are available. Just search Chasing Dramas.

Drama Setting – The Backdrop of the Song Dynasty

Family power and social standing are two prominent features in The Story of Ming Lan which is set in the Northern Song Dynasty, and they are closely related. 



The Song Dynasty


This drama is set in the Northern Song Dynasty which existed between 960 AD to 1127 AD and was founded by the soldier Zhao Kuang Yin 赵匡胤 and thus the ruling family had the last name of Zhao 赵 and they are Han people. The capital city of the Northern Song Dynasty was Bian Liang 汴梁 which is Modern Day Kai Feng 开封 in He Nan 河南 Province.




Song Dynasty Foreign Affairs


The main adversaries for the first part of the Song dynasty was the Liao empire to the north. If anyone wants to watch a drama about this period, watch the Legend of Xiao Chuo or 燕云台 by Tiffany Tang that just aired at the end of 2020. Despite several attempts to conquer the Liao dynasty, the Song dynasty was not able to do so and historically han territories of places like He Bei province and present day 北京 were left to the Liao for decades.  There was also the Xia people and the Da Li people amongst several others to the west and south of the Song dynasty that were constant threats. By land mass, the Song is considered one of the smallest dynasties to rule a unified area.


Scholar Status


Scholar Officials or what the Chinese call 文官 were held in extremely high regard in this dynasty, more so than most other dynasties in Chinese history and they held posts that were previously occupied by military officials. A key aspect of the expansion of scholar officials or 文官 is the expansion and standardization of the Imperial Examination. While the Imperial Examination has existed for many centuries, the number of individuals selected to become civil servants is rather small. In the late Tang dynasty, each exam saw only around 10 people enter service. In the Song dynasty, the peak was around 1000+ people entering service per year. Of course that was overkill and it normalized to around 1-200 or so in later years. Due to the focus on Confucius and academics, many schools were set up across the country in order to train for the entrance exams. 

Key Characters & Families

Sheng Minglan 盛明兰

The drama revolves around the life of Sheng Ming Lan 盛明兰, the 6th daughter and daughter of a concubine (庶出) of the Sheng (盛 )family from when she was a young girl. She is portrayed by Zhao Li Ying (赵丽颖).

Gu Tingye 顾廷烨

The second son of the Marquis of Ningyuan or 宁远侯. He’s an intelligent man but is a bit of a rake early in the drama. Through trials and tribulations, he and Ming Lan finally marry and try to keep a loving relationship whilst balancing all the different factions with their households and court.

Qi Heng 齐衡

The only son of the Princess Ping Ning and the Duke of Qi, Qi Heng is a caring and handsome young man who learned the values of courage after missing his opportunity to marry Ming Lan. Qi Heng is portrayed by 朱一龙


Sheng Molan 盛墨兰



The 4th daughter of the Sheng Family, Mo Lan is learned in the arts but very catty and easily jealous. Her life goal, spurred by her mother, is to marry rich and powerful.

Sheng Rulan 盛如兰

The 5th daughter of the Sheng family, she often times demanding based on her status as daughter of the main wife of the household. Yet, she is quite naive and overall a supportive sister towards Ming Lan

Grandma Sheng 盛老太太

The primary foundation for the Sheng family, Grandma Sheng raised Ming Lan from a young age and is her primary protector and mentor as Ming Lan navigates the messy world of marriage.



The Sheng Family

Who’s in the Sheng Family and which social class does people in Sheng Family belong to 


The Gu Family

Who’s in the Gu Family and which social class does people in Gu Family belong to 


The Qi Family 

Who’s in the Qi Family and which social class does people in Qi Family belong to 

Li Qingzhao’s Poem: Ru Meng Ling



The rough translation of the poem is this: 

Last night it rained, and the deep sleep does not remove the last of the liquor. Questioning the curtain raiser, who says that the begonia flowers are still there. Does she know? Does she know? There should be more green than red.

On the surface, the poem is about flowers. The flower observer is lamenting the fact that the flowers are going to wash away after an evening of rain and was therefore drinking liquor to ease that pain. When she awakens from her deep sleep, despite the liquor her first thought is to ask of the flowers. Though the curtain raiser maid says the flowers are still there, she knows that there are more green leaves than red flowers.  This poem is evoking the author’s helplessness at the inevitable. Those flowers are now gone and will not be coming back. She is able to observe this tragedy while her maid does not notice anything amiss which speaks to the author’s attention to detail and her loneliness that others cannot share her sentiment.