Intro to the Movie



Welcome to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese History and Culture, through historical Chinese dramas and films. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. 


Today, as part of a special Chinese New Year episode, we are going to be discussing the 2016 film. Xuan Zang. X-U-A-N Z-A-N-G. If that’s a little difficult to pronounce, you can think of the x sound as an sh sound. The film stars Huang Xiao Ming and follows the extensive trials and tribulations of the famous Chinese monk, Xuan Zang during the early Tang dynasty in his quest to reach India to study Buddhist texts and bring them back to China. A journey that took him 19 year but his unwavering tenacity for his journey led him to complete his task.


This podcast episode is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. In this podcast episode, we will first provide a brief background of the titular character, then introduce the main actor for Xuan Zang, Huang Xiao Ming and finally tell the story of Xuan Zang in the context of the film while providing historical Chinese context. There is also quite a bit of indian culture and history portrayed but as we are not experts there, we’ll only lightly cover those portions of the film.


If this is your first time listening to our podcast, welcome and I recommend checking out our website for more information. Our main goal is to provide more Chinese cultural and historical context to English speaking fans of Chinese historical films and dramas so hopefully, by the end of this episode, you’ll have learned something about Xuan Zang. The film is easily accessible with English subtitles on JubaoTV, spelled J-U-B-A-O TV which you can reach online or on tv from xfinity or cox contour.  If you have any questions or feedback on what we discuss in this episode, please feel free to reach out to us at or else message us on instagram or twitter.



Let’s get started! Who is Xuan Zang? Xuan Zang is one of the most famous individuals in Chinese culture and history not only because of his contribution to buddhism in China, but because he and his journey inspired the the famous novel, The Journey to the West or 西游记. It’s hard to talk about Xuan Zang and not talk about 西游记 or journey to the west。 The novel, written in the 16th century Ming Dynasty by 吴承恩, though that is disputed, is one of the four great classical novels in Chinese literature, the other three being Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, and Dream of the Red Mansion. As with the other novels, Xi You Ji has endured for centuries and is still very much a part of the Chinese cultural identity. Though not every Chinese person has read the original text, they would have consumed some type of variation of the story – whether in a comic or a book or a tv show, an opera, or a retelling. The story of The Journey to the West is embedded into the fabric of Chinese culture and history. One of the most iconic television dramas in China is the 1986 version of the Journey to the West. Even though special effects were rudimentary at the time, the acting was superb and the costume and set design just as good. To this day, it is still considered the best iteration of the Journey to the West on screen. The actor for Sun Wu Kong, 六小龄童, did an absolutely stellar job bringing the monkey king to life that it is still the standard for what people think of when imagining the Monkey King. 


On a personal note,, Cathy and I grew up listening to mandarin chinese children’s audiobook versions of this story and also rewatched the 1986 version on DVD growing up. I would like to think that a huge part of our Chinese language and history knowledge started early on through the likes of the Journey of the West. That’s just to give an idea of the cultural impact this story has. 



Many of the Journey to the West’s story elements were taken from Xuan Zang’s own account of his travels west and then to India. In the novel, Xuan Zang, or else now as Tang San Zang, also heads west to seek sacred texts to bring back to the Tang dynasty. Along with him on his journey are his disciples, 孙悟空,a powerful monkey born of stone that possesses insane supernatural abilities, 猪八戒, a former general in the heavens but is now a part human part pig creature as punishment for his lust, and 沙僧,another former general in the heavens punished on earth and lived by a river. These three, along with a white horse, were tasked with protecting Xuan Zang on his harrowing journey. In the novel, the group must battle many demons and spirits as well as turmoil within the group before returning back to China. As you can tell, there are many mythical elements to this novel which tied together folk religion, mythology, daism, buddhism among others. 


Why did we just spend so much time talking about the Journey to the West? It’s because most people know of the Journey to the West but perhaps not that much about Xuan Zang himself and his real journey. That was indeed true for me so I appreciate that this film was made to reveal the man behind the myth if you will. For those who grew up knowing at least a little about the Journey to the West will see many references to the inspirations of events or places in the novel portrayed in Xuan Zang’s journey in this film and that is pretty much how we took to watching this film. It’s a familiar yet different story and it’s almost as if we were looking for easter eggs in this film that ties to the Journey to the West, even though this man’s journey came first.



With that context, let’s talk about the main actor.


The film largely features Huang Xiao Ming as the titular character, 玄奘。


Let’s chat about 黄晓明 for a bit. We have followed his career pretty much since the beginning now more than 20 years ago. He played Prince 刘彻 in the series 大汉天子 which came out in 2001. Liu Chethe subsequent Emperor Wu of Han, one of the most well known Emperors in Chinese history and one we’ve talked about within our podcast series. I cannot describe how obsessed we were with that drama, rewatching it multiple times and also listening to the soundtrack on repeat. At that time, recording it on tv onto cassette tape so we could listen to it in the car. This was another one of those dramas that really sparked our interest in Chinese history and ultimately our podcast today. 


So from the very beginning, we’ve always had a soft spot for him and watched more of his earlier dramas. Huang Xiao Ming was born in Qingdao in 1984 and attended the Beijing Film Academy where he studied with other famous classmates such as Vicky Zhao. He has had a successful career and is one of THE A-list stars in China right now, winning numerous acting awards for various roles including this one at the 13th ChangChun film festival in China.  We also cannot talk about Huang Xiao Ming without talking about his now ex-wife, Angelababy. This is SUPER hot off the press. As of January 28, 2022, Huang XiaoMing and Angelababy, yes that’s her English name, announced their divorce after 7 years of marriage. They have a son together which I’m assuming they’ll share custody of. It’s a little funny what the public reaction has been. Rumors were swirling for forever that they were getting divorced but now that it’s come to fruition, top trending weibo or the equivalent of Chinese twitter, were like “this is the most unsurprising divorce”. Angelababy is quite well known for her looks on the red carpet and her involvement in the extremely popular Chinese reality show, Running Man and its subsequent iterations, though from an acting perspective, Huang Xiao Ming is the powerhouse of the now de-coupled pair.




Because I’ve largely seen Huang Xiao Ming in roles as a Prince or Emperor or Martial Arts Master, what have you, it was a little jarring to see him play this monk. His countenance and stature to me took me a little out of the story because I’m so used to thinking of him as this powerful individual. And in general, he likes to give himself the aura of the powerful business man. There’s a saying in China of the 霸道总裁 which people normally attribute to him. He’s also been tagged the term 油腻 which means oil but I don’t think people give him enough acting credit. Through the film you can see his dedication to this role and his desire to do it justice. Many idols and younger actors today would not want to play this role because just from the set itself, you could tell it was a tough and dry environment. The role of Xuan Zang is not a handsome one and not many people would have wanted to film such a tough role. 


The rest of the cast features pretty well known actors from China, Hong Kong and even India! They’re mainly cameos though.


The film itself began production in 2015 and was released in China on April 29 2016. The film was produced by the China Film Corporation and Eros International. The film is absolutely gorgeous to look at and was filmed on location in Turpan, Changji, Altay、Aksu、Kashgar which are all in the Xinjiang province of China, the 甘肃 province of China、and India. The second half of the movie prominently features India. As we are not experts of Indian culture, we will refrain much from commenting on this.



With that background, we’ll start off with a film recap and then point out interesting things along the way. The movie has many parallels to Journey of the West so we’ll also point those out where we see them.


The film opens with a student at the Mumbai University in 2016 requesting a book written by Alexander Cunningham from the librarian.


The book the student picks out is the Ancient Geography of India written by Alexander Cunningham with the first half published in 1871. We get a voice over of Alexander Cunningham describing his discoveries of the Mahabodhi temple, the Nalanda. He had come across an ancient text – Journey to the West by the monk Xuan Zang.


A small nitpick here – it wouldn’t be the Journey to the West because as we said, that was written centuries later. Xuan Zang DID leave an autobiographical recitation of his travels called the Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (大唐西域記). Fellow monks wrote down his words to write this book. So that might be what the movie is referencing.


From the discovery of the ancient text, we then move towards Xuan Zang’s story.  Xuan Zang was born at the end of the Sui Dynasty in 602AD in HeNan province. His family name was Chen. In the film, Xuan Zang recounts that his mother told him he was placed in a bucket and floated down a river during a flood when he was a baby and was rescued by a monk. Others say his brother took him to the monastery to study. Regardless, he feels he was destined to become a monk. To note, the story of being placed on a baske t and floated down the river to a monastery and then becoming a monk is the one that is recounted in the Journey to the West. 



We see adult Xuan Zang telling us his story of his journey when he set off from Chang An, the Capital of the Tang Dynasty. 


Xuan Zang is a devout monk and wishes to head west to India, the source of the original buddhist texts, to study, learn, and bring texts back to China. The year is 627ad and in the early years of the reign of 唐太宗 李世民. He is one of the most famous Chinese emperors in Chinese history. We will touch up on his reign when we talk about The Long Ballad. For now, some major talking points is that he was involved in a coup where he overthrew his brothers to claim the throne. Despite this bloody beginning, he brought the Empire to one of China’s greatest heights under Zhen Guan era. With that background, the Emperor has issued a special decree that allowed people to leave the city to find better fortunes / food due to the recent famines.  There is a throwaway line where the decree says that people of any class can leave. For those who listen to our Story of Ming Lan podcast episodes, you’ll recognize that this is talking about the class you’re born to as part of your personal registration deed.


We see Xuang Zang among the crowd heading out of the city as well. He is in simple monk attire and also carrying a rather heavy looking backpack of sorts. This is called a 负笈 is actually a real life adaptation from a painting that showed Xuan Zang’s getup during his travels called 玄奘负笈图 , complete with the dangling oil lamp at top. This pack is normally made of bamboo and can fit quite a bit plus it helps protect you from the rain. This pack is historically used by scholars or students for traveling, particularly when heading into the capital for the imperial entrance exams. One of the more famous depictions of this look is in the Chinese film, 倩女幽魂 or A Chinese Ghost Story. where the main male lead is a young scholar carrying this type of pack and meets a young ghost. 





Now there is some dispute on which year he actually left – 627 or 629 but we’ll just go ahead with the movie version here. To me, the film is broken out into a few parts. The first revolves around the human made obstacles for his journey but then also the kind people who help him succeed. His master is the first to tell him that perhaps he shouldn’t leave but he ignores this and pushes forward. When he does leave Chang An, the capital of the Tang Dynasty, and present day Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors, he finds his way to 凉州. This is an ancient province in the northwest of china. It is roughly in modern day Gan Su province. The province itself was important as it helped connect the silk road from the Chinese empires to central china. 


There, he meets his next obstacle. The governor (played by 徐峥 a very respected director nowadays) questions 玄奘 about his intentions and whether he obtain permission from the Emperor for his journey. 


Unfortunately, 玄奘 did not receive any permission. The governor cannot grant him permission to head west and instead orders all officials along the western border to arrest him on sight. Xuan Zang stays in the city at a local monastery to teach for many months. By then the governor has all but forgotten about him, and with the help of another venerable monk, assists Xuan Zang in leaving the city to continue on his pilgrimage. 


He is now in 瓜州, which is on the route towards the 玉门关 or the Jade pass. The Jade Pass or Yu Men Guan is one of the most famous passes in Chinese history which we’ll talk about in a bit. A local official, 李昌, played by 罗晋, sees him and brings him in for questioning. He recognizes him as the monk on the wanted posters. Once again, the official tries to persuade 玄奘 into returning east but upon seeing xuan zang’s devotion and some pretty bad CGI cherry blossom flows or is it lotus flowers? I don’t know – the cgi is quite bad, the official agrees to let 玄奘 continue on his journey.  This is a turning point in seeing the aid of strangers and their softheartedness. I would like to think that without the help of some of these individuals, Xuan Zang would not have succeeded.  



Something to note is that the official took to helping Xuan Zang partly because he saw what he was eating. Monks normally carry a bowl I believe called an alms bowl, one of the six items a buddhist monk is allowed to carry. It is the tool he uses to request food from strangers on his journey. As we see in the movie, 玄奘 holds this bowl out to a shop owner and is immediately given food. It’s a universal sign as to who this person is and most people are generally very generous in giving to monks. Of course, this would be vegetarian food. I really liked this touch that they added in the film.


Leaving the safety of Chinese cities, we follow Xuan Zang out west, we get to see some of the most stunning landscapes in China that oftentimes are not portrayed in other historical dramas focused on the grandeur of palaces and prominent households. Out west are plateaus and forests that are difficult to pass but breathtakingly beautiful. The film does make me feel like I’m going on a tour of hard to travel places in China and beyond. 


In order to continue his journey, Xuan Zang finds merchant caravans on his journey and joins them as they head along the silk road out west. As he explains in the film, this is customary for traveling monks.



Shortly after, he makes it to 玉门关 or the Jade Pass was one the road that connected central asia with China on the silk road. It was made famous during the Han dynasty and erected around 110s BCE during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han and an absolutely essential part of Chinese trade with the west. This is a name that continually pops up as the division between the east and the west. The Emperor bestowed the name Jade pass because of all the jade that was traded through the area. There’s not much left of it now, just a lonely gate. 


There’s one poem that I really like from the Tang Dynasty describing the Jade Pass. I briefly studied this poem when I was younger. This isn’t mentioned in the movie at all but, for my selfish reasons, I want to share the poem. It’s written by 王之涣 – who lived from 688-742. 







My translation goes like this – the water from the yellow river meets the white clouds. The lonely jade pass stands resolute on the mountain. Why should we use the Qiang flute to lament the delay of spring? It’s because spring does not come to the Jade Pass



From there, Xuan Zang crosses 沙洲 or modern day 敦煌 – a major hub along the silk road during the Sui and Tang dynasties. A number of buddhist caves can be found in 敦煌 with art and murals that can be found on the walls. 


And along the way, Xuan Zang and a female companion pass 月牙泉 or the Crescent Lake which is found near 敦煌. Xuan Zang doesn’t enter but there are two monks who watch him pass. The crescent lake was a tourist destination dating back to the Han dynasty over 2000 years ago and paintings depicting the lake can be found dating back to the Tang dynasty between 7th and 10th century AD. I don’t know when the temple portrayed in the film was built but apparently you can travel there now as a tourist! 


Along the journey, Xuan Zang gains a disciple Vandak or 石磐陀 who assists his master in crossing the Hulu River. This disciple reminds us of the 3 disciples of Xuan Zang from the Journey to the West. This guy, Vanda k, or his Chinese Name Shi – means stone. I’m immediately making the connection to Xuan Zang’s first and most powerful disciple, the Monkey King who is a monkey turned from stone. In this movie, we see that this disciple fled home to follow Xuan Zang but ultimately could not keep his vows to the Buddhist faith and ultimately leaves. While this does not happen in the Journey to the West, the Monkey King does leave his teacher several times throughout the novel out of anger or disputes but for the story’s sake, returns to protect his teacher. After doing some research, 石磐陀 or Vandak was an actual historical person and did join Xuan Zang on his quest to the west. 


On Vandak’s departure, he advises Xuan Zang to find an old horse who knows the path well to help him on his journey.  And this horse readily appears after Xuan Zang randomly runs into the young woman he met earlier at the Crescent Lake. It was quite nice of her to just give him the horse which was ultimately his saving grace. 



After a long trek with his new old horse, Xuan Zang travels to the 1st of 5 watchtowers and is promptly spotted by the guards and brought to the captain. This watchtower looks to be 白虎关 and the location looks similar to photos I’ve seen. These watchtowers are a major obstacle for him and there is another parallel to the Journey to the West. In that novel, the 5 watchtowers are changed to the 5 mountain peaks or 五行山 which represent the hand of the RuLai Buddha. The Monkey King 孙悟空 wreaked havoc and tried to escape the heavens but the used his hands to create five mountain peaks that the Monkey King could not escape. The monkey king was imprisoned under the mountain until he was rescued by his teacher, Xuan Zang. Sound familiar?


Back to the watchtower. The captain offers Xuan Zang some food as they discuss Xuan Zang’s journey. A little bug in the scene! We see corn and potatoes being served. Those are new world foods – as in they were only brought to east asia after the discovery of the Americas which of course happened in 1492. China would not have had them in the middle of the 7th century. 


The captain and Xuan Zang have a rather deep conversation about dreams for the future. Fortunately, that’s Xuan Zang’s specialty and is able to help the Captain think more positively about his current situation being stuck in this desolate land. The captain then gives xuan zang advice on how to avoid the next 4 watchtowers. Xuan Zang must cross the Taklamakan desert and find the wild horse spring.



Now we move onto the second part of the film which is more about individual tenacity.  玄奘 now is trekking through the Taklamakan Desert by himself with just his horse. This portion of the film reflects his dedication to his dream of reaching his destination and the inner strength it takes to stay on course when faced with not just the elements but also inner loneliness. It was a treat to watch  黄晓明“s as he played this dedication but also desperation very well with his sunburnt and tanned skin and extremely chapped lips in the face of the desert heat.


The Taklamakan desert is located in XinJiang province in western China and close to its western border. The shifting sand desert is one of the largest in the world and sprawls 130,000 square miles. It is a barren wasteland that travelers sought to avoid. Therefore, it is indeed impressive for 玄奘 to cross it by him with just a horse.  The journey through the desert is perilous to say the very least.. He loses water, he loses his way and his horse ignores him when he urges the horse to continue forward. Not long after, Xuan Zang begins hallucinating. In his hallucinations, he sees a monk on a white horse galloping in a lush field. Just when all seems lost – I personally thought the horse was going to die first, the horse finds the wild horse spring and saves Xuan Zang. Just like his disciple who abandoned him said, he must find an old horse who knows the route to help him cross. Well, Xuan Zang has this magical horse who carries the delirious Xuan Zang to the Wild Horse Spring. Xuan Zang cannot believe his eyes when wakes and immediately jumps into the water in happiness. My only comment there – don’t jump in the water! You need it! 


It’s more or less smooth sailing for Xuan Zang at this point as he arrives in the kingdom of 伊吾 which is in Northwest China (Xinjiang 哈密) and is shortly summoned by the king of gao chang as a guest of his kingdom. By looking at a map of his journey, he crossed the desert but ended up farther north than I thought he would. 



This brings us to the third part of the film and his trials. He is tempted with wealth, riches and power to keep him from his journey. 




In any case, 高昌 is an ancient city along the silk road and is also in modern day xin jiang. During the 5th to 7th centuries, several han families came to this area and claimed to be king. We see a relatively wealthy kingdom where the King of Gao Chang is a devout follower of Buddhist teachings. This little interlude actually did occur and we know that the real life person is a guy named 麹文 。 Xuan Zang stays for several months to teach the king and other monks with pretty much the entire kingdom listening to his teachings. He is given respect, food, clothing and a great place to rest. The King of Gao Chang requests for Xuan Zang to stay even long, even threatening him to do so. But despite the threats, nothing could stop 玄奘 as he goes on a hunger strike in order to force the King to allow him to leave. While it is in Buddhist teachings that one should not seek wealth and riches, it would have been very easy and comfortable to stay in such a spot where Xuan Zang would have been venerated by all. It does take quite a singular mind to give all of this up to continue on his journey. 


The King finally relents and orders a vast caravan to travel with Xuan Zang on his journey west. Overall, this King was pretty good to Xuan Zang. He even sent letters on Xuan Zang’s behalf to kingdoms on his route in order to give him safe passage all the way to his final destination. I read that they became brothers but sadly, they would never see each other again because the Tang dynasty in 640 AD, conquered Gao Chang, turning it into one of the cities under Tang rule.


高昌 is situated in modern 新疆 – in the turpan region. This is where the Flaming mountains are located or 火焰山. This mountain is prominently featured in Journey to the West as an impassable mountain and only the wind from the magical 芭蕉扇 or banana fan owned by the Princess Iron Fan can temper the flames. I admit – I loved these episodes in the Journey to the West tv series. In the Journey to the West, there are also plenty of kings and queens who tried anything and everything to keep Xuan Zang within their borders which reminds me a lot of the Gao Chang king.



For the next couple of scenes, we see Xuan Zang visiting a myriad of kingdoms on his journey west. We’ll list them out here and briefly talk about each one. 


Xuan Zang stops in the kingdom of 阿耆qi2尼 and records say that he stayed at the temple there. 


Xuan Zang continues his travels west do the kingdom of 龟兹(qiu1ci2) Kucha where he enjoys the company of the king and other venerable monks. He is treated to a great display of music and dancing. Kucha is located in the Xinjiang province of China, on the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert. In history, this was an ancient buddhist kingdom. There were records of the kingdom dating all the way back to the 2nd Century BCE when Zhang Qian – a Chinese diplomat and official – traveled west to establish the Silk Road. Due to the kingdom’s strategic location on the silk road, the kingdom remained prosperous over the centuries. Buddhism was introduced before the end of the 1st century. Similar to 高昌 – Kucha was conquered by the Tang Dynasty in 648AD during the Emperor’s campaign against the Western Regions. Xuan Zang did travel to this kingdom and he wrote about the Buddhist culture there.


Next, Xuan Zang mentions the kingdom of 跋禄迦 ba2lujia or modern day Aksu – located in the Xinjiang province. It was one of the ancient kingdoms along the silk road 


After crossing the desert, Xuan Zang and his caravan pass 凌山 and the Pamir Mountains which is to the west of Xinjiang and borders modern day Tajikistan.


From 凌山 – the caravan cross the central asian steppes,  modern dan Kyrgyzstan, afghanistan, pakistan and finally arrive in India. Xuan Zang finally arrives at Nalanda after 4 long years of travel. And this begins, in my view, the 4th part of the film – learning. 



Xuan Zang spends 5 years at the temple studying and spends another 5 years traveling throughout India including the Mahabodhi temple, where the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. I will give props to the film – the characters apparently are speaking Sanskrit, which is quite surprising. Now, I don’t know if it’s era appropriate – I would love some of our listeners to let us know but at least it is sanskrit as is mentioned in the movie.


While learning, he also continues to travel around to further enrich his experiences. During his travels in India, 玄奘 recounts how buddha attained enlightenment amongst the backdrop of the Ellora Caves and the Ajanta Buddhist Caves. One day, 玄奘 encounters a slave and a woman. The woman is the daughter of a villager who owned the slave. The house burned one day. The slave saved the woman but by touching her, he was cursed to wear a mask forever and the woman was cast out. Only a brahmin can lift the curse. After hearing this tale, 玄奘 travels with both of them to find a Brahmin and requests for the Brahmin to lift the curse, which he does. The slave Jayaram must bathe in the ganges for 10 days and then he will be able to remove his mask.  


Xuan Zang begins his travels back to Nalanda with his scriptures and the couple. An elephant also travels with them. While traveling up the river, the sky suddenly turns dark and a storm quickly rolls through. Several of the boats crash including the one with the elephant. In I guess the funniest moment of the film, the elephant falls into the river. Don’t worry, I don’t think anything happened to the elephant because the CGI for the elephant is quite obvious. Jayaram jumps into the water to save Xuan Zang’s scriptures. During the rescue, his mask falls off and he is cursed no more. There’s a tranquil shot of the couple on the boat with the elephant walking up the banks so yes, the elephant was fine. 



Having returned to Nalanda temple, Xuan Zang is ready to head back to China but the Emperor in India has organized a debate to debate theology. Nalanda will send 4 monks to represent and take part in the debate.  


The group traveled to the Kumbha Mela Festival in Kanauj in 642AD. The debate lasted 18 days and was a triumph for everyone involved and the spread in buddhism. Xuan Zang and Nalanda temple won the debate. Xuan Zang finally begins his journey back to the Tang empire. The journey back is very different from the journey to India. The Emperor sends envoys to greet him and protects his caravan the return journey home. The journey home takes him 3 years and he returns in 645AD. That’s a 19 year journey. 


Throughout the film we constantly have the horse motif. In the Journey to the West, Xuan Zang has a trusty steed the White Dragon Horse or 白龙马. The White Dragon Horse was actually a dragon prince who serves as Xuan Zang’s steed for his journey. Unlike Xuan Zang’s other disciples who at times either abandoned their teacher or had a crisis of faith, the White Dragon Horse stayed by Xuan Zang’s side throughout his journey. I think the movie is pointing to this connection with the horse references too.


After he returns, Xuan Zang spends the next decades translating the scriptures and sutras into chinese. The Emperor himself wrote a preface for one of the sutras translated by Xuan Zang. 


The film ends with a biography of Xuan Zang. The movie states that he was born in 600. When he returned, he brought back 150 Śarīras or Buddhist relics and over 657 volumes of religious texts. He spent 19 years translating these texts.


Xuan Zang died in 664 AD.



Overall thoughts. 


I’m glad I saw the film as I was thoroughly impressed with the dedication the lead, Huang Xiao Ming, put into the role and was absolutely stunned with how beautiful the cinematography was. It’s a gorgeous film to look at. It was a visual treat to compare the locations in the film with the photos online. Several of these places are on my bucket list to travel to. In addition, producers of the film apparently did consult with venerable buddhist monks on history and scriptures to accurately depict history. Karen and I are not buddhists so we cannot comment on the veracity of those scenes. I would say I preferred the first half of the film a little more than the second half primarily because some of the scenes in the second half left me with question marks as to how it tied to the overall theme such as the storyline with the slave. Like yes, I understand that Xuan Zang is extremely kind hearted. Anything else?




Yes – also maybe Huang Xiao Ming is too buff for this role? You can see his massive biceps in the movie and i”m not QUITE sure if that’s how a buddhist monk was like back in the day. But hey, maybe he was a hottie. Apparently Huang Xiao Ming is a rather devout buddhist and really wanted to play the role.


I would say for audiences who grew up watching Journey to the West, several parts tread familiar beats, as they are similar to the story. For me, the scenes in India were very interesting to see because those aren’t really mentioned in Chinese folklore. The journey to the west essentially stops once the group reaches India and becomes enlightened.


It was a thoroughly enjoyable watch. I believe that the film stayed pretty true to history – so if you want to spend 2 hours watching the gorgeous landscape and learn about history, this is the movie for you.



Well, that’s it for this episode! 


As always, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions on what was discussed on our podcast. This film is easily accessible on Jubao TV which is a channel that has a collection of Chinese films and dramas with English subtitles. I personally went to the JUBAO TV website and then moved over to xumo or x-u-m-o which is the streaming platform to watch this film. It’s also available on xfinity and cox contour on TV.


Happy Lunar New Year to everyone! It is the Year of the Tiger.


Catch you all in the next episode!


Intro to the Movie



Welcome to Chasing Dramas! We are your hosts Karen and Cathy. This is the podcast that normally discusses Chinese history through historical Chinese dramas. But today, we are actually going to be discussing a Chinese movie! Today, we are going to be talking about a movie called The Palace, or 宫锁沉香 which is a 2013 film set in the Qing dynasty.  


For this podcast episode, we will provide some background on the movie, an in depth explanation of the cast and characters, do a brief movie recap and then discuss the Chinese history portrayed in this film and point out inaccuracies.


This movie is intriguing 1) because the cast are all either extremely famous or were extremely famous Chinese stars now almost 10 years after its premiere and 2) the part of an insanely popular series that I never got around to watching so I thought, hey, why not check it out. And after watching it, I was like, I have a lot of thoughts so let’s talk about it on our podcast. To watch the movie with English subtitles, one can watch it on Jubao TV spelled J-U-B-A-O TV which is a newly launched FREE streaming service that has Chinese dramas, movies and documentaries available in the US. You can check out their content offerings on but to watch the shows, it’s available on xumo, xfinity or cox contour.  I primarily use Xumo on my computer  and was pleasantly surprised to see Palace on there with English subtitles and a few other dramas of interest.


If you don’t have access to JubaoTV, that is a OK! There are other options available to view this film online, just do a quick google search.


  1. Background on the film
    1. Gong Suo Chen Xiang is a part of the Gong or Palace series of which there are 3 dramas and this is the only film and it first premiered in 2013. The first drama in the series, Gong Suo Xin Yu, was explosively popular in 2011 and launched the careers of Yang Mi and Feng Shao Feng (who stars in the Story of Ming Lan) to the A list where Yang Mi remains today. It also made the screenwriter Yu Zheng a staple in the Chinese entertainment industry. I remember obsessing over 宫锁心玉 when it was premiering. The theme song to that drama is one that is now deemed a classic. 
    2. I feel kind of old talking about it realizing this was 10 years ago BUT Palace, along with Startling with Each Step or 步步惊心, set off a craze of Qing dynasty dramas and also time traveling dramas as the the main character is a woman who traveled back in time from modern day China. This movie, though, does not include that trope of traveling back in time. This film tells the love story of two young palace maids with 2 princes during the reign of Kang Xi during the Qing dynasty couple with a plot against the throne. 


  1. I had no expectation going into this movie as to what I’d see out of it. There’s actually quite a bit of Chinese culture and history portrayed in this film to digest which we’ll talk about later in this podcast episode. The costumes and production quality of this film are actually above expectations and the political component of the film were probably the highlights. Though for me, honestly THE biggest selling point is seeing 赵丽颖 or Zanilia Zhao play the antagonist. For those of you following are normal podcast episodes, you know how popular Zhao Li Ying is. This film came out early in her career so she wasn’t always the main character that had to be good and I feel like she knocked it out of the park in playing an evil backstabbing person versus the nice likeable characters and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Much better than the main female lead at least. Haha. 
  2. For me, the other main draw was the level of nostalgia watching 宫锁沉香 now years after it’s been out since there are SO many well known actors and actresses today in the film. 
  3. I will say the film’s romance plot has… much to be desired and it’s also kind of hilarious to see where this movie uhh copied from it’s more famous predecessors. If you watch the movie, you’ll see a few scenes that will remind you of Empresses in the Palace or 甄嬛传 that we’ve discussed at length on our podcast. Another one is 还珠格格. This is a staple of films written or produced by Yu Zheng though. He copies from eeeeverything and this movie was no exception. If you are looking for a drinking game to play, you should see where there are similarities between this film and other Qing dynasty dramas you’ve watched. I feel like that would have been a ton of fun. 
  4. I will say this is a much darker and more explicit film than I was expecting so that’s something just to be aware of when watching this film. 



  1. Before we go into the plot of this drama and discuss the history, let’s talk about the cast! It’s interesting now viewing this movie almost 10 years after its premier that a large portion of the leads are now A-list stars in the Chinese entertainment industry vs when the film aired, they were just getting started. Some of the cameos are of people that were my idols growing up but have perhaps since faded from the spotlight. The stars though are individuals getting their first start in the business and have reached massive levels of stardom today. Let’s go through the characters. 


The main female leads are as follows:

  1. Zhong Dong Yu as the maid Chen Xiang. 
    1. Born in 1992, her claim to fame is starring in a critically acclaimed movie Under the Hawthorn Tree or 山楂树之恋 in 2010 by the legendary Chinese director Zhang Yi Mou and has been a Chinese entertainment darling for many years, though primarily focused on the movie market rather than the drama market. She is considered one of the 4 main actresses born in the 90s and attended Beijing Film Academy.
    2. Her most recent on screen appearance at least of the time of this podcast, is 千古玦尘 or Ancient Love Poetry that premiered in summer of 2021. It’s a fantasy drama that I will be honest did not watch yet. Reviews and ratings for that drama, though, were probably not as ideal as Zhou Dong Yu would have hoped. But if you have watched it, let me know what you think. 
    3. In the film, she plays 兆佳沉香. She is a 包衣. The name 沉香 means – agarwood used for incense
    4. I feel like Yu Zheng the screenwriter just made up her last name in order to be somewhat related to history as it is documented that the wife of the 13th prince is from the 兆佳 family.
  2. Zhao Li Ying as Liu Li, Chen Xiang’s best friend growing up.
    1. She doesn’t need much introduction as she is the main lead in the drama we are currently discussing on our podcast, The Story of Ming Lan. Born in 1987 in He Bei province, she is one of THE biggest stars in China now having starred in many commercial successes through the years. Her attitude towards her career is to be admired. Unlike many of her peers in the industry, she did not attend a film or drama academy which makes her success even more commendable. 
    2. To reiterate, this is the only evil character that 赵丽颖 has portrayed. I think she does a great job in this role actually and gives much needed spice to the movie. I mean each movie needs a baddy and I’m glad to see her in this role. I actually wish 明兰 was more like her character 琉璃 in the beginning of the movie, when they were more carefree.
    3. The name 琉璃 means colored glaze or a stone similar to lapis lazuli. We don’t know much of her background so I’ll assume that she is a completely fictional character created for this story.


  1. Before we talk more about the male characters in the show, let’s provide some historical background. 
    1. The movie revolves around the famous fight for Emperor Kang Xi’s throne. Emperor 康熙 was the longest reigning Emperor during the Qing dynasty who was born in 1654 and ruled from 1661 to 1722. He had 9 sons that vied for the throne, creating teams and causing brothers to turn against each other. By now, this conflict for folks who were watching Chinese dramas in the 2010s is something that is super familiar because this conflict was the main one that was depicted in the original Palace with Yang Mi in 2011. I think one of the reasons both Palace and Starting with Each Step were so immensely popular is because the drama calls for handsome actors to portray the princes and so each drama had plenty of eye candy for all to enjoy. 
    2. This movie simplifies the conflict so that it revolves around a smaller number of brothers rather than the full battle which is described in more dramatic detail in other dramas. This is of course only a movie so it couldn’t have included all of the plot lines. 
    3. The main brothers we see in this drama are the Crown Prince, the 4th prince, the 9th prince and the 13th prince. We hear of the death of the 18th prince but he was not involved in the conflict so let’s introduce them. 
    4. Chen Xiao as the 13th Prince and main male character of the movie. 胤祥
      1. Chen Xiao Born in 1987 as well in An Hui province, he was deemed one of the most handsome men for historical chinese dramas in the early 20120s. He starred in several well known dramas including the 2014 version of Romance of the Condor Hero or 神雕侠侣 where he met his wife, The Legend of Lu Zhen or 陆贞传奇 pairing up again with Zanilia Zhao or 赵丽颖, and Nothing Gold Can Stay or 那年花开月正圆 with 孙俪。I’m primarily excited for his upcoming drama called 梦华录 with my favorite actress 刘亦菲 who starred in Disney’s recent adaptation of Mulan. 
      2. In the film, he plays the tragic character of the 13th prince of Kang Xi. Born in 1686, he’s handsome, and accomplished in many skills. He lost his mother at a young age and is extremely close to his brother, the 4th prince and eventual Emperor as they were raised by the same mother, Consort De. During the fight for the throne, the 13th prince was imprisoned for a decade and was released when the 4th prince ascended the throne. This is not shown in the film but the 13th prince served his brother as a trusted ally for 8 years until his death in 1730.
    5. Zhu Zi Xiao朱梓骁 (xiao1)  as the 9th Prince 胤禟
      1. Of all the actors and actresses in this drama, Zhu Zi Xiao is probably the one I’m least familiar with. His claim to fame is appearing in the 2009 remake of Meteor Garden which was another explosively popular drama that launched the careers of many of its main cast. Seems like he’s been in quite a number of good dramas but in smaller roles. One of his more recent and popular dramas is 琉璃 or Love and Redemption though he doesn’t play a main role.
      2. 朱梓骁 plays the 9th prince who is seen as manipulative and power hungry. In history, he supported the 8th prince to take over the throne. Born 1683, he was stripped of his title, kicked out of the clan and renamed 塞斯黑 which means Dog in manchu in 1725. He died a year later in 1726. 


  1. Lu Yi as the 4th Prince, eventual Emperor Yong Zheng
    1. We’ve followed Lu Yi for years. I remember that he starred in a drama with Ruby Lin and Feng SHao Feng back in 2003 and was already a fan so it’s been interesting to see his career progression through the years. He’s not an idol but has a handsome face and has starred in several high quality dramas. Though there have also been a few missteps along the way. His foray into the Palace series or at least dramas with Yu Zheng, the producer of this series, some would say mmmm could have been better. 
    2. Anyways, he plays the calculating 4th prince that we know as Emperor Yong Zheng. He and the 13th prince are the closest brothers. I would say we talked at length about this historical character in our Empresses to the Palace podcast series so listen to that if you want to hear more about Yong Zheng. Haha. 
  2. 林子聪 Lam Chi-chung  as the Crown Prince 胤礽 réng
    1. This chubby hong kong actor I feel like was everywhere in the late 90s and 2000s. Popular for his physique that added comedic effect to a lot of shows he’s in, he provides me with a comforting feeling everytime I see him on screen. He has quite a filmography so do check him out!
    2. He plays the discarded Crown Prince. This character was rather interesting in history as he was twice named Crown prince and twice discarded by Emperor Kang Xi. Born to Kang Xi’s first Empress, he was named Crown prince partly because his mother died shortly after giving birth and his father greatly missed her. But after a series of missteps, his father ultimately decided that he was not fit to be Emperor and deposed him thus leading to a bitter battle between the remaining brothers.
  3. 邬君梅 as 德妃
    1. I’m not too familiar with her work. I think i’ve seen her in dramas here and there She actually acted in Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 epic The Last Emperor about the life of the last emperor of china pu yi and portrayed one of his consorts.
    2. In this movie, she portrays 德妃 who in history is the mother of 雍正 or the 4th prince and the Empress Dowager in Empresses in the Palace. She of course did not birth the 13th prince. I haven’t found much research on whether or not they were close in real life.


  1. Cameos 
    1. Bao Bei Er – The Eunuch Chun Shou
      1. This guy is a relatively well known actor now with many movie and drama acting credits under his name as well as directing credits. I was introduced to him when he participated on the reality tv show Running man a few years back. Again, surprised to see him in this movie so many years ago.
    2. Zhang Wei Jian or Dicky Cheung – Head Eunuch
      1. Can I say I almost cried of surprise when I saw Dicky Cheung show up on screen? He was legitimately one of my favorite actors growing up because his dramas were generally light and funny though when there were serious moments I cried like a baby. It’s a little bittersweet to see him in such a small role here and also that he’s aged but what can you do. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve watched 机灵小不懂 or in English it’s called Smart Kid? As a child. He was one of those actors that whenever there was a new drama out, I’d want to see it because he is so fun.
    3. Zhang Zi Feng – as Young Chen Xiang – Though just a tiny role, the young actress who played the Young Chen Xiang is currently studying at Beijing Film Academy but has a ton of acting credits to her name. I would say she’s one of the new movie stars to watch for in the CHinese entertainment industry as she has in my view adorable facial features but has already showcased her acting abilities at a young age. I’m sure we’ll see her career blossom in the coming years.
    4. 黄圣依 portrays the mother to the 13th prince 敏妃. 
      1. She’s  pretty famous actress who got her big break from Stephen Chow’s movie Kung Fu Hustle. But her filmography since then hasn’t been too great.
      2.  In history, 敏妃 died in 1699 when her son was only 13. I didn’t find too many details surrounding her death.  
    5. The above are what I would say are key cameos I want to mention. There are quite a few others such that I was very surprised to see. The actress for 齐妃 from Empresses in the Palace is there as another consort. Dicky Cheung’s wife 张茜, who we’ve seen in other dramas is also another consort. 



Let’s talk at a high level about the plot of the movie. At its core, this is a romance film that is set during a tumultuous time in history. My personal view is that the history and culture part of the film are more fun to watch than the romance portion but anyways. That’s neither here nor there. The film starts with the main character Chen Xiang entering the palace during Kang Xi’s rule as a young maid. She inadvertently trespasses into the old residence of the 13th prince’s deceased mother. Phew that was a mouthful. There, she is scared after seeing the young 13th prince’s figure but is dragged off. Later that night, she also meets another young maid, Liu Li, whom they pair to become the best of friends. 


As the years pass, Chen Xiang, Liu Li and their good friend, the eunuch 春寿 enjoy some blissful years. They learn the lesson of what women do in order to improve their station in the palace, which is to try to capture the attention of a prince or the Emperor to become a concubine. Chen Xiang doesn’t have such aspirations though her best friend Liu Li absolutely does. One day, Chen Xiang is shown a picture of the handsome 13th prince and immediately falls in love with him but to emphasize her good nature, she doesn’t take action. Liu Li, on the other hand, plots to land the affection of a prince and successfully spends the night with the 9th prince. She thinks he’ll marry her which is naive to the extreme and he pretty much discards her. That same night she was spending with the 9th prince, Chen Xiang, who was taking Liu Li’s post during her night shift, was over spending a more innocent time with the 13th prince, helping him attract butterflies to help remember his mother. She had her face covered during this endeavor as Chen Xiang was covering for Liu Li. 


That evening’s time spent, however, made the 13th prince fall madly in love with Chen Xiang as well and he wants to marry her. But not knowing who she was, he could only search for the maid on duty that night. Liu Li doesn’t hesitate to claim that it was her that night and is married to the 13th prince which leads to a heartbroken Chen Xiang. To add insult to injury, Liu Li brings Chen Xiang along as her personal maid. At this point, Liu Li forgets all pretense of friendship and sisterly love in the face of riches and wealth. Anything that threatens her position must go.  BUT, Liu Li continues to enjoy an affair with the 9th prince. 



The rest of the film revolves around relationship conflicts between these 4 characters. Chen Xiang loves the 13th prince who thinks he loves Liu Li. Liu Li is going to marry the 13th prince primarily for the status but is having an affair with the 9th prince.  While all THAT drama is happening, a furious battle for the imperial throne is also waging. As explained earlier, the 13th prince and the 9th prince are on different teams so naturally, there are schemes against each other. We see the Crown prince infuriating the Emperor and is deposed. We also see the 4th prince taking calculated steps to being the next Emperor.. We kind of know how the movie will end since history stares us in the face but how it ends is the point of the film. There are many retellings of how the 4th prince actually earned the throne so this is just adding another example to the long list



Overall, I think this was actually a very interesting movie. It did take a bunch of liberties on history and the plot was somewhat contrived but, there’s a treasure trove of history to discuss so let’s begin!



Right at the beginning of the film, we see maids being selected for the palace. During the Qing dynasty, palace maids were under the management of 内务府 which is the Imperial Household Department. 


I was doing some research on the topic and there seems to be some conflicting information on the topic. Maids were either selected to enter the palace either at the age of 11 or 13. They were actually mostly selected from the Booi Aha of the 8 banners under the Qing regime. In mandarin they are called 包衣. They are basically bondservants or servile household members of the Manchu elite or members of the 8 banners. The members of the 包衣 have a lower status than a regular manchu. Maids chosen for menial tasks usually had no education but maids of the aristocracy usually meant being relatively well educated so as to serve their masters. We see glimpses of this actually in 甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace with 甄嬛’s half sister 浣碧. She could read and write. In The Story of YanXi Palace, the maids of the Empress could marry quite well which reflects their high status.


Unlike in other dynasties, maids could leave the palace at the age of 25 if they were still of good standing. Though, as is discussed in the movie many times. 25 is an old age for a maid if she still wanted to get married. Understandably, life as a maid was not that glamorous. They were often physically and sexually abused. The miniscule upside is of course potentially capturing the eye of a prince or the emperor himself. That actually didn’t happen often but hey we wouldn’t have these Palace dramas or movies if it wasn’t a fantasy right?


Based on the math from the drama, 沉香 and 琉璃 entered the palace when they were around 13. The two young actresses 蒋依依 and 张子枫 were actually younger than that when the movie premiered.





To serve, 沉香 and 琉璃 are first assigned to a placed called 乾西四所. This is an actual spot and is located on the northwest side of the Forbidden City. They were first built, of course, during the 明 dynasty and were continuously renovated during the centuries even in the 清 dynasty. The place where 沉香 and 琉璃 work was renamed to 建福宫 in the 1740s during the reign of 乾隆. 


There are plenty of bugs in the drama so let’s point out a few. 


In the beginning of the movie, 沉香 loses her earring and tries to find it. She actually steps on the dragon in the middle of the steps. That was a huge no no. The dragon represents the emperor in the forbidden palace. Absolutely no one could step on it. He/she would be severely punished and most likely killed. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw this on screen. For anyone who has visited the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, that’s something the tour guides mention. Only the Emperor could pass above the dragon. 


Separately, 琉璃 mentions her quarters as 淑芳斋 which is SO popular for everyone who has watched 还珠格格 or My Fair Princess but this place was renamed during the reign of Qian Long Emperor, 2 emperors after Kang Xi. 



Moving on, when the eunuch 春寿 he finds out that 琉璃 has taken 沉香’s place as the future wife of the 13th prince, he uses the idiom 李代桃僵. The english translation on screen was just “how dare 琉璃 take your wealth and position!” which I guess works, but that’s why we’re here to explain what it means.


The literal translation is the plum tree sacrificing itself for the peach tree by pretending to be the peach tree. In the beginning, this idiom had a positive connotation. Brothers helping each other and sacrificing for the greater good. It is actually one of the famous 36 stratagems for Chinese war. However, in the drama, the eunuch 春寿 uses the phrase to show his indignation at 琉璃’s betrayal.


After 琉璃 successfully marries the 13th prince, which we all know is probably way too easy and would have had little chance of happening in real life, she does something called 割肉喂亲 or with the literal translation, cutting my own flesh to feed my kin. This is when 琉璃 pretends to cut herself to help medicate 德妃。Now, this is very much just folklore. Do NOT do this. There are instances in history though of individuals who did do this to save family members when they were in destitute poverty. That’s why when mentioned, everyone was shocked at 琉璃’s filial piety but not shocked at the actual act. This is an extreme measure to take but not wholly unheard of. We actually saw 安陵容 do this for 甄嬛 in Empresses in the Palace in an effort to show 甄嬛 that she, 安陵容 was loyal to 甄嬛,even though she wasn’t. Lol. Another scene borrowed from that drama. 



On the topic of 安陵容 from Empresses in the Palace, you will remember her singing a song that captured the attention of the Emperor. It’s called  金缕衣 – or the poem’s name is “Golden Threaded Clothes” and those lines are reflected here in the film. BUT in my opinion, the film used this poem completely inaccurately. 


The full poem is this: 




This poem is from the Tang Dynasty, about 1000 years before the Qing dynasty. We’ve mentioned how these last two lines are very famous and voila here they are again! So what does this poem mean? 

Our 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.


The last 2 lines were written on a prayer note of sorts and attached to a bell. To the 13th prince, he believes that 琉璃 is worried that he’ll marry another since it’s talking about how one is waiting until there are no flowers left. But he tells 琉璃 not to worry. He is absolutely going to marry her. 琉璃 immediately suspects correctly that it was 沉香 who left that note. 琉璃 thinks 沉香 is trying to hint to the 13th prince that 琉璃’s flower is already gone to someone else. Uh…….What? That does not make sense at all. I totally do not understand why Chen Xiang wrote that as the 13th prince’s understanding of the poem more closely aligns with what I think the poem is trying to say. Does the screenwriter think that we don’t know Chinese poetry??? 

In any case, this note was enough to threaten 沉香 with their good friend 春寿’s life, which then brings us to the next topic. 



Again, we’ve discussed this at length in Empresses in the Palace but here’s a recap. 对食 is eating food opposite of one another. The first record of this phrase is found in 汉书 or the Book of Han finished in around 111 AD.  It originally actually was used to mean same-sex relationships between palace maids. Over the years, the phrase of 对食 changed it’s meaning to include relationships between Eunuchs and palace maids. 对食 typically refers to a short relationship between the maids and eunuchs. Once a maid and eunuch establish a long term relationship, they are known as 菜户。The couple behaves like a married couple but are not legally married. 


In this movie, 对食 seemed to be a pretty open topic but I don’t think it was really the case as it wasn’t as common during the 清 dynasty. People also looked down at the woman who agreed to marry the eunuch as was shown in the movie. 





The next big historical event that happens in the drama is the death of the 18th prince. 


胤祄 xiè


Born in 1701, he died young at the age of 8 in 1708. The 18th prince was very favored by the Emperor.In history, his death and the emotionless response from the then Crown Prince 胤礽 actually did lead to the first time 胤礽 was deposed as Crown prince for the first time. Well, it wasn’t just due to the death of the 18th prince, but his death was certainly a factor.


Chinese opera – 齐天大圣


In the movie, the Crown Prince was deposed after his blatant disregard for his younger brother’s death and his performance of Chinese Opera – specifically portraying 齐天大圣孙悟空 or the monkey king. 


This whole portrayal is of course an anachronism. Peking Opera didn’t officially become a pastime until late in 18th century and we’re only at the beginning of the 18th century. Ok, the movie doesn’t state that it’s Peking Opera but I think we get the point. 


I did a bit of digging and the scene portrayed in the movie is most likely from the Peking Opera called 大闹天宫 – or the Monkey King Wreaks Havoc in the Heavens. It’s actually quite a popular opera now. It did have roots in folklore but i guess the productions became more formalized in the 20th century.


As mentioned before, the Crown Prince gets deposed in 1708 and reinstated in 1709 before being finally deposed in 1712. It really is a testament to Emperor 康熙’s love for his first Empress that he actually named a Crown Prince and reinstated him! In the 清 dynasty, it was not common practice to do so.






As the fight for the throne heats up, the 13th prince says this idiom to the 4th prince when he decides to aid his brother in the fight for the throne. This is also one of the 36 strategems but not as famous as the earlier one mentioned. The literal translation means – go upstairs and remove the ladder.  


The story for this is as follows – during the three kingdoms period specifically around mid to late 2nd century AD, an aristocrat 刘表 preferred his younger son 刘琮 and didn’t like his eldest 刘琦. Now this 刘琦, feeling the pressure of his younger brother and his mother sought the advice of the brilliant strategist 诸葛亮, chancellor and later regent of the state of Shu Han. But 诸葛亮 didn’t want to meet this 刘琦. So what does 刘琦 do? He invites 诸葛亮 for drinks on the second story of a restaurant. Once 诸葛亮 arrives, 刘琦 removes the ladder, forcing 诸葛亮 to have this conversation with 刘琦. Seeing no other option 诸葛亮 does indeed give 刘琦 the advice to flee the city. From a strategy perspective, this idiom is used to say – lure with a small bait and then block all exit opportunities. 


In the movie, the 13th prince tries to lure his father during a hunt. The hope was to get his father in a secluded area, block all of his exit options, and actually have a conversation. It was well meant, i guess, but execution was not so great. 



The place where the imperial family goes to hunt is called 南苑. This place served as the royal hunting grounds for the imperial family starting from the Yuan Dynasty. So the late 13th century all the way up until the early 20th century. Presently, it is located within the city boundaries of Beijing and looking at the map, only 15 kilometers from the Forbidden City due straight south. 


In the drama the 13th Prince is sent to 宗人府 or basically exile after this fiasco. In history, he does lose favor starting in around 1709 and never regains favor with his father. It is recorded that his health fails and his 4th brother, the future emperor, looks far and wide for doctors to heal him. I’m not sure Chinese doctors can perform miracles like regain one’s eyesight but hey, maybe they can.





For the first time in our 清dynasty dramas / movies, we see firearms! The chinese invented gunpowder but firearms were introduced from abroad. It’s not 100% clear i believe on where the first firearms such as cannons were introduced.  Muskets were introduced to the Chinese in the mid-16th century by the portuguese. This was of course during the 明 dynasty. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, there were military branches that used muskets, matchlocks and cannons but they were still very rudimentary. Muskets and Matchlocks were the primary firearms used until the early 20th century.



Lamas are prominently seen during the final confrontation between the 4th Prince and the 9th Prince. They are part of Tibetan Buddhism. They surround the bed of the deceased emperor. I don’t have too much to say about the Lamas but they were prominent during the 清 dynasty. We see them in many forms in several chinese dramas. 



Wow – that was a ton of history to procure from this movie. This definitely isn’t comprehensive but it covers many topics that we found interesting. It’s a nice convergence of the two dramas that we’ve discussed – Empresses in the palace and of course the Story of Ming Lan. I am quite shocked but also pleased to see Zhao Li Ying take this evil turn and she absolutely kills it. Chen Xiao and Lu Yi are as handsome as ever and 周冬雨 the actress for 沉香 is one of the most accomplished young actresses in china now! 


Again, to watch this, if you’re in the US, Jubao TV is a free streaming service that has english subtitles. If you search online, there are other options to view this in other regions. 


That’s it for today’s special episode! We hope you enjoyed it. We’ll continue to bring new content on top of our weekly drama recap episodes for your enjoyment! Until next time!


Movie Review



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


We’re pausing today on our discussion of Empresses in the Palace to discuss a more recent film. Mulan.  We recently watched the new Mulan movie that is available on Disney +. It stars the beautiful 刘亦菲 in the titular role as Mulan and has some other notable stars such as 巩俐 who plays 仙娘, a witch, and Donnie Yen, as General Tung. After watching this movie we just had so many thoughts that we just had to do research and discuss it here! Karen and I grew up watching the Disney version of Mulan. We basically know it by heart. Not even that, we’ve watched the mandarin dub and the cantonese dub. Fun fact, the mandarin and cantones dubs include Jackie Chan as Shang and yes he does the singing in it! We’re excited to share our thoughts and the history and culture that we see on the screen.


Following our general podcast format, we will go over a high level summary of the movie and then some in depth analysis on the history of Mulan. This episode is SPOILER FREE of the movie. We reference the beginning and what’s widely available in plot summaries or trailers. We will have a separate episode where we go in depth on our thoughts of the movie. For this podcast, we will be discussing the movie primarily in English but pronounce proper nouns in Mandarin Chinese.


If you are new to our podcast, please check out our intro to the podcast episode to get an understanding of what our podcast episodes are generally about. Follow us on instagram and twitter.



Alright, with that? Let’s get started.


Summary – 


This movie depicts the tale of 花木兰, a young woman who takes her father’s place in the Imperial Army and her epic battles to save the emperor from northern invaders. The movie starts with Mulan meeting the matchmaker in hopes of a good match. It doesn’t go so well. As Mulan is being told off for bringing dishonor to her family, her village hears news that the Emperor is conscripting men from every family to fight the RouRans. Wanting to protect her injured and elderly father, Mulan steals his armor, sword and conscription notice and takes his place in the army. We follow Mulan’s journey as she becomes a warrior,


The storyline is similar to the 1998 Disney animated version but they have made it slightly more historically accurate, at least in terms of the enemy they’re facing. Instead of huns invading China, it is actually the RouRans or 柔然。Who are these people? We’ll discuss that in our historical analysis. 



Let’s talk about the cast! This cast is quite fun as it includes a few very prominent names in Chinese entertainment. 


刘亦菲 plays 花木兰. She is primarily a mainland Chinese actress but has had a foray into Hollywood with the 2008 film, The Forbidden Kingdom. That film also starred Jackie Chan and Jet Li. I remember going to the theater to see that film with my friends. It’s a fun time but mixes a lot of Chinese lore/legends together which was a little jarring. Not my favorite film overall but entertaining.


she has been one of our favorite Chinese actresses for about the last 15 years. I was ecstatic to hear that she would play 木兰。 She started in the industry at a young age and is deemed as one of the most beautiful women in China. Her nickname is called 神仙姐姐 which means Goddess older sister. This is derived from her role as 小龙女 in a Martial Arts, 武侠 Drama called 神雕侠侣 that came out in 2006. She plays an ethereal martial arts master who only wears white. Seriously, look at her photos from this drama, I’ve posted some to twitter. She is stunning.  Her background was in ballet but since she’s been in so many martial arts dramas, she’s very adept with various weapons. You’ll see in the movie that she generally is very comfortable with her sword and is doing many of her own stunts. I feel that many people who have watched her dramas growing up will be happy to see her in this film.



Gong Li is the witch 仙娘. She is considered one of the greatest Chinese actresses living today. She debuted in 张艺谋’s Red Sorghum or 红高粱 in 1987 and has been in numerous award winning movies over the decades including Farewell my Concubine, Flirting Scholar, 2046,  Western audiences will know her from Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice. There are quite a few movies that are available to stream if you want to catch up on her filmography. I really did enjoy Farewell my Concubine. I don’t know about her makeup here in Mulan but she does look great!


Jet Li is the Emperor. Who doesn’t know Jet Li? The Chinese action star for the 90s and 2000s. Born in Beijing, Jet Li was a Wushu champion before becoming an actor. For those of you that don’t know, WuShu is Chinese martial arts. He was in the fantastic film 2002 film called Hero or 英雄 by 张艺谋 and then in the 2006 film Fearless or 霍元甲。He broke into the international market with Lethal Weapons 4 in 1998. He’s also been in the Expendables franchise with Sylvestor Stallone among various other films. He’s now retired from being an action star but can still be an emperor in Mulan! I was shocked to see how much he aged in this film. Maybe it’s the make up or this is a reflection of reality but I was quite surprised.


Donnie Yen is Commander Tung. Donnie Yen or in Mandarin, 甄子丹, is a popular Hong Kong action star that starred in many popular movies including the Ip Man movies and was also in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. He is known for doing most of his own stunts. If you’re interested in seeing some of his work, definitely start with the Ip Man movies. He is fantastic at various forms of martial arts. The character he plays in this movie is Commander Tung who trains the soldiers before heading off to battle. 


郑佩佩 – She is the matchmaker. This is a small role but guess what!? 郑佩佩 played 刘亦菲’s Grandma in 刘亦菲’s classic drama, 仙剑奇侠传 or Chinese Paladin, that came out in early 2000s. It’s heartwarming to see them in this film even though they don’t have many scenes together. 郑佩佩 has been in many many movies and dramas in China, Hong Kong, and the US including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon


The rest of the cast include Yoson An as Chen Honghui and Tzi Ma as Hua Zhou and a fun cameo that we won’t spoil now.



Now that we’ve geeked out about the cast, let’s get on with some history.




The story of Mulan was first recorded as a folk ballad in the latter end of the 北朝 era or the Northern Dynasty era, so around the 6th century AD.  There is no definitive author of this ballad nor are we certain of Mulan’s existence. Her birth, where she’s from, her last name are all a mystery. It is widely accepted that her last name is 花 or Hua which means flower but it is never mentioned in the ballad. Interestingly, if you move this last name behind Mulan, as 木兰花, it’s actually the magnolia flower. She is generally thought to have been from the 河南 Province but again, there is no definitive answer. 


The ballad, or poem, isn’t very long. On the whole it’s similar to what the disney movies have depicted though there are a few differences. Here’s my rough english translation:


Mulan is weaving cloth but is thinking about the conscription notice that arrived yesterday. The ruler is drafting men for war. Every notice or document has her father’s name on it but he does not have an older son. So, Mulan willingly decides to go to the market to buy a horse and saddle to take his place in the army.


The next day, she leaves her family and travels to the Yellow River, no longer able to hear her parents calling out to her。She only hears the rush of the Yellow River. The following day, she travels to the Yan Mountain, no longer able to hear her parents calling out to her. She hears only the horsemen and their horses.


They travel thousands of miles to reach the battlefield, climbing over many mountains as if they were flying.  Through the cold northern air, they hear the night clap, the moonlight shining on the soldier’s armor. Some fall after a hundred battles, others return after ten years time, victorious. 


The victors return to meet the son of heaven who sits on his throne. Each soldier is rewarded for their merits and Mulan receives a hefty sum. The son of heaven asks Mulan what else she desires. She says she does not want a role in his court. She only wants to return home to her family. 


Her parents, upon hearing that she is returning home, come out to greet her. Mulan’s sister dresses herself up. Mulan’s younger brother starts working to slaughter pigs and goats to celebrate. She opens every door at home to look around. She takes off her armor, dons her women’s clothes. She fixes her hair and puts on makeup. She walks out to greet her fellow soldiers who are stunned at her transformation. They exclaim that they have traveled and fought together for twelve years and never knew she was a woman.


The poem ends with – There are characteristics to tell the difference between male and female rabbits. But when they are running together, how can one tell the difference?



So what are some of the differences from the poem vs what we’ve seen in the movies. 1st, there’s no mention of a matchmaker so that seems to be added for general story purposes in both the animated and live action versions. There is also no intense battle to save the emperor documented in this ballad. Instead, she fought this war for 12 years. Further, her identity is never revealed to her fellow soldiers in some dramatic fashion. They only discover her secret after she decides to reveal it to her friends. Interestingly, in this ballad, she has a younger brother and a younger sister. There is, also unfortunately, not a love story in this ballad. This seems solely focused on her devotion to her family and her wish to protect her father. Evidently, any love interests are further fabrications or additions to this ballad.


But geez, keeping your identity a secret for 12 long years! That’s an incredible feat. This probably also speaks to Mulan’s intellect at being able to fool everyone for so long.


As a major point of deviation from the animated version, the enemy in this movie are the RouRans. This is actually true to history and was most likely the enemy that Mulan fought in this Chinese ballad.


Who are the RouRan’s exactly?



The origins of the RouRan people are not definitive but experts generally agree that they are descended from Eastern Hu, Xiong Nu and Xian Bei people. RouRan was a khaganate of mostly nomadic tribes that were fearsome on horseback during the 4th to 6th centuries and occupied Mongolia and Northeastern China. They hit their peak in the years 410 – 425 AD.  They constantly descended further mainland in skirmishes against the Northern Wei (北魏).  In between wars, there were tributary relationships between the Rourans and the Northern Wei empire. The Rourans were completely decimated in 555AD at the hands of Gokturks which effectively dissolved this group in history. In the movie, the leader of the invading Rouran’s is called Bori Khan. I don’t see records of that persome existing.


Let’s talk about the time period that this was set. It’s never clearly said in the movie but based on certain costume choices and the existence of the Rourans, the movie is most likely set during the Southern and Northern Dynasties 南北朝 which also fits in with when the Mulan Ballad first surfaced. This period lasted from 386 to 589AD. There were multiple kingdoms that sprung up during this time period without one unifying dynasty. The Northern Dynasties comprised of 北魏、东魏、西魏、北齐、北周 and the Southern Dynasties comprised of 刘宋、萧齐、萧梁、南陈. It was a dangerous and fragmented time. If you look at maps of this time period the Rourans were a constant threat to all of the Northern Dynasties. There are plenty of records of Rourans attacking Northern Wei and Northern Qi. This time period came to an end with the unification under Emperor Wen, creating the Sui Dynasty. The origins of Mulan are known to have come from this time but it isn’t clear of the exact time so we don’t know which dynasty she’s from. 



Time for some sets and costume design! These were all shown in the trailers so no spoilers here. When we first start off with the movie, we get a sweeping scene of Mulan’s home. We see the rice fields and rice paddies along with huts that look very much similar to Hakka huts found in Southern China. Today we can find them in Fujian Province. 


As for costumes and makeup, the one that pops into mind is 刘亦菲’s transformation for the matchmaking scene. When I first saw it, I was pretty taken aback. It’s quite different from what we’re used to, especially the yellow powder but after doing a little bit of digging, this makeup is relatively historically accurate. 


The specific style for Mulan’s cheeks is called 晚霞妆 or the Evening Sunset style. It was common during the time period. The main point was to powder the cheeks like a red sunset. Now, onto her forehead. The style is called 额黄妆 or literally translated to Forehead Yellow. Women would powder their foreheads yellow or use a yellow paper flower cutout that they would place on their forehead. This style is actually quoted in the Mulan Ballad. When she returns home and changes to women’s clothing, she looks at the mirror to add yellow flowers. In Mandarin the phrase is 对镜贴花黄. Finally, the red flower petals on Mulan’s forehead were also common. It looks to be 3 flower petals. The origins of this actually come around this time during the Song Wu Dynasty in the south. One princess was sleeping and flower petals landed on her forehead. She couldn’t peel them off but after 3 days, they finally washed off but left 5 petal marks on her forehead. Her maids and other ladies in the palace thought it looked lovely and all wanted to mimic the style. The Plum Flower style was born. It was very fashionable to draw flower shapes on one’s forehead and it persisted well into the Tang Dynasty. We actually discuss this in some of our episodes of 甄嬛传 Empresses in the Palace. 


That’s it for our discussion and history of Mulan and our brief recap about the film without any spoilers. Go and watch the movie before coming back to listen to our review. We will talk about our overall impressions of the film as well as easter eggs and historical inaccuracies.  Let us know what you thought of the film as well either via social media or email us at



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


Today we will do an in-depth recap of the 2020 Disney version Mulan and give our review at the end. We did a spoiler free recap of Mulan, the ballad’s history, and some we provided some historical context in our previous episode so check that out if you haven’t already.


Oki doke! What are our thoughts from this movie?


Karen – As someone who adores 刘亦菲 and grew up loving the animated Mulan, I really wanted to like this film. I really did. When the announcement came out that she was going to play Mulan, I was ecstatic!  I had a blast watching the film because some parts of it are so absurd.  In terms of Disney live action remakes, I prefer Aladdin over this version. If the movie kept the songs, kept a digital dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy or an equivalent, that probably would have made this film a better film. 


Once again, this movie is available on Disney+ if you want to watch along.


We begin with Hua Zhou, Mulan’s father narrating the story. Hey it’s Tzi Ma! Yay!  Right off the bat we hear about Mulan’s unparalleled Chi or Qi. Chi is a fascinating word. With origins dating back all the way back to the Shang Dynasty on oracle bones no less, the word has had different transformations and meanings throughout time. Here, we’ll take it to mean “vital life force”. It’s also such a Chinese movie cliche – like ohh look at this person’s Chi! I feel like Chi in Chinese dramas has fallen out of favor. They are very popular in martial arts dramas but at least from my perspective, seems less prominent now than say 10 years ago.  You guys might have heard Chi in Tai Chi but this is not the same word. Let’s separate that out.


We next get a sweeping shot of Mulan’s hometown. We get a nice shot of terrace rice fields and a walled village. This looks to be a Hakka Walled Village or 土楼。The Hakka people are ethnically Han Chinese. The forefathers of the Hakka people lived in the modern day Hubei and Henan but began migrating south starting from the Qin Dynasty. During the Invasion and Rebellion of the Five Barbarians in the early 300s, more and more of the Hakka people fled South of the Yellow River and Chang Jiang. 


Rice is the main grain of the South so let’s assume that this walled village is somewhere in Southern China. 


Mulan is chasing a chicken in the walled village. Maybe as a callout to the original movie? The chickens were chasing the dog. And look! She wields the staff pretty well. I totally wish I can just fly around like she is doing here. I like this scene showing her practice wushu at a young age because no matter what movies say, being good at martial arts takes years of training. For her to be an exceptional fighter, she must have had some type of training beyond what she learns in the army. Mulan’s mom is worried about Mulan’s prospects for marriage because of her rather rambunctious behavior and asks her father to speak to her.


Hua Zhou finds Mulan outside trying to fix the statue of a phoenix. The phoenix is the emissary of their ancestors. He instructs her to hide away her Chi. She only needs to bring honor to the family, aka, marry well. Like what! Come on – also since when was Chi a gendered term? If you can tell us, please do so. Mulan looks disappointed and we get the title shot of Mulan.


We’re now on the Silk road. A trader is walking with his caravan of camels in the desert and then a creepy looking woman shows up. She straight up merges into his body. What?? The caravan enters a walled city or garrison somewhere in northwest china. The sentries spot riders wearing all black charging to the city. It’s the Rourans! For more information on the Rourans, listen to our earlier episode about Mulan. 


It’s quite a cool sequence. The Rourans climb up the walls and start murdering people. The creepy lady also starts attacking soldiers from inside the city. I know this is a movie but man – if the Rourans can just fly up the walls with like 20 people, why don’t they just do that for every city? 


News reaches the Imperial City in Central China. My first gut reaction was 长安 or modern day 西安 but since we don’t know which kingdom or empire this is, I can’t be sure. The chancellor is reporting the news to the Emperor. It’s Jet Li! I can barely recognize him – how many layers is he wearing! Bori Khan is the Rouran that leads the armies. 


The lone surviving soldier from the attacks suddenly speaks. There’s a witch that assists him! This is why he’s been unstoppable. Her chi is beyond imagination! Both the chancellor and the Emperor dismiss this witch and her powers. I guess that’s a nod to men dismissing women when they can actually pose as real threats? The Emperor issues a decree – every family will supply one man for the Imperial Army. You’ll see the scribes frantically writing away. Yes it is true that scribes were on hand to record decrees from the Emperor.


The soldier exits the Imperial Palace and goes out into the city. He then transforms into the witch. We’ll call her the witch since she doesn’t have a name. At this point, I’m wondering why didn’t she just go murder the Emperor if she got all the way to the Imperial City? The witch transforms into a hawk to deliver the news to Bori Khan. 


Bori Khan then goes into some macho talk about destroying the Emperor. She just wants a place where she can be accepted. He’s like, yea yea whatever. The dog will finally have a home once I kill the emperor. She does not look happy at being called a dog. 


After all that, we finally see Mulan! She’s riding her horse and two hares are running alongside her. This is a direct homage to the Mulan Ballad! Mulan basically quotes the last two lines of the ballad about the differences between male and female but not seeing the difference when they’re running together when she enters her home. Her mom’s like…we’ve got more important things to talk about. We found you a match!


It’s time to meet the matchmaker! Mulan’s mother dresses and styles her to be very fashionable. There’s a hint of the “Bring Honor to us All” melody in the montage – ahh the memories. We discussed the makeup already in our other episode, it’s pretty accurate of the Northern and Southern Dynasties time period.  I’ll just say that I can’t pull that off. Things are going pretty well with the meeting with the matchmaker. There’s no cricket this time to ruin things but a giant spider does the trick. How does no one see the spider! Because Mulan tries to prevent a scene with the spider, she causes a scene. It’s a disastrous meeting. Can I also just say, matchmaker – what is up with your hair?!


Things progress basically the same way as the animated version except there’s no grand solo by Mulan about her reflection showing her true self. The decree comes for each family to supply one man for the army. Hua Zhou has no daughters so he accepts. Mulan decides to take her father’s place in the army. There’s no epic music, just a sad 二胡 tune. We don’t even see Mulan cutting her hair!


Actually it’s correct that they didn’t show that. According to the traditional teachings from Confucius, both men and women were not supposed to cut their hair.  That is one of the pillars from 孝经 or the Classic of Filial Piety by Confucius. Your body and your hair come from your parents, you cannot harm yourself as it would mean disrespect to your parents. Throughout Chinese history, men and women kept their long hair without ever cutting it until the Qing Dynasty. 


Mulan’s off on her journey to the Imperial Army. I don’t know what route she’s taking. She’s in the mountains, the bamboo forests, the steppes. Regardless, the scenery is quite breathtaking. Mulan wakes up one morning to see a phoenix guide her path.  It’s the family guardian! There’s no dragon named mushu this time, just a kitelike cgi phoenix. 


I have a hunch as to why the producers/writers decided to do this. Traditionally, dragons symbolized the Emperor or males. The phoenix on the other hand symbolized the Empress or females. In mandarin, phoenix is called 凤凰. Originally, 凤 is the male phoenix and 凰 is the female phoenix but over the years both came to symbolize women. The writers might have wanted to have a symbol that was more feminine for Mulan. Sure no problem, BUT No commoner would have dared to openly flaunt a phoenix as a family symbol. Phoenix have always been a symbol for the women of the Imperial Harem, particularly the Empress. Your family probably would have been killed if you said you had a phoenix as your family symbol. 


After traveling many days, Mulan finally makes it to camp. She has no idea what she’s doing and immediately gets into a tussle with another soldier. The fight gets broken up by Donnie Yen’s character General Tung. This time, instead of saying her name is Ping as she did in the animated version, Mulan says her name is Hua Jun. At least the makeup and her lowered voice makes it somewhat convincing that she could be a boy? The word Jun is very interesting. Without seeing the actual word on screen, I cannot tell which character it means. Technically it could mean Soldier or 军 or it could me Handsome or 俊。 Either way, a good choice for a name. 


Training camp is hilarious. Here is where we meet her gang. The characters from the animated movie are back – Yang, Ling and Chien Po. Cricket is now a fellow soldier and the handsome Shang is now in the character of Hong Hui played by Yoson An.  While training, Mulan doesn’t get her own tent this time. She has to sleep in a large tent with the other soldiers which is more realistic than the animated version where Mushu also feeds her porridge that’s happy to see her.  Of course she volunteers for night guard duty because she can’t shower with the guys and it offers her a chance to get away from them. But I guess the guys like to spoon at night? Mulan’s face at night is hilarious when she is constantly dodging the guys next to her who like to spoon. My question is, if Mulan is on night duty all the time, how does she have any time to sleep???  


The movie combines the training montage from “I’ll make a man out of you” and “A girl worth fighting for” for the middle part of the movie. I loved it when the guys are like, what’s your ideal woman and when Mulan says she has to be courageous, funny, and smart, everyone starts laughing. Cricket says what does she look like? Mulan’s like that’s not the point! You tell them, girl. 


All the male characters constantly tell Mulan that she stinks because obviously she hasn’t showered with them. When she finally does, there’s a shot of her swimming in the water and Magnolia flowers blooming in the branches!


In mandarin, 木兰花 are magnolia flowers! These flowers are literally her blooming! A cool little symbol. The magnolia tree is always next to her during Mulan’s training montage. An instrumental version of “Reflections” from the original Mulan is also heard during this montage. I think it’s on the bamboo flute but I’m not 100% sure.


After all that training, Mulan gets into a sparring match with the Shang equivalent, 宏辉. In this match, she is super badass and kicks his butt. Everyone is shocked to see how good her skills are but she secretly chides herself for allowing her Chi to flow through.  Her Chi is noticed by the Commander who tells Mulan to not hide her Chi anymore. 


A phrase that pops up a few times during this training is that four ounces can move a 1000 pounds. This phrase, four ounces can move a 1000 pounds refers to daoist teachings and taichi skills where you can use less against more, soft against rigid. THIS is a historical inaccuracy. In chinese, the phrase is 四两拨千斤。 When we were watching the movie, I’ll be pretty honest, I was wondering how Chinese folks would react. Why? Because this phrase actually refers to a taichi skill. And guess what? Tai Chi wasn’t a thing until a thousand years or so after the setting of this movie or during Mulan’s time period. Apparently, this phrase was written in a Tai Chi scripture by a guy named 王宗岳 who lived during the Ming Dynasty born 1526 – 1606.  Let’s just say that when we saw this phrase repeatedly referenced in the movie, Cathy and I were nonplussed. The anachronism! Things like this may not be evident for Americans but perhaps this is more obvious for Chinese people. Or, Cathy and I are true geeks because this phrase was discussed in books and dramas about the creation of Wu Tang or 武当, the birth place of 太极,at least, according to the Chinese Martial Arts novel, 倚天屠龙记.  So yes, this phrase exists, but should not have been referenced in this movie. 


We turn back to the Rourans are planning their attacks. Bori Khan is spending all of his time belittling the witch. He basically called her his slave. She’s pissed. So would I! The Rourans attack another garrison. We see all of the witch’s in her own glory – she has hawk claws, she uses her sleeves, everything. She’s basically a one woman army. Why does she need Bori Khan again?


Commander Tung receives orders to move his troops to the front lines and his 5th battalion prepares for battle. The battle is quite intense. The horsemanship of these Rourans is very impressive. The scenes where the Rourans are almost falling off their horse but then catapulting on the horse but in another direction is a true skill of Mongolian riders. It is incredibly difficult and very dangerous.  


The left flank is sent first to fight these men but is literally like 10 people! What? The Rouran’s quickly destroy everyone in the left flank except for Mulan who has superior skills and is able to dodge the arrows coming her way. She gives chase and comes face to face with the Witch. Mulan is of course no match for her. The witch sees right through her armor (haha) and throws a shuriken at Mulan. It would have killed her if not for her chest wrap. When she wakes, Mulan sees the phoenix again. She decides that it’s finally time to be true to herself and fight as who she is, a woma n.


Mulan rushes back into battle to the sweeping orchestral version of Reflections. Without her armor and her hair billowing out, she kicks some Rouran butt. The dirt’s gone and her hair is perfectly flowing. Like. What? I have no idea why this happened. Whatever, I’ll take it. Also, how did she suddenly have a flowing Red robe on? Unless her armor wrapped her sleeves, where did this come from? I thought the uniform would have shorter sleeves.


The battle is pretty dire for the Imperial Army. The movie setting here though makes me think of Lord of the Rings. Did anyone else get that vibe? I feel like I was watching Return of the King especially with the Trebuchet plus the fact that i think some of this was filmed in New Zealand.  Mulan once again is able to use her wits to cause an avalanche. I don’t know how the Rourans didn’t spot her but she’s successful. After the snow comes tumbling down, the Rourans seem to be defeated! The Imperial Army is ecstatic but are surprised to see Mulan as a woman. She’s expelled from the army.


Alone on the steppes, Mulan encounters the witch. The Witch tries to woo Mulan to be on her side. Which side is that again? What is her purpose? There’s also some strong lesbian vibes here. Mulan doesn’t fall for it and rushes back to the garrison to try to rally the troops to stop Bori Khan. She persuades Commander Tung and her friends to rush back to the Imperial City.


Now we have some sweeping shots of the Imperial City. We haven’t talked much about where they shot but after watching so many Chinese TV shows am pretty confident that they shot portions of this at 横店. This is a studio location that has multiple palaces built for the different time periods specifically for Chinese costume dramas. Disney did CGI a few of the buildings but you can totally see some of these buildings in other shows. 


Let’s just enjoy the final battle. Mulan does some kickass martial arts. She’s climbing up the walls, doing these flips, running on rooftops, the usual, haha. 


With the help of her friends, Mulan is able to rush to the throne room to um save the Emperor. Who does she see instead? The witch. This time, Mulan is the one who tries to persuade the witch to the light. The witch says it’s too late for her but leads Mulan to Bori Khan.


Bori Khan is in no mood to entertain the witch. He instead shoots an arrow towards Mulan to rid her as a threat once and for all before turning back to the Emperor, whom he has as a hostage. The witch, not being able to give up her new interest, quickly flies in front of Mulan and takes the arrow for her. She collapses in the arms of Mulan and dies. The lesbian vibes are too much. She just DIES! Like. WHAT? Why? Why would you sacrifice yourself for someone you’ve JUST MET and tried to kill 15 minutes ago?!


Mulan rushes over to the Emperor. He’s currently tied to a pole on top of a palace construction. She puts up a noble fight but still isn’t a match for Bori Kahn and loses her sword. At this point, things are looking pretty dire for Mulan. The Emperor yells at her to rise up like a phoenix. What do you know, the phoenix literally flaps her wings behind Mulan. Is this game of thrones over here? 


This is a Disney movie so of course Mulan wins. The final sequence is pretty awesome so go and watch it.


At Imperial Palace after Mulan saves the day, a woman comes to introduce Mulan to the rest of the court. Who is it? It’s Ming-Na Wen! She’s the voice actress for the original Mulan! Such a fun cameo! Check out the work she’s done in Agents of Shield, she’s such a badass in it. I just screamed Agent May when she showed up. 


Just as Mulan leaves the Imperial City, HongHui bids her farewell. He asks for her hand, she takes it tentatively, but leaves swiftly nonetheless. Good luck next time buddy. 


Mulan returns home to her family. It’s a touching reconciliation. Commander Tung arrives with a small retinue to not discipline Mulan but to reward her. The Emperor gifts her with a sword. The sheath is made of what looks like Jade and the tassel – it’s yellow, the color of the Emperor. This is much more valuable than the original sword. 


The movie ends with Mulan gazing at her sword with the Phoenix in the sky.


That was the in-depth recap. Let’s actually review the movie. 




Shall I start off with the pros?


Well, the movie is gorgeous to look at. I read that they filmed the movie in New Zealand and China. The scenery really does add to the movie.


The matchmaker was hilarious – probably how I would have envisioned an actual matchmaker. Of course she fainted at the end when Mulan was being decorated at home for what she has done for the kingdom. 


The horse riding skills from the Rourans were a treat! I could really tell how skilled these riders were.


I liked that they made a homage to the original Mulan ballad and that there were cool easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film. The chickens, the training montages, her friends, the music. All great reminders of the animated film. 


That’s about it for pros. We’ll be honest, we’re quite disappointed with the film. 


Cons – 


The movie was kind of all over the place. I think it would have been much better if they stuck to the Aladdin live action formula where they literally copy paste the animated version into a live action version. That would have been very unique.


From my perspective, Disney tried to cater to all audiences but it’s not clear if either western or eastern audiences appreciate the final result. It’s clearly rated PG so there’s no blood but this was such a jarring war movie experience. 


From a story perspective – what the heck is up with Gong Li’s character? We have no idea who she is, where she is from, how she got her powers and what her ultimate goal is. In the movie, we never hear what her name is. She’s only referenced as a witch. After turning on subtitles, we see that her name is Xian Niang and then I had to check Baidu for the chinese name. But guess what, 仙娘 actually means fairy or goddess woman! It’s a positive connotation! Not a witch. That confuses me as to what type of character this 仙娘 is supposed to be. I get a feeling that they just wanted to create a character for 巩俐 so she could be badass.


Also, her chemistry with Mulan was through the roof. I don’t fully understand where this chemistry came from but Mulan had the feels when 巩俐 sacrificed herself. An overall comment from the movie was that the homosexual vibes in this movie were strong. Hong Hui showed major interest in Mulan when she was Hua Jun. Maybe he was pleasantly surprised that Hua Jun is actually a woman but you cannot deny he was interested in Hua Jun as a guy. 


Another interesting note is Commander Tung – Donnie Yen’s character.  Splitting Shang into Commander Tung and HongHui doesn’t impact the story that much but I feel like it was done just to give Donnie Yen a role. In the training montage, you get to see Donnie Yen doing some martial arts which is always a pleasure.  Commander Tung presents a small but interesting conflict for the movie. The character for his name is actually Dong in mandarin. But in the movie, he is called Commander Tung. That is the cantonese version of saying the name. Why not streamline all names to be in Mandarin? Mulan, Hong Hui and most everyone else’s name is in Mandarin. Same thing with why they changed Mulan’s last name from Fa to Hua in this movie from the animated version. Fa is the cantonese way of saying Hua, the mandarin version. In English, they could have kept all names in Mandarin because there will be Mandarin and Cantonese dubs for this I’m sure. Americans might not care about this, but Chinese folks will notice it.

A continuation of this, it’s a little jarring for me to hear 刘亦菲, Jet Li and such say proper names like Mulan and Hua Jun etc with an attempted American accent. I understand why they did it but perhaps it’s because I’m so used to seeing Liu Yi Fei speak Mandarin that I found it ridiculously funny. A Chinese person, trying to speak Chinese with an American Accent. 


We do also see that Commander Tung’s full name is 董永 which is actually the name of a guy in a well known legend! Obviously many people can be called 董永,but this guy is an integral part of 天仙配, the legend that depicts the famous love story of the cowheard and weaver girl. 董永 is generally the cowheard. We’ve talked about this story in our regular podcast and there are plenty of Chinese dramas that go into this but essentially, 董永,the cowherd, falls in love with a weaver girl, who is actually a goddess or fairy. Through trials and tribulations, they are only allowed to see each other 1 day a year on the 7th of July. My question is, there are a million names that they could have given Donnie Yen’s character. Why give him this one? Is he actually supposed to be a cowherd in some former life that fell in love with a fairy?


刘亦菲 is fine in this movie but I wish she could have done so much more. She showed some spunk in the beginning but that sort of disappeared in the end. Her english accent has improved a lot since the last english movie I saw her in. The problem is that I feel like this movie took away her intellect and replaced that with Chi. In the animated movie, there were more examples of her using her brains to overcome problems. This was true when she had to climb the pole to reach the arrow. When she used the cannon to cause an avalanche against the huns. When she asked her friends to cross-dress to bypass the guards in the imperial palace. When she used lured Shan Yu to the roof and destroyed him with the fireworks. That level of intellect wasn’t fully on display in this live action movie. I think they focused more on her desire to be loyal, brave and true, even her devotion to family, than her intellect. And of course her Chi. To me it felt like her natural Chi, whatever that means, was the reason why she could be the warrior she is. Not because she wanted to protect her family nor because she was smart. I wonder how many young girls will now wonder if they have the same type of chi as Mulan vs learning to use her brain to achieve her goals. 


The guys in the army were also fine but they just seemed like normal soldiers without any personality. We got some of the same names as Cricket, Yao, Ling, and Po but I honestly can’t tell who’s who.


This is a movie with a $200M budget. Where did it all go? Costumes? Scenery? I honestly don’t know. Some of the CGI was quite bad. Like the arrows? The Phoenix? It all looked pretty fake.


I need to rant about the martial arts here. You’ve got two of the most famous Chinese martial artists in your movie, Jet Li and Donnie Yen, can you at least allow them to shine? I know for a fact that Donnie Yen can do long fight sequences by himself but all we got were these random camera cuts for the different angles. Come on. Even 刘亦菲 has done amazing work in previous movies or dramas and you barely see a full sequence of her doing any martial arts. The wire work is quite shoddy here too. In other Chinese films, the movements are quite fluid – look at Ip Man but there are several times where you can clearly tell there’s a wire somewhere in this movie.


In conclusion, we are very meh on this film. It’s a good introduction to various aspects of Chinese culture. It’s fine for a bloodless action movie and we probably would have enjoyed it more if this were a story of a different culture. To us, this was clearly a movie about a Chinese story made by non-Chinese people. I’m happy I watched it but I would much prefer rewatching the animated version.


For a really good adaptation of Mulan, watch 花木兰 with Zhao Wei and Chen Kun. It tells the story much more faithfully and disposes of the Disney tropes. 


We give it a solid 5/10.


Final Thoughts



Hello! Welcome to our last podcast discussion of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 Thank you all so much for joining us on this journey!


We’re going to chat about some key themes in the drama as well as last thoughts on certain characters and then discuss what we learned through this drama. We’ll end with a little more free form discussion on our favorite characters and aspects of this drama!


The drama had many themes throughout the drama but in my mind, the key theme that kept on popping up over and over again is the phrase 父母之爱子则为之计深远。A parent’s love is to plan far in advance for them.  We saw throughout this drama the lengths that parents went to plan for their children and also examples of where parents didn’t do this. 


Let me talk about Madame Qin. She is an interesting character because while she did many despicable deeds towards Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye, she was also a loving mother. Her biggest tragedy was being born in the time she did. As she exclaimed in the roaring fire before she passed, the Gu family destroyed her sister and her in order to save face by marrying the Bai family woman which then destroyed her too. The main culprit in this story is the Gu family’s greed and need to save face. If we recall, the Gu family had no money left to pay debts and needed to marry the likes of the Bai family who were of the merchant class to pay off those debts with the Bai family dowry. In order to marry the Bai family daughter as a proper wife, the original Madame Qin was divorced which caused her to die of illness or a broken heart soon after. After the death of the Bai family daughter, the younger Qin sister was married into the Gu family as well, perhaps as a way to repay for the sins towards the older sister. But, as Madame Qin expressed, she never experienced her husband’s love because he only loved her older sister. Under such tragic circumstances, it is understandable why Madame Qin would hate Gu Ting Ye and want to take the Marquis title for her own son. She feels that the Gu family owes it to her and her son for everything they’ve suffered. Unfortunately, reality never went according to her plan as Gu Ting Ye grew up to be extremely capable while her son had no ambition of being marquis. 


Her last act as a mother was to push her son down the well. In doing so, this actually cuts off any doubt that her son was involved in the rebellion or any plot against Gu Ting Ye. This isn’t stated anywhere in the drama, but in doing so, she protected her son. Her son, 顾廷炜, could truthfully say that he didn’t know about the plot against Ming Lan. His older brother 顾廷烨 would still retain relations with him and take him under his wing when Madame Qin died. When she died, I could only feel sadness. She never experienced love in her own life and everything she worked for to get a sense of control went to dust. She loves her son but she couldn’t take it anymore so with her last act, she pushed him away. You could hear Ting Wei’s screams that Gu Ting Ye agreed to let him inherit the title as long as she comes out of the fire but she doesn’t care any more. Say what you will about Madame Qin, in the drama, at least, she did love her son. 




Next, let’s talk about 平宁郡主 or Prince Ping Ning. She’s the mother of 齐衡. 


She’s a very traditional and haughty woman. She only had one son and believed that honor and propriety was the only path forward for her son. Quite honestly, she raised an upstanding young man. Like we’ve said before, how many noblemen take the imperial entrance exams in their own right and pass? Not many but 齐衡 did. The Princess had every right to be proud of her son and maintain a tight grip on her son.  But that also led to the tragedy of 齐衡’s first marriage. 齐衡’s weakness and the Princess’s iron will meant that 齐衡 was never going to marry 明兰. Her son will inherit the dukedom. How can he marry for “love” and a 庶出 daughter at that! I won’t say I agree with the Princess but I get where she’s coming from. In the drama, mother and son come to terms with 齐衡’s new marriage but that took like 2 coups and 齐衡 having to be a widow before all of this growth.


Next up is 曼娘 – she’s probably the worst mother of all of the characters in the show. She didn’t truly love her children and is the opposite of the phrase  父母之爱子则为之计长远. She only viewed them as pawns that she could leverage against 顾廷烨, namely to get him back. In the drama, we don’t see her much with her son because her son dies offscreen. However, based on how she treated 蓉姐儿, we can see that she didn’t care much about her daughter, going so far as to threatening her to kill 明兰 and straight up knocking 蓉姐儿 out in closing episodes. She’s a terrible woman and mother.


Now let’s move onto the 盛 women.




Mistress Lin


First up is Mistress Lin or 林小娘. This is a woman who loved her children but didn’t teach her children how to behave as more than children of a concubine. What do we mean by this, Mistress Lin spent a lot of time teaching her daughter 墨兰 how to capture the gaze and heart of a man – a.k.a. 梁含 but Mistress Lin didn’t teach 墨兰 much about how to run a proper household.. Let’s see why. 墨兰 spends all of her time battling it out with her husband’s concubines using her mother’s usual tricks of force feeding the pregnant woman with all of the best nutrition, thereby endangering the mother, similar to what 林小娘 did to 明兰’s mother. 墨兰 never gets the respect from her mother-in-law because all 梁含 is doing is spending time with his women, let alone get a job. If 梁含 doesn’t get a job, how will he support his family? Don’t know. A proper wife should be able to guide her husband on the right path and manage a household. Unfortunately, we don’t see 墨兰 doing any of that. Let’s contrast to what 明兰 teaches 蓉姐儿 – accounting and household management! These are lessons that Mistress Lin didn’t know or didn’t view as a priority. Mistress Lin’s idea of “making it” meant marrying 墨兰 into nobility as a proper wife – that’s it. Once 墨兰 achieved that, she of course would then be treated as a proper wife too, surpassing that of Madame Wang. This was wishful thinking. The system was very hierarchical – no matter what, Mistress Lin wouldn’t have been respected as a proper Madame. On the other side, let’s look at how she raised her son 长枫. Yes, she pushed 长枫 to study and pass his exams. However, she also allowed him to go to the brothels and rub shoulders with meet other bureaucrats and officials because she believed that it’ll help him win favor. What did that do for 长枫? Almost get killed




All in all – mom who loved her children. Just not correctly


Madame Wang


Let’s talk about Madame Wang! I love this woman because she’s SO hilarious. At least in the drama. She has all the best lines. If you look on Chinese social media, this character is having somewhat of a renaissance because people are making hilarious videos of her.


Madame Wang’s heart is in the right place, especially with her children, she just is easily manipulated. However, if we contrast Madame Wang with Mistress Lin, we’ll see the difference in behavior between a 大娘子 or Wife vs a 小娘 or Concubine. Madame Wang for all of her faults, raised upstanding children.

  1. The oldest 华兰 is well liked in the capital, although you can say that’s mainly due to Grandma Sheng having a hand in raising 华兰
  2. 长柏 – focused on his studies and passed his imperial entrance exams
  3. 如兰 – although not as intelligent as her older sister, still was able to keep a firm grip of her household and married for love!


Madame Wang’s children turned out alright because she steered them in the right direction. As Ming Lan said, Grandma Sheng chose Madame Wang for a daughter-in-law because in the end, Madame Wang was a kind hearted person. Madame Wang might cause a ruckus but there was a reason why she kept losing to Mistress Lin, it’s because when it came down to it, Madame Wang always did the best she could for her family and her children, not herself. She accepted her punishment to be exiled for 10 years when she heard that her son 长柏 would give up his position at court to repent for her sins. Madame Wang’s sister, Madame Kang, totally didn’t do this. So, Madame Wang might not have been the most intelligent, but she was a loving mother.



Grandma Sheng


Finally, we have the MVP – Grandma Sheng. 


Woman chose to overcome her own hardships


Raised Ming Lan


Was always the protector for Ming Lan


I think to her credit -> she raised upstanding grandchildren.


Other people who thought about their children:

  1. Ming Lan’s mother
  2. Gu Ting Ye’s Grandfather
  3. Gu Ting Ye’s brother


This drama not only focused on history, it did also make me think about relationships. We learned what it meant to marry up or marry down for both men and women. Grandma Sheng mentioned that it’s important to marry at the same level or 门当户对。 While I don’t think that’s necessary and we see many examples in the drama where that doesn’t happen, recognizing the pitfalls of not marrying to a family of equal status both socially and economically are important factors for long term marital success. We learned how important family relationships through marriage are. [Expand]. 


For women, it’s important to recognize when to move on as was the case with Ming Lan and Qi Heng but also to recognize when a relationship is not meant to be. If your partner is not going to fight for you in the face of outside pressures, it’s important to look within yourself to see if that relationship is the one you want. 


Key Learnings -> History


Song Dynasty

  1. Like we said in the last episode, the Song Dynasty often gets sort of a bad rep due to the time period’s lack of military conquest. True, the Dynasty’s footprint might not have matched those of the Tang Dynasty before it nor the Ming and Qing Dynasties after it, the Song Dynasty’s culture and booming economy more than made up for it’s comparatively subdued military prowess. This is NOT to say that the Song Dynasty didn’t engage in military conquests, it’s just that culture and the economy eclipsed it.
  2. Let’s take a look at that economy. During the early years of the Sony Dynasty so 980 AD, its population was 37M people. By 1124 AD, that population grew to 126M. That was the first time the population surpassed 100M in China. This growth couldn’t have happened without a corresponding explosion in the economy. Even though agriculture still dominated the economy, it was during the Song Dynasty that trade and commerce truly began to flourish. In the south, tea, bamboo, lumber, and paper became top items for trade. The most coveted trading item though was silk. Robust supply chains and trade routes were established to satisfy the growing demands for silk. More and more people specialized in different trades such as porcelain and tea, which we saw much of in the drama. The Song Dynasty also boasted the use of the first paper currency in circulation


Episode 9 and 10


四大雅事 – 斗茶﹑插花﹑挂画, and 品香 


These are the ‘’Four Arts of Life’ — tea brewing, flower arranging, painting appreciation and incense burning that were viewed as favored pastimes during the Song Dynasty. 


Episode 21


炒 – Stir Fry! Well what is needed for stir fry – well a wok or 锅 and of course oil! The 锅 or woks were made of iron. 


东京梦华录 – The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, a travel book, first printed in 1187, which is roughly around 130 years after the events of this show. This book, consisting of 10 volumes, offers a fascinating first hand account of culture during the Song dynasty. It includes descriptions of urban life, restaurants, dishes, nightlife, and trade. The book clearly includes records of stir fry dishes. So we know that by this time in the Song dynasty, stir fry dishes were part of at least high society and culture. 


Imperial entrance exam




In the Song dynasty, there are 3 different examinations that a man must go through. They are respectively:


  1. 乡试 – the country exam
  2. 省试 – the provincial or metropolitan  exam
  3. 殿试 – the palace exam


Song Dynasty aristocracy


Ways of a woman


Proper etiquette -> women


Episode 23 + 24 – 淑兰

Divorce – 休妻 vs 和离


For a divorce or the more formal term is repudiation where a husband renounces the wife, the wife must have committed one of 7 acts. Chinese word is 休妻 for divorcing a wife. If the wife committed one of these 7 acts, then the husband has every right to divorce his wife. 


Separation, however, or 和离 is much milder. 和离 is where the man and woman exit the marriage contract and both sides are equal. This type of more equitable exit to the marriage first appeared in the Tang dynasty and is less ruinous to women than a divorce. 



Favorite characters



  1. Grandma Sheng
  2. Madame Wang
  3. Chang Mo Mo
  4. Kong Mo Mo
  5. Ming Lan




  1. Grandma Sheng
  2. Chang Bai
  3. MIng Lan
  4. GU TIng Ye 
  5. Madame Zhang


Favorite Actors / Actresses



Current Careers



All right! That wraps up our discussion of the story of Ming Lan. Let us know via email or social media what your thoughts were on the drama! This is a drama that I know I will continue to have on in the background as it’s simply comfort food now and maybe i’ll learn something we’ve missed in our recaps! 


Thank you all so much again for joining us on this journey! We have a fun slate ahead of us for our next podcast episodes so please do stay tuned and continue listening to us. It’s been an amazing ride and we look forward to creating additional episodes for you in the future!


The music you heard in this episode is the Chinese Zheng version of the main theme of the show. The sheet music is written by 玉面小嫣然 and played by Karen. 


If you have any questions or comments on the show or what was presented in today’s episode, please let us know.  Thank you all so much for listening!


Ep 73





Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is it, we are finally here at the drama finale of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. If you’re listening to us for the first time on this episode, which, I don’t know why you would, I mean enjoy the spoilers? But definitely recommend starting from the beginning.


For today, we will talk about what happened in this final episode and dissect the twists and turns that come to a satisfying conclusion. We will also provide some historical context as to the real life counterpart of the events and finally round out the fates of our favorite characters by supplementing what happened in the book since the drama is not as explicit. 


Are you ready???


Last week, Within the span of a single episode, we saw 顾廷烨 sent off to war, then told from various sources that he perished in battle. Before we even blink at the tragedy, a bloody coup breaks out in the capital since all the capable generals have left the city unprotected. The two key points of the battle are 1) the imperial palace and 2) Ming Lan’s Cheng Gardens. Both places, as well as the rest of the capital, are under heavy attack by order of the Empress Dowager and her allies. Ming Lan is currently protecting her property and children from the onslaught of soldiers while Prince Huan is protecting his parents in the Imperial palace. 


However, at the very end of the episode, we see that Gu Ting Ye didn’t die. In fact, he’s waiting outside the capital with his friend, the State Uncle, with a number of troops. After a flare signal, they rush into the capital to fend off the rebelling soldiers. That is where we start episode 73, the last episode of this drama!



At the Cheng Gardens, the fight is extremely fierce. Ming Lan’s men are doing their best to fight off the rebel soldiers but the problem is that Ming Lan’s men are largely servants or private security whereas the opposing group are trained soldiers and there’s a larger number. No matter how well prepared Ming Lan’s side is, it’s still a tough fight. There’s fire and screams everywhere as the front gate is surrendered to the onslaught. Ming Lan grabs a dagger herself to try to protect herself but with no training, there’s not much she can do. Just as a rebel soldier was about to strike Ming Lan down, a timely arrow to the back stops him in his tracks. Gu Ting Ye and his men have arrived. 


Ming Lan is mightily relieved and cries into his arms when Gu Ting Ye approaches. She is not surprised at all that he’s alive but rather yells at him for being so late. Honestly, I would be upset too! She knew he was going to come back and she was prepared but still, this was not a funny joke! She almost did die! He tries to comfort her as his men come in and swiftly subdue the rebel soldiers. He’s all in a joking manner while she’s royally pissed off at him but he says he can’t stay. He must rush to save the Emperor. And so, he rushes into the palace.


The tides quickly turn as the State Uncle, 沈国舅 engage in fierce battle against the Empress Dowager’s men, or more accurately, Concubine Liu’s brother’s men. When support arrives in the form of Gu Ting Ye, the battle is decided. Concubine Liu, her brother and also one of the Emperor’s close eunuchs are tied and gagged while the Emperor and Empress walk out of their palace unfazed. Concubine Liu screams that it was the Empress Dowager who told her to revolt with her brother but the Emperor responds calmly that they should ask the Empress Dowager herself if she really said those things. 



We turn to the Empress Dowager. She is in her room with her head eunuch. She knows she lost and requests for her eunuch to provide her with poison. He is reluctant to do so and before they say much else, are visited by the Empress and the Emperor. In front of them, the Empress Dowager lets out her frustration at the new Emperor. Within a year of ascending the throne, he has engaged in war and wanted to call his father as well as the deceased emperor as the royal father. Both are disrespectful to the late emperor with whom the Empress dowager was married to for decades. But while she was full of hatred towards the new emperor, she never said she wanted to depose him. That comes as a shock to the bound and gagged Concubine Liu who shrieks outside as she is dragged away. 


And now, much to the Empress Dowager’s surprise, the Emperor reveals that everything they’ve done in the recent past was a counter against the Empress Dowager’s schemes. The Emperor and Empress knew from the beginning that his eunuch, 李内官, was telling everything to the Empress Dowager so they leveraged that knowledge to pass along everything they wanted her to hear. This goes back to, all the way back 30 episodes, when the Empress Dowager refused to give up the Imperial Seal to the Emperor so he could actually govern. Every outlandish and disrespectful thing Gu Ting Ye said and the Emperor’s own dislike for Gu Ting Ye was all an act to make the Empress Dowager believe there were chasms in their relationship. Additional lies include the Emperor’s own headaches and anger at his officials. The Emperor’s health is perfectly fine and he’s not actually angry at his allies. He just acted that way so that the Eunuch would pass this information along to the Empress Dowager and also Concubine Liu so they would act quickly. 


Furthermore, there was not actually any trouble at the border. This was only an excuse to pretend to need to bring Gu Ting Ye and other capable soldiers and generals out of the capital. Gu Ting Ye and Shen Guo Jiu remained hidden just outside the capital, ready to strike while the Duke of Ying actually did head out to the border to complete the ruse. After news traveled back to the Empress Dowager, her men were actually captured so they were working off false information. That is why this revolt was so easily quashed. 


The Empress Dowager is stunned and impressed at just how well the Emperor played the game. From the very beginning, she walked into his trap while thinking she was winning when in reality just got caught deeper into the bog. She willingly accepts death as punishment but to her surprise, is told that she is only being requested to move out of the palace to spend the rest of her days elsewhere. She readily agrees to leave the palace. 



Let’s chat about everything that just happened before we move onto the rest of the episode as it moves back to Ming Lan/Gu Ting Ye’s story. The conflict between the Emperor and the Empress Dowager is quite simple to understand. It’s the growing pains of a new regime. The Empress Dowager wants to preserve the old order established under her husband while the new Emperor wants to govern via his own methods. The drama takes some reference to history as the previous Emperor, 宋仁宗 was revered for his kindness. His pacifist ruling style is what I’m assuming the Empress Dowager and the captured eunuch were referring to about the late Emperor’s regime vs the new one. The Empress Dowager thought she had everything under control and could read the dynamics of court very easily because she had spies in the EMperor’s palace, but in reality, all of that was planted by the Emperor. This drama definitely requires multiple viewings to catch the swift glances between characters to showcase that there was something spoken on purpose. There were many instances where the Emperor was supposedly angry at Gu Ting Ye or other officials and the Empress would note how the Emperor’s headache flared up. Only for the Emperor to say, oh yea, my headache. That was all for the Eunuch’s benefit to then pass along the Empress Dowager. In those scenes, you will see the camera cut to this Eunuch even though he is just standing silently on the side. 


Similarly, Gu Ting Ye was “in” on many of his punishments because the results had too many glaring holes. He was sent to jail after the Wang family, Madame Qin, Bai Da Lang and Man Niang came to court except his sentence was rather hasty. Furthermore, as I noted in episode 70, his jail cell was way too comfortable for someone who was in prison for a murder crime. I’m assuming that the palace didn’t actually want him to suffer too badly. And similarly, while he was in prison, Gu Ting Ye didn’t care about his current predicament, but rather that his wife caused a scene at the Empress’s palace. If any regular person was in prison for murder, I doubt they’d have the energy to spare to think about that. But only because he was in on it that he didnt’ care what situation he was in. 



All of the schemes culminated in the last episode where the men were sent off to war. What was rather peculiar about the last episode was that the Emperor explicitly told Prince Huan to remain in the palace, rather than accompany the State Uncle and Gu Ting Ye to the border. That to me was also carefully planned because the Emperor wanted to have at least some level of protection in the palace. Indeed, during the coup, Prince Huan had the capability of rallying troops and defending his parents’ palace from immediate threat. 


Now something rather confusing was ultimately the relationship between Concubine Liu and the Empress Dowager. Concubine Liu believed that the Empress Dowager wanted to depose the current Emperor and in exchange for her and her brother’s help in doing so, would name her son as Emperor. The Empress Dowager denies this in front of the Emperor. For me, this shows that the Empress Dowager still is a master tactician. She never left any physical evidence of her inclinations and left people to act on what they thought was her will. The Empress Dowager just never made any comment otherwise if it was indeed what she wanted. This was the case with Concubine Liu, as well as Madame Qin and the Wang family. 



Speaking of these people, let’s turn back to Madame Qin. The shouts and screams have calmed down in the capital but she and her maid, Xiang Ma Ma think it’s because the Empress Dowager has succeeded. Only for her son, 顾廷炜, to run over exclaiming happily that his brother has returned! He’s alive! In an instant, Madame Qin’s jaw drops and she gasps for a few moments before figuring out that there was never any conflict on the border and that this whole thing was a ruse. At this moment, she completely snaps. She screams in despair that she plotted her entire life for her son but he is no where near as capable as 顾廷烨. She hates the fact that she, who comes from a noble family, raised a son that cannot do anything. This is a woman who’s entire life just shattered before her eyes. She finally understood that everything that’s happened with the Empress Dowager and Gu Ting Ye was fake. They lost. 


She screams at her servants to tie her son up and throw him into a dried well. They do as she screams and he is tossed in. Meanwhile, she stumbles her way over to the Gu family shrine. In some of the best acting in the drama, Madame Qin, 秦大娘子, tosses everything in the shrine and starts a fire. Gu Ting Ye was summoned by Xiang Mama to save Ting Wei and the group, plus Ming Lan rush over to the shrine to see Madame Qin amidst the roaring flames. She screams at Ting Wei for getting out of the well and also at Gu Ting Ye for being alive. After all the times he told her to join an acting troupe, he is the one who should be in that troupe. And then, at last, she screams out her pain she suffered her entire life. Her sister, a kind hearted person, was pushed aside for the Bai family by the Gu family in order to preserve themselves. The Gu family destroyed her sister, the Bai family and her. She acted her entire life in this household. At the end, she wants to finally live as herself. With those final words, she dives headfirst, I’m assuming to ram her head before the flames consume her. And with that, the formidable Madame Qin passes away. 



Well – All’s well that ends well and the key characters get a satisfying resolution. We get a scene where the Wang family head, son of Grandma Wang, and brother to the deceased Aunt Kang and Madame Wang, has been sentenced and is dragged off as a prisoner. We are assuming he has been sentenced for his crimes in conjunction with the coup amongst other things. It’s not fully clear but we’ll take it as the Wang family paid for their crimes.


After this brutal conflict, court affairs have calmed down. The Emperor’s wheat harvest is bountiful and he shares his hard grown supply with Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan, as well as the Empress Dowager who is enjoying her days outside the palace, raising Concubine Liu’s son, Yong’er. It’s assumed that his mother, Concubine Liu is either imprisoned or killed. 


As for Qi Heng, after everything that’s happened, he has seen what he should truly appreciate in front of him. On a lovely evening walk with his wife, Madame Shen, he tells her that she, is his future and that they are going to spend the rest of their days together. 


In the drama’s closing scene, there is a family gathering at the Gu family shrine. The Sheng family have arrived to help the Gu family restore the shrine that was destroyed and the harmonious scene couldn’t be more infectious. While creating new plaques, Ming Lan explains to her father that the Empress told her what they were planning after she passed out outside the palace walls in episode 71. This is why Ming Lan loudly proclaimed that all was lost and acted out in a crazy manner after leaving the palace. She needed the entire capital to hear that she had lost faith for the Empress Dowager’s people to believe that there was no chance for forgiveness for Gu TIng Ye. The look on her father’s face when she tells him about this is hilarious. He cannot believe that this scheme took place and was at such a large scale. But he continues that after all of this, everyone’s better days are ahead of them. 



Indeed, through everyone’s hard work, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye are able to look forward to happy and peaceful days ahead. In this wonderful closing scene, let me recount who all is around to share in this peaceful and jovial gathering. 


On the Sheng family side, Ming Lan’s siblings, Hua Lan, her husband, Chang Bai, and Chang Feng are all around to help restore the shrine. 如兰 is making tea with her husband outside. On the Gu family side, Gu Ting Ye’s brother’s widow plays with one of the children with Chang Bai’s wife, Madame Hai. Her daughter, 娴姐 and Gu Ting Ye’s daughter 蓉姐 are playing amicably nearby as well. Gu Ting Ye’s younger brother, 廷炜 is also in the shrine helping the Sheng family relatives out. The biggest surprise is actually seeing 墨兰 arrive. Last we saw was her getting put in her place in front of her husband after been exposed of the trickery she used to marry him. But, this time, there’s a really big change in her. It’s just a few quick scenes where she arrives to also see Grandma Sheng who is thankfully healthy and alive but it’s evident Mo Lan is a changed woman. She is much more respectful and deferential in front of Ming Lan and Grandma Sheng. Her clothing choice has also changed. In the past, she has generally worn bright hues but today, she chose to wear black and white or 墨色, which stands for ink colored clothing. This matches with her name very well but also reflects that she has calmed down from her attention seeking days. We can only guess how much she has suffered at home but hopefully this means she has learned the error of her ways and will now be a loving member of her own family. The only person missing is Madame Wang, who is still in You Yang. 


To round out the happy endings, Shi Tou helps his pregnant wife, Xiao Tao up as they prepare to head off to eat. With the doting family all gathered around, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye express how glad they are to enjoy these peaceful days together. With that, the husband and wife pair head off to eat. 


The end. 









These lines are spoken by the Emperor in front of his wheat field.


These actually come from the poem called 打麦 or Threshing Wheat, written by the Northern Song Dynasty poet 张舜shùn民. The full poem has 14 stanzas and describes the difficulties of farmers to harvest the wheat and to bring it to the table. 


The specific lines in the poem can be translated as such

When the crop ripens, the farmers quickly harvest the wheat. But they also need to plant the seeds for next year’s crops. Bountiful years are few and far between yet meager years are common. The farmer must toil endlessly but what can he do?


The last two stanzas of the poem go like this

将此打麦词, 兼作插禾歌


Take this threshing poem as your planting song


Now, let’s say the year is around the mid 1060s. It is true that the author 张舜shùn民 succeeded in his imperial exams and became a 进士 in 1065 during the reign of 宋神宗, however, it’s unknown when he wrote this poem specifically. 



Ok – now onto the history of our real life characters!


宋英宗 – the Emperor here. There’s a decent amount of difference between the historical character and the show. The drama of course also had to bring everything together from a book perspective so I’m totally cool with these changes. 


宋英宗 or 赵曙 only reigned for around 4 years, from 1063 to 1067. He died when he was only 35.  We’ve talked about him at length before so I won’t go too much into detail. His main claim to fame during his reign was the big split between naming his birth father his father instead of the Emperor. 宋英宗 was a sickly man and fell ill several times during his reign. His prime ministers supported him but at times Empress Dowager 曹 died act as regent when the Emperor was ill.



Empress Dowager 曹 – In this drama Empress Dowager Cao is portrayed as the villain in the second act. I think villain is too harsh a word because she was preserving what her husband built so I do understand where her anger and hatred for the new Emperor stems from. In the drama, she enacts this coup to try to overthrow the Emperor whereas in history, she actually had a great relationship with the adoptive son of her husband. Because 曹皇后 or Empress Dowager Cao never had children, she understood her role was to foster and help the new Emperor. We also have to commend her for the fact that she stayed in power for so long without children as we all know how important children are to a woman’s status. 


Cao Huang Hou is a woman that perfectly fits the word of 贤惠 or virtuous, supporting her husband as Empress for 28 years before becoming regent for their adoptive son. As mentioned, 宋英宗 only reigned for a few years and Empress Dowager Cao actually helped rule while he was ill. When He passed and the power went on to his son, she continued to help rule. But, unlike many other Empress Dowagers and what was portrayed in the show, she relinquished power when she was no longer needed to rule. That attitude is rather rare even in the dramas we see today which is why she fits the word for virtuous quite well. She died at the age of 64 in 1079年11月16日. 



For me growing up, the 宋 dynasty never got as much notice. Mainly because many of the shows were around the Qing Dynasty but also because the focus of the 宋 dynasty was around its failures to keep invaders at bay. The Song Dynasty was generally looked down upon due to its lack of military prowess and the fact that it was defeated soundly by the Mongols. What I love about this drama is that it really showcases what a powerhouse the 宋 dynasty was during its heyday. It was an economically and culturally advanced society! During its time, the estimated gross domestic product was 3x as much as that of the whole of Europe. This show gives us that glimpse into that world. We never really got that before this show with such life and beauty and I’m so glad it did.



Now, onto book differences!


As i mentioned last week, the drama quickly resolves several plot lines by mashing them together. It works to an extent. 顾廷烨 doesn’t return in time to save Ming Lan. She handles it by herself and figures it out that 顾廷烨 wasn’t truly in danger. 顾廷烨 stays out west to stamp out the book Empress Dowager’s strongholds. He returns to tell Ming Lan about the fate of 曼娘. She goes crazy. They finally have a heart to heart and become a blissfully married couple. Madame Qin doesn’t die in a fire but later. The book empress dowager, also doesn’t die, but is sent away to live out her years.


Book endings for each person – these all are explained in the epilogue chapters or i guess you would call side stories of the book. We focus on different characters rather than 明兰 and 顾廷烨.


Let’s start with 明兰 and 顾廷烨!


The couple essentially lived happily ever after. 顾廷烨 offered to be stationed in the 蜀地, which is now modern day 四川. Of course 明兰 went with him. They essentially stayed there for the remainder of their years, living a fun and relaxing life. They had 4 sons. 明兰 became a legendary figure amongst the women in the capital and of the younger generation of 盛 family girls. No one could quite figure out how 明兰 was so successful. Of course, in the book, she time traveled from a different time so that might have been it.


Let’s talk about their sons! They aren’t actually given names in the book so i’ll just go in order


The eldest – stately and proper, he is most similar to his father without the worst of his traits. 


The second – he was one of the most handsome men in the Empire but alas, followed in his uncle 盛长柏’s footsteps of being a taciturn yet brilliant statesman. 


Both the eldest and second eldest of the 顾 children entered court and became staples of court.


The third son decided to head off east and travel the seas


The youngest son, seeing that his brother turned eastwards, chose to travel westward. During his travels, he chronicled his experiences and wrote an encyclopedia recounting his travels. When he was around 40, he caught the eye of a foreign princess and married into the royal family.



Let’s now cover the 盛 family! The men first!


First is the master of the family 盛纮. He continues his calculated expansion of power for his family and rises to a member of court of the second rank before retiring, which is quite good for him. He stays married to Madame Wang but of course she’s banished for ten years. He has other concubines at the house but no one as crazy as Mistress Lin. 


盛长柏 – the awesome older brother.


In the book, he actually spent most of his time outside of the capital. He was stationed elsewhere. He rose steadily through the ranks to become prime minister and was a critical member of court for two reigns. His students were spread all across the empire. He had 4 sons, 3 of them did pretty well but his youngest was the black sheep of the family. When 长柏 died, the Emperor ordered two princess to carry his casket to his final burial place. 



Mr. 盛长枫 finally did pass his imperial entrance exams and became an official at court. He had several children. His wife Madame 柳 basically saved his butt multiple times. His wife and the sheng family finally made him see the light regarding Mistress Lin and he stopped trying to bring her back into the family. Remember, in the book, she doesn’t die.


盛长栋 – he only shows up in the book. He does quite well for himself too and passes the imperial entrance exams. He married a daughter of the 沈 family that is somewhat related to the state uncle.



Now, onto the ladies!


Grandma Sheng

In the book, Grandma Sheng doesn’t stay in the capital after the events of her poisoning, instead, she joins 盛长柏 and his wife while they head away for his posts. She lived a very long and healthy life. She lived so long that she was still alive when 明兰 became a grandmother herself! 明兰 constantly fought with 盛长柏 on taking care of Grandma sheng, but 明兰 always lost that battle.


Now onto 盛华兰 – the eldest sister!


We don’t really see the hardships she suffered in her marriage but let’s just say, she was one smart cookie and successfully turned it around. Her main obstacle was her pretty evil mother in law. 华兰 and her husband became a very loving couple. She was still having kids in her 40s! I think that’s 4. We know she had at least 1 daughter and 2 sons. Her eldest daughter 庄姐儿 married a very successful general and had many kids.


As for 墨兰


It’s not quite the same as in the drama. Her husband 梁晗 never finds out about the treachery so they have a relatively stable relationship. She has 5 daughters, yes 5 daughters. She did have a few miscarriages though of sons, so I guess the author just didn’t want her to be too successful. All of her daughters married low though. 


Lastly we have 如兰


She had a pretty loving relationship with her husband, though probably not as happy as 明兰 and 华兰. She had a son and a daughter. 明兰 was super jealous of 如兰 because 明兰 wanted at least one daughter, but all she got were sons. 如兰 in the book, really grew up. She learned from her mothers mistakes and was able to maintain a healthy marriage with her husband. It’s not to say that she didn’t have to accept concubines but at least no one was as terrible as Mistress Lin



Now let’s talk about the rest of the 顾 family!


顾廷炜 – he did not come out of the story well at all. He was actually one of the main culprits in leading the band of thieves to the Cheng gardens. Seeing that his men were going to lose, he fled for the forests. Unfortunately for him, 顾廷烨’s men and other captains chased after him, ultimately killing him. For his crimes, his entire side of the family was stripped of titles. His children all died of the plague. This side of the family became depleted.


Madame Qin

After hearing the death of her son and her grandchildren, she fell ill and ultimately died. There was a lot more that happened in the book, in which she ruined another woman. This woman, seeking revenge, was the one who smuggled in plague infested clothes and gave it to 顾廷炜’s children, killing them. 


As for 娴姐儿, the daughter of 顾廷烨’s older brother, she married the son of the House of Liang. So that would actually be 墨兰’s nephew by marriage. This son would inherit the title. The countess of the house of Liang herself asked for this marriage. The book doesn’t tell us how well the marriage went but let’s just say that the House of Liang had enough happening in the book. 娴姐儿 was intelligent enough but she might be in for a spell of hardship to deal with that family. For her marriage, her two cousins, so 明兰’s two oldest sons returned to represent her family.


Next up is 蓉姐儿!

This young lady married 常嬷嬷’s grandson. She was very favored by 明兰 because obviously, 蓉姐儿 saved her son. 常嬷嬷’s grandson also had a very good career ahead of him. He passed his imperial entrance exams and became a favored member of court. For 蓉姐儿’s marriage, 明兰 personally returned from 四川 to manage everything.


I won’t talk about the rest of the 顾 family – there’s a lot more that happens in the book but it’s not worth repeating here.



Now onto the Wang family!


The Wang family were turned into the evil family in the drama, it’s not quite the case in the book. The main black sheep is still Madame Kang. 


Madame Wang serves her 10 years back at the old family of 宥阳. She comes back and helps raise some of 长柏’s kids, mainly the one that didn’t turn out so well. Ah well.


Madame Kang is sent into prison for the rest of her life. She has a daughter 康允儿 that still tries to get her out. 康允儿 is married to the Sheng family and she’s basically burning up all her good will with trying to get her mother out. At this point in the book, even the Sheng family won’t help her. At least the Sheng family likes 康允儿, Madame Kang’s other daughter 康元儿, who is most similar to her mother, basically is sidelined by her mother in law and lives a rather miserable life for the remainder of her life.



And now on to some other characters


贺弘文 – he marries later in life and has a son and wife. His wife also had a previous engagement. Although they don’t love each other, they live a tranquil life together. 贺弘文’s annoying cousin is still in the picture but 贺弘文’s wife is more than capable of handling her.


小桃 – 明兰’s maid marries 石头 and they have several children. The side story is so hilarious because she just does what she’s told by her sister-in-law and is like – I’d like to return back to Madame Ming Lan later in life. 石头 gets SO pissed because he’s like, are you wishing me dead?!


Madame Zhang – she surprisingly has like 6 kids with the State Uncle or 沈从兴. She always wanted a small quiet yard but that didn’t happen with all the kids running around. 


As for the despicable mistress 邹, she was somewhat successful in trying to divide the 沈 family but she was finally thrown to pray in a temple for years until one of the 沈从兴’s youngest daughter 沈玉珠 from his first marriage decided to bring her back to her family and support her.



Finally – let’s talk about 齐衡.


The drama really gives him a happily ever after. He’s not so lucky in the book. He married 3 times. Madame 申 gives birth to twins. Shortly after though, she travels with the children to find 齐衡 while he is stationed elsewhere. Unfortunately all three of them die on the road due to plague. For his third marriage, he married a granddaughter of a princess. However, she also died after giving birth to 2 sons. After that, he never married again and raised his sons by himself. One day, he heads to 盛长柏’s house after returning from his posts away. He sees one of 盛长柏’s granddaughters. She is also ranked number 6, is 庶出 and unfavored by her father. Her father is the black sheep of 盛长柏’s sons that I mentioned before. After a few years, 齐衡 asks for this granddaughter’s hand in marriage for his second grandson. Despite 盛长柏’s initial hesitation, he finally agrees. The two get married and live a happy and bountiful life. On his deathbed, 齐衡 gifts his most treasured possession to this granddaughter. She opens it to see the clay dolls that have yellowed due to age. She finds the dolls have on it 盛小六 and 齐小二. The nicknames that 齐衡 once gave himself and 盛明兰. 盛明兰 rejected 齐衡 but he kept these dolls till his dying day. With this new generation,  盛小六 and 齐小二 are finally together happily ever after.


I really like the side chapter for 齐衡. I guess it’s just wish fulfillment that in our main story, 盛小六 and 齐小二 never made it but a different generation was able to.




When we started out this podcast journey, there were really only two dramas that I wanted to discuss in this detail. One is Empresses in the Palace and two is The Story of Ming Lan. The story of Ming Lan is a drama that is more reflective of every day life and many of the lessons learned and portrayed in the drama I have taken to heart. It is a drama that I return to often to remind myself how to be more like Ming Lan.


This drama does a wonderful job of showcasing to us what the world was like during the Song dynasty and what kinds of challenges both men and women faced during this time. In Empresses in the Palace, we were introduced to the concept of the children born of the wife and children born of concubines. That poses its challenges in the royal family but similarly poses problems for lesser families.


What I think is valuable in this drama is that each person’s character is so full of life and also understandable. We understand why Ming Lan is the way she is, as well as Mo Lan, Qi Heng, Gu Ting Ye and others. Escalating beyond the conflicts of the Gu and Sheng family, we understood why the conflicts between the Emperor and Empress Dowager happened.  



Ep 72


Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. I am your host today, Karen. Today we are discussing episode 72 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。Can you believe this! This is the second to last episode of the series.


Here’s the game plan for today’s episode. I will do a drama episode recap But there are so many themes and drama analysis to dissect that we will do at least another episode after the finale to wrap things up. I do feel that today is going to be a lot of plot recap because honestly too many things are happening so I will do my best to explain it but then stay tuned for the next 2 episodes where we flesh out more of our thoughts. 


The pacing on this episode is rather challenging and the plot moves at random fast paces so it’s like blink and you miss out on what exactly just happened.


So, we start out the episode with Ming Lan back at the Cheng Gardens after a draining last couple of days. Madame Qin and her maid, Xiang Ma Ma, are mirthlessly pleased that Ming Lan is weak which signals she’s not long for the world. At least for Ming Lan, her close family have arrived to keep watch of her. It’s quite sweet. Her grandmother is there, her 2nd brother 长柏, her father and her stepdaughter, 蓉姐 are all helping watch her and her son. 明兰 advises her father and brother to stay home from court these few days to avoid any unnecessary drama which they agree to. Xiang Mama appears shortly after to request Ming Lan’s presence in front of Madame Qin. The real motive for this visit is to see exactly how weak Ming Lan is with their own eyes. Ming Lan, though, does start coughing a lot more after she arrives and speaks more weakly compared to literally moments before.  This 向妈妈 is rather rude to Ming Lan and is promptly cussed out by every other person in the room to get out. Even 蓉姐 is quite stern with her saying the they do not welcome her. 向妈妈 is ultimately chased out of the room by Ming Lan’s father 盛纮 which was absolutely hilarious but effective none the less. Might I dare say that he is now more attentive to his daughter after her direct conversation with him a few episodes back? Perhaps he is now recognizing that he should make up for not helping Ming Lan while she was growing up.


So at this point, there’s nothing much for Ming Lan to do. Ultimately, Gu Ting Ye is going to be exiled after the fall so they can just sit tight. It doesn’t seem like the palace cares for the crimes of Madame Wang or even the death of Aunt Kang, but rather that they just want to get rid of 顾廷烨。


This level of calm is promptly shattered as news travels from the western border that war is breaking out. That night, the Emperor is evaluating next steps with a cohort of trusted advisors including the Duke of Ying, Prime Minister Han and Prince Huan. They were expecting military conflict but just not so soon and they are currently figuring out who best to send to the front lines. Prince Huan suggests sending Gu Ting Ye. He knows the lay of the land and is a brilliant general. Why not send him out?


The next day at court, the support for releasing Gu Ting Ye on the condition that he can provide service to the empire rises. The Emperor pushes back on why it has to be Gu Ting Ye. Is there no one else in the capital that can rise to the occasion? But at this critical juncture of national security, even the Wang family is willing to allow Gu Ting Ye to head off for war. And so, it is decided that Gu Ting Ye would join the army out west where he is to be demoted to a lowly foot soldier, rather than have any military command. 


As the army heads out, Ming Lan and 蓉姐 tearfully send him off to who knows what challenges he’ll experience.


But why on earth did the Wang family allow Gu Ting Ye to leave the capital? Luckily we have Madame Qin and 向妈妈 explain this for us while they were at the Gu family shrine. With Gu Ting Ye locked up in prison, he is still ultimately near the Emperor and has numerous friends to help him. But the moment he is sent out to the border, who knows what his personal safety will be like? No one can ensure that he will remain safe so it’s better for him to be sent off than to remain in the capital. 


Sure enough, we hear news shortly after that the elite forces that headed out west have all perished. The Emperor is utterly shocked to hear the news and passes out. Ming Lan is also told by her friend, Madame Zhang that Gu Ting Ye’s group of troops have disappeared without a trace. Everyone is devastated to hear the news that they may have been killed in battle. 


And now, the stage is set for the final confrontation. In 15 min or so we had Gu Ting Ye sent off to war and also killed. Now, Ming Lan has to deal with the aftermath.


One night, Ming Lan is awoken by her maids that a eunuch from the palace is here with a royal decree. It is hugely important to focus on Ming Lan’s first reaction to hearing this news. SHe first asks if it’s from the Empress. For folks that watched the next episode, this reaction is very telling as she is waiting for news from the Empress. But no, she is told that the eunuch who arrived is a stranger. Ming lan heads to her main hall where the eunuch requests that she head to the palace immediately because the Empress has important matters to discuss. Ming Lan easily sees through the fact that he is not actually a eunuch from the Empress’s palace and has this group detained. She immediately orders her staff to send messages across the capital that there are imposters looking to hold family members hostage at court and to not fall for these tricks. 


In case anyone needs an explanation on what might be happening, let’s recall the last coup that happened. In the drama, it’s not really discussed post coup but it’s referred to as 申辰之乱。 Concubine Rong partnered with Prince Yan and gathered up a number of royal relatives and family members of military officials. Those women were then held hostage in the capital to prevent the military officials from sending troops for fear of hurting their family. That’s what is taking place now. But, Ming Lan is prepared. She’s seen this happen before and isn’t afraid.


Soon after, the killings start. Military officials start slaughtering other people and soldiers in the street as a bloody fight erupts in the capital. We are also treated to a scene where a woman is paying off her debt. Ok this was SUPER confusing in the drama because they gave literally no explanation as to what was happening. The woman in this scene is 魏行首。She’s the prostitute who is a close friend of Gu Ting Ye. In this scene, she is giving what is clearly the mother of the brothel all the money she’s gathered in exchange for her deed as a prostitute. Once she has it in her hand, she promptly rips it apart to show that she is a free woman. She, along with a man whom we assume is her lover, then quickly flee off into the night. Just other people are being slaughtered in the street, she had a carriage waiting for her to help take her and her lover to safety. I will touch on this later on in the podcast episode.


With chaos in the streets, the families we care about are seeking shelter or else preparing for battle. Madame ZHang in particular is a total badass as she orders her servants to step up to fight against anyone who dares cross into her property. I mentioned this earlier, but the focus for this round up is MILITARY families. The Sheng family see all the chaos on the streets but with clear guidance from 盛长柏, they are able to avoid attack. This is also because the Sheng family is primarily a scholar family. They hold no military power and are thus no threat to whoever is attacking the Capital. The primary target for all of the chaos though, is at the Cheng gardens where Ming Lan currently is. WIthin her property, she has her own set of troops ready for battle as she is being attacked both from the main entrance and from the back where Xiang Mama let in numerous assassin’s from the Gu Property to do damage to Ming Lan and company.


Fortunately, Ming Lan is prepared. She even has a chair set up so she can command the action. The soldiers outside her house shout that they’ve been told by the Emperor to escort Ming Lan into the palace for safety but as I explained earlier, that is a plot to hold her hostage or kill her. When those soldiers try to rush into the property, they are met with a shower of arrows and are forced to retreat. Meanwhile, the assassin’s that snuck in from the back were also ambushed by Ming Lan’s men who were expecting them. Another bloody fight breaks out in the Cheng gardens. 


The main perpetrators of this revolt reveal themselves shortly after. It is concubine liu along with her brother who commands the safety of the imperial palace. They, along with the Empress Dowager, it seems, want to change who is in power. Before the brother and sister pair can rush into the Imperial quarters to force the Emperor to step down, they must receive a decree from the Empress Dowager. Concubine Liu hurriedly heads off to meet the Empress Dowager to get it so they can finally take power.


The fight rages on across the capital and in the Cheng gardens. The soldiers couldn’t break through the doors but are now working to scale over the walls. Unfortunately, another menacing figure has made her way into the property. She is none other than 朱曼娘。She was let into the property by 向妈妈 and she has made her way to where 蓉姐 and 团哥 are currently hiding with 常嬷嬷。Zhu Man Niang who is still full of vengeance is here to kill 团哥, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye’s son. She first pushes 常嬷嬷 away and even screams at 蓉姐 for protecting 团哥. Honestly, this mother is one of the worst I’ve seen on screen. She goes so far as throwing  蓉姐 down to the ground where she hits her head. That could have been a really bad fall for  蓉姐 but her mother doesn’t care. All she cares about is killing 团哥. In the last moment before she strikes with her dagger, she is knocked down by the MVP 常嬷嬷 who hit 朱曼娘 over the head a few times. She falls to the ground, dead. This was quite difficult to watch because of how crazy 朱曼娘 acted in the scene. She almost killed her own daughter to kill 团哥. In many other tv shows, a fall like the one 蓉姐儿 experienced would instantly kill someone. I held my breath for the entire thing.


Immediately afterwards, Ming Lan and her servants rush over to help the crying 蓉姐 off the ground. Understandably she is upset at seeing her mother killed in front of her but there’s no time to lose. 明兰 must protect these two children. Instead of running, she tells her group to lock them in a hidden chamber. That way, they will be safe. 


They make their way over to the hidden chamber and situate the children plus Chang Mo Mo and Shi Tou who remain to make sure they are safe. And in a scene where I tear up literally every time I see it, 蓉姐 cries out for Ming Lan to stay with her. Not only does she try to grab Ming Lan to stay with her, 蓉姐 calls Ming Lan 母亲, the word for mother. 明兰 is shocked to hear this because 蓉姐 has always just called 明兰 大娘子 or Madame. This reflects that 蓉姐 finally sees Ming Lan as her mother. Rong Jie continues to cry out that it’s not safe outside and they should be together as a family. Ming Lan is so touched but says that don’t worry, Mother is here to protect you. Omg…. who wouldn’t cry at this scene. Especially since 蓉姐 just lost her actual mother but that mother did nothing for Rong jie. I feel like 蓉姐 finally recognizes who in her life actually cares about her. And it was certainly not her birth mother. Unfortunately, I do feel that 蓉姐 probably needs some therapy after seeing her mother brutally try to murder her brother and then was ultimately murdered herself.


The episode ends with an absolutely, at least to me, hilarious scene. More fighting across the capital continues to break out with numerous individuals slaughtered. Even the Empress and Emperor are surrounded in the palace. But what’s this? 顾廷烨 and 沈国舅 along with a number of troops are waiting outside the capital! Clearly he didn’t die and is not a foot soldier any more. They see the city burning but are ready to come in as, with a flare that lights up the night sky, 顾廷烨 and company storm into the capital. This is perfect timing as rebel soldiers had rounded up Prime Minister Han and his family outside on the streets. They are being told to head to the palace but Prime Minister Han is resisting. Not allowing this to continue further, the rebel soldiers order the Prime Minister be executed. Just before the soldier strikes, he is shot by Gu Ting Ye and his men who rush by.  The entire crowd is in shock that Gu Ting Ye is alive. Isn’t he supposed to be dead? Rebel soldiers were surprised to see his return and also lay down their arms. My reading of this is that maybe those soldiers were lied to about Gu Ting Ye’s death and thus joined the revolt but didn’t actually want to. In any case, Gu Ting Ye and company rush into the capital with the Prime Minister yelling after him of WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!! Importantly though, even the prime minister refers to Gu Ting Ye as Marqui Gu or 顾侯。


Ok – That was the episode recap but let’s go through what happened in the second half of the episode. Ultimately, it’s the Empress Dowager’s attempt to seize power away from the current Emperor. With the military engagement out west, there’s no one left in the capital to protect the Emperor. Thus, the Empress Dowager leveraged Concubine Liu and her brother who has military command of the palace to seize control by force. It is also evident that the Empress Dowager has conspired with Madame Qin in this plot because, and this is important, Madame Qin knew when to let assassins into the residence who didn’t attack her at all and you will have noticed scenes where Madame Qin’s servants were filling large pots with water along the walls of their property. Clearly, she knew that there was going to be fire breaking out in the capital and she was preparing herself for it. 


Now let’s chat briefly about Wei Hang Shou, the prostitute. Her connection was never fully explained in the drama which is problematic since it leaves loose ends, but our reading is that she was paid a handsome sum of money for intel. And the intel for whom? The Empress Dowager – are we sure? I thought that wei hang shou was with gu ting ye? – check this research out. It makes more sense that she’s a spy for 顾廷烨


We will explain more of this in the next episode as we dissect why Gu Ting Ye was alive but that is the only way it made sense fo r Wei Hang Shou to know exactly when to prepare to escape the brothel. She must have been tipped off or at least was in the know of the revolt that was going to happen. Otherwise, the timing was too perfect. 


Lastly, let me discuss again why it was so important to round up the important military families and royal family to the Imperial Palace once again. The book also goes into more details about this. The current plan of course is to install Concubine Liu’s son as Emperor. This means deposing the current Emperor AND killing his son Prince Huan. However, to do so, the Empress Dowager needs to make sure that she controls the military. The news of 顾廷烨’s death was a trigger. The Emperor has lost his strongest military supporters. Believing that the Emperor is severely weakened, the Empress Dowager decided to seize this opportunity to storm the capital. Then she moved to lock up all of the military families. With their wives and children taken hostage, the military generals left alive, who just so happen to wield power the military, will think twice about attacking the capital. Lastly, with all the military generals held at bay, the armies that the Empress Dowager do control will be a great enough threat for the scholar officials to “validate” the legitimacy of the new Emperor (concubine Liu’s son). The scholar officials won’t be happy about it but they’ll do it because well, look at Prime Minister Han. He was about to be killed out on the streets if he didn’t comply. This was a very well thought out plot and it moved VERY swiftly this episode. We’ll discuss more about the aftermath in the next episode but I wanted to discuss the overall plot here to clarify some questions that viewers might have.


Ok – let’s move onto culture. There’s not much today because it was very plot heavy. So let’s talk about the one item we have.


Early in the episode, when the Emperor and his advisors discuss the threats along the border, they never actually specify who or which group they were going to fight. The Emperor mentioned a new ruler that was only 17. I did a check and comparison of the main rival kingdoms during the time of around 1065 to check who it could be. We have the Emperor 耶律洪基 of the Liao Empire to the north. However, he ascended the throne in 1055 and was in his mid 30s during the time of this show. So he’s most likely not the right person.. We also have Emperor 李谅liang4祚qi3 of 西夏国. He was most likely who the Emperor in our show was referencing because he was indeed only around 17-18 in 1065. He became Emperor at the age of 1 in 1048 but the Empress Dowager acted as regent. In 1056, the Empress Dowager was killed and the boy’s uncle served as regent. This uncle plotted to kill him but was exposed and executed in 1061. There were some skirmishes with the Song Dynasty but this Emperor, 李谅liang4祚qi3 focused a lot on expanding diplomatic relations with the powerful neighbors to his east and north. Namely, the Song and Liao Dynasties.


Finally, let’s move onto book similarities and differences. There’s a lot!! The drama makes its way back to and weaves itself again to coincide with much of the book. Which means I can also spend a decent amount to discuss book similarities, differences, and my thoughts on these decisions!


First off, 顾廷烨 was never sent to prison in the books so he never lost his title or status. The Emperor did send him away to the western front to fight against neighboring invaders. In the book, he was also paired with the Duke of Ying but he was sent as part of the vanguard or advanced guard, not as a foot soldier. 


Because 顾廷烨 was still a Marquis when he left, the implications for 明兰 were also different. When news traveled that he might have died, the worry for Ming Lan was that there might be additional punishment passed down to the family. As long as 顾廷烨 didn’t commit treason, then, Ming Lan and their children would be relatively safe. At this point in the book, Ming Lan is actually heavily pregnant with their second child. Ming Lan’s son 团哥 would still inherit the title of Marquis. This also meant that Madame Qin wasn’t openly gloating about 顾廷烨’s death because the Marquis title wouldn’t pass to her son. For that to happen, Ming Lan and her son also needed to be killed, which brings us back to the drama in which Madame Qin plotted to kill Ming Lan when 顾廷烨 was supposedly dead. 


This brings us to the coup. At the beginning, the events in the book and drama are pretty similar with the fact that a eunuch from the palace was sent to summon 明兰 and she discovered the ruse. In the book, she did send word to other families as a warning against entering the palace and prepared for the attack of her home. 


Now here’s where the differences come in. In the book, Ming Lan already hid her son in a very safe location. 蓉姐 wasn’t with her brother. She was instead placed safely with Madame Shao, 顾廷烨’s older brother’s widow and mother to 娴姐儿. This wasn’t because she didn’t care for 蓉姐, but because Ming Lan wanted to split the potential targets. Unfortunately, someone did tattle on 团哥’s location and almost had disastrous consequences. The culprit specifically is one of 明兰’s maids. She spilled the hiding place to one of Ming Lan’s sister-in-law’s maid’s / concubines. This concubine in the book was in league with Madame Qin. The concubine then “persuaded” Madame Shao to take the young girls to the hiding location of 团哥, which then allowed her to lead bandits into the room with the aim of killing 团哥. In the book, the fight was very bloody. 蓉姐儿 came to the rescue but at a pretty big cost to herself. She killed one of the bandits but her hand was slashed. She held off the attackers just enough for Ming Lan’s guards to come to the rescue. Unlike the book,  朱曼娘 doesn’t come to try and kill 团哥. 


I think it was fine with how the drama handled this change. 朱曼娘 doesn’t die in the book, she becomes crazy when her son dies at the very end, based on her own actions. The drama allows for a final confrontation between 朱曼娘 and her daughter. 蓉姐 chose her step brother and step mother over her crazy birth mother. In the book, she also makes this choice, but not in as dramatic of a fashion. 


There’s a lot more characters in the book, so it makes sense that Ming Lan had to deal with more characters with this coup. The drama refocuses it to the characters we know.


Lastly, in the book, 顾廷烨 doesn’t rush back the same night. Ming Lan deals with everything all on her own AND while heavily pregnant. So i’ll pause here to say 明兰 was a certified badass. Not that she wasn’t in the drama, but she was moreso in the book.


Ep 71



Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 71 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 


This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in mandarin chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us via email at or else reach out to us on instagram and twitter! Also please do leave us a review on whatever platform you listen to us to!


As we normally do, we will do a drama episode recap, then go on to chat about culture and history portrayed in the episode which today is quite a lot, and then wrap up with some book differences.  Today is going to be a pretty long episode as there’s a ton of history to discuss



In the last episode, Ming Lan was visited by Qi Heng and his wife, Madame Shen to see what they could do to help her. Well, that was initially Qi Heng’s thought but during the conversation, Madame Shen has shown that she is quite capable herself. This is quite the turning point for their relationship because Qi Heng is clearly impressed. After the couple leave Ming Lan’s Cheng Gardens, Qi Heng actually takes Madame Shen out for dinner and is suddenly very attentive towards her. I don’t think he recognizes the shift himself but Madame Shen is over the moon with joy. 


Meanwhile, taking Qi Heng and Madame Shen’s words to heart, Ming Lan decides that they should still host a birthday celebration for her son. Now this celebration is the 满月酒 which is the celebration for children after their first month of life. 


As Ming Lan works to prepare for the celebration, Qi Heng continues to help Ming Lan uncover what kind of plots are in store for her. As he still has a title in court, he can more easily help investigate on behalf of Ming Lan and the Sheng family. Sure enough, Qi Heng is called to a courtyard where he and several detectives and guards find the body of Bai Da Lang hanging from a rope. Bai Da Lang is Gu Ting Ye’s relative who spent his life trying to take the Bai family fortune from Gu Ting Ye and was also gathered by Madame Qin to make false testimony against Gu Ting Ye in front of the Emperor. While at first glance, the body’s position suggests he hung himself, but eye witnesses recount that he was actually forcibly hung there by men in black that took off over the walls. Qi Heng can only comment that this is a very intricate web that has been spun.


Why is this important? Clearly, Bai Da Lang has been used to make a point in front of the Emperor but then he was disposed of in order to prevent him from blabbing out who all was involved in bringing him into the capital. All signs point to the fact that it was the Empress Dowager’s men that killed Bai Da Lang as loose lips sink ships. She did not want him around to let slip any important detail about their schemes, even though Bai Da Lang had no idea of the full extent with which he was involved in.




And now it’s time for MIng Lan’s son’s celebration! This scene I thought was way too short and should have been much longer. There are a ton of people that return for literally 30 seconds in this scene to show their support for Ming Lan and it’s quite touching. Before we head over to the Cheng Garden’s, there is a brief scene with Qi Heng and his family again. Qi Heng and his wife are visited by his parents who also present Qi Heng with a gift to give to Ming Lan’s son. This is a short but heartwarming scene where Princess Ping Ning seems to finally let her judgement of Ming Lan go as she gifts Ming Lan’s son with jade from her own dowry. That’s an extravagant gift even if the jade itself is small and represents that she places Ming Lan in high enough regard to receive such a gift. Qi Heng is relieved to see this from his mother as it means they have all moved on with that past relationship. 


At Cheng Garden’s the tables are set for a festive party but for some reason, it’s currently empty. Mo Lan, Ming Lan’s 4th sister, is the first to arrive and seeing that no guests have arrived yet decides to start mocking Ming Lan. She thinks that no one would deign to come to Ming Lan’s banquet because of what’s happened to her and her husband which is a humiliation that Mo Lan cannot let go. 



But, only after a few pointed barbs from Mo Lan, two powerful and connected women arrive to support Ming Lan. They are Madame Zhang and the younger Shen sister. Just by the presence of these two women alone are enough to shut Mo Lan’s mouth because Madame Zhang, as we are familiar with, is the wife of the State Uncle and daughter of a duke herself, and the younger Shen sister is the younger sister of the current Empress. Needless to say, both of these women outrank Mo Lan and Ming Lan for that matter so for them to show up raises the status of this banquet. 


Mo Lan still tries to insult Ming Lan in front of Madame Zhang who has none of it and actually orders her staff to drag Mo Lan off. Madame ZHang is a certified badass. Wooo. Mo Lan has no option but to calm down and it’s so funny. The trio of women, Madame Zhang, Mo Lan and the younger Shen sister sit at a table where Madame Zhang pointedly sits next to Mo Lan in order to prevent her from saying or doing anything that would harm Ming Lan. What a good friend. Everyone wants a friend like Madame Zhang. Haha.


Soon after, plenty of people start pouring in for the banquet. We see Yan Ran, Ming Lan’s childhood friend who Gu Ting Ye originally wanted to marry many years ago. Yan Ran married off elsewhere and traveled to the Capital to see Ming Lan. She’s not the only one to visit again. The cohort of relatives from You Yang, the Sheng family home town also arrive, including 淑兰 and 品烂。Remember them? We met them in the mid twenties episodes when Ming Lan went over to visit with Grandma Sheng.  


Other guests we see include Qi Heng and Madame Shen, Ru Lan and Hua Lan, Ming Lan’s 5th and oldest sister respectively, as well as Ming Lan’s aunt, Madame Wei. Dan Ju, Ming Lan’s former maid, also returned to wish her former master well. 




I’m personally really sad that this scene was so short because it showcased that all of the kind deeds Ming Lan did for her friends and family was recognized in the fact that they traveled all this way to celebrate her son’s first month. It would not have been a secret that her husband is in jail and that she is no longer a marchioness but you will notice that many of the people in attendance are there because they were helped in some way shape or form by Ming Lan which then developed into a strong friendship. That is the case with Madame Zhang and the younger Shen sister, 嫣然,品兰 and 淑兰,and 丹菊. It is a wonderful feeling seeing so many of her friends turn out to support her in the face of possible social retribution for being associated with her. That is what Mo Lan was hinting to earlier.


But the festivities don’t last long as shortly after, we are caught in a big fray. Chang Mo Mo sets Ming Lan’s son down in his crib to sleep and not long afterwards, a figure dressed in all black sneaks into the room, holding a dagger. This figure is intent on killing Ming Lan’s son. But, Shi Tou appears to stop this figure and a fight ensues. After a heated battle where the assassin successfully stabs the bundle in the crib, she is captured and revealed to be 凤仙,Gu Ting Ye’s concubine that was planted by Madame Qin. Who knew she was actually an assassin. Luckily, her plot was foiled as it is revealed the bundle in the crib was just a fake wooden doll. 



As Ming Lan explains to Grandma Sheng later that night, the whole purpose of the banquet was to create some chaos on the property to lure out the forces that want to harm Ming Lan and her son. It was expected that because of the banquet, security would be low and there would be some action against Ming Lan. And sure enough, they were able to capture 凤仙 in the act. Now they have new evidence to present to court. Ming Lan informs her grandmother she is going to beat the drum tomorrow in her 诰命 outfit to ask the Emperor to reinvestigate GU Ting Ye’s supposed crimes. Grandma Sheng understands Ming Lan’s view and even brings forth her own witness to help Ming Lan – 康兆儿. She’s the cousin that Ming Lan helped escape from being a concubine for Gu Ting Ye at the  bidding of the now deceased Aunt Kang.  She came back to help Ming Lan.


What exactly is Ming Lan going to do? Thus far, Gu Ting Ye has not revealed the truth about why Gu Ting Ye killed Aunt Kang or at least the intricacies of Grandma Sheng’s poisoning. Ming Lan is now going to reveal all of this in order to save Gu Ting Ye. That is why she apologizes to Grandma Sheng because Ming Lan is going to ruin the Sheng family’s future with her act but she has to do so in order to save Gu Ting Ye.



And so, the next day, Ming Lan in her conferred title or 诰命 outfit and her select group start banging on the 登闻鼓 outside the imperial palace. By wearing this outfit is already against the rules because she has had her title stripped from her but it is a symbolic gesture that she is fighting against the unjust she and her husband have experienced, With her are 小桃,石头,the captured 凤仙 and 兆儿。


In the main hall of the palace, all of court can hear the drums and a number of officials request the Emperor to do a retrial including Qi Heng. The Emperor, however, is short tempered and erupts at the officials because he does not want to deal with the Gu Family drama any further. He even kicks Qi Heng out of the main hall. 


The group is not perturbed whatsoever as Ming Lan continues to beat the drum. If she’s not the one beating the drum, she is kneeling on the ground with her written testimony and evidence in front of the palace gate, loudly shouting the deeds that Aunt Kang did against her family. Problem is, the Emperor does not want to hear her. She kneels outside of the palace for an entire day and night without being called into the palace. All of court walks by to see her kneeling and her group beating the drum and at night, the entire palace hears her as well, from the Emperor to the Empress, to the Empress Dowager and also Concubine Liu. 


Ming Lan’s brother, Chang Bai, is also scene beating on the door of the judiciary, yelling that he’s a witness to the crimes Ming Lan is recounting and wants to give his testimony. It’s really sweet because, despite his father’s urging, he remains resolute that he must help his sister overthrow the wrongful conviction of Gu Ting Ye. Once again, he does not care what this might mean for the Sheng family but instead is doing this because he knows it is what’s right.  His father, on the other hand, is doggedly running around trying to drag his children back from their outward display of disrespect to the Emperor but to no avail. 


After a full day, MIng Lan is still there beating the drums but her body cannot take it anymore and she passes out. Next thing we know, she wakes up in the Empress’s rooms where she has a private audience with her. But it doesn’t seem like her chat with the Empress went well because we soon see her leave the palace on foot with her servants, her father and Madame Zhang escorting her. She is walking with heavy steps and at a slow pace. In the middle of the busy street, she breaks down in tears. She takes off her elaborate headdress while uttering  the words 飞鸟尽,良弓藏,狡兔死,走狗烹. Shortly after, she passes out in the streets once again in her despair. Her family rushes her home. 




This entire scene is seen by Mo Lan who watches from the balcony of 樊楼。She gloats at Ming Lan’s current predicament but is also shocked to hear Ming Lan utter those words which we will explain later on. Mo Lan’s moment of glee doesn’t last long, however, because shortly after she heads home, Mo Lan discovers that her head maid has been cavorting with her husband behind her back. She catches the two in the act and is absolutely livid. She cannot understand how this maid can betray her like that. But it’s evident that Mo Lan never treated her maids kindly and so she didn’t have much choice but to go with Liang Han.


Mo Lan then directs her ire towards 梁含。She does not understand why he would do this to her. And now, the curtains are lifted between the two as Liang Han stands his ground. He knows exactly how she tricked her way into marrying him and all the unspeakable things she did in order to make it happen. He even knows that she caused his mistress to miscarry by using the same tactics her mother used – sending his mistress heavy and oily foods that caused the unborn child to grow too big and could not be born. It’s exactly what Mistress Lin did to Ming Lan’s mother and led to her death.


At this point, 梁晗 has had enough and grabs the maid’s hand and runs off.  Mo Lan screams after him that her feelings are genuine which is why she married him but that trust is gone forever. Mo Lan still doesn’t believe what she’s done is wrong but is utterly shattered at what happened to her. After all, she did everything her mother. Why did it not work? 


That’s where we close the episode. It really is reaping what is sown. Mo Lan finally sees the consequences of both her trickery to get into the Liang family and her treatment of her maids. If she had been kind to her maids, she would not have felt this level of betrayal by them. But after all, it’s par for the course for her character. 


That was a lot of action for the episode but we also have a LOT of culture and history to discuss today too. So let’s get started!




满月酒 – first up is the one-month banquet!


In Chinese culture, it is customary to host a one month banquet for a newborn baby. Historically, mortality rates were quite high for newborn babies especially in the first 30 days so this one-month banquet was a celebration of life, indicating that the baby survived to now.


The 满月酒 banquet is celebrated with family and friends and presents are exchanged. The banquet here was purposefully kind of hectic. If we recall Madame Zhang’s son’s 满月酒, it was a very grand affair. They typically are. It’s the first time the baby is really presented to the world outside of very close friends. 


This one month banquet is still very much a part of Chinese culture today. 


金项圈 – golden necklace but it’s more like a collar / choker because it is solid. Take a look a the one they give 团哥 in the episode. It’s a good representation. At the bottom of the collar, there can be additions, like a golden lock or a 如意. These are all represent good luck and longevity. Very apt for gifts for a newborn.


Historically, these 项圈 were bestowed to children in hopes that they would ward off evil spirits. I read an article and the current theory is that this practice first came from minorities within China and then became popularized. They were first worn as statements of status by the nobility. Over the years, they primarily became used as gifts for newborn babies. In the present day, minorities within China still wear these. 


These 项圈 are usually made with gold, silver, or copper. Sometimes they are made with jade. Historically, for some local customs, parents would request some coins from neighbors and they would melt the coins with the other ores to create the 项圈. The significance of this would be that the 项圈 is blessed with protection of 100 families so the wearer or baby will also have that protection. 





This is the framed embroidery that 余嫣然 gifts to 明兰’s son for the one-month banquet. The translation of the saying is all birds paying homage to the phoenix. I took that from 百科 as it’s quite good. This phrase also has the meaning of peace under a wise ruler. 凤 or phoenix has always represented royalty. Over the years 凤凰 became more of a female representation. 


There are references to 百鸟朝凤 in the Song dynasty and the legends trace back all the way to the earliest of Chinese gods and legends. 




The emperor says this line when comparing how arrogant Gu TIng Ye is. The line literally just means arrogant or domineering like Huo Guang.


霍光 was a politician during the Western Han dynasty and died around 68 BC. He is an interesting character in that he basically deposed of an emperor who he deemed was not fit to be emperor and searched for a long lost descendant of the formidable Han Wu Di and pushed this descendant, the great grandson of Han Wu Di to the throne. This descendant’s name was 刘病已。霍光 was quintessential in managing the affairs of state for the Han dynasty but ultimately it was not enough to save it from its demise. The key takeaway here though is that this Huo Guang was so powerful that he got rid of an emperor he thought was not fit to rule. That takes some audacity but because Huo Guang was well connected, no one opposed him. That kind of power is what the current Emperor in our drama is trying to avoid in Gu TIng Ye. 




礼冠 – yay after several weeks of us putting of discussions about headdresses and female court attire, let’s dive into it! It’s a lot so let’s get comfy!


We’ve seen women at court over the course of the drama wearing their formal headdress. This includes Grandma Wang and Madame Qin. We’ve also seen the Empress wear her formal phoenix headdress too. However, we’ve held off formally discussing them because of course we get to see Ming Lan finally wear her formal court attire too, with headdress and everything so we’ll discuss now. I’ll also be mentioning previous episodes to reference differences between the court attire for the various ladies. 


What’s great about these headdresses, is that there are paintings of prominent women, especially Empresses, that historians, costume designers, and myself can reference today to compare between the drama and history. Actually, archeologists have yet to uncover an Empress headdress from the Song Dynasty, but there are contemporary paintings and Empress headdresses from the Ming Dynasty that serve as a great reference.


Right off the bat, we see 明兰’s headdress has 2 wings, one on each side. Those are called 博鬓. The not so great purpose of these wings, with all of the beautiful pearls and jewels dangling off of them, was really to limit the movement of women. The goal was to make sure that the women had the right poise and posture while at court. What do I mean? Women wearing the headdress had to work to make sure no sound was emitted from walking with their headdress. How do you do that? By walking very slow and upright of course. That’s NOT great. I think we’ve talked about this before, the wings on the hats for the men at court? The purpose of those was to deter whispering or having conversations at court to conspire against the Emperor. If you have like a 3 foot hat span, it’s kind of hard for people to hear you.


Back to the ladies. The number of wings represented power and prestige of the woman. This ranged from 1 to 3. Before 明兰 was stripped of her title, she was the wife of a Marquis so wife of the second rank. So she had one. Grandma Wang – the wife of a famous scholar also only had one. However, if we recall in episode 69, Madame Qin had the full 3! So is Madame Qin the most highly ranked? I think so but I’ll discuss a little bit more about this after my next topic. 


The next topic here is that we have the very striking image for 明兰’s attire and headdress. Everything is blue, headdress included. Grandma Wang and Madame Qin’s headdresses were gold. Now – 明兰’s headdress is very similar to Empress’s headdresses that are currently viewable in museums, specifically with the striking blue color. What is it made of?


Historically, the technique is called 点翠. It’s a style of Chinese art that features Kingfisher feathers. The 翠 is for 翠鸟 or the Kingfisher bird. The technique first appeared during the Han dynasty, so dating back around 2,000 years. The chinese loved blue and this technique of 点翠 was favored among the female nobility for their hair accessories. It was very expensive to make and honestly, the display of 点翠 in art and what has been preserved till today really show the wealth of China throughout the centuries. 点翠 reached the height of its popularity during the 清 dynasty, especially during the reigns of 雍正 and 乾隆 – so the 18th century. During this time, even wealthy women would wear these to show off status and wealth.  For those of you who have watched the RuYi’s love in the palace, you’ll see Ru Yi wearing headdresses with this blue color. The last 点翠 factory closed in 1933 because well, kingfishers were on the brink of extinction. Nowadays, people still make accessories using the technique, but it’s illegal to use actual kingfisher feathers. People use dyed goose feathers or fabrics as replacements. The electric blue was highly favored and the color never faded, so some of these have been preserved for centuries.


Well, how does one make a headdress or hair accessories with feathers? I watched a couple of videos so hopefully I can describe it accurately. One plucks the striking blue feathers from the Kingfisher bird, again, this doesn’t happen today. Then, there’s a base typically made of gold or silver, in which the feather is layered on top of it. Gold or silver is then welded onto the feather with the desired design of the accessory as the edge. Then cut the feather so that one is just left with the gold edges and the blue in the middle. Add some glue and paste on the desired jewels to the middle of it or to the back to create the long hair pin. Definitely take a look at some youtube videos or just marvel at 明兰’s headdress to see the detail and skill that goes into this! 


Of note, 明兰’s headdress has birds on it. As she is not the Empress, she could not wear a phoenix headdress or 凤冠. Most likely, the bird is a 翚hui(1)鸟, a legendary colorful pheasant that appears in the book of song. 


What was kind of confusing to me with this scene though is I’m not entirely sure how the show prioritized these women. What do I mean by that, Ming Lan is wearing a headdress using the 点翠 technique which is more lavish than using pure gold. However, Grandma Wang’s headdress in episode 68 is even more lavish than 明兰’s but that one’s is made of gold and only has one wing. Madame Qin’s headdress in episode 69 has 3 layers of wings but the centerpiece isn’t as grand as Grandma Wang’s. Eh – I”ll just chalk it up to show choices. However, 明兰’s is definitely the most striking and I think the drama wanted to showcase her outfit and differentiate hers from the others we’ve seen previously.


That was a lot! Ready for more? Credit for this comes from an excellent post from Kiko, who did much of the research. I did a lot of the translation and validated elsewhere but she provided much of the information in one location.




Next, the discussion will be about 霞帔. It’s kind of like a scarf or shawl that women wore for court and it complemented their headdress. It didn’t wrap around but it hung off of the collar bone. We DONT see ming lan wear this in episode 71. Grandma Wang wears it in the beginning of episode 68 when she wears her full court attire to meet the Empress Dowager. Madame Qin also wears hears when she appears at court in episode 69. Although, I can’t really tell if it’s a 霞帔 or just part of the robe itself. I’ll just assume it’s the 霞帔. 


The first records of 霞帔 also appear in the han dynasty. Usage again was fomalized during the Song Dynasty. In a portrait of 昭宪(xian4) 太后  , the mother of the first Emperor of the Song Dynasty, one can clearly see both the blue headdress and the 霞帔. The 霞帔 though is sewn together at the bottom and completed with a medallion at the end. The purpose of the medallion was actually to keep the 霞帔 weighted so that it didn’t fly around. Both Grandma Wang and Madame Qin don’t have the medallion so maybe they aren’t wearing a 霞帔 but it could have also been a costume choice so that the two women could actually move around in their scenes. During the Song dynasty, one could only wear the 霞帔 if it was formally gifted by the Emperor. It was only during the Ming Dynasty though that it became custom for women to always wear the headdress with the scarf of 霞帔. Regular women were allowed to wear th headdress and scarf or 凤冠霞帔 only on their wedding day. So you’ll see women in Song Dynasty, Ming Dynasty, and Qing Dynasty dramas wear the headdress and scarf for that special occasion. Ming Lan does for her wedding. We talked about the 凤冠 for episode 40.





We actually talked about this phrase in Empresses in the Palace but we’ll reiterate here as it is important


My translation goes like this – the birds have been shot, so the bow is no longer needed. The wiley hare is dead, so let’s feast on the dog as well.


This is a metaphor for a person who will exploit someone or something until it has lost all value, then he’ll discard that person. This is a rather extreme way of dealing with people. Usually people don’t go to such extremes of discarding or ridding people who are of no value. This phrase certainly has more ominous connotations than simply being something that one does. It’s often used to describe an Emperor’s actions towards his advisors, which is what happens here.


This phrase first appears in 史记 or the Records of the Grand Historian written by the Han Dynasty historian 司马迁 in 90s BC. It appears in genealogy of 越王勾践世家 or House of King Goujian of Yue. The political advisor 范蠡 makes this remark after helping the King Goujian reclaim his throne, only to be ousted from court and forced to resign. 


For Ming Lan to utter these words is hugely disrespectful of the imperial family and means that she is ready to cut ties with them at all costs. That is why her father was so upset she said this line and also why Mo Lan was shocked she would make such remarks for all to hear. Let’s also think about WHY she said this. She wanted people to hear. Even 墨兰 of all people, when she overheard this and was utterly stunned that 明兰 would voice this out publicly because this is essentially treason to say such words out loud. 



Book differences!


After all the history! I’ll keep book differences very short and sweet. The drama forges it’s completely own path here in episode 71. 明兰 doesn’t host a one month banquet for her son with the purpose of catching an assassin. Fengxian is definitely not an assassin. She is given the choice of marriage to a lower class man or become a concubine for a wealthy man. She chooses the concubine route. Ming Lan doesn’t beat the 登闻鼓, and doesn’t confront the Empress. 墨兰 and her husband in the book actually never have a falling out. He never finds out about her “treachery”. Ming lan in the book just doesnt really care about her and keeps her distance. the show really dials up the drama to get us to hurtle towards the end of the drama. It’s calmer in the drama in the sense that 明兰 has to deal with tough issues but she’s very capable herself and doesn’t rely too much on the aid of others as she does in the drama.



However, one thing that the drama makes clear in this episode and the book does in the last couple of chapters is the power of relations and what it means to attend social events or voice opinions at court. In this episode, there are two scenes that really make it clear now just how embedded frankly 明兰, by extension the Sheng family, and the Gu family are now at court, and where they AREN’T.


The first is of course ming lan’s son’s one-month banquet. We already discussed the attendees but let me reiterate again the status of the attendees. 


Madame Zhang – wife of the Empress’s brother-in-law and sole daughter of a Duke in her own right.

Madame Shen – sister of the Empress

Qi Heng – son of a duke

Qi Heng’s wife, Madame Shen – who also comes from a prominent family


These are basically the “outsiders”


Let’s actually then look at Ming Lan’s direct family

华兰 – wife to the son of a count

墨兰 – despite our dislike for her, she is the proper wife to the son of a count

如兰 – unfortunately the weakest link of the sisters, is still married to an official


That in it of itself is already a formidable party. It shows that even though 顾廷烨 is stripped of his titles, 明兰 is not to be trifled with. She is still a force to be reckoned with. I mean, you have the empress’s sister and sons of dukes at her party! That means a lot. News of this banquet will certainly travel throughout the capital so minglan is relatively safe for now. Unfortunately this is also a prime example of why families always wanted an advantageous marriage, exactly for scenes like this. Families built wealth and status off of these marriages. Look at the sheng family. Sheng hong was just a shuchu son. All he had was grandma sheng, quite a formidable woman in her own right, but in only one generation, look at how well his daughters married! They are the ones creating this protective wall for ming lan. Moral of this story? Marriages matter.


In the book, the advantages of marriage actually serve 墨兰 to her benefit. Her father in law died and the eldest son who happened to be shu chu wanted to split the family. No one else wanted that, least of all mo lan because well her husband doesnt have real means of making money and had no role at court. Molans mother in law hosted a banquet in which the female relatives were all invited to deliberate on this topic. Long story short, the wife of the eldest son lost the battle to split the family because she and her husband were no match for the extended relations the rest of women in the liang family had. 明兰, a marchioness in her own right, was only one of several extended relatives at the banquet. Ming Lan and Hua Lan showed up not for any real sisterly affection for 墨兰 but because they couldn’t leave 墨兰 out to dry. No matter what, they needed to represent a united front. Family, marriages, and relations did and do matter.


Ep 70


Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. This is your host, Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 70 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 


This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in mandarin chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us via email at or else reach out to us on instagram and twitter! Also please do leave us a review on whatever platform you listen to us to!


If you are new to the podcast, please check out our intro the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. As we normally do for our podcast episodes, we will do a drama episode recap and then talk about culture and or history referenced in the drama and finally end with some book differences.




These episodes are very plot heavy as we are now in the end game. But it’s also an opportunity to see how many friends and allies Ming Lan has amassed over the years with her strong will and good heart. 


Episode 70 begins with the terrible news that Gu Ting Ye has been locked up by the Emperor. On Ming Lan’s side, she falls into a shock at the news and hurriedly reaches out to her and Gu Ting Ye’s friends, Shen Guo Jiu and his wife, Madame Zhang for help. As Shen Guo Jiu is a trusted military general and brother to the current Empress, they have some clout with the royal family. They themselves have been trying to help Gu Ting Ye but have also been turned away. But, Madame Zhang points out that even if Ming Lan, who has been rebuffed many times from entering the palace, cannot go, she at least can.


The other person intent on helping Gu Ting Ye is Sheng Chang Bai, Ming Lan’s brother. This upstanding gentleman was thrown into one of the Sheng family warehouses by his father in order to prevent him from going to court and blurt out the truth about Aunt Kang’s poisoning of Grandma Sheng, thereby helping Gu Ting Ye. It’s a rather hilarious scene when Chang Bai tries to escape his confinement and we see what happens when someone who has no martial arts training whatsoever tries to fight. He gets tossed back in. Hahahahahaha. Chang Bai steals the keys to his rooms from a servant that brought him food while also tying said poor guy up. The camera doesn’t even follow Chang Bai out, only on the struggling servant before the doors open up again and Chang Bai is carried back into the room by 4 servants, one grabbing each limb. Hahahahaha. He is ultimately a sweetheart because he only tied up the servant despite thinking it might be better to knock him out with a bench. After a hot second, Chang bai thought better of it because that would be quite painful. Such a subtle scene again shows Chang Bai’s forgiving and kind character.


He is beaten rather harshly by Sheng Hong in Sheng family shrine. On one side, Chang Bai wants to report the truth in order to do what’s right but Sheng Hong wants to protect the Sheng family. As we’ve said in previous episodes, if Chang Bai reveals the truth about Grandma Sheng’s poisoning, the careers and prospects of every member of the Sheng family will be ruined. It is something that Sheng Hong and Chang Bai have to balance.



At night, Madame Zhang successfully makes it into the palace to meet with the Empress. Madame Zhang subtly tries to ask about Gu Ting Ye’s condition which the Empress refuses to elaborate but Ming Lan bursts forward. She entered the palace disguised as one of Madame Zhang’s maids in order to have an audience with the Empress. The Empress is rather understanding of Ming Lan’s feelings and tries to console her before walking away but Ming Lan grabs hold of the Empress’s robes and continues to plead her case. Now, to me, the behavior of the Empress upon multiple viewings is quite suspect. When Ming Lan first bursts into the hall to speak to the Empress, the Empress doesn’t look at her with a straight face. And then, as Ming Lan shouts that there are spies from the Empress Dowager, the Empress looks even more flustered. She reiterates that there’s been a death in the Wang family which is difficult to explain as if those lines were rehearsed. And lastly, she doesn’t allow any maids to treat Ming Lan poorly or drag her off. She even relents and allows Ming Lan to see Gu Ting Ye in prison. Ming Lan’s actions could have resulted in a much worse punishment but for all intents and purposes, the Empress was quite reasonable and forgiving to her. This is one of the hints as to how this entire trial is playing out. 


News of Ming Lan’s actions travels to Gu Ting Ye’s ears. He, who is now sitting in a dark but large prison cell, is paid a visit by none other than Prince Huan who tells him that Ming Lan created a huge scene with his mother in order to be allowed to come see Gu Ting Ye. After hearing this, Gu Ting Ye is not actually excited about the fact that she’s coming to see him, but rather that she caused a scene! He is over the moon to hear that she behaved this way for him and even rushes the Prince out of his cell to find someone who was a witness to Ming Lan’s behavior in order to report this back to him in detail. Hahahaha. What a weirdo. It’s because to him, this is another display that Ming Lan might actually have true feelings for him now. He wants to confirm it!



Back at the Sheng manor, Ming Lan is preparing for her visit to see Gu Ting Ye but is paid an unexpected visit by Madame Wang. She traveled all the way from You Yang after hearing of Ming Lan’s plight and even received permission from Chang Bai and SHeng Hong to speak to Ming Lan. I really like this scene as it is the crucial scene where we see Madame Wang truly be a mother to Ming Lan. She appears in the night to speak to Ming Lan and help her, as well as us, understand why it is important for Ming Lan to separate from Gu Ting Ye immediately. If Gu Ting Ye is charged and his title removed, Ming Lan’s son would also be labeled as the son of a criminal. If Ming Lan separates from Gu Ting Ye now, Ming Lan would preserve herself as well as her son by returning to the Sheng family. The Sheng family can at least still protect her. If Gu Ting Ye ever gets his name cleared, they can always re-marry. This is the best course of action for Ming Lan. 


Ming Lan understands what Madame Wang is saying to her because it’s for Ming Lan’s good. I think that if this was at the beginning of her marriage, Ming Lan would have listened to Madame Wang and separated. But now, after all they’ve been through, Ming Lan is not going to separate from her husband and instead, will face the troubles together as a married couple.  This reflects her changed sentiment in this marriage.


Now the other important takeaway from this conversation is that Ming Lan finally feels a mother’s love from Madame Wang. The analysis that Madame Wang shares is a painful truth for Ming Lan but she does so to help Ming Lan. At the beginning of the conversation, Ming Lan is still rather guarded with Madame Wang and calls her as such. After hearing how Madame Wang is thinking about how to protect Ming Lan and her son, Ming Lan actually calls Madame Wang 母亲, the term for mother. It is as though Madame Wang’s departure has done her some good in repenting for her past crimes. On Madame Wang’s side, she also started the conversation by calling Ming Lan 明丫头 and then moved to calling her 明儿 after Ming Lan changed her reference to Madame Wang. It’s evident that at this moment, the Sheng family is closer than ever in an effort to help Ming Lan.



The next day, Ming Lan is escorted to Gu Ting Ye’s prison cell and brings out the various items she’s brought for him, particularly the blankets that could help him keep warm. She also brought the knee guards that Ming Lan gave Gu Ting Ye all those years ago as a thank you for helping her find a doctor for her dying mother. It’s funny that those knee guards seem to be the item that tied the pair together. As Ming Lan reiterates, no matter what happened after that, Ming Lan was always grateful for his help that day.


After the pleasantries, Gu Ting Ye comes out with the heavy hitter and says that they should separate. Ming Lan’s eyes immediately well up with tears. She’s upset that he wants to divorce her. She’s taking it as a divorce but he says it’s an amicable separation. The document has been created and his assets have all been given to her as well. He wants to protect her which is why he wants them to separate first. Just as Madame Wang explained the previous night. 



But Ming Lan does not acquiesce. She even mentions that she named their son, the word 团 which literally means togetherness. They will wait for Gu Ting Ye to be released so they can be together again as a family. This causes Gu Ting Ye to well up with tears now. He still wants to separate with Ming Lan because he thinks it is what’s best for her. Ming Lan pushes back that if they do separate, they will no longer have any connection whatsoever. That is her threat to him from following through and he knows she will not look back. 


As Ming Lan leaves the cell, a procession of guards and eunuchs head to Gu Ting Ye’s cell with an imperial decree. The decree states that Gu Ting Ye, his wife and child will be stripped of their titles. After the fall, Gu Ting Ye will be exiled 2000 miles.



The other friend who is worried about Ming Lan is Qi Heng. Episode 70 ends with Qi Heng heading over to visit Ming Lan to see how he can help. At first he is dressed all in black, hoping to go alone under the cover of darkness but is caught before heading out by his mother. Princess Ping Ning, of course, doesn’t want him to go for a myriad of reasons. Qi Heng’s wife also appears. To his surprise though, Madame Shen, creates lies to help Qi Heng leave the house with her and then changes course so that the husband and wife pair head over to see Ming Lan together. Once there, they ask what Ming Lan’s next steps are. Right now, Ming Lan is acting too rashly because she is being emotional over Gu Ting Ye. But, now that Madame Shen sees her husband is over Ming Lan, she is able to exhibit her intelligence as she tells Ming Lan that without new evidence, she should not try to present herself in front of court. But with new evidence, a new opportunity would be presented. Therefore, the next step should be for Ming Lan to create an opening for those operating in the background to strike. Once that happens, they can go to court with the new evidence of someone trying to harm both her and Gu Ting Ye. The episode ends with the trio planning their next steps. It is touching to me that Ming Lan now has allies again in Qi Heng and Madame Shen. You can tell that at first, Ming Lan is still being guarded with Madame Shen particularly when Qi Heng mentioned the Empress Dowager but Madame Shen implied her allegiance towards helping Ming Lan, or rather help Qi Heng help Ming Lan. Through this conversation, Qi Heng and Madame Shen’s relationship changes dramatically for the better. 




Before talking about some idioms in the drama, let me turn to something peculiar in the prison cell. I mentioned earlier that the Empress’s actions were a little suspect but Gu Ting Ye’s treatment in prison is even more of a green flag if you will. First, in his scene with Prince Huan where Prince Huan tells Gu Ting Ye about Ming Lan’s belligerence in front of the Empress, are two things. Why is Prince Huan able to have a conversation with Gu TIng Ye so easily and why are they able to play Chinese Go so easily. Gu Ting Ye is in prison! That’s a pretty nice way for him to pass the time. And then, whe Ming Lan comes to visit, she notes that she’s surprised there’s so much coal for him to be warm. The implication is that he’s not going to freeze in his cell. I guess you could argue that regardless, Gu Ting Ye is still a marquis at this point so his treatment in prison shouldn’t be THAT bad but it’s still surprising to me. It tells me that he’s living comfortably for being in prison without having Ming Lan bring him gifts and such. 



Let’s dive into culture now!


When 长柏 gets beaten by his father, he has a powerful declaration on how a man should behave. 


He says the following – 为君纠错是为忠,为家擎天是为孝,为子作则是为礼,为法辩白是为节. I did a bit of research and have come to the conclusion that this isn’t from any book and historical reference. However, this is still a very powerful statement. So i’ll try my best to translate!


为君纠错是为忠 – to correct your master, that is loyalty,为家擎天qíng tiān 是为孝,to protect your family from the sky, that is filial piety. 擎天 means to hold the sky – basically to withhold a large force. 为子作则是为礼,to behave as the model son is for propriety, 为法辩白是为节, arguing for the law is for integrity.


If we take the last word of each group, we get 忠孝礼节. Loyalty, filial piety, propriety and integrity. The first 2 are amongst the 8 virtues in Confucian teachings. 礼 is in the 4 cardinal principals. 节 or integrity is usually paired with 礼 but it’s nevertheless powerful. I really enjoyed the fact that the drama gave this time to spotlight 长柏 because he really is an upstanding guy. A little stern, yes, but he isn’t like his father who focuses solely on his career. 长柏 is willing to sacrifice his own career for what he believes is right.




一丘之貉 – 


This idiom is used when 明兰 tries to appeal to the Empress. The literal translation is Racoon dogs from the same mountain. The meaning is – they are all the same, they’re all evil. 

In english, it’s kind of like to birds of a feather but with a much more negative connotation


The first use of this idiom comes from the Book of Han written by 班固 and finished in 111AD. The idiom appears specifically in the volume on 杨恽 yun4.


The story goes as such – there was a man called 杨恽 who was of noble stock. His father rose to the rank of prime minister. He himself was awarded for his loyalty with the title of Marquis. During his time, he implemented several reforms. However, as time passed, he became more and more arrogant. One day – 杨恽 heard that the leader or 单于 of the Xiong Nu which were a nomadic confederation of tribes was killed. He then responds with 若秦时但任小臣,诛杀忠良,竟以灭亡,令亲任大臣,即至今耳,古与今如一丘之貉。


This translates to – During the Qin dynasty, the emperor favored deceitful courtiers and killed his loyal subjects, causing the downfall of the Qin Emperor. It’s the same, from ancient times till now, emperors will all favor these deceitful men. They’re all like racoon dogs from the same mountain. 


Now – nothing really wrong with 杨恽 stating 一丘之貉. But then he also said 古与今 or from ancient times till now. This means he’s also critiquing the current Emperor! The emperor heard this and immediately stripped him of his title and punished him. Ya know, can’t really blame the Emperor on this. If you have a subject stating that you’re the same as despots from the past, you probably wouldn’t be too happy about it either!


And Raccoon dogs! They’re native to east asia and look a lot like raccoons in North America but they’re not the same!




子丑寅卯 – mentioned as a time. 


子时:23:00–1:00 corresponding zodiac is rat


丑时:1:00–3:00 corresponding zodiac is ox


寅时:3:00–5:00 corresponding zodiac is tiger


卯时:5:00–7:00 corresponding zodiac is rabbit


These are used for your horoscope



Book differences!


Ok – let’s discuss book differences. Well, not much to say again as the book completely diverges from the drama. 顾廷烨 is not thrown into prison so there isn’t much for Ming Lan to actually do. What does happen though is that 顾廷烨 is ordered to the western border on a mission with several troops. This is kind of similar to a few episodes later in the drama so I don’t dive into much here. Madame Wang does not return back to the capital to support 明兰. Their relationship never fully thaws out like it does in the drama so I’m glad that Madame Wang and 明兰 finally had that scene in the drama. 齐衡 and his wife Madame 申 also aren’t involved in any of the action so the scenes in the drama are purely to tie everyone back together. 齐衡 in the book doesn’t really have a great ending so I’m glad to see that he’s building a healthy relationship with his wife.


Lastly – this is the last time we see Madame Wang on screen! Very sad about this because she is one of the standout characters for me. The actress 刘琳 just does an amazing job portraying her.  刘琳 has been in several dramas from Daylight Entertainment or 正午阳光. They seem to really like using her. Let’s say one last farewell to the awesome Madame Wang. You were rightly punished for your plot to poison your mother-in-law but i’m glad that in the end, you finally decided to do something for your whole family and not just your own children.


 If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. Again all of this is Free!


Ep 69


Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. This is your host, Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 69 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 


This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in mandarin chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us via email at or else reach out to us on instagram and twitter! Also please do leave us a review on whatever platform you listen to us to!


If you are new to the podcast, please check out our intro the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. As we normally do for our podcast episodes, we will do a drama episode recap and then talk about culture and or history referenced in the drama and finally end with some book differences.




We are nearing the finish line with our drama with just 5 episodes left! I thought rather hard about how best to recap this episode because ultimately, the short of it is that the Empress Dowager gathered all of the enemies in Gu Ting Ye’s life to lie about what he’s done in order to bring him down. Issue is that there’s not a great stopping point for this episode and the next so we will discuss this episode on its own. 


In episode 68, the Empress Dowager had gathered a rather impressive retinue of people intent on bringing down Gu Ting Ye and in this episode, we see the plans come to fruition. This episode is rather straightforward but I will point out a few things you may not have been paying attention to. And then move on to history and book differences. 


Who’s currently in the Empress’s camp? We have Madame Qin, Gu Ting Ye’s step-mother, Grandma Wang, Madame Wang and Aunt Kang’s mother, Concubine Liu, a concubine of the Emperor whose son is now under the care of the Empress Dowager, and Bai Da Lang, Gu Ting Ye’s cousin on his mom’s side who is solely focused on inheriting the Bai family wealth.


The episode begins with Gu Ting Ye meeting with his good friend Prince Huan at a brothel to tell him about what issues might come up in the future. Gu Ting Ye bluntly tells Prince Huan he was the one to kill Aunt Kang but it was warranted. The Prince tells him off for his rash actions and storms off. As soon as he leaves, we see a woman entering the rooms. This is not fully explained but that is 卫行首,the prostitute that is good friends with Gu Ting Ye. Take a close look at his reaction to hearing her come into the room. He glances back towards her and then forward again to follow the gaze of where the Prince left with a knowing look in his eyes. It is important to keep this in mind because why on earth would Gu TIng Ye specifically pick this brothel to meet the Prince for this chat? It is most definitely a choice.


Elsewhere, the Gu family 4th uncle and aunt have decided to recontinue their alliance with Madame Qin while the 5th uncle and aunt leaned the other way and is supporting Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye. Originally the 4th uncle and aunt didn’t want to side with Madame Qin but it turns out, their son who was exiled committed yet another crime while out there. Face palm. The 4th uncle and aunt think that if they work with Madame Qin, they are able to bring back their son. I highly doubt that will happen because he clearly committed multiple crimes but that’s what their parents think can be done. Madame Qin is very happy to leverage that level of hope for their own purposes. In the conversation with the 4th uncle and aunt though, Madame Qin was quite blatantly cleaning ceramics gifted by the empress dowager as a way to flaunt her connection to this powerful woman. The 4th uncle and aunt did not miss this connection.


And now, with the pieces all gathered, it’s time for the show to start. One morning at court, we hear a drum being beaten by none other than Grandma Wang. She has removed expensive outwear and is in rather simple garb. The drum she beats is called 登闻鼓 which we will talk about later. With the sound of those beats, she and her son are summoned to the main hall. In front of the entire court, she accuses Gu Ti ng Ye of killing her daughter and asks that the Emperor help her seek justice.


Evidently she is prepared because she also requests to summon her witnesses which include Madame Qin, the 4th uncle and Aunt Kang’s son. Gu Ting Ye, though, actually smirks when he sees them. He knows there’s going to be great theater on display at this point and is willing to play along with them. 


Grandma Wang is upset that Gu Ting Ye killed her daughter and I do not believe she thinks her daughter is entirely not at fault. But, because the person who died is her daughter, she is going to seek justice any w ay she can. And that includes lying in front of the entire court about what truly happened the night she died. The story she paints is that Aunt Kang was there to help Ming Lan in the flames but was ruthlessly killed by Gu Ting Ye for no reason other than being a bloodthirsty killer. Madame Qin also pipes in that the flames were set by Gu Ting Ye into her son’s rooms that then migrated over to his residence. Honestly, there are plenty of holes in their story. Like why would a random relative run over to help put the flames out? Who was the one to bring her into the property etc etc. But the key point that Grandma Wang is banking on holding this story together is the fact that Gu Ting Ye will not publicly share why Aunt Kang wants to kill Ming Lan. 


Why not? It’s because if he shares the truth about Aunt Kang’s actions in the Sheng family, the Sheng family would be ruined. Chang Bai, Ming Lan’s brother, actually wanted to step in to share the truth but both his father, Sheng Hong, and Gu TIng Ye cut him off before he could share any more. Without this crucial piece of the story, people are led to believe that Aunt Kang had no reason to harm Ming Lan. 


After this back and forth, the Emperor demands that the Judiciary take on this case and investigate the truth. 


Outside, Chang Bai demands to know why GU Ting Ye prevented him from speaking earlier and all Gu Ting Ye could do is to knock him unconscious and tells Sheng Hong to lock him up. That way, he won’t jeopardize the Sheng family any further. At night, Gu Ting Ye has a heartfelt conversation with Ming Lan about the current environment. The husband and wife pair both apologize for causing the other such trouble with their ill-intended relatives. Each believes they are the ones at fault for creating such a negative environment with threats coming all the way down from the imperial family themselves. But now, Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan are finally a team. 


Aunt Kang’s case continues to drag on with the investigation reaching a standstill. Both sides cannot conclusively confirm or deny the motivations of both Aunt Kang and Gu Ting Ye. The Emperor has many meetings with various people who recount the details of the case or else try to persuade him from forgiving Gu Ting Ye. What is important is that in every single meeting, his head eunuch is standing watch next to the emperor. We don’t see the eunuch’s facial expressions closely, but it is important that he is there, listening to every conversation the Emperor has. And the Emperor is becoming increasingly impatient as more details of Gu Ting Ye’s actions are exposed. 


The case further escalates now with the entire court watching intently for what will happen to Gu Ting Ye. Qi Heng, who is now over his affections for Ming Lan, steps over to Gu Ting Ye and basically states he’s going to be on his side. It’s a brief scene but I appreciate that Qi Heng has come to his senses to now help Gu Ting Ye. Unfortunately, the Empress Dowager has gathered the individuals that would create a hard hitting blow to GU Ting Ye. On this new day at court, Grandma Wang’s side including Madame Qin bring forth new accusations to slander Gu Ting Ye’s character.  They bring up Bai Da Lang and none other than Zhu Man Niang, Gu Ting Ye’s former fling. *Sigh. It was painful listening to her screeches again to do this episode recap haha. I normally just skip past this. All these people lie through their teeth as to what Gu Ting Ye has done to them. Bai Da Lang accuses Gu Ting Ye of stealing the Bai family inheritance while Zhu Man Niang screeches that it was Gu Ting Ye that killed his son and paints Gu Ting Ye as a monster. It does not look good for Gu Ting Ye.


On Ming Lan’s side, Chang Mo Mo, Gu TIng Ye’s wet nurse and current caretaker of Ming Lan’s son discovered that someone has been poisoning Ming Lan’s medicine. It’s a slow poison but will cause her to slowly start losing her mind and eventually die. Hmmmm where have we seen this tactic before? Haha not in this drama but most certainly in others like Empresses in the Palace. This comes as a shock to Ming Lan for sure but she remains rather calm. She understands that she shouldn’t cause a fuss for now in case that scares the perpetrator off. Instead, they should investigate in secret who exactly is trying to kill her because it would provide some leads to who is trying to harm Gu Ting Ye. 


We leave the episode with Ming Lan also returning to the Sheng family to stay for a while. Grandma Sheng is of course happy to have her back and Ming Lan is under the impression that Gu TIng Ye will be joining her shortly. Little does she know that he is in a world of trouble now.





Ok – first up, we’re going to discuss a bit on post birth customs in China. The literal translation means sitting for a month. The first records of this date back over 2000 years ago and is mentioned in the Book of Rites. Basically there’s a lot of local customs and practices that are supposed to support and aid a woman after childbirth. This includes, as mentioned in the last episode, not washing ones hair, avoid eating cold things, reducing physical labor etc. Many of these customs extend to today so the term is still quite common.


诰命服 – we will briefly touch up on the 诰命服 today which is the formal dress that both Grandma Wang and Madame Qin wear when they appear at court. Both of them have a 诰命 which is an official title. Both were gifted this title because of the status their late husband’s have. You’ll notice that both Grandma Wang and Madame Qin’s outfits are darker in color but nevertheless extravagant. They fit the status of their rank. By wearing these clothes at court, they are displaying their status and informing the rest of court that they are not to be trifled with. We won’t discuss too much on the outfits today because Ming Lan will wear one in the next few episodes. We will discuss the outfits at length then.


登闻鼓 – 


We have the 登闻鼓 or the emergency drum. The purpose of the drum is to allow common people to raise any emergency cases or raise to the local magistrate’s attention if there were any wrongful convictions. Drums were set up all the way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago and was referenced in 周礼 or the Rites of Zhou which first appeared in the middle of the 2nd century BC. There are references of drums being used even earlier than that. The drum with the name 登闻鼓 was first referenced in the Book of Jin or 晋书 – which was published in the Tang Dynasty of 648AD. The book recounted the history of the the Jin Dynasty which ruled from 266 – 420AD. 


Throughout the course of the dynasties, the importance of the drums also varied. Before the Song dynasty, regular folk could beat the drums and the case or suggestions would be presented to court. Of course, where the drums were beat also dictated its importance but nonetheless, people took notice when someone beat the drums.


During the Song dynasty, stricter rules were set. 3 departments were created to handle these cases. There were 3 major cases that warranted someone to beat the drums. The first was if an imperial entrance test taker accused bribery or favoritism of the examiners. There were specific cases in 973 in which a test taker accused the examiner of taking bribes. The case was reopened by the emperor. The next type of case is if someone presents evidence of bribery or corruption. The last is of course if someone presents evidence of a wrongful conviction.


The drums were used throughout history and it’s cool to see that it is used here in the drama. By the Qing dynasty, so 17th-20th century, the drums were rarely used. There was also a rule that was implemented in which if someone dared or decided to beat the drums, they would first be caned or beated with 30 strokes. The goal of that was to make it so that whatever issue was raised was worth those beatings. 


观火台 or 望火楼 – fire watchtower


During the Song Dynasty, there was already a pretty robust firefighting system. In the famous portrait 清明上河图 or Along the River During the Qing Ming Festival, you’ll clearly see a fire watchtower in the painting. The painting, by 张择端 , and completed in the late 11th century is one of the most famous chinese paintings ever painted. It depicted the qing ming festival and is praised for its depictions of the city during that time period. As mentioned during the episode, not only was there a fire watchtower, there were also dedicated firefighters to combat fires in case of emergency. According to Song Dynasty records, for the major city streets, a fire station was set up every 300 meters. Firefighters were prepped and ready to fight the fires on seconds notice, very similar to what we have now.


Pretty cool right!


Book differences


Ok – let’s discuss book differences. Nice and easy – almost everything in this episode deviates from the book. The Wang family do not go to court, nor does Madame Qin. 曼娘 is also not in the picture in the book. 


Personally – i don’t particularly like the direction the drama went in the last couple of episodes but I understand why they did it. They had to close several loose strands or else if they followed the book, we could have easily gotten like 30 more episodes. Not that I’m complaining!




Thank you all so much for listening!  If you are looking for a platform to watch Chinese dramas and you are in the US, take a look at our sponsor, Jubao TV where you can stream chinese dramas and movies online through their streaming platform, xumo or else on tv via xfinity and cox contour. The shows and movies are all free and they have english subtitles as well. 


Ep 68



Gathering the Troops


Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Cathy and Karen. Today we are discussing episode 68 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 


This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in mandarin chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us via email at or else reach out to us on instagram and twitter! Also please do leave us a review on whatever platform you listen to us to!


If you are new to the podcast, please check out our intro the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. As we normally do for our podcast episodes, we will do a drama episode recap and then talk about culture and or history referenced in the drama and finally end with some book differences.




Now, it’s time for the formidable foes of Madame Qin, Grandma Wang and the Empress Dowager to fight back. The episode is constantly being cut across a few different story lines so I prefer to aggregate exactly what these two ladies have in mind and then discuss some of the other plot points in the episode. These ladies all have different motivations for what they’re doing but the end goal is the same – eliminate Gu Ting Ye. 


Last episode, Grandma Wang was not pleased to see Madame Qin bring the body of her beloved daughter, Aunt Kang. Not only did Grandma Wang immediately see through the fact that Madame Qin’s tears were fake, she surmised that Madame Qin probably had a hand in contributing to Aunt Kang’s death. Madame Qin originally thought that Grandma Wang would not help her bring down Gu Ting Ye but we begin this episode with Grandma Wang, wearing a grand outfit, bringing her son to the palace to see none other than the Empress Dowager.


Grandma Wang kneels in front of Empress Dowager and cries about how upset she is that her daughter has died by the cruel hands of Gu Ting Ye. Hilariously, the Empress Dowager isn’t moved by her tears whatsoever. She talks down to Grandma Wang here because she, the Empress Dowager never had children that lived to adulthood so she cannot empathize with Grandma Wang. In fact, the implication is that because Grandma Wang is crying about her deceased daughter, she is being disrespectful to the Empress Dowager who does not have children. You can see Grandma Wang’s face change when the Empress Dowager reminds her she has no children of her own.



The Empress Dowager is rather quick to dismiss Grandma Wang and her son but not before a rather interesting act. She’s playing with a candle in front of her and goes in to trim the wick. The first cut with scissors is fine but with the second cut, she cuts too far which causes the candle to go out. She exclaims that look, the flames have gone out to which her head eunuch responds that this was inevitable. Only if you trim the wick can the flames last longer. With that, the Wang guests are escorted out.


After they leave the palace and Grandma Wang and her son have a bowl of noodles while discussing what just happened. Grandma Wang is still seething that the likes of Gu Ting Ye could kill her daughter. If they were back in their hey day, no one would dare cross the Wang family because they were so important. They continue with the metaphor of the wick. Let me take a moment to explain it. For the Empress Dowager, I feel there are two ways of interpreting the candle wick and the need to trim it. 



The first interpretation is that Aunt Kang’s death was needed to ensure the longevity of the Wang family. It’s known that Aunt Kang was not an ethical person by any means and caused many issues for the Wang family. Now that she’s gone, the wick has been trimmed which means that the Wang family can enjoy longer prosperity. 


The second interpretation is to highlight that Gu Ting Ye is the one that needs to be culled. The Empress Dowager wants to ensure the longevity of the Song dynasty and the rule of the current emperor. She doesn’t necessarily think it’s the Emperor who’s at fault but rather is too influenced by the likes of officials like Gu Ting Ye. Therefore, to ensure that the Song dynasty continues on,Gu Ting Ye must be trimmed. The Empress dowager does not out right say this but only uses the metaphor of the candle wick for the Wang family to decide what they want to do next. Also, that way, she has plausible deniability if they don’t understand her meaning.


Outside when the Wang mother and son duo are discussing next steps, they also refer to the candle. For Grandma Wang, the flames of prosperity of their family are flickering towards its demise. She is focused on how they can keep those embers alight. The Wang family ultimately decides to align with the Empress Dowager in bringing down Gu Ting Ye. 


With this chess piece in place, the Empress Dowager takes her next step. She’s been working with Concubine Liu or 刘贵妃 to undermine the Empress. The Empress Dowager requests that Liu Gui Fei gives her son to the Empress Dowager to raise. The reasons she uses are that this will allow Liu Gui Fei to focus on helping the Emperor and it will also allow the Empress Dowager to experience what it’s like to raise children. This shocks Concubine Liu. As we all know from watching other dramas, taking one’s child is essentially taking them hostage. You are bound now to do the bidding of the person taking care of your child. Concubine Liu is understandably upset and spends the day drinking and crying over what she should do but ultimately she bites the bullet and brings her son over to the Empress Dowager. In her mind, she is doing what’s best for her son’s future. She hopes that by aligning herself with the Empress Dowager, her son will become the next emperor. The Empress Dowager also agrees to give Concubine Liu’s brother in law additional military duties. This is a way to repay the Concubine for her actions. It’s all about transactions right now and the Empress Dowager is making all the right moves.



On Madame Qin’s side, she’s turned to someone we haven’t seen in a while. Bai Da Lang. He is Gu Ting Ye’s relative who is upset that Gu Ting Ye has all the wealth from the Bai family when he is left with nothing. Recall that they are related because Gu Ting Ye’s mother is from the Bai family and her father left Gu TIng Ye with all the Bai family wealth accumulated from their salt business which is highly lucrative. Bai Da Lang has tried for years to take over that wealth but has had difficulty displacing Gu Ting Ye. Madame Qin knows this and now reaches out to him to see if he can be an ally in their mission of killing Gu Ting Ye. He gladly accepts the invite to the Capital. 


We get a brief scene of the Emperor with his son. The Prince shares his grand ambitions to retake lost lands. The Emperor however coldly asks if this is a suggestion from the Prince or from gutingye. The Prince quickly bows and tries to give an explanation. The Emperor simply continues to warn him to not be so agreeable to gutingye’s suggestions. Out of the corner – let’s look at who’s standing watch. A eunuch.


Back with Madame Qin – she has entered the palace to visit Concubine Liu. The two have a conversation on making good tea. One must not be too hasty and must always be attentive. It’s quite genius as it’s clear what the two women are up to. Concubine Liu turns the conversation towards the generosity from the Empress Dowager. It’s evident that Madame Qin will align herself to Concubine liu. While the women meet, the Empress Dowager’s eunuch goes to talk to Bai Da Lang. They have a discussion about tribute salt. This is salt that is specifically sent to the palace and a very lucrative business. 


On the way outside of the palace, Madame Qin and bai da long have a debrief in which bai da lang is completely clueless. The wheels are turning in Madame Qin’s head as she figures it out that Concubine Liu’s son will be the pawn that the Empress Dowager will use to usurp the Emperor.




Now that the troops are gathered for the Empress Dowager, let’s turn to what happened on Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan’s side. I feel like there’s an inconsistency in the drama from a timeline perspective because Gu Ting Ye heads over to Qi Heng’s residence to thank him for his actions the previous day. But all of this that’s happened doesn’t seem like it was over 24 hours. Whatever, just something that i noticed and irked me. 


In the last episode, we saw that Qi Heng finally grew a backbone and rushed to help Ming Lan when the fire was raging at the Cheng Gardens. He ignored his wife and parents who urged him not to go and followed his heart to do what’s right. It was a bit random but it was his epiphany moment that everything he did in the past was also a choice and now he had the choice to save Ming Lan and he finally did it. Gu Ting Ye saw this and came to thank Qi Heng for his actions. Qi Heng at first was a little guarded because he thought Gu Ting Ye was here to reprimand him for helping but Gu Ting Ye’s gratitude reaffirmed that Qi Heng did the right thing. For Qi Heng, it was also his opportunity to finally let his feelings for Ming Lan go. The two men, after months if not years of animosity over Ming Lan, are finally able to speak as friends again because in the end, they’re all doing what’s best for their friend or loved ones.  Last episode and this episode were key turning points in Qi Heng’s growth and he is now once again on Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye’s side.


He has also started to take notice of the fact that his wife, Madame Shen, does actually care for him. She thought Gu Ting Ye was going to harm Qi Heng so she hid out of sight with a dagger hoping to protect Qi Heng. When Qi Heng saw this, it warmed his heart and decides to start opening up to her more.  Yay, marriage improvements!



The funny thing is that while Qi Heng and his wife are starting a relationship, Ming Lan is also turning into the woman that Gu Ting Ye has pined for forever. After giving birth to her son, Ming Lan is primarily focused on caring for him. Understandably, given the stress of his birth, she is incredibly protective of him. Not only that, but she has also become much more emotionally attached to Gu Ting Ye so much so that she has now learned how to be jealous!!! Because of the fire, many parts of the Cheng Gardens were ruined. One area that suffered heavy damages was the residence of the forgotten concubine Feng Xian. She was planted there by Gu Ting Ye’s paternal aunt and Madame Qin. Gu Ting Ye has never touched her or thought of her in any way but given she is now homeless, he went over to check up on the damage to her rooms. It’s not like he says a whole lot to her but the fact that he’s there traveled to Ming Lan. So, when Gu Ting Ye shows up to check in on Ming Lan after seeing Feng Xian, Ming Lan gets all annoyed. She’s like, get away from my son, you’re going to get him cold, I’m going to sleep (even though she just woke up). It finally clicks for him that Ming Lan is actually jealous of the fact that he went to spend time with Feng Xian which she hurriedly denies but her temper gave it away. She yells at him to stop telling her maids to help him out and instead use his own servants. I guess many other partners would have been annoyed at such a telling off but GU Ting Ye is chuckling with glee. She finally is jealous over him! Yay!!!!!!


What a weirdo. Hahahaha


And the episode ends with Gu Ting Ye – headed back to the brothel. We’ll see what happens next!




Empress Cao

She mentions having 3 kids. That’s false – she never had kids


Grandma Wang Clothes – Grandma Wang wears specific clothes when she meets the Empress Dowager. We’ll let this go for now because we’ll group that into the discussion when Ming Lan wears something similar.


Now – let’s move on to the quick meal that Grandma Wang and Uncle Wang have. It has many nuggets from a cultural perspective.


索饼 – just called 面条. These aren’t your thin noodles that you think of for chinese noodles nowadays. These are a little bit wider. This is shown actually in the drama when Grandma Wang and Uncle Wang get a late night meal. The noodles themselves are much wider. Typically, at least for me, noodles are called 面. But when the servant asked for two bowls of noodles, she asked for two bowls of 索饼. Which is rarely used so I thought – let’s do some research! 


One record of the name comes from 释名 or Explanation of Names, which is a Chinese dictionary written in the late Eastern Han dynasty so around 200CE 东汉末年刘熙. I couldn’t find a very good reason for the name. However, it is one of the earliest instances of boiled noodles recorded.





During the same meal, Grandma Wang is lamenting how far the Wang family has fallen, to which Uncle Wang responds, yes I never rose to the level of father but 宦海沉浮 I still have some respect. 


宦海沉浮 – means the unpredictability of the political arena. So for Uncle Wang, he has navigated through the complex political arena over the years.


This idiom is actually an anachronism! I did a little bit of digging and the first use of this idiom actually come from the book Midnight 子夜 by the author 茅盾. That’s his pen name – his real name was 沈德鸿. The novel was written between 1931 and 1932 and depicts contemporary life of Shanghai during that time. It’s one of his most influential novels. I think I’ve read snippets of his work previously. I think this is the second time that we have a more recent idiom referenced in the drama.




Ok the next one is 火中取栗 or the direct translation is pulling the chestnut from the fire. This is our next anachronism! This is actually a translation from the fable, The Monkey and the Cat or le Singe et le Chat from a collection of Fables from Jean de La Fontaine, which was published in the 17th century. The english idiom is actually “a cat’s paw” – which means according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as ‘one used by another as a tool’. 


The story goes as follows – the Monkey Bertand persuades Raton the call to pull chestnuts from the fire, promising him a share. The cat burns his paw in the process. The Monkey eats all the chestnuts and the cat is left with nothing.


How cool is that! A french fable is in turn used as a Chinese idiom!


Uncle Wang uses this idiom when asking his mother – why entangle themselves in the political fight and be a pawn for the Empress Dowager? Why should they be the ones pulling the chestnuts from the fire?



To which madame wang responds 父母之爱子,则为之计深远. This saying is mentioned twice in the episode. The translation again is to the love of a parent, means that they will plan long and far for their children. We discussed this at length for ep 22-23 pt 1.


Madame Wang then quotes Mencius – with 君子之泽,五世而斩 . The youtube translation is pretty good – the achievements of a lord will be exhausted after several generations. 5 to be exact. Mencius is of course a confucian philosopher who lived from 372-289BC. Madame Wang wants to ensure the fame and glory of the Wang family. 


Lastly, let’s discuss the lines 春风又绿江南岸 from 泊船瓜洲. 


The eunuch quotes this line – 春风又绿江南岸 when he meets with 白大郎 to discuss the salt business. 


The poem was written by the poet 王安石 who lived from 1021-1086. So this is right around the time the drama takes place. The time the poem was written is up for dispute, some say 1068, some say 1074 or 1075. These times actually all take place AFTER this drama because 宋英宗 dies in 1067 which is the current emperor in the drama.





My translation goes like this – I’m standing at the ferry place at 瓜洲 looking south, there’s only a river separating 京口 and 瓜洲. My home in the Zhong mountain is hidden by some mountains. The warm winds of spring have made these fields of jiang nan green. When will the moon shine the way back home?



Finally, book differences – this is short and sweet! The drama has charted its own path and diverges from the book. So not much of this episode is actually in the book. The fire from the previous episode did happen in the book but not much else is similar. Let me know if you guys want me to nitpick and point out my thoughts on the adaptation for the next couple of episodes.


Thank you all so much for listening!  If you are looking for a platform to watch Chinese dramas and you are in the US, take a look at our sponsor, Jubao TV where you can stream chinese dramas and movies online through their streaming platform, xumo or else on tv via xfinity and cox contour. The shows and movies are all free and they have english subtitles as well.