Ep 21

[Cathy]

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 21 of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. 

 

For these episodes, we do a drama episode recap and then go into history and culture discussed in the drama.

 

After doing a deep dive on this episode, I realized that the plot against 璎珞 is way too simplistic and too theatrical. Good thing this took only like half an episode so you don’t think too much about it. What happened exactly?

 

We ended last episode with a whole rant about the Emperor’s birthday celebration and how the instruments aren’t period accurate but we turn back to the real plot at hand. Shu Gui Ren has been hoping to join 高贵妃 or Noble Consort Gao’s camp and to do so must prove herself useful. The only condition to BE useful is to get rid of 魏璎珞. And so, they use the Emperor’s birthday gift of the beautiful buddha tower with the priceless buddha relic or 舍利子 as bait. 

 

The tower with the relic has been put in storage for 璎珞 to watch but 明玉 immediately took over that task in order to gain favor. But this was not said publicly. In any case, at the end of episode 20, there was a dazzling display of fireworks that distracted all of the maids, leaving the storage room empty. But, 璎珞 and 明玉 find upon returning that the relic has been stolen! 珍珠 the other maid who was supposed to watch the gifts reveal that she did see the outline of none other than 舒贵人 walk out of the room when she returned from watching fireworks. 

 

[Karen]

I just want to say that this was rather rudimentary on 舒贵人’s part. Why do this yourself???

 

璎珞 and 明玉 are both extremely worried now because of what punishment awaits them if they are found to have lost the relic. But they believe that 舒贵人 probably could not have had an opportunity yet to move the relic, meaning it must still be on her person so they devise a plan to retrieve this relic.

 

At the main hall, the Emperor, Empress and the rest of the palace are enjoying a dance performance. 璎珞 then gives a performance herself (which I’m like, who are you and why do you know everything? In any case, 高贵妃 and 舒贵人 are looking rather smug because they think they’ve won. However, 璎珞 puts on a freaking magic show where she makes the buddha tower magically appear in the hall, amazing everyone. 

 

But, they notice that the relic is gone. 璎珞 then follows up by saying that she purposefully declided to “move” the relic separately because of how valuable it is. She then announces that the relic was placed on 舒贵人‘s person. 舒贵人 wants to deny it but 璎珞 steps in and does some hocus pocus and just so happens to find the relic hidden in 舒贵人’s sleeve. 璎珞 immediately grabs the relic and lo and behold, it’s there! 

 

The saga with the stolen relic is resolved and 舒贵人 and 高贵妃 can only fume their little plot didn’t work. 

 

I personally really didn’t think this scene worked too well because there are soooo many plot holes and too many coincidences for this to work/

 

[Cathy]

The whole point of this little adventure was to force 明玉 to work together with 魏璎珞 as they are now unlikely allies. FINALLY. 明玉 you can stop being so short sighted. The other point of this scene was for 璎珞 to enact on her plan to push the Empress into the limelight. The reason being is that 舒贵人 was supposed to spend her FIRST night with the Emperor which is a reward for her thoughtful birthday gift for the Emperor. But, this 舒贵人 insulted 璎珞 so she decided to take her revenge by foiling her perfect night.

 

Back at 长春宫, 璎珞 brings forth a dress named 洛神 dress for the Empress. The dress is so name for the 洛神 goddess which we will discuss in more detail. If you recall, the Empress painted two paintings for the Emperor’s birthday but kept the 洛神 painting instead of gifting it. She explains that it was not appropriate for the festivities. But 璎珞 and the rest of the maids in the palace persuade the Empress to change into this outfit. After she changes, they also urge her to dance because the Empress is stunning in the outfit. 

 

Well. I think she looks great. At least very different from her usual attire. 

 

[Karen]

BUT we’ll bring in some commentary about the outfit when the drama aired. From my side, despite the Empress dancing beautifully and looking fantastic, one cannot help but be reminded of the fact that this scene is eerily similar to the scene from 甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace when 甄嬛 danced 惊鸿舞. Complete with the long sleeves. And I’m gonna be honest, I think 孙俪 probably did a better job dancing in that drama than here. I think 秦岚 the actress for the Empress is beautiful but you could tell she didn’t have a full choreographed dance for this scene, unlike 甄嬛传。

 

【Cathy commentary]

[talk about the song playing in the background]

 

宫墙柳 – I have quibbles about this whole musical choice. 

 

[Karen]

This breathtaking scene is encountered by none other than the Emperor who is absolutely besotted at how lovely his Empress looks. He immediately takes her inside the rooms for ahem, a closer look. 明玉 and 璎珞 are all basically giving each other high fives that their plan worked because they most definitely steered the Emperor over to 长春palace. And with that, the Empress enjoys the company of the Emperor for the evening while 舒贵人 who had prepared elaborately for her evening with the emperor was told to go home. Needless to say, she was humiliated and devastated. Awwww too bad. Honestly, she has ambition but not enough brains to really succeed in the palace. 

 

尔晴 though was quick to pick up on the fact that what happened tonight was not by chance. This must have been planned for a long time by 璎珞 because the outfit was tailored specifically for the Empress. Tonight was just the opportune night to bring it out because 舒贵人 was too obnoxious. Aww. How sweet is 璎珞. She absolutely adores the Empress and did everything she could to help her gain favor.

 

[Cathy]

Well with the success of the Empress that night, the entire palace is abuzz with how beautiful she was and everyone is hoping to copy her style. Complete with clothing and makeup. 舒贵人 is of course, furious with how her special night turned out and goes off to complain to 高贵妃. 高贵妃 gives 舒贵人 another chance to be useful and turn this around in their favor. Uh oh. Once again, these ladies are up to their palace tricks while literally no one else is.

 

One day, 璎珞 is told to accompany the Empress as well as Empress Dowager who has finally returned to the palace to go for a walk in the gardens. YAYYY we have the Empress dowager back! Agak 甄嬛 is back now! 高贵妃 is also in attendance as wel as 舒贵人. They partake in their leisurely stroll and the Emperss Dowager is shown to be a kindly woman. But despite the smile, her words carry quite a bit of weight as she compliments the Empress. The group of ladies are enjoying some time in a gardens when they hear a scream nearby.

 

Immediately, 高贵妃 instructs her maid to check it out and she bolts off. 璎珞 sensing something was off, drags 明玉 to chase after the maid. It’s cute. Seems like 璎珞 and 明玉 are friends now!

 

[Karen]

明玉 blocks the other maid from heading to the scene of whatever happens and Ying Luo runs over to find a maid’s body on the ground.  Evidently, this maid fell from one of the floors above. Two maids, with the painted flower makeup in the middle of their forehead that invokes the Empress’s look, rush to the ground. Ying luo places a handkerchief over the deceased maid’s face before the Empress Dowager and company arrive.

 

The two maids kneeling on the ground now next to their friend’s body tearfully cry that this was an accident. They were all just playing because they were playing a dress up game that originated in Chang Chun Palace but they didn’t realize they would cause such a mistake. The Empress dowager gives a side-eye to the Empress who can only hold her breath. This looks bad for it means she is the reason behind this poor girl’s death if this were true.

 

璎珞‘s alarm bells went blaring and she interjects that from the looks of her makeup, the deceased made was probably trying to dress up as the Noble Consort Yang or 杨贵妃 and fell accidentally. As to why this maid would dress up as 杨贵妃,璎珞 skillfully turns the suspicion onto 高贵妃 who has been singing 贵妃醉酒 or the Drunken Concubine which features the Noble Consort Yang. 

 

[Cathy]

The look of shock on 高贵妃’s face is hilarious. She’s like WHY DID THIS TURN TO ME?

 

Ying Luo totally then insults Gao Gui Fei by emphasizing all the reasons why this is plausible. It’s because Gao Gui Fei constantly sings opera in her palace. All different kinds of opera that may be even better than the professional opera singers out there. Under the back and forth between 明玉 and 璎珞, 高贵妃 is backed to a corner since the Empress never dressed up as 杨贵妃. To prove her point, 璎珞 removes the handkerchief covering the dead maid’s face and reveals a face smeared with red and black paint. This is typical of opera signers at the time to paint their faces. 

 

高贵妃 and 舒贵人 are in shock as to why this would be the case and The Empress Dowager just gives these two ladies a side eye before sternly saying 回宫 or return. 

 

The episode ends with 高贵妃 and 舒贵人 foiled one more time in their plot to get rid of 魏璎珞 and 璎珞 asks the Empress to interrogate the remaining two maids to figure out exactly what happened. 

 

[Karen]

History

 

洛神

 

Luo Shen 洛神 is also known as the “Goddess of the River Luo”. She was also called Consort Mi 宓妃. Legend has it, she was the daughter of the mythical emperor Fu Xi 伏羲. She drowned when crossing the river and then transformed into a river deity. She guards the rivers and is prayed to for safe crossings. In Chinese culture, she is also known for her beauty. 

 

She was first mentioned in the Verses of Chu or 楚辞 which began roughly in the 3rd century BC. That anthology was first created by 屈原.

 

Perhaps the most famous is Cao Zhi’s 曹植 (192-232 CE) rhapsody of Luoshen 洛神賦. It is a rhapsody that describes a fictional encounter between him and the goddess. They fall in love but have to tragically depart. There is an accompanying series of paintings by the painter 顾恺之that depicts the rhapsody. The surviving rendition is a copy from the 宋 dynasty. This series is currently in The Palace Museum in Beijing. 

 

Now in the drama – I can’t really tell the exact painting that the drama is referencing. It was too quick of a shot in episode 20, so I can’t provide a comment. However, let’s discuss the costume that the Empress wears in episode 21.

 

Honestly – when this episode came out, everyone, including the actress herself, ridiculed the outfit. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Well – why? I’m reading some comments and they’re quite hilarious. Some say her hairstyle looks like half a croissant, there’s 3 HUGE flowers added, and it just looks tacky! The actress 秦岚 herself posted a photo comparing herself to Peppa PIG because she thought they looked similar.

 

But! Joke is on all of us because someone posted online the comparison between the Empress’s outfit in this episode with a Yuan Dynasty painting depicting Luo Shen. The hairstyle is surprisingly similar. There might not be the whole flowers but the hair? Yes – it’s in a similar shape. 

 

As for the outfit – in the drama, 魏璎珞 previously asked to use 辑里湖丝 or 辑丝  to make a piece of clothing for the Empress, which turns out to be this 洛神 outfit. 

 

辑里湖丝 comes from the village of 南浔 in the 浙江 province of China. It is considered one of the most prestigious of silks. Historically, the golden and yellow robes for the Emperor could only use 辑丝. 9 robes by Emperor 康熙 were specifically ordered from this area and using this silk. Indeed the village became immensely wealthy throughout the centuries due to the silk business. According to Baike – by the end of the Qing Dynasty – so early 20th century, this village was was amongst the wealthiest in China. 

 

The original names for this type of silk originated all the way back in 602 AD. It grew in popularity during Ming Dynasty and reached its peak in the Qing Dynasty. So the fact that this type of silk is used for the Empress here is very era appropriate.

 

[Karen]

Next – let’s talk about the 花钿 or plum blossom makeup. We discussed this during our Mulan episode and also a couple of episodes in Empresses in the palace. The origins of this actually come around this time during the Song Wu Dynasty in the south. One princess 寿阳公主 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 and Song Dynasty.

 

Lastly, the collar or 云肩 that the Empress wears definitely has more of a Miao minority influence rather than the traditional han influence, let alone Manchu influence. We will talk about 云肩 or cloud collars in the future, maybe during an episode when there’s not much history to discuss.  

 

高贵妃

 

[Cathy]

Next up – let’s talk a bit more about the Chinese opera that is featured in this episode. 

 

When 舒贵人 goes to find 高贵妃, 高贵妃 is singing again from The Drunken Concubine or 贵妃醉酒. We discussed this at length in the last episode. 

 

She sings – 独坐皇宫有数年,圣驾宠爱我占先。宫中冷落多寂寞,辜负嫦娥独自眠

 

This roughly translates

Sitting idly in the palace for several years

I had the Emperor’s favor first

The palace is cold and lonely

He has left 嫦娥 or the moon goddess to sleep by herself

 

These lines come directly from the Peking Opera version of the Drunken Concubine. The later lines that she sings when 舒贵人 takes her leave also come from that opera.

 

魏璎珞 lists 2 other opera names when trying to clear the Empress’s name.

 

She names 长生殿 and 霸王别姬 as other two.

 

长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth was written in 1688. It was primarily acted as a Kun Opera. The first half again recounts the love story between the Emperor 唐玄宗 and the concubine 杨贵妃 but it is also a criticism on the lavishness of the palace and the Emperor’s dismissal of his Empire, leading to the An Shi Rebellion. The second half is a fantasy in which the Emperor is very remorseful for the love. He finds her soul. Both repent for their sins. Their love touched the gods and they were allowed to meet again in the moon palace.

 

Again – another story about 唐玄宗 and 杨贵妃. This is much more era appropriate for the drama. Indeed this Kun Opera is the inspiration for the Peking Opera the Drunken Concubine. The author’s story is absolutely crazy. I’ll just end with that he died by drunkenly drowning in a river!

 

Lastly, let’s discuss 霸王别姬 or farewell my concubine. This is a complete anachronism. The Peking Opera debuted in 1918 and recounts the tragic love story between 项羽, the King of Western Chu during the Chu–Han Contention period of China and his beloved concubine 虞姬. The opera draws heavily from history and another MIng Dynasty opera. 

 

This opera is very famous opera and was written by the creator 梅兰芳. This is not to be confused with the possibly more famous movie in the West, the 1993 film farewell my concubine directed by 陈凯歌. It is a REALLY good movie. I recommend those who have never seen it to do so. It’s not a light movie so just be aware but it really does give a good depiction of Chinese opera and life during the early decades of the 20th century in mainland China. 

 

Ep 19+20

[Karen]

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

Today we are discussing episodes 19 + 20 of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you like what you hear please remember to give us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to and also feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or on our website. 

For these episodes, we do a drama episode recap and then go into history and culture discussed in the drama.

[Cathy]

Episode 19 and the beginning of episode 20 have some of the funniest scenes in the drama because we see the Emperor in all of his imperious nature turn into a pouting child. 

We pick up from the last episode where Noble Consort Gao has successfully kept the Emperor for the night. In doing so, this means that the Emperor has to disappoint the Empress and left her to wait for many hours. Crestfallen, the Empress returns back to her palace. She understands that the Emperor has his duties but that doesn’t mean she can’t be upset.

璎珞 sees this and is pissed off that the Emperor so easily forgot the pain 高贵妃 inflicted on 愉嫔。She lets out her fury on 傅恒 the Empress’s brother who has come to see her. He highlights to her that the scandal with the golden pupils and the evidence against 高贵妃 were too simplistic. The Emperor can see right through the fact that this was probably planted to harm 高贵妃 which is why he isn’t as furious as he could have been. 璎珞 though changes the topic to ask if 傅恒 has any further leads about who may have left the banquet the night her sister died. 傅恒 says he hasn’t been able to find any evidence yet so 璎珞 decides that she has to get closer to the Emperor’s personal staff to get better answers.

[Karen]

Next we turn back to the Emperor and this is just a funny episode. The Emperor starts to itch and scratch while he’s looking over documents. Unfortunately, it turns out the Emperor has contracted scabies. This is an infectious skin condition that causes severe itchiness. And so, the Emperor is out for the count and requires round the clock medical attention so that he doesn’t further injure himself from his itching.

The Empress, seeing that her husband is now ill, decides to move into his palace to personally take care of him. Originally she wanted to bring 明玉 but 明玉 pushes this task onto 璎珞 who sees this as an opportunity to seek more answers about her sister’s death. So despite this being a risk since she might also be infected, she accepts this task.

(Ming Yu is the WORST)

Hilarity ensues as the Emperor is annoyed at having 璎珞 tend to him or at least help him put medicine on his infected spots but then he’s also annoyed when his eunuchs try to help. Given that so many people have been told to leave the Emperor’s side for their health, the only ppl left are 璎珞 and a bunch of eunuchs so the Emperor has no choice. Seeing him so annoyed is quite satisfying. 

[CAthy] 

At night, the Emperor continues to turn into a child as he cannot suppress his itchiness and the Empress stops by to tend to his illness. The Emperor is twisting and turning which he cannot do so the Empress helps fan him cold air the entire night in an effort to ease his itchiness. I do think nie yuan does a great job showing the childish nature of the EMperor and is certainly a side of him we rarely see portrayed as emperor.

As the Emperor sleeps, 璎珞 takes an opportunity in the morning to as 李玉 the Emperor’s head eunuch whether or not he noticed any person leave the banquet at 乾清宫 earlier this year. 李玉 unfortunately doesn’t provide any more information since he has clear conviction that no one left the palace that night. 璎珞 is once again stumped. 

It’s been a couple days and the Emperor is still not back to full health. The local doctor we met in the last episode 叶天士 is brought in to check up on the Emperor again and he confers with 璎珞 the best way to help the Emperor get back to full health. He whispers his remedy in 璎珞’s ear and she gasps aloud. 

Inside, the Emperor is with 李玉 and the Empress and he is again itching up a storm. The Empress wants 璎珞 to come help grab some aloe that 璎珞 had procured but in this instance 璎珞 starts to berate the Emperor. She says things like oh the Emperor doesn’t recognize how much the Empress has done for him. Look at all of the other women in the palace who promptly hid from the Emperor after hearing his diagnosis and only the Empress remained to stay. And she’s heard that 高贵妃‘s attention by the Emperor is solely due to her father’s capabilities at court.  The Emperor has to faun over women in order to please government officials related to the women in his harem. 

璎珞 goes so far as to compare the Emperor to prostitutes. This is too much for the Emperor. He has not heard such insolence in his life I’m assuming. He grabs a nearby sword and starts stabbing towards 璎珞 who continues to laugh with derision at the Emperor who is only held back by the Empress and 李玉 who at this point all cannot comprehend exactly why 璎珞 is saying this things. Interestingly, 叶天士 is skulking just outside of view to see what’s happening in the room.

The Emperor in all his fury, then spits out a mouthful of blood. 

[Karen]

Immediately, 叶天士 rushes into the room and 璎珞 kneels to the ground begging for forgiveness for what she’s said. The Empress demands an explanation for what happened while she helps the Emperor sit down, wiping his mouth of blood. He is currently unable to speak.

叶天士 explains that after reviewing medical records, he found that the Emperor hasn’t recovered primarily due to stress and had a blood clot that was not yet released. Therefore, he asked 璎珞 for help to infuriate the Emperor to cough up this blood clot. It’s only this way that the Emperor can fully heal. 

The Emperor is like WTF and is heaving but wants to punish 璎珞。 He’s weakened right now and can’t say much but 璎珞 tries to flee while the Empress helps her in pushing the Emperor to bed so that he can rest before any more words can be uttered out of his mouth. Seeing she might not be able to get away so easily, she “faints” and the Empress takes this cue to immediately call for eunuchs to drag 璎珞 to safety.

[The Empress and 魏璎珞 are such a great duo! They know to trust each other and have each other’s backs!]

[Cathy]

When the Emperor is finally up again, he immediately shouts for 璎珞 to be dragged in front of him. He wants to personally punish her for what she said. The Empress states that she cant be blamed because all she was doing was trying to help the Emperor’s illness but I honestly think he’s right. If she didn’t have those thoughts in her mind already, how could she say all those things so cleanly and without hesitation. She clearly took this opportunity to berate the Emperor with her personal opinions of him. 

But, the Emperor cannot enact his revenge. Because…璎珞 has fallen ill. She herself now has been infected with scabies after tending to the Emperor. He has no choice but to let it go because how would it look if he punishes a maid that tended to him during his illness?

But that doesn’t mean he can’t mess with her. He allows her to remain at 养心殿 to recover but adds bitter herbs to her medicine as her compensation.  This turns us to episode 20. The emperor specifically tells 叶天士 that 3 times a day, he is to find the most bitter herbs to add to 璎珞’s medicine and she must be observed to drink all of it. What a petty Emperor!

We find out shortly after that 璎珞’s illness was entirely a ruse on her part! She didn’t actually contract scabies but instead, she just caused herself to have an allergic reaction as she is allergic to peanuts. She purposefully ate peanuts and caused herself to get sick so that her symptoms look like she got scabies and also worked with 叶天士 to feign documentation that she did get scabies. She did this in order to escape punishment from the Emperor. I mean, I think this is a stroke of genius. Because yea, if she wasn’t ill, the Emperor totally would have killed her. 

[Karen]

A few days later, the Emperor asks 李玉 where 璎珞 is and 李玉 responds that she went home. He is once again furious because it clearly means that she lied about getting scabies. How can she recover before him when she got sick after him. Obviously her illness was a lie. The Emperor is all worked up and stomps his way over to 长春宫 to personally punish 璎珞. Along the way though, he hears a number of maids gossiping about the last couple of days so…another hilarious part for this emperor, he stoops down and hides behind a corner to hear what these maids are saying. He even tells all of his eunuchs to hide too so you have this whole procession of people sneaking about trying to listen to some gossip. 

The young ladies say that they think the Emperor is a good Emperor for having let 璎珞 go given her actions trying to help him with his illness. Any other Emperor would have already killed 璎珞. These ladies leave and the Emperor is again at a crossroads and poor 李玉 is on the short end of the stick. If the Emperor punishes 璎珞 now, everyone will think he is a wicked Emperor, someone who is too petty and ungrateful. And so, the Emperor can only walk away now and suffer her harsh words with no retaliation. 

We do get a cute couple of scenes with 璎珞 and 傅恒。 During 璎珞’s period of illness, the handsome 傅恒 comes to take care of her in the night. He is very sweet and also steals a kiss on her cheek. Wow! Look at him! When she goes to confront him at his rooms, he aptly denies taking care of her and teases her that she must have been dreaming about him at night. She doesn’t have evidence and thinks she might have imagined it in her weak state but just as she is about to walk out, 海兰察 walks in and says he is never taking the night shift for 傅恒 again. 璎珞 turns and is like 傅恒! You Liar!  Lol. 

[Cathy]

The rest of the episode and into episode 21 revolves around the Emperor’s birthday which was alluded to in earlier episodes.

Today we are back at 长春 palace and the Empress with 纯妃 are reviewing a couple of paintings that the Empress made to gift to the Emperor for his birthday. One painting is a landscape painting while the other is of the 洛神. The group picks the painting of 洛神 to be sent to the Emperor as a gift as it is the better painting.

Meanwhile, 明玉 is once again annoyed that her opinion of the landscape painting was rebuffed. When she heads outside, she sees 舒贵人 and 庆常在 two women we haven’t seen in a while appear. They stop by with gifts for the Empress and is hoping for an audience. Ming Yu rather rudely turns them away because 舒贵人 clearly is hoping to ally herself with the Empress in order to get closer to the Emperor.

This annoys 舒贵人 who drags 庆常在 off to seek shelter with 高贵妃. At first, 高贵妃 is also not pleased to see these two women who are clearly here to ask for help. But, she does give them an opportunity. IF they are able to rid her of the annoying dog next to the Empress, she will help them in turn. The dog in this instance is of course, 璎珞。

[Karen]

The day of the Emperor’s birthday arrives and the palace is present for his birthday celebration. The Empress presents her painting to the Emperor but interestingly, is the landscape painting. It is applauded by the Emperor for her skill. 高贵妃 next takes this opportunity to give her gift. And immediately, we are presented with western music. The piece in question is the classic Cannon in D and the curtain raises for the attendees to see a full western orchestra playing music, complete with saxophone, guitar, violins, flutes, trumpets, trombones, archordian i think? We’re going to talk all about the ways that this scene is WRONG because a couple of these instruments weren’t invented in the west yet and also aren’t even required in the piece but whatever.

The Emperor is ecstatic to see these instruments being played because they remind him of his grandfather, Emperor Kang Xi who had a great liking to these instruments. Seeing these musical instruments played is a reminder to 乾隆 of his grandfather and that is a really special gift. What was even more challenging was getting people together to learn these instruments.高贵妃 clearly won this round of best birthday gift. Interestingly though, the idea came from 舒贵人.

高贵妃 does take this opportunity to present 舒贵人 in front of the Emperor and she presents her gift. A beautiful glass buddha tower complete with the relic of a renowned Tang Dynasty monk and has been named The Lotus Flower of Buddha. These relics are supposedly pearls or beads that appear from the ashes of the bodies of renowned buddhist monks.  

[Cathy]

This is another impressive gift to the EMperor as this is something that the Empress Dowager has been seeking for quite some time. The Emperor tasks the Empress with picking a couple of interesting gifts along with this tower to give to his mother. THe task, in turn, is given to 璎珞。That is promptly stolen by 明玉.

The Episode ends with, as you guessed it, the priceless relic going missing after all of the maids head outside to enjoy the fireworks on display to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. Before that though, 璎珞 learns from 傅恒 of tunnels that were built in the imperial palace during the ming dynasty that were used by servants but seldom used now. Something of importance for ying luo in the future. But before we have time to think about that, 璎珞 must figure out exactly how and where the relic went or else they are doomed.

Pop culture time!

There’s so many couples to dote upon today!

First we have our 令后CP or the Empress and 璎珞 couple. It’s so cute that they really trust each other and I really like how 璎珞 really just wants the Empress to be happy. She’s like – the Emperor? Whatever, he sucks but how can I make the Empress happy?

Then we have 帝后 CP which is the Empress and the Emperor! The Emperor can be himself when he’s around the Empress and we finally see him act all childish around her. It’s super cute. Especially during his birthday when everyone is watching the fireworks, noble consort gao is like ooo look at me! And the Emperor just like ignores her to ask what the Empress thinks. HAHAHA

I remember all the comments when this episode aired were – 高贵妃 is once again the only one actually palace fighting. The main couple are just enjoying themselves.

Finally we have 富察傅恒 and 璎珞 cp! 傅恒 is making moves! Seriously get moving or else you’ll lose the girl!

[Karen]

History

Scabies – I’m going to lightly touch up on scabies. The first written records in China of scabies date all the way back to the 隋朝 dynasty – end of the 6th century / beginning of the early 7th century AD in the book General Treatise on Causes and Manifestations of All Diseases 诸病源候论 which was a compilation of 50 volumes on diseases and treatment methods. The original author was believed to have lived during the 隋 dynasty but the book wasn’t formally published until the Song Dynasty, some 400 years later.

Now, Karen and I aren’t doctors but I kind don’t think how the Emperor contacted it made sense because he needed to have had prolonged contact in order to get scabies. Well – it’s just a drama so let’s not dwell on it too much.

[Cathy]

四景山水图

This is the original version of the painting that the Empress ultimately decides to gift the Emperor in this episode.

The original painter was Liu Songnian. He lived during the early years of the Southern Song Dynasty and lived from around 1131-1218. The years that he was alive differ wildly between english wikipedia and chinese baike. It’s kind of fascinating. English wikipedia has his years of living from between 1174 to 1224. I’m gonna going with the baike version of his age. 

Anyways, he is considered one of the Four Masters of the Southern Song dynasty and excelled in landscape paintings. 

四景山水图 or the 4 scenes of the mountains and water is considered one of his most famous. The original painting is comprised of 4 parts that depict the 4 seasons from the city of 杭州 in southeast China. The lake that is painted is most likely 西湖 or the Western Lake which is a prominent feature of the city.

Here are the 4 panels

  1. 第一幅,踏青,春花烂漫,杨柳葱翠;The first – spring, it depicts a small pagoda covered by the trees and flowers, with a misty mountain in the distance
  2. 第二幅,纳凉,夏木浓荫,碧荷点点;The next – summer, which is the frame we see in the drama – it depicts a pagoda next to the lake. The trees are flourishing. The people can enjoy under the shade of the pagoda
  3. 第三幅,观山,秋高气爽,霜叶尽染;3rd – Fall – enjoying the view of the mountains and fall leaves from the pagoda
  4. 第四幅,赏雪,山裹银装,万籁俱寂。4th – Winter – the world is covered in white. The view enjoys the pine trees and the stone formations covered in snow

The painting is currently held in the The Palace Museum in Beijing China

exNext up – let’s discuss this whole western musical group that Noble Consort Gao gathers for the Emperor’s birthday. The reason why I’m not calling it an orchestra is because like it really isn’t one? There’s a whole random assortment of instruments. If it was just strings – sure an orchestra or but there’s like random wind and brass instruments. It’s not a band because of the string instruments. 

Anyways – There’s some history and a lot of bugs within the scene. Let’s first start with the history.

The Emperor was very pleased to see the western orchestra and said multiple times that these instruments date back from the time of his grandfather, Emperor Kang Xi. This is true to history and this may be surprising to listeners but China has had a long history with Western Classical music. I’ll do a little recap and the focus on the Qing Dynasty emperors.

In the 16th century, the italian missionary Matteo Ricci arrived from Portugal to Macau and then made it to Beijing to meeting the Ming Dynasty Emperor Wan Li. He brought with him musical instruments, striking clocks and other western inventions. His gift included a clavichord which is a small rectangular keyboard instrument. The Emperor promptly informed Ricci to teach a group of eunuchs how to play the instrument and they performed for the emperor.

Taiwan was partly under Dutch colonial rule between 1624 – 1662 and from 1664 to 1668. The Dutch established trade routes between the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty after that. Dutch and Spanish missionaries arrived and brought western musical instruments with them. 

Western instruments and western music reached its peak popularity under Emperor 康熙 who lived from 1654 to 1722. The Emperor was very intrigued with western culture. There were several prominent missionaries who held positions at court and brought their western culture and music to 康熙  court. 

One of the most famous is the Portuguese missionary and diplomat Tomas Pereira. This is the guy that Emperor 乾隆 mentions in the drama. Tomas was favored by the Emperor 康熙 and ordered to write basically a music theory book in chinese of western music theory. 

[Karen]

Emperor 康熙 was very enamored by western instruments to the point that he did indeed practice playing several of them and would play chinese music on the western instruments. It didn’t hurt that the baroque style instruments were opulent and resplendent. The Emperor was noted to practice daily. Indeed, he could even play some buddhist mantras on the harpsichord! These accounts were reported by missionaries back to their respective kings back in the west, including King Louis 14th of France.

News of Emperor 康熙’s favor of the instruments traveled fast and soon there were many that were gifted to the Emperor. He then ordered for his sons to learn how to play these instruments as well. He even got mad when it seemed like his sons couldn’t really get the essence of the music. He wanted them to learn the theory in addition to having the actual skill of playing. The Emperor also had western orchestras perform in the palace almost daily for his enjoyment.

The Italian priest and composer Teodorico Pedrini was a missionary in China for 36 years even wrote baroque music in Beijing! Dodici Sonate a Violino Solo col Basso del Nepridi – Opera Terza is the only known baroque music written in China. The original manuscript is still preserved in the National Library of Běijīng.

Unfortunately, after the death of Emperor Kang Xi, his son Emperor Yong Zheng, kind of left Western Music to the wayside. He probably didn’t have much of an ear for western music. 

[Cathy]

Interest in western music picked up again in the reign of Emperor Qian Long – our emperor. He did order the musical instruments to be restored and repaired again. He was also very insistent on making his own western instruments in China and creating his own orchestra. By 1746 he even had an 18 person orchestra with violins and cellos and basses!

However, this all came to a halt in later years of Emperor Qian Long’s reign and through the rest of the Qing Dynasty. It is VERY rare that Chinese dramas depict this western music influence in China so I will give a lot of points here for introducing this to us.

However, Let’s get on to the drama which was like a whole rollercoaster for me. In the drama, the musical group plays Canon in D by the german composer Johann Pachelbel. Hopefully this is pretty familiar to audiences. The original piece was composed in 1680. We’re well into the 18th century at this point, 1741 to be exact. So that’s ok. 

But but but – man – let’s look at the actual group!. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw it. I was like – come on, this is embarrassing! There’s the accordion, which was first invented in a basic form in 1882, and the saxophone, which was first invented in 1840. Not to mention like the VERY modern versions of the other instruments. There’s the guitar, violin, flute, trombone, cello, trumpet. So yes – I get that look cool, China had these western instruments all the way back in the 17th and 18th centuries, but like – could you please be somewhat historically accurate?

I’m not even talking about getting era appropriate instruments! Canon in D is strictly a string piece – just take out all the brass and winds and then remove that random guitar and you would have been all set! I mean – yes, the production probably didn’t know what musical piece they were going to overlay for the scene but c’mon, an accordion??? Why didn’t they throw in a piano or harpsichord? I would have forgiven a piano.

Ugh – as you can tell, I’m kind of worked up about it cause I was in orchestra for many years, Karen was in symphonic band. We know our classical music so like uh yea. Docking points from the drama for this.

[Karen]

Lastly – let’s discuss the 舍利子 or Śarīra (apologies on the pronunciation). These are pearl or bead-shaped objects that are purportedly found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters. These are essentially relics. I don’t think it’s really known why these Śarīras form after the cremation of monks. Because of this I would say phenomenon, these relics are highly venerated as they are believed to embody the spiritual master and to provide good luck.

Ep 18

We continue on with the intense drama from the last episode. Noble Lady Yu gave birth to a young boy but right after birth, he is discovered to have had golden pupils and his entire body is yellow. Noble Consort Gao heard the news and immediately arrived to order that the child be buried alive as it is a bad omen for the empire. Ying Luo managed save the child and we are now in Chang Chun Palace where the Emperor has arrived to make judgement. In attendance is 娴妃 as well.

 

璎珞 suggests seeking medical opinion from a local doctor, one that is not from the imperial palace, to see if there are other medical explanations for why the young prince, the 5th prince at that would have golden pupils. 娴妃 agrees and suggests 叶天士, a famous doctor from 江南。 (Side note, it’s impressive they’re able to get this guy to the palace so quickly). I mean, it makes sense, why would would you not have an additional opinion for the child considering that 高贵妃 is literally suggesting killing a prince. 

 

[Karen]

In an instant, this doctor, 叶天士 diagnoses the child with jaundice. He experiences pushback from the imperial doctors who decry that this is jaundice because they have never seen a child with jaundice with golden pupils. But Doctor Ye says that this is because of illness. All that’s needed is some medicine and the child will be fine. 

 

Immediately, 高贵妃 jumps in to apologize for acting too rashly seeing that she didn’t know it was just jaundice. Pretty sure everyone can feel the eye rolls in the room particuarly from 娴妃 and 璎珞. The Emperor said he understood because even the imperial doctors couldn’t diagnose the young prince’s condition accurately, how can she be expected to tell the difference. But just as he was about to let her off easily, and you could see the smirk on her face as she was about to get away scott free, 纯妃 arrives. 

 

In the hall, 纯妃 brings forth the body of a dead man. 高贵妃 hastily denies knowing who this person is when 纯妃 asks why 高贵妃 would be scared of this body when she’s not scared of killing him. 纯妃 reveals he was the mongolian chef from the imperial kitchens that specifically cooked food for 愉贵人 during her pregnancy. Ying Luo remembered that 愉贵人 ate at least 3 pastries from this cook every day. The pastry paired with 愉贵人‘s other cravings of sweets are revealed by the doctor to be the ultimate reason for the prince’s golden pupils. It is because of 愉贵人’s diet that caused the child to have jaundice. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem but because 愉贵人 ate too much of the pastry and sweets which left her with an imbalanced diet, thus her child suffered. 

 

[Cathy]

纯妃 also reveals that she found this cook to have committed suicide right as she started investigating the meals for 愉贵人. But, she says that it’s not hard to think who is the primary instigator here – the person who is most eager to see the death of the 5th prince. 璎珞 takes this moment to recount all of the previous conflcits between 高贵妃 and 愉贵人 where 高贵妃 tried to harm 愉贵人. And today, 高贵妃 was the first to burst into the hall to try to kill the newly born child. She didn’t try to ask for doctors or to see if there was some other explanation for the child. No, she only wanted the child dead. That is too suspect. 

 

高贵妃 denies all of this because the body cannot be proof of her connection. Yet, unluckily for her, this chef left a note that plainly states his death was connected to 高贵妃。 At this point, 高贵妃 can only beg and cry that she was framed but the Emperor has had enough.  He orders her to be confined to her palace, not to be released until further notice. 

—-

 

[Karen]

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Ming Yu, this stubborn dolt of a girl, steps forth to tattle on 璎珞. 明玉 states to the Emperor that 璎珞 gave fake orders on behalf of the Empress using the Empress’s seal. This is an unacceptable action and Ying Luo should be punished. This is quickly revealed by 璎珞 to have been a simple ruse. The box holding the Empress’s seal was holding just a ink pot. Not the actual seal itself and so the only crime 璎珞 committed was tricking the likes of 高贵妃。 The Emperor to his credit, punishes 明玉 to 50 canings instead.

 

Before the night is over, however, 璎珞 asks for a private audience with 纯妃. I really like this scene because this immediately helps us answer some of the plot holes from this previous scene. 璎珞 questions 纯妃 whether or not the 5th prince’s jaundice could simply be from his mother eating excessive amounts of sweets and the pastry. 璎珞 points out many plot holes in 高贵妃‘s actions. How could she be so sure that 愉贵人 would eat so many of the mongolian chef’s meals? How could she be sure that 愉贵人’s child would be born with golden pupils? And how is it possible that 高贵妃 didn’t do a thorough search of the mongolan chef’s belongings after he died? The note that was 纯妃 presented as evidence was too easy to find. This plot is too rudimentary and placed too much on chance for the likes of 高贵妃 to enact upon. 纯妃 though, only smiles serenely and doesn’t directly answer as to whether or not she was behind it. Instead, she says that children of the palace are fated to have a rough life. It is what they must endure in exchange for their life of lavishness. Princes in particular must always fight for the title of crown prince and ultimately the throne. 璎珞 does not agree with 纯妃‘s beliefs and storms off only for 纯妃 to shout that 璎珞’s kindheartedness will ultimately get her killed in the palace. 

 

The implication here is that 纯妃 did something medically to 愉贵人 to cause this illness and set a trap for 高贵妃。 We for the first time also see just how ruthless 纯妃 can be. 

 

[Cathy]

The rest of the episode revolves around the aftermath of this saga. 愉贵人 is obviously happy to see that her son is healthy and alive and even more pleased to hear from the Empress that she will be raised to the level of 嫔 which means that she will have control of her palace of 永和宫。 This is great news for 愉贵人 that she is able to raise her son with some more freedom.

 

Meanwhile, 高贵妃 is sulking in her rooms, refusing to eat or speak to anyone. At court however, 高贵妃‘s father 高斌 is presenting his ideas on how to protect against flooding through levees in the empire to  the Emperor. 乾隆 is mightily impressed with 高斌’s proposal but warns that this will cause uproar at court due to the high cost and expansive nature of the project. 高斌, to his credit, does not shy away from his responsibility to manage and build levees. He says that his primarily duty is to the empire and he is not afraid of the backlash as long as he can provide for the Qing dynasty. This greatly moves the Emperor and allows 高斌 to see his daughter while she is in confinement. 

 

He does visit 高贵妃 but instead of a heartfelt reunion of the father and daughter pair, 高斌 is extremely cold towards his daughter and mocks her for being useless. He reminds her that he has other young and beautiful daughters at his disposal implying that if 高贵妃 loses her usefulness to him, it doesn’t matter. He has others to take her place.

 

This sets 高贵妃 off and we actually develop a little bit of pity. If there was any way for her father to push her to focus on the Emperor again, it was certainly his little speech because immediately after he leaves, she is ready to turn her sights back to the Emperor again. After all, she needs his attention in order to remain in power in the palace.

 

[Karen]

One night, the Emperor passes by her palace of 储秀宫 and hears 高贵妃 singing. Inside, she is dressed in a splendid outfit and singing Chinese opera. The opera she’s performing is 贵妃醉酒 or the Drunken Concubine. We’ll discuss more in the history section. The actress for 高贵妃 actually trained with opera masters to perform this scene. 

 

This immediately attracts the attention of the Emperor and 高贵妃 while tipsy, pushes herself into his arms and cries about her misfortune. It turns out that she an her mother were attacked by water bandits while out with her father who was managing flood waters as an official. 高贵妃 was only 5 but was rescued by local fishermen after floating in the water. Her mother was not so lucky and only remnants of her body were discovered. Due to the implication of what happened to her mother prior to her death, the Gao family refused to include her mother in their ancestral hall. And within a year, 高斌, 高贵妃‘s father married Madame Ma and had more children with her to use as pawns. With this heartfelt explanation, the Emperor also lets down his guard and forgives 高贵妃.

 

The episode ends with the Emperor ahem, spending the night with 高贵妃. It looks like her fortunes are restored.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s turn our attention to some pop culture!

 

Our 五阿哥 is finally born! This means that he is the 5th prince! After this episode, I remember everyone posting memes such as – OMG, Empress! It’s your 五阿哥! In the next life, he’s your husband!

 

Haha – this is because, in Pearl Princess 3 or 还珠格格 天上人间 – the third part of the wildly popular Pearl Princess drama, 秦岚, the actress for the Empress marries 五阿哥 or the 5th Prince. Everyone on the internet was also like – see, I knew nothing would happen to this prince because there would be no Pearl Princess if he died!

 

The next piece I remember was everyone posting how the Emperor is handling all of the Imperial Harem affairs. He’s participating in “palace battles” instead of the Empress. That’s because the Empress either a) has been MIA like for this event or b) she just isn’t bothered to resort to all these schemes. The Empress is just busy building relationships with the other women in the harem.

 

 

[Karen]

To start with history, I’m going to briefly jump back to the Mongolian flatbread that “caused” the jaundice.

 

海生包尔斯克

I was reading an article saying that this might be a slight bug from the screenwriter because 愉贵人 from history is from the 科尔沁 or Horqin tribe of the Mongol Bordered Blue Banner. Growing up, she probably wouldn’t have eaten these Mongolian Flatbreads but items that more resemble filled pancakes. However, this is just a tiny nitpick that I personally cannot verify. Regardless – everything looks really delicious so I’d love to try it out some time.

 

高斌

 

Next – let’s discuss 高贵妃’s father – 高斌. He’s a rather cold hearted man, who basically threatens 高贵妃 that if she doesn’t figure out a way to regain favor, he’ll send his other daughters into the palace.

 

The Gao Family were Han Chinese. They were members of bao yi class or household people of the manchu. They were originally from northeast china. During the reign of emperor 雍正,高斌 rose to an official of the Imperial Household Department and gained favor. He was then sent out of the capital to the southeast of china to manage commerce and trade in the provinces. His daughter was married to the then prince 弘历. When 弘历 became Emperor, he did favor his daughter and shortly granted her the title of Noble Concubine. Due to the favor of 高贵妃 – the whole family was gifted a manchu name of 高佳.

 

高斌 was indeed in charge of building levees and dams to manage river flow and prevent more disasters along the Yellow River. He was quite successful and did gain the confidence of the emperor. This is the first time that we see him so I wanted to give some background information on this man. We’ll discuss more in future episodes.

 

[Cathy]

Lastly, we want to discuss Chinese Opera! We get a dazzling rendition of 贵妃醉酒 or the Drunken Concubine from 高贵妃 at the end of this episode. 

 

First let’s do a little introduction on Chinese Opera. We discussed this in episode 22 of Empresses in the Palace. Chinese opera or 戏曲 is a form of musical theater dating back thousands of years. It’s an amalgamation of various different art forms including dance, singing, acrobatics and comedy. The stories used for Chinese Opera range from legends, to local folklore, to history.

 

The style the 高贵妃 is singing in is actually called 昆曲 or Kun Opera. It is a traditional style of Chinese opera that originated in the 14th century near mount kun in 苏州. It dominated the Opera scene for hundreds of years up until the 18th century. It is often called the mother of all chinese opera. The accompaniment is typically a bamboo flute. Kun Opera influenced many other Chinese musical theater styles including Peking Opera. 

 

Beijing Opera is the most famous of Chinese Opera, also known as the national opera, but there are a variety of different types of Chinese opera from the different regions of China. They include SiChuan Opera, Cantonese Opera, Yue Opera etc. Peking Opera got its start in the late 18th century during the reign of 乾隆 around 1790. 

 

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

 

Now how does one differentiate the two? For the uninitiated, it might at first seem quite similar. The differences aren’t as striking as let’s say between Peking opera and Chuan Opera or Yue Opera. Kun Opera or 昆曲 is a style of singing whereas Peking Opera more denotes a location. The style of singing in peking opera is called 北京皮黄. It’s quite different. In Kun Opera – when the performer sings, there’s usually accompanying movement. For Peking Opera, the performer usually stands. 

 

The reason why I bring up both Peking Opera and Kun Opera is because in this drama, they combine both to create this performance of 贵妃醉酒.

 

贵妃醉酒 Drunken Concubine recounts a story from the love affair between Noble Consort Yang of 杨贵妃 and her relationship to the Tang Dynasty Emperor 唐玄宗. These events occur around the mid 8th century AD. We talked about this pair previously in our episode about Lychee. Indeed Noble Consort Yang or 杨贵妃 is one of the most famous women in chinese history, which is why legends or stories are constantly told in various forms.

 

The story goes as such – one day, the Emperor 唐玄宗 informs Noble Consort Yang that they will have a date together. He wants her to set up a small banquet for the two of them at the hundred flower pavilion to enjoy the flowers and drink wine. The next day, Noble Concubine Yang arrives for the banquet and waits for the emperor. But the Emperor does not come. A eunuch comes to inform that the Emperor has instead gone to another concubines palace. When Noble Concubine Yang hears of this, she drinks wine to drown her sorrows and jealousy, hence the story, the Drunken Concubine. 

 

The story of the 贵妃醉酒 Drunken Concubine has been around since the early 9th century. Variations of the story have been passed down and performed as plays or operas throughout the centuries. Ok – so here’s where we have like a whole Peking Opera and Kun Opera combination. This Peking opera was only composed and performed in 1914 by the famous Peking Opera and Kun opera performer 梅兰芳. It has since stayed in the repertoire for the past hundred years. 

 

In the drama, the style of singing that 高贵妃 is singing is in the style of Kun Opera. It can ONLY be kun opera because well, Peking Opera wasn’t invented yet. However, the lines that she sings and the drinking wing from the cup are from the Peking Opera 贵妃醉酒. The accompaniment is still with the 二胡 and the clothing  and headdress are more reminiscent of Peking Opera rather than Kun Opera. This whole scene, while lovely to the Chinese Opera uninitiated, is a bit jarring to those who are more familiar with the topic. I fall in the former camp. I only found out about these differences after conducting research on the topic for the episode. 

 

I still highly enjoy the performance here though. Kudos to the actress 谭卓 for nailing the scene. I can tell that she put the work in to get the Kun Opera movement and style right.

Ep 17

We return back to Ying Luo’s main question at hand – who exactly killed her sister. Fu Heng who is now quite smitten with her, brings over the documentation of who was in the palace the day Ying Luo’s sister died. It confirms that on that day, the Emperor had a banquet that invited many of the aristocracy or imperial family. It wasn’t only just the Emperor or imperial guards that were in the palace. This expands the circle of suspects for which ying luo must investigate. She is adamant to continue her search.

 

Next we get a cute couple of scenes in Chang Chun Gong between the Empress and her maids. One night, the Empress requests for Ming Yu to play the Er Hu but the music is too sad so 尔晴 tells 璎珞 to help cheer the Empress up. They joke and play around for a bit when the Emperor suddenly arrives. The maids depart to leave the Empress and Emperor for some alone time. The next morning, it’s so adorable to see the Emperor pout in front of the Empress saying that he doesn’t want to go to court. It’s sweet to see the regal and imperious emperor turn childish for just a brief moment. It solidifies the type of relationship that these two have together.

 

Sidenote – I had this hilarious thought watching this scene. I believe the screenwriter was like – hey, this is the Imperial Harem after all! We need the Emperor to show up once in a while! What’s the point of the harem if it’s just the ladies bonding!  Here’s the OFFICIAL COUPLE! Pay attention! 

 

I thought it worked pretty well because well – they are such a cute couple. It’s rare that we see such a wholesome Emperor and Empress relationship. At least for now. Let’s just cherish it ok?

 

But after we get all this lovey doveyness out of the way, it is time to turn back to the conflict at hand. From the very beginning of the drama, we’ve learned about Noble Lady Yu’s pregnancy and the conflicts around it. It’s been calm for a few months I guess but it’s around time for her birth so we turn back to her. The Empress, out of kindness, requests for 愉贵人 to move to Chang Chun Gong so that hte Empress can help watch over her as she prepares to give birth. One day on a visit to 愉贵人 璎珞 notices that 愉贵人 has been craving only sweets and mongolian scones or naan. This piques 璎珞‘s interest because these meals are literally the only things she wants to eat. But regardless, the Empress brings 愉贵人 into the palace. 

 

The maids don’t understand why the Empress does this. 明玉, who gets more and more annoying with each episode, openly pouts and basically destroys the Empress’s beloved flowers to express her displeasure. 魏璎珞 also doesn’t really understand why the Empress decided to bear the risk of housing 愉贵人 in her palace. If anything wrong happened to either 愉贵人 or the child, the blame would lie strictly with the Empress.

 

The Empress in turn gives 魏璎珞 a very meaningful lesson. She is the Empress. The women in the Imperial harem have no family in the harem. They are alone. It is her responsibility to take care of the women in the harem. She must lead by example. If she was consumed by jealousy and played games in the harem, what would happen to the rest of the harem? It would be a complete mess! This is the only warmth that I can give them in the harem.

 

Pause on this – what a refreshing statement from the Empress. Too often, we only see an Empress in a drama performing “benevolent” acts towards other women because it will benefit her in the long run. Think about the Empress in Empresses in the Palace. She very reluctantly took care of 甄嬛 during one of her pregnancies, not out of the goodness of her heart, but because it was placed on her. She then spent the rest of the drama plotting to kill all the other children.

 

In this drama – our Empress, 富察容音 acts benevolently because it is her duty and because she’s a kind person. This is a lesson to 璎珞 and a reminder to me why when this drama came out, everyone was so enamored with this Empress. She truly is the 白月光 or white moonlight.

 

At this critical juncture though, the Empress has to go to a temple to pray to the Buddha with the Empress Dowager and leaves the palace in 璎珞’s hands. Even though 明玉 one of the maids in 长春宫 has been with the Empress for longer, she is too impatient and therefore the Empress entrusts Ying Luo with this task. 

 

This of course does not sit well with 明玉 who takes this opportunity to flaunt her authority in the palace once the Empress and 尔晴, whom the Empress brought with on her trip, leave. 璎珞 decides not to engage because it’s not really worth it. 

 

Timing unfortunately just doesn’t work for anyone. 愉贵人 unexpected goes into labor early with only 明玉 and 魏璎珞 around to help her. 明玉 -ugh, continues her stuck up ways and continues to be bossy. 

 

News of the labor travels quickly throughout the palace. Noble Consort Gao or 高贵妃 hears of this and decides that she, as the leading consort in the palace, must set an example. We’ll talk extensively about Peking Opera in the next episode so we’ll table that for now.

 

愉贵人 gives birth to a son but unfortunately the child is born with “golden” pupils. It just gets worse and worse. 高贵妃 arrives at this time. According to royal tradition, if any child has “golden” pupils, the child must be put to death as the child was viewed as a bad omen. 高贵妃 

 

News also reaches Consort Chun and Consort Xian, who are playing Chinese Go. They hear the news and make their moves. Consort Xian decides to head over to the palace to provide some assistance. Consort Chun interestingly makes a detour somewhere else. We won’t know what until the next episode.

 

Back at 长春宫, 明玉 is being a complete um I’ll put it nicely, idiot. She blatantly orders everyone to stay out of these affairs. In her mind, it’s a done deal because well, the child has golden pupils. Disobeying Noble Consort Gao meant also disrespecting Manchu ancestors. 

 

Noble consort gao orders for the newborn to be buried alive. 魏璎珞 stands in to try to save 愉贵人 and her son, giving a rousing speech. I know that 魏璎珞 slapped 明玉 earlier to wake up her but in that moment, I wanted to do the same because everything 魏璎珞 says is true! If they don’t do anything, it’s disrespecting the Empress. Only the Empress has the power to pass judgment. 

 

Wei Ying Luo can’t stand it anymore and runs off to try and find a solution. She quickly returns back with a case holding the Empress’s seal and orders everyone to stand down. At this point the Emperor and Consort Xian arrive, to which they agree to allow the Imperial Doctors to inspect the child.

 

The Imperial doctors come back and say that they’ve seen children with Jaundice but never one with golden pupils. This implicitly agrees that the child is a bad omen and can’t be cured.  

 

Upon hearing this, 愉贵人 becomes devastated as her last hope has failed. 高贵妃 haughtily demands for the child to be executed. In a last ditch effort, 魏璎珞 seizes the child and claims that the Imperial Doctors might not be aware of certain ailments. Surprisingly one Imperial Doctor agrees that he might not know. 

 

The episode ends with 高贵妃 doubling down on her arguments to kill the child, 魏璎珞 trying her best to plead her case that outside doctors might have a cure, and the Emperor hesitating on a decision.

 

Phew! That was an intense episode! I already sprinkled a little bit of current pop culture in today’s recap so let’s move onto history because there’s a LOT of it.

 

First up is the instrument that 明玉 plays. 

 

It’s called the 二胡. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen this instrument in our 2 previous dramas so we’ll take the time to discuss it here. 二胡 is a 2 stringed bowed musical instrument that originated during the 唐 dynasty, so the 7th to 10th century AD. It evolved from the 奚琴 which might have originated from the Xi people from northeast china. There is heavy proto-mongol and non Han Chinese influence in the development of the instrument. 

 

In the Song dynasty, a similar instrument was called the 嵇琴. The name 胡琴 was also used. . Hu means barbarians. 胡 from 胡琴 translates to instrument of the barbarians. This was the common name for all instruments played by the tribes to the north and northwest of china. 

 

By the time of the 明 and 清 dynasties, the 胡琴 became popular across the empire and gradually became used as an accompaniment instrument for operas. The name 二胡 is a more recent name.  二 is 2 for the two strings and 胡 is for the 胡琴 or hu instruments. 

 

The 二胡 can commonly be found as accompaniments for various chinese operas. This also meant the development of various types of 二胡 to fit the different styles of operas. Nowadays, one can see 二胡 played individually, in a group, or as part of a chinese orchestra. 

 

It is often called the Chinese violin. Anecdotally, as a solo instrument, I feel like every piece I hear it played is a sad song, similar to the sentiment in this episode. In an orchestra though, it’s often a highlight of the piece cause you can really give the instrument a solo section to jam out.

 

The Erhu has a long thin vertical neck made of wood, typically rosewood. There are two big tuning pegs at the top. Two strings are attached from the pegs to the base. At the bottom is a small sound box which is covered with python skin on the front end. The shape is usually hexagonal or octagonal. The quality of the python or snake skin directly affects the quality of the instrument. A small loop of string 千斤 is placed around the neck and strings to act as a nut as it pulls the strings towards the skin. It’s basically like a small bridge and acts kind of like a bridge on a western violin. The horsehair bow is never separated from the strings. So for a violin, the bow is placed on top of the strings but for the 二胡, the bow is essentially a part of the instrument. The bow passes through the strings. 

 

Listeners – Neither Karen nor I play the 二胡. I play the violin so I can compare the playing methods but can’t really comment on the music. One instrument – the 古筝 is enough!

 

The instrument is very lovely and there are some great pieces out there. I remember walking down the streets of old 北京, yes that still exists, and yes it’s touristy, but you’ll see some old guys just playing the 二胡. My mom interestingly is a huge fan of Mongolian 胡琴. The Mongolians and other minorities still play folk music using their instruments and those are great too. Find some clips on youtube if you’re curious!

 

后妃不能与皇上进餐

 

In this episode, the Emperor heads to 长春宫 and eats some pastries with the Empress. In adherence to etiquette, the Empress doesn’t sit to eat with the Emperor. This is true to history. The Emperor always sat alone at the table. The servants, or in this case, the Empress would be the one 布菜 or placing the selected food onto the Emperor’s plate for him to then eat. 

 

In addition – for 清dynasty Emperors, they can only eat 3 bites of any one dish. This was of course to prevent poisoning. Even if the Emperor really enjoyed the dish, tough luck because 3 bites is all he was going to get. It would then go back into rotation and not be served for some time. This becomes a small little plot point later on in the drama when someone tries to persuade the Emperor to eat more than 3 bites. 

 

I went down a rabbit hole on how much food was allocated to each level in the imperial harem, what holidays they could eat in a room with the Emperor, and how many dishes were with each meal. Let’s just say that there was an archive that recorded the agenda, food, and habits of the Emperor. This archive included over 12,000 recorded days from Emperor 康熙 in 1671 to the last Emperor 溥仪 in 1910. So there’s a LOT of detail available on the Emperor’s daily habits. 

 

海生包尔斯克

 

This is the bread that 愉贵人 had such a craving for! It essentially is just mongolian flatbread. It’s pretty traditional – the ingredients include flour, milk, shortening, and some salt. I’ll talk about it a little bit more in the next episode because I found a pretty interesting article on geography with regards to this bread and where 愉贵人 is from. 

 

Regardless – you can still find this type of bread if you venture over to the mongolian steppes. Inner Mongolia is a province in China and people have posted about eating these.

 

Seal script 篆书

 

In the episode, the Empress teaches 璎珞 a word. 后 which, in this context means Empress. The script she uses however is 篆书 or Seal Script. Now, we’ve discussed 楷书 which is standard script and briefly 行书 or Running script in the last episode. Here we will discuss 篆书.

 

This is an ancient style of writing that evolved during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods or 春秋战国, so 8th century BCE, but probably a little bit later than that. It evolved from the Zhou Dynasty Bronze script which evolved from the earliest of chinese writing, oracle bone script.

 

 The name zhuànshū, according to wikipedia, means ‘decorative engraving script’. It was  coined during the Han dynasty. There are several different styles of Seal Script such as Large Seal Script or Small Seal Script. Different states during that period had independently evolved writing scripts. Small Seal Script was the formal script of the state of Qin and became the unified script after the Qin conquered the other states. 

 

I personally enjoy learning more about these different texts because I can trace written language from thousands of years ago to the words we use today. In the drama, we see the word 后, which is made up of the mouth and the hand. The modern day word or regular script word looks a little bit different – the hand covers the mouth on the left rather than the right, but that’s one of the words that I can probably recognize if I had to read it. The written words seem much more flowy? It’s hard to describe but the strict lines in regular script aren’t really there in Seal script.

 

It is currently practiced as a form of calligraphy. People really do like to use it for formal occasions and it’s often used on seals, hence the name seal script. 

 

Ok – that brings us to the last topic. The golden pupils.

 

Why was 高贵妃 able to promptly “dispose” of the child after seeing that it had golden pupils? Was there really a tradition in killing these children? Unfortunately yes.

 

The practice for the Manchu royal family dates back to the days of the Jurchen tribe before the founding of Qing Dynasty. The Jurchen tribes were in constant warfare with neighboring tribes and clans so they were very wary of outsiders. If a baby was born with pupils different from the normal dark brown, then the tribes deemed that the baby was an evil omen and a threat to the prosperity of the tribe. They basically viewed deviations from the norm as evil. 

 

The royal family paid close attention to newborn babies. They were very superstitious and believed in reincarnation. Any omen could mean prosperity or devastation. For the royal family, this was even worse because it “jeopardized” the legitimacy of the royal bloodline. They can’t have children or a future emperor with different colored pupils! That was a bad omen because they believed the child will destroy their world. So, whenever a child was found to be born with pupils that weren’t normal,then they were usually killed. Sometimes it did involve live burial. This wasn’t just for the royal family, apparently regular families did this too.

 

I read an article that made a point that men with different colored pupils did basically destroy the Qing Dynasty. It just wasn’t really homegrown. The Eight-Nation Alliance, filled with Westerners, laid siege to Beijing in the 19th century. So in a way – I guess this prophecy or superstition proved true? Just not in the way the Manchus thought it would.

 

Well on that sad note – that is it for this episode! Man – kind of a debbie downer episode. Next week’s episode will be just as gripping and then we get kind of a respite from all the craziness of childbirth.

Ep 15+16

 

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. I am your host for today, Karen. Cathy and I are traveling the next couple of weeks so we’ll be swapping around who is available for each podcast. 

 

Today we are discussing episode 15 + 16 of Yanxi Gong Lue or the Story of Yanxi Palace. These two episodes have 3 distinct topics if you will that serve to help further the development and conflict in the overall drama. 

 

If you have any questions or comments, do let me know! Always happy to answer them,

 

In the last episode, we met the bawdy Prince Yi or 怡亲王,cousin to the Emperor. He tried to kill Ying Luo for 高贵妃 and 嘉贵人。Fortunately his little games did not succeed and he was reprimanded by the Emperor. At the end of Episode 14, we see that the palace is preparing for a ritual where the Emperor rewards court officials and imperial officers with meat. This meat is called 胙肉。 As explained by 尔晴, this meat is just cooked with water with no other seasoning. Often times the meat could be raw. Despite this being a “reward”, it’s not really one. Apparently, an official previously passed out from eating the meat but was beaten for his disrespect. Ying Luo takes this opportunity to seek revenge. How? She gives salt in a package to 傅恒 who she still thinks killed or humiliated her sister for the meat. If he is discovered to have added salt, he’s toast. She also bumps into Prince Yi again as well who haughtily laughs that she will never touch him.

 

The day of the ritual arrives and it is a grand affair. In Episode 15, the members of the imperial family, court ministers and the imperial guards are all given a slice of unappealing meat. As they’re cutting up the meat and taking a bite though, the Emperor is informed of something and each person’s plate is investigated. Turns out that this Prince Yi has added salt to his meat. The Emperor is enraged at hearing this as this act is complete disrespect for their ancestors and tradition. He has Prince Yi removed from his post and sent to be investigated. In the first 6 minutes of episode 15, Ying Luo rids herself of another meddlesome foe for it was she who spilled that there was salt in the meat. The Emperor then gives an angry speech about the importance of this ritual and investigates everyone else only to find that no one else added salt.

 

Ying Luo is confused and goes to speak with Fu Heng. At first she puts on an act that she was worried about him but quickly drops the facade when he confronts her. She promptly accuses him of harming her sister but he adamantly denies it. He doesn’t have evidence to help him on the contrary so he only promises that he didn’t do it or 发誓 which we talked about in previous episodes and even gives Ying Luo a knife to kill him with if she doesn’t believe him. She actually does stab him in the chest but not deep. He doesn’t dodge it and she lets go of the knife before running away.

 

She thought that her life was over because she couldn’t kill him and made such a terrible error in harming 傅恒. The Empress summons her in anger but instead of punishing her for injuring her brother, she is furious that Ying Luo messed with Prince Yi. Evidently Fu Heng didn’t say anything about his injury to his sister. Ying Luo is punished for what she did to Prince Yi but is also told to go give medicine to Fu Heng who was injured at practice. 

 

Once at Fu Heng’s place, the two finally have an open discussion on Ying Luo’s sister. He says that he doesn’t know who she is but her story was heard all throughout the palace. He also denies any knowledge of why his jade pendant was with her sister the night she died. Ying Luo finally lets down her guard and is now more believing of his words. Fu Heng, that cheeky guy, takes this opportunity to press whether or not YIng Luo didn’t stab him harder because she was scared or because she has true feelings. He even grabs her hand when asking her this question. Evidently, this guy is quite smitten with Ying Luo even if she doesn’t have feelings yet or know if she has feelings yet. Their little intimate moment is interrupted by Fu Heng’s friend, Hai Lan Cha which causes Ying Luo to flee. 

 

We turn now to 娴妃 who was given custody of the 4th prince, son of 嘉贵人. In the last episode, this was done by the Emperor as punishment for 嘉贵人‘s behavior and actions towards Ying Luo and leveraging Prince Yi to get rid of her. 娴妃 now is in charge of raising the 4th prince but the cute little bumpkin isn’t too fond of her. 嘉贵人 also constantly begs to see her son.

 

One day after feeding the 4th prince some congee, 娴妃 hears that the 4th prince is ill. 嘉贵人 and 高贵妃 are both there with 嘉贵人 blaming 娴妃 for not taking care of her son properly. At this point, the Emperor also arrives to hear 嘉贵人 blame 娴妃. These two ladies put on a show that despite the faults of 嘉贵人,the 4th prince shouldn’t have to endure not being with her birth mother. 高贵妃 also chimes in that she could raise the 4th prince and have 嘉贵人 nearby to help since they’re in the same palace.

 

Just as they’re about to succeed though, 纯妃 arrives with the imperial doctor. The doctor diagnoses the 4th prince with him having caught a cold. 纯妃 steps in to question why would he catch a cold with so many warm blankets, clothes and blankets around him? The doctor replies that this could happen if the child is bundled up too heavily causing him to sweat and then catch cold. After some further inquiry, the wetnurse reveals that she was instructed to bundle up the 4th prince by 嘉贵人 in order to make him sick so that it would be easier for her to bring him back. 

 

Sigh. This 嘉贵人. She’s not too smart. Her tactics are too easily revealed.  And so, the Emperor has her demoted all the way to 答应 and banished to the cold palace. The 4th prince is to stay with 娴妃. 

We now turn to episode 16. 嘉贵人 or now 金答应 is crying in her new accommodations in 北三所 or essentially the cold balance. She is mistreated by the servants but still has a temper. Soon after, she is visited by none other than 娴妃。 At long last, 嘉贵人 finally lets out her frustration at her predicament in life. She cries that she does not have any qualms against the Empress or many other women in the palace but she is forced to help 高贵妃 because her family has power and status that surpasses her own. She, 嘉贵人 has no choice but to help 高贵妃 because she has no support whatsoever. She only has her son. She argues that no one loves her son more than her but you have to understand she was the one to harm him in the first place to get him back. So… you decide if that makes her a good mother. Her issue is that she blames everyone but herself for her fate rather than realizing that she should take responsibility.

 

娴妃 isn’t here to laugh at 嘉贵人 though. She wants to know whether or not it was Prince Yi at the behest of 高贵妃 that snitched on her, 娴妃‘s, father. 嘉贵人 confirms this which is a revelation for 娴妃。 Her brother and mother’s deaths and her father ending up in prison were all due to 高贵妃. 嘉贵人 though just laughs and puts the blame back on 娴妃。 It’s because of 娴妃’s weakness and actions in the palace that caused her family to be destroyed. Triggered by 嘉贵人’s words and what her mother told her right before she died, 娴妃 finally snaps. With a long white cloth she brought with her? To be honest I don’t know where that cloth came from, she strangles 嘉贵人。 This is the final turning point for 娴妃。 She vows that she will enact revenge on every single person that hurt her in the palace. This is the type of woman who is most dangerous in the palace. On the surface she is calm, serene and kind, but underneath has so much hatred and anger just ready to be unleashed. As she explained to 嘉贵人, she was the one to invite 纯妃 to her palace. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so coincidental for her to arrive to help 娴妃 with uncovering the truth. 娴妃 is not incapable in the palace but previously just didn’t bother,. Now she has finally snapped and will make people pay.

 

 

We now move onto the 3rd part of these two series and that is the lily or 百合 relationship that was possibly exhibited in the palace. We return back to the Empress and her palace. 尔晴 despite the Empress’s indignation reminds her that it is time for the Empress to produce an heir. This is of the utmost importance for the Empress in her position. But at night, we see the Empress shivering with cold which is rather odd. Soon after, 纯妃 is invited to 长春palace and the Empress requests that only the two of them stay. Every other maid is told to wait outside. THis piques the interest if 明玉  who doesn’t understand why the Empress has ushered them away. 纯妃 returns back to 长春palace every day for up to 4 hours per visit with just the two of them in the rooms. 

 

Rumors start flying as 高贵妃 hears this peculiar news and finds this rather odd. And then comes up with the possibility that these two women may be more than just friends. After all, 纯妃 doesn ‘t spend time with the Emperor at all but spends most of her time with the Empress. The only reason that could be is that they must have some type of forbidden and taboo relationship in the palace. So she takes it upon herself to start spreading the rumors. This woman really needs to just calm down. She’s such a drama queen. 

 

She even takes it upon herself to have opera singers sing an opera that alludes to this forbidden relationship when the Emperor is walking by. After hearing this he is of course, furious and rushes over to Chang Chun Gong to see the Empress and catch her in the act. Ying Luo just so happens to have seen the Emperor hurry this way and runs back as well. Just as the Emperor is about to enter the palace, he runs into Ying Luo who had a bucket of water with her and spills it all over him. She loudly proclaims that it was just an accident but the Emperor doesn’t have the time for her. He storms into the Empress’s palace to find…that she and 纯妃 were just painting. 

 

They explain that the two of them are secretly trying to prepare a gift for the Emperor’s birthday that is coming up. They wanted to create a surprise and that the idea was for the Empress to paint a painting herself for the Emperor. Except she was never pleased with any version of the painting she’s done so far and thus has been painting non stop. 

 

This helps quell the Emperor’s suspicion and he goes off to change out of his wet clothes before complaining to the Empress that he thinks 璎珞 totally ran into him on purpose and did so because she wants to get his attention. The Empress can only smile at his accusations because she thinks he is prejudiced against 璎珞 so cannot see any good side of her. With that, the Emperor at least is happy that th rumors were fake after all and takes his leave.

 

Afterwards, the Empress and 纯妃 explain to ying luo that 纯妃 has been helping the Empress manage her health through acupuncture after it deteriorated rapidly post pregnancy and even worse since winter. This helps explain the sweating but often cold nights the Empress has had and we have seen. The reason that 纯妃 must help the Empress in secret is because if word got out that the Empress probably was not fit to bear children, that would be a threat to her position as Empress. 

 

And with that, this ludicrous rumor is dispelled. 

Before we jump into culture and history – I want to share a couple of real time reactions from fans back in the day for these couple of episodes.

 

  1. Consort Xian or Charmaine’s character has gone FULL Niu Hu Lu! She’s now a badass and won’t take anyone’s BS anymore. She knows how to play the game – she just didnt deign to do so. When episode 15 first came out, I remember everyone PRAISING Charmaine cause she just does EVIL so deliciously well
  2. This’ll be hilarious because if I point this out maybe you listeners will follow as well but by this point, I remember everyone saying how this palace drama isn’t like other palace dramas because the only one truly “fighting” in the harem is 高贵妃. In Chinese the term is 宫斗 or quite literally Palace Fighting. 高贵妃 is all – how do I get rid of my enemies,  how do I make the woman have a miscarriage, or how do I win the Emperor’s favor. She’s on the correct 宫斗 path. The other ladies? Nah – they all have their own storylines, just not surrounding the Emperor which is HILARIOUS. The Empress is all serene and kind. She and 魏璎珞 have their own CP going. Chun Fei is all about helping the Empress so they have their own little CP. Meanwhile consort Xian or Charmaine’s character hellbent on revenge! Where’s the Emperor?? Poor guy – he’s off focusing on his career. I’ll continue to mention this in future episodes cause it was a running joke that Noble Consort Gao is the only one focused on 宫斗. Compare this to Empresses in the Palace where ALL the ladies are focused on 宫斗 -> we had the Empress, hua fei, 安陵容, and Zhen huan all caught up in the battle. Here? It’s just 高贵妃. 

 

Let’s talk a little bit about culture in this drama because for once, we get to talk about homosexuality or implied homosexuality.

 

In episode 16, Consort Chun and the Empress become very close. Consort Chun applies ancient chinese herbal practices on the Empress in hopes of helping the Empress heal her body so that she may conceive again. This of course means that the two are together in a room for long periods of time with no one around. Rumors begin flying around in the palace that the two become really close. 

 

News reaches Noble Consort Gao. Please pay attention to what Gao Gui Fei says – what can be strange about two women? It’s not as if…

 

She doesn’t say anything more.

Ok – I’ll pause here. This is and probably will be THE closest that any Chinese drama comes to naming lesbianism. But pay attention because not once is it named, it is just heavily implied. Homosexuality or anything remotely referencing non-heterosexuality is heavily censored in China so the fact that this rumor becomes a plot point in any drama in China made my jaw drop when I first watched it. 

 

In Chinese history, there were written accounts homosexuality but much more in reference to gay or bisexual relationships than lesbian relationships. There’s a term in Chinese called 断袖 or cut a sleeve which is specifically used to reference gay relationships. This term is often used in Chinese dramas when the female lead pretends to be a man and gets close to the male lead. Then people will say oh are you a 断袖 which means gay. Now that’s a story for another time.

 

Back to lesbian relationships. They’re a bit more hush hush in Chinese culture, but that didn’t mean lesbian relastionships didn’t exist. Lesbianism was just kind of VERY discretely accepted, especially in the palace where there’s only 1 man, women often did turn towards one another to satisfy sexual desires. 

 

In this drama, we only get half an episode of implied lesbianism which is more than I ever dreamed of in a Chinese drama so it was quite refreshing to see.

 

 

From a historical perspective, let’s discuss the 分福吃肉 ceremony or share prosperity by sharing meat. 

 

The origin of this ceremony is as discussed in the drama. The founding Khan of the later Jin Dynasty and Qing Dynasty left his family at a young age. He and his loyal followers survived by boiling meat in water. Once the Manchus conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty, this custom was upheld and continued throughout the centuries as a reminder to the later generations to never forget the hardships their ancestors suffered.

The sacrificial meat in question is pork – specially 2 black male pigs. The butchering must happen in front of the spiritual tablets. At the same time there’s praying from the devout and ceremonial music that’s played by the shamans. Each part of the pig has specific uses for the ceremony. The innards are placed onto a spiritual pole to feed the crows which are revered in Manchu religion. The pork meat is cut into squares and called 胙肉.

 

The palace where all of this happens is 坤宁宫 or Palace of Earthly Tranquility . If it sounds familiar, it’s because yes, it’s typically where the Empress resides but mainly for Ming Dynasty and early Qing Dynasty Empresses. During the reign of Emperor 雍正, the Empress moved out of 坤宁宫 to live other palaces so that 坤宁宫 was left as mainly a Palace for ceremonial rites. If we recall, in this drama, the Empress lives in 长春宫 and in Empresses in the Palace, the Empress lived in 景仁宫。

 

During the Qing Dynasty, 坤宁宫 had daily sacrifices. These daily sacrifices required 2 pigs. For grand sacrifices, such as ones to celebrate the new year, they required 39 pigs. Each year, around 1000 pigs were sacrificed for this ceremony. A ledger noted that for a full year, the cost for these pigs was around 15000 taels of silver!

 

Now, it might seem like a tough meal but it was a real honor for ministers and officials to be allowed to eat this meat. This meant that they were viewed as “important”. There are folk legends that when ministers died, they had their families create banners stating that they ate meat at the Palace of Earthly Tranquility cause you know, it was such an honor.

 

But I guess for ministers and members of the royal family who had to eat this pretty regularly, it was a bit of a challenge. There was no flavor to the meat, and as was described in the drama, sometimes the meat was raw. Some ministers would quietly add some flavor to the meat by adding some sauce to the serviette so that they could use the knife to add flavor onto the meat. Of course – the Emperor himself could decide when and whether or not to make a big deal of his subjects cheating. 

 

The funny thing is, even though his subjects ate basically raw or flavorless meat, the Emperor himself was allowed appetizers and soup to go along with his meal! There’s a record of Emperor Qian Long’s, so our Emperor, meal early in his reign in which there’s clearly soup and some other greens that went along with his sacrificial meat. Things got much better in the later 清 dynasty in which salt was given to the ministers so that it wasn’t AS terrible. 

 

There were some crazy stories about this ceremony and sacrificial meat though. Apparently during the reign of Emperor Yong Zheng, some  eunuchs dared and succeeded in swapping out the sacrificial meat to sell outside the palace walls. It got so bad that the Emperor decreed that if anyone got caught selling or swapping the meat out, they would be subject to 40 canings. 

 

There’s another guy, 阮元, who was 76 and retired. The year was 1839 This was during the reign of Emperor 道光. During one of these ceremonies, the Emperor suddenly remembered this retired minister and gifted this sacrificial meat to him. Well, his son was at court. This son had no choice but to accept the meat, quickly wrap it in salt, and sent it immediately back to 扬州. Ladies and Gentlemen – that’s like 1000 kilometers. The journey took 17 days. Because this was sacrificial meat, the retired minister brought his entire family out to receive the gift and had it boiled and eaten on the spot. It was a great honor but apparently the whole family had to wash their meal down with a bunch of water due to how salty it was.

 

Fast forward to today – eating white pork meat is still a custom that lives on. If you head to 北京, it’s a famous casserole pot dish called 砂锅白肉. It’s quite good because obviously there’s flavor and all of that. There’s a restaurant called 和顺居 that’s been open since the days of Emperor 乾隆 which specializes in this dish.

 

Last up!

 

快雪时晴帖 or The Bright Sky after Fast Snow Calligraphy by 王羲之. This is the gift that Noble Consort Gao gifts the Emperor.  

 

This was written by the famed calligrapher 王羲之. We already discussed him in one of our Story of Ming Lan Episodes but here’s a refresher. 

Born in 303–361 during the Jin Dynasty, he hailed from the famous 琅琊 Wang family. 王羲之, is sometimes known as 书圣 or the Master Calligrapher! He was indeed a  master calligrapher, especially of running script or 行书. His most famous work, or at least to me is 兰亭序 pr Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion written in 353. The calligraphy script in question for this drama is 快雪时晴帖 or The Bright Sky after Fast Snow Calligraphy. This was written in 王羲之’s later years. It has 4 lines with 28 words and is about a jovial greeting towards family and friends in the bright sunlight after a heavy snow. The calligraphy itself uses a mix of running and regular script.  It is really a beautiful work. 

 

This piece of calligraphy, along with the other 2 named in the drama which includes 王献之的“中秋帖” Autum ,王珣的“伯远帖” and Boyuan, were bestowed the name 三喜贴 or the Three Rare Scripts by Emperor 乾隆.

 

Another reminder to our listeners that unfortunately, no original work from 王羲之 has survived. But this one is probably the one that comes up for debate the most as an original work. In regards to this particular work, during the Northern Song Dynasty – 11-12th Centuries AD, they believed it to be an original work. However, nowadays, it’s widely believed that this piece is a very good replica from the Tang Dynasty. 

 

The history of ownership of this piece is also quite astounding. It was first gifted to the Tang Dynasty Prime Minister 魏征 and then was gifted to a family of scholars in the northern song dynasty. By the time of the Southern Song Dynasty, the work was gifted to the Emperor. It passed through the hands of calligraphy collectors and royal households until it finally was acquired by Emperor 乾隆 in 1746. The current drama still isn’t there in terms of timeline but I’ll give it props for correctly placing this calligraphy as a treasured collector’s item in Emperor 乾隆’s collection. This piece was placed in the Beijing Palace Museum in 1925 but was transferred south during World War II. In 1949, the Chinese Nationalist Party brought this to Taiwan. This timeless work is now found within the National Palace Museum right outside of Taipei. Man – had I known about this when I visited the museum a few years ago, I should have taken some pictures! However, I don’t know how often this goes on display so maybe check if anyone of you are interested in seeing it in person!

 

Ep 13+14

 

[Karen]

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

 

Today, we are discussing episodes 13-14 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode

 

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

 

[Cathy]

 

There are a couple of threads to follow in these two episodes. A primary one is the evolution of Xian Fei and the other is we meet 怡亲王 or Prince Yi.

 

In the last episodes, 璎珞 offered to dispose of Gao Gui Fei’s dog after it wreaked havoc during the Empress’s tea party and destroyed her lychee trees. We start off this episode with 傅恒, the handsome imperial guard and younger brother to the Empress, finding out that Ying Luo didn’t actually kill the dog, but rather, stashed it away for safe keeping. This lowers 傅恒’s alertness around 璎珞, warm  ing up to her more and offers to take the dog away to be raised by a loving family. Little does he know that 璎珞 did all of this in order to lower his suspicion of her. She calls herself a bad person but we see that she’s not all bad. 

 

Elsewhere, 娴妃’s brother has been embroiled with a corruption scandal. She only just got some money as a reward from the Empress to send to her brother for medical care as he’s been jailed and has fallen ill. But one night, the Emperor arrives to visit 娴妃。He is utterly furious because 娴妃‘s father has used the reward money for bribery! The goal is to try to reduce 娴妃’s brother’s sentence. But now, 娴妃’s father has landed himself in jail because this is something that the Emperor cannot tolerate. 娴妃 is in utter shock. Her father raised her to be righteous and outstanding. She does not believe that her father would stoop so low as to bribe anyone. 

 

[Karen]

The Emperor permits 娴妃 to go to prison to ask the truth herself from her father. She does so and sadly, her father confirms that, at the pushing of her mother, he did try to bribe officials to help her brother. 娴妃’s world comes crashing down in an instant. She feels betrayed by her father for what he’s done especially given how hard she’s had it in life in the palace.

 

On her way back to the palace, she meets her mother waiting for her. This mother is a real piece of work and I feel bad for 娴妃 because it’s all because of her mother’s nagging that caused her father to bribe in the first place. She is a selfish woman who wants to use her family to further her position. But it doesn’t matter anymore as news comes to the mother daughter pair that 娴妃’s brother has passed away in prison. 娴妃‘s mother is absolutely distraught and yells at her daughter for being useless. Right after these harsh words, she runs towards a wall and kills herself. Poor 娴妃 in one day, she lost 2 loved ones and her world has been turned upside down.

 

The Empress, saddened by what has transpired, pushes the Emperor to go lightly on 娴妃‘s father to which the Emperor agrees. But, after thinking through everything that she has endured, 娴妃 wakes up the next morning, a completely new woman. As we like to joke, she is now niu hu lu xian fei. She recognized the importance of power and true strength in the palace and will take steps to secure her position. In a way, she played the game and lost.

 

[Cathy]

Turns out, all of this was orchestrated in part by 高贵妃 and 嘉贵人 with the aid of 怡亲王 or Prince Yi. Prince Yi, despite being a prince, is only a cousin of the Emperor and not someone who is entirely favored. He wants to partner with 高贵妃’s family to further his career. 高贵妃 and 嘉贵人 think it prudent to use him to get rid of the current adversary, 魏璎珞.

 

And so, 怡亲王 partners with 璎珞’s old friend, and I say that ironically, 庆锡 the imperial guard who used to have a thing with 璎珞‘s late sister.

 

Meanwhile, 璎珞 starts learning to write calligraphy under the tutelage of the Empress. 璎珞’s calligraphy skills are abysmal but at least she’s learning. It doesn’t take long for Ying Luo to amass a large number of pages with her written words. She also created a rather rudimentary contraption to help secure her hand while writing Chinese calligraphy. It’s a skill that she’s learning late but better late than never.

 

One day, as 璎珞 is sending something somewhere, a line of guards walk by her. At the end of the line is 庆锡 who whispers to her that he knows the truth about her sister’s death and to meet him that night in the imperial garden. But just as she is thinking about those words back at her room, she realizes that one of the pages of her writing deck has gone missing. 

 

[Karen]

That night, 璎珞 goes to the agreed upon spot. 庆锡 arrives and tries to drag 璎珞 off but the moment he tries to do so, she loudly yells that there’s a bad guy and for ppl to come beat him up. Immediately a huge crowd of eunuchs arrive and start kicking and beating 庆锡。Not long after, 怡亲王 arrives to break up the fight. 庆锡 hurridely tattles that it was this 魏璎珞 that was trying to seduce him. 怡亲王 immediately tries to punish 璎珞 for breaking palace rules but 璎珞 is not going to take this so easily. She says that she’s here at night to pick up some herbs for the Empress. Why else would she have brought so many eunuchs with her? There’s no way she was here to sneak a meeting with 庆锡。But it’s not like 怡亲王 cares. Just as he’s about to drag 璎珞 off, 傅恒 arrives and requests that the resolve this matter in front of the Emperor who just so happens to be playing chess with him nearby.

 

In front of the Emperor, 庆锡 claims that 璎珞 has been trying to seduce him for a while and asked him to meet her at the garden tonight. He, 庆锡 set up a trap in order to catch her because he knows this is against palace rules. He even brings out evidence that she was the one to ask him out. He produces a letter that he claims he wrote her to meet him tonight. 璎珞 takes one look at the note and is able to loudly say that that note is fake. She produces her own evidence which is her wad of papers with her own calligraphy writing. There are a couple of holes in 庆锡‘s plot. First, Ying luo has numbered all of the pages with her writing and just today, she noticed the 28th page has gone missing. Second, the paper that was used to write the note for QingXi uses an entirely different, much more expensive kind of paper than what she has been using. And lastly, her writing has improved in the month since she wrote that 28th page. If they compare her writing today vs the writing on the page that was stolen, there should be vast differences. This means that she must not be the one to have written that note.

 

[Cathy]

Seeing that the truth is about to be revealed Prince Yi and Qing Xi immediately start blaming each other for the events of the evening. 璎珞 continues further to suggest that this is not as simple as trying to harm a lowly maid. Given that she works for the EMpress, this was a plot to question the Empress’s abilities to rule and perhaps remove her from power. Realizing that the stakes now just got a lot bigger, The Emperor orders 100 canings for 庆锡 and he is to be removed from his post and investigated. 璎珞 is told to return back to the palace and practice writing 100 more times. 

 

After everyone leaves, the Emperor turns his ire to Prince Yi. The Emperor even lands a couple of pretty harsh kicks on this cousin. (Honestly, this Emperor likes to kick ppl too much. Which is certainly a no no.) After much pressing, Prince Yi reveals that it was 嘉贵人’s father who asked Prince Yi for help to get rid of this maid given that 璎珞 was the one to cause 嘉贵人 to get demoted. This infuriates the EMperor and immediately order that 嘉贵人’s son is taken away from her.

 

We’ll end the episode recap there as the rest of the episode links directly onto episode 15 and we’ll discuss that in more detail.

 

[Karen]

Before we talk about history – let’s discuss a little bit about pop culture related to these couple of episodes.

 

We now have the initial form of 令后 cp -> Consort + Empress CP! In China, people love to pair different characters with characters and form CPs or couples with each other. 魏璎珞’s future title is consort 令 so right now it’s 令后 cp. Everyone LOVED the relationship between 魏璎珞 and the Empress because it’s so wholesome! The Empress is kind of like the big sister that 魏璎珞 lost. This is one to watch in the upcoming episodes because I remember reading the comments saying – who needs the men, can the ladies just get on with their lives?

 

We also of course have the competing couple of 魏璎珞 and 富察傅恒 but that’s a little bit more hidden right now. 

 

Lastly – let’s talk about Charmaine’s character. 娴妃. In history, nothing like this happened to her family, so this is all for the drama. Moving past that, we now get the beginnings of niu hu lu xian fei! Tie this all back together to Empresses in the Palace! She needs a little bit more pushing but 娴妃 begins her turn to the dark side. Charmaine does an amazing watch and it’s GREAT to see!

 

 

[Cathy]

First up is the discussion from between 魏璎珞 and the Empress towards the end of episode 13. 魏璎珞 is practicing calligraphy and quotes 

 

有天下者,天下之主;有一国者,一国之主。我固其主矣

 

This quote comes from 资治通鉴外纪 which is a derivative of Comprehensive Mirror in Aid of Governance. This was also a historiography that was compiled by the northern song scholar 刘恕 and was published in the late 11th century. This includes history of the Zhou Dynasty. 

 

The story is essentially what the Empress discussed during the episode. The King in question is King Wen of Zhou or 周文王. He lived from roughly 1152 to 1056 BC. Hey, I don’t think he lived like 100 years. Wikipedia has him listed at having died at the age of 62 but baike noted that he died at the age of 97. Both places do have him like the full 100 years as a rough estimate. Maybe he did live that long!

 

Anyways 周文王 was posthumously granted the title as the found of the Zhou Dynasty. In Chinese culture and legend, he is one of the most famous kings, to the point that he is named the culture king. Many hymns in the Classics of Poetry or 诗经 praise the legacy of this King Wen of Zhou. 

 

The story is as such – The King Wen of Zhou was out in the wilderness and spotted a skeleton lying on the ground. He asked his guard to bury the skeleton. The guard said – this is a skeleton that no one wanted. To which the King responded, the owner of the riches of the world, is the owner of the world. The owner of the land of a country is the owner of the country.  As such, I am the owner of this skeleton. How can I let him or her lay out in the open? The land and its people are the responsibility of the King. This story is to paint the King as a benevolent ruler.

 

I will say – this phrase is a really good phrase to practice calligraphy. The characters aren’t hard and it’s a great way for 璎珞 to learn from the Empress the ways of the world.

 

[Karen]

铁帽子王 – Iron Capped Prince!

 

In the drama, the Empress often tries to persuade 魏璎珞 to be wary of 怡亲王 or the Prince of Yi because of his status as a 铁帽子王 or an Iron Capped Prince. What is this?

 

Well, in the 清 dynasty, sons do not automatically inherit their father’s title of the same rank. The rank will be downgraded a level for each subsequent descendent. As a favored son of an Emperor, typically, the son would be awarded the status of 和硕亲王 or Prince of the First Rank. This Prince’s son would be downgraded to the title of Prince of the Second Rank, or 郡王. He wouldn’t inherit the title of 亲王. Of course there would only be one son who inherits the official title. It’s somewhat tough luck for the other sons who do not inherit titles but might be granted some other courtesy titles. 

 

If we compare to the English aristocracy, think of it as if Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex’s son Archie doesn’t inherit his father’s title but can only be granted the title of Marquess. This is just an example because I know that Prince Harry declined titles for his children but this is just a what if scenario.

 

Back to the drama and iron-capped princes. In the 清 Dynasty, there are 12 iron cap princely peerages which meant that the title could be passed down to subsequent generations without being downgraded. This means that a 亲王’s son would also be granted the title of 亲王.  Compare this to Downton Abbey – where the Earl of Grantham’s heir will still inherit the title of the Earl. Please note that even if a Prince was convicted of a crime, the peerage would not be abolished, instead, the peerage would pass to another descendent. 

 

These iron capped princes enjoyed more privileges than even a normal Prince of the First rank. This includes of course first 世袭罔替 which means the title isn’t demoted and sons automatically inherit the title. It also includes a special house or manor for the family and a basic salary of 10 thousand taels of silver and 10 thousand hu of rice. If you are ever in Beijing, some of these princely houses are open to the public.

 

The first 8 were granted to sons and family members who were directly involved in conquest of China and were descendents of either 努尔哈赤 or 皇太极. The founder of the Qing Dynasty and the second Emperor of the Qing Dynasty respectively. Some famous princes include 代善, 多尔衮, and 多铎。They all enjoyed Imperial Tablets / Plaques found within the Imperial Ancestral Temple. We talked about this in episodes 8-9 as being a big deal.

 

[Cathy]

This brings us to 怡亲王 – or the father of the current 怡亲王 was the first Iron Capped Prince to be granted by Emperor 雍正. This 胤祥, who was the 13th prince, son of Emperor 康熙 and one of Emperor 雍正’s biggest allies. He was one of the few princes who allied with Emperor 雍正 during the Nine Lords War. For his services, Emperor 雍正 granted him the title of 怡亲王, making him the 9th iron cap prince. There were only 3 more iron caps granted after this. 

 

Let’s now turn our attention to the 怡亲王 in this drama. His name is 弘晓 and was the 7th son of 胤祥. What’s interesting is that he wasn’t the first born or born from the main wife and inherited the title when he was only 8, which is when his father died. There’s some speculation that 胤祥 deliberately chose this because this would reduce some wariness from the Emperor. If he chose a more established son, the Emperor might purposefully find ways to strip his family’s power. 

 

Nevertheless – that still happened. During the reign of Emperor 乾隆, our Emperor, in 1739, 弘晓’s older brothers were caught in the middle of a palace scandal and punished. 弘晓 or the Prince of Yi was only allowed to be an Imperial Bodyguard – similar to what we have in the drama. After a couple of years, he was demoted from that role by the Emperor because apparently he didn’t have a small knife with him while praying to the ancestors. THis is a little different than in the drama but let’s just say, he had a rough time.

 

What’s worse! Emperor 乾隆 even gifted one of the residence that was previously gifted to the first prince of yi to 富察傅恒. This prince of yi’s family then had to move out and find someplace else to live.

 

After this the Prince of Yi or 弘晓 turned his attention to the gentlemanly arts. He made quite a name for himself as a writer and poet. He enjoyed reading more common books and was close to some of the most famous writers of the day. He also had a prized collection of books. There was an attempt at archiving them and a preliminary list had the number at over 4500 books. 弘晓 died in 1178 at the age of 57.

 

The title of the Prince of Yi was passed down to 8 generations with 9 princes. The last prince of yi died in 1948.

 

[Karen]

Finally let’s talk about 宣纸 or Rice Paper!

 

This is a kind of paper that originated from China and is used for writing and painting. Paper 纸 is one of the 4 treasures of the study or 文房四宝. The 4 include brush, ink, paper, and ink stone. 

 

The most famous rice paper is called 宣纸 and comes from 安徽 province specifically 泾县. This is the rice paper used as planted evidence against 璎珞. Indeed, 宣纸 comes from the Xuan Prefecture in which the Jing County resides. 泾县 is famous for its production of 宣纸. The moist climate and various flora make the perfect location for paper production. This tradition has lasted to this day. The primary tree used for paper production is 青檀树 or Pteroceltis. It is endemic to China and the fiber from its bark is used to make the Xuan Paper. In 2015, there were around 300 companies producing various types of 宣纸 totally around 800 TONS of paper. 

 

The first records 宣纸 dates back to the Tang dynasty when it was listed as an Imperial Tribute item. 

 

Xuan paper has been greatly favored as paper of choice for millenia. Countless Chinese books and paintings used this type of paper. It makes a ton of sense that they did. The paper has a smooth surface, is pure, and has a clean texture. It’s also very resistant  to corrosion, moth and mold. There are pieces of art and books that have survived millenia on this type of paper. 

 

In episode 13, we also see the Empress’s maids cutting, ironing, and indeed spraying water on the paper. Typically what happened was that the 宣纸 or rice paper comes in large sheets. They then need to be cut or resized to the desired length. Of course, there are some that are pre-cut with lines. Ironing was done to help smooth out some of the creases. That’s also the same with spraying water. When I first watched episode 13, i was like, why are the spewing water? Well – that’s the reason!

 

We do have quite a stack of 宣纸 at home to practice calligraphy. We aren’t super fancy to know all the different elaborate types of rice paper but there is a marked difference in some of the paper we use. If ever you get the chance to find some rice paper, check out where it’s from!

 

[karen]

 

Ep 10-12

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

Let’s begin with the episode recap

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

History

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[kc]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

长安回望绣成堆⑵,山顶千门次第开⑶。

一骑红尘妃子笑⑷,无人知是荔枝来⑸。

 

My translation roughly goes like this

 

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

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

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

No one knows that the lychee has arrived

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

虎兕出于柙,龟玉毁于椟中,是谁之过与?

 

The translation is as such

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Ep 8+9

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Cathy]

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

 

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

 

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

 

[Karen]

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

[Cathy]

Next up! On to history!

 

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

 

张廷玉

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

 

[Karen]

鄂尔泰

 

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

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

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

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

 

[Cathy]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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