Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through Chinese historical dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.
Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. If you like what you hear in this podcast, please please please do us a favor and leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to!
This is the 4th in a 4 part series for the drama and today we will discuss the plot, characterization, and history of episodes 8-13. We are breaking these podcast episodes to reflect the first couple of “cases” in the drama. As always, I’ll finish with a quick book comparison since the drama is based off of a book.
We began the 4 part series by highlighting that this drama focused more on the struggles of power and what it meant to rule. Those challenges are fully displayed in these next upcoming episodes. For the crown prince, it is the sacrifice of his love for political reasons. For his father, the Emperor, it is seeing his court officials lourding power over him and he must plug the gaps.
The fight between the crown prince and his older brother Prince Qi or 齐王 continues to brew in the background with 齐王‘s father-in-law and current Chancellor, 李柏舟 as the primary antagonist
Let’s start off with episode 8. In the prior few episodes, we saw the Crown Prince wrapped up in a debacle at the imperial entrance exam that resulted in the resignation of his beloved teacher because he, the crown prince, plotted against his brother. In order to protect his disciple, 卢世瑜, took the blame and is told to leave his post and return home. The Crown Prince is understandably upset at the turn of events but there is not much he can do. It is a valuable lesson that he learned.
The best thing to have come out of the exam scandal, however, is for the Crown Prince to have “met” our female lead, 陆文昔。 I say quote on quote “meet” because she had never revealed her countenance to him. In his presence, she always wore a cap that had a veil to cover her face, as is customary at the time. But, that does not deter from their attraction towards each other especially after they worked together to help save the Crown Prince’s best friend and cousin, 顾逢恩 and her brother, 陆文普 from being implicated in the exam cheating scandal.
Both of their hearts are separately fluttering after being impressed by each other’s intellect and capability. On the Crown Prince’s side, he didn’t even want to go see the results of the imperial entrance exam with his friend 顾逢恩 but eagerly agreed after hearing 陆文昔 would be there. 陆文昔 was also full of anticipation to seeing the results first hand in hopes of meeting her prince but was cold-heartedly told to stay home by her brother. The crown prince, was of course, annoyed that 陆文昔 was not there and also found out that he may be betrothed to the daughter of the Minister of Justice, who’s last name is Zhang. This shocks 太子 who hurries to get confirmation from his teacher, 卢世瑜 who is also the Minister of Justice’s teacher. It just so happens that on this day, after being rebuffed from seeing the exam results, 陆文昔, was at 卢世瑜’s manor helping him dry his catalog of books. We will talk about this in our explanation as it is quite interesting why this scene would appear. 太子 encounters 陆文昔 while drying books and, behind a curtain so he once again does not see her face, have another thoughtful and engaging conversation. 太子 is over the moon about this girl and is set on marrying her. He knows she is 陆文昔, daughter of well known court official who has recently returned to the capital, but has never seen her face.
This relationship serves as the next round of conflicts between the two brothers. We have already established that 太子 is interested in 陆文昔 but in order to further secure power for 齐王, 李柏舟 wants 陆文昔 to marry 齐王 as a concubine. This chancellor rather forcefully pushes this message onto 陆文昔’s father, 陆英. 陆英 is extremely reluctant to have his children used as pawns for political gain and also hates being bullied in this way and thus asks the crown prince for help.
What happens？At the end of episode 9 and into episode 10, the Emperor is having a pleasant evening with Prince Qi and his mother, the royal consort. In this brilliant scene, 齐王 is preparing tea for his father using the traditional tea preparation method we actually saw in The Story of Ming Lan. It is an elaborate process to prepare a bowl of tea and Qi Wang does a fine job as his father even compliments him. At this point, 太子 arrives and also prepares a bowl of tea for his father. The crown prince uses tea that he brought himself which was procured [xxxx ELABORATE]. One sip of the tea and the Emperor spits it out. It tastes horrible. The Emperor quickly dismiss Prince Qi and the royal consort as this has suddenly become a political matter.
Turns out, the tea that the Crown Prince made is connected to a policy in the drama called 茶马政 whereby, the government trades official tea with neighboring territories for military horses fit for war. This is an important matter as it directly feeds into the military power of the Empire. The Crown Prince brings forth 陆英 who explains that Prince Qi’s maternal Grandfather has been keeping all of the official tea for himself and selling it for huge profits causing waves of outrage by the local citizens. And the tea sent to be traded for horses are of extremely poor quality or of not enough weight which means that no military horses are traded for the army. The Emperor is furious that such corruption has happened under his nose with ties to stability of his nation’s border and questions why he has not heard a peep. 陆英 reveals that he had sent numerous documents detailing these events but they have all been ignored. Who did the ignoring? The Chancellor, 李柏舟.
The Emperor summons 李柏舟 as well as the Minister of Treasury or Revenue but instead of even apologizing or acknowledging the corruption that happened, 李柏舟 uses the excuse that he’d been too busy these last few weeks to have looked at the dockets from 陆英. 李柏舟 pushes away any and all responsibility for his involvement in this scandal again. Poor Emperor. He knows that 李柏舟 is bluffing but his primary concern is not to dole out punishment. Instead, he has to figure out how to find money to purchase more tea in order to trade for military horses. This is where you see that while the Emperor may not be the fairest father to the crown prince, his number one priority is ruling the empire.
Realizing that her father has been caught up in such a big corruption scandal, the royal consort was, you could say, intelligent enough to proactively apologize and seek punishment. She even said her father is willing to give up his entire fortune to the treasury in order for this to not go public. Only then, does the Emperor finally calm down. But, once again, it is clear that 齐王 and 李柏舟 have conspired against the Emperor.
Throughout the rest of episode 10 and 11, the drama focuses once more on the relationship between 太子 and 陆文昔。Because 李柏舟 was dealt such a huge blow, he wants to retaliate against 陆英 by having his daughter marry 齐王 as a concubine. The Crown Prince and 陆文昔 are both devastated at hearing the emperor has agreed but ultimately, by grace of 齐王’s wife, the decree never gets delivered so the marriage is held off. Key takeaways here are that geez, 李柏舟 is a cold hearted father for pushing his daughter to have to share a husband with a concubine and that the Emperor is showing us he’s a conflicted character. He ignores the Crown Prince’s pleas that he wants to marry 陆文昔 not necessarily because he doesn’t want his son to marry for love, but there are important political implications if this marriage goes through. In any case, the two are separated for the time being.
I’ll wrap up our plot recap by turning to the next big event. We saw the two princes training for the 射柳大赛 or archery competition earlier on and they are now headed to the competition site along with the Emperor. It is a grand affair as it is not simply a competition but an opportunity for the Emperor to survey military strength. A rather heavy set general, General Lv, comes to greet the Emperor and the two princes and it is this general who will aid in the competition.
On the surface, we have this competition to enjoy where the sons will vy for the winning prize as the Emperor formally declared that the winner will win whatever they wish. This clearly stoked a fire for the Crown Prince who’s prize would be 陆文昔. But what I’m more interested in is the Emperor’s true motive in coming out here. He wants to see one of his close confidantes, 李明安 with the aim of discussing how to remove military power from our dear 李柏舟 in order to weaken this Chancellor’s power while strengthening support along the empire’s borders as well as pose a check against General Gu, 太子‘s uncle who is currently on the front lines and wields tremendous military power. This conversation came right in time because the Chancellor was in cahoots with General Lv. The Emperor knows this and needs to figure out what is a gift that can be given that cannot be refused so as to force the Chancellor to let go of military power…
Next day at the archery competition, we see that it is a grand affair. The two brothers are ready to show off their skills and each is eager to win. The Emperor and many officials at court are present, including the CHancellor and General Lv is in charge of the whole event. Unexpectedly or expectedly, the Crown Prince gets some nasty surprises from his horse who had been tampered with. By whom? Easy guess, it’s Prince Qi and General Lv. Well we hear it from 顾逢恩 who saw the whole thing and reported it to 太子。This whole scene though is funny to me because Tai Zi is still too focused on his love life while his father has a dramatic showdown in front of court for that army of General Lv’s. He openly requests for this battalion which shocks 李柏舟 but he is quick to retort back as to why the Emperor should and cannot take this battalion. It’s a fantastic back and forth and showcases why these more seasoned actors also add a lot to the drama.
The drama turns back onto the field as the combat between the Emperor and 李柏舟 become manifested in 太子 and 齐王。The final comptetion that will decide which prince is the winner is to shoot a special gourd at the end of the arena. The two princes gallop down the field with Prince Qi purposefully running into Tai Zi’s horse to knock him off course. General Lv also on horseback gallops the opposite direction towards the emperor. Despite the Crown Prince severely wanting to win, he saw a flash of light coming from General Lv and recognized that the General was wearing armor. Wearing armor in the presence of the Emperor is tantamount to treason. For the General to wear this armor meant that he wanted to harm the Emperor. The Crown Prince made a split second decision and promptly turned his horse around and chased after the General while Prince Qi, completely oblivious to what happened, galloped towards the gourd. The Crown Prince with his bow in hand, screams for the General to stop who refuses and thus, left with no choice, the Crown Prince raises his bow to take down the General. However, the direction of his arrow was pointed in the direction of the Emperor. This alarms the entire crowd as they, including the Emperor, thought the Crown PRince wanted to harm the Emperor. The Emperor himself demands a bow and arrow to defend himself. Three arrows flew as the three men each hit their target. 齐王 hit the gourd, the Crown Prince hit General Lv and the Emperor hit the Crown Prince…’s horse.
General Lv is captured and revealed that his troops also all wore armor. The Emperor also suddenly realized that his son the Crown Prince was trying to save him but took this invaluable opportunity to deal a blow to the Chancellor by seamlessly taking command of General Lv’s battalion. To placate him, the Emperor gifts a jade belt to the winner of the archery competition. [ xxxxxx continue ]
晒书 – episode 8
In episode 8, the Crown Prince and 陆文昔 have another “meet cute” when 陆文昔 is drying books. So what is this? In Chinese, it’s called 晒书 or drying of the books. Hm -朱彝尊 i guess that’s the best translation I have.
The purpose of 晒书 is to of course preserve books. This is to protect them from bookworms and mold. The days to do so were in the summer because those were the driest days. People didn’t just dry books but clothes as well.
The practice of 晒书 has been recorded for thousands of years, dating back to the eastern han dynasty so 1st century AD. It wasn’t as big of a deal in 隋唐 dynasties – so the 7th century AD. It was really during the 宋 dynasty that 晒书 became more common practice.There are official documents recording the process / practice of doing so. During the 宋 dynasty, they had it as the 7th day of the 7th month as the day to dry books.
Some other stories around 晒书 It actually became an official folk holiday that occurs on 6th day of the 6th month on the lunar calendar. One involves a trip where this Emperor 康熙 was dressed as a commoner on a trip. He was emperor during the 17th century. He saw a scholar 朱彝yí尊, sunbathing while also drying his books. Well it is more like he was fully clothed but showed his chest / belly. The Emperor approached the man to discuss what he was doing. The goal really is because there are idioms called 满腹经纶 or 饱读诗书, which mean a belly full of knowledge. So the guy shows his full belly with his books to show that he is FULL of knowledge. Afterwards, the Emperor agreed to make this sort of an “official” holiday. The drying of books that is.
What’s hilarious is now in common vernacular people still use 晒书 as a term to flaunt how intelligent or learned they are.
梅雨季 – episode 8
Plum rain or the East Asian rainy season. According to Wikipedia, it is caused by precipitation along a front known as the Meiyu front for nearly two months during the late spring and early summer. Timing can range from late May to early July. This stretches in East Asia between mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Northern Vietnam and the Russian Far East. Some main characteristics include persistent rain, high temperatures, and high humidity. I’ve been in Southern China when this happens and my goodness, I got destroyed by the mosquitos.
The season is called as such because that is also when the plums or 梅子 ripen in the area. It unfortunately also a time that due to the humidity also causes a lot of close to grow moldy, so people also call it 霉雨. 发霉 means to grow moldy and 霉 also means mold. So it’s a homonym and a very clever one at that!
This season has been named from ancient times. There are several famous poems from poets dating back to the Tang Dynasty around the 8th century.
To this day, people take their clothes, carpets, furniture out to the sun to dry if there is a sunny day during that time to avoid having their possessions grow mold.
茶道 – episode 9
Since this drama is set in the Song Dynasty, Tea and tea brewing is also a big part of the culture. We discussed this in episodes 9 and 10 of our recap of the Story of Ming Lan but let’s do another recap here. The art of brewing tea is called 点茶。
So how does this work? First up, is actually grinding tea into powder. You take 团茶 which are compressed tea medallions and either pound them or else grind them into fine powder. In the drama, the tea is broken off of the medallion and gently pounded. Then it is grinded into a powder. After the tea is ground into fine powder, it is placed into a sifter so only the finest powder is kept. With that done, the tea is placed to the side.
Next up, is preparing the tea cup. You first place a certain amount of hot water in the tea cup which is called 盏。 It’s more like a bowl than a cup. You swirl the hot water around to allow for even warmth along the bowl. Dump the water out and clean the top of the bowl.
After this, you place a few teaspoons of the tea powder into the cup and start adding hot water. At first, only enough to be at the amount of tea powder in the bowl. Then, you take a tea whisk and start whisking. This step is called 调膏。
Whisking starts slowly in a circular motion until the tea texture becomes creamy. Next, you continue to add hot water and continue to whisk. After starting off slow, the whisking increases speed quite significantly until the final texture is beige, creamy and frothing with bubbles!
And that my friends, is Song dynasty 点茶。It’s certainly very different from tea brewing we’re used to today. Just pop in a tea bag or else put in loose leaf tea.
茶马政 – Tea and horse policy
One of the biggest political strategies or policies that are discussed in these few episodes include 茶马政 which is the Tea and horse policy. It originated during the Tang dynasty so think 8th century and was very prominent during the Song Dynasty, so 11th century. The main policy was essentially trade between the Chinese Dynasties and the kingdoms to the west, especially the Tibetan plateau. You can think of it similar to the silk road but the focus here wasn’t silk. What was traded? The Chinese traded tea in exchange for horses – for this drama, it was war horses. China controlled the secrets of tea and needed horses. Horses were used in the cavalry and that definitely meant whoever had the horses had the upper hand. Which is why, in this drama, the Emperor plots against the Chancellor to gain control of the horses and of course the troops. The policy lasted for over 00 years and only ended in the 1700s during the reign of Emperor 雍正
射柳大赛 – 射义 – episode 12.
There’s a whole archery competition, specifically 射柳大赛. So what is it?
The archery competition occurred on 端午节 or Dragon Boat Festival or 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar.
We briefly discussed it in episode 2 of the Story of Ming Lan about Archery.
A gentleman has six arts. The 6 arts are the basis for chinese gentlemen’s education and this tradition dates all the way back to the Zhou dynasty over 2500 years ago.
The six arts are 礼、乐、射、御、书、数.
Specifically for archery, there were five ways to master the skill which is why it’s called 五射 or five type of archery. Last time we mentioned that during the Zhou Dynasty, men were expected to know archery. The 6 arts is a reflection of this tradition.
射柳 means to shoot a willow. Yes a willow tree. This had origins from nomadic tribes such as the 匈奴. 射柳 primarily occurred in the North and was formally a competition during the 辽 dynasty. For the competition, in the center, the bark was cut off to make a target. Competitors would shoot at the target. Whoever was able to topple the tree was the winner. During the 明 dynasty, it shifted somewhat so that the custom was to put a bird in a gourd. Competitors would shoot the gourd to try and free the bird, as we saw in the drama. The custom slowly died out by the end of the Qing Dynasty, so the late 19th and early 20th century.
I’ll quickly close out on book differences. Since this is our last episode recap, I will give some book / show spoilers. Up until now, the events still really don’t occur in the book. They are mentioned in the book. For example, the 5th prince tries to become a student of 卢世宇 but is denied. The Emperor has his confidant in 李明安.
Spoiler – The book story begins roughly around episode 21 – 23. What I mean by that is – 陆文昔 has entered into the Crown Prince’s palace as a maid and gets close to the Crown Prince. It is a beautiful and sad love story. The book is much bleaker than the drama and the drama is already pretty bleak. 陆文昔’s father and older brother die before the start of the book and all she has is her younger brother and mother. She acts as a spy – not for the Prince of Qi but actually the 5th prince 萧定楷. He is a much bigger player in the book.
And there you have it! Episodes 8-13 of Royal Nirvana. These episodes focused on the the relationships between 太子 and 陆文昔, the pressures on the Emperor, and quite frankly, the inability of both of his sons to understand their father. If I’m honest, 萧定权 is a good kid, but man, can you be more rational?
Alright! That’s it for today and that’s it for 鹤唳华亭！If you’re interested, please continue watching. If you want to watch the show and are in the US, it is on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special! On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. If there’s more interest, we can explore doing more episodes. There’s a lot more history to discuss from here. Printing is one of them!
We will move onto the next drama – The Story of Yan Xi palace
Thank you all for listening