Ep 32

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 32 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.  In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!

 

[Karen]

Today we are only focusing on one episode as there’s a lot of history to unpack and we also want to give a proper farewell to someone special.

 

It all starts in episode 32 with the Emperor arriving with Consort Xian or Xian Fei to meet Noble Consort Gao or Gao Gui Fei who is currently watching the preparations for a performance for the Empress Dowager. The performance itself is called 万紫千红 or in the drama they call it A Blaze of Colors. The direct translation is ten thousand purple one thousand red which ultimately reflects the burst of colors where molten iron is blasted out into sky into a burst of sparks that light up the night sky. It is quite stunning and I am impressed with how the drama filmed it. As we will discuss later, it’s also called the iron flower show

 

However, don’t you think the first moment you see this that wow that’s dangerous. Molten iron just being splashed around and no safety measures whatsoever!

 

Gao Gui Fei does not care though does she. She even steps forward to look more closely at the show and begins devising how better to put on a show. But just as she steps forward by herself with her maid, one of the performers direct a burst of sparks right at Gao Gui Fei and it hits her full on in the back. The Emperor wants to protect her but is held back by Xian Fei. In the chaos, the offending performer slips away while other performers create a diversion. The imperial guards immediately tell the performers to stop and then spread out to seek the perpetrator but it’s too late for Gao Gui Fei. She has been severely injured.

 

[Cathy]

The imperial guards search high and low for the perpetrator and even head to Xin Zhe Ku where Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang are working to see if the culprit hid there. They are not able to find anyone but Yuan Chun Wang knows what happened. He confronts YIng Luo and surmises that she must have planned to help the attacker a long time ago. She even purposefully shouted that she had no more connection to the Empress in order to prevent the Empress from being connected to anything that Ying Luo does. This does seem to be the plan that Ying Luo worked with one of the craftsmen for the performance in the last episode to carry out. 

 

Poor Gao Gui Fei. Her entire back is bloodied by burns from the scorching molten iron. She screams that she doesn’t want medical attention either if it means that it will leave scars on her back. You do have to feel bad for this type of injury of hers. What’s worse is that, as the doctors find out, the injury isn’t just from molten iron. But it’s actually gold water. The drama explains that gold water is where feces water has been added to the mix which causes any burns be unable to heal fully due to repeated infections from the feces. This is a rather low blow if you ask me.

 

[Karen]

 

The Emperor goes to visit Xian Fei and explains all of this to her while also checking up on her injuries. The thing is, even though she herself is injured, you look at her smile. This was all an act on her part to showcase how much she cares for the Emperor and for him to see that she cares a lot about him. Once again in Xian Fei’s eyes, you can see her calculating gaze.

 

BUT it ‘s not like I’m not thoroughly enjoying this hardened Xian Fei. We find out that Gao Gui Fei has not been a good patient and therefore has made recovery pretty much impossible. The infections on her back cannot be healed. Even the imperial doctors are at a loss at what to do. It seems like Gao Gui Fei only has but a few days left.

 

It is at this opportunity that Xian Fei comes in to gloat her success. Gao Gui Fei is shocked to hear that it is Xian Fei who mixed in the feces water to the molten iron mixture. Though I do find it interesting that Xian Fei said that she just helped “HER” aka Xian Fei knows it was Ying Luo who was involved in retribution against Gao Gui Fei but just added the final blow. This is Xian Fei’s revenge against Gao Gui Fei for how she treated her. Not only did Gao Gui Fei humiliate Xian Fei but she also had a direct hand in destroying Xian Fei’s family. This in Xian Fei’s eyes is fully justified.

 

[Cathy]

How did Xian Fei know about this though? Might I remind you that in the last episode Jin Xiu, the maid who dislikes Ying Luo oversaw Ying Luo speaking with one of the blacksmith performers and ran off. I’m assuming Jin Xiu went and told Xian Fei who then devised her own plan. She leveraged Ying Luo for this little revenge attack against Gao Gui Fei.

 

I do commend Gao Gui Fei though. After hearing what befalls her even if she does get better, she decides that nope. I’d rather 10000 people hate me than one person pity me. She cannot stand the thought that even if she’s healed, the Emperor will always pity her. She decides to end things on her own terms.

 

[Karen]

In front of the Emperor, she forces herself to dance one last dance. You can tell that this was an excruciating experience as her dress soon becomes soaked with blood from her back during her dance. As she falls to the ground, the Emperor and she finally have a heart to heart. She’s not blind to the fact that her favoritism from him is just that. Favoritism. Not love. He is wary of her family’s power and connections and so everything given to her always came with a hint of suspicion. Her last request is to have her mother be buried in the family shrine so that her spirit will have a place to rest. Say what you will about Gao Gui Fei, she is a good daughter to her mother.

 

Soon after, Gao Gui Fei adorns a lavish outfit. She does one last performance in her extravagant outfit before throwing out that white cloth. She decided to end her life on her own terms.

 

The Emperor fell silent upon hearing the news. He ordered that Gao Gui Fei be promoted to Imperial Noble Consort or Huang Gui Fei and her funeral be a joint effort of different ministries. He reflected upon her last words before remaining somber for the night.

 

[Cathy]

Behind the scenes!

 

There’s some juicy behind the scenes that I want to share here regarding 高贵妃 because this is the last time we’ll see of her!

 

Ok, when the drama aired back in 2018, there were official photos that were posted of 高贵妃 and 魏璎珞’s sister 魏璎宁 together that raised a few eyebrows from people. In them, 高贵妃 was dressed up as a male opera singer who is seen comforting the crying 魏璎宁. The scene is set in the day time and 魏璎宁 is seen crying in 高贵妃’s embrace. The whole drama aired and we didn’t get any actual scenes between the two of them so what happened? Of course, it was cut for the final airing.

 

Rumors were RAMPANT and I mean RAMPANT on what this all meant. Were we finally going to get an actual lesbian relationship? Fans were trying to guess what was cut. Some theories included 高贵妃 actually thought very highly of 魏璎宁. They perhaps encountered each other when 魏璎宁 sent clothes to 高贵妃 and 魏璎宁 caught 高贵妃’s eye. When 魏璎宁 was defiled by 弘昼, she went to seek some solace with with 高贵妃 which is where fans believed led to these photos. They also thought that this must have been the reason why 高贵妃 was able to so quickly gather the evidence for 魏璎珞. 高贵妃 must have believed that it was the 富察 family who committed the crime and one of the reasons why she kept on targeting the Empress. 

 

Alas, this was all conjecture. In an interview, the actress for 魏璎宁, 邓莎, dispelled the rumors and told us what was REALLY supposed to happen. Basically 高贵妃 was the bad guy in the photos.

 

So, 魏璎宁 was  upset and was wandering around in the palace. I don’t know if this was after her incident or just another instance when she was sad. 高贵妃 caught wind of this and then decided to dress up as a male opera singer to “pretend” to cheer her up and console her. 魏璎宁 finally cried in her arms. 高贵妃’s goal though was not to actually be nice to the poor girl. It was so that other maids would see this scene in broad daylight, mistaken 魏璎宁 as cavorting with another man, and be punished and kicked out. 魏璎宁 didn’t get kicked out then but was beaten up by a few other palace maids, sooooo…this didn’t turn out to be a good story for 魏璎宁.

 

——

 

[Karen]

Alright, next up! In this episode, before she dies, 高贵妃 makes a brief mention her 2 younger sisters. We don’t get any real indication of their fate until the next episode when in a voiceover, it is mentioned that her two younger sisters also died. Well, I can’t remember if it was a cut scene or not but basically, 高贵妃 ordered her two younger sisters to be poisoned so that they could not enter the palace to garner favor with the Emperor. As we saw in the show, she loved her mother and her brother. She did not want her younger sisters to enter the palace and ruin the gift that she requested from the Emperor, which is a proper burial for her mother. Say what you will about the woman and killing her sisters, but at least she really loved her mother. Her father – yea, a pretty scum of a human.

 

Next! Let’s talk about costumes! In this drama, 高贵妃 has roughly around 10+11 costumes, depending on how you count it. That’s actually not that much compared to the other women in this drama. I was doing some research on her clothing and it’s difficult to say what’s the truth. There’s a lot of creative licenses that the drama took for the show but they also tried in many places to stay true to history. That is the same for 高贵妃. The most iconic of hers is either the pearl shawl outfit which we see her wear in this episode or else her golden opera outfit.

 

[Cathy]

高贵妃 was a han woman so that meant that her costumes in this drama are slightly different. If you’ll notice with her clothing, they’re less form fitting that the other consorts in the drama, especially with regards to the sleeves as compared to the Empress and 纯妃 who are Manchu women. That was the case for early 清 dynasty women in which Han women and Manchu women dressed differently.

 

As for her hairstyle – she is one of the few in Chinese Qing dynasty dramas to not have a two pronged headpiece. This is more of a one piece headpiece or 旗头座. That style was much more popular during the late Qing dynasty, so the late 19th and early 20th century. We do have a photo right now of 婉容 who was the wife and empress consort of the last emperor of China with something similar to the hairstyle that 高贵妃 has.

 

Side note, there are many MANY posts of people pointing out the historical inaccuracies to this drama, especially with regards to costumes. We might focus on a couple if there isn’t much history

 

[Karen]

First up is the poem that 娴妃 recites when she first witnesses the 万紫千红show. It is the 14th of a collection of poems called 秋浦歌 or the 秋浦 ballads

 

Theses poems were written by the famous Tang dynasty poet 李白 in the mid 8th century when he was traveling to the area of 秋浦 which is now modern day 安徽 province. The one that is recited in the drama is the 14th out of 17 poems. It’s a standard Chinese quatrain or 五言诗 with 4 lines and 5 words.

 

The poem goes as such

 

炉火照天地

红星乱紫烟

赧Nǎn郎明月夜

歌曲动寒川

 

The fire from the furnace illuminates the earth and they sky

Red sparks shine amidst the purple smoke

In the moonlit night, the hard-working smelterers

Song reverberate throughout the cold mountain valley

 

The poet 李白 wrote these poems during his exile from the capital city of Chang An. He traveled the empire to explore and write poems. The village of 秋浦 was known for its silver and copper mines. He actually traveled to 秋浦 3 times in his lifetime. He most likely wrote these poems around 753. During this time though, he was pretty disappointed with the ways of the Empire as he saw the writing on the wall of 安禄山’s rise and future rebellion.

 

[Cathy]

 

Next, let’s talk about 万紫千红. It is more commonly known as 打铁花 or the iron flower show.

 

The history of this skill is quite long in China. There are some places who write that the skill dates back to the warring states period in China some 2500 years ago. Basically when China entered into the iron age. However, on 百科 it says that this tradition started probably in the Northern Song Dynasty. That is to say, this still has at least 1000 years of history. Please do NOT try any of this yourselves because it is an extremely dangerous skill.

 

Nowadays there are 2 ways to perform the show. The first one is the one we see in the drama, which is to say, the melting iron is poured onto a willow block and then struck to make the iron flowers or in our drama 万紫千红. I mean it absolutely looks gorgeous. I kind of wish that in the drama they gave us a proper depiction of the art instead of one in the night with scaffolding around because I’m watching some performances on youtube and chinese media and the shows are absolutely breathtaking.

 

There’s another way to create the effect and that is more of a spraying motion and “paints” the iron flowers onto a city wall.  Basically you have a large wooden spoon made of willow which has been soaked in water for 3 days and nights and coated with fire proof material. Then the performer sprays the wall with the melting iron in a circular motion. This method is more recent, having a history of around 500 years and originated in the 河北 province during the 明 dynasty. There are still remnants of city walls that have the residue of iron flowers on the walls. 

 

As of now, there’s only a handful of people who know how to perform this skill. I mean I don’t blame them, this is an extremely dangerous performance. The performers still basically wear the same clothes as their ancestors for the performance, goat skin and a wet straw hat. It’s still common to get injured or sprayed by the melting iron. For reference, the melting iron can get up to 1600 degrees celsius! 

 

In some of the more modern performances, I do see people wearing much better fire protection but I’ve also seen people wear pretty scrappy protection. As much as it is a beautiful sight, I really do hope people protect themselves when a) performing this show and b) when watching the show. As we see in the drama, getting injured with this is no joke.

 

[Karen]

At the end of the episode, right before 高贵妃 commits suicide, she sings the last lines that Noble Consort Yang sings in the opera 长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth. We talked about it in episode 27 so this is a slight refresher. 

 

长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth was written in 1688. 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. So this scene right now is aT the end of the first half of the opera.

 

The story of 唐玄宗 and 杨贵妃 is a constant motif that runs throughout the scenes we have with 高贵妃. She views herself as the tragic character of 杨贵妃 but unfortunately Emperor 乾隆 in this drama definitely does not see himself as the Emperor 唐玄宗.

 

Another point of comparison for Gao Gui Fei is actually with Li Fu Ren who was a concubine for Han Wu Di. We talked about her during our podcast series before but Li Fu Ren was ill and did not let Han Wu Di see her on her deathbed because she wanted him to always remember her beauty and be filled with regret for not being able to see her. I’m reminded of Li Fu Ren with Gao Gui Fei who wanted to die beautifully and be remembered as such than to die a painful death and wallow away with age.

 

Which leads us to finally talking about the historical counterpart of 高贵妃.

 

Posthumously granted the title of 慧贤皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble consort 慧贤. She came from the 高佳 clan and was a member of the bordered yellow banner. However, as we discussed before, her family previously was of han descent in the 包衣 class. Due to her favor with the Emperor 乾隆, her entire family was lifted to the status of manchu people. She was the first Noble Consort or 贵妃 and Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 of 乾隆’s reign. 

 

It isn’t really clear when was born, probably around 1711 or right around then. She died on Feb 25th 1745. 高贵妃 first entered the palace as concubine to serve the then 4th prince 弘历. She was then promoted to 侧福晋 in 1734, basically the second rank under the main wife. When Emperor 乾隆 ascended the throne in 1735, her whole family was lifted to the status of manchu people and she was granted the status of 贵妃 with the title of 慧 which means intelligent. 

 

She fell ill in 1745. 2 days before her death, the emperor granted her the title of Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 but she didn’t survive for the actual ceremony. 

 

[Cathy]

 

There unfortunately isn’t really much on her apart from the praises of her during her promotion ceremonies. However, the Emperor must have really liked her because he wrote many poems about her and reminisced about her lifetime. Her funeral was extravagant with many more prayers performed by the monks and lamas than was required for an imperial noble consort.

 

She did not have any children. There are official portraits of her in the proper gold gown and black hat. I do wish we saw a shot of this during the show but alas, all we got was the black formalwear.

 

In the drama, 高贵妃 dies of suicide. This would have been an absolute no no because the family of women who commit suicide in the palace were severely punished. Which is why it was a pretty good incentive to NOT commit suicide. I know this was for drama purposes but let’s just keep that in mind.

 

In the 1730s, her father 高斌 was also appointed an official post to manage the rivers in the southern parts of China or 河道总督. This is true to history as we see in the show. 高斌 also served as the Minister of Personnel or 吏部尚书 and Grand Secretary of Pavilion of the Imperial Library 文渊阁大学士 in the 1740s before falling into disgrace in the 1750s and ultimately dying in 1755 on the job. 

 

Last piece on 高贵妃 – the drama needed a bad guy so they chose her to be the first “bad” guy that we meet in the drama. I highly doubt she would have been evil if the Emperor cared this deeply about her especially years after her death. So listeners, please don’t let this drama color your perception of the true to life version of her.

[Karen]

With that – let’s give a round of applause to her actress 谭卓! Born in 1983, she started acting in 2009 with a film called Spring Fever 春风沉醉的夜晚. Since then, she has been in various films, dramas, and stage productions, focusing more on films rather than dramas. I would say her breakout role was probably this one in The Story of Yan Xi palace. She certainly turned a lot of eyes with this role. She doesn’t really follow the typical “pop” idol route and prefers to vary it up with modern and period pieces. I thought she did admirably here in 延禧攻略 and is probably one of the top 3 actresses in my book for this drama. Her gravitas really did shine throughout the drama and it was obvious that she put the work in for this role especially during her opera scenes.

 

高贵妃 – you were a pretty annoying character but in the end, you knew exactly who you were and I commend you for it. 

 

Ep 30+31

[Cathy]

Turning of the Tides

 

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 30+31 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

 

In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!

 

—-

 

[Karen]

In the last 2 episodes, we followed Ying Luo work hard labor at Xin Zhe Ku, the department of hard labor. This creates an opening for those wanting to harm the Empress as she now doesn’t have such a protective servant helping her. What’s more problematic is that the Empress is pregnant as well which makes the women of the palace even more eager to strike.

 

We return to the family feast the Empress Dowager organized for the Double Ninth Festival. It’s quite dark out and one of the maids brought over a plate of deer blood for the Empress’s hot pot. But she didn’t want to eat it so the maid retreated. But as she stepped back, she dropped the plate of blood. Immediately a swarm of bats appear out of no where, apparently attracted by the fallen plate of blood which looks so fake it’s rather disturbing. Anyways, the bats attack the ladies indiscriminately and it’s absolute chaos. The result is that Gao Gui Fei takes this opportunity to push the Empress down a railing so that she falls unconscious. Gao Gui Fei herself slams her arm into a pillar to pretend that she injured herself while trying to save the Empress. 

 

But it was too late to prevent harm to the Empress. She is brought back to her palace and tended to by a number of doctors. She has a large bruised forehead and is now unconscious. The Emperor is absolutely distraught at hearing what happened and stays at her bedside but the Empress is now left in precarious health. It’s unclear when she’ll be healthy again or even wake up.

 

[Cathy]

Elsewhere, Xian Fei impresses the Empress Dowager as she took charge of the situation with quick thinking and leadership poise while the bats were attacking. Xian Fei managed to keep some semblance of order until the imperial guards arrived. After the chaos subsided, the Empress Dowager was so impressed with Xian Fei that she decides to give more power to Xian Fei. With a power vacuum now present in the palace given the Empress’s state, Xian Fei will now easily fill that role.

 

Ming Yu who feels terrible about not having been able to protect the Empress from such an unfortunate attack and goes to find Ying Luo for help at Xin Zhe Ku. I do feel bad for Ming Yu who was not equipped to handle a million bats attacking the group. Ying Luo already has a gut feeling after hearing it was Gao Gui Fei that first found the Empress that it was probably she who orchestrated this whole thing.

 

[Karen[

And yep – it was her that planned the attacking bats. She injured herself in order to steer any and all suspicion away from her. She is absolutely relishing in her victory against the Empress despite the pain she placed upon herself.

 

What is surprising is that when Ying Luo is dragged by Ming Yu to go check on the Empress, Ying Luo suddenly turns extremely cold towards the entire staff of Chang Chun Palace. In front of all of her old colleagues, she states that what happens to the Empress is none of her business any more. They are no longer connected after the Empress banished her so she, Ying Luo should not have to bother thinking about the Empress whatsoever. This angers all of the other maids at Chang Chun palace. Fu Heng, who is impatiently waiting for news about his sister, is also similarly rebuffed when he tries to talk to Ying Luo. She wants nothing to do with them because her current life is indeed extremely harsh.

 

Shortly after, Ying Luo is goaded into sending milk over to Chu Xiu Gong where Gao Gui Fei lives by Jin Xiu which she accepts. Gao Gui Fei is of course still ecstatic at the fact that the Empress has met her downfall and even more pleased to see the likes of Ying Luo act as her lowly servant. Despite Gao Gui Fei’s injuries, she humiliates and even steps on Ying Luo’s hands as Ying Luo prepares a bath for Gao Gui Fei using the milk she brought.  Luckily for Ying Luo, it is at this point that the Emperor arrives to visit Gao Gui Fei. He happens upon a disheveled looking Ying Luo with clear injuries on her hand. She is dismissed by Gao Gui Fei but then is followed by the Emperor because he could tell something was amiss. He followed Ying Luo in the pouring rain to see her hunched in a corner of the garden next to some rocks looking dazed. 

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor is furious at Ying Luo’s respectful greeting to him, looking pitiful in the rain and angrily throws her his umbrella but not before telling her to get out of his sight. This is an interesting scene to me because it shows that the Emperor cares about Ying Luo though even he might not know why he cares about her. He returned to his study but paced for a hot second before turning around and stomping back to where Ying Luo hid in the garden. He remembered just how injured she looked. But by the time he went back to her hiding place, she had gone, leaving the umbrella behind.  He’s annoyed that she didn’t accept his kindness which is fair but he also forbids anyone to use milk for bathing ever in the future. It’s an expensive and lavish habit to keep. This is implicitly punishing Gao Gui Fei for what she did to Ying Luo even if he wasn’t blatant about it. 

 

Meanwhile, Ying Luo, having been out in the rain and suffering numerous injuries, passes out along side one of the corridors of the palace. It is at that moment that Xian Fei’s procession happens by and she, in an off handed comment, asks for a doctor to tend to Ying Luo. I don’t think Xian Fei even knew who this maid was but was kind enough to call for a doctor to check up on her. As one of the eunuchs who helped drag Ying Luo off the main road noted, Ying Luo must thank Xian Fei for her kindness. No other person in the palace would help the likes of Ying Luo in her current state. This is an extremely important fact to remember.

 

Both Ying Luo and the Empress are sick which gives Xian Fei the opportunity to fully showcase her skills.

 

[Karen]

At the end of episode 30 and onto 31, we turn to Xian Fei’s management abilities. After being given authority to manage the palace in the Empress’s stead by the Empress Dowager, Xian Fei has come up with a number of new ideas to help reduce waste in the palace and garner more funds. Her management style is starkly different from the Empress’s who focused on cutting costs whereas Xian Fei is identifying new ideas for growth. 

 

She does also suggest to the Empress Dowager with Gao Gui Fei sitting to the side that she plans to set up a porridge tent or equivalent to a soup kitchen for recent flood victims that have escaped to the Capital. Xian Fei enjoys the full support of the capital, much to the chagrin of Gao Gui Fei and sets off to do her task. Though I do greatly appreciate Gao GUi Fei seeing through Xian Fei’s act. Her line that Gao Gui Fei can see through actors very easily was quite on the nose. As we know, Xian Fei is not the innocent and uncompetitive lamb we’ve met at the beginning of the drama.

 

[Cathy]

 

The day of charity arrives and Xian Fei oversees the hungry crowd. The palace staff that help out in giving food come from none other than Xin Zhe Ku. Ying Luo is too ill to join but Yuan Chun Wang watches with his beady eyes as flood victims at first orderly get food but then shortly after turn into a mob.

 

A number of disgruntled refugees start making a scene, arguing that the amount of food is not nearly enough to feed the crowd and they start getting violent. As Xian Fei and company are about to get overwhelmed, Yuan Chun Wang forcefully steps in and slays one of the troublemaking refugees. I think this is a little overboard to be honest. Like a eunuch can just kill someone out right on the streets? Ok? His reasoning is that he can tell these people causing a scene are not actually refugees. Their shoes are in too good condition for them to be refugees traveling from far away. 

 

Hong Zhou, the Emperor’s brother, arrives at the knick of time with a number of soldiers/guards to create order in the crowd.. Hong Zhou originally wanted to skip town and watch over his mother’s grave for 3 years but was pushed back by the Emperor. The Emperor knows that Hong Zhou pretended to play dumb for years but is furious that even after the Emperor ascended the throne, Hong Zhou never focused on giving back to the Empire. After these harsh words, he accepts Xian Fei’s invitation to help out at the charity event and thus, arrived like a knight in shining armor. 

 

[Karen]

This entire scene gave both Yuan Chun Wang, Xian Fei and Hong Zhou an opportunity to shine. Yuan Chun Wang, in front of both royals, clearly pointed out the individuals inciting a riot which Hong Zhou then promptly had captured. Yuan Chun Wang also pointed out that there are many people in the crowd pretending to be refugees hoping to get free food. That’s why the crowd is so big. Xian Fei immediately understands the predicament and orders that in order to receive food for the day, the receiver must work. This immediately thins out the crowd because only those that are truly hungry with no where else to go, aka refugees and flood victims, would want to make such an exchange. Everyone else who doesn’t want to do labor will naturally fade away.

 

And so, a successful day of charity is concluded. We see that Xian Fei is extremely capable at management and she has the unparalleled skill of understanding human nature. 

 

As for Yuan Chun Wang, he is given the post as head of Xin Zhe Ku by Xian Fei. A substantial promotion from his original role.

 

In the next episode, we will turn to Xian Fei guiding the Emperor, who heard of Xian Fei’s successful exploits today to check out the birthday gift that Gao Gui Fei had been putting together for the Empress Dowager to disastrous results. But that will be for next episode.

 

The only other main point to bring up today is that Fu Heng has directly rejected Er Qing’s affections. She mentioned that the Emperor wanted to pair them together for marriage which Fu Heng promptly refused. Er Qing is dazed by this response but the person who is equally distraught at this news is none other than Chun Fei. She has been tending to the Empress’s bedside during her illness and is shocked to hear that Fu Heng is interested in marrying Ying Luo. We will see more of that storying line later as well.

 

 

 

Now onto history!

 

[Cathy]

We’re gonna dig a little bit more deeply into the banquet and the little creatures involved that led to the Empress’s unconscious state. These were also flashed at the end of episode 29, but because episode 30 is the main focus of the banquet, I’ll talk about it here.

 

First up – let’s talk about the hot pot or 火锅 that is specially prepared for the Empress! Unfortunately in this scene, we don’t really see the Empress eat anything but we do see a beautiful display of mushrooms and of course venison blood.

 

What is hotpot! It basically is a cooking method where you have a large pot with soup or broth as a base and let the broth come to a boil. Then you add a variety of sides into the soup until it’s cooked to your heart’s desire. Then you pick out the food from the pot, dip it into whatever sauce you’d like and voila! That’s hotpot!

 

The Chinese have had records of hot pot dating back over 2000 years ago. More concretely, historians believe hot pot became more popularized during the Three Kingdoms period between 220-280AD with the advent of copper hot pots.

 

Hotpot flourished throughout millenia and by the time of the 清 dynasty, it became very popular not only with normal people but also with the royal elites as well. Indeed, our Emperor 乾隆 REALLY enjoyed hot pot. There are records that during one year, Emperor 乾隆 had some form of hot pot as a meal for over 200 meals! That’s a LOT of hot pot!

 

Let’s see what he had – in the spring, there was pickled cabbage hot pot and venison tendon and duck hot pot. In the summer, he had yam and duck hot pot and even swallow’s nest hot pot! There are records that in 1783, Emperor Qian Long held a hot pot banquet that had 530 tables! Emperor Qian Long also loved traveling to the Southern parts of his Empire. Wherever he went, he also brought hot pot with him and added different flavors to his hot pot meals. This is what happened with the addition of swallow’s nest to his hot pot rotation. 

 

In the Palace Museum in Beijing, they still have some of the silver pots that were used by the Emperor. What’s fascinating is that hot pot was also available to the palace maids. There are records during the qing dynasty of palace maids saying that they basically ate 3 months of hot pot

 

The one that we see in the drama is a pretty traditional Beijing copper hot pot. Typically it would be a red copper pot with a clear water base on a charcoal flame. In the north, it’s more called a 涮锅 and more meat heavy, specially with lamb. 

 

Different regions have different styles for hot pot. Perhaps the most famous from china is the 四川 or Chongqing hot pot – famed for it’s spiciness and mala flavors. If you’ve never had hot pot, please try it out! You can try all different types of flavors with all different sides from vegetables to meats to noodles! It’s always a good time.  Karen and I just went to haidilao in NY earlier this month, and it was great!

 

[Karen]

Let’s also talk about the food in question – venison or deer blood. In chinese culture, deer blood has medicinal and nutritional properties. It was typically reserved for the royal family. Now, typically blood for eating is coagulated, which is why in the drama you see the deer blood in blocks or cube shaped forms. In certain areas of china, coagulated blood is commonly eaten with hot pot but it’s mainly pig blood 

 

 

Next up – I’m going to talk briefly about the bats. The whole plotline of bats  is just a convenient little interlude conjured by the screenwriter. In China, there are no bat species that feed solely on blood. There are 3 species but they all reside in South America. Those are of course the vampire bats. So unless 舒贵人 was able to have her family take a boat or trade with the modern day Central Americans and South Americans, the whole bat being attracted to and attacking people is just here for plot purposes. There are indigenous bat populations in China, namely the Rickett’s big-footed bat, but they surprisingly eat fish and bugs. The Rickett’s big-footed bat actually did live in buildings in Beijing but they are more commonly found in the southeastern and southern parts of China. Beijing is quite north comparatively.

 

[Cathy]

Lastly – let’s briefly talk about 北京护城河 or the Moat of the Forbidden City. For the drama, we don’t actually see the moat but basically this is where Consort Xian has to set up the soup kitchen. 

 

Construction of a canal into the city that would become beijing began in the late 12th century. The actual moat or what is known as 筒子河 Tongzihe formally began construction during the Ming Dynasty under the reign of emperor Yongle in 1420. The moat encircles the Forbidden City and is only 20m away from the palace wall. The moat was built mainly for military defense, fire prevention and drainage of rainwater.  The moat system in Beijing was pretty complicated as it had outer, inner, imperial and palatial sections. Unfortunately today, there isn’t much left of the moats but the city of Beijing is trying to preserve and rebuild parts of the moat in efforts to preserve its history. What’s crazy is, Beijing is such a massive city right now, that on a map the current remnants of the moat seems pretty small. But when you go to the Forbidden City or the Palace, that in it of itself is huge. So it’s kind of a different perspective on the size of the moat and of the Palace itself. 

Ep 28+29

[Karen]

The Story of Yanxi Palace: Ep 28+29

 

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 28+29 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

 

In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history.

 

[Cathy]

We return to episode 28+ 29 to see the aftermath of YIng luo enacting revenge against Yu Tai Fei who killed YIng LUo’s sister. Despite YIng luo making it seem like Yu Tai Fei died due to the heavens punishing her for lying, the Empress and Emperor are not so easily deceived. They know immediately when they hear that Ying Luo was around that Ying Luo probably had a hand in Yu Tai Fei’s death. To protect YIng Luo, the Empress banishes her to Xing Zhe Ku to do hard labor. 

 

When the Emperor arrives to punish YIng Luo for himself, the Empress actually steps in to protect Ying Luo. That’s where we begin episode 28. The Empress tearfully explains that she wants to protect Ying Luo so that she can be the person that the Empress cannot be. The Emperor does not understand this and so the Empress recounts her first ever visit to the palace as his wife. She was reprimanded by the the Empress for saying one more sentence than her husband. From that moment on, the empress knew that her entire life’s role was to be behind the Emperor. As a wife, she should speak less and be more restrained. Her entire life must revolve around her husband and she must be the best Empress possible. One mistake could spell disaster for the empire.

 

[Karen]

This surprises the Emperor and to me shows his blindness as a man as well. He says that he never wanted to restrict the Empress and commends her for being the best Empress there is. But that doesn’t matter what he thinks, does it? SHE doesn’t think so. She lost herself in the rules and restrictions that bind her as Empress. She is no longer FU Cha Rong YIn. Instead, she is only the Empress. She can only be lenient, kind and follow rules. She recognizes that’s her fate but for Ying Luo. The Empress appreciates that Ying Luo can be herself in this palace that forces everyone to lose themselves. THat is why she must protect Ying Luo – as a way to protect her former self. 

 

As the Emperor walks out, he pauses and reflects that today he realizes he may have never fully understood his wife. 

 

[Cathy] I want to pause here because I LOVED this monologue from the Empress. It’s so rare in dramas, especially palace dramas for a woman to tell the Emperor exactly how repressive the system was to women back in the day. The Empress was the paragon of virtue but she felt stifled in the palace. It was such a breath of fresh air to have someone say it out loud that hey, it’s not easy being Empress.

 

[Karen]

Poor Ying luo. She now is working at Xin Zhe Ku or the Department of Hard Labor. It is certainly a big step down from her position with the Empress. We’ll discuss what exactly goes on at Xing Zhe Ku but for now, Ying Luo must work to clean waste barrels in the palace. The worst and lowliest job in the entire palace.

 

But at Xin ZHe Ku, Ying Luo meets two people. One is Yuan Chun Wang, a eunuch we haven’t seen in quite some time but he was punished and sent here after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is responsible for transporting waste barrels and I guess is a colleague of Ying Luo’s. 

 

The other is Jin Xiu. She’s a maid that was with Ying Luo at the Embroidery Department but was also punished to work at Xin Zhe Ku. Jin Xiu is still mad at Ying Luo for what happened between the two even though this is entirely her fault. Regardless, Ying Luo’s life in the palace now is challenging as she stinks from her work all day and she is bullied nonstop.

 

The thing is, this Yuan Chun Wang is considered one of the most handsome eunuchs in the palace so all of the other maids in Xin Zhe Ku are interested in him. Jin Xiu is one of them. Uh part of me is like – you ladies know he’s a eunuch right but also, is he that handsome??? I don’t think so. Anyways, Yuan Chun Wang though is extremely cold to all of these maids and doesn’t talk to anyone. He also just ignores YIng Luo when she tries to talk to him.

 

[Cathy]

 

With Ying Luo settled into her new life, we turn back to the ladies of the palace. Gao Gui Fei is over the moon at hearing that Ying Luo is now at Xin ZHe Ku. Meanwhile, Xian Fei has decided she needs more allies and goes to the funeral for Yu Tai Fei. There, with the help of a jade pendant she kept, she skillfully reminds Hong Zhou, the prince’s brother and son of Yu Tai Fei, that she saved his life many years ago. Apparently, Hong Zhou went out on a solo excursion when he was young and got his money stolen. He happened upon Xian Fei’s family property and it was Xian Fei, with this jade pendant, that gave him food and saved his life. Now, Hong Zhou recognizes who this woman is and will be more willing to help her in the future. He is also still rather upset at his mother for forcing him to play dumb his entire life to make way for his brother. 

 

 

Meanwhile Fu Heng finds out that Ying Luo has been sent to Xin Zhe Ku and goes to find her in the dead of night. Thinking they’re alone, he reiterates his feelings towards her even though she tries to turn him away. He even vows to wait for her for however long it must take for her to change her mind. I think it’s very sweet –  his declarations of love but also rather naive. The various points she makes about why he should back off are actually all valid. He comes from a good family, is accomplished and has a fantastic future ahead of him. He shouldn’t throw it all away just for her. He right now doesn’t care and even refuses her physical advances why she uses to see if that’s all he wants from her. He remains the upstanding gentleman and just gives her a quick kiss on her forehead before leaving her untouched. 

 

[Karen]

Back to Ying Luo’s life doing hard labor, we find out there’s ugly things festering there as well. The head of Xin Zhe Ku, a eunuch himself, has his eyes set on Yuan Chun Wang for his looks and gets rather handsy with him. I’m again shocked that they have these scenes in the show but good for them. Yuan Chun Wang has refused all of his advances even if it means that he must remain doing the most medial and gross work in the palace but at least he won’t be a play toy of this department head. 

 

Yet, these conniving eunuchs have found an opening. Every night, Ying Luo brings food for Yuan Chun Wang. He normally does not touch the food from the hall and instead scrounges for leftover and foul food. THere’s good reason for that. One night, Yuan Chun Wang finally takes a bite of the food Ying Luo brings him, it’s been drugged. As yuan chun wang lies on the floor helpless, this department head sneaks over and tries to overpower Yuan Chun Wang to have him for himself. Uhh… Once again. I’m impressed with this 5 min storyline. 

 

In the knick of time, Ying Luo comes and beats the perpetrator unconscious, thereby protecting Yuan chun wang. THe two then load this person into a carriage and sneaks him out of the palace after taking his name placard. By doing so, this means that he left the palace on his own and would be punished for breaking rules. The implication is that he would not return to the palace. 

 

[Cathy]

 

I’m a little concerned as to whether or not this guy survived because Yuan Chun Wang said he’ll take care of it. Who knows what Yuan Chun Wang actually did.

 

Regardless, the next day, Yuan Chuen Wang and Ying Luo’s relationship dynamic completely changed. In a change from his prior coldness, Yuan Chun Wang is now quite a jokester with YIng Luo. He opens up to her and shows deep affection for her. I’m honestly kind of confused with his stance of changing so quickly. Like I get he’s grateful to her but then he’s all like, don’t like Fu Heng blah blah blah, like me instead. I just have many question marks over my head as to where this is coming from. Ying Luo rejects his advances but agrees that they will make a pact together and become brother and sister. That way, the two of them will have some support in the palace. Together, they will help each other survive in the palace.

 

[Karen]

I still think Yuan Chun Wang is just overly creepy and weird but whatever. The only other scene to note is that Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang notice during their shifts, some outsiders. One includes a boy who is crying because his hands have been severely burned for a i’ll simplify it as a iron sparks show. They are preparing for the Empress Dowager’s birthday but the gimmick requires a lot of physical strength which the poor boy does not have yet but they are forced to practice in order to make the show a success. Ying Luo doesn’t have much power to help the poor boy and as Yuan Chun Wang states, it’s a difficult life being in the Forbidden Palace. Only if one makes it to a position of power can he or she make change and help others. For now, al they can do is keep their heads down.

 

Ying Luo seems rather settled into the palace but that gives the likes of Gao Gui Fei and Xian fei the opportunity to strike back at the Empress. If we recall, the Empress is now pregnant and while she and the Emperor are extremely pleased with this news, Gao Gui Fei is not. Xian Fei uses her skills of manipulation to goad Gao Gui Fei into striking and an evening banquet during the Double Ninth Festival or Chong Yang Jie is the perfect opportunity. 

 

Which annoys me a lot because the Empress even pushes her power as Empress to split between Chun Fei and Xian Fei so they can help her since she is pregnant.

 

The feast begins and it’s an extravagant sight. I for one love Empress Fu Cha’s hair style this episode. It’s simple but suits her well. For her meal, she is brought up a plate of blood which makes her convulse so she 

 

 

[Cathy]

In episode 28, 高贵妃 or noble consort gao is frustrated from painting some orchid leaves. She goes onto destroy what uh I think were just OK flowers. Like i’m not crying from destroying that painting, haha.

 

In Chinese culture, the orchid or 兰花 has represented purity. The leaves of the orchid are long and thin, and the flower itself gives a very pleasant aroma. In all, the orchid just gives positive, pleasant, elegant, and virtuous vibes.

 

The orchid has long been admired by poets, scholars, painters, and musicians in Chinese culture and are commonly mentioned in poems, songs, and paintings. There are plenty of idioms that feature the word 兰 to represent its nature. Some include 兰质蕙心, which usually is referred to a woman who is pure of heart and has an elegant nature. If we recall from Empresses in the Palace, 沈眉庄 was granted the title of 惠妃 in reference to this idiom. 

 

The orchid or 兰花 is known as the gentleman of flowers or 花中君子. Because of its elegance and I would say resiliency, the flower has long been favored by the Chinese as representative of the learned and scholarly -> hence why the gentlemen of flowers.

 

In Chinese dramas, characters will say – let’s become sworn brothers or even in this episode, 袁春望 said that he’ll become 魏璎珞’s brother. Typically, people will say let’s 结义金兰 – the 兰 is of course the 兰花 or orchid, once again representing the pure and unbending nature of the orchid or the relationship.

 

In our drama, 高贵妃 quotes Confucius and sneers at 纯妃’s mask of virtue. The first line 芝兰生于幽谷 translates to Orchids are found in valleys. That isn’t exactly the quote from confucius. The line is 且芝兰生于深林,不以无人而不芳,君子修道立德,不谓穷困而改节. This translates to the orchid is found in the deep forest. Even with no person around, the flower is still fragrant. As such, a gentleman should still be noble and virtuous and should not change in spite of poverty.

 

These lines come from 孔子家语·在厄 or a chapter in the Family Sayings of Confucius. It is a collection of sayings of Confucius which were written as a supplement to the Analects. 

 

The main purpose of course is to say that as a person, he or she (typically a he) should remain steadfast and noble despite outside circumstances such as poverty. Even at the worst of times, a person shouldn’t throw his virtues away. 

 

[Karen

I find it super interesting because in the drama, 高贵妃 scoffs at this. She goes on to say – sure the gentleman of old wanted to tell the world of their lofty morals and independence but isn’t that in itself a signal for compliments and comparison? I think in her subtext, she’s saying, in the face of true poverty or financial gain, who can TRULY stay resolute in their convictions? No one.

 

What’s interesting is that she’s also showing her disdain for 纯妃 and the mask of nobility and virtue that 纯妃 puts on. 高贵妃 knows that 纯妃 has an ulterior motive, she just doesn’t know what it is though.

 

[Cathy] Yea – you know in here, we see that 高贵妃 isn’t uneducated. She just doesn’t bother with it. That is a difference between her and 华妃 in Empresses in the Palace. 华妃 was shown to not be as educated. 高贵妃 is educated maybe not as much as 纯妃 but as she haughtily said in this episode. I don’t care! I just want to sing opera – which, you know, good for her.

 

[Karen]

Ok – next up! Let’s talk about 辛者库. 

 

In a lot of chinese dramas, a typical punishment is to send a maid or eunuch to 辛者库 to perform hard labor. This makes it seem as though 辛者库 was ONLY for hard labor or for those who committed a crime. But that was not the case. 

 

辛者库 was an organization under the Eight Banners of the Manchu people. A little similar to the 包衣 group that we have mentioned previously. However, while the baoyi group were bond servants, the people in 辛者库 were typically of the slave caste. Those in the 辛者库 caste were organized under the Imperial Household Department or 内务府. The baoyi were of higher rank than the slaves in 辛者库 because the baoyi were ultimately free people. 

 

The ancestor to the qing dynasty, 努尔哈赤, took many Ming Dynasty people and courtiers as war prisoners or slaves during his conquests in the early to mid 17th century. A lot of them were put under the organization or the 辛者库 slave caste and these people made the foundation of 辛者库 . The 辛者库 slave caste was hereditery so people could not easily leave the caste and were bound to it.

 

Only manchu people from the eight banners and han courtiers who committed a crime were punished to the slave caste of 辛者库 so it wasn’t like any normal crimnal was punished to go there.

 

As with the bao yi, the people from 辛者库 also served masters of the upper or lower banners. Those in the upper banners had slightly higher statuses and worked in the imperial palace. Those in the lower banners primarily worked for the aristocracy. 

 

The slaves in 辛者库 had a wide array of chorse and tasks such as cleaning, deweeding, chopping wood, sewing etc. Most of the hard labor was completed by the slaves of 辛者库. The servants from the baoyi class often didn’t have to work hard labor. 

 

[Cathy]

It kind of sucks to be a slave of the 辛者库 class right? Yes, comparatively to their masters. However, what’s interesting is that the slaves of the 辛者库 class had a lot more power, rights, and privileges, than compared the slaves in the US. Those in 辛者库 had proper residence status. They could get married with people of the non-slave caste. They were permitted to take the civil exams. They could own personal property AND other slaves or maids. 

 

Because I guess they were technically under the Imperial Household Department, they still were I would say a level above typical peasants. They had opportunities for wealth and power. Indeed, several concubines and famous cabinet ministers during the Qing Dynasty came from the 辛者库 class. This goes to my final point. The people of 辛者库 weren’t only women or eunuchs, because well, how do they inherit the status if there are no men! So 辛者库 isn’t necessarily a department but a caste or group of people.

 

[Karen]

Finally – I want to talk about a word or phrase that 袁春望 mentions after a eunuch tries to sexually assault him. The phrase is 兔爷 or Rabbit Man.

 

We’ve talked about lesbianism before for this drama. Now let’s turn to homosexuality! 兔爷 is what was colloquially known as a male prostitute. The 兔儿神 was the rabbit god of homosexuality. So if someone in any drama mentions 兔爷, that person is referencing a homosexual relationship.

 

[Cathy]

Based on my surface level research, the phrase was recorded in the late 18th century. So we’re a little bit in the wrong time frame to use this phrase. However, the phrase might have been used before it was written down. 

 

So, according to What the Master Would Not Discuss or 子不语 which was first published in 1788, the legend goes as such. A very young and handsome imperial inspector was sent to Fujian Province in the southern part of China. A local man called 胡天保 was drawn to the inspector due to his beauty and fell in love with him. Wherever the inspector went, 胡天保 would follow. One day, 胡天保 was caught peeping at the inspectors uh bum while the man was in the bathroom. After some interrogation, 胡天保 finally confessed his affections, to which the inspector then sentenced him to death.

 

After a month, 胡天保’s spirit appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream. He claimed that his punishment was just for peeping but his crime was one of love. The underworld officials laughed at him but were not angry with him. They decided to appoint him the god and safeguarder of homosexual affections. Please erect a shrine under my name.

 

So after this dream – the man did so. I’m not QUITE sure how the rabbit came into the picture, BUT i think it had been a slang term previously so that’s why the temple is of the Rabbit deity. It became very popular in Fujian and for those seeking homosexual relationships. These temples did become targets for government suppression throughout the centuries but I think there are more modern temples around these days for people to pray to the 

 

Pretty cool right! So – if you see the translation of 兔爷 in any drama, then you’ll know that it’s code for a homosexual relationships!

Ep 26+27

[Karen]

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

Today we are discussing episodes 26+27 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

I feel like pacing for these episodes are a little mixed with storylines interspersed acrossed a few episodes. In the last two episodes we found out that Ying Luo’s sister was um humiliated by Hong Zhou, the Emperor’s brother but then was actually killed by Hong Zhou’s mother, Yu Tai Fei. Ying Luo is unable to at the moment exact complete revenge against these two incredibly powerful and connected individuals in the palace so she must learn to wait. 

In the meantime, for episode 26, we turn back to Fu Heng who after 20+ episodes is finally clear of his feelings. He wants to marry Ying Luo. He says as much to his sister, the Empress. And in front of her, he makes it clear that he wants to marry Ying Luo as his wife, not as a concubine. The Empress is shocked that he would make such a decision because she is extremely clear of Ying Luo’s character and attitude. The problem is that she is extremely stubborn and competitive which could spell disaster for the FuCha family and him if he doesn’t fully understand what he’s getting into. But Fu Heng implored his sister that he knows his heart and Ying Luo IS the one he wants. Outside, Er Qing, the Empress’s head maid, overhears this exchange and is feeling quite jealous.

[Cathy]

And so, we start seeing some of Er Qing’s true colors seep through. She sees that Ming Yu and Ying Luo now have a rather good relationship or at least one that has tempered from the initial clashes earlier on and therefore Er Qing must turn Ming Yu against Ying Luo once again. She goes and essentially whines to Ming Yu that it’s unfair Ying Luo’s life is so good to have the support and backing of the Empress while she, despite being from a rather powerful family, can only remain a maid.  Uhh… eye roll.

But this is cut short as we hear that the Empress has passed out. Yet the cause of this is actually quite happy news. She is pregnant! When the Emperor hears this, he is absolutely over the moon. The rest of Chang Chun palace are equally pleased to hear this as finally, the Empress will have some more support.

While all of this is happy news, plot deems it necessary to have some additional conflict. On the way to see the Empress, Xian Fei meets an imperial doctor who just tended to the Empress. On the way out, he let slip that he’s very sad to not have been able to save her brother. Xian Fei is puzzled and the doctor explains that he was sent to tend to Xian Fei’s brother in prison but was recalled. Perhaps if the Empress didn’t recall the doctor then maybe Xian Fei’s brother might not have died. This shakes Xian Fei to her core because now she thinks that the Empress is just faking her kindness. To make matters worse, Xian Fei hears the Empress say these exact words that she instead of sending a doctor for her brother, changed her mind to give money to Xian Fei instead. This was also an idea from Chun Fei to boot. Xian Fei doesn’t hear this nor does she hear the fact that the Empress feels tremendous guilt for not having done more and wants to apologize to Xian Fei thus sowing more seeds of discord between the two women.

[Karen]

Xian Fei now is completely enraged at the Empress for her hand in destroying her family. I totally feel this scene was contrived but whatever. It sets the stage for Xian Fei’s eventual turn. 

With that interlude out of the way, we turn back to Fu Heng and Ying Luo. Fu Heng is fully smitten with Ying Luo and doesn’t mind letter her know that she is his 心上人 or the person on his heart. Yet when he presents to the Emperor that he wants to marry Ying Luo, the Emperor does not rejoice for them. Instead, he is furious. He absolutely cannot allow Fu Heng to marry Ying Luo.

Fu Heng leaves quickly but not before reiterating his stance that he, no matter what, wants to marry Wei Ying Luo, much to the Emperor’s fury. 

The only phrase that I have for the Emperor right now is 阴阳怪气。 I don’t think he even recognizes what he’s feeling towards Ying Luo right now. On the surface he detests that she doesn’t follow protocol and does not show deference to rules or imperial authority but he really is quite attracted to her. He has a warped view of her and thinks she’s only interested in Fu Heng for his power and status and so he actually quite aggressively questions her why she doesn’t come to him if it’s power and status she wants. He can give her everything. 

But, he’s upset to hear her answer. She’s not interested in him. I don’t think anyone has ever rejected him like this before and so he storms out of the room.

What I think is EXTREMELY interesting in this scene is that everything the Emperor said about what he thinks Ying Luo is, is actually what Er Qing is. Sure, Er Qing likes Fu Heng, but when reflecting that the Emperor could help Er Qing raise the status of her family, she is now turning her sights on the Emperor and to be the Emperor’s woman. Problem is this backfired on her so now she’s even more jealous of Ying Luo that not only does the Fu Heng show more interest in Ying Luo, so does the Emperor. 

[Episode 27]

Karen

In episode 27, Er Qing continues to show her more vile side as she suggest to the Empress that maybe it would be a good idea to gift Ying Luo to the Emperor. That way, she can help the Empress secure her position in the palace. The Empress actually calls for Ying Luo and point blank asks her if Ying Luo wants to be a woman of the Emperor. She again declines. By now, we’re seeing the dichotomy between the two people. Ying Luo doesn’t care for status or power, just her relationship with the Empress and serving her. While Er Qing does not care too much about her relationship with the Empress but rather getting what she wants which includes power and status. Ying Lu isn’t blind to Er Qing’s attempts to create chaos in the Palace and gives a stern warning to her to stay away from the Emperor.

And in a very clear moment of communication between Ying Luo and Fu Heng, she makes it very clear to him that while she might like him, her main motivation and goal in life is revenge for her sister. She doesn’t care about relationships and love. She has more important things to worry about. Additionally, she is very clear that she and Fu Heng come from entirely different backgrounds which would spell disaster for the two of them. This is one of the reasons why YIng Luo is so beloved as a character. She doesn’t care just for romance – she has more important things in life to focus on. 

We’ll let this rest for a bit as we turn back to Ying Luo’s revenge. It just so happens that in the next day, it’s forecasted to have severe thunderstorms with powerful lightning that is set to afflict the capital city. Ying Luo immediately has the wheels turning in her brain.  

At Yu Tai Fei’s palace, eunuchs are installing screens with shades in front of her palace. But, Yu Tai Fei’s maid notes that the fabric on the shades are rather stiff, not at all the floaty material she’s expecting. 

Later that night, Ying Luo bursts into Shou Kang Gong where Yu Tai Fei lives. The shades have been set up and the evening is set to start raining. Before the rain starts, Ying Luo starts screaming for everyone at Shou Kang Gong to hear that Ying Luo is here for revenge. She publicly shouts the horrible deeds that Hong Zhou and his mother did to her sister. By now an entire crowd of eunuchs and maids have heard the words and are now muttering under their breaths. Yu Tai Fei actually continues her facade that she has never harmed a single person but Ying Luo dares her to make an oath. If Yu Tai Fei lied then the gods will give their punishment. At this point, the sky turns and lightning streaks across the sky. Yu Tai Fei continues to claim that she has never hurt a living soul in her life and is willing to accept divine punishment if she lied.

Just as Ying Luo is being dragged off, screaming at the top of her lungs that the heavens will give their just punishment, Yu Tai Fei touches the shades of her palace and is immediately electrocuted by lightning. She falls to the ground while her palace is set ablaze. Yu Tai Fei dies soon after and the entire palace of onlooking maids and eunuchs can only kneel and beg for the heaven’s mercy. 

There’s a lot missing in this episode to explain what really happened which we’ll get into later on in the podcast. But at least now, YIng Luo has enacted revenge for her sister. 

Her actions have consequences though. While to everyone else she can claim that YU Tai Fei died by divine punishment, both the Empress and the Emperor are not fooled. THe Empress is livid to hear what Ying Luo has done and even though Ying Luo denies any actual involvement in Yu Tai Fei’s death, the Empress knows Ying Luo must have had a hand in int. Angry that Ying Luo does not recognize the gravity of what she’s done and believing that she, the Empress can no longer restrict the actions of Ying Luo, Ying Luo is banished to do hard labor at Xing Zhe Ku. In a surprising twist, Ming Yu is the one to cry for YIng Luo’s sudden departure and pleads for her to not leave. How has their relationship changed.

The Emperor, hearing that Ying Luo was there the night Yu Tai Fei died, storms to Chang Chun Palace to interrogate Ying Luo. But the Empress responds calmly that he’s too late. She has already been sent away. WHile on the surface the Empress’s punishment of exiling her to Xing Zhe Ku, she is actually protecting her. Only this way, can YIng Luo avoid the wrath of the Emperor. 

[Cathy]

Behind the Scenes!

Ok – the biggest mystery of like question mark that I had was in episode 27 when the Concubine Dowager Yu or 裕太妃 somehow just dies from lightning. 

There’s a couple factors to why this scene is so confusing. 

Apparently, there was a crucial scene that was cut in this episode. In episode 27, one of 裕太妃’s maids comments on how the silk curtain seems a bit off, as in it doesn’t look like the most lavish type of silk used for the curtain. We don’t get any other explanation and the scene just moves on. So apparently what was cut was a scene in which 魏璎珞 sewed tiny metal threads to the curtain that was to be used for 裕太妃’s LOCATION. Now I don’t know if there’s a scene that also shows 魏璎珞 providing that curtain to the eunuchs that set the LOCATION up but at least we know that 魏璎珞 did indeed have a hand in 裕太妃’s death. 

The way the drama is now just has us guessing as to what 魏璎珞 actually did. She neither confirms nor denies the allegations when the Empress questions her. I personally don’t know why the show cut it out? Maybe to give some more plausibility?

At the same time – let’s talk about the history of this. Growing up in the US, I was always taught that Benjamin Franklin was the first to discover or write out the principle of the lightning rod in 1749. This is the very fun image of good ole Ben Franklin getting electrocuted with lightning via a kite.

So in the context of this show, we’re in the early 1740s. The timing doesn’t work for 魏璎珞 to know how to conduct electricity. HOWEVER, the Chinese have been using something similar to lightning rods for centuries. The Chinese just didn’t really have the scientific reasoning for it. There are records dating back to Tang Dynasty that recounts a story from the Han Dynasty so 2000 years ago where a sorcerer recommended placing a fish shaped copper plate on the top of a roof to prevent “sky fires”. So it looks like the Chinese have unknowingly been using lightning rods for centuries. Typically it would look like a Dragon head with the conductor inside the mouth.

Maybe 魏璎珞, in all of the random knowledge that she has, knew of this and tried her luck with the metal threads in the curtains. 

Speaking of – let’s now pivot over to history because there was a decent amount covered in this episode.

[Karen]

First up – I want to talk about 裕太妃. 

She is the mother of the Prince of He or 弘昼. This lady in history lived a whopping 96 years from 1689 to 1784. That’s CRAZY! She even outlived Queen Elizabeth the second! May she rest in peace. I don’t know what kind of genes she had because that’s incredible!

Her last name was 耿 and came from a middling family, nothing noble. We’ll just continue to call her 裕太妃 though so that it doesn’t confuse you. She married Emperor Yong Zheng when she was only 14 and gave birth to 弘昼 in 1711. When Yong Zheng ascended the throne in 1723, she was granted the title of concubine or 嫔. She was promoted to the title of Consort or 妃 in 1730. 

Apparently she was quite favored by the Emperor Yong Zheng because she was a healthy and intelligent woman who could hold her liquor. So she did indulge in drinking with the Emperor on occasion.

During the reign of Emperor Qian Long, so our current Emperor, she was granted the title of 皇考裕贵妃 which roughly translates to Noble Consort Dowager Yu. In 1778 – she was the bestowed the title of 皇考裕皇贵太妃 or Imperial Noble Consort Dowager Yu. 

It boggles my mind that she lived for THAT long. Like how is that possible?? And this just shows that this is completely different from the show. I doubt the Emperor 乾隆 would have bestowed such titles to 裕太妃 if she was a conniving woman.

I’m looking at 百科 and guess who they list a drama version of 裕太妃 in Empresses in the Palace? Why – none other than 端妃, the sickly woman who was forced to be infertile by 华妃! If you’ll recall in that drama, she was one of 2 other concubines or consorts that were alive by the end of the drama. The other was 敬妃. In this drama of the Story of Yanxi palace, the screenwriter kills her off so that 璎珞 can avenge her sister and I think to push the plot forward and focus on 璎珞’s relationship with the Empress.

[Cathy]

Next is the topic of 包衣抬旗

尔晴 brings this up when she talks to 明玉 about how 魏璎珞’s status will improve if she marries 傅恒 because the Empress will grant 魏璎珞’s family banner status. Ok – so what does that mean?

魏璎珞’s family, as we mentioned before has the status of 包衣 or Booi Aha. The Booi Aha of the 8 banners under the Qing regime. In mandarin they are called 包衣. They are basically bondservants or servile household members of the Manchu elite or members of the 8 banners. The members of the 包衣 have a lower status than a regular manchu. Maids chosen for menial tasks usually had no education but maids of the aristocracy usually meant being relatively well educated so as to serve their masters. In the drama it seems like all of the maids, 尔晴, 明玉 and 魏璎珞 all have the status of 包衣. 

As mentioned by 尔晴, the three banners – Plain Yellow, Plain White and Bordered Yellow are called 上三旗 or top 3 banners. They reported directly to the Emperor and were the ones that were selected for the imperial guard. The rest of the 5 banners were called Bottom 5 banners and focused on regional management and overall capital protection. The act of 抬旗 meant to raise someone from the lower banners to the upper banners. 

Now for members of the 包衣 class, that status was hereditary. They belonged to their respective banners and couldn’t change the banners they served. They aren’t slaves and did have proper identifications – think about your driver’s license or passport. However, the baoyi members of the upper three banners enjoyed better status and jobs. The only ways to change that status and station in life are the following

  1. Raise status of a concubine / consort’s family
  2. Military honors
  3. Contributions to court
  4. Overturned conviction

So for the ladies – the only option was of course to become a favored concubine, which is what 尔晴 mentions.

Funnily enough – there are only 2 women during Emperor 乾隆’s reign in which he raised his consorts banners. Do you want to guess who they are?

  1. 高贵妃
  2. 魏璎珞

Two women who we are VERY familiar with!

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. 

 

[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 24 +25  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. 

 

Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We’ve posted some more drama reviews so take a look and let us know your thoughts!

 

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

 

 

In the last episodes we finally found out who was the person that harmed Ying Luo’s beloved sister and killed her. He is the Emperor’s brother, The Prince of He, or 弘昼。弘昼 is an arrogant man who loved playing pranks on people and played with women. Despite Ying Luo’s anger at 弘昼 though, there is not much she can do in terms of revenge because he publicly states in front of the Empress herself and Fu Heng as well as Ying Luo that not only will he consider her deceased sister as his concubine, thus giving her status in his household, he will also help her father gain a post in the Imperial Household Department. This will provide the Wei family with much needed prestige as well. 

 

Faced with these pressures, Ying Luo has no option but to back down and let this main get off scott free. Though, we know YIng Luo. She’s not going to take things so easily. 

 

However, an issue with Fu Heng so publicly helping Ying Luo resolve her matter of her sister is that his actions are very blatant in his attention towards her. Observant individuals, aka everyone, can see that he behaves unusually towards Ying Luo which starts garnering jealousy of at least one person in the palace. We will see more of this in future episodes. 

 

The absurd and unruly behavior from Hong Zhou travels all the way up to the ears of the Empress Dowager who discusses this unruly son with her mother, 裕太妃, a new character in the drama. She is shown to be extremely kind and a devoted follower of buddhist teachings. She has her work cut out for her because her son causes so much drama. 

 

And indeed she does because just after 弘昼 settled his affairs over Ying Luo’s sister, he turns his untowards gaze towards 璎珞. Ugh. What a creep. He doesn’t care that her sister is dead because of him at all or the fact that he raped her and now he wants Ying Luo. The fundamental issue is that 弘昼 thinks he’s above all retribution because he has so much power and authority. After seeing Ying Luo walk around the palace, he thinks that she’s rather pretty, prettier than even her sister so why not. He wants to see what he can get.

 

That night, he sees Ying Luo walk off with a basket filled to the brim and he decides to stalk her. He swaps clothes with his eunuch and that’s how he’s able to remain in the palace at night when technically he should have left the palace as per palace rules. He follows Ying Luo in the dark to the gardens where she brings out candles that she says she’s using to pray for her deceased sister. They play a rather flrtatious game where Hong Zhou states he has to turn her in because such acts are not allowed in the palace while Ying Luo is rather cozy with her pleas to not do that. 

 

But, this was all a ruse on Ying Luo’s part. She pretended to be flirty with Hong Zhou only to take out a candle with sleep inducing powers. Her goal is to personally enact revenge and kill Hong Zhou for what he did to her sister. Problem is that her actions were too rash this time and Hong Zhou was able to escape into the trees while Ying Luo tried to attack him. He runs off screaming for help and shortly after catches the attention of the Emperor who orders his guards to figure out where the screaming came from. Seeing that she won’t be able to kill him that night, Ying Luo swiftly changes tactics and tears open her clothes. She drowns out his screams for help with screams of her own and runs over to where guards and the Emperor are. In front of the Emperor, she yells that it was 弘昼 that sneaked behind her and wanted to kill her. 

 

Why do I feel like Ying Luo’s intelligence fell for half a second when she was trying to kill Hong Zhou and then instantly came back? I feel like she could have killed him if she wanted to or if the plot allowed. Haha but that’s just me.

 

Hong Zhou tries to deny Ying Luo’s claims and instead turn it back on her but Ying Luo cries that the palace doors are locked already. Why is he in eunuch’s clothes in the palace this late at night? He must want to do something untoward which is why he’s here. And i mean, yea it looks bad for Hong Zhou because she’s not wrong. The Emperor even turns his suspicious gaze onto Hong Zhou and tells him to shut up when Hong Zhou tries to argue back. 

 

In a surprising move, the Emperor slaps Hong Zhou across the face when he gets up to try to attack Ying Luo. He is dragged off for the Emperor to question them back in his palace. I feel like the drama is moving at a lightning pace because just as Ying Luo is being questioned by the Emperor, the Empress arrives to cover for Ying Luo. The Empress knows just how close of a relationship Hong Zhou and the Emperor have together and steps in to protect YIng Luo. Awwww their relationship is absolutely the best in the palace.

 

The other person that arrives to protect her charge is 裕太妃, 弘昼‘s mother. She is told about what Hong Zhou did tonight and is appalled. She takes out a whip which she just so happens to have on hand and in front of the Emperor, the Empress and YIng Luo,beats the living daylight out of him. She hit him so hard that he passes out. Mwahahaha. This is fantastic. Even if Ying Luo didn’t kill him, you could tell she was quite pleased with the fact that this guy was beaten to a pulp. To make matters better or worse, depending on your perspective, Hong Zhou is paid a visit by Fu Heng who also threatens him to stay away from Ying Luo. What a bad ass Fu Heng. Hahaah. Yay!!!!

 

Often times, not always, when there are individuals that behave the way Hong Zhou does, it’s because he’s been spoiled his entire life. In his case, it’s not only by his brother, but it seems also by his mother. After the debacle with Ying Luo, 裕太妃 actually goes to 长春宫 to apologize to 璎珞 for her son’s actions. She doesn’t just apologize, she actually kneels in front of Ying Luo. That’s a huge sign of respect and quite a step for 裕太妃 to take. Yu Tai Fei begs Ying Luo to forgive Hong Zhou but…Ying Luo point blank refuses. I feel like that’s certainly something Ying Luo could have been a little less adamant on at least to Yu Tai Fei’s face. 

 

Trouble finds her immediately as Ying Luo goes to return some medicine to the doctor Ye Tian Shi but finds him bound and gagged on the side. Immediately a eunuch attacks Ying Luo and tries to kill her. She manages to escape and does an impressive dash out of the yard, staving off a number of assassin eunuchs. Luckily, her knight in shining armor, Fu Heng arrives and helps protect her. None of the killers stay alive though so they are left without evidence of who sent them. Except, out of all of the people in the palace who would want to kill Ying Luo, there’s only one person who would want to do it this way. It’s not Hong Zhou who’s currently bedridden due to his injuries and it’s not the Emperor who would not use such tactics to kill Ying Luo. 

 

Instead, we see the Emperor being given a lotus flower pastries that Yu Tai Fei made herself. While very delicate, the Emperor knew immediately that this was a reminder from Yu Tai Fei about Hong Zhou. It turns out that when the Emperor was young and not named crowned prince yet, he was given a plate of lotus flower pastries from his brother the 3rd prince. Before he could take a bite, the 5th prince, Hong Zhou, ran off with the pastry. It’s implied that the pastry was poisoned and caused the 5th prince to subsequently have ill health. This pastry is a reminder that the Emperor owes Hong Zhou his life. Now I guess we get another reason for why the Emperor has turned a blind eye to so many of the atrocities Hong Zhou has done. 

 

We get a brief and funny interlude however as we’re now in summer time. Everyone in the palace is sweltering in the summer heat and looking for ways to cool down. The imperial household department sends over blocks of ice to the respective palaces to help keep the masters cool. Ying Luo, comes up with an interesting tactic. She pretty much creates a refrigerator that uses lead? I think, and allows the cabinet to keep drinks and fruit cold which will help with the heat. 

 

Ummm Ying LUo is most definitely a modern woman who went back in time. Hahaha. It’s just hilarious how many things she’s invented or done that are way ahead of her time. 

 

The Emperor arrives and is quite impressed with the cabinet and instructs a few more be created for the Empress Dowager and others. He does take this opportunity to inform the Empress and also Ying Luo who’s on the side that Hong Zhou is extremely ill. You see that smirk on Ying Luo’s face? But the Emperor sternly states that he will make judgement after Hong Zhou is fully recovered and will not allow anyone overstep their authority before that.  Clearly, this was said for Ying Luo to hear him.

 

Ying Luo, though, immediately gets an opportunity to get back at the Emperor. After learning that the Emperor loves eating cold grapes in the summer, she immediately gifts an extra refrigerator ice cabinet thing to the Emperor. This allows the Emperor to eat tons of grapes while working. But just as he’s wolfing down large quantities of grapes, he starts getting a stomach ache and rushes to the bathroom. Poor eunuchs that have to tend to the Emperor when he’s dealing with an upset stomach. Turns out, this was all Ying Luo’s doing. Well partly. We find out that you’re not supposed to eat too much frozen grapes paired with tea because that will cause diarrhea. And who’s been eating tons of grapes and also drinking tons of tea? The Emperor. So this is Ying Luo’s little trick to get back at him. Hahahaha. 

 

After that interlude, let’s get back to the main conflict. Yu Tai Fei is not as kind as she seems. She is extremely angry at Ying Luo for what she’s done to her precious son. Highly displeased with Ying Luo, she calls Ying Luo to her palace under the guise of helping her create an ice cabinet. At her palace, her guise comes off and she turns lethal. It makes sense since Ying Luo actually placed a bloody hand of one of the assassins in the ice box given to Yu Tai Fei that scared her. Ying Luo is not blind and could tell that it was Yu Tai Fei that ultimately killed her sister and order the attack on her. Behind the facade of being a devoted believer of Buddha, she is as lethal as they come in the palace.

 

Yu Tai Fei doesn’t deny any of Ying Luo’s claims. She says she did it because she cannot stand these filthy women seducing her son. She then threatens Ying Luo that if she does anything against her or her son again, she will bring down the entire Wei family as well. 

 

This deeply impacts Ying Luo as she now realizes that she cannot enact her true revenge. Back at the Chang Chun Palace, Ying Luo is persuaded to join the other maids in a game. Ying Luo is in no mood for games but joins in, determined to succeed. The game is rather simple. In a bowl of clear water, try to drop a needle into the bowl so that it floats rather than sink. Ying Luo fails repeatedly but continues to try deep into the evening and even after all of the other maids have left.

 

THe Empress arrives and seeing Ying Luo in her troubled state, tries to console her. She understands that Ying Luo is upset at what befell her sister and also what she’s endured. She urges Ying Luo to learn to be patient. Only until she has the inner strength and when the fates align, should she retaliate. Aww… The Empress is so good. Don’t you wish you had a mentor like her???

 

The episode ends with Ying Luo taking those words to heart and we transition to the matter between Ying Luo and Fu Heng which we will explore in episode 26. 

 

 

叶天士

 

Let’s actually discuss 叶天士, the physician. He played an important part in saving the 5th Prince so he uh is stuck as an Imperial Doctor.

 

But, this is a real guy in history! 

 

Ye Tianshi (1667–1747) was a medical scholar and physician who was the major proponent of the “school of warm diseases”. In this drama, he seems to be in his 40s or so but he’s actually supposed to be in his 70s in history.

 

叶天士 comes from a family of physicians and grew up in present day 苏州 China. He started his apprenticeship under his father at the age of 12 and was lucky enough to study under over a dozen physicians.

 

Over the course of his career, he was a major proponent of the school of warm diseases that developed during the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was one of the first to diagnose scarlet fever in China and specialized in smallpox. He had many pupils during his lifetime and his teachings were the basis of the Ye School of Medicine. His sons were also physicians but their skill was overshadowed by their father. 

 

He didn’t write much during his lifetime because of his busy schedule so his 3 major works were compiled by his pupils in his later years. 

 

His major work, Wen-re Lun (Discussion of Warm Diseases) was published in 1746. The main takeaway of that work was the manifestations of diseases into four stages: wei (defensive phase), qi (qi-phase), ying (nutrient-phase), and xue (blood-phase). 卫、气、营、血

 

He is looked upon very favorably by historians. He was an excellent physician in many medical fields including pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine, and surgery. He sought continued study and was a model for his pupils. 

 

In my research, it doesn’t seem like 叶天士 was an imperial doctor, even for a while. But let’s just say that he was indeed a very influential physician during his time. Oh, in his portraits, he looks to be a much skinnier man with a skinny beard and mustache – so not like this drama portrayal at all.

 

冰鉴

 

Next up is ice! We talked about ice in episode 11 of Empresses of the Palace so here’s a refresher and also some additional information. 

 

The usage of ice dates back thousands of years in China. There are records of buying and selling ice all the way back to the 唐dynasty some 1400 years ago. The main clientele for ice was of course, the rich and powerful. Ice vaults were built underground some 4-5 meters deep and straw would be placed on the ground. Depending on where you are, ice would be transported from the north to these vaults. During the winter, ice was mainly cut from frozen lakes. It was important to also have thick blocks of ice as they wouldn’t melt as easily. They then are lowered into the vault and sealed with dirt and more straw. When summer came, people would open the vault for consumption. Because ice was such a luxury item, the rich pre-ordered their ice and came to pick it up once the vault was opened. In the palace, there were special lead and tin containers that could keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time which is what we see in the drama. 

 

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the storage and usage of ice became more ubiquitous. In the capital city, there were several vaults dedicated to ice storage. The Ministry of Works was in charge of distribution of ice from the government vaults to government officials. There was essentially a food stamp system. 

 

Now the name 冰鉴 or essentially the ice box was first named way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago. The name can be found in 诗经 or the book of song. They were typically made with wood and lined with tin or lead. The wood used could be rosewood, Cupressus funebris. Sometimes the containers were made with porcelain enamel. There were various styles of ice boxes and the type shown in the drama is one kind. Well – typically it was the ice was placed on top, then there was a second layer on the bottom to keep the fruit and vegetables fresh. 

 

 

乞巧

 

The game the ladies are playing, as discussed in the drama, is called 乞巧. On the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year, all of the women pray to the 织女 star or Vega star for for nimble fingers and luck. Women pray to 织女 because she is the weaver girl star. The phrase is called 乞求智巧 which is shorted to 乞巧. The 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year is also known as valentine’s day in China. The women pray to 织女 to have nimble and crafty fingers or 巧手 so that they can marry a nice man. 

 

The festival dates back to the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago and has continued till today. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills, in hopes being blessed with good luck. Different regions have different traditions but several staples include attempting to thread needles in different conditions, baking, and crafting various items. 

 

There are records of the festival dating back to the Han Dynasty with women threading seven needles in the moonlight as a symbol of good luck. 

 

In  东京梦华录 The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, is a memoir written by 孟元老in 1127, it recounts the various pastries and desserts that were made for the QiXi festival. Typical ingredients included oil, flour, honey, and sugar. 

 

During the Song and Yuan Dynasties – the 七夕 or 乞巧 festival was a big festival. There are records stating that it was difficult to travel by carriage during the festival. 

 

The game that the maids play in The Story of Yan Xi Palace is true to history. It was called 丢针儿 or dropping the needle. This was popular during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The purpose was of course to see if the woman was “skillful” or 巧 enough to have the needle float on the water.  

 

In conducting my research – it seems like there was a lot of prep that went into this game, especially the water. The water must be gathered at night and left outside for the duration of the next day. The sunshine will create a small layer at the top of the water that will allow the needle to float. Now I’ve never tried this so I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe there’s some mysterious oils that people put in the water to cheat. 

 

Nowadays, there’s a resurgence in the celebration of 七夕 in China although it’s turned mainly into a shopping holiday. Places in china are bringing back traditions though to celebrate this day and they can be quite extravagant.

 

Ep 24+25

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. 

 

[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 24 +25  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. 

 

Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We’ve posted some more drama reviews so take a look and let us know your thoughts!

 

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

In the last episodes we finally found out who was the person that harmed Ying Luo’s beloved sister and killed her. He is the Emperor’s brother, The Prince of He, or 弘昼。弘昼 is an arrogant man who loved playing pranks on people and played with women. Despite Ying Luo’s anger at 弘昼 though, there is not much she can do in terms of revenge because he publicly states in front of the Empress herself and Fu Heng as well as Ying Luo that not only will he consider her deceased sister as his concubine, thus giving her status in his household, he will also help her father gain a post in the Imperial Household Department. This will provide the Wei family with much needed prestige as well. 

 

Faced with these pressures, Ying Luo has no option but to back down and let this main get off scott free. Though, we know YIng Luo. She’s not going to take things so easily. 

 

However, an issue with Fu Heng so publicly helping Ying Luo resolve her matter of her sister is that his actions are very blatant in his attention towards her. Observant individuals, aka everyone, can see that he behaves unusually towards Ying Luo which starts garnering jealousy of at least one person in the palace. We will see more of this in future episodes. 

 

The absurd and unruly behavior from Hong Zhou travels all the way up to the ears of the Empress Dowager who discusses this unruly son with her mother, 裕太妃, a new character in the drama. She is shown to be extremely kind and a devoted follower of buddhist teachings. She has her work cut out for her because her son causes so much drama. 

 

And indeed she does because just after 弘昼 settled his affairs over Ying Luo’s sister, he turns his untowards gaze towards 璎珞. Ugh. What a creep. He doesn’t care that her sister is dead because of him at all or the fact that he raped her and now he wants Ying Luo. The fundamental issue is that 弘昼 thinks he’s above all retribution because he has so much power and authority. After seeing Ying Luo walk around the palace, he thinks that she’s rather pretty, prettier than even her sister so why not. He wants to see what he can get.

 

That night, he sees Ying Luo walk off with a basket filled to the brim and he decides to stalk her. He swaps clothes with his eunuch and that’s how he’s able to remain in the palace at night when technically he should have left the palace as per palace rules. He follows Ying Luo in the dark to the gardens where she brings out candles that she says she’s using to pray for her deceased sister. They play a rather flrtatious game where Hong Zhou states he has to turn her in because such acts are not allowed in the palace while Ying Luo is rather cozy with her pleas to not do that. 

 

But, this was all a ruse on Ying Luo’s part. She pretended to be flirty with Hong Zhou only to take out a candle with sleep inducing powers. Her goal is to personally enact revenge and kill Hong Zhou for what he did to her sister. Problem is that her actions were too rash this time and Hong Zhou was able to escape into the trees while Ying Luo tried to attack him. He runs off screaming for help and shortly after catches the attention of the Emperor who orders his guards to figure out where the screaming came from. Seeing that she won’t be able to kill him that night, Ying Luo swiftly changes tactics and tears open her clothes. She drowns out his screams for help with screams of her own and runs over to where guards and the Emperor are. In front of the Emperor, she yells that it was 弘昼 that sneaked behind her and wanted to kill her. 

 

Why do I feel like Ying Luo’s intelligence fell for half a second when she was trying to kill Hong Zhou and then instantly came back? I feel like she could have killed him if she wanted to or if the plot allowed. Haha but that’s just me.

 

Hong Zhou tries to deny Ying Luo’s claims and instead turn it back on her but Ying Luo cries that the palace doors are locked already. Why is he in eunuch’s clothes in the palace this late at night? He must want to do something untoward which is why he’s here. And i mean, yea it looks bad for Hong Zhou because she’s not wrong. The Emperor even turns his suspicious gaze onto Hong Zhou and tells him to shut up when Hong Zhou tries to argue back. 

 

In a surprising move, the Emperor slaps Hong Zhou across the face when he gets up to try to attack Ying Luo. He is dragged off for the Emperor to question them back in his palace. I feel like the drama is moving at a lightning pace because just as Ying Luo is being questioned by the Emperor, the Empress arrives to cover for Ying Luo. The Empress knows just how close of a relationship Hong Zhou and the Emperor have together and steps in to protect YIng Luo. Awwww their relationship is absolutely the best in the palace.

 

The other person that arrives to protect her charge is 裕太妃, 弘昼‘s mother. She is told about what Hong Zhou did tonight and is appalled. She takes out a whip which she just so happens to have on hand and in front of the Emperor, the Empress and YIng Luo,beats the living daylight out of him. She hit him so hard that he passes out. Mwahahaha. This is fantastic. Even if Ying Luo didn’t kill him, you could tell she was quite pleased with the fact that this guy was beaten to a pulp. To make matters better or worse, depending on your perspective, Hong Zhou is paid a visit by Fu Heng who also threatens him to stay away from Ying Luo. What a bad ass Fu Heng. Hahaah. Yay!!!!

 

Often times, not always, when there are individuals that behave the way Hong Zhou does, it’s because he’s been spoiled his entire life. In his case, it’s not only by his brother, but it seems also by his mother. After the debacle with Ying Luo, 裕太妃 actually goes to 长春宫 to apologize to 璎珞 for her son’s actions. She doesn’t just apologize, she actually kneels in front of Ying Luo. That’s a huge sign of respect and quite a step for 裕太妃 to take. Yu Tai Fei begs Ying Luo to forgive Hong Zhou but…Ying Luo point blank refuses. I feel like that’s certainly something Ying Luo could have been a little less adamant on at least to Yu Tai Fei’s face. 

 

Trouble finds her immediately as Ying Luo goes to return some medicine to the doctor Ye Tian Shi but finds him bound and gagged on the side. Immediately a eunuch attacks Ying Luo and tries to kill her. She manages to escape and does an impressive dash out of the yard, staving off a number of assassin eunuchs. Luckily, her knight in shining armor, Fu Heng arrives and helps protect her. None of the killers stay alive though so they are left without evidence of who sent them. Except, out of all of the people in the palace who would want to kill Ying Luo, there’s only one person who would want to do it this way. It’s not Hong Zhou who’s currently bedridden due to his injuries and it’s not the Emperor who would not use such tactics to kill Ying Luo. 

 

Instead, we see the Emperor being given a lotus flower pastries that Yu Tai Fei made herself. While very delicate, the Emperor knew immediately that this was a reminder from Yu Tai Fei about Hong Zhou. It turns out that when the Emperor was young and not named crowned prince yet, he was given a plate of lotus flower pastries from his brother the 3rd prince. Before he could take a bite, the 5th prince, Hong Zhou, ran off with the pastry. It’s implied that the pastry was poisoned and caused the 5th prince to subsequently have ill health. This pastry is a reminder that the Emperor owes Hong Zhou his life. Now I guess we get another reason for why the Emperor has turned a blind eye to so many of the atrocities Hong Zhou has done. 

 

We get a brief and funny interlude however as we’re now in summer time. Everyone in the palace is sweltering in the summer heat and looking for ways to cool down. The imperial household department sends over blocks of ice to the respective palaces to help keep the masters cool. Ying Luo, comes up with an interesting tactic. She pretty much creates a refrigerator that uses lead? I think, and allows the cabinet to keep drinks and fruit cold which will help with the heat. 

 

Ummm Ying LUo is most definitely a modern woman who went back in time. Hahaha. It’s just hilarious how many things she’s invented or done that are way ahead of her time. 

 

The Emperor arrives and is quite impressed with the cabinet and instructs a few more be created for the Empress Dowager and others. He does take this opportunity to inform the Empress and also Ying Luo who’s on the side that Hong Zhou is extremely ill. You see that smirk on Ying Luo’s face? But the Emperor sternly states that he will make judgement after Hong Zhou is fully recovered and will not allow anyone overstep their authority before that.  Clearly, this was said for Ying Luo to hear him.

 

Ying Luo, though, immediately gets an opportunity to get back at the Emperor. After learning that the Emperor loves eating cold grapes in the summer, she immediately gifts an extra refrigerator ice cabinet thing to the Emperor. This allows the Emperor to eat tons of grapes while working. But just as he’s wolfing down large quantities of grapes, he starts getting a stomach ache and rushes to the bathroom. Poor eunuchs that have to tend to the Emperor when he’s dealing with an upset stomach. Turns out, this was all Ying Luo’s doing. Well partly. We find out that you’re not supposed to eat too much frozen grapes paired with tea because that will cause diarrhea. And who’s been eating tons of grapes and also drinking tons of tea? The Emperor. So this is Ying Luo’s little trick to get back at him. Hahahaha. 

 

After that interlude, let’s get back to the main conflict. Yu Tai Fei is not as kind as she seems. She is extremely angry at Ying Luo for what she’s done to her precious son. Highly displeased with Ying Luo, she calls Ying Luo to her palace under the guise of helping her create an ice cabinet. At her palace, her guise comes off and she turns lethal. It makes sense since Ying Luo actually placed a bloody hand of one of the assassins in the ice box given to Yu Tai Fei that scared her. Ying Luo is not blind and could tell that it was Yu Tai Fei that ultimately killed her sister and order the attack on her. Behind the facade of being a devoted believer of Buddha, she is as lethal as they come in the palace.

 

Yu Tai Fei doesn’t deny any of Ying Luo’s claims. She says she did it because she cannot stand these filthy women seducing her son. She then threatens Ying Luo that if she does anything against her or her son again, she will bring down the entire Wei family as well. 

 

This deeply impacts Ying Luo as she now realizes that she cannot enact her true revenge. Back at the Chang Chun Palace, Ying Luo is persuaded to join the other maids in a game. Ying Luo is in no mood for games but joins in, determined to succeed. The game is rather simple. In a bowl of clear water, try to drop a needle into the bowl so that it floats rather than sink. Ying Luo fails repeatedly but continues to try deep into the evening and even after all of the other maids have left.

 

THe Empress arrives and seeing Ying Luo in her troubled state, tries to console her. She understands that Ying Luo is upset at what befell her sister and also what she’s endured. She urges Ying Luo to learn to be patient. Only until she has the inner strength and when the fates align, should she retaliate. Aww… The Empress is so good. Don’t you wish you had a mentor like her???

 

The episode ends with Ying Luo taking those words to heart and we transition to the matter between Ying Luo and Fu Heng which we will explore in episode 26. 

叶天士

 

Let’s actually discuss 叶天士, the physician. He played an important part in saving the 5th Prince so he uh is stuck as an Imperial Doctor.

 

But, this is a real guy in history! 

 

Ye Tianshi (1667–1747) was a medical scholar and physician who was the major proponent of the “school of warm diseases”. In this drama, he seems to be in his 40s or so but he’s actually supposed to be in his 70s in history.

 

叶天士 comes from a family of physicians and grew up in present day 苏州 China. He started his apprenticeship under his father at the age of 12 and was lucky enough to study under over a dozen physicians.

 

Over the course of his career, he was a major proponent of the school of warm diseases that developed during the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was one of the first to diagnose scarlet fever in China and specialized in smallpox. He had many pupils during his lifetime and his teachings were the basis of the Ye School of Medicine. His sons were also physicians but their skill was overshadowed by their father. 

 

He didn’t write much during his lifetime because of his busy schedule so his 3 major works were compiled by his pupils in his later years. 

 

His major work, Wen-re Lun (Discussion of Warm Diseases) was published in 1746. The main takeaway of that work was the manifestations of diseases into four stages: wei (defensive phase), qi (qi-phase), ying (nutrient-phase), and xue (blood-phase). 卫、气、营、血

 

He is looked upon very favorably by historians. He was an excellent physician in many medical fields including pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine, and surgery. He sought continued study and was a model for his pupils. 

 

In my research, it doesn’t seem like 叶天士 was an imperial doctor, even for a while. But let’s just say that he was indeed a very influential physician during his time. Oh, in his portraits, he looks to be a much skinnier man with a skinny beard and mustache – so not like this drama portrayal at all.

 

冰鉴

 

Next up is ice! We talked about ice in episode 11 of Empresses of the Palace so here’s a refresher and also some additional information. 

 

The usage of ice dates back thousands of years in China. There are records of buying and selling ice all the way back to the 唐dynasty some 1400 years ago. The main clientele for ice was of course, the rich and powerful. Ice vaults were built underground some 4-5 meters deep and straw would be placed on the ground. Depending on where you are, ice would be transported from the north to these vaults. During the winter, ice was mainly cut from frozen lakes. It was important to also have thick blocks of ice as they wouldn’t melt as easily. They then are lowered into the vault and sealed with dirt and more straw. When summer came, people would open the vault for consumption. Because ice was such a luxury item, the rich pre-ordered their ice and came to pick it up once the vault was opened. In the palace, there were special lead and tin containers that could keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time which is what we see in the drama. 

 

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the storage and usage of ice became more ubiquitous. In the capital city, there were several vaults dedicated to ice storage. The Ministry of Works was in charge of distribution of ice from the government vaults to government officials. There was essentially a food stamp system. 

 

Now the name 冰鉴 or essentially the ice box was first named way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago. The name can be found in 诗经 or the book of song. They were typically made with wood and lined with tin or lead. The wood used could be rosewood, Cupressus funebris. Sometimes the containers were made with porcelain enamel. There were various styles of ice boxes and the type shown in the drama is one kind. Well – typically it was the ice was placed on top, then there was a second layer on the bottom to keep the fruit and vegetables fresh. 

乞巧

 

The game the ladies are playing, as discussed in the drama, is called 乞巧. On the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year, all of the women pray to the 织女 star or Vega star for for nimble fingers and luck. Women pray to 织女 because she is the weaver girl star. The phrase is called 乞求智巧 which is shorted to 乞巧. The 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year is also known as valentine’s day in China. The women pray to 织女 to have nimble and crafty fingers or 巧手 so that they can marry a nice man. 

 

The festival dates back to the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago and has continued till today. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills, in hopes being blessed with good luck. Different regions have different traditions but several staples include attempting to thread needles in different conditions, baking, and crafting various items. 

 

There are records of the festival dating back to the Han Dynasty with women threading seven needles in the moonlight as a symbol of good luck. 

 

In  东京梦华录 The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, is a memoir written by 孟元老in 1127, it recounts the various pastries and desserts that were made for the QiXi festival. Typical ingredients included oil, flour, honey, and sugar. 

 

During the Song and Yuan Dynasties – the 七夕 or 乞巧 festival was a big festival. There are records stating that it was difficult to travel by carriage during the festival. 

 

The game that the maids play in The Story of Yan Xi Palace is true to history. It was called 丢针儿 or dropping the needle. This was popular during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The purpose was of course to see if the woman was “skillful” or 巧 enough to have the needle float on the water.  

 

In conducting my research – it seems like there was a lot of prep that went into this game, especially the water. The water must be gathered at night and left outside for the duration of the next day. The sunshine will create a small layer at the top of the water that will allow the needle to float. Now I’ve never tried this so I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe there’s some mysterious oils that people put in the water to cheat. 

 

Nowadays, there’s a resurgence in the celebration of 七夕 in China although it’s turned mainly into a shopping holiday. Places in china are bringing back traditions though to celebrate this day and they can be quite extravagant.

 

Ep 22 + 23

[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 22 +23  of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases sp2oken in Mandarin Chinese. 

 

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

 

We left off the last episode with the tragic death of a maid who fell from a higher floor. Her death startled the Empress Dowager, the Empress, Gao Gui Fei and Shu Gui Ren who were in the garden nearby. At first, the two other maids with the maid that died explained that they accidentally caused the tragedy due to a silly dress up game they were playing with the hint that they were dressing up as the Empress in her turn as the Goddess of the River Luo. This would look very badly for the Empress so Ying Luo cleverly turned the story on Gao Gui Fei in front of the Empress Dowager and claimed that the dead maid was trying to copy Gao Gui Fei and her opera make up instead. The Empress Dowager doesn’t say anything at this and leaves with a stern look on her face.

 

We start with episode 22 with Ying Luo discussing with the Empress, Ming Yu and Er Qing that given what just happened, it seemed like this was a plot by Gao Gui Fei to ruin the Empress. So, she stepped in and smeared crushed berries she picked nearby on the dead maid’s face to fake the appearance of opera make up and hide the Goddess make up to trick the Empress Dowager when they arrived. The two other maids on the scene were also too suspect in their actions after the third maid died so it’s not hard to deduce that this was all a plot by Gao Gui Fei and Shu Gui Ren to harm the Empress. 

 

[Karen]

Interestingly though, we next see Gao Gui Fei’s Chu Xiu Gong being ransacked by a number of eunuchs. Well at least her opera stage is being ransacked. She rushes in shocked at the scene and demands the eunuchs stop but then, the Empress Dowager’s head maid arrives with Gao Gui Fei’s beloved opera outfits and orders them to be burned. This whole scene is by order of the Empress Dowager herself. I really appreciate this scene because it shows that the Empress Dowager saw through the little trick Gao Gui Fei enacted with the whole make up plot against the Empress and is now punishing Gao Gui Fei by taking the thing that she loves most. But also, the Empress Dowager can use the fact that a noble consort in the palace should not be singing opera which would reduce her status as a member of the palace and also cause havoc for the Emperor. At this, Gao Gui Fei is uttered speechless and heartbroken.

 

And it’s not like the Empress does not realize that she also caused a lot of heartache and problems in the palace. She calmly explains to her worried maids that she is not mad at them more so that she is mad at herself. She forgot her duty and reverted back to her days before marriage with that dance and outfit. She has to always remember her duty as Empress and live her life according to those expectations and rules in order to be a good Empress. She does note that the Empress Dowager no doubt saw through the plot but also didn’t press the Empress further in order to help her save face. But that does not mean the Empress cannot heed this warning.

 

Anyone watch the Crown? I feel like this is quite relevant now given the recent death of the Queen but in the Crown, Queen Elizabeth II was always talking about duty and that it was her responsibility to see the crown and monarchy endure. I feel like that’s quite a good comparison with what we see here with the Empress.

 

[Cathy]

In any case, Shu Gui Ren heads to Chu Xiui Gong to beg for forgiveness for her failed attempts to eliminate Ying Luo. She kneels for an entire night and finally when she sees Gao Gui Fei proposes going after Ying Lou anothe way. Instead of trying to eliminate her, why not try to use her for their own purposes? There must be be some type of leverage against her they can use. Gao Gui Fei agrees with this plan and next thing we know, they get all the details about Ying Luo’s true motivation for coming to the palace from Zhang Mo Mo, the maid from the Embroidery Department that YIng Luo is close with. Under threat, Zhang Mo Mo had no option but to spill the beans. 

 

Soon after, Ying Luo is accosted by Gao Gui Fei’s maid for a twilight meet up with Gao Gui Fei. This comes right after Ying Luo noticed that Zhang Mo mo was acting oddly when Ying Luo went to visit her. At Zhong Cui Gong, Gao Gui Fei and Shu Gui Ren introduce a witness to the events that happened that day, a eunuch who saw the whole thing unfold and also produced a royal belt that could only have been worn by the perpetrator. The belt’s owner? Fu Heng. Gao Gui Fei and Shu Gui Ren pounce on this opportunity and goad Ying Luo into taking revenge against the Empress for what she has done to protect her brother from this unspeakable act. They suggest that the three of them work together to bring down the Empress and Fu Heng so Ying Luo can get revenge. Shu Gui Ren suggests poison and gives her a pouch full of it. 

 

[Karen]

The following events move rather quickly as Ying Luo enacts her plan for revenge. One day, Fu Heng arrives to visit his sister and Ying Luo goes to help prepare the tea for Fu Heng and the Empress. Once the tea is prepared, Ying Luo and company head over to the main hall and meet Chun Fei whom we have not seen in quite some time on the way. She also wanted to visit the Empress but turned away after hearing that Fu Heng was already there. 

 

But, as Ying Luo presents the tea to the Empress and Fu Heng, Chun Fei bursts into the room, smashing Fu Heng’s tea cup in the process. She reveals that Ying Luo must be hoping to poison FU Heng and the Empress because Chun Fei smelled the fragrance on her person that Gao Gui Fei uses, and found a pouch of poison in Ying Luo’s quarters. 

 

Ying Luo roundly denies the poison and proves it by drinking the tea meant for the Empress but does finally explain to the Empress what happened to her sister. And thankfully, Ying Luo explains that she’s not blind. She sees how kind the Empress is to her and is sure that the Empress would not stoop so low as to kill Ying Luo’s sister. 

 

However, that doesn’t mean Ying Luo isn’t pissed at Fu Heng even if she does believe he didn’t do anything to her sister. She deduced that Fu Heng must have purposefully led her astray to prevent her from knowing the truth. He doesn’t deny this but does insist he did this in order to protect her as if she continues to seek the truth, it will only result in more pain for her. But, Ying Luo doesn’t listen. I mean, with her personality? No way. 

 

The main perpetrator is finally revealed soon after at a tea banquet the Emperor hosts with a couple of his close relatives in the imperial garden. These relatives include his brothers and a few uncles. The main guest today is the 5th prince, Hong Zhou! For those familiar with Empresses in the Palace, he was not actually shown in the drama. But in this drama, he has a rather prominent role. We also see the 6th prince, Hong Yan who, in Empresses in the Palace, was Zhen Huan’s child.

 

[Cathy]

This 5th prince, Hong Zhou, is immediately shown to be an arrogant and immature man who openly punched an important court official among many other misdeeds. Many of the uncles at this party were plenty displeased with Hong Zhou’s behavior. Once his brother, the Emperor arrives, the 5th prince, Hong Zhou’s behavior further escalates. He drinks the tea the Emperor provides and promptly pretends to die of poison, scaring the rest in attendance only to suddenly sit up laughing at them in jest. The Emperor doesn’t think much of it.

 

That night as the royals leave, they are met with a downpour. And in the thunder and lightning of the evening, a shadow of a dead maid streaks across the palace wall, scattering the group. None is more scared though than Hong Zhou who sees flashbacks of the maid he defiled. He is reduced to a blubbering mess, falling to the ground and screaming that a ghost has come after him when Fu Heng and the other imperial guards happen upon him. 

 

It doesn’t get past him that this must have been a set up by Ying Luo who heard that there were important royals having tea with the Emperor. Fu Heng believes that Ying Luo was the one to create the image in order to figure out who was the ultimate perpetrator. Yet he warns her to stay away. The 5th prince has the unparalleled backing of the Emperor. And says that unless Hong Zhou commits a crime equivalent to a coup, the Emperor will not punish him. REMEMBER THOSE WORDS!!!! Ying Luo doesn’t acknowledge him and just walks away.

 

[Karen]

The next day, Fu Heng meets the 5th prince Hong Zhou and tries to help YIng Luo resolve this matter. In front of the Empress at Chang Chun Gong, Hong Zhou is brought forth and admits that he changed into Fu Heng’s clothes and took advantage of YIng Luo’s sister but says that it was because he drank too much. He presents Ying Luo with a tray full of gold as compensation for what happened and even apologizes. THough, he denies killing her. To further compensate Ying Luo, he agrees to claim that he married her sister, A Man as a concubine which will give her at least some status. The nail in the coffin for Ying Luo’s quest for revenge though, is that Hong Zhou brings forth Ying Luo’s father and agrees to install him at an important post in the palace. That way, their family name will be saved and her sister can be buried with honors.

 

Poor Ying Luo. You know she absolutely hates Hong Zhou and is furious that she has to succumb to pressure to let him go. But she unfortunately has no choice. With that, we leave the story of Ying Luo’s sister’s death… Or do we? We’ll learjn more in the upcming episodes.

 

The only other scene to talk about is Xian Fei. We haven’t seen her in a while and we get another glimpse of just how crafty she can be. The Emperor came to inform her that the 4th prince, whom she had been taking care of for a while after the death of his mother, will be taken away soon to be raised by her aunt who may come to the palace. Xian Fei doesn’t object on the surface but that night, purposefully injures herself while tending to the 3rd prince so that the Emperor will see just how much effort she’s put into raising the 4th prince thereby leaving him be. We are now seeing the seamless skill that Xian Fei has in manipulating one’s heart for her purposes.

 

[Cathy]

 

We’ll talk about the scene where, in order to get the Empress to talk to the maids, 魏璎珞 pretends to pray to the Empress and they have a whole exchange. 

 

璎珞 asks the goddess, who is the Empress, to guide her and forgive her for any of her wrongdoings. The Empress, finally turns her attention towards 璎珞 and jokingly says – I’m not 嫦娥 and you’re not 颠当

 

The story that they reference is called 嫦娥 or the Moon Goddess. It was written by 蒲松龄 between the late 1600s and first published in 1740. The stories are compiled into Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio or 聊斋志异. This collection includes almost 500 stories or marvel tales that uses legends, ghosts, and the supernatural to comment on societal problems. I have never read the original collection but several pretty well known dramas and movies have been made over the years that are based off of several stories within the collection. There are several translation in english. For those of you who are interested – I recommend you to read a couple of stories.

 

The specific story of 嫦娥 – the moon goddess is um, quite convoluted. I read it several times but I couldn’t quite make too much of it. 

 

Ok – to keep it short. 嫦娥 is disguised as a human. A young man 宗子美 spots her and falls in love. He asks for her hand via an old scrooge because 嫦娥 randomly just shows up to the old scrooge’s house. A year later, the man comes back to ask for her hand. However, the old scrooge doesn’t agree because he couldn’t afford the bride price.

 

宗子美 then meets another woman called 颠当 and they agree to get married. Another day 宗子美 encounters 嫦娥. She gives him the gold to afford the bride price. He returns to tell 颠当. Hearing this story – 颠当 agrees to be a concubine instead but later reneges and disappears with her mother. Later – 宗子美 and 嫦娥 do get married. 宗子美 laments that he never saw the likes of the famous women of 杨贵妃 and 赵飞燕. 嫦娥 smiles. Looking at paintings, she transforms into these women to uh please her husband. 

 

One day – 嫦娥 gets kidnapped. 宗子美 tries to find her but to no avail. On another day, he meets a beggar who turns out to be 颠当 who tells him where to find 嫦娥. He does and finds out that 嫦娥 is a goddess who was punished to the mortal realm and now she must leave. Unfortunately that was too much to bear for 宗子美, who tries to commit suicide. 嫦娥 rescues him and, finds 颠当 to punish her. They find out that 颠当 is a fox spirit.

 

The three live together – but at this point 嫦娥 doesn’t enjoy sleeping with her husband. One day, she finds out that her husband is entangled with 颠当 who transformed into 嫦娥. As punishment, 嫦娥 causes 颠当 to have a massive headache. 颠当 immediately drags 宗子美 to 嫦娥’s bedside and bows to her to ask for her forgiveness. 嫦娥 at first doesn’t oblige. 颠当 then says, I’ll pray to her as if she’s a Bodhisattva! She then actually goes and get’s a small vase, adds water, and a willow branch and prays to 嫦娥. 

 

This is the scene that 魏璎珞 is imitating in the drama. 

 

Ok – the story so far is convoluted right? I had to give enough backstory because I wanted to provide information on the characters. I don’t really understand WHY 璎珞 is imitating this scene because right after what I translated in the story. The author gives us probably the like MOST homoerotic passage that I have encountered while doing research for the podcast. 颠当 proceeds to kiss 嫦娥’s feet. 嫦娥, the goddess herself, feels a little bit of lust but quickly kicks 颠当 away. 

 

颠当 the fox spirit is seducing another woman! Karen – what do you think? Is it subtle? I don’t think so – my jaw kind of dropped when I read the original text. It’s like quite obvious? 

 

This also goes back to our previous discussions on how this is probably one of the first major dramas to reference lesbian relationships. We mentioned before that there were mentions of lesbianism in chinese literature, especially in Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio but I didn’t expect to read one for the drama. 

 

The timing in the drama could be an anachronism. We’re in the early 1740s and the stories were written in the late 1600s. However, I SERIOUSLY doubt that people like the Empress are reading these stories. I don’t think the Empress would have taken very kindly to what 璎珞 did – with regards to praying to her because uh – the literal next lines in the story would then be 璎珞’s character 颠当 uh trying to seduce the Empress who is 嫦娥 in the story. Also 颠当 is fox spirit, who are known to be seducers. I think the sentiment is fine to have 璎珞 try to cheer the Empress up but the usage of this story is probably HIGHLY inappropriate. 

 

Tying this back to pop culture – there’s a reason why the Empress and 魏璎珞  have so many couple shippers. The drama supports them as a couple! Haha – I mean look at the texts they’re referencing! I won’t recount the rest of the story but if you can find a version of it in english – I highly recommend doing so. 

 

[Karen]

三清茶 – Three Clear Tea

 

In episode 23, Emperor 乾隆 invites his brothers and other relatives for tea. We are introduced to 三清茶 – Three Clear Tea. The Emperor informs us that it’s brewed using snow water with the Longjing tea along with 梅花、松实、佛手. This means plum blossoms, pine nuts and the fingered citron. It’s also called the buddha hand – that’s the literal translation. I don’t think I’ve ever had a buddha hand but it really looks like many fingers! The ingredients give a soothing aroma. 

 

Now – I’ve never had three clear tea but I think I have all of the ingredients except for the buddha hand. Perhaps I’ll brew it this winter? But I really don’t know how snow water makes a big difference.

 

The recipe is true to history and is one of Emperor 乾隆’s favorite teas. He was the one who invented this tea mixture. Over the years – he had multiple banquets just to feature this tea during the first month of the new year. Indeed, there’s a whole poem that he wrote in 1746 that’s dedicated to this tea.

 

The name for the tea – three clear tea is also a lesson / warning that the Emperor wanted to give to his ministers. 清 means clear but the three clears that he names for this tea is 清廉、清正、清民 – which means honesty, clarity, and openness to the people. He wants his ministers to be upstanding people and not corrupt.

 

[Cathy]

Lastly!

 

We are introduced to the 6th prince – 弘昼! He’s an absolute scoundrel. At the gathering with the Emperor, 弘昼 recites a poem before faking his poisoning. 

 

It goes as such:

 

金樽吟 – the golden goblet hymn

 

世事无常耽金樽

杯杯台郎醉红尘

人生难得一知己

推杯换盏话古今

 

My translation roughly goes like this. 

 

There are many uncertainties in the world, nothing is clear. Why not enjoy the wine and enjoy life? I’ll drink from my glass until I am drunk, then I won’t be bothered by the worries of the world. It’s rare to find a true friend in the world. Why not invite them for good wine and for a good time?

 

This poem was indeed written by 弘昼 and probably his most famous. It is also dubbed as his “savior” poem. In this poem, 弘昼 informs the world that he has no ambition. He’s simply enjoying his life and the pleasure of drink. Rumor has it, that this poem reduced a lot of suspicion on him from the Emperor. It doesn’t do well for the Emperor to have ambitious brothers of the same age. Emperor 乾隆’s older brother and 乾隆 didn’t get along due to this reason. 弘昼 lived a relatively long life because he smartly avoided politics.

 

In the last stanza – 推杯换盏话古今, the 换盏 means to swap the drinking cup. In terms of the poem, it’s more in reference that the group continuously drinks and refills the cup. In the drama, though young prince 弘曕 responds to hearing this line – oh is there really poison in the cup? 

 

I don’t think this really matches the essence of the poem cause the swapping of cups isn’t about actually swapping cups. It’s to refill. But that’s just a nitpick. I can brush it off as the young prince is too young to know better. 

 

 

[Karen]

 

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. 

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.