The Story of Yanxi Palace – Ep 58
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your host for today Cathy and Karen!
Today we are discussing episode 58 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 have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s episode is going to be light on the plot recap and very heavy on the history so buckle up!
In the last few episodes, the Empress Dowager was embroiled in a whole saga where it was revealed that she was not the Emperor’s birth mother. His mother was actually a madame Qian who was killed most likely by the late Emperor Yong Zheng. It was a whole thing but right now, the Empress Dowager has jetted off to Yuan Ming Yuan to provide some distance between her and the Emperor especially since she feigned sickness in order for her to tug at the Emperor’s heartstrings. Because Ying Luo tried her hardest to help the Emrpess Dowager, she brings Ying Luo along to help her get back into the Emperor’s good graces.
So now we have it that the Empress Dowager and Ying Luo are in Yuan Ming Yuan while the Emperor and Empress remain in the Forbidden Palace. The Empress Nala is relishing in this turn of events because now, the palace is her empire. There is no one in the palace left to oppose her. But that doesn’t mean Ying Luo and the Empress Dowager aren’t also enjoying their time in Yuan Ming Yuan. In monthly letters to the Emperor, Ying Luo writes of all the fun activities she does with the Empress Dowager which we will discuss more about later on in the podcast episode. They celebrate the mid-autumn festival, enjoy chrysanthemums for the double-ninth festival and plenty others. These monthly letters are eagerly awaited by the Emperor who seems to have started to forgive Ying Luo for her past betrayal.
I personally love all the small interactions between the Emperor and 李玉. 李玉 knows the emperor SO well, especially the tease with the letters, haha.
We are now according to the drama in the 20th year of Emperor Qian Long’s reign which makes it 1756. It’s been three full years since Ying Luo moved to Yuan Ming Yuan. Quite a bit has changed in the Palace. Well primarily that the Empress Nala gave birth to 2 young sons, the 12th and 13th princes.
袁春望, is now the lead eunuch in the palace, relishing in all of his power. One of his subordinates thought that 袁春望 desired a pretty maid and had her brought to 袁春望’s quarters. He basically physically abuses the poor girl and throws her out but not before somehow still being an absolute creep when it comes to 璎珞. He’s still talking all about love and betrayal against 魏璎珞. Buddy – you betrayed her and basically had her thrown out of the Imperial Harem. What are you still thinking about?
Back to the Emperor. It does seem that the Emperor is anxious to hear that Ying Luo is healthy given that on the 36th monthly letter, she sent only the word 安 or Doing Well which caused some worry for the Emperor. But before he could spend too much time thinking about her health, he receives news that his military campaign against the 霍兰 tribe was victorious and their troops are on their way home.
What that means is that 傅恒 whom we haven’t seen in many episodes is finally back in the palace and with him, the news of the victorious conquest means a new threat for Ying Luo in the palace. 傅恒 visits Ying Luo in Yuan Ming Yuan but instead of interrogating her about killing his wife, he urges her to return to the palace. Though I do find it absolutely hilarious that he totally just glosses over the fact that his wife is dead. He is probably over the moon happy about that.
Side note – I thoroughly enjoy Ming Yu and Hai Lan Cha’s side conversation. He’s all pouty when Ming Yu tries to overhear Fu Heng and Wei Ying Luo’s conversation. Hai Lan Cha is such a good guy
Anyways, 傅恒 brings news that over the last 3 months, a new woman in the palace who is essentially perfect has appeared. This woman is so wonderful that she has taken all of the Emperor’s attention. She is a serious threat to Ying Luo’s position in the Emperor’s heart and could mean that all of her plans the last few years will go to waste if she doesn’t return to the palace immediately. The woman in question? 沉璧。
With Fu Heng’s words of warning, Ying Luo aka Consort Ling immediately returns to 延禧palace. How problematic is this woman? So problematic that the moment Ying Luo returns, the Empress Nala summons her. The two left on rather poor turns but right now Empress Nala actually requests the two work together in order to combat this new formidable foe. At first Ying Luo refused but then went to take a single look at the new 沉璧 aka Concubine Shun or 顺嫔 and she immediately turned around and agreed to work with the Empress Nala. Seems like she recognized how beautiful and pure 顺嫔 looked which is indeed a threat to her position in the palace. That and also she’s a little jealous that 顺嫔 now has the full attention of the Emperor. We’re going to end the episode recap there as we have tons of history to talk about but in episode 59 we will finally get the chance to meet this mysterious 沉璧.
There’s a lot of history that is introduced in this episode and also historical events that are just thrown at us this episode so let’s spend some time to discuss them.
First and foremost – 令妃 was never banished to the 圆明园 so her 3 year long stint there with the Empress Dowager is just here for dramatic purposes.
In one of the letters that 魏璎珞 sends to the Emperor, she mentions a book 酌中志 and specifically the volume 饮食好尚纪略. I’ll use the youtube translation – Discretionary Comrades, Diet is Good, History is Slightly.
This was written by the eunuch 刘若愚 who was born during the Ming Dynasty in 1584. He came from a powerful military family and hence was educated. He self-castrated at the age of 16 after a weird dream and then was sent to the palace in 1601. As an educated eunuch, he had the privilege of serving at the Emperor’s study. During his time at the Palace, he saw the political rise and fall of the notorious eunuch 魏忠贤. Unfortunately for 刘若愚, because he was a eunuch and served the emperor at the same time as 魏忠贤, court officials deemed him an accomplice and sentenced him to death. While in jail, 刘若愚, unsatisfied with these false accusations, wrote 酌中志 to clear his name. In this book, he documented all that he had seen and experienced of Ming Court Life. This book, or the beginning of this book, did indeed clear his name
This book was first written in 1629 and completed in 1641. It is comprised of 24 short chapters and details palace life from the reigns of Emperor 万历 to Emperor 崇祯. This includes the daily lives of the emperor, women of the imperial harem, palace rules, palace staff, palace dining and clothes.
The information written here will never be found in what was viewed as proper history but this is nevertheless an invaluable historical artifact.
The volume that 魏璎珞 mentions – 饮食好尚纪略 – details how cuisine was prepared in the palace at that time. I do find it interesting on the line of how did the empress dowager get her hands on this. Despite the book being a Ming text, it was very valuable even during the Qing dynasty. Emperor Qian Long even had it revised and added to his collection. However, because this is a Ming text, revisions had to be made with regards to date names etc.
While at 圆明园 – the two of them celebrate a ton of holidays including the Mid-Autumn Festival which is observed on the 15th day of the 8th month of the year, the day in which the moon is the fullest in the year.
The mid-autumn festival is an important festival for the chinese as the fullest moon represents a time for family, a whole family, and to be thankful for the family.
It has also been a long tradition to eat crab for this holiday. In China, the favored crab is the 大闸蟹 or the Chinese mitten crab or the Shanghai Hairy Crab. This species of crab is native to China and viewed as a delicacy.
September-November, which is right around the time of the Mid-Autumn festival each year, is typically the best time to get the largest and fattest crabs.
By the Ming dynasty, the aristocracy also enjoyed crab for the festival. Typically, the crab would be steamed and then enjoyed with some wine vinegar.
In Chinese “蟹”与“谢” crab and thank you sound the same. For a holiday that represents togetherness, crab is also the perfect dish to represent that thankfulness of those around us.
It’s difficult to gift a thanks, but a crab that sounds like thanks? That’s a very meaningful gift. To this day in China, it is still a custom to make and gift crab during the mid-autumn festival.
In the drama we quickly move to 九月重阳节. This is Double Ninth Festival which is observed on the ninth day of the ninth month in the Chinese calendar. This holiday has been observed since time immemorial, popularized during the Han Dynasty, and reached its pinnacle after the Tang Dynasty.
The reason for this holiday is due to the auspicious nature of the numbers. Nine is the largest single number, so a double nine day on the calendar is a very auspicious date. According to I Ching, nine is a yang number. With two 9s, that makes it Double Nine or Double Yang – hence why it’s called 重阳. 重 also means double. For local customs, with the double 9s, these also represent longevity, so this holiday also is a time to respect elders and wish them a long and healthy life.
For the holiday, there are a ton of customs that also differ with each province. However, typically it is customary to climb a high mountain, enjoy the autumn views, pray to the elders, fly kites, eat the chongyang cake, enjoy the chrysanthemum flowers, drink chrysanthemum liquor, and wear the zhuyu (茱萸) plant Cornus officinalis. These flowers are thought to have cleansing properties, which is why these flowers specifically.
In the drama – we see the yellow chrysanthemum flowers featured quite prominently.
Which then brings us to this peculiar dish that 明玉 is preparing – 糟瓜茄 or the youtube translation is Wasted Eggplant. This was a dish that was first recorded during the Song Dynasty and was then a Ming Dynasty Palace dish.
The instructions include – for each 5 catties of eggplant, add 5 两 of salt. So that’s around 2.5 kilos of eggplant and 250 grams of salt. Then mix with distiller’s grain or 糟. Afterwards, add the copper money on top. After 10 days, retrieve the money, discard. Then change the distiller’s grain or 糟 into another bottle. Afterwards, retrieve, the color should be green as new.
Now – it might seem kind of unsanitary with the whole put copper coins in the eggplant and I have no idea how this dish tastes but I think it might be more of a fermenting process that keeps the eggplant edible?
Ok! That was a ton on Chinese holidays and food. Let’s now turn our attention towards the Emperor’s family affairs, namely his children because a ton were briefly mentioned.
There’s been a lot of time jumping in this drama but we now definitively know that it’s 1756 or the 20th year of Emperor 乾隆’s reign, which makes him 45 right now.
Between 1750 – 1756, he had several children and I’ll list them out here.
The 10th prince 永玥 was born to 舒嫔 in 1751 but he died very young in 1753
The 11th prince was born to 嘉嫔 and subsequently 嘉妃
Yongxing, Prince Chengzhe of the First Rank (成哲親王 永瑆; 22 March 1752 – 10 May 1823), 11th son
The 12th prince Yongji, Prince of the Third Rank (貝勒 永璂; 7 June 1752 – 17 March 1776), 12th son was born to Empress Nala at the age of 34. She had a slew of kids all in short order
The 5th daughter (23 July 1753 – 1 June 1755)
Yongjing (永璟; 22 January 1756 – 7 September 1757), 13th son
Noble Consort Xin (忻貴妃) of the Daigiya clan (戴佳氏) (26 June 1737 – 28 May 1764)
6th daughter (24 August 1755 – 27 September 1758)
I’m going to turn my attention briefly to some historical matters because we get snippets of the events of 霍顿 and 傅恒 return.
In episode 48 / 49, we discussed at length about the revolt of the Altishahr Khojas or 大小和卓之亂. This occurred in 1757. As a reminder two Altishahr nobles, the Khoja brothers Burhān al-Dīn and Khwāja-i Jahān or Hojijan, led a revolt against the Qing dynasty in the southern part of modern day Xinjiang. The events of 霍顿 which is this revolt are finally tying to the events in the imperial harem. So we’re right around 1756 – 1757. I feel like timeline wise, we’ve been in this vague 1750s timeline forever.
Fuheng was also not really involved in the front lines of this particular campaign. One more thing. Fuheng’s dad dies all the way back in 1723 so this whole line of 傅恒 missing his dad’s funeral isn’t remotely correct.
The name for 沉璧 as we see in the drama comes from Song Dynasty 范仲淹’s 岳阳楼记 or a prose which we have actually talked in this podcast during our discussion of the STory of Ming Lan. 1046年10月17日
The lines that are recited in the drama are as such:
Here is my translation:
There are times when the fog disappears and the bright moonlight can be seen for a thousand miles. The shimmerlight flashed with golden hues. The calming reflection of the moon looked like a jade that sunk in the water. The fisherman’s song that can be heard answering each other, this happiness cannot be limited.
Her name is to praise her for her similarity to the jade in the water, pure and unblemished.