Ep 8-13



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


Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. If you like what you hear in this podcast, please please please do us a favor and leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to!


This is the 4th in a 4 part series for the drama and today we will discuss the plot, characterization, and history of episodes 8-13. We are breaking these podcast episodes to reflect the first couple of “cases” in the drama. As always, I’ll finish with a quick book comparison since the drama is based off of a book.



We began the 4 part series by highlighting that this drama focused more on the struggles of power and what it meant to rule. Those challenges are fully displayed in these next upcoming episodes. For the crown prince, it is the sacrifice of his love for political reasons. For his father, the Emperor, it is seeing his court officials lourding power over him and he must plug the gaps. 


The fight between the crown prince and his older brother Prince Qi or 齐王 continues to brew in the background with 齐王‘s father-in-law and current Chancellor, 李柏舟 as the primary antagonist  


Let’s start off with episode 8. In the prior few episodes, we saw the Crown Prince wrapped up in a debacle at the imperial entrance exam that resulted in the resignation of his beloved teacher because he, the crown prince, plotted against his brother. In order to protect his disciple, 卢世瑜, took the blame and is told to leave his post and return home. The Crown Prince is understandably upset at the turn of events but there is not much he can do. It is a valuable lesson that he learned.


The best thing to have come out of the exam scandal, however, is for the Crown Prince to have “met” our female lead, 陆文昔。 I say quote on quote “meet” because she had never revealed her countenance to him. In his presence, she always wore a cap that had a veil to cover her face, as is customary at the time. But, that does not deter from their attraction towards each other especially after they worked together to help save the Crown Prince’s best friend and cousin, 顾逢恩 and her brother, 陆文普 from being implicated in the exam cheating scandal. 



Both of their hearts are separately fluttering after being impressed by each other’s intellect and capability. On the Crown Prince’s side, he didn’t even want to go see the results of the imperial entrance exam with his friend 顾逢恩 but eagerly agreed after hearing 陆文昔 would be there. 陆文昔 was also full of anticipation to seeing the results first hand in hopes of meeting her prince but was cold-heartedly told to stay home by her brother. The crown prince, was of course, annoyed that 陆文昔 was not there and also found out that he may be betrothed to the daughter of the Minister of Justice, who’s last name is Zhang. This shocks 太子 who hurries to get confirmation from his teacher, 卢世瑜 who is also the Minister of Justice’s teacher. It just so happens that on this day, after being rebuffed from seeing the exam results, 陆文昔, was at 卢世瑜’s manor helping him dry his catalog of books. We will talk about this in our explanation as it is quite interesting why this scene would appear. 太子 encounters 陆文昔 while drying books and, behind a curtain so he once again does not see her face, have another thoughtful and engaging conversation. 太子 is over the moon about this girl and is set on marrying her. He knows she is 陆文昔, daughter of well known court official who has recently returned to the capital, but has never seen her face. 


This relationship serves as the next round of conflicts between the two brothers. We have already established that 太子 is interested in 陆文昔 but in order to further secure power for 齐王, 李柏舟 wants 陆文昔 to marry 齐王 as a concubine. This chancellor rather forcefully pushes this message onto 陆文昔’s father, 陆英. 陆英 is extremely reluctant to have his children used as pawns for political gain and also hates being bullied in this way and thus asks the crown prince for help. 



What happens?At the end of episode 9 and into episode 10, the Emperor is having a pleasant evening with Prince Qi and his mother, the royal consort. In this brilliant scene, 齐王 is preparing tea for his father using the traditional tea preparation method we actually saw in The Story of Ming Lan. It is an elaborate process to prepare a bowl of tea and Qi Wang does a fine job as his father even compliments him. At this point, 太子 arrives and also prepares a bowl of tea for his father. The crown prince uses tea that he brought himself which was procured [xxxx ELABORATE]. One sip of the tea and the Emperor spits it out. It tastes horrible. The Emperor quickly dismiss Prince Qi and the royal consort as this has suddenly become a political matter.


Turns out, the tea that the Crown Prince made is connected to a policy in the drama called 茶马政 whereby, the government trades official tea with neighboring territories for military horses fit for war. This is an important matter as it directly feeds into the military power of the Empire. The Crown Prince brings forth 陆英 who explains that Prince Qi’s maternal Grandfather has been keeping all of the official tea for himself and selling it for huge profits causing waves of outrage by the local citizens. And the tea sent to be traded for horses are of extremely poor quality or of not enough weight which means that no military horses are traded for the army. The Emperor is furious that such corruption has happened under his nose with ties to stability of his nation’s border and questions why he has not heard a peep. 陆英 reveals that he had sent numerous documents detailing these events but they have all been ignored. Who did the ignoring? The Chancellor, 李柏舟. 


The Emperor summons 李柏舟 as well as the Minister of Treasury or Revenue but instead of even apologizing or acknowledging the corruption that happened, 李柏舟 uses the excuse that he’d been too busy these last few weeks to have looked at the dockets from 陆英. 李柏舟 pushes away any and all responsibility for his involvement in this scandal again. Poor Emperor. He knows that 李柏舟 is bluffing but his primary concern is not to dole out punishment. Instead, he has to figure out how to find money to purchase more tea in order to trade for military horses.  This is where you see that while the Emperor may not be the fairest father to the crown prince, his number one priority is ruling the empire. 



Realizing that her father has been caught up in such a big corruption scandal, the royal consort was, you could say, intelligent enough to proactively apologize and seek punishment. She even said her father is willing to give up his entire fortune to the treasury in order for this to not go public. Only then, does the Emperor finally calm down. But, once again, it is clear that 齐王 and 李柏舟 have conspired against the Emperor. 


Throughout the rest of episode 10 and 11, the drama focuses once more on the relationship between 太子 and 陆文昔。Because 李柏舟 was dealt such a huge blow, he wants to retaliate against 陆英 by having his daughter marry 齐王 as a concubine. The Crown Prince and 陆文昔 are both devastated at hearing the emperor has agreed but ultimately, by grace of 齐王’s wife, the decree never gets delivered so the marriage is held off. Key takeaways here are that geez, 李柏舟 is a cold hearted father for pushing his daughter to have to share a husband with a concubine and that the Emperor is showing us he’s a conflicted character. He ignores the Crown Prince’s pleas that he wants to marry 陆文昔 not necessarily because he doesn’t want his son to marry for love, but there are important political implications if this marriage goes through. In any case, the two are separated for the time being.



I’ll wrap up our plot recap by turning to the next big event. We saw the two princes training for the 射柳大赛 or archery competition earlier on and they are now headed to the competition site along with the Emperor. It is a grand affair as it is not simply a competition but an opportunity for the Emperor to survey military strength. A rather heavy set general, General Lv, comes to greet the Emperor and the two princes and it is this general who will aid in the competition. 


On the surface, we have this competition to enjoy where the sons will vy for the winning prize as the Emperor formally declared that the winner will win whatever they wish. This clearly stoked a fire for the Crown Prince who’s prize would be 陆文昔. But what I’m more interested in is the Emperor’s true motive in coming out here. He wants to see one of his close confidantes, 李明安 with the aim of discussing how to remove military power from our dear 李柏舟 in order to weaken this Chancellor’s power while strengthening support along the empire’s borders as well as pose a check against General Gu, 太子‘s uncle who is currently on the front lines and wields tremendous military power. This conversation came right in time because the Chancellor was in cahoots with General Lv. The Emperor knows this and needs to figure out what is a gift that can be given that cannot be refused so as to force the Chancellor to let go of military power…



Next day at the archery competition, we see that it is a grand affair. The two brothers are ready to show off their skills and each is eager to win. The Emperor and many officials at court are present, including the CHancellor and General Lv is in charge of the whole event. Unexpectedly or expectedly, the Crown Prince gets some nasty surprises from his horse who had been tampered with. By whom? Easy guess, it’s Prince Qi and General Lv. Well we hear  it from 顾逢恩 who saw the whole thing and reported it to 太子。This whole scene though is funny to me because Tai Zi is still too focused on his love life while his father has a dramatic showdown in front of court for that army of General Lv’s. He openly requests for this battalion which shocks 李柏舟 but he is quick to retort back as to why the Emperor should and cannot take this battalion. It’s a fantastic back and forth and showcases why these more seasoned actors also add a lot to the drama. 


The drama turns back onto the field as the combat between the Emperor and 李柏舟 become manifested in 太子 and 齐王。The final comptetion that will decide which prince is the winner is to shoot a special gourd at the end of the arena. The two princes gallop down the field with Prince Qi purposefully running into Tai Zi’s horse to knock him off course. General Lv also on horseback gallops the opposite direction towards the emperor. Despite the Crown Prince severely wanting to win, he saw a flash of light coming from General Lv and recognized that the General was wearing armor. Wearing armor in the presence of the Emperor is tantamount to treason. For the General to wear this armor meant that he wanted to harm the Emperor. The Crown Prince made a split second decision and promptly turned his horse around and chased after the General while Prince Qi, completely oblivious to what happened, galloped towards the gourd. The Crown Prince with his bow in hand, screams for the General to stop who refuses and thus, left with no choice, the Crown Prince raises his bow to take down the General. However, the direction of his arrow was pointed in the direction of the Emperor. This alarms the entire crowd as they, including the Emperor, thought the Crown PRince wanted to harm the Emperor. The Emperor himself demands a bow and arrow to defend himself. Three arrows flew as the three men each hit their target. 齐王 hit the gourd, the Crown Prince hit General Lv and the Emperor hit the Crown Prince…’s horse. 



General Lv is captured and revealed that his troops also all wore armor. The Emperor also suddenly realized that his son the Crown Prince was trying to save him but took this invaluable opportunity to deal a blow to the Chancellor by seamlessly taking command of General Lv’s battalion. To placate him, the Emperor gifts a jade belt to the winner of the archery competition. [ xxxxxx continue ]



晒书 – episode 8


In episode 8, the Crown Prince and 陆文昔 have another “meet cute” when 陆文昔 is drying books. So what is this? In Chinese, it’s called 晒书 or drying of the books. Hm -朱彝尊 i guess that’s the best translation I have.


The purpose of 晒书 is to of course preserve books. This is to protect them from bookworms and mold. The days to do so were in the summer because those were the driest days. People didn’t just dry books but clothes as well.


The practice of 晒书 has been recorded for thousands of years, dating back to the eastern han dynasty so 1st century AD. It wasn’t as big of a deal in 隋唐 dynasties – so the 7th century AD. It was really during the 宋 dynasty that 晒书 became more common practice.There are official documents recording the process / practice of doing so. During the 宋 dynasty, they had it as the 7th day of the 7th month as the day to dry books.


Some other stories around 晒书 It actually became an official folk holiday that occurs on 6th day of the 6th month on the lunar calendar. One involves a trip where this Emperor 康熙 was dressed as a commoner on a trip. He was emperor during the 17th century. He saw a scholar 朱彝尊, sunbathing while also drying his books. Well it is more like he was fully clothed but showed his chest / belly. The Emperor approached the man to discuss what he was doing. The goal really is because there are idioms called 满腹经纶 or 饱读诗书, which mean a belly full of knowledge. So the guy shows his full belly with his books to show that he is FULL of knowledge. Afterwards, the Emperor agreed to make this sort of an “official” holiday. The drying of books that is.


What’s hilarious is now in common vernacular people still use 晒书 as a term to flaunt how intelligent or learned they are.


梅雨季 – episode 8


Plum rain or the East Asian rainy season. According to Wikipedia, it is caused by precipitation along a front known as the Meiyu front for nearly two months during the late spring and early summer. Timing can range from late May to early July. This stretches in East Asia between mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Northern Vietnam and the Russian Far East. Some main characteristics include persistent rain, high temperatures, and high humidity. I’ve been in Southern China when this happens and my goodness, I got destroyed by the mosquitos.


The season is called as such because that is also when the plums or 梅子 ripen in the area. It unfortunately also a time that due to the humidity also causes a lot of close to grow moldy, so people also call it 霉雨. 发霉 means to grow moldy and 霉 also means mold. So it’s a homonym and a very clever one at that! 


This season has been named from ancient times. There are several famous poems from poets dating back to the Tang Dynasty around the 8th century. 


To this day, people take their clothes, carpets, furniture out to the sun to dry if there is a sunny day during that time to avoid having their possessions grow mold.



茶道 – episode 9


Since this drama is set in the Song Dynasty, Tea and tea brewing is also a big part of the culture. We discussed this in episodes 9 and 10 of our recap of the Story of Ming Lan but let’s do another recap here. The art of brewing tea is called 点茶。


So how does this work? First up, is actually grinding tea into powder. You take 团茶 which are compressed tea medallions and either pound them or else grind them into fine powder. In the drama, the tea is broken off of the medallion and gently pounded. Then it is grinded into a powder. After the tea is ground into fine powder, it is placed into a sifter so only the finest powder is kept. With that done, the tea is placed to the side.


Next up, is preparing the tea cup. You first place a certain amount of hot water in the tea cup which is called 盏。 It’s more like a bowl than a cup. You swirl the hot water around to allow for even warmth along the bowl.  Dump the water out and clean the top of the bowl.


After this, you place a few teaspoons of the tea powder into the cup and start adding hot water. At first, only enough to be at the amount of tea powder in the bowl. Then, you take a tea whisk and start whisking. This step is called 调膏。


Whisking starts slowly in a circular motion until the tea texture becomes creamy. Next, you continue to add hot water and continue to whisk. After starting off slow, the whisking increases speed quite significantly until the final texture is beige, creamy and frothing with bubbles!


And that my friends, is Song dynasty 点茶。It’s certainly very different from tea brewing we’re used to today. Just pop in a tea bag or else put in loose leaf tea. 




茶马政 – Tea and horse policy


One of the biggest political strategies or policies that are discussed in these few episodes include 茶马政 which is the Tea and horse policy. It originated during the Tang dynasty so think 8th century and was very prominent during the Song Dynasty, so 11th century. The main policy was essentially trade between the Chinese Dynasties and the kingdoms to the west, especially the Tibetan plateau. You can think of it similar to the silk road but the focus here wasn’t silk.  What was traded? The Chinese traded tea in exchange for horses – for this drama, it was war horses. China controlled the secrets of tea and needed horses. Horses were used in the cavalry and that definitely meant whoever had the horses had the upper hand. Which is why, in this drama, the Emperor plots against the Chancellor to gain control of the horses and of course the troops. The policy lasted for over 00 years and only ended in the 1700s during the reign of Emperor 雍正




射柳大赛 – 射义  – episode 12.


There’s a whole archery competition, specifically 射柳大赛. So what is it?


The archery competition occurred on 端午节 or Dragon Boat Festival or 5th day of the 5th month on the lunar calendar. 


We briefly discussed it in episode 2 of the Story of Ming Lan about Archery. 




A gentleman has six arts. The 6 arts are the basis for chinese gentlemen’s education and this tradition dates all the way back to the Zhou dynasty over 2500 years ago. 


The six arts are 礼、乐、射、御、书、数. 


Rites (禮)

Music (樂)

Archery (射)

Chariotry (御)

Calligraphy (書)

Mathematics (數)


Specifically for archery, there were five ways to master the skill which is why it’s called 五射 or five type of archery. Last time we mentioned that during the Zhou Dynasty, men were expected to know archery. The 6 arts is a reflection of this tradition. 



射柳 means to shoot a willow. Yes a willow tree. This had origins from nomadic tribes such as the 匈奴. 射柳 primarily occurred in the North and was formally a competition during the 辽 dynasty. For the competition, in the center, the bark was cut off to make a target. Competitors would shoot at the target. Whoever was able to topple the tree was the winner. During the 明 dynasty, it shifted somewhat so that the custom was to put a bird in a gourd. Competitors would shoot the gourd to try and free the bird, as we saw in the drama. The custom slowly died out by the end of the Qing Dynasty, so the late 19th and early 20th century.




I’ll quickly close out on book differences. Since this is our last episode recap, I will give some book / show spoilers.  Up until now, the events still really don’t occur in the book. They are mentioned in the book. For example, the 5th prince tries to become a student of 卢世宇 but is denied. The Emperor has his confidant in 李明安. 


Spoiler – The book story begins roughly around episode 21 – 23. What I mean by that is – 陆文昔 has entered into the Crown Prince’s palace as a maid and gets close to the Crown Prince. It is a beautiful and sad love story. The book is much bleaker than the drama and the drama is already pretty bleak. 陆文昔’s father and older brother die before the start of the book and all she has is her younger brother and mother. She acts as a spy – not for the Prince of Qi but actually the 5th prince 萧定楷. He is a much bigger player in the book. 



And there you have it! Episodes 8-13 of Royal Nirvana. These episodes focused on the the relationships between 太子 and 陆文昔, the pressures on the Emperor, and quite frankly, the inability of both of his sons to understand their father. If I’m honest, 萧定权 is a good kid, but man, can you be more rational? 


Alright! That’s it for today and that’s it for 鹤唳华亭!If you’re interested, please continue watching. If you want to watch the show and are in the US, it is on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special!  On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. If there’s more interest, we can explore doing more episodes. There’s a lot more history to discuss from here. Printing is one of them!


We will move onto the next drama – The Story of Yan Xi palace


Thank you all for listening


Ep 4-7



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


Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. If you like what you hear in this podcast, please please please do us a favor and leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to!


This is the third of a 4 part series for the drama and today we will discuss the plot, characterization, and history of the first 4 episodes. We are breaking these podcast episodes to reflect the first couple of “cases” in the drama. As always, I’ll finish with a quick book comparison since the drama is based off of a book.



The case of the day is cheating at the imperial entrance exam! The imperial entrance exam is the most important exam in a scholar’s life and is a brutal marathon of an event. We will discuss it in more detail at the end of this podcast episode. For now, the key point is that this exam is overseen by court officials and is of the utmost importance to the Emperor. What happens?


In the second half of Episode 4 in 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana, we move on from the capping ceremony saga and turn to the imperial entrance exam that is coming up. This exam takes place once every three years in spring and is called 春闱.  The two primary examiners are 卢世瑜, the teacher of the Crown Prince or 太子, and 李柏舟, chancellor and father-in-law to 齐王 or Prince Qi, the older brother of our Crown Prince. It doesn’t take much to realize that you have the two brother’s represented on each side. As you can imagine for an exam that determines the future of the examinees and is the pipeline of talent for the empire, there is no room for error, and particularly, no room for cheating. 卢世瑜 and 李柏舟 oversee the sealing of the exam question that 卢世瑜 mocked up which is then locked safely away before it is unsealed at the beginning of the exam. Only these two men know what the test question is. 


The night before the exam starts, 太子 pays a visit to 卢世瑜 to wish him a happy birthday because his teacher’s birthday falls during the exam which means he won’t be able to celebrate it on the day. The crown prince is upset to find that his teacher wants to resign from office after the exam and burns his teacher’s resignation letter. In a sense, he’s acting as a child but it’s because he wants his teacher to remain close to him as one of his closest family. 


Meanwhile, 李柏舟 is out inspecting the exam rooms. There is one room in particular where the roof has been partially destroyed.



Now let’s turn to the examinees. There are quite a number of them but there are two in particular we want to focus on at the beginning. The first is 顾逢恩, he is the cousin to 太子 and already a count. His title is 嘉义伯 which means he’s already a member of the aristocracy. As 太子 notes, 顾逢恩 technically doesn’t need to prove himself in the exam because he already has a high ranking title. We have talked about this in the Story of Ming Lan that members of nobility will be given titles and positions at court without having to pass any exam but to do so is an impressive feat. It means that the man wants to prove his intelligence and worth rather than rely on his family. This is the case with 顾逢恩。The other strapping young man partaking in the exam is 陆文普. The older brother of our female lead, 陆文昔。We haven’t seen the female lead outside of a brief interlude in the first episode but we now turn to her as she is helping her brother prep for the big day. 


The examinees, all wearing the uniform given to them for the exam, head into the examination center where they are closely searched to prevent anyone from bringing materials that would help them cheat. But, we do see one of the examinees bribe an official to allow him to bring a cheat sheet. The rest get in without issue. 



Let’s pause the recap here to insert the history and provide some more context on the Imperial Entrance Exam. We did this for episode 12 of the Story of Ming Lan but this is a good reminder for our listeners and new listeners.


科举 or the Imperial Examination was formally established during the Sui dynasty. It was how men were chosen to be a part of the state bureaucracy through a more meritocratic method.  This was the ticket for men to rise up in the world. 


In the drama, we don’t hear exactly which exam this is but i would say that it would be the 会试 or the metropolitan exam because that’s during the spring and also known as 春闱, which is explicitly discussed in the drama. 会试 or the metropolitan exam was actually added in the 明 dynasty. This exam was of course taken in the capital city. Overall, the imperial examination continued through the centuries. The final exam took place in 1905.


There are various subjects or disciplines that you can take the exam for. The most difficult is 进士科 or the 进士 discipline or presented scholar. For the 进士 discipline, test takers were required to have a thorough knowledge on Confucian classics, history, poems, rhapsodies, inscriptions, political discourse and much more. Poems and rhapsodies were actually abolished later in the 宋 dynasty as a testing requirement. The reason is that, even if someone can write beautiful poetry, if he does not know the classics, how can he govern? This is the most rigorous discipline and the one, if you score well, will give you the best chances for entering court and climbing the ranks, so much so that it became a prerequisite for high office. Well it also does offer prestige and status. After the song dynasty, the other disciplines were slowly phased out.


The exams take place once every 3 years.. For the exams, especially the metropolitan exams, they span over several days. In the Ming dynasty, examinees would be required to participate in 3 sessions each lasting 3 days for the various topics covered, which is more akin to what we see here. Many could not handle the rigor and simply passed out. 



Throughout the years, there have been various changes to the examination in order to make it more fair so to speak. Essentially it’s to quash corruption and cheating.  Exam takers are sequestered into exam rooms in the examination hall. They are not allowed to meet or talk to anyone. They’re stuck there basically. None of the materials they bring can have any writing on it.


Rules were set to reduce bribery, corruption, and cheating. Some measures included that the attending examiners could not be from the same county or prefecture where the exam is taking place. Names on the exam papers were covered in order to anonymize the exam papers.It’s not to say cheating didn’t happen, but yea…it was tough to cheat. 


This is very relevant for these episodes because the whole case is of course about cheating! One weird thing I noticed though, according to my research the exams were held on 二月初九至十五日 of the lunar calendar; that’s around March in the gregorian calendar. Um – i don’t think it should be snowing THAT much.



Now back to the recap!


It isn’t long before the guards are alerted of fraud. All of the exam takers are pulled outside and stripped of their clothes to find evidence of cheating. Unsurprisingly, there’s quite a lot of cheat sheets. 卢世瑜 and 李柏舟 are alerted to the fact that the actual exam question was leaked. Only 2 people have seen it, and that’s only 卢世瑜 and 李柏舟 so how was this possible? After a thorough search of each examiner’s rooms, they find the exam question in 3 examinee’s rooms. Those of 顾逢恩,陆文普 and a new character 许昌平. 


 The men are taken to prison for questioning and the scandal has alerted even the Emperor. 太子 is of course worried about the turn of events because it involves one of his best friends and also his teacher. He wants to protect them and prove their innocence. At the prison, he also comes face-to-face with 陆文昔, our female lead who turns up to try to save her brother. Of note, 陆文昔 wears a cap with a veil to protect her face. As is customary of the time, women of gentry who were not married were not supposed to reveal their faces to men not within their family. After thorough questioning by the Crown Prince in prison and also by 卢世瑜, the Crown Prince’s teacher, the biggest suspect for how the exam question was leaked was 卢世瑜’s close servant, 赵叟( sou3).


Who is the person most gleeful about this turn of events? It’s 李柏舟. From 太子‘s questioning, it turns out that plenty of cheating occured because 李柏舟 allowed it to happen. The goal being to push the blame of such cheating onto 卢世瑜。 But that doesn’t explain how the exam question was leaked. And indeed, it was this elderly 赵叟 that stole the question and faked the seal to make it seem like no one had opened it. The motivation for him was to steal the question for his relative, 许昌平 who was taking the exam. Problem is that 赵叟 was discovered by 李柏舟 whilst in the act of theft and told to do his bidding. The aim for 李柏舟 is of course to topple 卢世瑜 with this scandal.



At this point, the emperor and 齐王 arrive to follow up on this scandal. 齐王 gloats about the fate that befalls the likes of 顾逢恩 who will be punished for cheating. It doesn’t look good for the crown prince’s crew as they are implicated in leaking the exam question. 太子, however, wonders aloud to the group what happens if the exam question appears at the manor of 齐王? The group is stunned. How could that be? In fact, 太子 planted the exam question at 齐王’s manor because 许昌平 conspired with 齐王 to plant the leaked exam questions into the rooms of 顾逢恩 and 陆文普。 These two men are innocent while 齐王 and 许昌平 are not. 



In episode 7, the examinees are released to continue taking the exam and at first glance it looks like 太子 has once again one the fight against 齐王 and 李柏舟。But unfortunately, the truth is revealed after 卢世瑜 discovers there’s a missing room number. Because there was a room that was unusable, the room numbers for the examinees was skipped by one in order to avoid that room where the roof was broken. This became a huge plothole that ultimately the Emperor also discovered. The entire cheating scandal was actually engineered at first by the Crown Prince himself. He was the one to create the opportunity for 赵叟 to steal the exam question and to lure 李柏舟 and 齐王 into the trap. And the falsified exam question replicas? Why the only person in the entier world that could falsify 卢世瑜’s handwriting that well is 太子 himself. But because 许昌平‘s instructions were to leave the leaked exam questions into specific rooms, they should have been at the wrong room due to one room being discounted. 太子 exposed himself by having the exam questions leaked in the original rooms they were meant for which means that he caused his friend and 陆文普 to unnecessarily be implicated. That plus the evidence of the duplicate document he created meant that there is ample evidence to prove that 太子 conspired against 齐王 and 李柏舟。 This is an unforgivable crime that could cost him his crown prince title. Fortunately or unfortunately for 太子, the Emperor has already decided on a scapegoat for him – his teacher 卢世瑜。To protect 太子 and keep his opponents at bay, 卢世瑜 agrees to retire from his post nad return home. This devastates 太子 but serves as a valuable lesson to him as to what he should and should not do as a Crown Prince. In the first scandal, he proved he was capable of protecting himself in political games but in this case, he showed that he shouldn’t use his intelligence to proactively attack others. This will only end poorly for him. 


In other items – we are also briefly introduced to 萧定楷; the 5th prince and younger son of 赵贵妃 or Noble Consort Zhao




Before we move onto history – I do want to point out, in my humble opinion, a lot of bugs in whole case. Not to say that it wasn’t thrilling, but I sat on it a bit afterwards and kind of came to the conclusion that the players were very intelligent but the whole setup was flawed.


  1. For the actual exam question – i feel like it should have been a wax seal on the envelope? That would have made it MUCH hard to fake
  2. I know this was for plot purposes but in a regular cheating scandal, why would 赵叟 actually have to steal the paper to make a copy? He probably could have just read it, memorized it and then put it back. 
  3. The whole room situation is kind of weird. Wouldn’t there be someone missing an exam room if everything was pushed out? Wouldn’t someone be checking DURING the exam of where people are sitting? 

Again – I’m just nitpicking on the setup. The players playing the chess pieces were masters. Everyone except for the crown prince. It’s just the board that was created for them to play wasn’t as good.




Let’s now discuss history!


晨昏定省 – attend to one’s parents in the morning and evening. In episode 4, the crown prince goes to see the Emperor and formally bows.


According to the etiquette trainer for the series, they decided to have the crown prince use 再拜礼。 再拜礼 -> bow two times. This has been recorded as a formal bow in 仪礼 or the Book of the Etiquette and Ceremonial. This text was written and compiled during the Zhou Dynasty and contains information about propriety, rites, and customs of people during that time.


In the drama and the book, 太子 always asks 圣躬安和否. Is the Emperor well? But this is VERY formal? Usually it would be like – 你好么? But of course as the crown prince, he must be formal. 


This is listed in the book of rites of the proper etiquette for a son. The book of rites dates back to the Zhou dynasty, over 2000 years agao.


礼记·曲礼上:“凡为人子之礼,冬温而夏清,昏定而晨省. Hence we have 晨昏定省





Let’s discuss the 3 dishes that constantly popped up for these couple of episodes and which of course, signified the resignation of 太子’s mentor and tutor.


The story goes like this – 张翰 with the courtesy name of 季鹰 lived during the early Western Jin dynasty, which ruled part of china from 265AD to 317AD. His father 张俨 was a high ranking official in the Eastern Wu kingdom. Shortly after his father died, the Western Jin dynasty conquered the kingdom. As such, he did have some amount of animosity towards this new ruling family. While talented, he was somewhat aloof. However, he nevertheless gained favor from the Emperor and rose to a high rank.


In 291 the Rebellion of the Eight Princes or 八王之乱 broke out, which was a series of civil wars with members of the royal family all vying to claim regency of the Emperor Hui of Jin who was developmentally disabled. Now 张翰, seeing this did not want to be caught in the conflict.


According to the Book of Jin, 张翰 saw the autumn winds and reminiscent of his childhood foods from the 吴淞sōng river. This is very close to modern day Shanghai. The foods included 莼菜 Watershield, 鲈脍 Weever, and 菰菜 Zizania latifolia or Manchurian wild rice. He decided that man should be content, resigned his post and retired.


He also wrote a poem called 思吴江歌 – ode to the wu river





The autumn winds pick up with the leaves falling, the weever in the wu river are the fattest

I have not returned to my home three thousand miles away, it’s hard not to look up to the sky and lament


This story is the basis for the idiom 莼鲈之思 or to reminisce the watershield and weever


In the drama, 太子 knew immediately what his teacher meant when he listed those dishes. Despite his best efforts, by the end of episode 7, the crown prince had to personally gift these 3 dishes to his teachers for his mistakes.




I’ll quickly close out on book differences. These events don’t happen in the book. 许昌平 is a mysterious man with an interesting background. He seems innocent enough here. He isn’t introduced to the Crown Prince until later in the book. The drama also needed to introduce 陆文惜 earlier on in the drama and to showcase that she is an intelligent young woman. She and the Crown Prince are attracted to each other but what comes of it? Let’s continue to watch and find out.



And there you have it! Episodes 4-7 of Royal Nirvana. We learned quite a bit about the imperial entrance exam but also about the cost of trying to harm others. If you want to watch the show and are in the US, it is on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special!  On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. F


Alright! That’s it for today! For the remaining episodes of our podcast series, we will move onto the Archery competition case. 


Thank you all for listening


Ep 1-4




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


Today, we are discussing the drama, 鹤唳华亭 or Royal Nirvana. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you are new to the podcast, please do check out our website chasingdramas.com and feel free to reach out to us on twitter or instagram at Chasingdramas. 


This is the first of a 4 part series for the drama and today we will provide a high level overview of what the drama is about, introduce key characters and the actors that portray them as well as some historical insights. As with many dramas, this one is based off a book of the same name which we will also discuss. 






Royal Nirvana or 鹤唳华亭 is a 60 episode historical Chinese drama that first premiered in November 2019. It stars Luo Jin and Li Yi Tong as the main male and female lead respectively. We move away from our last two dramas that were primarily female focused and revolved around the trials and tribulations of women during their lifetimes. In this drama, we shift more to the male perspective. Specifically, we observe the challenges of a crown prince desperate to do the right thing and keep his loved ones close to him while contending with both personal and political challenges. At the personal level, he has an older brother that wants to take his crown and a father who is dealing with his own emotional baggage of his deceased wife, the crown prince’s mother that manifests in unfair treatment of the crown prince. At the political level, he must protect his title and his allies from the factions on his brother’s side. Mix all that in with a love interest whose family was wrongfully executed and we have the general conflict of this story. 


For me, there are 2 primary reasons to watch this drama.

  1. Male lead acting and the acting of the seasoned supporting cast. 
  2. History/Culture


Let’s get a little more into the first reason by introducing the cast of this drama.



罗晋 饰 萧定权 – Born in 1981 in Jiang Xi Province. He graduated from the Beijing Film Academy and is married to the lovely actress Tiffany Tang or 唐嫣 whom he worked with several times。They are one of THE model couples in the Chinese entertainment industry. He first garnered attention in the 2010 drama 美人心计 Beauty’s Rival in Palace which starred Ruby Lin or 林心如。That was the first drama that I saw him in. He bopped around a few dramas here and there but got his big break in the 2017 hit drama, 锦绣未央 or Princess Wei Yong which he starred as the male lead with his wife Tiffany Tang. It was after that drama that the two confirmed their relationship and started a family. 


He solidified his status as an actor with his turn in this drama, Royal Nirvana or 鹤唳华亭 in his role as the crown prince 萧定权。He is the third son of the Emperor but the son of the late Empress which means he has a more legitimate claim to the throne and was named crown prince at a young age. In the drama, he’s supposed to be in his late teens or early 20s which did cause some derision from viewers when the drama first aired because 罗晋 was in his mid 30s while filming this but his acting won audiences over. In this role, he portrays the role of a young man eager for validation and love of those around him but one who is beaten down constantly by his title and responsibility as crown prince. Luo Jin is shedding tears constantly. I don’t think I’ve seen a male actor have to cry this many times in a role in quite some time. You see glimpses of his boyishness when he meets his love interest or when he’s with his friends and teacher but then for much of the drama he has to manage his despair at the unfairness placed upon him due to his responsibilities. It’s quite captivating to watch. 



李一桐 饰 顾阿宝/陆文昔- Born in 1990 in 山东 province, she graduated from the Beijing Dance Academy. She got her start in acting in the 2016 drama Demon Girl or 半妖倾城. She landed the title role of 黄蓉 in the 2017 remake of Legend of the Condor Heroes. That show was quite a decent remake. Much better than the other more recent WuXia remakes. 李一桐 has been the female lead of several other dramas such as 剑王朝 or Sword Dynasty and 骊lí歌行 or Court Lady. Most recently her show 特战荣耀 or Glory of the Special Forces just finished airing.


李一桐 is somewhat of an interesting actress. She’s quite good at acting and lands the lead roles in these dramas, however, she’s never really made it to the top echelon of popularity. Her fans might take offense, but I think the overarching reaction to her is, she’s kind of forgettable? The roles she takes don’t really give her much of a chance to shine. It’s either the male lead that gets the attention or else the overall storyline isn’t as good and kind of wastes her talent.


Royal Nirvana and Legend of the Condor Heroes are definitely the most well regarded dramas in her filmography. 李一桐’s character in the drama is a complex one. In the beginning, she’s the intelligent and beautiful 陆文昔. She had a loving family and a bright future ahead of her, namely, marrying well. Unfortunately, her family was dragged into a political scandal. Her father was executed. To save her family, 陆文昔 had no choice but to infiltrate the Crown Prince’s palace under the name of 顾阿宝. She must seek revenge, protect her family, and navigate her complex relationship with the Crown Prince.


Let’s actually move on to the older generation of actors



黄志忠 饰 萧睿鉴 or the Current Emperor.- This guy is a powerhouse actor and you can tell that while Luo Jin does a fine job in his role, it’s the older actors that make this drama even more intriguing. 黄志忠 is one of them. He graduated from the Central Academy of Drama and was born in Tian Jing Province. Overseas audiences might not know him very well as he primarily focuses on war or family dramas that the older generation would enjoy. I was first introduced to him in the 2009 drama called 人间正道是沧桑 or The Road We Have Taken, a Chinese civil war drama which won both the Golden Eagle Award and the Magnolia Award For Best Drama, two of the highest tv drama awards one can receive. (Wow, every time we say these things I totally feel old). Anyways, I didn’t recognize him at first with his mustache in the drama but I was like, hey, this Emperor is a great actor, I’m really impressed. Only to then realize – oh duh, that’s Huang Zhi Zhong. 


To be honest, I think he is one of the most interesting characters in the drama. Huang Zhi ZHong gives a powerfully nuanced performance of an Emperor who struggles to balance his authority as an Emperor and love as a father, particularly towards his di chu son who he is conflicted with because of his love towards his late wife, the crown prince’s mother. You want to say he’s a bad father for his unfair treatment of the crown prince but there was a powerful scene where he blows up at his concubine in defense of the crown prince. The key takeaway for me from this drama is that these people all need family therapy. Family therapy will result in a much happier outcome for everyone!


李柏舟 – 张志坚 – He is the Oldest Prince’s father-in-law and one of the most powerful officials in Court. He is played by 张志坚, another powerhouse actor. I think in every show I’ve seen him in, he’s the bad guy. He had a role in The Road We Have Taken I mentioned earlier and is also highly well known from his role in 人民的名义 or The Name of The People. That was a 2017 drama about anti-corruption which broke a ton of viewership records at the time. And 张志坚 was, spoiler alert, the big bad. He even was the bad guy in My Dear Guardian last year in that drama with Li Qin and Huang Jing Yu. Anyways, in this drama, Zhang Zhi Jian is a formidable foe to the Crown Prince.


王劲松 饰 卢世瑜


Born in 1967 in Jiansu province, 王劲松 was trained as a stage actor in the city of 南京. He is most famous for his roles in 大明王朝1566  Ming Dynasty in 1566 (2007), Nirvana in Fire (2015) 琅琊榜, Sparrow (2016) 麻雀, and The Advisors Alliance (2017) 军事联盟. For me, he really rose to fame due to his role as the 言阙 in琅琊榜. He did a fantastic job in that role and the drama really kickstarted his career. If you look at his most recent output, he’s had at least 5 dramas air yearly since 2018. He might not be the lead but he very much gets important supporting roles. Honestly, when he’s on screen, you can’t help but pay attention. That’s very much the case in this drama. He plays 卢世瑜, Minister of personnel and Grand tutor to the Crown Prince. He is the father figure to the Crown Prince and taught him how to become a man. Unfortunately, to protect his beloved pupil, he gave the ultimate sacrifice. The Crown Prince grew up to be a benevolent man, maybe to a fault. Does his teacher regret how his pupil turned out? Perhaps not but maybe this benevolence wasn’t a good fit for a future emperor.


刘德凯 饰 顾思林


Born in 1953, 刘德凯 hails from Taiwan. He was once one of the most popular actors in Taiwan. He rose to fame acting in many 琼瑶 dramas in the 90s, especially the original 一帘幽梦 or Fantasies behind the Pearly Curtain. That came out in 1996 and was a smash hit. Although, ladies and gentlemen, I would NOT recommend that drama for plot purposes. It’s very outdated in my eyes. Like the main character is wrong in every count. In 2002, he acted in 孝庄秘史 or the Xiaozhuang epic. That was an instant classic. The plot, the acting, and the music were all top notch. I highly recommend this drama to anyone today. 刘德凯 portrayed Hong Taiji, the founding emperor of the Qing Dynasty. 


He’s had steady output over the past 2 decades so he may be pretty familiar to folks who watch a decent amount of Chinese dramas. 


 顾思林 in the drama is the Marquis of Wu De 武德. He is the Crown Prince’s maternal uncle and comes from the heralded 顾 family. He is 萧定权’s shield and does his best to protect his nephew. Unfortunately, the Emperor is at odds with the amount of military power the 顾 family wields.


苗圃 饰 赵贵妃


The last of the older generation of actors includes 苗圃 pǔ 饰 赵贵妃. Born in 1977, 苗圃’s parents were both stage performers. She graduated from the Beijing Film Academy and has since had a very illustrious career both in dramas and film. Some highlights include May Sophora Flower Perfume 五月槐huái花香, The Judge in Song Dynasty 大宋提刑官 which both came out in 2005 and Mu Guiying Takes Command 穆桂英挂帅 which came out in 2012. In that drama, 苗圃 and 罗晋 collaborated for the first time. 穆桂英 is a famous female heroine of the Northern Song Dynasty in which she participated in battles against the Khitans. Her story is quite legendary and folks who aren’t familiar with her story should definitely go check it out.


苗圃 has reduced her output in recent years but she’s still a great actress. I do want to point out again the issue that is prevalent in both hollywood and chinese media, namely pairing age appropriate men with women. 苗圃 and 罗晋 collaborated for the first time in 2012, they acted as husband and wife. Less than 10 years later, 苗圃 is now the mother-in-law while 罗晋 is still the main lead now with a romantic relationship to someone 10 years younger. 罗晋 does a great job in this role BUT in the story, he’s supposed to be only 20. Mid-30s is definitely stretching it, whereas 苗圃 is actually age appropriate in this role.


Concubine Zhao is the mother of Xiao Dingtang and Xiao Dingkai. She is power hungry and plots to overthrow the Crown Prince to install her son Xiao Dingtang as the Crown Prince and future emperor.


As for the younger generation of actors, we have  


金瀚 饰 萧定棠, the oldest son of the Emperor and is constantly at odds with his brother. A little cliched now in the conflict but Xiao Ding Tang wants the title of crown prince himself and has the backing of his powerful father in law. 


Jin Han I thought did an OK job in this drama portraying this prince but last year was ridiculed by pretty much every reviewer after his portrayal of the male lead in Jun Jiu Ling 君九龄 . People would often comment on how he was acceptable in Royal Nirvana but his attractiveness went down several notches for Jun Jiu Ling. That is to say, people prefer Royal Nirvana. Haha


郑业成 饰 顾逢恩 – Cousin to the Prince and his trusted friend. I really like the character in the drama as well as Zheng Ye Cheng as well. He is slowly gaining more popularity with his more recent dramas including My Sassy Princess 祝卿好. Part of the reason is that he has a background in Chinese Opera which means he can do martial arts very well and has a strong level of stage presence. This quality is something that is quite lacking in the Chinese entertainment industry these days so many fans are now recognizing that Zheng Ye Cheng is one of the few who can actually do fight scenes and has good posture. Unlike, unfortunately, Jin Han. 



That covered much of the cast! Let’s now move onto a little bit of culture and history!


鹤唳华亭 meaning


The name of the drama comes from the anecdote – 华亭鹤唳 岂可复闻乎. It was spoken by a Western Jin scholar 陆机 before his death. 陆机 was born in 261 AD and was a scholar originally from the Wu Kingdom but then headed to the Jin Kingdom after the Wu Kingdom’s demise. 华亭 is actually the historical name for Song Jiang area of modern day ShangHai. He wanted to make a name for himself and was embroiled in the political battles for power. He was too eager to continue climbing and led troops into a trap. Realizing that he was doomed to fail, he resigned himself to his fate and uttered the words 华亭鹤唳 岂可复闻乎 which in plain terms means, Where can I hear again the Heron’s birdsong from Hua Ting. This phrase represents his regret for taking the path to becoming a scholar which led him to his demise. It’s an interesting anecdote and applies to this drama in that the crown prince just wants to enjoy a simple life of love and happiness but his title means this wish will forever be out of his grasp. 




Now let’s get onto the second reason why this is an interesting drama to watch:


The drama is set in a fictional world, but it draws heavily from the end of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period to the early Northern Song Dynasty, so 10th Century to 11th century AD. For those listeners who just finished the Story of Ming Lan with us, you’ll see many similarities in dress and customs, especially for men. However, it’s a little bit different for the women. 


I’m very happy to be able to have dramas like this show us just how much detail went into recreating this era. As we discuss the drama, we’ll discuss the main events that occur and the historical significance of these events. I’m very excited! The production crew for Royal Nirvana went painstakingly through much research to try and recreate the costumes and customs of that era. In a behind the scenes video, the etiquette coach shares that they created almost 30 types of greetings for each possible character and setting. We’ve rarely seen such detail to etiquette especially amongst men so please keep an eye out on them. Similarly, many events in this drama such as the Crown Prince’s capping ceremony are simply not shown in tv dramas, so it’s a real treat to see it here in this drama. What fascinates me about this drama but also all the dramas we talked about, is that, there’s written accounts of how things are done, but it’s very difficult to tease out how in motion things were done. For example, a bow can be clearly stated as right hand on top for women, but how is that done in action when bowing to the empress, to the princess, to a senior official? There were no cameras back then so it’s up to the drama to work with historians to present this us the audience. 


I will say that this drama might even be a little too dense for audiences with just how chalk full of culture and etiquette this drama has. 



The drama is based on the book of the same name. The author 雪满梁园 was also a screenwriter for this drama, which is probably why it translated well to the drama. Many of the people and events that were only mentioned in passing in the book are fully fleshed out in the drama. This includes 李柏舟 and 卢世瑜. 


The book, published in 2014, is written quite beautifully. It is a much more difficult read than for example the Story of Ming Lan or the book that drama is based off of. The reader does have to be more familiar with the ancient texts that the author references. The dialogue is also much more subtle. I, as the reader, really had to spend time comprehending all of the twists and turns that occur in the book because it’s rarely stated outright. I personally enjoy books where there’s no time traveling involved more. Because the characters really inhabit the world and it’s how they actually react based on the cards they are dealt with. Oftentimes, for books in which the main character time travels, he / she just uses his / her knowledge from her previous life to “win” at this new life. That was basically the case in the book for the Story of Ming Lan. In this book, I really felt the struggles and desires and ultimate helplessness of many of these characters. For this drama recap, I’ll do my best to point out the differences and similarities to the book. 



The drama, like the book, isn’t a very happy one. 


Well, there are two endings for the drama. Royal Nirvana has 60 episodes and there’s a Royal Nirvana Special with 12 episodes. In chinese it’s called 别云间 which premiered a year later in 2020. It’s essentially content that the director had to cut from the original version of Royal Nirvana but was like meh here you go, I’m going to splice together what I was going to show for the full drama. 


Now where can you watch this? Both Royal Nirvana and the special meaning 鹤唳华亭 and 别云间 are available on Jubao TV with english subtitles. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo and Select Royal Nirvana. Note! Royal Nirvana first before the special! This drama WILL make you cry but it will also be binge worthy. I literally binged like 20 episodes over 3 days. Not healthy but hey, that’s the joy of Chinese dramas right? On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour. For those of you not in the states, it’s available on youtube as well. 


Alright! That’s our introduction to the drama! For the remainder three episodes of our podcast series, we will discuss several cases that span multiple episodes. They are quite interesting as each case is based on an important facet of Chinese history – we will start off with the Crown Prince’s Coronation ceremony case, then move on to the Imperial Entrance Exam Case, and finally the Archery competition case. 



玉珠九旒 liu2



Ep 6+7



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


Today, we are discussing episodes 6+7 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode or else the drama if the episode is light on history.


If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. We have just revamped our website so do take a look at that as well. The Story of Ming Lan episode transcripts are fully uploaded for those that are interested in reading. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know! 



We are reminded that while there’s plenty happening in the palace, Ying Luo’s primary motivation for being in the palace in the first place is to discover the truth about her sister’s death. She makes some headway after rather directly questioning Zhang Mo Mo who manages the seamstresses in the palace. It turns out that Ying Luo’s sister was caught one night after having an amorous relationship with someone. Despite her saying she did it willingly, she was punished to 50 canings and expelled from the palace. Zhang Mo mo further explained that sadly, Ying Luo’s sister hung herself of shame but was shocked to hear that Ying Luo reveal someone actually murdered her sister. She then produces a jade pendant she retrieved from her sister’s belongings. Zhang Mo Mo reluctantly reveals this pendant belongs to Fu Cha Fu Heng. And now, 璎珞 has more clues and another target. For now, she suspects that Fu Heng was the one to potentially rape her sister and cause her death.


We next turn to the concubines in the palace and see first hand just how little the soft spoken 纯妃 wants to see the Emperor. It appears that every night or at least often enough, she takes cold baths in order to make herself sick. And, on the occasion that the Emperor DOES visit, she tries all manner of things to push him out. This time, she raises her concerns about how disrespectful 高贵妃 is towards the Empress and wonders why the Emperor condones this behavior. 纯妃 skillfully raises her concerns about the Emperor’s predicament at court which infuriates the Emperor. As we all know, women in the palace are not to discuss or involve themselves with affairs of court. The Emperor sternly remindsd 纯妃 of this rule before storming out. 纯妃 exhales a sigh of relief while the Emperor also recognizes this was just another ploy for 纯妃 to alienate him. It’s rather odd that she would do this because all women in the palace want the attention of the Emperor but not her. 




In any case, the Emperor heads over to the Empress’s residence of 长春宫 ot let off some steam from what just happened. She tries to console him that 纯妃 isn’t purposefully behaving this way (even though we think she is) and changes the subject. The Empress proposes that the various palaces in the palace start cost cutting. There’s been too much lavish spending recently and will create wasteful behaviors if not reigned in. She wants to lead by example first by cost cutting first and foremost in her palace. The Emperor doesn’t have much to say to this and agrees. This cost cutting measure comes in handy for 璎珞 later on.


The big event that the seamstress maids now have to work on is creating a phoenix robe for the Empress for her birthday. Ying Luo has been given the role of lead for this project which, as expected, causes many of the other seamstress maids to pipe up in indignation. Chief among them is 玲珑 who must capture this opportunity to sabotage 璎珞。Her method involves the valuable peacock thread that 璎珞 is supposed to use for creating this phoenix robe for the Empress. As  璎珞 describes in the drama, this peacock thread uses peacock feathers as well as gold and silver thread mixed together for a beautiful thread. 



Ying Luo spent days creating this phoenix robe with the peacock thread and also alternated with the naive and simple-minded 吉祥 to watch over the robe and thread. One day though, Ying Luo finds that 吉祥 had come to find her and immediately recognized that something must be off. Indeed, after she rushes back to their main workstation, the robe has been slashed into pieces and the valuable peacock thread has also been stolen. I mean, it’s not hard to deduce who did it but the ladies don’t have time to think about the culprit for now. The Empress’s birthday is just around the corner and they have to create a robe or else the entire group of seamstresses will have to be sentenced for negligence. [Why didn’t they realize this to begin with???]


Under immense pressure to somehow save the seamstresses and the robe, 璎珞 finds an interesting substitute for the peacock thread and again spends sleepless nights making final touch ups to the recreated robe. 


It’s the day of the Empress’s birthday and all of the ladies are in their formal wear presenting their gifts to the Empress. Most of the concubines brought thoughtful gifts for the Empress but then Noble Consort Gao appears, conspicuously late I might add, and reveals her gift as a pure gold Child Gifting Guan Yin statue. Immediately the Empress’s face drops as this is essentially a slap in the face to her. This statue is given as a prayer to wish for more children. The Empress is still mourning the loss of her son and therefore this is quite a touchy subject. Noble Consort Gao is clearly insulting the Empress with this gift. ALl of the women present could see how disrespectful this is to the Empress but the EMpress cannot do anything but accept this gift with a smile. Unfortunately for Ying Luo, the Empress is now in an extremely bad mood. She is left waiting outside, preparing to present her robe as a gift and then purposefully tries to delay her presentation because she says she’s waiting for something. Just as she’s about to present her gift after not being able to delay any further, the Emperor’s gift arrives and she breathes a sigh of relief.



The Emperor gifted the Empress an intricately modified clock that now is actually a makeup box but accurately tells time. There’s a little spot for the cuckoo to pop out to announce the time as well. Such an elaborate and thoughtful gift certainly brought a smile to the Empress but what was more satisfying is that Gao Gui Fei loudly announced she wasn’t feeling well and haughtily leaves the hall as she was jealous of the Empress for receiving such a grand gift. Jia Pin also leaves to follow 高贵妃. 


That part was hilarious cause she was SO pissed.


At long last, 璎珞 finally presents her robe to the Empress. It’s not lost on the crowd that the thread used is not the usual gold, silver or peacock thread. But, 璎珞 skillfully explains that the thread used animal fur as a way to reflect the Empress’s wish to reduce the extravagance in the palace and also remind everyone the hardships their ancestors underwent in order to establish the Qing dynasty. This does bring another smile to the Empress’s face and she accepts Ying Luo’s explanation. The Embroidery Department is given rewards for their good work, much to the disappointment of at least one seamstress.




Yet, that night, 璎珞 does not return back to the Embroidery Department. Instead, she kneels in front of the Empress’s palace and reveals her deception that day to both the Empress and 尔晴。 She explains that she had to use the fur thread because the peacock thread was stolen and had no choice. THe Empress said that she knows something must have been off but didn’t want to expose 璎珞 in front of the crowd and for something unpleasant to happen. She then presses why 璎珞 kept on delaying her presentation. 璎珞 reveals that it was to leverage the Emperor’s gift which will cause the Empress to be much happier which then will mean she won’t be AS displeased with Ying Luo’s gift.


The Empress does shout that this is too bold for a maid to use the Emperor in such a way and Ying Luo is adequately scared but does find that Ying Luo is quite amusing. It takes bravery for Ying Luo to come up with such an excuse and is quite intrigued by this maid. As punishment, the Empress orders Ying Luo to create another outfit for her but then, because the Empress thought Ying Luo was so interesting, orders Ying Luo to be moved over to serve in her palace.


We learn that Ying Luo proactively revealed the truth to the Empress with the express hope that she will get to move over to Chang Chun Gong in order to get closer to 傅恒 to discover the truth about her sister. 



The remainder of episode 7 revolves around finding the culprit for who actually stole the peacock thread. Like I said, it’s not hard to deduce that 玲珑 was the one to do it. Yet, sadly, before they have enough evidence to raise that she was indeed the thief, she managed to trick the naive 吉祥 on her birthday into grabbing a package in the department. Unfortunately, the package just so happened to be the peacock thread that was stolen and the moment 吉祥 picked up the package, she was caught by 张嬷嬷 and 吴总管, the eunuch responsible for the Imperial Household Department. Despite 张嬷嬷“s pleads that there must be a mistake, 吴总管 orders 吉祥 to be beaten to death. 


If 吉祥 was the main character – she probably would have been saved by a dashing Imperial bodyguard. Alas – she’s just a minor character and bites the dust. I honestly was very surprised that they killed her off so quickly. I thought she’d at least stay for half of the series and have like a growth plot where she becomes a head seamstress or something. Good on the drama for showing us the real stakes of being in the palace. 



璎珞 is internally devastated but doesn’t show it to the rest of t he seamstresses. You know who does show her “devastation”? 玲珑. She’s over there crying her eyes out and saying all sorts of things like – omg, I’m so sad she died. I’m so bereft. Like – whatever, we know what you did.


璎珞’s work product falls drastically to the point where 张嬷嬷 has no choice but to offer the next opportunity to make a robe for the Emperor up to 玲珑. 璎珞 of course doesn’t want to lose that to 玲珑. The two ladies agree on a bet. The winner’s robe will be sent to the Emperor. 


One night 璎珞 tries to catch 玲珑 as the thief. 璎珞 tries to get 玲珑 to confess her crimes but 璎珞 doesn’t have enough evidence to pin it on her. I swear – does 玲珑 sleep at all? I feel she’s paying attention to 璎珞 every night. It must be exhausting. Sure enough – the night before the deadline, 璎珞 goes to sleep late and 玲珑 walks out of their sleeping quarters to do some shady stuff. We don’t see what she does though.


On the final day of the bet, Ying Luo wakes up late to see her work product switched. Ling Long stole YIng Luo’s completed outfit and presented it as her own. This was already brought over to the Emperor. Ling Long thought she would finally win this time but unbeknownst to her, Ying Luo had another trick up her sleeve. When the Emperor put on the outfit, he cried out in pain. Everyone in the palace freaks out to see that there was a needle left in the fabric that pricked the emperor. The Emperor is furious of course for such carelessness. Ling Long is taken away by 吴总管 but not before crying out that the outfit actually came from 璎珞. She is dragged off – her punishment, 80 canings and exile, never to return to the Beijing.









The first poem that I want to discuss is 虞美人. This is the poem that the Emperor brings ups in his discussion with 纯妃. The author of the poem is 欧阳修. Born in 1007, he was a politician, calligrapher, and poet during the Northern Song Dynasty. He passed his imperial entrance exams in 1030 and that started his career as an official. He was a crucial member at court for 3 Emperors. 


The poem – The Beauty or 虞美人 is a ci. Ci is a type of lyric poetry. The whole poem goes like this.



My rough translation is of this – in the long white days, the Ambergis scent wafts from the incense burner. The wind gently moves the golden luan bird at the top of the curtains. The mountains on the panel screen slowly get darker. After waking from an afternoon nap, there’s still some remnants of pillow imprints. The 花钿 has also fallen. The highest towers can’t reach the sky. No matter how far one looks, one cannot see far. The spring sun mocks the melancholy person. The grass turns green. This scene only further adds to the yearning of ones beloved.


The Ci or poem is about a woman who is missing her beloved. She has nothing really to do during the day. Even during the sunny spring season, there’s an air of sadness as she waits for her beloved to return.


Back to the drama – the Emperor says that the Beauty plays with the fire and incense ash to write out her feelings. I didn’t really get that from this poem. Perhaps the Emperor was trying to get a response from 纯妃 to see if she was pining for someone, him perhaps? Unfortunately 纯妃 responds quite neutrally and successfully enrages the Emperor into leaving. She is thinking of someone but not him.





Next up is the gold peacock thread which is the main plot point of the episode! Gold peacock thread is a lost art from China. In 1958, archeologists unearthed a gold peacock threaded dragon robe that was worn by Emperor 万历 of the Ming Dynasty who lived from 1563-1620. There are photos of the gold threaded dragon with peacock feathers. Even after over 400 years, the needlework looks stunning. Apparently, some team tried to replicate the dragon robe. They gathered fallen peacock feathers and finally created a 300 meter thread to ultimately make a 17 meter robe. The whole process took 5 years. Now what about the golden thread? How does that work? This is also very difficult. First – the gold must be melted and then ground to a very fine consistency. Then, the gold needed to essentially be melded into the silk thread. Now I’m not a seamstress so apologies if I very much simplified the process. According to an early 清 dynasty book called 阅世编, one single foot of a peacock threaded fabric was worth 50 taels of silver. That’s a LOT of money. For comparison, one could comfortably buy a whole house in Bejiing with 20 taels of silver. The fabric was extremely rare which made it of course very valuable. 


In the book – 红楼梦 or Dream of the Red Mansion, there is a clear reference to a 孔雀裘 or a peacock cloak. The cloak was threaded together with peacock flowers. The book was first published in the middle of the 18th century, so right around the time of this drama. Through the contemporary book, we can see that peacock thread was used for the aristocracy. 


The 平金法 is the type of embroidery that 魏璎珞 uses to begin her embroidery for the ceremonial robe. It is one of the traditional types of embroidery from china. It is a Suzhou Silk Hand Embroidery Art. The 平金法 uses gold thread to primarily embroider flowers and waves. 





Avalokiteśvara -> avalokiteshvara


观音 is a bodhisattva (baaduhsaatvuh) associated with compassion. She is the East Asian equivalent of Avalokiteśvara from Buddism.


Songzi Guan yin is a manifestation of Guan Yin. SongZi translates to Child-giving. She is primarily venerated as a fertility goddess. In Chinese culture, people prayed to her for hopes of having children. Usually portrayed in statues and painting as a reclining white-robed young woman with a child sitting on her lap. In the drama, Noble Consort Gao gifts a gold version of this GuanYin. Everyone’s face turns white when they see this gift because it’s a big slap in the face to the Empress. She’s been mourning the death of her son and has barely come out of it. Noble Consort Gao has the gall to say – I’m still young but you aren’t! You should get going with a son. Man – I wanted to slap her in the face!


Today people still pray to Songzi Guan yin at different buddhist temples.





Let’s discuss the emperor’s gift to the empress. It wasn’t a clock but a makeup box. The eunuch 李玉 has a line that says, it’s not proper to gift these things during one’s birthday, hence why the Emperor ordered the clock office to change it to a makeup bock. 


We briefly talked about clocks in Empresses in the Palace so let me give a refresher. The first records of clocks in China actually date back to the Ming Dynasty in 1602. Clocks grew in popularity during the Qing dynasty. The most famous collector was actually Emperor 乾隆, our current emperor. One of the clocks in his collection sold at auction for roughly $7M in 2010. 


The Chinese were very superstitious and strove to avoid back luck from every aspect of their lives. This included language, gifts, and customs. One of the big no-nos was to gift a clock. This is because of the homonym of the word for clock. 钟 = clock. 终 = end, which could also mean the end of one’s life. 


To gift a clock 送钟 sounds exactly like 送终. Which means to attend to a dying person, or to pay one’s respects at a funeral. That’s a terrible homonym. Which is why in China, one never gifts a clock on one’s birthday. I feel like this custom has relaxed somewhat but in more traditional families, you bet that this is still adhered to.


In the drama, the eunuch never outright says 送钟 because that would have been a pretty disrespectful or essentially wishing her death. All he says is – it’s not proper to gift these THINGS. So yes – words are VERY important for this context.



发誓 – swearing oaths


Lastly – I want to discuss the concept of 发誓 or swearing an oath. In the drama, 玲珑 swears oaths left right and center to gain the trust of the other women and throw them off her scent as the thief. This drastically backfires on her when she swears that she was the one who sewed the Emperor’s robes. 


In China – 发誓 or swearing an oath is something that is taken very seriously. In dramas, you’ll see characters swearing oaths of love or fealty. I feel like it’s the self-induced punishments are typically quite intense. It’s not your usual – I swear on my mother’s grave. Not to say that that isn’t a bad punishment, but let’s take a look at what 玲珑 swears the oath in front of 吉祥 – she says, I swear on the heavens that if I lie, I’ll die a horrible death. Some other people go even further and say I will be drawn and quartered or struck to death by lightning a la 天打雷劈 or 五雷轰顶, or I won’t be reincarnated. 


The reason why 吉祥 was so quick to believe 玲珑 – apart from her naivete, is because no one just willy nilly swears an oath. This was serious stuff. Sometimes, people swore in front of their elders or in the family shrine to declare duty, fealty, what have you. 玲珑 used this to her advantage, first against 吉祥 and again towards the other seamstresses. She swore that the Emperor’s robe was hers and the others believed her. Notice how 魏璎珞 didn’t swear? That was a big factor in the other’s decision. Of course, 魏璎珞 figured out that 玲珑 was lying scoundrel and used her oath against her. Typically in dramas, if a character reneges on his or her oath, she gets punished some way. Think karma. 玲珑 got caught here – so maybe it is karma. Moral of this story – don’t make oaths you can’t keep!



Ep 5



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


Today, we are discussing episodes 5 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode or else the drama if the episode is light on history.


If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know!



Episode 5 showcases one of the reasons why this drama differentiates itself with other palace dramas in that we’re not subject to our lead character being framed by some bad guys and then having to wait for a random guy, usually the male lead, to save them for no apparent reason. This drama also negates the need for there to be growth on the main characters side before retaliating. I think we’ve seen plenty of dramas where the main female lead is way too nice and doesn’t fight back. Snooze. 


So what happens. At the end of episode 4, Ying Luo was called over to Noble Consort Gao or 高贵妃‘s palace because she found out Ying Luo told 愉贵人 about her nefarious poison attempt and 高贵妃 is upset her plot was foiled by some lowly seamstress maid like YIng Luo. Fortunately, Ying Luo was smart enough to hatch a plan which is to show she was mentally ill in front of 高贵妃 which allowed 高贵妃 to reduce her suspicion of Ying Luo and ultimately let her leave. The thing is, poor Ying Luo was subject to eating 7 full bowls of lotus rice balls in order to complete her ruse as a mentally slow individual. 


While this seems to have fooled 高贵妃,her ally, 嘉嫔 is not so easily tricked. She recognizes that if 璎珞 is indeed faking this, she must be a powerful adversary because she thought of a plan to save her life during the walk over to 高贵妃’s palace. Not many people can think so quickly on her feet.




Back at the maid’s quarters, 璎珞’s friend, 吉祥 is the only one worried about 璎珞‘s whereabouts while the others, namely 锦绣 and 玲珑 start gossiping that 璎珞 is probably out secretly meeting imperial guards. But these ladies are left speechless when they see 璎珞 return in one piece. 


The next day at breakfast after all the other ladies have left, 璎珞 point blank confronts the culprit who spilled the secret to 高贵妃. It wasn’t hard to deduce that it was 玲珑 who told 高贵妃’s maid in order for 高贵妃 to kill 璎珞。 玲珑 immediately goes pale at 璎珞’s accusations and tries to play innocence but 璎珞 is having none of it. She slams out a bowl of the lotus rice balls from last night down on the table to force 玲珑 to eat as a way to teach her a lesson to not snitch on people. This is highly satisfying as 玲珑 tries to refuse but 璎珞 is extremely forceful and shoves a ball into 玲珑‘s mouth to eat. Even as 玲珑 tries to cry out for help, she is rebuffed by 璎珞。璎珞 is an absolute beast in her retaliation and tells 玲珑 that this is a lesson for her to not use such vile tactics if she is jealous of someone. 玲珑 is reduced to crumpling to the ground after eating a couple of the rice balls and ultimately throws it up. I must say, we rarely get to see such a retaliation so early in a drama. Normally we see it towards the end where the female lead has suffered too much and turns “evil” but nope. In this drama, 璎珞 out the gate comes out swinging.



One maid has been subdued at least for now, and another continues to wreak havoc. THis time, it’s 锦绣 with her rumors that 璎珞 is secretly in an amorous relationship with an imperial guard. We mentioned last episode that this is strictly forbidden in the palace which…gets relaxed in later episodes but anyways, for now this is taboo. As we recall, the guard 璎珞 met is 庆锡 who had a fling with 璎珞’s deceased sister and so 璎珞 met with him to get details about what happened. There’s no relationship whatsoever. That doesn’t stop 锦绣 from flaming the rumors to all of the seamstress maids who are willing to listen. 张嬷嬷, who manages the maids, kindly reminds 璎珞 about these rumors and that even though she believes 璎珞 there’s nothing going on, it’s important to figure out next steps. 


Shortly after, 璎珞 puts her plan in action. At night, she sneaks out and doesn’t return till morning, only to be followed by 锦绣 who saw her leave. 玲珑 also heard her leave their sleeping quarters. The next day, they head over to share this news with 方姑姑 another auntie who despises 璎珞 and wants to get rid of her. She wants 玲珑 to continue spying on 璎珞 in order to catch her in the act. 玲珑 is a little hesitant after the lesson she was taught by 璎珞 earlier but 锦绣 doesn’t mind. She is more than willing to help 方姑姑 spy on 璎珞。They confirm that the man 璎珞 met previously was 庆锡.


Next, 锦绣 sees 璎珞 actually give something to 庆锡 while he’s on duty before she hurriedly rushes away. 庆锡 is a little surprised to have received a gift but after seeing exactly what she gave him, he’s befuddled to see a rock. Unluckily for him, this scene was also observed by 傅恒 who punishes the guards for interacting with maids. Bad luck for 庆锡 I guess but we don’t know if this was also on purpose by 璎珞。 



Three months pass and the good old indicators that 璎珞 might be pregnant pop up. She feels gross during breakfast one day and rushes out to throw up. When 张嬷嬷 comes to measure the maids for new clothes, she remarks that 璎珞’s stomach grew substantially. This all piques 锦绣’s suspicion that 璎珞 might be pregnant. She confirms this as she spies 璎珞 changing clothes one day and her stomach is indeed quite a bit rounder than previous months. 锦绣 immediately tattles to 方姑姑 who then informs the higher ups. 


Since this is a serious accusation, all of the seamstresses are brought out to the yard as 璎珞 is interrogated by 吴公公,the eunuch who manages these maids. 方姑姑 has a huge smirk on her face accuses her in front of the group that she has conceived a child. 锦绣 is her witness to this accusation. 璎珞 adamantly refuses such claims and requires there be physical evidence before anyone can make judgement. 吴公公 agrees and has 璎珞 examined by two 嬷嬷 ultimately to see if she is indeed pregnant. 锦绣 and 方姑姑 are both strutting with their belief that they have 璎珞 in a corner. But, 璎珞 returns and the examining 嬷嬷 confirms that 璎珞 is still a virgin. How can she be pregnant?


This stuns 方姑姑 and 锦绣。Her stomach is indeed much bigger, how can she not be pregnant? 张嬷嬷 steps in to explain that ever since 璎珞 ate those lotus rice balls, she’s felt bloated so her stomach right now is just bloated. These two are almost like goldfish out of water, grasping for air as they realize they’ve been duped. 吴公公 at least is very fair and has no patience for the likes of 方姑姑 and 锦绣 who slander others. The two start tearing at each other’s throats, accusing the other of being the main instigator for this whole debacle which shows just how paper thin their alliance was. Each takes an opportunity to beg 璎珞 for forgiveness. But 璎珞 doesn’t have a bleeding heart that other dramas see. She doesn’t give 方姑姑 or 锦绣 a second chance and turns to 吴公公 to dole out punishment befitting of their crime. 



吴公公 doesn’t hesitate and orders 锦绣 to be beaten with 20 canes and sent to 行者库 which is essentially a department for heavy labor. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes as, spoiler alert, 璎珞 also gets sent there later on in the drama. 方姑姑 is to be caned 40 times and expelled from the palace. 


Afterwards, 璎珞 visits 方姑姑 before she is kicked out and reveals that this was a plan all along. She purposefully snuck out numerous times in order to trick 方姑姑 and 锦绣 into thinking something was going on. And then she also had to create a real enlarged stomach so she went to the ceramic factory and procured some of their material that causes stomach bloating but isn’t harmful. With just that, these two fell for her trap. 


The episode ends with 璎珞 finally getting some answers from 方姑姑 about 璎珞’s sister. After rather forceful coaxing, 方姑姑 gives 璎珞 her sister’s belongings and also tells 璎珞 that her sister was expelled from the palace for having done something extremely shameful. Her last words to 璎珞 are to stop investigating her sister’s death because it will only cause her trouble in the future. 


And there we have it! Episode 5 was in one word, satisfying. 璎珞 got rid of two of her adversaries in the palace with relative ease but also because they weren’t too intelligent in their plot against 璎珞. It is important to realize that throughout this whole process, 玲珑 didn’t outright provoke 璎珞 but she certainly made hints to 锦绣 and 方姑姑 to lead them down their path. 




Up next is history!


We’ll continue on our discussion of fashion today with a focus on shoes!


I hope viewers have noticed that the costumes found in 延禧攻略 differ from what we saw in Empresses in the Palace and the Ruyi’s Love in the Palace. I’ve mentioned before that there are stylistic choices and liberties that all of the dramas take. 延禧攻略 is one that chose to accurately depict or more accurately depict shoes of the women in the Imperial Harem.


The shoes depicted in the show are called 元宝底鞋 or a Sycee Shoe. A sycee or 元宝 is a gold or silver currency that was used in Imperial China. They are often shown in Chinese dramas to showcase vast amounts of wealth. These   shoes are a type of 高底鞋 or high top shoe that were worn by Manchu women. 


Typically in Qing dynasty dramas, we see the flower pot bottom shoes 盆底鞋. They are also called horse hoof shoes for their shape. These are the shoes we saw worn by the ladies of the harem in Empresses in the Palace. Those were favored by the aristocracy in the late Qing period. 


Now, in some articles, I read that servants typically wore the sycee shoes or 元宝底鞋 and the concubines and noble ladies wore the flower pot bottom shoes. In others, it was more of an era situation. This drama chose the latter, as in all of the ladies, whether servants or the Empress herself, wore the sycee style shoes. 


For the sycee style shoes, the elevated section were typically made of wood with white cloth. The shoe portion was sewn on top of the wood. These shoes were usually styled with additional adornments such as tassels, embroidery, or jewelry.


Women in the Imperial Palace wore these shoes but for palace maids, it was fine to wear regular cotton or canvas shoes to work. It was more important to wear these shoes during formal events. In Chinese dramas, usually the servants are shown just wearing flat shoes, as is the case in Empresses in the Palace. For this drama, they chose to have all the ladies wear some form of these shoes.



Next let’s talk about palace maids and the whole situation of leaving the palace.


In 1677, which is in the reign of Emperor 康熙 of the Qing Dynasty, the first rules were that palace maids left the palace at the age of 30. In 1723, during the reign of Emperor 雍正, that age was changed to 25 and became the standard.


For any palace maid who reached the age of 25 and had no strikes against her, was given rewards for her service. For the women who served the Empress Dowager, Empress, and high ranking concubines to the level of 嫔 or Concubine, their masters would gift the rewards. I read somewhere as a joke that a gift from the Empress Dowager was enough to buy a nice apartment in the Upper East Side of New York. 


If the maid served the lower ranked concubines, there were levels of rewards that were documented. For women who worked in the palace for over 15 years, they were rewarded 30 silver taels. For under 15 years to 10 years, they were rewarded 20 silver taels. For under 10 years of service, they were rewarded 10 silver taels. It’s quite hard to convert the value but I found a helpful article. During the reign of Emperor 乾隆, which is our emperor, the monthly rent of a nice 四合院 or family compound in beijing was around 1 silver tael. The monthly wage was about that much too. With 20 silver taels, you could buy a whole compound. So while 30 silver taels might not seem like a lot because the aristocracy just throws out values like 10 thousand taels, it is nevertheless not a small amount for the palace maids.


Now, if you were punished or expelled from the palace, you wouldn’t receive any awards. That’s what the character here was so bitter about. She was about to leave with probably a lot of money and now nothing. 


Once a palace maid leaves the palace, she could not re-enter the palace, she could not share any information, she couldn’t send people to check-in on her previous masters, and she couldn’t really keep ties with the palace eunuchs. Think as though you’ve signed an NDA. Or really, you quit your job from like the CIA and you are sworn to secrecy. 


I read in some comments, which, quite frankly, I agree with. The BEST option for these ladies was to reach the age of 25 and leave the palace. They got money and experience. Leave that Imperial Palace and live a cushy life in your mansion! Yes, there are instances of maids “making it” by becoming favored concubines. But that’s like few and far between. However, that’s the point of our story right? 魏璎珞 definitely doesn’t leave the palace at the age of 25.





And that is it for today’s episode! Hope you guys learned something today!  Just a couple of notes that I am still figuring out what intro music i want to learn and play for this drama so let me know if you have any thoughts. I do have to spend time learning it. Haha. 


If you are looking for a place to watching chinese dramas…


Thank you all so much


Ep 4



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


Today, we are discussing episodes 4 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with pr oper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode. 


If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It will help us bring you more content!



Today’s episode will be rather plot heavy.


We left off episode 3 with maids all squealing about the appearance of 富察傅恒. He’s an imperial guard but also the younger brother of the current Empress. Naturally, many of the young maids in the palace would love to catch the eye of the handsome 傅恒. One of the seamstress maids, 锦绣  is no different. The episode starts with 锦绣 fallign to the ground in front of 傅恒 as he walks by hoping that this will be enough for him to notice her but 璎珞 promptly grabs 锦绣 and moves her elsewhere. They get into an argument because 锦绣 doesn’t care if she needs to become a concubine. She is willing to be one in order to marry the likes of 傅恒。 璎珞 is much more critical of these imperial guards and gives off her reasoning as to why men like 傅恒 are not worth it. These guards can have their fun and may not be reprimanded for it. Unfortunately, the maids aka women will most likely pay for it with their life.


Unfortunately these harsh words are overheard by 傅恒 who stops 魏璎珞 as she leaves to confront her about what she just said. This is the first time the two interact with each other but it most definitely will not be the last.


We next follow 傅恒 as he heads to 长春palace to visit his sister, the Empress. The moment he walks in to see her holding a locket, he grabs it and tosses it out into one of the bushes in the courtyard. This infuriates the Empress who starts screaming at him for this. The locket belongs to her son who passed away 3 years ago. While  傅恒“s action may seem harsh, the point of his visit is to help her sister walk out of her grief. The Empress has been grieving the death of her young son ever since he passed away and has neglected her duties as Empress since she does not have the willingness to manage the Palace. She has also developed longstanding frustration against the Emperor because she thinks he does not care their son has passed away. After all, she rilesl that he can have more women and more children but she cannot. She thinks he is too cold hearted.




In my view, this scene already reveals the key underlying differences between the Emperor and the Empress. They may love each other but the Emperor sees himself first and foremost as the Emperor of the Qing dynasty. The Empress, however, sees herself as a mother and a wife. Not the Empress. She is hoping for the love and care that normal families or non-royal families can have but she has not yet realized that the lifestyle she wants will never be in her grasp. Though I will say it is heavy handed for Fu Heng to just say that it’s been three years. She needs to get a grip. Depression and grief sometimes take entire lifetimes to resolve and should not necessarily be measured by time. But clearly, the Empress would have benefited greatly from having a grief counselor or therapist to help work through her grief. Something of the sort does show up momentarily. 


After Fu Heng leaves, he runs into 纯妃 who is on her way to greet the Empress. He asks her for a favor. 


纯妃 is the Consort who has been ill and this is the first time we see her. She is shown to be very attentive towards the Empress but not the Emperor. She generally pretends to be ill so as not to spend time with the Emperor. Soon after, a maid enters with tea but is seen to have been crying. When the Empress asks, 纯妃 steps in to explain that this maid has reached the age of 25 but has not yet been released from the palace. Her fiance does not want to wait any further. This news shocks the Empress because she feels terrible that her close maids have been neglected on this front. She, as Empress, should have released this maid so that she can be married. 



This little show was planned by Fu Heng and acted by 纯妃 to help remind the Empress of the mistakes or cracks that happen when she is not running the palace. Things like releasing maids from the palace when they’re of eligible age to be married outside are under her purview. If she cannot remember such things for her personal maids, what of the other tasks that require her attention? This also shows us that the Empress is truly benevolent and a kind Empress who cares about her subjects and staff.


The Empress recognizes where she needs to improve and also finally takes a look at the box that Fu Heng brought from the Emperor to help the Empress step out of her stupor.  She opens the box to find a decree written by the Emperor himself the first year he ascended the throne. He named 永琏, their son, the crown prince of the Qing dynasty. This realization that the Emperor placed so much value onto their son came as an incredible shock to the Empress. She immediately burst into tears. She thought that the Emperor did not care about their son but with this decree, she realized that in fact, he did. Enough to pronounce him as the next Emperor. The Emperor did not only lose a son but his successor as well. The Empress understands now that she wanted the Emperor to grieve the same way she does but the Emperor had his own way of grieving. She feels ashamed that she has not been taking her duties as Empress seriously and resolves to step up.


The next day, we see the Empress undergo a dramatic transformation. The ladies of the palace are called to Qing An or greet the Empress. It seems like the Empress has not been present in many of these greetings in the recent past so the group of ladies are quite surprised when she shows up. Today she looks regal and composed – just how one expects an Empress to act. The person most displeased to see this is of course, 高贵妃 or Royal Consort Gao. In attendance we also have 娴妃, 纯妃,嘉嫔, the newly pregnant 愉贵人, 舒贵人 and a few others. 



In front of the group, she gives out her orders as Empress. 高贵妃 cannot help but to rebuke the Empress’s orders, namely the fact that 怡嫔 who committed suicide is to be buried respectfully. Concubines who commit suicide is tantamount to a crime itself and generally should have their families punished, not given a proper burial. But the Empress says that she announced 怡嫔’s death as succumbing to illness. Who said anything about suicide? She then presses the rest of the ladies. Who do they agree with? Her, the Empress? Or 高贵妃? All of the ladies voice the agreement with the Empress, much to the fury of 高贵妃 who fumes about it back at her own palace with 嘉嫔 at her side. There are so many parallels to 甄嬛传 between 高贵妃 and 华妃 and 嘉嫔 with 曹贵人。


After this court greeting, the drama does take a few moments for 纯妃 to interact with 娴妃 so that we get a sense of the characters of these two women. Long story short is that 娴妃 is known throughout the palace for her kindness and does not like to choose sides between the Empress or anyone else. She likes to stay in her own lane and spends most of her time focused on the Emperor. 纯妃 on the other hand, is quite the mystery. 娴妃 does not fully understand what her motivation or drive is in the palace as she doesn’t pay much attention to the Emperor but does focus on the Empress a lot. When asked further, 纯妃 skillfully deflects the question before the two part ways. She will remain a mystery for qutie a bit longer.



We’ve spent most of the episode with the powerful ladies in the palace and now we close off the episode by returning to the maids. 玲珑 is a maid that consistently wants to rid the palace of 璎珞 since she’s jealous of 璎珞。 She let slip to 高贵妃’s maid that it was 璎珞 that notified 愉贵人 of the poison in new loquat leaves. This immediately spells trouble for 璎珞 as that night, she is dragged off to 储秀宫 where 高贵妃 awaits her. But, 璎珞 being the quick thinker that she is, recognizes she may be in trouble and therefore feigns retardation in front of both 高贵妃 and 嘉嫔 when questioned about the loquat leaves. She speaks extremely loudly and even asks about the bowl of lotus rice balls in 高贵妃’s hands. The group are so shocked to see how weird this girl is behaving and so 高贵妃 gifts the bowl to 璎珞 and also another 6 bowls. She is able to leave with the 7 bowls to finish but at least she still has her life. 



The first piece of history is to discuss the 正大光明匾 and the selection of Crown Prince. This revelation in episode 4 finally made the Empress realize that her husband truly loved their son. 


So what does this mean?


The 正大光明匾 or the Righteous and Bright Plaque is placed squarely above the throne in 乾清宫or Palace of Heavenly Purity. This palace is in the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. It is the largest of the three halls in the inner court and served as the Emperor’s audience hall during the Qing Dynasty. 


In the Qing Dynasty, starting at the end of reign of Emperor 雍正, the Qing Emperors would secretly place an Imperial Edict behind the 正大光明匾 or Righteous and Bright Plaque. This Imperial Edict clearly stated the heir and successor to the Qing Empire. There were 2 copies of this edict. The one hidden behind the plaque and one that was with the Emperor at all times. 


When the Emperor died, the Ministers would concurrently take the hidden edict from behind the plaque and the edict carried by the Emperor to compare the contents. Once confirmed of the validity of the Imperial edict -> basically making sure the two had the same contents -> the Ministers would declare the new Emperor. 


The reason for this action is because Emperor 雍正, himself the victor of a decades long bloody struggle to seize the throne while his father was alive, wanted to avoid the usual political plotting, securing of factions, and harem infighting that was all too familiar to him. 


Let me remind listeners that the Qing Dynasty didn’t have the custom of declaring the crown prince who was the son of the Empress. That custom was called 立嫡立长 -> or the declaring the crown prince the first born son of the Empress. He was to be called 太子. Let’s recall the drama Royal Nirvana, the crown prince was not the eldest of the Emperor’s sons, but he was borne to the Empress so he was crowned 太子 or the Crown Prince. 


During the reign of Emperor 康熙, 雍正’s father, he did crown the second prince who was the Empress’s son as Crown Prince. However, the Crown Prince disappointed his father so much that he was deposed of his title twice! Without a Crown Prince, the rest of 康熙’s sons plotted for the throne. This of course resulted in 九子夺嫡 or the Nine Lords’ War. To the victor the spoils and 雍正 in the end imprisoned or killed many of his brothers. We discuss this much more at length in our Empresses in the Palace series. 


To avoid this type of political struggle, Emperor 雍正 decided that in his lifetime, he would never select a crown prince while alive. The new Emperor would only be selected after his death. This is how our current Emperor 乾隆 came to rule. The custom of secretly hiding an Imperial Edict with the selection of the heir lasted for 4 emperors – 乾隆、嘉庆、道光、咸丰. Emperor 咸丰, who died in 1861, had only one son, and Emperors 同治 and 光绪 had no sons, so there was no more need to hide an Imperial Edict. 


Back to this drama – the Empress finally realizes how much the Emperor loved their child when she saw that he placed their son 永琏’s name as heir behind the Righteous and Bright Plaque. The Emperor was in his prime and didn’t need to clearly state an heir, but he did so, showing the Empress and us the audience that he did have high hopes for their son.


This is true to history. Emperor 乾隆 did place the hidden edict behind the plaque in 1736, the first full year of his reign. He ascended the throne in 1735. 乾隆 and Empress 富察’s son 永琏 died in 1738 when the boy was 9 years old. The Emperor was deeply distraught and saddened by this news. The wording of the edict is exactly as was shown in the drama so kudos to the show for replicating that. However, unlike the drama, the edict was declared when 永琏 died. He was buried in accordance with the customs of a crown prince and his posthumus name is of a crown prince. 


35 years later, in 1773, Emperor 乾隆 placed another hidden edict in behind the plaque. That wasn’t taken out until the year he abdicated in 1795.



That was a lot of talk about successions and heirs. Let’s move onto costumes! 


Today I want to introduce a discussion on shawls capes because we finally have all of the main female concubines in one scene! Why I say introduce is because we’ll see different examples throughout the drama so I’ll highlight them when I see them. The focus is on episode 4, the scene where all the ladies greet the Empress. We see noble consort gao or 高贵妃 wearing a pearl shawl or cape. We’ll see this pearl shawl show up quite a few times. 


The purpose of this pearl shawl is to showcase the lavish and extravagant lifestyle that 高贵妃 lives. She’s the only one in the drama that wears this. This costume draws heavily from history but not of the exact time period. 


Empress Dowager 慈禧, who effectively ruled the Qing dynasty for 47 years, from 1861 until her death in 1908, loved pearls. Like LOVED pearls. There are surviving photos of the Empress Dowager wearing variations of pearls. From bangles, to earrings, to shawls, pearls were EVERYWHERE. She had a pearl shawl which served as the inspiration for the one we see in this drama. Definitely look it up because it’s quite cool to see. Now, I don’t really know how many pearls make up the shawl we see in the drama but I saw one estimate for the one worn by Empress Dowager 慈禧 to be around 3500 pearls. There’s apparently one pearl dress that consists of 32K pearls! That’s CRAZY! It is basically a priceless artifact. 


The funny thing is, when the drama first aired, everyone was like – why is 高贵妃 wearing either

  1. A pearl fish net or
  2. The same shawl that 猪八戒 or the Pig wore in 西游记 or Journey to the West


It is certainly out of place with the other ladies of the palace but hey, she wears what she wants! I’m still chuckling about the Pig reference because I remember watching that episode when I was younger and I was also like Wow, the resemblance is uncanny!



Lastly for today, I want to discuss something called a 压 or my translation is a clothes holder. I know it’s a terrible translation. If we have any fashionistas who can help correct me, I’d be very grateful. 


Take a look at episode 4, Consort chun and Consort Xian are having a conversation while walking. On the right, beneath their collars, they each have a jade accessory dangling from the second knot of their garment. That accessory is the 压襟. They are accessories that basically hold the woman’s clothes in place or to protect the garment from flailing if there’s wind. The reason is because traditionally, women’s clothes weren’t really form fitting and honestly pretty loose. The accessory essentially prevents the clothes from fluttering too much in the wind. 


Now with this information, look at all of the women, especially concubines in the palace. They all have a 压襟 dangling on their right side. 压襟 were first used during the Tang dynasty – so think 7th century AD and of course widely used in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Typically, the 压襟 are comprised of 3 parts during the Qing Dynasty for Manchu women. The top section typically contains a silver hook or a silk knot that can neatly hang from the second knot of the garment. The middle section is the main accessory. It has to be relatively heavy so that it can keep the garment flat. This could be jade, ivory, carnelian, silver etc. The bottom section is then typically a tassel or maybe a small bell. In the drama – the Empress uses her buddhist beads as her 压襟, which was also fine. It’s relatively rare to see this shown in dramas – we didn’t see it in Empresses in the Palace so kudos to this drama for this accurate depiction.






And that is it for today’s episode! Hope you guys learned something today!  Just a couple of notes that I am still figuring out what intro music i want to learn and play for this drama so let me know if you have any thoughts. I do have to spend time learning it. Haha. 


If you are looking for a place to watching chinese dramas…


Thank you all so much


Ep 2+3



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


Today, we are discussing episodes 2 and 3 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode. 


If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It will help us bring you more content!




Now that we’re in the palace we are treated to two versions of the palace. First up is Noble Consort Gao. 高贵妃. In the palace, her status is second only to the Empress and she rounded up the existing ladies in the harem. Each woman outside of her is holding her breath awaiting her scolding. But, after hearing that the emperor isn’t going to call any of the ladies to stay the night, she immediately leaves. A quick refresher on how this works. Each night, the Emperor during the Qing dynasty is given trays and trays of name plaques with each woman in the palace’s name on it. Whomever he chooses or “flips” the plaque of, spends the night with him.


Elsewhere, our main character 魏璎珞 shows off that she is not someone that will easily be bullied. That night, the young women who were accepted to become embroidery maids are sent to the small room where like 10 of them are staying. A couple of the young ladies begin bullying 璎珞 because they were annoyed and jealous that 璎珞 helped the other maid 吉祥 in the last episode and earned praise. One of the maids poured tea water on 璎珞’s blankets and dared her to tattle. In any other drama, 璎珞 probably would have just taken in and be told to let it go. But nope! In this drama, 璎珞 walks out and straight up comes back with a whole bucket of water that she then splashes on the offending maid and also pours water all over their blankets as well. For once, we quickly see a main character who is willing to push back straight from the get go. 璎珞 is not afraid to escalate and also fight tooth and nail for herself. Good for her!


But why is she in the palace anyways and with such a big temper? We get a flashback scene that reveals she’s here to discover the truth about her beloved older sister’s death. The Wei family stated that her sister died of suicide but after inspecting the body, 璎珞 clearly saw marks around her sister’s neck that suggests she was asphixiated. Her sister was a maid in the palace as well and therefore the only way to get to the bottom of why she died is to enter the palace.



The next day, the two groups of ladies continued with their respective paths. 高贵妃 randomly wakes up and realizes something must be wrong with 怡嫔 last night who said that 愉贵人 was ill. And so, with the stature worthy of a noble consort, she goes to interrogate 愉贵人 because 高贵妃 doesn’t believe that she’s actually just ill.  怡嫔 feeling that something isn’t right, rushes over to the Empress’s palace to beg for help. And indeed, when the group arrives on the scene, 高贵妃 has 愉贵人 pinned on the floor with an imperial doctor trying to force her to drink medicine. At this point, 怡嫔, trying to help her friend, 愉贵人, reveals that 愉贵人 is actually pregnant! They can’t treat her this way! A square off occurs between 高贵妃 and the Empress plus 怡嫔 who believe that 高贵妃 is trying to harm 愉贵人 and also her child. At first glance, this certainly does seem like what’s happening. 高贵妃 uses the excuse of looking after 愉贵人’s sickness to force her to drink medicine which includes 枇杷膏 or loquat cream that is supposed to help her cough but actually cause her to miscarry. But we’ve seen that too many times in palace dramas haven’t we? After the Empress’s own doctor inspects the medicine and reveals that the medicine is perfectly fine do we realize that 高贵妃 may not be that incapable in the palace. It would have been too obvious that 高贵妃 tried to kill a child of the Emperor. The point of this scene is to reveal that the Empress does not have the power or perhaps the capability to combat the likes of 高贵妃 in the palace. We are presented with an aggressive foe in 高贵妃 who now gets to punish 怡嫔 however she likes. 


Meanwhile, 魏璎珞 starts to investigate exactly what happened to her sister. Her first stop is to ask 张嬷嬷 who manages the seamstresses whether or not she’s heard of 魏璎宁. 张嬷嬷 pauses but tells 璎珞 that she should not ask such things in the future. Additionally, since 宁 is a character that matches with the name of 高贵妃, the maid probably had her name changed since staff cannot have names that match their masters. This is something we’ve talked about in previous podcast episodes. Shortly after, 张嬷嬷 asks 璎珞 and another maid 玲珑 to come with her on a task. They’re to help measure 愉贵人 for new clothes because she is newly pregnant. The women head on over only to find that 怡嫔 is being punished severely outside. 高贵妃 ordered her maid to slap 怡嫔 across the face multiple times as punishment for her insolence earlier. Poor 怡嫔‘s face is bloodied and bright red. 愉贵人 rushes out to try to protect her friend but is pushed back. All of this is seen by 璎珞 who is clearly impacted as it reminds her of the relationship she had with her sister. 



The seamstresses head inside to help measure 愉贵人 but she is still extremely upset by what’s happened. She wonders how it’s possible that the loquat cream 高贵妃 gave her to eat was not discovered to be poisonous. It must be! That’s when 璎珞 steps in to explain that the loquat cream when using new leaves are poisonous but older leaves are fine for medicinal use. The cream must have used new leaves which would only be poisonous after repeated use and would be difficult to discover in smaller quantities. This riles up 愉贵人 who wants to bring 璎珞 in front of the Empress to explain what happened. 张嬷嬷 though actually steps in and begs 愉贵人 to let 璎珞 go. 张嬷嬷 knows that if 璎珞 goes with 愉贵人 it might mean death for 璎珞. 愉贵人 relents and lets the seamstresses return back home while she goes to see the Empress herself but is ultimately turned away by the Empress’s maid.


What is interesting is that the aunties or 嬷嬷 in this palace a strict but still protective. This 张嬷嬷 certainly went out of her way to protect 璎珞 on her first day in the palace when she clearly didn’t have to. She did however, punish 璎珞 to kneel in front of everyone once they returned. For an entire day, 璎珞 kneeled on the ground to repent for her mistake. But she doesn’t think she did anything wrong. She knows that 张嬷嬷 is trying to help her but when 张嬷嬷 came to ask if she understands her mistake, 璎珞 is adamant that what she did in saying those things to 愉贵人 was right.



张嬷嬷 then brings 璎珞 to see exactly what her fate would be in the palace if she continues talking the way she does. They head back to the palace where 愉贵人 and 怡嫔 live only to see that 怡嫔 has hung herself. The humiliation was too great for her so she decided to end her life. 


You would think that 璎珞 learned a valuable lesson today after seeing 怡嫔’s death but nope. In front of 张嬷嬷 on the way home, 璎珞 openly calls 怡嫔 a coward for dying in the face of this humiliation. If it were her, she would stand up for herself even if it meant death. She would not end her life without fighting back. And that ladies and gentleman, is the stubborn character we have in this drama. 


Luckily she is not only stubborn but does have a quick wit which she used to full effect in the next scene and into episode 3. After running off from 张嬷嬷, she is seen throwing small punches on a tree to vent off some of her anger. Bad luck would have it that she is overseen by the Emperor and his servant and the tree she hit? Is an important cypress tree spirit that helped the Emperor years before. How dare she hit the tree?



But before she can be dragged off for punishment for desecrating the tree, she comes up with a hilariously random story that she dreamt the tree was itchy the night before and therefore was here to scratch the tree’s back! The head eunuch 李玉 was like what the hell are you talking about, this is clearly a lie but 璎珞 just pushed back tht if the tree is an important spirit why couldn’t it come to her in a dream. The Emperor actually lets 璎珞 go to literally everyone’s surprise because uhhh what a dumb story. 璎珞 hurriedly leaves with 张嬷嬷 because yea, once the Emperor realizes that this was just a joke, he’ll definitely be angry.


And now we follow the Emperor to see what he’s up to. On this morning, we see him visiting his mother, the Empress Dowager. Yayyyy!!! It’s 甄嬛! Not really but whatever. Same historical character. But actually though, when this drama was airing and in the comments, everyone was like hey! It’s 甄嬛! There were sooo many expectations of this Empress Dowager so we’ll see how she fares compared to our classic character.


As with all Empress Dowagers it seems, this one is similarly urging her son to take a look at the women in his palace and also worry about his health. The Empress Dowager 太后 tries to recommend the new 贵人 who came to the palace from the court selection process called 舒贵人 by sharing the tea with the Emperor that she brought for the Empress Dowager. Problem is, the Emperor now realizes that he was duped by 璎珞 and hurriedly makes excuses to leave the Empress Dowager. After rushing back to the tree and not finding 璎珞, he orders his head eunuch 李玉 to find her but not before kicking him a few times to vent off his anger for tattling on him to his mother about his recent food intake. This is certainly one of the funniest Emperor’s I’ve seen in quite some time. 



He also isn’t oblivious to what’s happening in his palace. In another hilariously humiliating move, after he went to visit the Empress and I’m assuming did some own research, he sent his servant to gift 高贵妃 a 5000 word sutra text for her to copy. This is his punishment to her for how she’s behaved in the last couple of days and in his words, via the servant, that she has too much anger right now. So far so good for the Emperor!


What about Ying Luo? As she’s heading off with other seamstresses to send clothing, she is dragged off secretly by a nearby imperial guard 庆锡 who used to be her sister’s lover. 璎珞 is super pissed that this guy didn’t protect her sister at all which resulted in her death and he’s all like if you need help just let me know. Yea right, who needs this kind of guy. The fact that they’re talking though was seen by 玲珑 one of the seamstresses who immediately went to snitch on 璎珞 with 方姑姑 the maid who also manages these seamstresses. They angrily arrive to try to catch 璎珞 and the mysterious guard which is taboo in the palace but 璎珞 cleverly manages to get herself out of the situation and helped 庆锡 escape. She does, in this carfuffle, learn that her sister’s name was changed to 阿满 and that she was expelled from the palace for some mistake she made.




We’ll end off the episode with 李玉, the Emperor’s head eunuch, searching high and low for the maid that tricked the Emperor, aka 璎珞. He has every single maid in the palace repeat the same lines that 璎珞 said to search for her. Luckily, while 李玉 was investigating the seamstresses, 2 new concubines in the palace just so happen to also stop by. They were the new concubines from episode one. 张嬷嬷 craftily helped 璎珞 leave with these two concubines so as to escape the investigation by 李玉. So far, it seems that 璎珞 is safe. As they’re walking, all of the maids are squealing in delight because the handsome 富察傅恒 has walked by. We’l see more of him in the next episode.



Let’s turn our attention to the history for these episodes! We’ll start with some references from episode 1 because we couldn’t cover everything last time.


The first topic is on the paintings that the Emperor “gifted” the concubines. 


十二宫图 – ugh. Yu ZHeng. WHYYYY did you put all of these painting in here? So much additional work for us! Haha. But it’s all good because we’re learning stuff too! The Emperor gifted 12 women in his palace these paintings and apparently, this was true to history that Qian Long did this. We will only talk about the paintings that are mentioned in the drama. Each of these paintings honestly can be a whole drama in it by itself so I’m going to just keep it short and simple and focus on the 3 paintings explicitly gifted to the 3 women in the drama. 


The first one is 太姒诲子图 or Lady Tai Si teaching her sons. Lady Tai Si was wife to the King Wen of Zhou or in mandarin 周文王. She is a legendary woman who probably lived between the 11th and 12th century BC. Her sons include King Wu of Zhou – the founder of the Zhou Dynasty. She was renowned for her beauty, wisdom, and work ethic. She was also an upstanding role model for her simple life and taught her sons to be virtuous men. The Emperor Qian Long in this drama gifted this to the Empress as a reminder of Empress’s duty to her people and to try and have her come out of her stupor from the death of her son. 

Next is 西陵教蚕图 or The Xi Ling Madame Harvesting Silkworms, which is the one sent to Noble Consort Gao. This is about Léi Zǔ also known as the Xi Ling Madame. She was the legendary wife to 黄帝 or the Yellow Emperor. Legend has it, she discovered silkworms when She is known as the silkworm mother and the goddess of silkworms. On the surface, I would have the same question as Noble Consort Gao – what does the emperor want me to do? Go and grow a bunch of silkworms? Nah – the Emperor basically wanted her to go back to more primitive or original times. This is also a knock on her as a reminder to focus on running the palace instead of trying to wreak havoc in the palace.

The next one is 徐妃直谏图 or The Persuasions of Consort Xu. This is gifted to Consort Xian or Charmaine’s character. Consort Xu was a married to Emperor Tai Zong 李世民 of the Tang Dynasty. So think early 7th century AD. Consort Xu was very educated and intelligent. While married to the Emperor, she often persuaded him not to enter into military campaigns but to focus on the prosperity of the Empire instead. The underlying meaning that the Emperor 乾隆 had for this concubine was a reminder of Loyalty. 

Unfortunately – the only one that survives till today is the one gifted to 钟粹宫 or 纯妃 with the one 许后奉案图. We don’t see that painting in episode 1 – the rest of the paintings in the drama are just what the production team decided upon as we don’t have the originals to compare to.


皇珐玛 – in Episode 3, the Emperor refers to his grandfather as 皇珐玛.珐玛 is the Manchu phrase for grandfather so this usage is correct. We rarely hear this used in Qing Dynasty dramas as they often just state the previous Emperor’s title or call him 爷爷. 爷爷 means paternal grandfather but that’s the 汉 phrase.  珐玛 is the correct usage here.

碧螺春 – 吓煞人香

Let’s talk about the tea 碧螺春! This comes up in discussion in episode 3 between the Emperor and Empress Dowager. The current name is 碧螺春 or Green Snail Spring. This tea has a history of more than 1000 years and has been sent to the Imperial Palaces as tribute since the Tang Dynasty. It is one of the ten major teas in China. It is a green tea that is harvest primarily in the 洞庭 mountains near Lake Tai in the Southeast region of China. 

The original name, as mentioned in the drama, was called 吓煞人香 or Scary Fragrance Tea. Legend has it, a nun was walking around in the mountain and plucked a couple of the leaves to make tea. The aroma was so strong that she said the Fragrance is so strong that it is scary – hence the name Scary Fragrance Tea. During the reign of Emperor Kang Xi, so think late 17th century to early 18th century, he thoroughly enjoyed the tea but thought that the name was uncivilized and thus gifted the name of 碧螺春 or Green Snail Spring. Green for its bright green color, snail for the shape the leaves make as they’re curled like a snail, and spring for the season that they’re harvested. 

碧螺春 is a very popular tea to this day. There are seven grades to rank this tea. True to its name, it has a very vibrant color and is quite aromatic. I’ve never had it fresh to drink near Lake Tai or 太湖 because well, I’ve never been. However, for another type of Green Tea – 龙井, I did have the pleasure of sitting next to 西湖 to drink fresh green tea. It was such a relaxing experience! If you’re able to buy some of this tea – I highly recommend trying it.

When watching this scene in the drama, I was immediately reminded of Pearl Princess. There was a small plot point in the drama that highlights Emperor 乾隆’s love for 碧螺春 so this tea has always been in my brain as a great tea to drink.



Lastly – let’s discuss the job of 御前侍卫 or Imperial Guards! Imperial guards as a job or role was established during the early years of the Qing Dynasty.

As mentioned in the drama, only Manchu and Mongolian bannermen were allowed to become Imperial guards at the age of 18. Their job was to protect the Forbidden Palace, the Emperor and the Emperor’s family. There were the Guard Corps who protected the imperial palace, the vanguard who marched ahead when the emperor left the palace and the imperial bodyguard, who protected the emperor. 

We’ll focus on the Imperial Bodyguards or 御前侍卫. They were primarily from the upper three banners which includes 镶黄、正黄、正白 or Bordered yellow banner, plain yellow banner, and the plain white banner. These Imperial Bodyguards were of course in charge of protecting the Emperor. There was an Imperial Bodyguard office that managed the overall management of guard shifts, guard selection, practices, and promotion of guards. Even amongst the Imperial Bodyguards, there was a strict hierarchy and a corresponding rank for the level with the top being a 1st rank officer. These roles were highly coveted because at the highest level, they gave the officer direct access to the Emperor. On the flip side, the Emperors only picked those he knew were loyal to him to become his personal bodyguards. These men were allowed to have swords in the Imperial Palace, which in any other dynasty, was NOT allowed. They were also paid pretty well – hey if you’re paid well, you won’t be bribed to uh kill the emperor?

This Imperial Bodyguard role was quite frankly a good way to give jobs to bannermen. If they all didn’t have jobs, they probably wouldn’t have been bored and maybe plotted uprisings. This route offered them a possibility for promotion, wealth, and riches. Note – these men didn’t have to take the Imperial Entrance Exams to get their role. BUT by this time, there were martial arts exams that one could partake in from humble beginnings to become an Imperial Guardsmen. A relatively high percentage of officers started with roles as Imperial Bodyguards and then were promoted to other formal court roles. Others were promoted to official roles in the military. 富察傅恒 was one of them.

Now for Chinese dramas, having Imperial Bodyguards is another common trope. Similar to in Empresses in the Palace with Doctors. These Imperial Bodyguards fall in love with the maid or the concubines in the palace. Why these IMperial Bodyguards? Well – they are the only men wandering around in the Palace! Otherwise, it’s just eunuchs and the scandals aren’t QUITE as salacious with eunuchs.







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


Today, we are discussing episode 1 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode. I totally forgot just how much history and culture is showcased in episode one of this drama so hang on tight as we share all of our research!


If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It will help us bring you more content!


In episode 1, We are back at the forbidden palace this time under the reign of Emperor Qian Long. I don’t think I can overstate just how many dramas were filmed about Qian Long or at least under his reign because it was just easy and there’s so much material about him. The drama starts with the 6th year of Qian Long’s reign and instead of following a court official daughter’s journey in the palace like we did with Empresses in the Palace or 甄嬛传, we start our journey following a number of palace maids. But just like Empresses in the Palace, the story begins on the day of 选秀. This is the grand process whereby the Emperor selects women to become concubines in his harem. 


Like I said last episode, we will try our best to not repeat history or information that we already discussed in Empresses in the palace. However, in the first couple of episodes, we will have to repeat some information just to get everyone situated and remind everyone of context.


Yet, because there have been so many Qing dynasty palace dramas before Yan Xi Gong Lue and also thanks to Empresses in the Palace, (but maybe I’m just biased), we are immediately shown that women eligible for the selection process are born of higher status than the women who are maids. In any case, our main character 魏璎珞 is in a procession of maids that accidentally bump into a young woman who is awaiting the selection process or you could call her a 秀女。The woman is extremely angry at the maid,玲珑,who bumped into her and caused her dress/shows to be ruined. This 秀女 wants to punish 玲珑. Luckily, 魏璎珞, steps in and immediately quells the conflict by artfully creating a fragrant powder for the 秀女 to step on because her shoes have lotus flowers etched onto the bottom. After stepping onto the powder, each step this woman takes leaves traces of the lotus flower and is quite fragrant. The 秀女 is extremely pleased with this as it means it may bring her additional attention during this selection process and lets the maids leave. 



In this one scene, we are introduced to the fact that 魏璎珞, our main character, is a quick thinker and learned. She references an interesting anecdote to appease the 秀女 which we’ll explain later in this podcast episode. We are shown that these 秀女 can be condescending and brutal towards staff but within the maids, we’re also already seeing cracks form between the young women. In my mind when watching the drama, I’m always thinking, how many episodes would this woman survive in the palace. We will see just that in a bit.


On this important day for the Emperor, it’s not just the young women who are eager to show off, but it is an important day for the existing women in the palace to assess their competition. Our serene and graceful Empress, in pale colors and minimal hair accessories, is shown as not being too bothered by this whole affair. Meanwhile, 高贵妃 is shown to be much more jealous. Her makeup is certainly more aggressive with her smoky eye and elaborate hairstyle and is in attendance to watch the young women. To be honest, she reminds me a lot of 华妃 in 甄嬛传


Shortly after, our emperor, Qian Long, arrives in full court dress. I’m bringing in my views of the world now in reiterating how important 甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace was to explaining Qing dynasty traditions because guess what, we aren’t even given an explanation of what the Concubine selection process is anymore. It’s just assumed that you know because Zhen Huan Zhuan or Empresses in the Palace told you. In this case, for women eligible for this process are quite young. We see them being announced at 15 or 16. Those who are not selected are given a flower.



After a couple of brutal comments towards a selection of young women that stepped forward, our rude 秀女 from earlier is called forth and leaves behind the imprint of the lotus flower on the floor. In an instant, everyone notices and calls her out. But instead of being impressed like she was hoping, she is immediately severely chastised by the Emperor for referencing a wicked woman in an effort to mimic her. She is ruthlessly dragged out of the room where not only she, but her father will be punished as well. Clearly, this court selection process is not an easy one and trying to gain favors through these paltry tricks are not going to help. 


In this scene, we are shown that the Emperor is not someone to be trifled with and is quite blunt in his criticisms while his wife, the Empress is much more forgiving. 高贵妃 on the other hand is also quite critical and condescending. At least to start, this drama keeps up with what one expects the intelligence levels should be in the palace. After all, 华妃 from 甄嬛传 would have deposed of this 秀女 very quickly as well. 


Meanwhile, 魏璎珞 and her group of maids are showing off their needlework to see if they can stay as seamstresses in the palace. In this battlefield, the maids also have no chill. 吉祥 who’s hand was injured earlier bled onto her fabric which rendered her work worthless. She was rather distraught but 璎珞 steps in and swaps their fabrics. She decides to help 吉祥。The end result when the inspecting eunuch arrives to evaluate each woman’s embroidery was that there were two finely crafted pieces. When one of the maids tried to expose the two women for cheating, 璎珞 shows that the two designs actually complement each other. It’s not cheating at all. The inspecting eunuch agrees and drags off the woman who cried foul. This teaches the rest of the maids that random accusations are not tolerated in the palace even for maids. In any event, 璎珞,吉祥 and a number of other maids pass their inspection and are kept to continue working in th palace.



Back at the court selection process, the Emperor only agrees to keep one young woman, 纳兰淳雪 because she has three ear piercings which is a reflection of maintaining manchu customs. We’ll talk about this later on in the drama but this one thing caught the Emperor’s eye for its importance to their heritage. Right after her, the Emperor walks off, leaving the Empress to manage the remainder of the event. 高贵妃 seeing that the Emperor left, saunters off as well.


After the event and at back at each woman’s respective palaces, we first turn to the Empress’s palace. Her maid 明玉 is furious on behalf of her master for how Noble Consort Gao disrespected the Empress. The Empress’s other maid, 尔晴 is more understanding and tries to calm 明玉 down.


Shortly afterwards, a number of maids appear with a plaque with the words 敬修內則 and a painting of 太姒诲子图 or Lady TaiSi Instructing Her Son. Once these are received, the Empress’s face immediately hardens and turns away. The maids accept the painting but leave the Empress for some peace and quiet. We learn that the Empress is currently still grieving the death of her son, the 2nd prince. According to historical reports, this second prince 永琏 passed away 3 years earlier at the age of 8 and was the first born son of the Empress. She has become much colder towards the Emperor after her son’s passing and their relationship has not yet been restored to their original state even though it is evident that the Emperor cares dearly for his Empress. The Empress is also shown as a woman who does not want to play the games of the imperial harem and seeks peace rather than engaging in the games. While the Empress does not say anything about the received painting, the maids speculate what they think the gifted painting means.



It seems though, that the Empress is not the only person to have received a painting. Elsewhere at 高贵妃‘s palace, she is fuming because she received a 西陵教蚕图 or a painting of Lady Xi Lin and the Silkworms. But, she is calmed down by another combine, 嘉嫔,who tells her that the Emperor gifted 12 paintings to women in the palace. Each with their own meaning. It’s not specifically to humiliate one woman or another. 嘉嫔 then goes on to list a whole list of paintings which is going to kill us to research and translate but we’ll try our best. 高贵妃 is calmed by hearing this and evaluates her next steps.


Elsewhere, we are introduced to 娴妃 played by Charmaine Sheh who has also received a painting but is pestered by her mother who wants her to rise even further in the palace. 娴妃 ignores the verbal abuse by her mother and instead prays for her husband, the emperor, and his good health. This shows us that she is currently a conflict avoidant and caring woman even if her husband does not spend too much time with her. 


But what is it with these paintings? Why did the Emperor gift all of these out? His head eunuch poses the question to him only for the Emperor to reveal that he sent them as a prank! He knows that with such a gift, all of the women will be racking their brains to figure out exactly what the deeper meaning is which will leave him with some peace and quiet. It was all just a joke! Woww Emperor. Wowwww.


The episode ends with Noble Consort Gao calling a meeting with the ladies in the harem to discuss the latest comings and goings. The most important information from this scene though are the two people who are missing, 纯妃 and 愉贵人。We will see more of them later. 




Before we jump into the history of the drama – let’s talk about why the first episode drags us, the viewer in so quickly!


First – we’re introduced to 魏璎珞, our heroine. Unlike MANY other dramas, she isn’t a 傻白甜 or a silly, sweet, and innocent girl. She comes right out of the gate with her claws swinging. She came into the palace with a mission and she’s not to be trifled with! How many times have we seen the innocent woman rise up to become the calculating scheming woman? Basically every time. This is a breath a fresh air to see 魏璎珞 be a badass in the first episode.


Second – we are introduced to the other established women of the Imperial harem and their various characterizations. The beautiful and serene Empress! She’s just so lovely. Side note, I LOVE 秦岚 (the actress for the Empress’s) voice. It’s so soothing. I’ve begrudgingly loved it SINCE her role as 知画 in Pearl Princess 3. That character was SO deliciously evil. I’m so happy to hear her voice here. We also have Noble Consort Gao who just does her thing and of course Charmaine Sheh who also isn’t bothered with the newcomers in the selection. I’ll be completely honest, even I don’t remember all of the palace maid names and concubines. So, it’s TOTALLY ok if you don’t either.


Third – we have an emperor who is HANDSOME. 聂远 was and is a very handsome guy. In the past, we haven’t had many “in their prime” depictions of emperors. The dramas are either of the Emperor in his late 40s or 50s and just “older”, so we didn’t REALLY understand why the women fell so heads over heels for Emperors. With 聂远, yes, I get it. He was in his late 30s when he filmed this drama but he still looks great. Sorry 雍正 from Empresses in the Palace, your son here has you beat. This is I think also one of the rare chances where I hear 聂远’s real voice. It’s usually dubbed so that’s a double treat here.


Lastly – we get the plot really quickly. 魏璎珞 is on a mission. She’s in the palace. That’s it. We want to see what’s happening so episode 1 comes to a quick conclusion






The main setting of this drama is the emperor’s harem, or 后宫. Though it means “harem” in English, the direct translation of the words is “palace in the back”. This contrasts with 前朝 which is the Emperor’s court in which he conducts his ruling affairs, but the direct translation to those 2 words are “front court”. So you see, the emperor must manage two aspects of his life. The court, for ruling, and the harem, for continuing his progeny. There is a clear delineation of his roles and, of course, the role of women. In this drama, we see the harem from the eyes of a maid. So we see how difficult it was to survive as a lowly palace servant rather than a woman from a high ranking family.


The women that reside in the 后宫 place their fortunes for the rest of their lives on how many children she can have for the emperor and how successful these children are. To ensure purity of the bloodline, there is literally only one “man” in the 后宫. The men that serve the consorts/concubines are all eunuchs. For those that don’t know, eunuchs are typically castrated at a young age and they grow up in the palace to serve the members of the court. Eunuchs have been employed by imperial households for thousands of years. They were very quintessential to palace life. 




Women have rankings in 后宫. Your rank depends on a number of factors – your age, your favoritism from the emperor, the number of children you have, and your family connections. You must be appointed the rank by either the emperor, empress dowager or the empress.


A quick recap on the ranks in the Qing Dynasty. you have one empress or 皇后, that rules the harem on behalf of the emperor. She is what is considered the “main” wife. Every other woman is, or supposed to be, subservient to her. There is normally a 皇贵妃, the Imperial Noble Consort. Then the next rank is 贵妃, the Noble Consort. Then four women are generally appointed 妃子, Consort。The next tier is 嫔, Imperial Concubine。Of the above ranks, you are able to have your own, or at least control your own palace quarters. You can refer to yourself as 本宫 (owner of a palace) and servants will address you as 娘娘. Anything below that, you must live and listen to the 妃 or 嫔 who runs that palace apartment. Of course, if you are tasked to live elsewhere, you must do so. Below 嫔, in this drama, are 贵人, Noble Lady, 常在,First-Class Femal Attendant, 答应, Second-Class Female Attendant. Servants will address you as 小主 (little master).



Typically, every three years or so, there is a selection process where women from all over the country are sent and assessed as to whether or not she can be a concubine in the Imperial Harem. This practice has also been around for millenia. Part of the reason this is done so frequently is to ensure, again, that there is a healthy line of offspring.People die of illness or of childbirth or of the drama that occurs in the palace so people need to be continuously replaced. Additionally, sometimes, servant girls will catch the eye of the emperor. Many try to seduce the emperor, but this is dangerous and could result in death from jealousy of another consort or the emperor himself. However, if successful, these women turn from servant to owner. That is how they improve their own careers. Several women have become incredibly powerful through this route – in this drama our own 魏璎珞 rises from the ranks of a maid BUT lets just say her motives aren’t purely about the Emperor.



I also want to highlight titles and names just so people aren’t confused. We may alternate how characters are addressed. Generally, people have their given names and then their titles. It’s the same as in English. You have the Duchess of Cambridge, but her name is Catherine. In Chinese history for the harem, you are generally called the rank plus your last name, unless formally given a title by the emperor, empress or empress dowager. So for example, if I am a consort with the rank of 妃 and my last name is 高, I will be called 高妃。But, if I am given a title of, for example, 纯, I will be referred to as 纯妃。 I hope that makes sense.



The selection (or 选秀)which literally translates to “selecting beauties” generally occurs once every 3 years and it’s a way for young ladies from prominent families to enter into the palace. Translations may vary but we’ll call it the Selection. So how does the selection work? It’s pretty simple. In this drama at least, ladies from specific banners who are selected for this final round interview are presented to the Emperor and Empress in small groups. The emperor and empress will evaluate you on a number of factors – obviously your beauty, your family line, among other things. If you are chosen to stay to be a concubine in the palace, You will be given a perfume sachet. Pretty much a pouch with perfume in it. Otherwise, you’re given a flower and sent home. 


The actual selection process is long and arduous. There are many levels of selection across the empire. We only see the final selection at the Forbidden palace to speed things up a bit. Only the ladies who have passed those other rounds are sent to Beijing. Of course, it is a huge honor to be given a perfume sachet. It elevates the status of your family to have produced a daughter worthy of the emperor. To that point, it is HARD to catch the eye of the emperor so that’s why women try all manner of tactics like we see in the drama, which brings us to 2 specific topics.


For listeners of Empresses in the Palace, I hope this is just a quick recap. For the others, hopefully this will clear up some questions you might have.



The first is 步步生金莲 which is a negative anecdote. The one poor / evil woman up for selection was foolish enough to believe that the lotus flowers from her shoes would catch the eye of the Emperor. Alas, she was dragged away and thoroughly dismissed. 


So what is the story behind this? 步步生金莲 means a golden lotus behind every foot. The story comes from the scandalous relationship between consort 潘 and the Southern Qi Emperor 萧宝卷. This guy ruled from 498 to 501. You know something’s wrong when he only ruled for like 3 years. Anyways, this guy 萧宝卷, elevates this woman 潘玉奴 to the rank of a noble consort. He’s a terrible ruler – he orders for his subjects’ homes to be destroyed so that he can build new palaces for his beloved consort. He even ordered holy items from buddhist temples to be melted and recast as accessories for her. With the new palaces he built, he had golden lotuses built on the floor and had his concubine, Noble consort 潘 walk on the golden lotuses so that each step would be a golden lotus. That’s the origin of the story 步步生金莲.


From then on the phrase 金莲 or golden lotus has been used to describe women’s feet. 


As for the Emperor? He did SUCH a terrible job killing subjects and spending lavishly that in 501, he was overthrown by another family member. This guy 萧衍 yǎn killed 萧宝卷, Noble Consort Pan and many other courtiers. 萧宝卷 was so hated by contemporaries that they stripped him of his Emperor title and left him as 东昏侯 or my translation Eastern tyrannical marquis.


It’s no wonder why the Emperor 乾隆, who wanted to be remembered as a positive ruler, threw a fit and chucked that woman out. I mean, i would too. That woman was basically saying she wanted to pull the Emperor into depravity!





Listeners! Please pay attention to the earrings that all of the ladies wear in this first episode! Notice how the Empress and all of the concubines have three ear piercings for each ear? That is very much true to history! This is an old Manchu tradition that dates back to before the Qing Dynasty, so think before 1644. 


The phrase is 一耳三钳 or one ear, three rings or three dangles. Manchu girls had their ears pierced when they were babies and kept wearing the earrings until old age. In earlier years of the dynasty, it wasn’t clearly stated how many piercings women had to have, so if you look at portraits, some empresses or concubines had 4 to 5 piercings in one year. One ear piercing on the other hand was a han trait. In a quick search on Baike, the chinese equivalent of wikipedia, it states that our Emperor 乾隆 commented on the criticality of keeping this tradition. Indeed, apparently to this day, manchu women from the northeastern provinces of China still uphold this tradition and have 3 ear piercings。 


Indeed one of the women in the selection process caught the eye of the emperor because of her decision to keep the 3 piercings on each ear. Now lets look at the ladies in the drama because each woman wears different types of earrings based on her rank.


At this point, in episode 1, our main heroine 魏璎珞 only has one earring. We don’t even see rings on the rest of the ear. That’ll change in a couple of episodes.


Let’s now take a look at the Emperor’s harem – all of the women have 3 piercings. The dangles themselves though denote rank. The women wear 东珠 or Eastern pearls. These pearls are extremely rare and known for their size and beauty. It’s usually 2 pearls on one dangle. Only the Empress and Empress Dowager were allowed to wear the rarest of these pearls. Imperial Noble consorts and Noble Consorts such as 高贵妃 were only allowed to wear pearls of subsequent ranks or tiers. As for the rings themselves, they were made of gold, silver, copper etc and that denoted rank.


There’s a beautiful painting of the Empress with her 3 sets of earrings and dangles. You can clearly see the pearls in the painting so kudos for this drama to bring this to life.


From a drama perspective, many productions didn’t require women to have 3 piercings so the women didn’t do it. There were interviews with the cast where they discussed their decision to agree on this. It looks great on them! There ARE dramas that did have women have 3 piercings such as Ruyi’s love in the palace and even before, but they didn’t do it in Empresses in the Palace. 




There’s still a ton of history to discuss, namely about the paintings that each of the ladies receive but we’ll leave that for the next podcast episode.


That is it for today!



[ DO NOT COPY for transcript]






















Intro to the Drama



This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Well here you have it, due to popular demand, we are starting our discussion of 延禧攻略 or the Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.


For those of you that are new to the podcast, our aim is to geek out on historical CHinese dramas while also sharing the Chinese history and culture that is portrayed in the drama. This is a great way to get in depth insights into these popular historical shows and to help clarify some interesting customs you see on screen. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter at chasing dramas or email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com  Do also check out our website www.chasingdramas.com for our latest drama reviews or commentary. Transcripts of prior podcast episodes are also in the works of being uploaded. 



For this podcast, We will be using proper Mandarin to pronounce all names. We are not going to attempt to translate the names into English and we would rather not Westernize the pronunciation. We will pronounce the proper nouns as they are done in the drama. In some cases, if the noun is referring to a Manchu last name, for example, we will still use the Mandarin pronunciation.


In today’s episode, we will provide an overview of the drama and cast as well as introduce the historical individuals that the drama portrays. In future episodes, we will continue on with plot recap and historical analysis as we usually do.




We’re back in the Qing dynasty to discuss the super popular 2018 drama, The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略。The drama stars 吴谨言 as the main character, 魏璎珞, 聂远 as the Emperor Qian Long, 秦岚 as the Empress 富察容音, 许凯 as 富察傅恒,Charmain Sheh as 娴妃。The series premiered on iQiyi from July 19, 2018 to August 26, 2018 and was a massive hit both in China and overseas. 


At a high level, the story revolves around the young maid 魏璎珞‘s journey in Qian Long’s palace first as a maid entering the palace to investigate her sister’s death but then becomes embroiled in imperial harem conflicts. Determined to avenge her sister’s death and to repay the Empress’s kindness, she ultimately takes center stage as the famed 令妃。There is an accompanying book but that came out after the drama, so this time Cathy won’t do any book differences! But don’t worry, she’s off reading a million other Chinese books that will turn into dramas.


For our intro to the podcast episode for Empresses in the Palace, we discussed a lot about the Qing dynasty. We’ll reference them but for this season, we’ll do our best to point out new items. If there are specific topics that you’d like for us to cover, let us know!




Let’s talk about our main cast – we’ll first go over the actors and actresses themselves and then discuss who they’re playing and their historical counterpart. 


吴谨言 – 魏璎珞 – 吴谨言 was born in 1990 in sichuan province and is a graduate of the Beijing Film Academy. She actually studied as a dancer for a number of years in her youth before heading to the film academy to pursue a career in acting. You could say she hit the lottery with the drama, The Story of Yanxi Palace which propelled her to widespread acclaim. However, her career has faltered a bit since then. Her subsequent dramas such as 皓镧传, The Legend of Hao Lan which was another pairing with 聂远, 我的砍价女王 My Bargain Queen and 尚食 Royal Feast, never reached the same heights as The Story of YanXi Palace. Hao Lan Zhuan and Shang Shi I tried watching or skimming through but couldn’t finish it… However, as of this podcast airing, she has another drama out with many of the cast from The STory of Yanxi Palace called 传家 or Legacy that’s currently airing and 吴谨言 is also on the hit reality tv show, Sister Who Makes Waves or 乘风破浪的姐姐 in season three to show off her singing and dancing skills. 


She plays Consort 令 or 令妃 who is mother to the next Emperor, Jia Qing. She was born in 23 October 1727 – 28 February 1775), of the Manchu Bordered Yellow Banner clan and her family was actually Han Chinese. Her father, named 魏清泰Qingtai was an official in the Imperial Household Department or 内务府. Not a whole lot was recorded of Ling Fei prior to entering the palace but she did get her start in QIan Long’s palace as a maid. After entering the palace, she quickly rose up the ranks. You can guess how much she was favored by the emperor because she birthed 4 children within 10 years, including the 15th prince and subsequent Emperor, Jia Qing. 



Nie Yuan – the Emperor – 乾隆。What can I say about 聂远。 We have watched him in tv dramas for the last 20 years. Born in 1978 and a graduate of the Shanghai Theatre Academy, he has been a staple in the business for decades. If you just look at his filmography on Baidu, it’s huge. I loved him growing up in 机灵小不懂 and 隋唐英雄传. His roles are quite varying as he aged throughout the years and for him to come back into the limelight as the Emperor was a fun and pleasant surprise. 


Qian Long, or his original name is 爱新觉罗弘历 – 25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799, the 6th emperor of the Qing dynasty. There are books and books and books written about this guy and so many dramas you can’t even keep track. It’s because he ruled for a whopping 61 years and lived to be 87 years old. One of the longest reigning monarchs in history and longest lived. Can you believe that? There’s just too much content to work with.  He actually stepped down from throne and abdicated his position to his son in order to not rule longer than his grandfather, Kang Xi. What a filial guy right? As we all know from watching Empresses in the Palace, he was the 4th son of Yong Zheng. He and his grandfather Kang Xi are two of the most famous Emperors during the Qing Dynasty which makes sense because they lived for so long. Historians say that the Qing dynasty reached its zenith during the reign of QianLong but also started to decline in his later years. Qian Long was an extremely capable leader both on horseback and in cultural matters. He led military campaigns to strengthen and expand borders but also was quite the scholar. He was knowledgeable of both manchu and han cultures and loved making trips down south to experience southern Chinese lifestyles. Peking Opera also developed during his reign. He had 17 sons and 10 daughters, of which, his 15th son took the throne. As for the women in his life, eh. This drama will show you just how many there were. By comparison, his father could only be considered as boring. 


In this drama, everyone calls 皇帝 大猪蹄子. The literal translation is Big Pig Feet. It’s actually used to describe a man who is womanizer and plays the field. Basically if you have the guy who’s currently with one woman and constantly pines for another, then he’s a 大猪蹄子. Basically all the Emperors are 大猪蹄子. Since this drama came out, people have started calling 雍正 from Empresses in the Palace a 大猪蹄子 as well.



秦岚 – Born in 1979 in LiaoNing Province, she got her big break in playing 陈知画 in the third part of Pearl Princess. That came out in the early 2000s.  I cannot tell you how conflicted I was at that time watching 秦岚 play 知画. She was soooo beautiful and poised in that drama but her character was just awful. How dare 知画 come between 小燕子 and her husband? Ugh. 


She was absolutely gorgeous.


Anyways, 秦岚 grew in popularity after her next popular role in the remake called Dream Link or 又见一帘幽梦 in 2007. She was great in that role. The whole plot of that drama was ridiculous but the scenes in Provence, France were nice. She’s since been in dramas and films here and there but nothing too popular until her role as the Empress in The Story of Yanxi Palace. This was a career changer for her as everyone fell in love with this kind-hearted, beautiful and serene empress. Her career has taken off since then, helping her land many leading roles which is challenging for women in their 30s. I would say that the entertainment industry has become more accepting of older women particularly because they still look absolutely gorgeous. I’m personally really happy for her because you want to see people do well.


In the drama, she plays 富察容音, the First Empress of Qian Long. Born in 1712, she died in 1748 at the age of 37. True to history, she was the older sister of 傅恒. She married the Prince 弘历 in 1727 when she was only 15. When her husband ascended the throne in 1735, she was naturally crowned Empress.


She came from the powerful 富察 of the Bordered Yellow Banner or 镶黄旗. We see quite a bit of it in the drama but her family was very important to the founding of the Qing Dynasty and a member of the aristocracy. Empress 富察 had a loving relationship with her husband, was well respected in court and surprisingly the Imperial Harem, and also managed to have great relationship with her mother-in-law. Which we will joke and call 嬛嬛 because that’s 甄嬛 from Empresses in the Palace! She had 4 children in real life but only one princess survived to adulthood.


While her husband, Qian Long, was very much a 大猪蹄子  or a player, he truly did love and respect his first wife. When she died, he was quite bereft and bestowed her the posthumus title of 孝贤 or Filial and Virtuous.


Funnily enough, she wasn’t really front and center in many dramas. If you think of Pearl Princess or 还珠格格 and 如懿传, the focus isn’t on her. In the former, she’s already dead. In the latter, she’s kind of the antagonist. This is really the first drama that puts Empress 富察 in the spotlight. When the drama came out, everyone called her 白月光 or the white moonlight because she was so loving and caring. Frankly, she was awesome.


佘诗曼 – 辉发那拉·淑慎 or 娴妃


Next up we have the lovely Charmaine Sheh or in Mandarin 佘诗曼! She is a hong kong actress who has had a VERY illustrious career. She was the runner up to the Miss Hong Kong pageant in 1997 and signed a contract with TVB in 1998. TVB is the main Hong Kong TV network and they had so many hits over the years. I watched a TON of TVB dramas when I was a kid. I don’t really speak Cantonese but I basically learned it from watching these dramas. Charmaine was of course the star in many of them. This includes The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre from 2000, War and Beauty in 2004, Maiden’s Vow in 2006, and Can’t buy me love in 2010.


The TVB drama called War and Beauty is also a palace drama and is set in the 1800s. It is considered to be THE origin of palace dramas. It is absolutely fantastic. I recommend everyone go watch it. Charmaine plays one of the main characters and she plays her role so well.


Back to this drama. She plays 辉发那拉·淑慎 or 娴妃. This character becomes the Emperor Qian Long’s second Empress. She is one of the antagonists in the story. It’s quite a tragic story and Charmaine acts the character very well. In recent years more and more Hong Kong actors have turned to the mainland to act and Charmaine was one of them. Ada Choi in Empresses in the Palace was another. Charmaine did experience another wave of popularity after this drama and quite frankly outacted Tiffany Tang or 唐嫣 in 燕云台 or The Legend of Xiao Chuo.


Charmaine also looks amazing! She was in her mid-40s when she filmed this. I want to look as good as she does when I get to her age.


As for the the character she plays, she portrays Hoifa-Nara Shushen or the Hoifa-Nara tribe. There’s debate over her maiden name and which Nara clan she came from so in this drama, she’s Hoifa-Nara Shushen or the Hoifa-Nara tribe whereas in  Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, that character is based off of Ula-Nara Ruyi/Qingyingor the Ula-Nara clan.


Born in 1718, she was granted the title of consort Xian or 娴妃 in 1738. She was elevated to the rank of Empress in 1750 after the death of Empress 富察. She had 3 children 2 sons and 1 unnamed daughter. 


She died in 1766 at the age of 48. The Emperor really despised the Empress at that time because she was buried only with the honors of a 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort and NOT the Empress. She was not even buried with her husband but next to another IMperial Noble Consort.


In pop culture, everyone remembers the evil Empress from Pearl Princess or 还珠格格. Growing up, in my mind, Empress = bad at least Qian Long’s empress. Unfortunately in this drama, she is still the antagonist.




Next, let’s briefly talk about 许凯 the actor for 富察傅恒。


Born in Guangdong China in 1995, his role as 富察傅恒 was his breakout role. He was only 22 or 23 when he filmed it. Since then, he’s been in several dramas such as The Legends, Court Lady, and Ancient Love Poetry, and Royal Feast. None have really lived up to the hype of this drama though. He’s still pretty young and has a bright career ahead of him. 


富察·傅恒 was born in 1722. He became a senior court official and minister during the reign of Emperor Qian Long. He held many positions at court including an imperial guard, as we see in the drama, rising to the Minister of the Ministry of Revenue, all the way up to a position of the 1st rank. He also led the troops in the Sino-Burmese War in the 1760s. He died of Malaria in 1770. In folk culture, the most interesting stories do revolve his son 福康安 and the wild rumors that this man was actually the Emperor’s son. 



We cannot talk about 延禧攻略 without also discussing 如懿传, RuYi’s Love in the Palace. It is the sequel to Empresses in the Palace and has pretty much the same cast of characters as 延禧攻略 but tells a very different story. 如懿传 certainly suffered from having premiered shortly after The Story of Yanxi palace purely because audiences were confused about the similar plotlines and characters or also fatigued by the same story. But, it cannot be denied that 如懿传 is a highly artistic creation on its own. That drama is also extremely long and details the journey of 青樱 who then changes her name to 如懿 in the palace and her relationship with 乾隆。In this drama, 如懿 is 娴妃 and a subsequent Empress but also true love of the Emperor. Essentially the relationship lines between the Emperor and various women in Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace was flipped compared to The Story of Yanxi palace. While the Story of Yanxi palace can be considered a successful revenge drama where viewers are pleased with how much 魏璎珞 is able to push back and stand on her own, Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace can only be considered a beautiful tragedy. We saw in Empresses in the Palace how hard it is to find true love in the palace and that theme continued in Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace. I can’t tell you how much I cried watching Ru Yi’s Love in the Palace. That’s just fair warning for whoever might be interested in watching it. But don’t let that put you off. The drama’s production is fantastic as the cast spent over 200 days filming. Every one of the women in the palace were absolute beauties. The main female lead is of course, 周迅, who has won numerous awards for acting and is a force to be reckoned with in the Chinese film industry. My favorite actress in the drama is my personal bias 李沁 who plays the cold but fiercely loyal 寒香见. [xx]




Let’s move onto the costume, make up, and style.


When we watch the drama, we’ll see that it looks somewhat different from other Qing Dynasty dramas. It also looks different from Empresses in the Palace. All of these dramas take liberties in how they want to dress the characters and the certain aesthetic that they want to achieve. For this drama, there are certain choices that are more historically accurate and then there are others that aren’t. Top of mind would actually be all of the earrings that we see the ladies wear! 


As always, we’ll do our best to point them out. 



Removal of the Story of Yan Xi Palace and RuYi’s Love in the Palace.


In 2020, both the Story of Yan Xi Palace and RuYi’s Love in the Palace were officially censored by the Chinese government and taken off the web. They were taken down from the platforms of iQiYi and Tencent. In recent years, the Chinese government has limited what type of dramas can air in China, what time they can air, and on what platform. A big bucket of that included historical dramas or costume dramas and especially palace dramas. It’s rumored that there’s a couple of reasons for this. 

  1. The palace dramas often show opulence and scheming – something that the government believes will impact society and actually be a detriment to society
  2. A lot of the palace dramas beautify Emperors or people of the past – which is not always good and um don’t reflect socialist values
  3. These palace dramas became more and more commodified


I won’t say if any of these points are right or wrong. I’ll just say, AS a result. We’ve seen basically NO palace dramas since 2020. If you were wondering why, this is the reason why. Empresses in the Palace has been spared this purge so, in China, you can still see it on Youku.



That is it for our first introduction to the Story of YanXi Palace!


In future episodes, I’ll touch on the pretty famous screenwriter and producer 于正. He’s quite as famous / popular as the actors and actresses themselves. The drama itself is on youtube.


If you want to watch other shows and are in the US, please head on over to our sponsor Jubao TV.. If you want to stream it, just head on over to xumo.com to search for shows and movies. On TV, it’s available on xfinity and cox contour.


Thank you all for listening, we’ll catch you in the next episode.


Movie Review



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


Today we have a very special episode as we are going to discuss the recent Marvel Superhero movie, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings! 


For this podcast episode, we will go in depth to discuss the Chinese and Chinese American culture and history we saw in the film and give some color on it. We won’t spend too much time on Marvel related easter eggs because I’m sure there’s plenty of content online that will do a much better job. 


We will do a movie recap and along the way, explain the Chinese history and cultural nuances portrayed in the film. We’ll talk about the actors and actresses, historical setting, costumes, anachronisms etc. A lot of what we say is based on our interpretation of Chinese history and culture so feel free to reach out and discuss with us if you have additional thoughts at Chasingdramas on instagram or twitter or email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com. Also check out our website www.chasingdramas.com if you’re new to the podcast and want to get a feel for what we normally discuss. This podcast will be in English with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. Since there’s quite a bit to cover, we will do the first 45 min or so of the film in this episode and then wrap up with at least one more episode!


The film first premiered in September of 2021 and is a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A little deviation from our normal course of the podcast but we have some time over the holidays to put together this episode so here we are! Now I am a huge Marvel fan as well, having seen pretty much all their available movies and shows but I’m not going to lie, when I saw the trailer for Shang Chi, I was a little hesitant. So many western movies about Chinese history left me rather disappointed – case and point – Disney’s Mulan which we skewered in 2 podcast episodes so feel free to listen to those on our thoughts. But, the theater going experience for Shang Chi left me almost in tears for how well they portrayed Chinese culture and history through this Marvel lens. It was a highly entertaining film and overall I was extremely impressed with how they portrayed Chinese history and culture.


That is to say, there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS ahead so if you don’t want the film spoiled, please turn back!




Let’s start off with the cast! It has a blend of newcomers and prominent actors from China and Hong Kong. It was certainly a pleasure to watch them make the jump over to Marvel!


Our main character Shaun or Shang Qi – is portrayed by SiMu Liu or 刘思慕. He was born in Harbin China and immigrated to Canada. He had roles in TV shows such as Kim’s Convenience but this movie is his breakout role.


The legendary Tony Leung is Wen Wu, the father of Shang Qi and the main antagonist of the film. I was very impressed to see Tony Leung’s name attached to this project. I cannot stress enough how big of a name Tony Leung is to the Asian Entertainment industry. He is and has been the A-list celebrity spanning over decades. Think Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt in the US. Everyone knows who he is. He is THAT popular. He started acting in the 1980s and his career has continued to skyrocket throughout the decades. I grew up watching many of his films and I highly recommend those of you who are unfamiliar with his work to take a look at his filmography. He has worked with many of the most famous directors hailing from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan including Wang-Kar Wai, Zhang Yi Mo, and Ang Lee. I recommend watching In the Mood for Love, Infernal Affairs, Hero, Red Cliff and The Grandmaster. Infernal Affairs is the movie that the Departed is based off of starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Matt Damon. If I must say – the original or Infernal Affairs is better. If you enjoyed the Departed, please watch Infernal Affairs. What I do like about Tony Leung is that he is rather picky with his projects and doesn’t have too many duds. Just pick something from his filmography and you’ll more likely than not enjoy it. He’s the standout actor for me in this movie.


We have Awkwafina as Katy, Shang Qi’s best friend – she’s an American comedian, rapper, writer, and actress. She stars in the comedy series Awkwafina is Nora from Queens and has been in several high profile movies such as Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Farewell. She won a golden globe for her role as Billi in that movie.


Zhang Meng Er plays Xu Xia Ling – this is Zhang’s first film role. She’s from nanjing china but studied in the UK and Russia. I think she does a decent job here in the movie.


Next we have Fala Chen or Chen Fala who portrays Ying Li 映丽, the wife of Wen Wu and mother to Shang Qi and Xu Xia Ling. I was surprised to find out that Fala actually hails from Chengdu china because i’ve mainly seen her in TVB dramas over the years, which is the predominant network in Hong Kong. Her cantonese is very good although she speaks mandarin in this movie. She’s been in dramas such as Triumph in the Skies II, Steps, and Heart of Greed. 


Moving on, we also have the formidable Michelle Yeoh as Ying Nan 映南 – the sister to Ying Li and aunt to Shang Qi and Xia Ling. She is a Malaysian actress who rose to fame in Hong Kong action films in the 1990s but has had her fair share of international blockbusters including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, the bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, and more recently Crazy Rich Asians. She also was on the TV show Star Trek: Discovery. Michelle Yeoh has also been a staple household name in the chinese, hong kong, and taiwan entertainment industry for the past 4 decades. Over her career, she has done many action films and does many of her own stunts. I highly recommend watching Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to see her in all of her glory.


We have some fun appearances from Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery, as a continuation of his fallout and portrayal of the Mandarin all the way back in Iron Man 3. There’s benedict Wong as Wong from the Doctor Strange movies. There’s also some other asian cast highlights that we’ll spotlight throughout our discussion.


Overall – I am happy and very pleased that Marvel was able to assemble the cast that they did because it actually felt inclusive. Sure, they got some of the biggest names from East Asia but I am happy to see Tony Leung on my screen any day.


Now that we geeked out about the cast. Let’s get to the movie itself!



Ok! Starting off with the introduction, the film opens to a monologue of the history of the Ten Rings in Mandarin! I cannot express how surprised I was to hear that the mandarin being spoken was actually proper Chinese mandarin and how ubiquitous it was throughout the movie.. Oftentimes, people speak mandarin in films but with a cantonese accent or just don’t know how to speak mandarin which is always a cringe for someone who speaks mandarin to hear. A lot of times I’m like, are they speaking Mandarin? Lol so for the movie to start out like it did, I was quite touched. I read a headline saying that this was a risk Kevin Feige, executive producer of these Marvel films, had to take and I’m very glad he kept this in. It paid off at least to me. Fala Chen narrates the mandarin and as I said – I was surprised to find out that she’s a native speaker.


We are immediately shown a flag of the 10 rings and then the backstory of the organization. We will again reiterate that there’s plenty of Marvel lore in this organization but we are going to analyze this from a Chinese history perspective. There are some present day political challenges underneath some of these representations which we are also not going to talk about. 


In any case, let’s begin. 


On the flag are the words:

权, 力, 壮, 伟, 杰, 势, 宏, 雄, 强, 威


All of the above words pretty much mean the same thing – power and strength. Wow, There are plenty of words in Chinese that mean the same thing.


The style the words were written in is traditional Chinese not the simplified Chinese we see today. The specific calligraphy style is I would say a mix of Zhuan Shu and Li Shu 篆书 and 隶书 which are older styles of Chinese calligraphy writing dating back over 2000 years vs what’s been more popular in the last millennia which would be the 楷书. But from looking at the written language, someone from Marvel may need to explain why the characters look the way they do because it certainly looks like a westerner tried to write these chinese characters. Chinese historians would not write the words in this way. The wiki page has better versions and you’ll see the characters are much more structured. 


Now in between the words are hu tou gou or tiger headed hooks. This is an anachronism as baidu tells us it was first developed in the Ming dynasty which ruled china from the 14th century to the mid 17th century by a guy named 武殿章 and not time immemorial as the legend of the ten rings would have us believe.



We are introduced to the main leader, the man who obtained the 10 rings. Xu Wen Wu aka Tony Leung. 文武 is an interesting name because it literally means scholar and fighting. We talk about this constantly in our current drama The Story of Ming Lan that at court, people are generally either Wen, the scholar, or Wu the fighter. Someone is highly skilled to be both. This may have just been a Marvel choice when creating this character back in the day because it’s not a particularly artsy Chinese name and it is a little ironic because for most of the film, we see more of the Wu, not the Wen. This is a new character created for the movie to remove many of the racist undertones of the original Mandarin and Fu Manchu.


After lots of pillaging and killing, Wen Wu and his organization of the legend of the ten rings, in the 20th century sets out to find another powerful treasure, namely Ta Lo and ends up in a mystical bamboo forest. There, he meets Li, played by Chen Fa La. The pair square off against each other and he is actually subdued with her superior martial arts skills.


A couple of things – though we do not know exactly the type of martial arts she practices, it certainly has many elements of taichi, especially with some of the moves employing a 借力打力 tactic which simply means leverage another’s strength to fight as your own strength. Western audiences also are probably not familiar or perhaps find it odd for the characters to be flying around while fighting and also to be able to use their hands to deploy forcefield like fights. This comes straight from the Wu Xia genre where heroes are often flying around in such fights. It’s very commonplace in Chinese movies and dramas with the actors and actresses using wires to help them fly. Pretty much every historical chinese drama that has any ounce of fighting will use wires to allow people to fly. As for the forcefields, that’s the Zhen Qi or Qi gong that people have practiced. It’s not real but certainly a part of CHinese wuxia or martial arts lore. So many books talk about Zhen Qi as an important skill to learn. The most powerful fighters have strong Qi. 


I haven’t talked about the costumes yet but I think they’re a great artistic choice. WenWu in particular is wearing a modernized version of clothing  in the han style. It’s the style that’s been passed down for thousands of years and changed after the Manchus overthrew the Ming Dynasty and established the Qing dynasty which ruled china from the 1644 all the way to 1912. The key difference is the collar. Historical Han chinese clothing were more like wraps whereas Manchu had the mandarin collars. 



In present day, we now see grown up Shang Chi or as he’s currently known as Shaun played by Simu Liu in SF. There’s lots of Chinese immigrants in SF so it makes a lot of sense he would end up there but if it was set in NY I’d also say the same thing. Anyways, he and his friend Katy aka Akwafina are now valets at a hotel. The film spends the next few scenes showing us how close they are. One of my favorite scenes is when they end the night going to karaoke and are singing A Whole New World from Aladdin which is LITERALLY me and my friends when we go Karaoke so I died laughing. I felt personally seen. Haha.


He visits Katy’s family who lives in Chinatown and this whole interaction just reminds me of my family as a Chinese immigrant family so it again hits close to him. What do I mean? When he rings the doorbell, there’s a pointed shot of him taking his shoes off outside before going into the apartment which is extremely traditionally Chinese. I would get yelled at if I wore shoes inside my house. You always put your outside shoes away and inside you wear slippers. 


When Shaun takes a seat at the table where Katy’s grandmother and brother are already sitting, Katy’s grandmother tells him to move because that’s grandpa’s seat. This is something that can be easily missed as just her being senile but in Chinese culture, where one sits at the dining table is quite important. When you go to meals, the most important people in the party sit at the head of the table which is considered Shang Zuo. At home, family members also do have designated spots for each meal. I’m not allowed to sit where grandma and grandpa (who are both alive) sit. 


Shoutout to the actress for Katy’s grandmother. She is 周采芹 – a chinese actress, sing, and director who has also had an illustrious career. She is perhaps most well known as Auntie Lindo from the Joy Luck Club, but she’s been seen over the years on Grey’s Anatomy and Memoirs of a Geisha.


Katy’s mom is laddling Zhou or congee for Shaun which is another staple Chinese breakfast for chinese people. It’s like porridge and has many different styles. When Katy’s mom says that “moving on” is an American idea and Katy comes in to say “you’re american Mom” I again almost died. I literally just told my mom that the other day when we were having a conversation. Hahahaha. And of course, pushing Katy to get a better job is another staple of immigrant family expectations. Always wanting their children to have a job that’s “worthy” and will “make money” and often ignoring what makes them happy. The practical parents, you know?


And of course, when Grandma asks when SHaun and Katy are going to get married, personal flashbacks to all my relatives, blood related or not wondering when I’ll get married. Grandchildren are the number one priority after all!



Before we move on, let’s talk about 清明节。 The grandma tells SHaun that it’s almost 清明节 and she’s preparing all of her deceased husband’s favorite things to give to him on this holiday. We’ve talked about 清明节 extensively in our regular podcast series but for those that are unfamiliar, this is what it is. 清明节 is known as the tomb-sweeping day and is a traditional festival in which the family members sweep the tombs of their ancestors, make offerings, and pray to the ancestors. It is also a day for people to be closer to nature and go on hikes or 踏青. This festival has been observed for over 2500 years with some variations of course. Royalty and common people would all spend this time to honor their ancestors. This festival occurs during the spring – around April 5th but it can change based on the lunisolar calendar. 


As the pair head off to work on a bus, the first major fight scene happens where thugs are trying to take Shaun’s necklace. Shaun is a certified badass and fights off the attackers and you can tell the fighting style is different than say Black Widow’s fighting style. From what I’ve read, it takes elements of Yong Chun which is the fighting style the Bruce Lee trained in. I thoroughly appreciate the Simu Liu looks like he knows what he’s doing and is not faking the fight.


After their harrowing escape where Shaun found out that his necklace has been taken, he and Katy return back to his apartment where he explains that the men were probably sent by his father. They need to head to Macau to try to find his sister and protect her. Before we move on, I love that there’s a Kung Fu Hustle poster over his bed. Kung Fu Hustle is one of THE classic HK movies starring Stephen Chow that came out in 2004.. 


We get a montage of young Shang Chi training under his father after his mom died. The setting is rather traditionally Chinese and the training style as well. We see groups of people training with various weapons including barehand, staffs, rope darts etc. A pair of men are practicing their horse stance while holding heavy logs. This is another rather traditional basic martial arts technique. Pretty much the foundation of kung fu starts from a good horse stance, aka Ma Bu. I feel like the live streaming dude who is like “i took martial arts when I was younger so I ‘ll try to explain what’s going on.” Yes, I did take martial arts when I was younger so I’ll try to explain what’s going on. 


The wooden pole where Shang Chi trains reminds me of the scene from the new karate kid film with Jackie Chan. It’s more or less the same principle. Practice the same steps over and over again so that it becomes second nature. It’s also a staple wooden dummy for Wing Chun – a form of martial arts popularized by bruce lee and his teacher Ip Man. Please go over to watch Ip Man with Donnie Yen or The Grandmaster with Tony Leung on more of this style of 武术



And then Shaun explains to Katy who clearly doesn’t speak mandarin that well how to say his Chinese name, Shang Qi. 尚气 which was also hilarious. Teaching the audience how to speak mandarin for once! How nice! 


The pair travel to Macau! For those of you who havent been, Macau is like the Vegas of the East. Lots of casinos are located there. I don’t know how many of you know but Macau was actually a Portuguese colony up until the late 1990s! You can get really yummy portuguese egg tarts there and there’s lots of architecture built under portuguese rule that still exists. But the brightest displays there are now, as I mentioned, the casinos. 


When the two reach a building that’s heavily under construction and head up the elevator, they are greeted by a guy named Jon Jon who tries to speak to Katy in Chinese but when she says her Chinese sucks, he says he speaks ABC. That means American Born Chinese. A little note for people who don’t get it. 


Shaun gets dragged onto the main fight stage after we see Wong from the Dr Strange properties in the Marvel universe fight the Abomination which helps remind us that we are firmly in the Marvel universe still. After their fight, Shaun is forced on stage to fight without his shirt and lets just say dang Si Mu Liu. Look at that form. Before he really registers what’s going on, his opponent appears and it’s none other than his younger sister, Xu Xia Ling who is also a certified badass and fights just as well if not better than her brother. Well we don’t know for sure because he’s holding back a bit and she totally just whoops his butt. 夏灵’s name translates to Summer Spirit [ ].



The fight ends with Xia Ling defeating her brother winning Katy quite a nice sum of money it seems like. Soon after they head to her office where it is revealed that this entire fight club operation is hers. Quite impressive I would say. Shang Chi tells his sister that their father is after them and he’s here because of a postcard she sent. When she looks puzzled and says she didn’t send the postcard, we find out it was a trap. Fighters appear at the behest of their father in order to take Xia Ling’s necklace as well. 


Another impressive fight sequence ensues, this time outside on the construction of the building. While already a great fight scene, this to me is elevated by the fact that the exterior scaffolding is all made-up of bamboo. In contrast to American construction where scaffolding is created using metal or steel rods, Chinese scaffolding is largely held together by bamboo. It was something I noticed as starkly different in my first visits to China as a child because it was so different to what I’m used to. To use this bamboo scaffolding as a set piece is another important display of the mix of the west with the skyscraper towers and the east with the bamboo. You’ll see quite a few fights featuring bamboo scaffolding, I belie 


The last thing I want to talk about in this episode before we wrap up is the character the Death Dealer or in Chinese, 李清麟。 He is the ruthless fighter that also trained Shang Chi as a child. His mask is one that is inspired by masks worn in Chinese opera. There isn’t a singular source for when these masks first originated but it is generally accepted to have over a millenia of history. The art itself is called 脸谱 and in certain instances are painted on the Chinese opera singer’s face itself and in other instances are painted no masks that the singers wear. They are to automatically give the viewer a sense of who the portrayed person’s personality is, particularly based on the color of the paint or mask. For example, the color white is often associated with someone who is manipulative, suspicious and untrustworthy. It has a more derogatory meaning for someone to have a white base on their mask. And guess what, the Death Dealer has a white mask. A white mask generally signifies someone who is loyal and just. A black mask represents someone who is unwavering, stern but powerful. 


We will leave the episode there. In the next podcast episode we will see more of Tony Leung as Wen Wu and learn about his plans. Like I said earlier, if you have any comments or questions on what we discussed, please let us know and we’d be happy to chat.