EPISODE 15

 

(Cathy)

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Cathy, and this is Karen. Today we are discussing episode 15 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. 

 

Ugh – this is not an episode that I enjoy. Why? Bad things happen to our heroines…specifically 沈眉庄. [karen will talk too] This is more of a plot explanation episode because quite a lot happens. There isn’t as much history here but we’ll get more of that in the next episode.

 

[Cathy]

The episode starts off innocently enough. The Emperor 雍正 is still at 甄嬛’s place. He actually wants to promote her to the next level of 嫔 or Imperial Concubine. That’s one step higher than 贵人, or Noble Lady which is what 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 are right now. But it’s too early because she hasn’t given him a child so he’ll have to wait. It’s all lovey dovey. Still don’t get this couple.

 

The Emperor 雍正 and 甄嬛 head over to see 沈眉庄 and they bump into 安陵容 who tags along. It’s an absolute party. Literally everyone is there – the Empress 皇后, 华妃, 曹贵人, you name it.

 

There’s some innocent sniping between 华妃 and 甄嬛 before the Emperor 雍正 leaves with the whole retinue. Everyone gets to the courtyard, only to see a sneaky figure running away to the shadows. She is promptly captured and brought to the Emperor for questioning. 

 

It’s 沈眉庄’s maid 茯苓 and it looks like she’s stole something. 沈眉庄 doesn’t have a clue as to why 茯苓 is stealing. Something’s fishy. Sure enough, who goes to grab the bag? 曹贵人.

 

What’s in the bag – some bloody sheets. Everyone’s confused – why would there be bloody sheets? Unless 沈眉庄 is on her period? But 沈眉庄 is pregnant! What is happening?

 

沈眉庄 is extremely upset and wants to punish 茯苓. 茯苓 immediately yells and says “You told me to get rid of this!” This is a shocking piece of news! Did 沈眉庄 lie about her pregnancy? Look at the shot of 华妃 in the background – she’s smirking. 

 

[Karen]

The Emperor 雍正 calls for an Imperial Doctor. The usual doctor that 沈眉庄 uses 刘畚 is not on duty tonight but they get another doctor. He comes to diagnose 沈眉庄 and declares that she is NOT pregnant! How is that possible? This doctor acknowledges that he’s not a gynecologist and asks to summon Doctor Jiang. He walks in and nods to 颂芝 who is 华妃’s head maid. They are definitely in on something. 

 

Doctor Jiang also declares that 沈眉庄 is not pregnant. Remember this Doctor Jiang also gave 沈眉庄 some prescriptions in an earlier episode. Now he’s saying that he did give her a prescription to delay her monthly cycle. This is just getting worse and worse for 沈眉庄. She kneels on the floor, crying that she’s been wrongly accused.  

 

[Cathy]

The Emperor 雍正 is done. He orders 沈眉庄’s normal doctor 刘畚 to come but the eunuchs report that he’s fled. Now with no witness, 沈眉庄 is toast. 刘畚 and 沈眉庄 came from the same area and 沈眉庄 was the one who recommended that he become her primary doctor. There’s no way to get out of this situation. 甄嬛 tries to put in a word for 沈眉庄 but is stopped by the Emperor. 齐妃 another consort, almost accuses 甄嬛 too due to her closeness with 沈眉庄, and is angrily stopped by the Emperor.

 

雍正 is livid and angrily grabs the hairpin that he gifted her out of her coiffure. 甄嬛 and 安陵容 try to appeal for 沈眉庄. Even the Empress does to but 雍正 has made up his mind. 沈眉庄 is to be stripped of her title of 惠贵人 or Noble Lady and demoted to 答应 or 2nd Class Female Attendant. She is to be imprisoned in her palace and cannot leave unless summoned by the Emperor. No can visit without permission. The Emperor orders the capture of the Imperial Doctor 刘畚. The maid 茯苓 is to be killed. 

 

With this, 沈眉庄 faints. 曹贵人 and 华妃 exchange knowing glances. 安陵容 rushes back to her quarters and orders all of the baby clothes she made to be burned. She doesn’t want anything to do with this. If others hear about this, she will also be punished.

 

We then have a scene of that missing Imperial Doctor 刘畚. He’s waiting for his contact to give him money to run away. But obviously it’s not going to be that easy. The contact tries to kill him but 刘畚 flees the scene.

 

The next scene answers the conundrum on who sent 刘畚 in the first place. 华妃.  She sent 刘畚 and 茯苓. That’s plotting. This started several episodes ago in episode 12! Before 华妃 was even back in favor! I’ll applaud her for this – obviously she had help, most likely from 曹贵人. 

 

[Karen]

The rest of the episode revolves around how 甄嬛 tries to protect herself from the fallout of this fake pregnancy scandal. Everyone knows that 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 are close friends and therefore, most wondering if the two were plotting this together. The servants, seeing the downfall of 沈眉庄 treat 甄嬛 and 安陵容 very poorly, giving them the worst flowers or amenities, and in the case of 安陵容,simply taking away a lot of decorations, which is quite humiliating. 

 

甄嬛 is trying to see if she can talk to 皇上,but is refused at the door and has to endure a humiliating interaction with 华妃 as she walks out of the palace, having just been with 皇上. 

 

In her quiet room,now stripped of most comforts and decorations, we see that 沈眉庄 is being consoled by a kind 敬嫔。 You’ll recall that 敬嫔 is the head of the palace where 沈眉庄lives. As we see here, she is looking after 沈眉庄 and urging her to eat. We also notice that 沈眉庄, now demoted to only a 答应, wears much simpler clothing and hairstyles. 

 

[Cathy]

敬嫔 takes one of her hair accessories, which is made of silver, and uses it as a test for poison of 沈眉庄’s food. Luckily, she did because a plate of vegetables turned her accessory black – which means the food was poisoned, The two ladies are justifiably upset and deduce that 华妃 was only one powerful enough to be able to do this. It’s clear that 华妃 hates 沈眉庄 and will do anything to get her killed. Fortunately, they were able to save themselves this time. And we see that 敬嫔 so far is a kind hearted person. She’s been kind to 甄嬛 and will continue to play a larger role in the palace.

 

甄嬛 is pacing back and forth trying to figure out what to do because she is not being given the opportunity to speak to the emperor.. With 甄嬛 worried sick about what to do to help shen mei zhuang, her head maid, 瑾汐 suggests that 甄嬛 speak to 芳若。 Who is this 芳若. 芳若 is a maid who serves the emperor. She has direct access to him and therefore, is a powerful ally. 芳若 is also the maid who taught 甄嬛 about court etiquette when they were first entering the palace, so they have some connection.

 

So, what does 甄嬛 do? She grabs an expensive looking bracelet off her person and stuffs it in her maid, 瑾汐’s hand and says to give this to 芳若 and ask her to help look after 沈眉庄。 After all, money will and can solve most issues. AND – here is the interesting part – 甄嬛 says to grab make up from her cabinet and give it to 芳若 to help draw eyebrows and says that having light eyebrows in front of the emperor is not pretty. 

 

[Karen]

And indeed, later on in the episode, we see this 芳若姑姑, this middle aged maid, serving tea to the emperor and he actually does a double take on her eyebrows. He asks, your eyebrows are styled in the 远山黛 style? 芳若 says yes, and that she helped the previous empress/wife, 纯元皇后 draw this 远山黛 eyebrow style and therefore knows how to draw it herself. 

The emperor does not say a word, but ends up going to see 甄嬛 that night.

 

We see that 芳若 is incredibly smart – she does not outright do anything to help 甄嬛,except for the eyebrows. What is interesting is that she doesn’t even mention that the new make up was from 甄嬛. She instead, purposefully mentions 纯元皇后, the emperor’s first wife, which leads him to go see 甄嬛. This part is particularly interesting. This connection with 纯元皇后 is a very important theme throughout the drama and we have already seen hints of it here and there but here is a brief instance we see this connection surfacing again.  

 

For those of you wondering what 远山黛 is, I also didn’t know what it was and was only introduced to it through this drama. Apparently, it is a style of drawing your eyebrows that was named since ancient times, at least from the han dynasty, so 2000 years ago. We’ve talked about the han dynasty a couple of times already. There isn’t much significance here of this eyebrow style in this drama beyond the fact that it is related to 纯元皇后。

 

[Karen]

The episode ends with 皇上 coming to visit 甄嬛 and she, surprisingly, or smartly, steers away from trying to beg 皇上 for help. Instead, she discusses very simple and trivial matters with him. He clearly appreciates this and stays the night, leaving 华妃 to an empty bed. The next day, he even punishes the head eunuch of 内务府, the Imperial Household department, for having given dying flowers and poor ornaments and decorations to 甄嬛’s place. This eunuch, is actually a distant relative of 华妃 and when she hears the news from 皇后, she tries to get him released from punishment, but of course 皇后 won’t have it. She’s placed her own guy on the job. The ladies are snickering at 华妃 for this turn of events and 华妃 is understandably upset because she lost a pretty powerful ally in 后宫。 Having someone run 内务府 is huge. There are many corruption opportunities there which now she will not be able to fully utilize because she doesn’t have a relationship with the head eunuch.

 

Another couple of observations

 

The cracks between 沈眉庄 and 安陵容 are more clearly being shown. 安陵容suffers because of her association with 沈眉庄 and she’s becoming more and more upset.

 

Something else that is important is that, though 皇上 is upset about the fake pregnancy, I think he’s probably more disappointed that 沈眉庄 didn’t do enough due diligence on the matter and was so easily manipulated by people to fall for such a scheme. He could easily have executed her, or banished her to 冷宫。 Remember, a few episodes ago, we recall that lying to the emperor is punishable by death. It is his biggest taboo. He probably believes that 沈眉庄 didn’t know she was being fooled which is why she wasn’t executed but has to put on a show and give her this punishment. He is cold hearted and she is absolutely heartbroken but in the grand scheme of things, I think it could have been way worse for her. This is also why 皇上 was so quick to go back to 甄嬛 and believe that 甄嬛 didn’t have anything to do with the fake pregnancy plot. Something about the two of them gave 皇上 the impression that these two could be more or less trusted.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 14

 

Episode 14

 

(Karen)

Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Cathy, and this is Karen. Today we are discussing episode 14 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. We talked about dances and princes in the last episode, we’ll talk about some Tang dynasty history in this episode at the very least.

 

Thanks to all of you who are joining us and listening to us on this podcast, we really appreciate all of your support! If you are just joining us, and don’t know what this drama is about, we recommend checking out the intro to the drama episode first to get more information on the background of the show and the main characters.

 

In today’s episode, the trio of 甄嬛, 沈眉庄, and 安陵容 are pulled into the political machinations of the Imperial Court. How do they handle these situations?

 

Let’s start again with Princces 温宜’s birthday banquet. 甄嬛 just dazzled everyone with her 惊鸿舞 but 华妃 suddenly starts to feel faint. 

 

 

(Karen)

She starts tearing up and shares that this dance makes her very emotion and says it reminds her about the story of 梅妃. This story is quite interesting and we saved the discussion from the last episode so we’ll talk about it more later on. The end result is that 华妃 is getting back in favor with 皇上, much to the chagrin of most people at the party.

 

The party ends but as people leave, 甄嬛 chats calmly with 曹贵人 and calls her out, in a nice way, that the card asking her to dance 惊鸿舞 was in 曹贵人’s hands the entire wasn’t it?  曹贵人 doesn’t deny it and hints to 甄嬛 that she should focus more on her friend, 沈贵人’s pregnancy.

 

Privately, the two back at their quarters, 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 discuss the days events. They all agree that 曹贵人 is someone to watch out and someone not to be trifled with.

 

(Cathy)

Later on, 甄嬛 heads over to see 皇上,the emperor. While waiting outside, she overhears a discussion between 皇上 and a couple of his government officials. They in a heated discussion about the battle in the Northwest where 华妃 ‘s brother is currently the commanding general. 

 

The officials are heard recommending that 华妃 be forgiven for any misgivings in order to placate her brother on the front line. 甄嬛 overhears this and understands that there’s nothing to be done. So when she actually sees 皇上, she also recommends that 华妃 be given back her authority to help manage the imperial harem with 皇后, the empress, to which, of course, 皇上 agrees and then asks to see 华妃 for the night. 华妃 is gloating and very happy about being back in favor with the Emperor. But you see? For 皇上, managing 后宫 has a lot to do with managing 前朝, or ruling affairs. Why did she actually win back favor? Her 

 

We next cut to a scene at night with 皇后 alone with her maid, 剪秋。 It’s quite sad because we find out that 皇后 actually had a son but unfortunately, her son died. She said her son was smarter than the current oldest son, the 3rd prince and becomes very sad. Her maid, 剪秋, tries to cheer her up by saying that 皇后 will still be able to bear children, but 皇后 says that she knows her body. She’s well past the age of bearing children (she’s over 40). There will be no more children for her. Here, is also the first time we hear that she was 庶出 born, while her sister, who was also married to the emperor, was 嫡出。 This means that her sister was born of the primary wife of their father. She herself was born of a concubine. She is of a lesser status than her sister. Something that is very important to her and something we will discuss in later episodes.

 

(Karen)

The rest of the episode revolves around drama involving 安陵容 and her father. It turns out, her father, who is a government official, was involved with military incident where supplies were not sent to the front lines for 华妃’s brother, 年羹尧. 安陵容’s father has been captured and is awaiting his sentence. It’s quite a big scandal. She begs her friends 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 for help and says that 沈眉庄’s father actually has the authority to reduce the sentence or make the problem go away. 沈眉庄, trying to be a good friend, tries to see if she can talk to 皇上 about it, but is stopped at the door by 皇上’s head eunuch, 苏培盛。

 

沈眉庄 learns some crucial information. 安陵容’s father’s superior, was executed for his crimes. She wants to do something but is persuaded by 苏培盛 to NOT get involved. Why? A few reasons – 皇上 does not like women involved in court affairs especially military matters. This will reflect poorly on 沈眉庄. Second, this issue directly involves 年羹尧, 华妃’s brother. Helping 安陵容 will cause 沈眉庄’s father to become an enemy of 年羹尧. This could directly affect her father’s standing in court especially if 安陵容’s father is guilty. Third, if 华妃 found out that 沈眉庄 tried to help, she’ll tell her brother to try a have 安陵容’s father executed. It’s a lose lose lose situation. 

 

(Cathy)

These are all valid arguments but all 安陵容 does is continue to cry. Ok – true, what else can she do. 甄嬛 has an idea – the Empress 皇后!They hurriedly go to the Empresses quarters only to find that she already went to see the Emperor. How nice of her.

 

There’s a quick scene with 华妃 and 曹贵人 discussing 皇后’s actions. 华妃 snidely comments that no one will be friends forever. SHe makes it clear that she wants to rule 后宫 with an iron fist. This confirms that 沈眉庄 should not have done anything. She’d be going through hell right now if she did.

 

皇后 returns to tell the ladies that she wasn’t able to secure his release. It all seems hopeless for 安陵容 but is it? 皇后 won’t help and not get anything in return. She and 甄嬛 make some major decisions and 安陵容’s just sitting there not understanding any of it. But man, this scene is such a masterclass in metaphors and double meanings. We’ll dive into this scene. 

 

(Karen)

甄嬛 then goes to see 皇上. She’s deduced that both the Empress 皇后 and 华妃 have talked to 皇上 about 安陵容’s father. She gets “jealous” that 华妃 came and this amuses the Emperor. This is all to 皇上’s appetite. Surprisingly 皇上 asks for her opinion about the matter. 苏培盛, the Emperor’s head eunuch just told 沈眉庄 not to discuss government affairs. 甄嬛 obviously does not walk into this mine. What she does do is discuss historical precedent. She says the wisest and most revered Emperors in history often used the carrot and the stick approach to gain the support of their subjects. They’d punish the superior but show mercy to the subordinates. She then says, I don’t know much about the government but historically, it’s been in the empire’s interest to separate the military and the courts. 

 

雍正 is mightily impressed. She doesn’t talk about current politics but uses history to discuss the current issue at hand. With that, he decides to set a new trial for 安陵容‘s father. Yay! 

 

(Cathy)

The next day, 安陵容 is still crying! 剪秋 comes in to tell the news that her father has hope! 安陵容 comes to the conclusion that the only one who can actually help is 皇后. I don’t think she knows what 甄嬛 did for her. 

 

The episode ends with 浣碧, 甄嬛’s maid/half sister, uh em, barging in on 甄嬛 and 皇上. She draws attention to herself by placing the lotus flowers and lotus leaves that she picked for 甄嬛. She receives some praise from the Emperor for her ingenuity. 甄嬛’s over there observing this conversation. What does she think?

 

—-

 

(Karen)

Alright, that was the recap. Now let’s get into our analysis. 

 

First up is – 

梅妃 

 

So! Who is this 梅妃 and what is the significance of her existence!?

 

She is actually an interesting character and is actually quite tragic. 梅妃’s real name is 江采苹 (which is debatable)。 She was born, according to historical archives, in 710AD, so about 1000 years before the setting of this drama. She was one of the favored concubines of emperor 唐玄宗. He was an emperor during the Tang dynasty. The Tang dynasty is another very famous dynasties in Chinese history. This emperor, however, is not known for the great things he’s done, but rather, for more tragic things. OK – he did some really great things in his youth and the early years of his reign, but he really let it go in towards the end…

 

Now 梅妃, was what you would call 才女。According to Baidu, she’s one of the 帝王后妃把大才女 which means she is one of 8 main 才女 who were women of emperors/kings. What is a 才女? 才女, we’ve alluded to before, are women who are incredibly talented in all manner of things. They must be able to read and write and generally know how to write poetry, sing, know how to play instruments and understand music, play chinese go, dance. Basically talented in all manner of things and are what you would call “accomplished” women. So basically in pride and prejudce – accomplished women

 

梅妃 was selected to enter the palace at a young age and the moment she entered the palace, the emperor at that time, 唐玄宗, his real name 李隆基, was smitten with her. She quickly rose up the ranks and became one of the highest ranking concubines in the imperial harem, a difficult feat because there were thousands of women in the harem. She absolutely loved plum blossoms which is why, even though her name is 江采苹 (ping), her title is 梅妃, which translates to Consort Plum Blossom.

 

She was famous for her plum blossoms, and also, the dance 惊鸿舞。She was beautiful, talented and much loved by the emperor. That is, until the appearance of 杨贵妃。 杨贵妃 is one of the most famous women in Chinese history. If 梅妃 is considered one of the top 8 talented concubines, 杨贵妃is one of the 4 beauties of Chinese history. 杨贵妃, who’s real name is 杨玉环 was renowned for her beauty. There are many, many books, plays, operas, dramas, and poems made about her and her story with the emperor. Which means that when she came into the picture, the talented and aging 梅妃 lost favor.  This was evident even in her title. 杨贵妃 is the tile of nobel consort。 梅妃 only is a consort. Drama in the imperial harem led to 梅妃 being banished into the Cold palace, the 冷宫。

 

In our current drama, 华妃 tearfully says that when she sees 惊鸿舞, she can’t help but be reminded of 楼东赋, what does she mean? 楼东赋 more or less translates to East Tower Song. This 楼东赋 was written by 梅妃 while she was abandoned, and lost power, stuck in the cold palace. She wrote this in order to try to regain some favor from the emperor.  She laments her lost favor and the past happiness that was shared but is now gone because the emperor favors 杨贵妃. She even evokes a man named 司马相如, who wrote a very famous song for an abandoned empress in the Han Dynasty. 梅妃 wrote this piece and gave it to her emperor, 唐玄宗. 

 

It was not a happy ending. Even though this song was very touching, 梅妃 never regained favor. While she was stuck in the cold palace, there was a rebellion against the emperor where he had to flee the palace and only took a few people with him. He took 杨贵妃 but abandoned 梅妃。 The palace was sacked. When he returned, she was found dead. What’s sad is that he abandoned 梅妃, but the more favored 杨贵妃 was forced to commit suicide while on the run. So what did he gain? What did he lose?

 

This level of sadness is what 华妃, in this drama, was trying to hint at. She wanted to tell the emperor, 雍正 that she is reminded of how poorly 梅妃 was treated with this dance, and even recited a few very sad lines from the song. This all leads 雍正 to reconsider her punishment.

 

As we mentioned earlier, 甄嬛 saw right through the ploy of 惊鸿舞 and the subsequent mention of 楼东赋。 华妃 is notorious in not to read or to understand history. She even says so herself so the fact that she was able to recite lines from this song, means that someone must have trained her. That’s why 甄嬛 says so point blank to 曹贵人。Without this ploy of 惊鸿舞,华妃 would not be able to discuss 楼东赋 and bring pity onto her current situation.

 

(Cathy)

We just had our history lesson but this episode is all about politics so let’s dive into it!

 

We again see here that 沈眉庄 and 安陵容 specifically are too green and easily manipulated when it comes to politics, building alliances, and double meanings. We already talked about 沈眉庄 earlier and how she really was saved by 苏培盛, the head eunuch.

 

I now want to deep dive into the conversation between 皇后, the Empress, and 甄嬛. The two ladies 安陵容 and 甄嬛 go to 皇后’s palace to ask for her help but she’s not there. I will hazard a guess that 皇后 knew the two were going to see her, which is why she went to 皇上 first. She is basically already owed a favor from the two ladies. Now, 皇后 already went to talk to 皇上 but she comes back to say there’s nothing to be done. Is that really the case though? 甄嬛 thanks 皇后 for helping the ladies and asks what they can do for her in return. This is exactly what 皇后 wants to hear. She directs all of her conversation to 甄嬛. 安陵容 is of no importance right now. She literally just sits there and I don’t think she understands anything.

 

皇后 then says – there’s turbulence in 后宫 and I’m getting up in age. If you can understand me, I’d like for you to take some of my burden. With that, her maid 剪秋 picks up the incense burner and brings it forward. 皇后 says – the dead ashes are suddenly burning again. That’s no good. 甄嬛 stares at the incense burner for a few seconds. She then brings her tea cup and pours it over the ashes. She responds by saying – we concubines in the 后宫 rely on you the Empress for our livelihoods. It is our duty and our privilege to alleviate your burden. 

 

Karen – did you understand the whole thing about the incense burner? No? 

 

Well 皇后 is referring to 华妃!华妃 was out of favor and she basically rose from the ashes and is now back in favor. 皇后 needs the support from the younger concubines to take her down. 甄嬛 understood what this meant, which is why she doused the ashes with the tea. With this action – 甄嬛 has now pledged her support to 皇后。

 

(Karen)

甄嬛 then quotes some lines from a three kingdoms era poem  – 月明星稀,乌 (wu)鹊(que)南飞,绕树三匝za1,终于有枝可依. Here’s the translation – in the moonlight, birds are flying south. They fly around a tree three times and finally find a place to land. In the context of 后宫. They have been the birds flying aimlessly around. But they have finally found a tree that they can support and be supported. The tree is obviously 皇后.  皇后 is very pleased with this answer. 甄嬛 understood her. 皇后 then finalizes the alliance with a warning. She says – remember there’s always only one tree. The others are just flower petals. Make sure you know who are the flowers and who are the trees. Again, she’s the tree and all the other flowers including 华妃 are just that, flowers. 安陵容 is just sitting in the back looking perplexed. 

 

How cool was that! The entire conversation was coded! Not a word was said about 华妃 but everyone except for 安陵容 knew that she was the topic of conversation. How does this help 安陵容’s father in anyway? 皇后 even said nothing could be done? But it is because she went to talk to 皇上 that 甄嬛 was later able to persuade 皇上 to grant a new trial. It had to be a one two punch. 皇后 could have easily also just stayed away from this entire situation. She threw 安陵容 a bone and hooked 甄嬛.  A pretty good deal if you ask me. 

 

Finally, let’s talk about the quote on quote lesson 安陵容 learns at the end of the day. 剪秋 gives her the news that her father has been granted a re-trial. 剪秋 tells her 皇后 pleaded for his case to 皇上. She does mention that 甄嬛 did too. In her mind, 安陵容 has learned the true nature of her friends. 沈眉庄 won’t stick up for her. 甄嬛 will. But the only person that has any real sway in the palace is 皇后. 剪秋 is also such a manipulator – she says you know if only 沈眉庄 wrote to her father earlier to help out, you wouldn’t be in such a state. 

 

Hello! 沈眉庄 tried and if she had sent the letter, her father would be dead. No one obviously told 安陵容 about this but I also don’t know if 安陵容 would have cared. 

Look at that, it seems 安陵容 is now team 皇后 and the cracks are really beginning to form between 安陵容 and 沈眉庄. 

Let’s end with just a note on the final scene of the episode. 浣碧, 甄嬛’s half sister/maid, knows exactly what she was doing, walking in on 甄嬛 and 皇上. She is trying to catch 皇上’s eye. 甄嬛 needs to watch out. This might not turn out well…

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 13

 

 

(Cathy)

Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Cathy, and this is Karen. Today we are discussing episode 13 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. Thanks to all of you who are joining us and listening to us on this podcast, we really appreciate all of your support! If you are just joining us, and don’t know what this drama is about, we recommend checking out the intro to the drama episode first to get more information on the background of the show and the main characters.

 

(Karen)

In the last episode, we learned some happy news from 沈眉庄! She’s pregnant! That’s exactly what she needs to have a foothold within the 后宫, or imperial harem.

 

The Emperor 雍正 and the Empress 皇后 are discussing the happy news. The Emperor wants to promote 沈眉庄 to the next rank of 嫔. They conclude that they’ll wait until the child is born but 雍正 will give 沈眉庄 a special title of 惠, which means: virtuous. Which describes 沈眉庄 perfectly. And again, as a refresher, getting this additional title is a special privilege. Not everyone gets a title.

 

(Cathy)

In the meanwhile, 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 are discussing the wonderful news. 沈眉庄 is finally thinking ahead about her future and her stability within the Imperial Palace. With her pregnant, 甄嬛 is at a disadvantage all by herself at 圆明园 the Summer Palace. She requests for 安陵容 to join them. She acknowledges that you need someone like 安陵容, whom 沈眉庄 called ruthless in earlier episodes, around just in case.

 

甄嬛 goes and picks up 安陵容. Again, she’s in a janky little carriage – way different from when the rest of the party arrived at the Summer Palace. 安陵容’s heard the news of 沈眉庄’s pregnancy and she’s excited for her. They go to greet the Emperor 雍正 but they spot 四阿哥 the 4th Prince waiting to see his father. The poor kid, he hasn’t yet seen him despite the fact that the Emperor’s been there for at least a few weeks.

 

(Karen)

甄嬛 and 安陵容 head back to their palace but are stopped by none other than the 4th Prince 四阿哥. This is the first time 甄嬛 speaks to him. 甄嬛 asks 安陵容 to go ahead without her and the 4th prince tells his governess to leave him so that they can chat alone. 四阿哥 asks 甄嬛 if his father doesn’t like him. 甄嬛 of course, doesn’t tell him the truth and gives him some words of encouragement. She’s surprised that he chose to talk to her. He answers it’s not an easy feat to because a favored concubine, there must be something about her. To that 甄嬛 says – instead of admiring someone, why don’t you become someone other people admire? She takes him to eat some desserts. This conversation was seen by 敬嫔, another concubine in the palace – is that good or bad?

 

(Cathy)

The rest of the episode focuses on Princess 温仪’s 1st birthday celebration. As a reminder, 温仪 is 曹贵人’s daughter and 曹贵人 is team 华妃, the main antagonist of the show。All of 后宫 is in attendance and we also see some Princes (brothers to the Emperor) making an appearance. 安陵容 acts as our conduit to ask 甄嬛 about the attendees. 

 

We have the 5th prince and his concubine. The 10th Prince 敦亲王 and his wife – he’s the son of 康熙‘s Empress’s sister – basically very powerful and someone 雍正 needs to be wary of. The 17th Prince 果郡王 is missing but we also have the 21st Prince 慎贝勒。

 

There’s a surprise appearance at this banquet. 端妃. She’s the mysterious consort that is always sick and hasn’t made an appearance yet thus far in the show. She has the rank of consort which is the same as 华妃 and you see 华妃’s very unhappy face when 端妃 walks in. You can tell that 端妃 is an older woman in the imperial harem and It’s still pretty obvious that 端妃 is ill, she can barely keep her head up. To celebrate 温仪’s birthday, 端妃 gifts 温仪 a necklace from her own dowry – which is a very extravagant gift. 

 

(Karen)

The festivities resume but 甄嬛 excuses herself to go outside. It’s a bit stuffy in the banquet hall. She and 流珠 walk to a nearby pond to cool off. Who’s watching? None other than 果郡王 the 17th Prince. She takes her socks and shoes off to cool off and play around a little bit with 流珠. Unfortunately 甄嬛 almost falls in the pond and is rescued at the last second by the 17th Prince. 

 

The 17th Prince 果郡王 makes a rather bold comment about 甄嬛’s exposed feet. This is Imperial China – that is flirting to the max. In imperial china, you do not expose any part of your body to the other sex. It is very improper.  甄嬛 is understandably very annoyed and is hastily trying to cover her feet – she tells 流珠 to greet 果郡王. He’s surprised – how does she know? Well – who else has a flute, drinks imported wine, and can be so impertinent?  

 

甄嬛 hurriedly leaves and cautions 流珠 to never speak of this encounter. Remember – this is the first time that the two actually meet but 甄嬛 already got into deep trouble last episode by just having an association with 果郡王 with the emperor. If the emperor finds out that the two of them have met, and that 果郡王, or the 17th prince has seen her feet, who knows what the emperor will think. This is a life or death matter. 

 

(Cathy)

Just as 甄嬛 is about to return to the banquet, she runs into 敬嫔. The Imperial Concubine who saw 甄嬛 earlier with the 4th Prince 四阿哥。敬嫔 requests 甄嬛 for a chat where 敬嫔 gives 甄嬛 the history about 四阿哥. This is a friendly reminder – stay alive in 后宫. Don’t mess with things you don’t understand or don’t have any benefit to you. 敬嫔 is coming from a good place which is nice. She’s giving some sage advice to 甄嬛, which not many people have done as of yet.  We’ll just have to see if 甄嬛 takes the hint.

 

They return to the banquet and 曹贵人 has offered a new idea for entertainment for the attendees. She will “randomly” pick from a pile of activities and the concubines will perform for the crowd instead. Fun…right? First up is the Empress 皇后. She writes the word Birthday for the princess – very fitting. 端妃 gets a feeling that something isn’t quite right and takes her cue to leave. She has the perfect excuse – she’s sick! 

 

(Karen)

 

Who’s up next? 曹贵人 just so happens to pick 甄嬛 to dance …惊鸿舞. The music instantly changes – what’s happening? There’s just too much to the legend of 惊鸿舞 and the political undercurrents! The emperor has a muted reaction.  We’ll dive into it this episode. 甄嬛 changes into a 汉 style dress to prepare for the dance. 沈眉庄 accompanies her on the 古琴 and 安陵容 sings the vocals. The dance is just fine at first, people aren’t all that impressed. Suddenly, a flute accompaniment breathes new life into the dance. It elevates the entire performance and everyone, including the grumpy 10th Prince 敦亲王, is thoroughly impressed. At the conclusion, the Emperor 雍正 is speechless utterly in awe of how beautiful the dance was. How many more surprises does she have? He is once again smitten with her, much to the chagrin of the other concubines.

 

The episode ends with 甄嬛 sitting next to the Emperor and 华妃 making a fuss about a “headache” because of course, they were hoping to make zhen huan look bad, but instead, she is out on top with this surprise. 

 

—-

 

Cathy

 

Time for our analysis! The majority of our time will be spent on the banquet, who’s there, who does what, and why!

 

The first thing we want to discuss is the nobility prince rankings. This is the first time that we have different Imperial Princess on screen actually interacting! It does get a little confusing even for us, so we’ll try to do our best to provide some clarification. 

 

At the banquet we are introduced to several Imperial Princes and they are all the younger brothers of our Emperor 雍正。 Now, there is a distinction here – princes can mean sons of the current emperor or brothers to the current emperor. It is no different than, for example, the British monarchy where Queen Elizabeth’s son is a Prince – Prince Charles, and his son is also a Prince. 

 

Anyways, at the festivities, there’s 恒亲王 胤祺 – the 5th Prince, 敦亲王胤䄉  – the 10th Prince, 果郡王 允礼 – the 17th Prince who shows up later, and finally 慎贝勒 允禧 the 21st Prince. Again, these are the brothers of the current Emperor. The emperor himself is the 4th prince. 

 

[Karen]

This seems to be quite a smattering of different princes. You may ask, where are the other brothers? Well, you’ll recall we mentioned this in previous episodes. The father of these princes and the emperor had 20+ sons, but there was a famous coup called 九子夺嫡 where 9 sons split into factions to try to get the throne. The people here at the table are either allies of the emperor to help get him to the throne, or else too young or otherwise not a threat to him. The 21st prince is an example of that. He’s very young in this scene. The other princes like the 8th prince, the 14th prince and the 9th prince… well. They’re either dead or in exile. If you are interested in watching dramas about this time period, I recommend 步步惊心 and 宫锁心玉. Both came out in the early 2000s and were hugely popular at that time. 

 

[Cathy]

In the Qing dynasty – there are 4 ranks as a son of the Emperor. As mentioned before in a previous episode, every prince is also called an 阿哥 which is the general term for a son of the emperor, but you have formal titles as well.

 

和硕亲王 – Prince of the First Rank” or “Prince of the Blood”. This is the rank for 恒亲王 and 敦亲王.

多罗郡王 – “Prince of the Second Rank” or “Prince of a Commandery”. This is the rank for 果郡王

多罗贝勒 – “Prince of the Third Rank”, “Venerable Prince”, or “Noble Lord”

固山贝子 – “Prince of the Fourth Rank”, “Banner Prince” or “Banner Lord”

 

Let’s go a little bit into linguistics. The word 王 also means King. It’s also a very popular Chinese last name. Here, 王 in 亲王 means Prince. Before first Dynasty, you had Kings and you would refer to them as 王. But Emperor or 皇 trumps all so 皇 is bigger than 王. In Chinese, we would still call Queen Elizabeth as 王 and not 皇。

 

As a prince, you gain titles mainly through the military or else other services for imperial court.

As direct sons of Emperors, these men enjoyed the Eight Privileges or 八分。This was a practice that was retained from the early days of the Dynasty. 

 

From Wiki:

[Karen]

So what are the privileges?

 

[Cathy]

These privileges were red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, heated carriages, purple cushions, gemstone mandarin hat crests, two-eyed peacock feathers on mandarin hats, use of leather whips to clear the path, and employment of eunuchs. [oooo fancy! – Karen]

Peacock feathers, however, were prohibited for princes above the rank of beizi and direct imperial clansmen. The “Eight Privileges” entitled the prince to participate in state councils and share the spoils of war. However, the prince was also bound to reside in the capital and render service to the imperial court.

[Karen]

If you are granted the Eight Privileges, the title your male descendents inherit will be downgraded for 4 generations after which the title will not be downgraded, unless of course, you have contributed service and you get appointed higher ranking titles. So for example, I am a 亲王,my son will automatically be a title of 郡王. He will not inherit my title of 亲王 unless there is a special reason. This goes down my line until 贝子 for my great-grandchild.

 

If you don’t have the Eight Privileges, then the titles will continue to downgrade until it reaches 奉恩将军 – General by Grace.  There were 12 Iron cap princely families which were bestowed on to the sons of early Emperors of the Qing Dynasties. This means the heir will always inherit a 亲王 title or Prince of the First Rank. What’s also a little bit different in the Qing Dynasty is that they bestowed Prince titles to Mongolian princes. This again underscores the alliance between the Manchu and Mongolians

 

As we’ve seen, princes are not born equal. The 10th Prince was the most high born son of the previous Emperor 康熙, more so than 雍正。In history, he was actually not on team 雍正. He did not enjoy the title of 亲王 but only 郡王, so the same as the 17th prince 果郡王。He was on the 8th Prince’s team and according to history, he will be banished pretty soon and won’t be freed until after the death of 雍正。

 

(Karen)

Enough history – let’s talk about the dance!

 

惊鸿舞 – 惊鸿舞 this dance is so well known because of this drama. The 3 words, separately mean Surprised Goose Dance. Jing means surprising or amazing, Hong in this context is a bird, and Wu means dance. This name of this dance has its roots back to the Tang dynasty, about 1000 years before this. 

 

So many people have seen this drama and seen this dance that the choreography is now iconic. The costume too is really well known. A few fun facts about this dance that I’ve been dying to discuss and share. In interviews with the cast about this show, 孙俪, the actress who plays 甄嬛 shared that she slept weird the night before this shoot this dance and so she couldn’t actually turn her head. Have you had that sensation? In any case, in her interviews, she says that she was in a lot of pain during the day of shooting because of her neck and couldn’t really turn her head which was difficult because if you see in the show, she’s doing lots of spins. Kudos to her for still dancing and making the dance look beautiful. 

 

The other fun fact is that the dance was actually choreographed by none other than the actor who plays the imperial doctor, 温实初。The actor’s name is 张晓龙. Interestingly, 张晓龙 is also the etiquette instructor for this drama. All of the curtseying and bowing were taught by him, but his background is actually in dance! He studied dance at the Beijing Film Academy and he was the only to actually choreograph this dance for the show. Talk about impressive talent! It’s funny because even the other day I was watching a clip of a show he’s on now and he performed a snippet of this dance.

 

[Cathy]

 

Well – why is this dance such a hot potato? Let’s dig in a little deeper. 

 

曹贵人 had the idea to let the concubines perform. If this was just in 后宫, fine, not a big deal because the only “man” enjoying this was the Emperor. But there are other males here – all the princes. Performers during this time were considered very low class and this puts 甄嬛 at a severe disadvantage. Indeed the 10th Prince, 敦亲王 makes a snide comment saying “Brother, you can’t tell me your concubines are even worse than my own dancers?”. The Emperor loses face if his concubines cannot live up their reputation. This portion is about “Saving Face”. 

 

The other reason is a bit more nuanced. 齐妃, another consort, and even 皇后 say that this dance was made famous by the previous Empress 纯元. She amazed the audience with this dance. How can anyone compete? They outright say it. If 甄嬛 does an imitation, then it belittles 纯元皇后’s spirit. If she does a poor job, she loses the Emperor’s face. She’s in a lose lose situation. She needs to balance both the Imperial Court and the Imperial Harem but at the same time she can’t come up short. What can she do?

 

Again at the beginning, 甄嬛 is not doing well. Everyone agrees it’s ok. It’s only when the 17th prince 果郡王 comes in with the flute accompaniment does the dance get elevated to something more. To be fair, this isn’t the most difficult dance out there but let’s give some props to 孙俪, the actress here. She actually did train as a professional performer and dancer with the Shanghai military.

 

[Karen]

At the end of the dance, the 10th prince actually says some pretty demeaning stuff about the performance to which the 17th prince states that jing hong wu originated from 梅妃。Who is this? There’s a whole backstory for this. We’ll discuss in the next episode.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 12

 

 

(Karen)

Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Cathy, and this is Karen. Today we are discussing episode 12 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. Thanks to all of you who are joining us and listening to us on this podcast, we really appreciate all of your support!

 

In the last episode, 华妃 seems to be out of favor with the Emperor. She bullied her remaining ally 曹贵人 to help her come up with ideas as to how to regain favor, and in turn, regain power as second in command of 后宫,the imperial harem. You’ll recall that the trio of 甄嬛, 沈眉庄, and 安陵容 have had success in the last couple of episodes in dispatching their foes, first with 余答应 and now with 丽嫔. 

 

Now onto our recap. 

 

(Cathy)

This episode is set in the summertime and you know what that means! Vacation! The Emperor 雍正, the Empress, 皇后, 甄嬛, and 沈眉庄 were enjoying some time together in the imperial palace or the forbidden palace when 曹贵人 arrives with her daughter. The Emperor, feeling that his daughter, the princess, has lost some weight, thinks that it’s time for a vacation at 圆明园 to avoid the heat in the Forbidden Palace. Think of it as going to the Hamptons if you live in Manhattan.

 

They can’t bring the full retinue of people from the imperial harem so the Emperor only brings the Empress, 甄嬛,沈眉庄,the mothers of his children, so 齐妃 who is the 3rd Prince’s mother, 曹贵人, the mother of this princess, 欣常在, who also has a princess, and in addition 敬嫔, and 端妃。Who is left out? 华妃 and 安陵容. Just in case you are confused as to the whirlwind of people I just named, we have yet to meet 端妃。BUT, if I’m honest, that feels like the entire 后宫, haha.

 

Upon hearing this plan, 曹贵人 immediately takes an elaborate gold hair accessory, called a 步摇, from her coiffure and dangles it in front of her daughter. The Emperor is reminded that he gifted this 步摇 to 华妃. 曹贵人 uses this opportunity to praise 华妃 a little bit. The Emperor, happy with this information, allows 华妃 to go too to the vacation home. The Empress, 皇后, definitely knew the significance of the accessory before 曹贵人 said anything and you see she’s disappointed, so are a 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛. Well, as of right now, it’s a done deal. 皇上made his decision.

 

(Karen)

Next, We get a brief shot of the entourage leave the Forbidden Palace. Notice the yellow bannermen at the very front. The yellow banners represent the Emperor, a nice little visual they included here. We haven’t really talked about banners in a few episodes but still, nice to see this show trying to be historically accurate. Everyone arrives at 圆明园,the old summer palace.

We’ll get into the history of this place. 

 

This is the first time 甄嬛’s been to 圆明园 and she’s taking in the splendors of the place. The Eunuch are telling her about all the amenities she gets including a cooling fan and access to ice! (I must say that I really like 甄嬛’s coiffure right now!) 甄嬛 and her maid/half sister 浣碧 take a stroll around the gardens. An unknown object falls from the sky and the ladies go investigate. Someone shot down two pigeons with one arrow. (It’s hilarious – the pigeons are clearly still alive) The eunuch who comes to retrieve the pigeons responds that the 17th Prince, 果郡王, shot this down. 甄嬛 marvels at his marksmanship.

 

(Cathy)

We cut to a scene with the Emperor 雍正 and 果郡王. 雍正 comments that 果郡王’s archery skills were taught by their father 康熙 himself. 果郡王 responds that the Emperor 雍正 was taught by the best Manchu warrior to which 雍正 brushes that fact away. He says, I was taught archery, you bonded with our father, he clearly favored you. That seems pretty harmless right? But upon hearing this 果郡王 immediately gets on his knees to say – it’s because of his favoritism that I am but a useless prince. 雍正 stares at him for a second and lifts him up. He seems happy with this answer and dismisses 果郡王. 

 

This exchange was very dangerous for 果郡王. 雍正 was jealous of his brother’s favoritism. If 果郡王 gloated, he would have immediately lost his own favor with 雍正, or worse, his life. Our pancake face Emperor shows no emotion this scene, but the tension is there. 雍正, as we’ll see later on, is incredibly suspicious of anyone trying to claim power. Luckily, 果郡王 knows exactly what to say to gently brush off the comment and appease the Emperor. He’s one smart cookie.

 

(Karen)

Well we see another example of 雍正’s jealousy in the very next scene. 甄嬛 goes to greet the Emperor. 曹贵人 is also there. She’s team 华妃 so nothing good could come from this encounter. And we talked about this in the last episode, but 曹贵人, isn’t the prettiest person in the palace, but she is one of the smartest. We’ll very much deep dive into this scene so I’ll move on quickly right now. 曹贵人 keeps bringing up the 17th Prince 果郡王, even openly discussing the initial meeting between 甄嬛 and the Emperor. Remember, 雍正 pretended to be 果郡王 the first time the two met back in episode 7 i think?. You see 雍正’s face get darker and darker as 曹贵人 continues to say things like, it’s such a cute story! Seeing the damage done, 曹贵人 excuses herself and leaves 甄嬛 to deal with 雍正. 

 

(Cathy)

雍正 for some reason wants 甄嬛 to play the instrument on the table 古琴. We talked about 古琴 in episode 9. 甄嬛 just isn’t able to play well and 雍正 bluntly points out that something is on her mind. Of course she is! She’s extremely nervous! He then asks the question that was basically inceptioned into his mind from 曹贵人’s comments. When did she fall in love with him? His face looks dangerous. 甄嬛 has to do a LOT of quick thinking but she is able to get out her bind and mollify him. 

 

Back at her quarters, 甄嬛 is perplexed as to how 曹贵人 could have known about her story with the Emperor. 瑾溪, her head maid, is with her and even she didn’t even know the story until just now. The only one who did know is 流珠, one of her maids from home. They conclude that she must have unknowingly let something slip while chatting with the other maids and someone overheard the conversation. 

 

(Karen)

In the last episode, 沈眉庄 had the idea to achieve savings by cutting palace expenditures. This includes food for members of the 后宫. Well, 皇后 decides to implement this not only on herself but also on 华妃。 华妃 is understandably super pissed. She’s so cute, she’s like – there’s no meat! All I eat are cucumbers. We aren’t paupers! She directs her wrath at 沈眉庄. 沈眉庄 better watch out. [Discuss that 皇后 knows this]

 

沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 discuss the latter’s recent encounter with the Emperor and they agree that 曹贵人 is definitely not someone they should take lightly. 沈眉庄 has come to the conclusion that for them to really have a place in 后宫, they need to have children. Children are the most important thing to keeping a stable footing, and ultimately a future in the palace. She shows 甄嬛 a prescription that she received from an Imperial Doctor that supposedly will help her get pregnant. 甄嬛 is rightly suspicious but 沈眉庄 says she’s already confirmed that the prescription has been cross checked by other people. Well 温实处, 甄嬛’s doctor friend just so happens to be out of town, but a new doctor conveniently just pops up. 沈眉庄 invites him for a cup of tea.

 

(Cathy)

The other concubines of the Imperial Harem are at the Empress 皇后’s place. There’s a lot of sniping between 华妃 and 齐妃, the mother of 雍正’s 3rd son. 华妃 snidely comments that the 4th Prince is here and the son of a lowly maid is already smarter than his older brother. A reminder on the 4th Prince. He was born to a maid after a drunken night. He’s been left here at 圆明园 because the Emperor doesn’t want his son around as a reminder of his “mistake”. 

 

All of the concubines leave and a young boy pops out behind 剪秋, the Empress’s head maid . It’s the 4th Prince. He wants to greet the Empress and the Emperor but he’s gently turned away. 剪秋 returns to 皇后 and asks the Empress why she doesn’t raise the 4th prince. That is an option since 皇后 doesn’t have children. 皇后 immediately shoots down that idea because 皇上 really doesn’t like the 4th Prince. There’s no reason to do something that the Emperor won’t like. So the 4th Prince is all by himself.

 

(Karen)

The ladies are all out enjoying a stroll. 沈眉庄 is singing the praises of the new doctor. They bump into 曹贵人,齐妃, and 欣嫔. A pretty neutral party. 曹贵人 immediately jumps at the opportunity to invite 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 to “apologize” for her earlier comments. They reluctantly agree. 

 

It’s nighttime and the ladies have spent an enjoyable evening. 沈眉庄 has a convulsing reaction to a certain soup. All the ladies are “worried”. They ask her for her symptoms. She hasn’t had an appetite for a few days. Her period is late, she feels lazy, she wants to eat spicy food. What does this sound like? She could be pregnant! They quickly call for a doctor. But what is that smirk on 曹贵人’s face? She does seem to be more eager than the rest…

 

The episode ends with the Emperor and Empress all rushing to 曹贵人’s quarters. The doctor performs his diagnosis and confirms that 沈眉庄 is pregnant. Everyone is ecstatic at the news. 沈眉庄 cannot contain her happiness. It seems like all her work paid off.

 

So yay! We have a happy episode ending. 

 

Let’s now dive into our analysis.

(CAthy)

 

Let’s first talk about 圆明园. This is the old summer palace. It’s in the northwest of Beijing, only about 5 miles away from the Imperial Palace. Construction began around 1709 and one of the gardens was gifted to 雍正 from his father. When 雍正 ascended the throne, he significantly expanded 圆明园, including building palace quarters to hold court. Emperors after 雍正 regularly vacationed here. Indeed, his son 乾隆 mainly held court here at 圆明园 instead of the Forbidden Palace. Emperors after 雍正 continuously added to 圆明园, adding their own touches here and there. This summer palace was favored by royals over the other Summer Palace that we know as 颐和园. 

 

It covers 3.5 square kilometers and had hundreds of structures including pavilions, temples, galleries etc. Thousands of pieces of artwork and books were stored here. 圆明园 is famous for its gardens and the Imperial Gardens are made up of 3 gardens. 

Garden of Perfect Brightness (圆明园; 圓明園; Yuánmíng Yuán)

Garden of Eternal Spring (长春园; 長春園; Chángchūn Yuán)

Garden of Elegant Spring (绮春园; 綺春園; Qǐchūn Yuán)

 

Once known as the Versaille of the East. It was once the largest museum and art gallery in the world, with many treasures including full copies of 四库全书 Imperial Collection of Four and 古今图书集成, the Imperial Encyclopedia. There were over 100 bridges and gardens. Water was a major theme and water made up more than 50% of the space.  Many of the halls, pavilions, and gardens were inspired by traditional myths and legends. The architects also created replicas of famous landmarks throughout the empire, including the 西湖十景 or Ten Views on Xi Hu in 杭州, a city in Southeast China.

 

Notice how I’m using past tense here. 圆明园, once the crown jewel of the Qing dynasty, was sacked during the 2nd Opium War in 1860. The French and British forces looted almost everything from the summer palace. In 1873, Emperor 同治 tried to repair 圆明园 but there wasn’t enough funds in the Imperial Treasury to fund the project. 圆明园 was completely destroyed in 1900 during the Siege of the International Legations. The ruins are still in Beijing and you can go visit them. You’ll see the remains of various types of architecture, interestingly enough many western style buildings were commissioned throughout the years. These were commissioned under Emperor 乾隆 in 1747 and copied the Baroque style. Since 1996, there have been 3 large excavations of the site for research and will continue to 2020. 

 

During its 150 year history, it was a beacon of Chinese architecture, history, and genius. There are efforts today to repair the place but it’s just too costly. The drama obviously didn’t film on location as some still do when filming the other Summer Palace 颐和园。

 

Enough of history – let’s dive deep into the crux of the episode. 雍正 and his jealousy? Paranoia?

 

(Karen) 

 

There are two scenes in this episode that show this. The first is with 雍正 and his brother, the 17th Prince, 果郡王, and the second is with 雍正, 甄嬛, and 曹贵人. We already discussed the former scene. Let’s get into the details of the latter. 雍正, 甄嬛, and 曹贵人 are enjoying some tea that the 17th Prince, 果郡王, brought. 

 

甄嬛 mistakenly brings up the pigeons that 果郡王 shot and wonders where he is. Let’s keep in mind that 雍正 is still somewhat salty with the earlier encounter. 曹贵人 is still ok at this point. She peels a grape for 雍正 to eat but he ignores her. I think she gets annoyed and directs her next attack at 甄嬛. She openly discusses what she knows about 甄嬛 and the Emperor’s first meeting. 雍正 pretended to be the 17th Prince 果郡王 and that’s ho w they originally met. They should thank him for their happiness right now. She says, 果郡王’s reputation precedes him. He’s handsome and talented. All of the ladies in Beijing are mad about him. 甄嬛 – you must have heard of him? 

 

With this, the seeds of suspicion are planted in 雍正’s mind. This is very dangerous – did 甄嬛 fall in love with him or his brother? 雍正 is in his 40s right now. Obviously not as dashing as his younger brother. He refuses to let anyone usurp him, not even in his harem. 甄嬛 can feel the Emperor’s gaze and immediately says – “I was always at home before entering the palace and was sick for a long time so no I haven’t heard of him”. That seems alright and there’s a moment where YongZheng seems fine. But then 甄嬛 just had to say – “The Emperor’s talents are unparalleled. Is this how you won the favor of the other ladies?” Not good – this was a special encounter for the Emperor and she sort of just belittled this fact. 曹贵人, seeing her damage is done excuses herself.

 

甄嬛 has to do a lot of quick thinking – NEED TO FINISH THE SCENE

 

I will sing the praises of the actor 陈建斌. He conveys SO much without even changing his expression, it’s only when he breaks for a laugh does it change. 

 

The last thing we want to discuss today is 皇后. We finally have more evidence of just how cunning she is and how she’s always calculating despite her outward appearance of serenity and poise. We see that twice in this episode. The first is the whole situation of cutting palace expenditures. Without missing a beat, she tells the Imperial Kitchens to reduce meat portions for the ladies of the Imperial Palace. She, 华妃, and 齐妃 shall lead by example. She then says, make sure everyone knows it’s 沈眉庄’s idea. I don’t want to steal her credit. The Empress 皇后 easily ticks 华妃 off. She knows how spoiled 华妃 is and this puts all the blame on 沈眉庄. Indeed in the next episode, 华妃 directs her fury on her instead of 皇后。

 

The second example is 皇后’s reaction to the 4th Prince. We’ve heard so far that the 4th prince is an exceptionally bright and respectful young boy. It’s not uncommon for other concubines and even the Empress to adopt princes and princesses. 皇后 doesn’t have children and her maid 剪秋 suggests adopting the 4th prince. She’ll have something to do. She quickly rejects the idea. The 4th Prince is not favored – there’s no point wasting time on him. 皇后 knows about the intricacies of 后宫. She analyzes every move she makes, basically making a cost benefit analysis. As the Empress, she has to play the long game. She must weigh every outcome – 沈眉庄 is still too green.

 

Well it seems like Shen Mei Zhuang got her wish. She’s pregnant! That’s what every lady in the Imperial Palace hopes for! Somehow cao gui ren knows a lot about zhen huan? How? We’ll learn what happens in the next episodes.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode!

EPISODE 11

 

(Cathy) 

Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Cathy, and this is Karen. Today we are discussing episode 11 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. If you are just joining this podcast, and do not have much background on Qing dynasty history, we recommend you check out our intro episodes first to get an understanding of what our podcast is about and the setting so that you can get oriented correctly.

 

Now onto our episode:

 

甄嬛, our main character, and her friends and allies have dispatched 余莺儿 but 甄嬛 has assessed that it’s impossible for 余莺儿 to be the mastermind behind all of this. This is an exciting episode with 甄嬛 having a bit of fun terrorizing the other concubines in 后宫. If you couldn’t tell from the title, we’re going to be talking about ghosts and Chinese superstition in this episode.

 

And now for the recap.

(Karen)

News of 余莺儿’s gruesome death has reached our main antagonist 华妃. She’s luxuriously eating some watermelon and enjoying the breeze of ice cubes (which is surely a rarity especially in that day and age) in her palace. She’s confident that no one will talk about what happened or rat her out. 

 

甄嬛 has other ideas. She wants to root out the mastermind because she surmised that 余莺儿 cannot have done this alone. How did she get the poison? How did she get this idea? It’s very elaborate and requires a lot of set up someone must have helped her.  甄嬛 discusses this thought with her head maid, 瑾溪 and it’s interesting that 甄嬛 is discussing with 瑾溪 and not her maids from home 浣碧 and 流珠. 瑾溪 has been in the palace for several years and she obviously has a few tricks up her sleeves. She is what I would say is one of the “elders” of the palace (even though she’s not THAT old) and sees things very clearly as to what matters and what doesn’t matter. I’ve thought about this, and if you’re a concubine assembling a team of servants, a person like 瑾溪 is invaluable.  

 

(Cathy)

In planning how to root out the mastermind, 甄嬛 and 瑾溪 decide to make a little show. This is the scary but funny part. The first victim is 富察贵人, another noble lady in the harem. She’s been featured here and there but hasn’t been mentioned much. It’s nighttime and she is heading home with her servants when suddenly, a white figure with long black hair covering the face just appears out of no where. Ooooo scary. Well all of her servants flee, screaming their heads off and she’s left by herself. The problem is she was on a chair being carried by her servants and her servants literally just drop her and run away. One of her maids is so scared, she passes out.  富察贵人 is turning around frantically hoping someone would help her but not on is around so what does she do? I mean, what CAN she do? FAINT! Which she promptly does. 

 

The figure reveals himself to be 小允子, 甄嬛‘s head eunuch, so no actual ghost.

 

When 富察贵人 wakes up back at her palace, she’s surrounded by other concubines including 安陵容, 甄嬛‘s friend. The ladies arrive to the conclusion that the ghost must be the wandering soul of a wrongly accused woman who’s here to seek revenge. The only woman that sort of fits that bill is none other than 余莺儿!

 

(Karen)

Everyone in 后宫 is a bit jumpy because of all these rumors and “sightings” of the ghost. Which I must say, 小允子 gets around. 华妃 doesn’t believe in this baloney but it looks like her crony 丽嫔 does. She’s very clearly worried. It doesn’t help that Shen Mei Zhuang and all of the other concubines are pushing this narrative that 余莺儿 is here to seek revenge and saying that this ghost is only going to hurt the person that made her do all of these nasty things thus taking this away from Zhen Huan and pushing the “scariness” onto the so called mastermind behind the operation. 

 

It’s gotten so bad that 华妃 has even had to speak to the Empress about it and ask for an exorcism to rid the palace of bad spirits. 

 

Well one night, which is what seems like a few days passed, all of the ladies are at Huang Hou’s palace for a greeting. This includes Zhen Huan, Hua Fei, Li Pin and all the other key players. They chat briefly before heading out.

 

A bug here is that the greeting here is set to the evening when previous greetings are set during the day. Generally, it should be during the day but I guess for plot purposes, this has to be set in the evening. 

 

(Cathy)

Well, the ladies are dispersing and heading back to their respective palaces but continue to discuss the ghost. The younger concubines such as Zhen Huan and Fu Cha Gui Ren continue to discuss how scary the situation is, basically trying to make everything seem as haunted and scary as possible. Hua Fei is having none of it and leaves with Li Pin. In the following scenes, we see the figure of a ghost floating around and scaring the living daylight out of poor Li Pin.

 

We’ll discuss this in more detail but ultimately, Li Pin goes crazy from the scare. She starts spilling all the beans as she is trying to get the ghost to leave her alone. The Empress arrives to take Li Pin away for questioning. Hua Fei is down a main ally.

 

Back at Zhen Huan’s pavilion, the three friends – Zhen Huan, Shen Mei Zhuang and An Ling Rong are celebrating their success as it’s evident they planned this whole thing from the start. 安陵容 actually makes a few snarky jabs at 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 based on the conversation she overheard. She says – hopefully I wasn’t too cruel. 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 don’t know how to respond.

 

(Karen)

Hua Fei however is incredibly angry at her palace and is discussing next steps with her remaining ally – Cao Gui Ren, another noble lady who actually has a young daughter. Cao Gui Ren is much smarter than the other person, Li Pin and is able to explain to Hua Fei that this whole thing must have been a prank but calms her down by pointing out that Li Pin is now a madwoman. How can you take the words of a madwoman seriously?

 

So Hua Fei’s next move is to inform the Empress Dowager of what happened the previous night and that Li Pin is ill. Much to the surprise of all of the concubines, the Empress Dowager comes to Huang Hou’s palace during the court greeting, escorted by Hua Fei, to explain that she, the Empress Dowager will question Li Pin. Everyone from Zhen Huan, Shen Mei Zhuang to Huang Hou’s face falls. The only person smirking now, is Hua Fei.

 

The Empress Dowager quells the situation and discusses it with Huang Hou. Li Pin has now gone insane and is being moved permanently by orders of the Empress Dowager, to the Cold Palace or Leng Gong, which we discussed last episode. It’s where unwanted concubines are sent. Everyone knows that Hua Fei was the mastermind behind everything but the Empress Dowager decides not to pursue this and punish Hua Fei, much to Huang Hou’s disappointment. 

 

In the end though, while Hua Fei hasn’t been punished, she is down an ally which must hurt. To add insult to injury, Huang Shang has decided to strip her of her authority to assist Huang Hou in managing the Imperial Harem. Obviously, she is furious.

 

(Cathy)

It’s late at night and we see Huan Bi, Zhen Huan’s maid but also half-sister burning paper money in a secluded corner of the gardens. Well it’s not THAT secluded because who should find her? One of Hua Fei’s allies, Cao Gui Ren. It’s forbidden to burn paper money in the palace because it’s very bad luck. Why is it bad luck? Because you only burn paper money for dead people. Huan Bi explains that it’s her mother’s death anniversary and wanted to send her some money in the afterlife. We’ll discuss this bit further but this is strictly against the rules. Cao Gui Ren will not give up the opportunity to use this as leverage against Zhen Huan… It’s very clear that Cao Gui Ren is the brains of the operations for Hua Fei, not Li Pin and we are now seeing that exhibited.

 

There is a brief scene where Zhen Huan and Shen Mei Zhuang are enjoying a nice time with Huang Hou and Huang Shang. They are going over accounting books and Shen Mei Zhuang is able to showcase her management skills. Hua Fei is outside and wants to speak to the Emperor but is refused at the door. She walks back to her palace in a huff and starts plotting with Cao Gui Ren again as to what she needs to do next to regain the favor of the emperor.

 

 That’s all for episode 11! It’s a fun episode and a breeze to get through but there is so much interesting stuff to discuss! All this mention of ghosts, exorcism, and burning paper money to go over! Plus there are some interesting themes are character studies to do as well.

 

(Karen)

Let’s get started on the analysis.

 

In this episode – we see again, that the Empress Dowager AND the Emperor are keeping Hua Fei happy and not punishing her. All of the ladies in Hou Gong are disappointed when the Empress Dowager steps in but in the language that she uses to appease Huang Hou – she is saying things like, unfortunately Huang Shang likes Nian Geng Yao (Hua Fei’s brother). Remember he is a very decorated and capable general? It is clear that the Empress Dowager stepped in this time to make sure nothing happened to Hua Fei. Li Pin, though she wasn’t the main culprit, is sufficient to take the fall for plotting against Zhen Huan. The Empress Dowager and the Emperor see the big picture while Huang Hou does not. However, the additional punishment of stripping Hua Fei of her “xie li liu gong zhi quan” which means her power to help manage the imperial harem is definitely a slap in the face to her and a warning that she needs to watch herself. 

 

(Cathy)

Let’s get into some Chinese religion and superstition!

 

Historically, the Chinese aren’t religious in the same sense as Western cultures. Different religions flourished in China and the popularity of certain religious ebbed and flowed with the different dynasties. However, the Emperor’s power always reigned supreme and no religion nor religious entity could usurp that power. The Emperor derives his power from the Mandate of Heaven and he is the chosen one. During 雍正’s reign, Buddhism and Daoism were still the main religions in the empire but there was significant Muslim population and a growing Christian population. This doesn’t even include the local beliefs and traditions in all parts of China.

 

Ghosts – the Chinese believe in the afterlife. There are different types of ghosts and spirits and your spirit could still be connected to the human world after death depending on the circumstances of death. In this episode, a white figure with long hair and white face starts haunting the ladies of 后宫. This type of ghost is a 冤魂, or a ghost who’s been wrongly put to death or murdered, so basically a vengeful spirit. Because the person did not die peacefully, he or she cannot be reincarnated into the next life. The vengeful spirit stays in the human world to seek out the person that wrongly murdered that person or find a kind hearted person to acquit his/her crime. In Chinese culture, there’s yin and yang. Women represent 阴 which is dark. As such they are more resolute and more likely to turn into a vengeful spirit. That’s why in Chinese culture, most 冤魂 are women. Maybe it speaks to the fact the low status that women have in society?? I guess men are just like – well I’ve been murdered, it’s ok? 

 

Anyways, rumor has it that if the vengeful spirit or 冤魂 finds the person that killed her, the spirit will suck the life out of the person and cause his death. The phrase is 冤魂缠身, which literally means attached by a spirit. These are considered evil spirits because of their supernatural abilities. The 阴 of the ghost will drain your 阳 and cause your death. In reality, it could be that the person is just racked with guilt and they attribute negative things to a ghost. This is what happens with 丽嫔。She believes in this and is paranoid that the 余答应’s ghost has come back to avenger her death. No one is “clean” in 后宫, so many are paranoid. Which is why I find 富察贵人’s response – I didn’t kill anyone so hilarious. Of course they all jump to that conclusion 

 

Exorcism – So you there’s an evil spirit floating around. Let’s talk about how you combat these evil spirits! Well the first thing to do is pray! We see 皇后 and 华妃 in one scene praying to 2 figures, one in green and one in red. They are Mongolian gods – 喀屯诺延 (Ka Tun Nuo Yin). We’ll see these two in other scenarios for more formal rites and rituals. If praying doesn’t work, then you get monks to perform the equivalent of an exorcism. Each type of ghost requires different rituals. You can also bring in a Daoist monk or Buddhist monk to perform the rituals. 

 

(Karen)

Burning of paper money – Huan Bi, Zhen Huan’s half-sister/maid is getting in trouble for burning paper money. Why? What is it? And why is she doing it? 

 

Well this practice is something the Chinese have done for centuries and one that people still do today. Living people burn paper money to provide currency for people in the afterlife. The money or currency isn’t real and is instead specialized paper that is meant to be burned, but it’s to represent money for the dead to use. The wealthier you are, the more paper money you can buy and subsequently burn for your loved ones to use in the afterlife. People still burn this stuff for their deceased loved ones today in East Asia and generally you burn it in front of their grave or else a shrine. You can burn money for them at any time, but people do this generally during the death day commemoration as Huan Bi is doing in this scene, or else in China during Qing Ming Jie, or the Tomb Sweeping Day. This Qing Ming Jie, or Tomb Sweeping Day is a national holiday in China and gives an opportunity for people to pay respects to their ancestors and, sweep their tombs. This includes burning paper money for them.

 

So why is it taboo in the palace? Well, because it is remembering a dead person and you don’t want that type of negativity or mention of the dead in the palace. The palace needs to be regal, despite how um… cold and brutal we know it is. We also mentioned how superstitious everyone is in the palace. It is bad luck to be commemorating the dead if they aren’t royal or on a specified day because you might attract other bad omens.

 

So as you can see, Chinese culture is deeply superstitious. Even now, there is still some of that. 

 

(Cathy)

Enough of ghosts and spirits – let’s talk about one prominent feature in 华妃’s palace. Ice!

 

There are two scenes in 华妃’s palace where ice is prominently featured. There are records of buying and selling ice all the way back to the 唐dynasty some 1400 years ago. The main clientele for ice was of course, the rich and powerful. Ice vaults were built underground some 4-5 meters deep, so around 16 feet. Straw would be placed on the ground. Depending on where you are, ice would be transported from the north to these vaults. Ice was mainly cut from frozen lakes. It was important to also have thick blocks of ice as they wouldn’t melt as easily. They then are lowered into the vault and sealed with dirt and more straw. When summer came, they would open the vault for consumption. Now each vault could only be opened once so people pre-ordered their ice and came to pick it up once the vault was opened. In the palace, there were special lead and tin containers that could keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time.

 

Once again, no one else in the Palace is shown with ice. This speaks to how powerful 华妃s family is and just how rich she is. Everyone else just has their servants fanning them during the day.

 

(Karen)

Additional things I want to discuss:

 

Li Pin – We never really went in depth on this character and this is the second to last time she shows up so I wanted to discuss her in more detail now. This character isn’t very big but still, there are some interesting insights. First off, I remember when this drama first came out, people were very critical of the actress who played Li Pin because the word Li means beautiful. Apparently in the book, and I haven’t the read the book, she is supposed to be one of the most beautiful women in the palace. Having been appointed the title of Li Pin must mean she is a beauty. But, in this show, she’s…alright? The fans were very critical of her hair decorations. For most of the episodes she’s featured in, she has a big old orange chrysanthemum flower as the main decoration on her head dress that isn’t the most flattering. 

 

She is also not the smartest person on team Hua Fei. That title falls to Cao Gui Ren. Li Pin was an easy opponent to dispatch but her fate, of going insane in the palace and being discarded so easily, is one that is very common in the Imperial Harem. As of now, Zhen Huan and co have removed 2 opponents.

 

(Cathy)

That’s it for this episode! It looks like 华妃 has lost some favor and she’s busy plotting with 曹贵人 to find a solution. 甄嬛 needs to watch out because 曹贵人 now has leverage with 浣碧. We’ll find out what happens next!

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 10

 

(Karen)

Welcome back to another episode of Chasing Dramas, the podcast that explores Chines history through historical Chinese dramas, where we are currently analyzing 后宫甄嬛传。This is Karen, and this is Cathy. In today’s episode, we are discussing episode 10 of the drama. 

 

Episode 10 is where we see Zhen Huan finally fighting back instead of hiding away from the conflict of 后宫。

 

You’ll recall that 甄嬛 has been “sick” for the last couple of months as a ploy to avoid the attention of the emperor, and in turn, the resentment of the harem. But, since she’s met the emperor and she’s all lovey dovey, she needs to “get better”. So she’s still taking medicine to help her get better. But at the very beginning of the episode she notices that she’s been very lazy lately and always wants to sleep. She has a taste of her medicine and notices that her medicine has also been a little sour lately. *Ding ding ding* – Light bulb. She thinks there’s a connection between her laziness and the new taste of her medicine. She’s smart because she is able to notice the difference in taste.

 

(Cathy – 1st point – I’m not sure I like the pink on her and 2nd – ok I thought she was pregnant)

 

(Karen)

Well, the next step is to call her friend, the imperial doctor 温实初, to come check out the medicine he prescribed and see if anything is wrong with it. He, through the magic of acupuncture is able to find out that someone has indeed been messing with his medicine to 甄嬛. (Basically, he is able to prick a pressure point on her arm and be able to discern if someone has sabotaged the medicine. I don’t know entirely if this is possible, perhaps someone with more chinese medicine background can share some thoughts here). The doctor explains that the medicine, or should I say poison, is very subtle. The ingredients added to the medicine will not kill 甄嬛 immediately, but instead will slowly make her lose her sanity until she goes crazy. And see? This is why being friends with an imperial doctor is so valuable. They can help you with all the medicinal issues that pop up.

 

(Cathy)

Upon hearing this, 甄嬛 is understandably surprised. But, her reaction is not of fright, she says ”果然瞧得起我“ which means “wow, they actually view me as a threat”. Basically, she’s ready for a fight which is a far cry from when she first feigned sickness in earlier episodes. She’s ultimately realized that she can’t always avoid confrontation. Now, she has to face it head on, and give this as a warning to the other ladies in the palace that she is not to be trifled with. 

 

She and her maids deduce that her medicine changed when she started getting attention from the emperor, and the emperor appointed a new batch of servants to start serving at 甄嬛’s pavilion. 

(Karen)

Ok, it’s Detective 甄嬛 time! The servants brew a new batch of medicine but 甄嬛 says there’s still something wrong with the medicine. They’re a little stumped because no one else is grabbing the medicine or in charge of brewing the medicine apart from 甄嬛’s inner circle. After some more investigation, they realize it’s the pot that’s the problem or more specifically the lid. So it seems whoever is responsible soaked the lid with the poison and it’ll seep into 甄嬛’s medicine when the medicine gets to a boil and the water hits the lid. Pretty clever if you ask me. It must be one of the new maids and the primary suspect is 花穗。

 

After some investigation, 小允子, 甄嬛’s head eunuch, finds out that 花穗 used to be employed with 余莺儿, the palace maid who stole 甄嬛’s identity, and became a concubine but has since been demoted and condemned to a solitary part of the palace. 甄嬛 brings 花穗 in for questioning. I must say 流珠 (one of 甄嬛’s maids) has a good eye – I guess torture is just a normal thing? She brings in some hot red coal to the room to use for the interrogation.  甄嬛 starts questioning 花穗 about what happens but she only cracks after she’s threatened with having to hold the hot coals in her hands as a sign of her loyalty. We find out from 花穗 that the whole sabotage operation is a pretty elaborate scheme where a mysterious man gives her the poison. 

 

(cathy)

甄嬛 orders a fake out to catch the accomplice. Interestingly, 甄嬛’s friend 沈眉庄 is invited to join as part of the operation but they don’t invite 安陵容, the third of their so called “trio” because they think she’s too fragile. The eunuchs on the roof are freaking hilarious – they’re trying to catch the accomplice. They successfully capture him and who is it? 小印子, one of 甄嬛’s old eunuchs that left a few months back when he and his mentor thought that 甄嬛 wasn’t going to ever gain the favor of the emperor. 小印子 confesses that 余莺儿, the palace maid who is now banished, was the one who ordered him to do it.

 

The next set of scenes are very important and we’ll definitely dig a little deeper. 甄嬛, her maids, and 沈眉庄 decide to deliver a killer blow to 余莺儿 and rid her for good because it seems that even though she is banished, this woman can still wreak havoc on 甄嬛. 

 

Over at 华妃’s palace, her posse are freaking about about what to do but 曹贵人, one of the noble ladies has a plan. They were the true culprits in this case. 瑾溪,甄嬛’s main maid, reports to the Emperor and we see 余莺儿 is only banished to the 冷宫, a separate part of the imperial harem that we’ll discuss in a bit. She isn’t punished with death.  甄嬛 then goes to speak with the emperor and puts the nail in the coffin. The Emperor sentences 余莺儿 to death by suicide. There’s no mention of any other concubines so it looks like 华妃 is in the clear

 

In the next scene, 甄嬛,沈眉庄,and 安陵容 are chatting in 甄嬛’s Pavilion. This is the first time 安陵容  hears about the whole poison attempt. They receive news that 余莺儿 is not cooperating. She literally won’t die and is shouting to see the emperor one last time because in her mind, she will be pardoned if she sees him again. This puts the Eunuchs in a bind because the order is suicide, she has to willingly die, and unfortunately, the Emperor has left the palace for a brief excursion, and the Empress is not feeling well so there is no one to follow up with on this matter. 

 

(Karen)

Upon hearing the news, 安陵容 excuses herself and goes to 冷宫. She goes to find the defiant 余莺儿 and the Emperor’s head Eunuch 苏培盛. She drops some heavy hints to the Eunuch, basically saying that she’s not worth the effort, kill her and be done with it since the order is for 余莺儿 to die. Who cares how she dies, whether it’s by suicide or something else. 苏培盛 gets the hint and orders her death, and one of the eunuchs does so by strangulation. 

 

News travels fast to 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄. The eunuchs all think that 甄嬛 gave 安陵容 the order to kill 余莺儿. This of course is a surprise to the ladies. The episode ends with 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 discussing 安陵容’s ruthlessness but of course, she’s listening right outside.

 

甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 have successfully dispatched a level 1 foe. This is just one of many many enemies they’ll have to face.

—-

(Karen)

For this episode, there are few things we want to discuss more in detail. Even though 甄嬛’s detective work is top notch and it’s fun to see some action with the capture of the culprits, we’re actually going to analyze more subtle things here.

 

冷宫 (Karen)

The first thing is 冷宫. The direct translation is Cold Palace and there really is no equivalent in Western culture. Think of it as being locked up in the Tower of London. Concubines who are no longer favored are banished there. It’s basically a place for solitary confinement in the imperial harem. The concubines do not get any of their usual allowance or materials. Most of them also are stripped of the majority of their servants. Many of the women in 冷宫 go mad or die while there. This is a typical threat for most palace dramas, saying ‘i dont’ want to be thrown into 冷宫” or the emperor might say “if you do this again, I will throw you into 冷宫“, but many concubines in history have been “thrown” into the Cold Palace. There isn’t really an appointed “place” for 冷宫 so we can’t definitively say where it is in the imperial palace. Any place could be “冷宫” really if the emperor or emperor dowager warrants it so. 

 

君无戏言

(Cathy)

In this episode, we’ve seen 甄嬛 getting concrete evidence that she is being attacked by 余莺儿. However, 甄嬛, 沈眉庄 were discussing the events of the capture and are worried that the Emperor may not want to execute 余莺儿 for her crime especially if he has lingering affection for her. At this point, 瑾汐, 甄嬛’s head maid chimes in, and says that as of now, 余莺儿’s crimes may not be enough to warrant an execution because in the end, 甄嬛 is not hurt. She continues and says that what WILL be a crime punishable with death, is deceiving the emperor.  The phrase 瑾溪 uses is 欺君之罪. It’ll pop up all the time in different dramas but it is a capital offense. 

 

As predicted, when 瑾汐, the maid, goes to report the crime to the emperor and empress, the emperor is understandably upset but only punishes 余莺儿 with life in imprisonment in 冷宫。甄嬛comes to see the emperor shortly after. The emperor tries to console her and she says that she is saddened by the drama that has happened because of her. She brings up the fact that on new years eve, she made a wish but unfortunately, her wish didn’t come true. 

 

(Karen)

Here, she’s bringing up the now “famous” poetry line that she recited in the plum blossom garden a few episodes back。Everyone knows this line. She now explains to the Emperor that she was the one to make the wish, and she was actually the one the Emperor heard in the plum blossom garden that night。She even explained that she had to lie and say she was a palace maid because she was out in the garden while sick and met an unknown man. She explains everything in a very tactful way so that the Emperor can figure out for himself that he has been tricked. It’s evident now that 余莺儿 lied to him and that he had given attention to the wrong person, when in fact the person he met in the garden on New Year’s Eve was 甄嬛 all along.

 

Without skipping a beat, the emperor calls for 苏培盛,his head eunuch, to come into the office and calmly tells him that 余莺儿 lied to the emperor and tried to poison fellow concubines, she is sentenced to death by suicide. The word 赐 is used here which means “gift”. Anything the Emperor gives is a gift, so even death sentence will be a “gift” and the word 赐 is used.

 

甄嬛 is still in the room and is “surprised” by the sudden change of punishment. 皇上 explains that she lied to the emperor, using the idiom, 欺君罔上, which means just that. She lied to the emperor and hoodwinked him. This type of crime cannot be overlooked which is why she has to die.

 

甄嬛 says that even though she lies, the root cause is ultimately her admiration for the emperor, to which 皇上 says 君无戏言。 This idiom is very famous for palace dramas. It pops up a lot. The direct translation more or less is that the king/emperor never has joke phrases. What it really means is that the emperor cannot take back his words. He has stated this punishment and he is not taking it back. He does say that, since 甄嬛 is asking for forgiveness, he is willing to send back 余莺儿’s body to her family. (Great consolation right? That is supposed to be sarcastic if you couldn’t tell).

 

(Cathy)

Ok – I will also applaud 陈建斌’s acting here. I don’t know – all I see are his eyes blinking. No facial expression – this is just too funny. Where’s your emotions?! 

 

This is a win huge win for 甄嬛! 余莺儿 is dead and she got the Emperor to sentence her. Nice and clean right? The two servants that were also accomplices in this scheme, the maid 花穗 and 小印子 were also sentenced to death, though in a more gruesome fashion – by being beaten to death.

 

It seems like the death count now for the drama is at: 5

 

Let’s talk briefly about 华妃 and her posse. They were the ones who gave 余莺儿 the idea to poison 甄嬛 and indeed the poison. 华妃 needs to have all the loose ends cut. 曹贵人, the noble lady, who seems to be the strategist of the group correctly points out that they need leverage. The only leverage they have over 余莺儿 is her family. If they threaten 余莺儿’s family, she’ll keep the secret and literally take it to her grave. Even in the face of death, there are things that 余莺儿 values more than her own life, her family. In a way, she is a tragic figure. Nothing but a pawn in the chessboard of 后宫. She didn’t know how to play and she lost her life for it.

 

(Karen)

I want to end the episode by discussing again that this show tells us how important it is to treat servants with dignity and as humans because you never know how that might impact you. In the scene where 余莺儿 is fighting against the eunuchs to not let her die, she is screaming and screaming to see the emperor. After 安陵容 comes to tell the Eunuchs that they should just get it over with, 苏培盛, the head eunuch says this to one of his mentees – “I told you earlier to tolerate her, but now, no need to tolerate her any longer” and the mentee promptly brings out a rope and strangles 余莺儿. 

 

Who was this mentee? This mentee is the eunuch named 小夏子。 You’ll recall a few episodes earlier, 余莺儿 abused 小夏子 by forcing him to crack open walnuts with his bare hands, causing his hands to bleed. 余莺儿 used her power and status as a woman of the emperor to humiliate 小夏子 and she was definitely belittling his existence. Even though she herself was just a maid not too long ago, she looks down on eunuchs. Well, because she did this, 小夏子 and his mentor 苏培盛 are definitely eager for an opportunity to exact revenge and, as we saw, did not hesitate to kill this woman. Gruesome and scary, I know, but you can’t help but wonder if 余莺儿 had been kinder, would she have met such a sad fate that no one wanted to advocate or help her whatsoever. But I guess, if she were a better person, she would not have ended up where she is now to begin with.

 

(Cathy)

And that’s that for this episode! 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 have successfully dispatched a level 1 foe. This is just one of many many enemies they’ll have to face. It seems like 安陵容 is showing some of her true colors. Even though everyone thinks she is meek and fragile, she was not afraid to go to 冷宫 and bluntly ask for the death of余莺儿.  

 

余莺儿 has died, but what about 华妃 and the rest of her posse? We’ll get into all that in the next episode!

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.

EPISODE 9

 

Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. Today we are analyzing episode 9 of 后宫甄嬛传.

 

So in the last episode, we saw that our main character 甄嬛 and the emperor finally get together and he has showered her with attention. He took her to another palace for a lovely spa day, and gave a her a ton of gifts. All of the other concubines in the palace are inevitably jealous. 

 

For today’s episode, we’ll do more plot analysis. The ladies in 后宫 the Imperial Harem are getting restless and people are putting some plots into motion…let’s see what happens.

 

(Karen)

Episode 9 starts off with the powerful 华妃 giving 甄嬛 and her friend, 沈眉庄 a hard time, mainly by trying to incite jealousy between the two. A few stray observations here – 1) This is probably my least favorite look of 华妃’s. I don’t know why but her hairstyle is not flattering for her face and makes her look much chubbier than she is. But that’s just my take. And 2) I didn’t think about it too much the first however many times I watched this drama, but by today’s standards, you are serving/ultimately sharing a husband with your friend. In the palace, you’re supposed to call the other concubines “sister” as a sign of respect and family. That’s so odd.  

 

She tells 沈眉庄 to copy 女论语 as a method of a) being a punishment, but also b) in her terms, of sending a signal to the rest of the imperial harem (后宫) to be mindful of what is expected behavior of concubines。

 

(Cathy)

Fortunately, 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 were able to fend off the fighting words from 华妃。Partly because 沈眉庄 has also developed better bantering techniques against 华妃 so yay!  华妃 leaves them alone. We hear the two friends discussing and 甄嬛 is wondering if 沈眉庄is upset that she now has the favor of the emperor. Again, can you imagine being in their shoes as a 21st century woman? 沈眉庄 is very honest in saying that she’d rather it be 甄嬛 because at least she won’t turn around and harm her. 沈眉庄 shares that she can’t trust anyone in the palace except for 甄嬛, not even the other girl, 安陵容。

 

That night, the emperor is again spending time with 甄嬛. She actually turns around to tell him that he should stop spending too much time with her as it’s been about 7 days. But she’s tactful in that she tells him she doesn’t want the imperial harem to be a place of jealousy and hatred on her account. The emperor is a smart and respected emperor, he knows what he should do. 皇上, the emperor, is a little annoyed but agrees. Again, in China, at least, it is a very modern concept to have one wife and one husband. You see here that she is literally pushing him away from her to save his “imperial rule” but also to protect herself. It’s such a different standard.

 

(Karen)

The next day, the emperor, 皇上, goes to visit his mother, 太后。 Now, I absolutely love scenes between 雍正 and his mother because they have probably the most tiring conversations ever. Nothing is direct, everything is calculated and guided. The online forums for their conversations are always hilarious because ugh, even as emperor, 太后 is the big boss who controls everything.

 

What do I mean.

 

The empress dowager, or 太后, starts out and says – 皇上, you seem quite energetic today. It looks like the people who are caring for you are doing a good job. [Cathy – which is quite nice right? Mother, making sure her son is being taken care of] He says yes, he’s recently gotten a 菀贵人 that he really likes. (Karen – We’ll ignore the fact that they’re treating women like property and commodities. And remember, 菀贵人 is the official title of 甄嬛。 They are one and the same right now.)

 

太后 says that’s wonderful. It’s nice that you have a kind-hearted person who is able to take care of you. Unlike your brother, the 17th prince who even now isn’t married and doesn’t have an “official wife” [Cathy – if you’ve forgotten who the 17th prince is, he’s the handsome/dashing younger brother of the emperor whom we met a few episodes ago]. The emperor doesn’t say anything so 太后 continues and says – I haven’t seen old 17 in a while, I wonder how he’s doing. Obviously, 皇上 interjects and says that if she wants to see him, I can tell him to come into the palace to visit you by noon. 【That’s pretty reasonable right? Wouldn’t you do the same for your mother?】

 

Now, what does 太后 say – she goes, “Yes, it would be lovely to see him, but if I see him, I might be reminded of when your father was still alive, how his mother was the reigning concubine in the palace and had all the attention which made the entire imperial harem resentful and jealous.” ….

 

At this point, you see the emperor completely silent and looking down, away from his mother.

 

太后 brushes this off by saying, please excuse me. As I age, I think about things more and might prattle on. Don’t mind me. 

 

But of course, the emperor knows exactly what she’s trying to say and tell him to do. The emperor leaves quickly and is escorted out by 太后’s main maid. But he isn’t stupid. I love this part. He wants to know who has been telling stories to his mother. But he doesn’t outright ask the main maid who’s been tattle-taling to his mother.

 

So, he asks the maid – “My mother’s health hasn’t been very good. Has 华妃 come to see my mother to check on her health?” Because he thinks 华妃 is the one gossiping. The maid says 华妃 hasn’t stopped by. She also quips that 皇后, the empress, did stop by earlier today but only for a short while, just to help the empress dowager drink medicine. Thus, absolving 皇后 from suspicion. The maid then goes onto say, however, 丽嫔, was here yesterday with 太后 and they chatted for a very long time. The emperor hear’s 丽嫔 and hurriedly walks away.

 

[Cathy – oh really? I took this in a completely different way. I thought he wanted to see who has been spending time with 太后 so that he can give some thanks. Wow…totally didn’t get that]

 

That night, when being given the name plates of the women who are available to the emperor, the emperor scowls at the sight of 丽嫔’s name plate and immediately, his head eunuch says, “Oh, it looks like 丽嫔‘s name plate is dirty, go fix it and don’t present it as an option for a few days”. Do you understand what’s happening? He’s eliminating the opportunity for 丽嫔 to serve the emperor. This is I guess a passive aggressive way of punishing 丽嫔。

 

Why I love this scene is because everything was passive aggressive and subtle. If you want to know who is THE top tier boss of the imperial harem, it is the emperor and then it’s the empress dowager。Her maid knew exactly what the emperor wanted to find out and she presented it willingly. You saw what the end goal of the conversation was but basically, this entire exchange from her first sentence of “it seems that someone nice is taking care of you” , Tai Hou intended for this conversation to direct to the fact that the emperor should not spend all his time with 甄嬛。She did not need to bring up the 17th prince but she did in order to talk about the 17th prince’s mother. But of course, 太后 does not directly tell her son to be mindful. She’s being as tactful as possible.

 

Listeners, do you talk to your mothers in this way? Perhaps you do? I just thought this scene was very interesting.

 

Something else to consider is it’s not entire clear if 丽嫔 went to chat with 太后 on her own, or if 丽嫔 did this at the behest of 华妃。 Remember 丽嫔 is allied with 华妃 and i’m sure 皇上 knows this. He can’t punish 华妃 necessarily because he needs her happy, but he doesn’t have the same reservations towards 丽嫔 who doesn’t have a powerful brother. So he’s fine with passive aggressively punishing 丽嫔.

(Cathy)

雍正 decides to go to 齐妃’s palace. She’s the mother of the 3rd prince. She’s so cute, she doesn’t know what to do! Once she hears the news, she hurriedly tells her maid to get her dressed in pink and change her hairstyle. She wants to give her son a chance to talk to his father but even the Eunuchs are like…that’s not a good idea. [Karen – reminder – this woman has a son and she’s nearing middle age at this point. She’s no where near as young and pretty as our main character and 华妃)

 

华妃 on the other hand, decides it’s time to “teach” 沈眉庄 a lesson after finding out that 皇上 is not staying at 甄嬛’s palace that night. (Karen – again the movements and whereabouts of the emperor is known by literally everyone in the palace). She summons 沈眉庄 to copy some of the accounting books but she orders her maid 颂芝 to blow out some of the candles. We see 沈眉庄 struggling since she’s straining her eyes to write. When she’s finished, 华妃 makes a snarky comment on how poorly the penmanship is.

 

Here I need to say, 沈眉庄 really isn’t adept at this. She says that it’s too dark so it’s a bit tough. Girl, WHY would you say that? You don’t ever want to say it’s something else’s fault. Sure enough, 华妃 says well you know that I need to reduce costs in the palace. I’ve heard that if you’re actually really good, you can write beautifully even in the dark. We were just congratulating her earlier in the episode! But now, without 甄嬛, she’s back to her old self. 沈眉庄 offers to re-write it. Ok yes, that might be the easiest way to mollify 华妃, but she definitely shouldn’t have said anything earlier about the lack of candles! And what does 华妃 do? She orders her maid to dim another two candles. 

 

(Karen)

Back at 齐妃’s palace, she changed into a pink manchu gown and she’s all flustered with the emperor being there. She starts going on and on about how her son is trying to learn and be like his father. 雍正 gradually gets annoyed to the point where he points out for her to stop wearing pink because it’s not suitable for her age. She’s betting off wearing sapphire blue or green colors. Ouch….he’s had enough and leaves. Poor 齐妃. She’s waited months and months for him to visit and she blows it. 

 

(Cathy)

甄嬛 is in her palace sort of sulking. She’s decided to play a piece on her instrument 古琴. The piece plays is called 湘妃怨 which basically translates to the Sorrow of Consort Xiang. The poem is from a Song Dynasty poet but the music for the instrument 古琴 I think is from the Ming Dynasty. The poem is based off the legend of the mythical Emperor Shun. He died and his two wives or concubines are mournful for their husband. 

 

(Karen)

This is I think the first time we’re introduced to the 古琴. Let me take a second to explain it. It’s not entirely relevant to the rest of the plot, but I still think it’ll be fun to explain this instrument as it is significant in Chinese history and pops up everyone in Chinese historical dramas. 

 

古琴, using pin yin is spelled G-U, Q-I-N, is one of the oldest Chinese instruments. It has over 3000 years of history and was even a favored instrument of Confucious. This instrument is of the zither family. Not sure that means anything to most people. It is a wooden instrument that is about a meter in length, about a foot wide with a number of strings attached. The strings were historically made of silk but nowadays can be made of nylon or even steel.  Currently, the number of strings is 7 but this has changed throughout history. You sit and put the instrument on a table and music is produced by plucking and pressing on the strings. The right hand is used for plucking the strings and the left hand is used for the vibrato or changing the key/notes. 

 

The sound that is produced, in my opinion evokes a more somber tone even though the piece can be cheery. This instrument is beautiful to listen to and is generally a solo instrument since its sound is generally softer. People play this instrument while singing or else reciting poetry. Even in this drama, 甄嬛 is playing this piece and reciting the poem Cathy mentioned earlier to better evoke her emotions. If it IS to be paired with another instrument, the 琴 is generally paired with the 箫。 Which is the other instrument that 甄嬛 plays. Isn’t that interesting? I actually never realized this but the book or at least the director of this show clearly wants to paint 甄嬛 to be as much of an educated person as possible.

 

古琴 is a favored instrument of scholars so a lot of the time when I think of this music, I think some scholar playing it while drinking tea and trying to think of some poem to write. The idiom that someone who is talented should know 琴棋书画。It means, they should know how to play this 古琴,play Chinese Go(or Chess) which is what 棋 stands for, Read or 书 and also Paint 画. Learning the 古琴 is a high class and elegant activity. I mentioned that scholars play this instrument, but emperors play it and even some military generals! People who are master 古琴 players are generally thought of as calm, elegant, and light. When you listen to the music it is incredibly calming and stirs up very subtle emotions.

 

There are over 3300 pieces written for 古琴 through the ages. Something that is interesting is that there are well known pieces that have been passed down through time but the names of these pieces are more well known than the specific composer because a lot of the time the music is compiled together, passed down and improved upon through time. What we have today in archives may not be the original scores. This is distinctly different from western classical music. You have your Mozart, Beethoven, Hadyn that are very well known for their various pieces of music. But you don’t really have a whole lot of that in China. It’s mostly, yes I know this piece it’s very famous and perhaps originated from this dynasty, or this piece is describing a story about this love story in this specific dynasty. Chinese music isn’t named as Symphony no. 40 or Sonatina in G. These concepts do not apply. It’s primarily – I want this piece to be called Flowing Water, or Plum Blossoms and that’s what it’s called. 

 

Fun fact, this 古琴 instrument I feel like pops up a lot in video games or even in dramas as a quest item – “Go fetch this 古琴 from this very famous god or lord or mythical being”.

 

(Cathy)

Ok, also, yes 孙俪 the actress that is playing 甄嬛 is doing her hardest, but that’s not how you play 古琴. I just watched a video on youtube and nope sorry. The hand placement is wrong, haha. She gets a lot of right so I’ll give her points for that.

 

That was a long explanation. Let’s get back to the story.

 

Well who decides to pop up? The Emperor. They get all lovey dovey again and he stays. He gives 甄嬛 a nickname 嬛嬛, which is just the last character in her name said twice. Blegh…still not used to it.

 

Back at 华妃’s palace, 沈眉庄 finishes up and she said she even did double the work because she knows her work is probably not good enough! 华妃 who has been taking a nap finally dismisses her. 

 

I feel like 沈眉庄 is just making one terrible decision after another. She’s exiting 华妃’s palace and they walk by a nearby pond. She tells her servant that well I’m now awake so let’s go check out the coy fishin the pond. It’s at night, it’s dark. Like WHAT? Sure enough, all of her servants get summoned away and she’s just by herself, happily looking and enjoying the evening view. Can we guess what happens? Yep, someone pushes her into the water…

 

(Karen)

Fortunately, we see that she has been rescued and the next scene is of her being looked after by a number of imperial doctors and the emperor is even personally making a visit to check on her. 甄嬛 and also 敬嫔 are there to see what happened. The doctors say that she’s going to be fine but is currently still unconscious. Who shows up not long after? None other than 华妃 herself. She is nicely dressed with full face of make-up.

 

She comes in to basically say that she can’t believe something like this happened. And turns on the servants of 沈眉庄。 She chastises them for negligence and is proposing to have them sent to the 后宫 harem’s version of prison. On one hand, it’s to punish these servants for not protecting their master, but on the other, you can see it as further punishment towards ShenMeiZhuang as she is hoping to remove any and all support she has. Luckily, 甄嬛 steps in and is able to save the servants from being sent away. Her, being 甄嬛is able to turn the tables quickly and actually tells the emperor that part of the reason that 沈眉庄 is unconscious is because the palace guards at 华妃’s palace, 翊坤宫, weren’t able to save her quickly. It’s probably good to switch a batch of palace guards to guard 华妃’s palace who are better at their jobs in order to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. 华妃 doesn’t want this to happen but the emperor agrees that something like this cannot happen again so asks the guards to be switched immediately.

 

(Cathy)

There’s not much 华妃 can do so she invites the emperor back to her palace for some soup to soothe the strain of the day. They leave while 甄嬛 stays to watch over her friend. Everyone in the palace is trying to figure out who or what caused 沈眉庄 to fall into the water. They don’t know that someone pushed her so it’s all conjecture as to what happened. 甄嬛,皇后,the empress, and also 敬嫔, the ruling concubine of the palace that 沈眉庄 lives all in their separate palaces think that it’s 华妃. But they can’t understand how or why she should would commit this type of crime so close to her own palace. Wouldn’t she want to avoid suspicion? But then a reasoning is that for someone to have the gall and guts commit this type of crime so close to 华妃’s palace means that it really can only be 华妃 herself. Otherwise, 华妃 would be furious that something like this happened so close to her palace. However, 皇后 is correctly in theorizing that even though everyone in their hearts knows exactly who did it, as long as 皇上 doesn’t know who did it, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. At this point, 皇上 does not believe 华妃 is the culprit so not much can be done.

 

华妃 the next day is seething that 甄嬛 has been able to change her palace guards. This means that it will be much less convenient for 华妃 to go in and out with these new guards. She turns her attention to 甄嬛 in order to enact some type of revenge. We’ll discuss that more in the next episode.

 

The episode ends with 沈眉庄 waking up and furious at what happened. She tells 甄嬛 that she didn’t just “fall into” the water. Someone pushed her. She knows in her heart that it has to be 华妃 but because she has no evidence and there’s not much she can do to fight 华妃, all she’ll say to 皇上, the emperor, Is that she was clumsy and fell into the water herself. 

 

(Karen)

In the next episode, 甄嬛 turns into a detective to see who or what is trying to sabotage her in the palace. Until next time!

EPISODE 8

 

Episode 8

 

(Karen)

Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy. This is episode 7 of the podcast, but we’re analyzing episode 8 of 后宫甄嬛传,Empresses in the Palace. There’s a ton of culture to analyze in this episode actually which we’re very excited to discuss. As always, if you have any comments/questions or feedback, please email us at Chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com

 

Let’s start off with a quick recap. This episode is pretty light in terms of plot. Pretty much, this episode recounts our main character 甄嬛, after 8 episodes of dodging the emperor, is finally healthy and ready to um, get “married”. I must say, considering the subject matter of this drama or at least this episode, the drama is able to do this in quite a classy way, because, as we’ve mentioned before, anything explicit is banned by the Chinese government. 

 

(Cathy)

So what happens:

The first half of the episode is lovey-dovey. 雍正, the emperor is very excited (or at least, as excited as his pancake face can bring us to believe) (Karen – if you look at this scene, he really does just have this dead pan face it’s actually hilarious)  Yes – he’s excited and takes 甄嬛, our main character, outside of the Forbidden Palace to another palace with hot springs for what I’ll call is a lovely spa day. There’s a conversation at the hot springs about 汉成帝, 赵飞燕,赵合德, very famous people from the Han Dynasty. We’ll discuss the importance of this。  

 

甄嬛 wants a “normal wedding”, but she knows that she can’t have it because she’s only a concubine. 雍正 is very taken with her honesty and promises to give her one. The curtain closes on a romantic night.

 

It’s a sleepless night for many people in 后宫, the imperial harem, including the favored concubine, 华妃 and 甄嬛’s best friend, 沈眉庄 who is also establishing herself in the palace。

 

甄嬛 returns to 后宫 and the first thing she does is greet 皇后, the empress or official wife of the emperor. 甄嬛 performs the three kneels and nine bows or 三跪九叩 which we discussed in the 3rd episode and which is a customary formality after spending the night with the Emperor. Here, 甄嬛’s attire has also matured a bit. Her clothes and hair are styled much more formally.

 

(Karen)

After she leaves 景仁宫,甄嬛bumps into 丽嫔 and 曹贵人。If you recall, 丽嫔 and 曹贵人 are two concubines that are team 华妃. They are allies with her and want to bring down 甄嬛。 Here, we see 康路海 is currently working for 丽嫔 and he sneaks away after seeing 甄嬛 to talk to her。If you don’t remember who this guy is, that’s fine, let me tell you – he used to be the Head Eunuch for 甄嬛 back when she just arrived at the palace, but then upon seeing her sick, and thinking she’ll may never amount to much, he basically jumped ship to go work for 丽嫔. Ever the social climber, this eunuch, 康陆海 actually goes and tries to get back into 甄嬛‘s good graces and is actually wondering if he can serve her again. The nerve of him! 丽嫔, his current master, witnesses this scene and runs up to this conversation, gets all mad and punishes him. 甄嬛 isn’t stupid and knows that he doesn’t have any loyalty, which from day one we’ve seen she values very much and doesn’t take him back. He is left kneeling on the floor and punishing himself by slapping himself in the face. That’s a common punishment for folks in the palace. 

 

I’ve gone back and forth on the lesson here for 康陆海。 On one hand, it’s important to be loyal but is blind loyalty great? Especially if you have a terrible master? (We see examples of this later). I think the true lesson here is recognizing when you have a good master and being loyal to a good master. If 康陆海 was smart enough to see that 甄嬛 has potential, just like the empress or almost anyone in the palace, he would not have left and probably would be in a much higher social standing. But now, he has the reputation of someone who isn’t trustworthy. He’s a minor character, and was only around for like a few episodes, but this is, unfortunately, the last we see of him.

 

(Cathy)

Anyways, when they get back to 碎玉轩, 甄嬛 finds out that she’s been gifted with 椒房之礼. We’ll discuss this later but this is a huge deal!  

 

A few days later, 甄嬛 is sitting with 沈眉庄 and they discuss 雍正’s favoritism. 沈眉庄 is frank in sharing with her best friend that she’s a little jealous of the attention that 甄嬛 is getting but she knows that it’s beneficial for the two of them to be favored which means their position in 后宫, the imperial harem, will be much more secure. Servants won’t sabotage them as much and the other concubines will give them more respect. 沈眉庄 advises 甄嬛 to bide her time and to “endure” or tolerate (忍)the other concubines, no doubt from her own learnings.

 

Elsewhere, 安陵容, the third friend of the trio, who was embarrassingly returned to her palace after being called to serve the emperor, comments how no matter how close people may seem, there will be cracks to their relationships. 

 

(Karen)

Not too long after,

雍正 summons 甄嬛 to his own private residence. He has a plate of dumplings brought to her and she takes a bite. It’s super cute and she’s rightfully embarrassed afterwards. We’ll discuss the meaning of this.

 

华妃 and her minions are huffing and puffing in 华妃’s palace. 丽嫔 and 曹贵人 are voicing their displeasures for 甄嬛’s sudden rise to power. 雍正 is spending a ton of time with her and it’s understandable that the ladies are jealous.

 

The next day, 甄嬛 comes in late to 请安, which is the formal court greeting to 皇后, the empress, and this is the most fascinating thing. We’ve seen 3 ladies at this point be late to this court greeting. First is 华妃 (which is a habit for her), then it’s 沈眉庄 (where, if you recall, she had to change clothes) and now 甄嬛。 But what happens. Nothing! Remember how 沈眉庄 got completely chewed out and punished by 华妃 for being a tiny bit late? 甄嬛 is late as well but no one says a word. You see here how important favoritism by the emperor. Everyone knows if they give 甄嬛 a hard time at this point, they’ll just be hurting themselves in the eyes of the emperor so it’s best to just leave it be. 沈眉庄 did not have that much established favoritism and therefore, was a target. No one dares to punish 甄嬛 right now because of all the things the emperor has done for her the last few days. Smartly though, 甄嬛 does not flaunt anything like 华妃 does and just takes her seat at the court greeting. 

 

(Cathy)

We also get our first mention of 四阿哥, who is the 4th son of the emperor, and the Empress has a curious reaction to him. We find out that the 4th prince/son of the emperor is not favored by the emperor whatsoever because he was the product of a drunken night and was actually reprimanded by his father for this act. So this prince has been relegated to the sidelines…Spoiler alert though, this prince ultimately becomes the next Emperor, the famed 乾隆 emperor so what happened? His story is obviously a deviation of Chinese history but still fun to see how it turns out nonetheless.

 

The episode ends as ladies leave and 华妃 tries to sow some jealousy between 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛.

 

Analysis:

 

(Karen)

Okay – we’re going to get into some deeper stuff. There’s a lot to cover in this episode.

 

The first, is a reference to a han dynasty emperor. This takes place when 甄嬛 is at the hot spring taking a nice bath complete with rose petals everywhere. That’s another cliche of Chinese dramas that you see time and again. Baths always, always are covered with rose petals and it doesn’t matter the season. The emperor comes to see her while she’s taking a bath, I mean, rude, so she asks him – do you want to be 汉成帝, because I dare not be 赵合德. He is sort of miffed and they have exchange about this comparison and this allusion. So, what’s going on.

 

汉成帝 was one of the last emperors of the Western Han dynasty. He lived from 51BC to 7BC, so several thousand years ago. The Han dynasty was a very important dynasty in Chinese history. It produced very famous emperors that expanded China’s borders, pushed back the Huns and also was the dynasty when the silk road was initially established. There are tons of books and dramas about emperors, empresses, princes, princesses, heros, poets, of this dynasty.  The Han which this dynasty is named, is one and the same as the “Han” people of China so you can see how important this dynasty is. 

 

汉成帝 was the 12th emperor of this dynasty. He is known, unfortunately, not for doing any of these great things that helped establish, expand and develop the empire, but because he was one of those emperors that loved debauchery and the pleasures of women. He abused his power to focus only on building extravagant palaces, having lavish parties, and for having spent time with ladies in his harem. 

 

Of the women he had in his imperial harem, were two sisters – one named 赵飞燕 and the other 赵合德, the woman our main character, 甄嬛 referenced. These two women are famed in Chinese history for their beauty. The more famous one, 赵飞燕 is considered one of the most beautiful women in Chinese history. She is not of noble birth and historical archives say that she is primarily an accomplished dancer but ended up being the second official wife of this Han emperor. There are dramas that depict this scene, but her “claim to fame” if you will, is that she is so thin and light, that she can dance atop of drums. This drum dance, is her signature. There is a beautiful scene in a drama called mu yi tian xia where this dance is exhibited, in case anyone wants to watch it. And what did we say previously about women who are singers and dancers? People of higher birth don’t appreciate these low ranking attributes. Anyways, the two sisters, 赵飞燕 and 赵合德, though famous in history, mostly are portrayed in a negative light because they are the women that distracted the emperor from his duties. They schemed and murdered their opponents in the imperial harem and were basically women that used their beauty for “bad” instead of good. History labels them as would I would say are “femme-fatales”. Both of these women did not have good endings. One sister was given poison, the other committed suicide.

 

So you see why, when being compared to this Han dynasty emperor, this current emperor, 雍正 is a little annoyed. He says how dare you compare me to him? Basically, 甄嬛 was a little shy he was visiting her in the hot springs and hopes he isn’t um as lustful as this other emperor is. But also, she wants to tell him she doesn’t want to distract him as these sisters did. But isn’t this fun? Literally 2 sentences that zhen huan says conveys a whole story. I love it.

 

But the stories don’t end just there. To appease the emperor, she says that the emperor, 雍正, is very wise and brilliant, something that the han dynasty emperor cannot compare to. He, however is not appeased whatsoever, but turns around and says, how would you know I’m wise and brilliant especially in court? You’re not allowed to discuss court matters.

 

This is very important and exemplifies actually, I would say, the basis of Chinese society that was established back by Confusius. In Chinese culture, and also mentioned by Confucius, men and women have very defined roles in the family. It is very patriarchal and the men are focused on the outer section of the family while women are focused on the inner section. Men are and always will be the head of the family, and they will tend to public affairs. Women, are focused on matters within the family, so child rearing, managing the servants, hosting events etc. They are not supposed to interfere with affairs of court, or of what the men of the household is focused on. This is division of labor at its finest in Chinese society. On a much grander scale in the imperial family, it means that women are not supposed to meddle in affairs of state. As we have seen, the empress, or the official wife of the emperor, is only supposed to be focused on affairs of the imperial harem. She, and other concubines, are not to talk to court officials or to give opinion or advice on anything related to state matters. In many cases, if they are found to be meddling, the punishment could be severe.

 

The reason behind this is that, as we just discussed, there have been plenty of examples in Chinese history where women have distracted emperors from their duties and in some extreme instances, have brought about the demise of entire dynasties.

 

In practice, however, it is clear that women play an incredibly important role in state affairs whether the men like it or not. As we will see, the empress dowager, the emperor’s mother is incredibly knowledgeable of state affairs and was crucial in helping the emperor secure the throne. There are numerous examples of women, in their restricted roles, play a key part in history. Perhaps the most powerful woman in China at any given point in time, is actually the empress dowager, the Emperor’s mother. If you were not aware, in the Tang Dynasty, a woman, who was the wife of the emperor, actually declared herself emperor, the first and only in Chinese history. So you see, even though women were unequal in terms of roles, their importance in Chinese history cannot be understated.

 

We went off a bit to discuss the division of roles here. Zhen Huan was able to keep the emperor happy by continuing to say that she doesn’t know anything about court affairs. All he knows is that in his imperial harem, he has women who are more beautiful than these two sisters, and also women who are as thoughtful and elegant as Ban Jie Yu. Not to get more complicated but Ban Jie Yu is another concubine of this Han Emperor’s harem. She however has a good reputation for being graceful. So basically, Zhen Huan is saying that the current emperor, has much more fortune than this Han dynasty emperor because you have beauty and you have grace.  You really can’t stay mad at that.

(Cathy)

Let’s get to 椒房之礼. 椒房 has its roots all the way back to the Han Dynasty which we discussed earlier. 椒房殿 used to be the name of the Empress’s palace! The literal translation is peppercorn room because 椒 means peppercorn and 房 means room. 

 

雍正 is truly going all out for her. This might also just be my projection but he’s doing this for her because she’s from the Han Banners so she’s Han Chinese. These are customs that she’d be more familiar with. They are different from Manchu wedding customs. 瑾溪, one of her maids, says the only other person to receive privilege as a concubine was 华妃, who remember is also from a Han Banner!

 

The wedding room is repainted with a mixture made with peppercorn and mud. Peppercorn has a lot of seeds and this new room wishes that the new couple will have many children. Peppercorn also gives off a pleasant aroma that is much nicer than your normal perfume. 

 

甄嬛 goes up to the bed and lifts the covers. We see different nuts, dates, and coins! So let’s see what we have:

红枣 – red dates

花生 – peanuts

桂圆 – longan

莲子 – Lotus seeds

 

These four make up the idiom “早生贵子”, which means “to have a son soon”. This is meant as luck for the happy couple to have a child soon. It’s all about the homonyms! Just so you all have it. 红枣 = 早, 花生 = 生, 桂圆 = 贵, 莲子 = 子。

 

Then what’s up with the coins 铜钱?  Well this is important for another idiom 铜钱安床. If you can sleep comfortably, then you’ll be flushed with money and luck! The Chinese are all about traditions, luck, and superstitions. A wedding night is supposed to be a lucky affair so they go all out! 

 

The last piece. Notice the color of the new bedding? It’s red. Now this is also very unusual for a concubine! In Chinese culture, red is reserved only for the wife! Consorts or concubines can only use pink. This whole 椒房之礼 is also usually reserved only the wife because she is the real “partner” to the husband. Consorts are not. 

生饺子

 

Next, I want to briefly touch on the scene where 雍正 brings 甄嬛 to his own private quarters and a Eunuch brings a bowl of dumplings. 甄嬛 eats a dumpling and immediately spits it out. She says “生的!” which translates to it’s raw. 

 

Taking a bite from a raw dumpling is customary for a new bride. She needs to say “生的” because it also is a wordplay on “早生贵子”, or “to have a son soon”. 生 here can mean “raw” or “to give birth”. It’s a good omen if the wife says this! This is just a very romantic gesture because 雍正 hopes that she can have a son for him soon. It’s a gesture  that I don’t even think 华妃 received.

 

余莺儿- the voodoo doll

 

The last scene we want to discuss is back with 余莺儿. Remember her? The level 1 opponent from the last episode who only lasted for a short while. She is the maid turned concubine but was very mean and got punished by the emperor for having no manners and for overstepping her authority. Well she’s been relegated to a tiny room somewhere by herself evidently forgotten and she is angry at 甄嬛 for taking her favoritism. So what does she do? She is stabbing this doll thing. She basically made a voodoo doll and is cursing 甄嬛 for her misfortunes. Some variation of Voodoo actually expanded to China from Africa. You’ll see this practice of cursing people with a voodoo doll in several Chinese dramas. This will play a major part later in the show. It is very taboo but pops up a lot in Chinese dramas. So what happens? You basically create a tiny doll in the shape of the person you are trying to curse. You will generally put their name on the doll and then what you do, is you stab the doll with needles. Each stab is supposed to hurt the actual person. Don’t know if you believe in this type of magic? Evidently this type of thing was popular back in the Qing dynasty and also in Chinese dramas but it shows up time and again. This 余莺儿 is having a fantastic time stabbing this doll of 甄嬛 in an effort to get revenge. How long can she keep this up? And will she actually be able to hurt 甄嬛。 We’ll find out soon enough.

And that’s that for Episode 8! Are we excited? 甄嬛 is living in the clouds. She’s got all the attention from the Emperor and I think she really thinks that she’s in love! Which is cute. I must say that the emperor definitely knows how to pull out all the stops. Even with that pancake face and no emotion, he is able to woo women left right and center. I’d be blushing if I got all these gifts from him too.  In the next episode we’ll see how 甄嬛 handles all this attention.

 

Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com . We will catch you in the next episode.

EPISODE 6+7

 

(Karen)

Hello! Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that explores Chinese history through historical TV dramas.  This is Karen and this is CAthy. Today we’re actually going to be discussing episode 6 and 7 together of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace because it’s really plot driven with not a whole lot of analysis we can do that we haven’t covered already。As always, you can watch these episodes if you’re in the US on youtube to follow along. There are actually subtitles now. I do highly recommend watching the show.

 

—–

(Cathy)

雍正 is still let’s just say enjoying the “pleasures” of 余莺儿, the maid. He’s even given her a special title with the name of 妙音娘子 which roughly translates to Lady with the Beautiful Voice, because, we find out that she’s also the daughter of a 昆opera singer and knows how to sing. She’s not super educated, even though she pretended to be educated and usurped 甄嬛’s position. The Emperor enjoys her singing enough to make up for this oversight and is having a fantastic time. 

 

Interestingly though, 雍正 decides it’s time to sleep with some of the other ladies from the selection who have not yet had the opportunity to serve the emperor. The one that’s left is 安陵容. Finally! Everyone in her palace is so excited for her. You’d think she’d be able to “fulfill her duties” but no. She’s shaking so much from nerves that the Emperor takes one look and says, nope I’m not spending the night with someone who doesn’t want to and…he sends her back! He gets 余答应 here instead. C’mon girl…This is absolutely devastating. 安陵容 waits months to get an opportunity with the emperor and she just blows it. She is crying as she is sent back to her palace. It is absolutely humiliating to be returned back to her quarters. She made such a poor first impression that it is unlikely she’ll ever be able to serve the emperor again. She is basically done.

 

(Karen)

At this point even 太后, the Empress Dowager, is annoyed at 余答应, the new servant-maid-turned-concubine who only knows how to sing in the dead of night. The empress dowager wants someone like 沈眉庄, who is composed and poised and even-keeled, taking care of the Emperor. You’ll see a theme here. The empress dowager favors 沈眉庄.

 

In any case, we find out that this 余答应  has been wreaking havoc in the 后宫, or the imperial harem, which we’ll discuss later. Shortly after, 沈眉庄 comes to 甄嬛’s palace give the news that 太后 herself gave the order to strip 余答应 of her 妙音娘子 (Lady of the Beautiful Voice) title, and confined her for half a month. Within half an episode, her favoritism and power is greatly diminished.

 

(Cathy)

甄嬛 heads out into the gardens to enjoy the fresh air. She’s been cooped up for several months. She’s playing her 萧,a vertical bamboo flute. Who happens to be wandering around? The Emperor! They finally meet each other face to face. But oddly? Or Cutely? Enough? Depends on how you see it, she doesn’t know who he is。 But he knows exactly who she is. He’s surprised she doesn’t recognize him and takes it in stride. He pretends that he’s the 17th prince instead of the Emperor himself. They have a long conversation about the piece she played on the vertical bamboo flute and…he is enamored. He walks back to his palace grinning ear to ear. 

 

(Karen)

So if you’re thinking about how it’s possible she doesn’t know who he is, what is explained is that during the selection, she had her head down the entire time. She did not look up to see what the emperor looked like. And also, in this scene the emperor is wearing more casual clothing, not his imperial garb, so it might be easier to mistake him for a prince. 

 

(Cathy)

When 甄嬛 gets back to her quarters, she asks her maids about the 17th Prince. She doesn’t think the guy is him because she knows that the 17th prince is supposed to be young as opposed to this guy who is in his 40s. She asks if the 17th Prince is actually here in the palace and it turns out he is. So this story checks out..

 

Not too long after, 甄嬛 is in the garden again with her servants enjoying a ride on a swing that her servants made for her and the emperor runs into both of them again. He is still upholding the facade that he is the 17th prince and they have a lovely discussion about apricot flowers. Which of course, we will discuss. What would our analysis be if we didn’t discuss all the references to flowers in this show. As she leaves, she asks the “17th Prince” to not tell anyone that they’ve met because technically, this is not allowed. He, of course, agrees.

 

(Karen)

The emperor is completely infatuated with 甄嬛 and is enamored with her 箫. But he hasn’t figured out how to see her again since she’s technically “sick”. 余答应 is, however, still trying to regain favor by the emperor, crying and singing while kneeling outside through the night at his palace. He relents and she regains favor once again and is flaunting it around, again.

 

This episode ends with the emperor failing to meet 甄嬛 for an “date” as it’s raining and he’s pulled away by his mother, the empress dowager. 

 

(Cathy)

That was episode 6, now onto Episode 7.

 

The main crux of this episode is that Zhen Huan and the emperor missed each other for their meeting. But because it was raining he falls ill and is bedridden for a while as he recovers from this sickness. Zhen Huan, also has her heart fluttering, but again, she’s thinking it’s the 17th prince and is still apprehensive.

 

The big scene of this episode is that Zhen Huan is out on the garden again after a few weeks and enjoying her swing with her maid. But who comes to visit her this time? It’s 余答应. Now this girl is nothing but disrespectful to 甄嬛 and dismisses her saying things like – you’re only a higher rank than me by a tiny bit, who do you think you are to tell me to curtsey to you and respect you, and “rank and title doesn’t matter in the palace, what matters is the emperor’s attention. I have his attention now and he cares only about me.”

 

(Karen)

Poor girl. She doesn’t realize there are ears everywhere and this whole exchange is overheard by none other than the emperor himself. He’s healthy now and wanted to come here. Like a knight in shining armor, he steps in and reveals himself to protect 甄嬛 from the verbal abuse and disrespect from 余答应. 余答应 is shocked and kneels on the floor immediately, referencing him as emperor. 甄嬛 hears 余答应 greet him as such and is equally shocked, because she now realizes that he was the emperor all along. 

 

余答应 is crying and wailing, trying to get the emperor to forgive her. But he’s had enough of her. She is demoted from her position to a position just above a maid. In response to her comment about 甄嬛 only being a tiny bit higher in rank than her, the emperor increases 甄嬛’s rank to noble lady. The same rank as 沈眉庄。This is out of the norm because she has yet to “serve” the emperor but he doesn’t care. He likes her a lot. So she gets promoted.

 

(Cathy)

The emperor, in an extremely romantic gesture, decides to pick up 甄嬛 and carries her all the way back to her pavillion – where everyone – the eunuchs, the maids, the guards can all see this. 

 

Dang dang dang dang – everyone now knows that she is definitely favored by the emperor. At her pavilion, 甄嬛’s servants are absolutely ecstatic to see the emperor. Because it means – hallelujia, they are saved. And indeed, what happens, after the emperor drops off 甄嬛, and makes the formal declaration that she has been promoted to a noble lady, she becomes showered with lots of gifts from not just the emperor, but the imperial household department. You know the department that was withholding coal and stuff in the last episode? Now they’re giving her tons of materials. She gets new servants to make up for the ones that left in prior episodes and now she has new clothes and clothes. It’s honestly quite despicable but whatever.

 

The episode ends with 甄嬛 discussing with her friend, the imperial doctor, 温实初 that it’s time to make her get better, slowly. That way, she’ll be able to fulfill her duties as a concubine. He’s obviously a tiny bit upset, but there’s not a whole lot that can be done. 

 

——–

Analysis

 

An Ling Rong is not really mentioned in these past few episodes but we have to feel for her. She had the opportunity of a lifetime to actually serve the emperor but she completely blew it. From one perspective, this again shows her class difference between herself and the other ladies. She doesn’t have the confidence and it was probably getting to her head a little. She didn’t expect to have the opportunity and therefore sealed her own fate. Other women knew they would at least have an opportunity. 

 

This is absolutely humiliating for her. Who knows what people are going to do to her now. She is the laughing stock of the palace.

 

Analysis – Yu Da Ying

(Karen)

 

So – who is this person. Let’s spend a little time discussing her. Her character to me is like Level 1 of this video game that is the Imperial Harem. We saw level 0, or the training level, with 夏冬春 because at least this 余答应 has served the emperor.

 

Why is she not a threat. You’ll notice that the empress and even 华妃 aren’t too worried about this new woman. 华妃 is nowhere near as jealous about this lady as she is of, say, 沈眉庄。Why is that? Well, because this 余答应 is a maid and her father taught her to sing. In historical Chinese society, singing and acting in general, is a very, low class activity. Especially if you’re doing this for money. You’re singing for money which equates you to…I’ll let you think what that means. Anyways, no one in 后宫 thinks that she’s actually going to become anything of substance in the Harem because she has no background, meaning her family isn’t wealthy or powerful, and because she’s not very classy or that smart…which will lead her to her demise. It’s a minor annoyance right now but everyone knows she’s just a tiny distraction for the emperor. Basically people are expecting her to crash and burn…it’s just a matter of when it’ll happen.

 

(Cathy)

So how do we see this. 

 

Well, there was a whole debacle with 余答应, 淳常在, and 欣常在。. 淳常在 says that she and 欣常在 walked passed 余答应’s carriage and her horse got spooked. 余答应 and 欣常在 got into a verbal spat and 余答应 ordered 欣常在 be thrown into 慎刑司. Department of Prudence or Office of Punishment? Basically it’s the 后宫 version of prison. 

 

How can 余答应 a second class female attendant do this to someone of a higher rank? She really overstepped her bounds. She has absolutely no authority to do this. Who is she to do this? Right? The arrogance of 余答应 has caused a lot of the other concubines to very mad. No one will help her.

 

(Karen)

 

Sure enough, shortly 沈眉庄 comes to 甄嬛’s quarters to give the news that 太后 herself gave the order to release 欣常在, strip 余答应 of her 妙音娘子 (Lady of the Beautiful Voice) title, and confine her for half a month. The Empress doesn’t give the order because, as explained in the next scene, 太后 has much more sway in these matters than 皇后 because inevitably, the emperor is going to try to ask for forgiveness and that undermines her authority. She can’t go punishing favored concubines but 太后, the empress dowager, can. It seems as though things have calmed down a bit and this 余答应 has definitely lost a level of her favoritism and power. And in just one episode. Now, the emperor who was super into her, doesn’t care that much any more. She’s outside his palace singing non-stop but he doesn’t care.

 

(Cathy)

But now, you see that she is actually quite a terrible person. She is cracking walnuts for the emperor as he naps, but to show her “power”, she asks one of the emperor’s eunuchs to come help her. But to help her, she demands that he uses his bare hands to crack the walnuts and not use any tools. Have you ever eaten walnuts before? They are encased in a very tough shell. You have to use tools to crack those walnuts so cracking those open with your bare hands is very difficult. She’s punishing him for literally no reason other than the fact that he’s a eunuch and she thinks she’s above eunuchs. He tries to push back but she insists. He can’t really do anything because he’s a servant and she’s a master now. So he cracks them and his fingers start bleeding. What a woman. So abusive with just a tiny amount of power. It’s also clear that this woman only cares about short term displays of power. Anyone with actual power would not pull these things (well maybe Hua Fei but she has more money and power to back her up). What 余答应 does now is only going to hurt her rather than help her.

 

(Karen)

I think this show is also a good lesson on the importance of treating people as equals or at least, treating people as just people, even if they are a bit different from you. A key theme of palace dramas is how overlooked eunuchs and maids can seem even though they are just humans like the rest of the masters in the show. 

 

余答应 cares only about her current situation and flaunts it. She doesn’t realize that compared to the rest of the imperial harem, she’s nothing. She does attempt to try to ally herself with 华妃 but that doesn’t work too well. This also show a little bit of oversight from 华妃. You’ll notice that 皇后 doesn’t even try to pick 余答应 as an ally because…she’s not worth it. And indeed, we see in episode 7 – 甄嬛 doesn’t do a whole lot and she is able to destroy this level 1 villain. Or at least knock her out for a bit. When 皇后, the empress, hears about 余答应 getting demoted, she doesn’t even bat an eye. She says, it’s expected. She also expected 甄嬛 to be promoted. 

 

(Cathy)

-Let’s now discuss the fact that the Emperor and 甄嬛 finally meet. For the sake of this show, I’ll pretend 甄嬛 never actually met the Emperor even though she clearly saw him during the Selection. (Karen) Yea, I can’t really believe that she can’t see him but it is true that you’re technically not supposed to look at the emperor straight in the face.

 

雍正 and 甄嬛 discuss the piece she’s playing on the 萧, a vertical chinese bamboo flute. It’s called 杏花天影 by a Song Dynasty poet 姜夔 (Jiang Kui2). The poem’s title includes 杏花 or apricot flowers and is about someone missing his sweetheart and being nostalgic for a bygone era. 杏花 or Apricot flower is another flower that is commonly used in chinese literature. There are records of how to plant apricots dating back more than two thousand years in China. It’s also commonly used in Chinese medicine.

 

Well this apricot flower becomes a talking point the next time 雍正 runs into 甄嬛 in the garden. He asks if she likes them because she’s reciting a bunch of poetry about the flower in her analysis of them and she does say that 杏花 are modest and gentle. He says, the flower is like you. But 甄嬛 says no, I don’t like 杏花! They look pretty but the fruit and seeds are bitter. If my life starts out beautiful, but the ending is sad and lonesome, why would I want to be like this flower? I’d rather be a pine tree. I can stand forever in the forest, and be green and colorful for my entire life, even if I’m not the most extravagant or pretty.

 

There’s a lot of foreshadowing in this exchange. Most ladies like to use the flower metaphor. 沈眉庄 with the Chrysanthemums 菊花, 皇后 with the Peony 牡丹。But 甄嬛 doesn’t, she’d rather be something completely different like a tree. This shows that she’s different from the regular women in 后宫. This also shows the differences between 皇上 and 甄嬛. He automatically assumes that she likes 杏花 just because she played one piece and there just happened to be 杏花 around. He puts her in a box and although he seems intrigued by her, do we really think he’s listening? Or is he just inferring. BUT regardless, in episode 7 he really goes all out for her, so maybe?

(Karen)

The most eye-roll thing, or would you say naive thing about this drama, and perhaps this shows how old and cynical you and I are now, is that 甄嬛 is still wishing that she will have a once in a lifetime love that will be with her until death. The phrase she uses is 愿得一心人,白首不相离. This is one of THE most cliche lines in Chinese dramas. It is literally used in all sappy chinese dramas to talk about wanting an everlasting love. This line is actually from a poem from a han dynasty female poet named 卓文君. The Han Dynasty was one of the earliest dynasties in Chinese history and existed more than 2000 years ago. 

 

This phrase basically translates to, “I want to get the heart of one person, and we are not to part even when we have white hair”. Which just means, having a loving relationship forever. 

 

The young romantics in all of us would love that too right? Who doesn’t want a long, ever-lasting love? But it’s completely incongruous with the situation that 甄嬛 finds herself in. Like there is no way that the emperor can love her only if he has to spend the night with a bunch of other women. For all the other dramas where this line is dropped in a palace drama, it’s a ton of BS. 

 

Fortunately, 甄嬛’s main maid gives her a dose of reality and says, you can’t expect that especially with your fate and your life now. The only thing you can expect, is that he shows that he cares. He cannot have only one heart for you, but he can use his heart and care about you. That’s as much as you can expect. Hey, I think this is wise dating/relationship advice. Having fair expectations will help manage any relationship.

 

In general though, we find out what 甄嬛 really wants at her core, and I think what a lot of women want, which is to be loved by someone wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, in this drama and in their lives, these women of the imperial harem are fated to never experience that kind of love.

Now that 甄嬛 has the full attention of the Emperor, everything is coming into place for 甄嬛 to bear the brunt of palace drama. She will have to go to 请安 (greetings), deal with back-stabbing, and make alliances. 瑾溪 put it best, she never was truly away from palace battles and each ladies fortunes are closely related to court. We’ll see how 雍正 and 甄嬛 get along in the next episodes.

 

Well that’s the end of today’s episode. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any suggestions or comments, please send them to chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com . Until next time!

EPISODE 5

 

(Karen)

Hello! Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that explores Chinese history through historical TV dramas.  This is Karen, and this is Cathy and we are back again to discuss the next episode of 甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace。

 

甄嬛is dealing with a mutiny from her servants. She hasn’t seen the Emperor, in about 2 months and the gossip is that she never will. No one wants to tie their fortunes to a loser. She is understandably upset and dismisses everyone who wants to leave. Only 瑾汐,小允子, 佩儿 are left along with 浣碧 and 流珠。The original head eunuch of zhen huan’s palace, decided to leave to 丽嫔’s palace.

 

We quickly see that even as a concubine, if you aren’t in favor, it isn’t a comfortable life. It’s winter time and 瑾汐 (the head maid) and 小允子, the only remaining eunuch, are trying to burn some coal to keep warm in the cold. But the coal is very poor quality coal that burns with too much smoke so it’ll be impossible to put in the room. The Eunuchs from 内务府 Imperial Household Department who give out materials to the various ladies obviously decided it wasn’t worth it to give zhen huan quality coal.

 

(Cathy)

Fortunately, 甄嬛’s two friends, 沈眉庄 and 安陵容 stop by to check on 甄嬛。 Immediately 沈眉庄 realizes that the Eunuchs are playing games and not providing the allotted supplies。沈眉庄, who currently is very favored by the Emperor, brings over a couple of baskets of silver coal (basically higher quality coal) to help 甄嬛 through the winter. 

 

After this scene 沈眉庄’s main servant actually goes to 内务府 the Imperial Household Department, she’s able to help secure materials for 甄嬛 so that she can survive through the winter. Unfortunately 颂芝, 华妃’s main maid also comes and basically bullies everyone.

 

(Karen)

A bit more time passes and it’s time for the new year celebration. With 甄嬛’s illness, she was granted leave to stay her quarters and not attend the main festivities of the royal family. She has a lovely time with her servants – joking and playing games. They are making 剪纸 or Papercuts and the legend was that if you can put it on a high branch and make a wish, then the wish will come true. She’s still a young girl here and enjoys having fun.

 

In the Palace, 华妃 has organized the new years eve celebration and everyone is getting a little tipsy. The emperor, his concubines and various favored brothers are in attendance for the feast. We are also introduced to the handsome 17th brother, 允礼。

 

There’s dancing and music, quite a lively occasion, but the Emperor becomes upset when he sees red plum blossoms as part of the decorations. He decides to go out into the plum blossom garden, 椅梅园 for a stroll. 

 

(Cathy)

There, he hears a woman who is making a wish by reciting a lovely poem from the Tang dynasty. Who is it? It’s none other than 甄嬛! She makes the wish but is overheard by not just the emperor, but also the 17th prince, who has come out to find the emperor, and…a maid who is staffed at the garden. Her last name is Yu.

 

The emperor calls out – wondering who is making the wish. 甄嬛 first hides away so she cannot be seen by the emperor and then lies to say that she’s a servant maid in the garden before sneaking away. She is supposed to be sick and in bed. She shouldn’t be seen out and about so late and in the dead of winter. She was worried she’d get in trouble.

 

(Karen)

The handsome 17th prince reveals himself to be following the emperor and they leave the garden, but not before the Emperor, smitten and surprised to find an educated woman among the ranks of the garden maids, asks his head eunuch to find out who that woman is.  Obviously, he doesn’t know it was 甄嬛. During the questioning, the maid who overheard the exchange – named Yu, seizes her opportunity to become a woman of the emperor and falsely claims that she was the one to make that wish that night. The emperor happily accepts her claim and showers her with attention. 

 

沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 discussing this new woman.  沈眉庄 is getting a tiny bit worried about not getting as much attention by the emperor with this new woman but is even more worried about their friend 安陵容 because this servant girl, 于, is of a much lower birth rank than 安陵容 (who at least has a father who is an official) but now has the same rank. Concubine. 于, has been promoted twice recently so her and 安陵容 are the same rank.  

 

(Cathy)

The episode ends with a small confrontation between 余答应, this new servant girl turned concubine, and 沈眉庄, as she leaves 甄嬛’s palace. We see that 余答应 is very rude and condescending and flaunts her favoritism. It’s one thing when you’re 华妃 to talk down to 沈眉庄 who is of a lower rank, it’s another when you’re several tiers below 沈眉庄 and talking rudely up to her. 

 

(Karen)

Analysis

—-

A few quick notes for the episode, that we won’t dive into but we want to point out.

 

安陵容 who we haven’t really discussed in the last couple of episodes, has the lowest rank of the ladies – below 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄 She still hasn’t been called by the emperor to spend the night. It’s not a given. Something else of note is that 甄嬛 hasn’t told her friends what’s happening so they’re in the dark that her illness is actually fake.

 

(Cathy)

梅花  – or Plum Blossoms will be a constant motif in this series. In China, they represent virtuosity, purity, and hope. It is a symbol of winter and is known as one of the Four Gentleman of Flowers in Chinese art, the other being Chrysanthemums, which we already discussed, orchid, and lotus. Plum blossoms have a certain history in this story which is why the Emperor is so taken with sights of these flowers.

 

Karen

[Scene 1]

 

Alright — Analysis time! What do we want to discuss.

 

This time, we’re not going to focus as much on the concubines, but look at the servants instead. This scene is after 沈眉庄 goes to visit 甄嬛 and realizes that she’s being jipped by the eunuchs of 内务府.

 

This scene shows the dramas and subtleties of servant life that most other dramas don’t discuss. Reminds me a little bit of Downton Abbey actually.

 

(Cathy)

彩月, who is the head maid for 沈眉庄, goes to 内务府. This is the department that manages all of the internal affairs of the palace. 彩月 is there to pick up the monthly allowance for her master. Now, I think we mentioned this in our intro episode, but each status for a concubine has an allotted allowance each month to spend that is increased the higher your rank/title is. It seems that here, you have to go pick up the money from this department. If your family has money, that’s another situation.

 

彩月 casually mentions that she JUST went to 甄嬛’s palace to send some stuff, and decided to come pick up the allowance along the way. And immediately,  the head eunuch says, oh, you came from 甄嬛’s palace? 采月 says yes, my master and 甄嬛 or more specifically, her title of 菀常在, are childhood friends. 菀常在 is missing things here and there so my master has always picked the nicest things to send over to her. The head eunuch quickly responds – how is it appropriate for 沈贵人 to be sending stuff, it must be because some things fell through the cracks. We will immediately replenish and make up for what was missed to 甄嬛.  If you watch this scene, none of it is overacted, it’s very pleasant. No accusations, no threats – just subtleties that one side drops and fortunately, the other side picks up on immediately. 

 

(karen)

采月,the maid, upon hearing that supplies will be replenished and therefore achieving her goal, promptly replies – I understand that your department is very busy with thousands of things to work on every day. It’s inevitable that things are missed. So again, rounding out the conversation by not accusing anyone, but acknowledging that this is appreciated and her master will be happy.

 

For this exchange. 采月 mentions the connection of her master to 甄嬛 very casually. Even though there is nothing threatening, the underlying tone here is very clear. 沈眉庄 is favored by the emperor, and she is good friends with 甄嬛, so you, eunuchs of 内务府 should heed my master’s example and also treat 甄嬛 accordingly.

 

(Cathy)

This exchange when we look at it, is exactly why it is (i) crucial to “fight” in the palace for the emperor’s affection and (ii) the concubines align themselves into factions. Let’s take a look at the first point. If you are favored by the emperor, you have more sway over most of the servants because they think that you have the power to help them further their careers or else give them larger monetary rewards/tips. I mean I get it. The worst part is that if you aren’t favored, not only will the servants not help you, they will actively try to sabotage you which is sometimes worse. No one wants to serve someone who’s just gonna wallow away.

 

Onto the second point, breaking into factions or finding allies, as is the case here with our main character 甄嬛 and 沈眉庄, is an easier way to survive in the palace if you DON”T have a whole lot of favoritism by the emperor. Other factors to keep in mind are, of course, your matrilineal line. Why do you think all the servants treat 安陵容 poorly? She comes from a poor background. Fortunately, she has allied herself with these two ladies. The main person right now is of course 沈眉庄 because she has favor. 安陵容 just needs to keep her head down and while she won’t be too well off, people won’t bother with her.

 

(Karen)

From this exchange of the servants, you realize how tiring being in the palace is and how precarious the each woman’s position is because it is a non-stop constant battle for affection not just because your own fortunes are tied to how much the emperor likes you, but your day to day by the eunuchs and maids will be heavily influenced by this favoritism. The head eunuch here can most definitely make your life hell if he really wanted to. Like, cut off supplies to coal or good food or clothing. Even though to the outside you’re a “woman of the emperor”, you are at the mercy of these servants. 

 

—–

 

And on that lovely note – let’s discuss a new main character. He is…. Dang dang da da — the 17th prince! His name is 允礼。He is the younger brother of the current emperor who is the 4th prince. Brother from another mother but they have a good relationship. He is handsome and dashing and we are told he is very focused on studying and likes his books or to travel and not focus too much on politics. He’s also great with the flute. When he is introduced during the new years eve celebration, he, by the historical timeline, is around 26.

 

(cathy)

Now to give some context – remember a few episodes back, we mentioned that the current emperor went through a ton of drama to become emperor. The previous emperor had a whopping 25 sons and ended up having 9 of those sons scheme and battle for the throne to become the next emperor. Our current emperor, 雍正, had to dispose of most of his opponents, and we mentioned even his own blood brother, the 14th prince who is now in exile. Therefore, 雍正, our current emperor is INCREDIBLY wary of his brothers. However, he has a really good relationship with this brother the 17th prince – primarily BECAUSE he’s so focused on books and not politics. 

 

A little bit of cool history, remember how we discussed in episode 2 the whole name rule? It’s where you can’t have the same character or the same sounding character in your name as the emperor? Well, we know that 雍正’s real name is 胤祯。His brothers all had 胤 as a character. Well after he is coronated as Emperor, all of his living brothers changed their names to 允 because they couldn’t have the same character as the emperor! That’s why in some shows/stories they will be referred to as 允 instead of 胤。

 

(Karen)

Now this handsome gentleman is asked to follow the emperor, when the emperor becomes upset at the sight of red plum blossoms as part of the decorations. The 17th prince, follows the emperor to the garden where the emperor overhears 甄嬛 making her wish.  

 

To re-iterate, there are a total of 4 ppl in the garden at this point. 1- the Emperor, 2 – 甄嬛, 3 – the 17th prince and 4 – this other servant girl – 余。

 

In the garden, 甄嬛 says two lines of a poem – 逆风如解意,容易莫摧残 from the poem 梅花 Plum Blossoms by the Tang Dynasty poet 崔道融。This poem is pretty on the nose since the title is literally Plum Blossoms. These two lines basically mean, I hope the northern winds are understanding and do not destroy the flower. 甄嬛 wants to remain “pure” and hopes she doesn’t get swept up in all the palace drama.

 

(Cathy)

All 4 of the characters overhear this. 雍正 is impressed and wants to know who she is. 甄嬛 lies and says that she’s a maid. Well 雍正 wants to find out who she is after leaving the garden because he’s surprised there are educated people.

 

When 苏培盛, the emperor’s head eunuch, asks if anyone knows the corresponding line the next day, the maid 余 seizes her chance and says the second part of the line 容易莫摧残. She is presented to 雍正 and the 17th Prince. And just like that, the Emperor makes her a 官女子, the lowest ranking concubine. 

 

Now listen to the 2 lines he says as he leaves the room, 玉楼金阙慵归去,且插梅花醉洛阳. The maid, 余莺儿 kind of just sits there. She has no idea what it means. 允礼, the 17th prince, then asks “do you know what this means? This is a poem by 李白, the emperor likes 李白.” 李白 is one of the most famous Tang Dynasty poets in Chinese history. It seems like 允礼 is helping her out, giving her some pointers to win favor. But no! This was a red herring, he’s testing her! These two lines are actually from a Song dynasty poet by 朱敦儒 (Zhu Dun Ru). 余莺儿 doesn’t correct him and just says, “thanks”. 

 

I am impressed that the drama didn’t say, hey this is wrong. We had to do some research to learn about this poem and lo and behold, it wasn’t by 李白。

 

(Karen)

Well now he knows that she’s a fraud. He doesn’t outright tell his brother that but makes it pretty obvious to 苏培盛. The 17th prince is one sharp cookie. He knows that telling his brother the truth won’t do him any favors and it seems like 雍正’s mind is pretty set on this girl. 允礼 knows when to keep his mouth shut. Affairs of 后宫 and politics will most likely get him killed, he just needs to stick with playing Chinese go and his flute. 

 

In a short period of time 余莺儿 is now already a 答应. She’s super bitchy towards everyone

 

And that’s that with Episode 5 of 甄嬛传。 In the next episode, we’ll see how this new girl survives…hey at least she lasted longer than 夏冬春. What’s going to happen to 甄嬛 now that this girl has taken her spot?