风起霓裳 – Weaving a Tale of Love
Intro to the Drama –
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy
Today we’re going to do an intro to the drama episode for the Tang Dynasty drama Weaving A Tale of Love. We’ll go over at a high level the plot for the drama, introduce the cast and characters, discuss the historical setting for the drama and some key historical counterparts. This won’t be a review of the drama, but rather an introduction to the history portrayed in the drama. I think this will be a good set up since it looks like we’re going to be heading off to the Tang dynasty anyways for our next drama on our podcast! If you’re interested in watching this drama, it is available on Jubao TV which is available on several platforms in the US. It just launched on Plex TV and is available for free with English subtitles.
Weaving A Tale of Love of 风起霓裳
This drama first aired in January 2021 and stars the beautiful Gu Li Na Zha and Timmy 许魏洲 as the main couple. It is a 40 episode drama.
This podcast is in english with some phrases and certain words spoken in mandarin chinese. We do some of our own translations which won’t match the subtitles found on Jubao
Set during the reign of the second Tang Dynasty Emperor, 唐太宗, the drama opens with us meeting a 7 year old 琉璃. She has a gift for sewing but her mother, who works at a dress shop in the Tang capital, forbids her from learning. It so happens that her mother, Madame 安 is a former court seamstress and one of the best seamstresses out there and wants to keep her family safe. However, Madame An’s former student and current seamstress in the palace, 胡锦娘 pays her a visit and requests Madame An’s help in creating an extravagant outfit for Consort Yang who 胡锦娘 and the head seamstress believe to be the next Empress. Under veiled threats by 胡锦娘 that endangered the safety of Madam An’s daughter, Madame An agrees to help finish the outfit. However, Madame An had a feeling something might go awry and sends her young daughter to safety. 琉璃 is sent to help finish an outfit for the young 武才人 who is to be presented to the Emperor.
Madame An’s worst nightmare comes true when the beautiful outfit she completes angers the Emperor who had absolutely no intention of making consort Yang the Empress. 胡锦娘 does not hesitate to push all the blame onto Madame An who is severely punished. 武才人 and also a handsome young boy 裴行俭 who came into the city for the imperial exams, helps 琉璃 escape but ultimately fail. Madame An sacrifices herself to save her young daughter but not before giving her daughter the secrets to her sewing skills. 琉璃 is saved and raised by Madame An’s good friend in the Body Disposal Service of the palace.
For the next 11 years, 武才人 is promoted to be a Concubine in the palace. 裴行俭 studies military tactics under General 孙 and 琉璃 changes her name to 小豆子 or Little Bean and is raised as a boy and physician in the palace.
When Liu Li turns 18, her world becomes upended once again and her world becomes entwined with the strife happening in the palace. She is also reacquainted with 裴行俭. They work together to help discover the truth about her mother’s death and also help push the crown prince to become the next
That’s what you can expect to see in the first couple of episodes. A sequel – 风起西州 has been confirmed. It started filming in late August 2021 and completed in late November of the same year.
The drama itself is based off of a very popular book 大唐明月. This main character, as is all the rage, travels through time and is essentially reincarnated as 库狄琉璃. This was a pretty popular book with a very well liked audiobook version. I haven’t read the book as it’s over 300 chapters but I remember a lot of buzz about the original book when this drama came out. I might pick it up when the sequel drama airs. The drama also received high viewership when the drama came out in 2021.
Gulinazha is an actress born in 乌鲁木齐 Xin Jiang province in 1992. She studied at Beijing film academy and debuted Xuan-Yuan Sword: Scar of Sky. I could say I’ve watched her career from the beginning because I remember when that drama came out, there was quite an uproar because she was so unknown despite being beautiful compared to the likes of Liu Shi Shi, Hu Ge and Tang Yan. She has since been in numerous dramas since, all with varying success.
Unfortunately for her, her personal life usually eclipses her performance in dramas. This has been the case for years. She dated the actor Zhang Han after he broke up with Zhen Shuang and was hounded for years about that relationship. She was embroiled last year with the whole drama of unknowingly being involved as a third party to 徐开骋 and 张天爱‘s relationship and has since kept a relatively low profile.
In this drama, she plays 库狄琉璃. In the drama, I’m actually most impressed by her dance sequence in episode 11 where she gets to showcase her Xinjiang dancing skills and it’s quite beautiful.
Xu Wei Zhou is an actor from Shanghai born in 1994. He is actually a trained dancer and studied at the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts. I think he’s still an up and coming actor. The first time I saw him was in Liu Guang Zhi Cheng last year or City of Streamer. He did come out this year that he married his longterm girlfriend which is a surprise given how we’ve discussed before that many male actors remain hush hush about their relationships in order to gain popularity in the market.
This drama is set in the Tang dynasty that ruled China from 618年－907年.
The drama starts during the reign of 贞观十一年 – so around 638. The years that the drama cover the adult storyling occurs during the end of the reign of Emperor 唐太宗李世民 贞观22年so 648AD though the reign of 唐高宗李治 during the 永徽 period（公元650年正月—655年十二月). This was 是唐高宗李治 first era period and he used 6 during his 34 year reign。年号 or era names are time periods that Emperor’s set during their reigns. Some Emperor’s only had 1 era name, others multiple. Emperor 唐太宗 李世民 only set 1 era bane 贞观 but that was rather rare before the Qing Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty is a little bit different in this regard because Qing Dynasty emperors just used one 年号 or era Period for their entire reign and that is the name that we refer to both the Emperor and the period. So in Chinese, we would say 乾隆 6 year and we would know who that is – 1741. However, for other dynasties, it’s easier to say the full Temple Name AND Regnal Period, so here, I’m referring to 唐高宗 永徽 period and then I can pinpoint that it was 650-655AD.
There are a ton of dramas set during the early period of the Tang Dynasty because it is just such a fascinating era in Chinese history. So many dramas also feature Empress Wu Ze Tian and the various time periods of her life. I think this is a rather unique take on her and a relatively positive light on her second husband 李治.
Before we talk about the historical counterparts of our two main characters in the drama, let’s introduce the Emperors and concubines that also drive the plot.
李世民 is the second Emperor in the 唐 dynasty. He ruled from 626AD to 649AD. He is possibly one of the most famous emperors in China. His reign – 贞观 is considered a golden age in Chinese history. In this drama we skip much of his reign and only focus on his later years. Despite having an outsized presence in Chinese history, he died at the age of 51. I always have to remind myself that 李世民 was never really THAT old. Maybe it’s the dramas that I’ve watched over the years and 李世民 is typically portrayed as a old man with white hair but he was a relatively young guy. I bring this up because of course of this next woman.
武媚娘 is the woman who will one day become the only female Empress in Chinese History and called 武则天.
Women rarely had names recorded in history. Her name of 媚娘, meaning glamorous, was indeed bestowed to her by Emperor 李世民. She was born in 624 and died in 705 meaning she died at the whopping age of 81. I will cover her early years because we might cover the later years of her life in separate dramas.
She’s the second daughter of Wushiyue, a wealthy man who worked in the timber business, and who, in later years helped fund Li Yuan’s rebellion against the Sui Dynasty. He rose to the rank of Minister of Works of 工部尚书 and was a favored minister at court. Unfortunately he died in 635 shortly after the death of 李渊. 武媚娘 was only 12. 武媚娘’s mother hailed from the Imperial House of Yang.
When her father died, 武媚娘’s half older brothers basically cut them off and so she and her mother moved to the capital city of 长安, which is current day 西安.
In 637, Emperor 唐太宗 李世民 overheard that this Miss Wu was a beauty and thus summoned her to become a concubine in his Imperial harem. She was only 14. She was given the title of 才人 of the 5th rank and the name 媚娘 as we see in the drama. The Emperor at the time was 38. Yes, the age gap is really big but at least it isn’t like 58 to 14.
Anyways, although the Emperor did have sexual relations with 武媚娘, she was not much favored in the imperial harem because she stayed as a 才人 for the remaining 12 years of Emperor 唐太宗’s reign. If she was favored, she probably would have been promoted to at least a 美人 or a 婕妤. I remember reading a biography about 武媚娘 years ago and it recounts that during her years as a 才人, she basically was a glorified secretary, taking notes and cleaning the main palace for the Emperor. There though she could at least continue her education, which was rare for women at the time.
However, it was also during her time as a 才人 that she was able to become close with the 9th prince 李治, who then had the title of the Prince of Jin 晋王, so much so that she began an affair with him. This was extremely scandalous and of course not known by many if at all any at the time, but her relationship with 李治 laid the groundwork for her return to the palace after her expulsion from the palace and to live as a nun after the death of the Emperor 李世民 in 649.
The adult 武媚娘 is played by 施诗, who if listeners look closely, is the girl we loved to hate 墨兰 from the Story of Ming Lan.
Now that we’ve introduced 武媚娘, let’s introduce 李治, the man who would become her second husband and was the 3rd emperor of the Tang Dynasty.
李治 was born in 628. He was 李世明’s 9th son and the youngest son of Empress 长孙, with older brothers including the Crown Prince 李承乾 and the 魏王李泰。In 631, he was bequethed the title, the Prince of Jin. Growing up, he was never meant to inherit the throne and honestly, he was quite happy about it. He was very sincere and, to put it bluntly, a nice young man. Literally no one thought that he was going to inherit the throne. He was just going to be a prince chilling wherever he found himself. Unfortunately, that all came crashing down with his two older brothers went head to head in an intense rivalry for the throne. Both of them plotted for the throne and both lost. Disappointed at these two sons, Emperor 李世民, with some egging from the prime minister 长孙无忌 turned their attention towards the young 李治 and crowned him as crown prince in 643 when he was only 15. 李治 ascended the throne upon his father’s death in 649.
Let’s now discuss his relationship with 武媚娘. She was a woman who was 4 years 李治’s senior. He also had a wife and several concubines. However, during the last years of 李世明’s reign, he was perpetually bedridden. That meant, that 武媚娘 spent a lot of time near the Emperor’s bedside to care for him. Who else might be by the Emperor’s bedside? Why, the Crown Prince of course. It was during this time, right around the death of Emperor 李世民 that the two began an affair, literally right under the Emperor’s nose. 李治 was in his early 20s and 武媚娘 was in her mid 20s.
During the Tang dynasty, the rule was that when the EMperor died, for concubines who had children, they could live out their days in the palace. For those women who weren’t lucky enough to bore children, they were sent to a buddhist temple to live as nuns. That was the fate that 武媚娘 met. She did indeed become a nun and was sent to 感业寺.
One year later though, 李治 went to 感业寺 to pray to his father. Who did he meet there? The now nun 武媚娘. Well, what was he to do? She was a woman of his father but he wanted her as his own concubine. Just as he was struggling to find a solution, his own wife, Empress Wang came to the rescue and successfully brought 武媚娘 back into the palace.
I will stop here with our history discussion on the relationship between 李治 and 武媚娘 to give you guys a hint and flavor of the Tang Dynasty. Like I said, there are plenty of books and dramas that depict this era and story. I do want to give more credence to 武媚娘 though. She knew what she wanted and what she needed to survive and she seized every opportunity to do so. From her interactions with 李世民 and 李治, we can see that she was a calculating, yet intelligent woman to be able to find her way back to the palace.
Let’s now of course discuss the historical counterpart of our male lead!
裴行俭（619年－682年6月9日) and hailed from the prominent 裴 family from Hedong. Why was this a prestigious clan? Well – his great grandfather, grandfather all served the Northern Zhou Dynasty. His father and older brother both served the Sui Dynasty.
During the reign of Emperor 唐太宗, he did indeed come to the capital to take his imperial entrance exams, of which he was then sent into the military. The famed general 苏定方, who is the general we see in the drama was quoted in saying that 裴行俭 was the only person deemed worthy to learn his military tactics and strategy. Thus General 苏定方 taught 裴行俭 all of his skills, stratagems, and learnings. 裴行俭 was soon promoted to the equivalent of the Chang An Magistrate.
When Emperor 唐高宗李治 was preparing to promote 武媚娘 as Empress, however 裴行俭 was not in favor of the move. He, along with other military officials, were secretly plotting alternatives. Unfortunately, were discovered by 武媚娘 and he was subsequently banished to the western areas of the empires. This was probably a boon for him though because while he was out in the west, he made his biggest contributions to the Empire.
In 665, Pei was appointed the general of Anxi Protectorate. I believe this is where he became familiar with the Turkic ethnic groups and convinced many to surrender to Tang troops.
He returned back to 长安 where he was appointed a member of the ministry of personnel. It wasn’t until the late 670s, where he faced several turkick groups headon in either military battles or negotiations. The drama doesn’t cover this time frame and I hope we get to see that in the sequel.
It is recorded that 裴行俭 had two wives. His first was the daughter of 陆爽, who was in the ministry of war. After she died, he remarried a woman of the 库狄 clan. When Empress Wu came to power, 库狄氏 was granted many titles include Madame of the State of Jin.
Now let’s discuss his wife! Unfortunately historical documents about this 库狄氏 are relatively sparse. What we do know come from the epitaphs of her husband and son, but we can glean quite a lot! I read an article dissecting this 库狄氏 and it seems most probably that she was significantly younger than 裴行俭. One because she was his second wife and two because their son, 裴光庭, was born in 678, only 5 years before the death of 裴行俭 at the age of 64, so it probably wasn’t likely that 库狄氏 was of similar age. There probably was like a 15 year age gap.
库狄 rose to favor with Empress Wu and later Emperor Wu quite frankly after the death of her husband. In 689, the newly crowned Emperor Wu summoned educated widowed women to essentially create her own group of female court ministers or 女官. 库狄 was one of them. She served 武则天 for over 20 years, basically acting as a favored court official. This spoke to her intellect and political acumen.
When Emperor Wu was forced to abdicate, unfortunately 库狄 was also dismissed from her position, but her capabilities were still remembered by court, so much so that a future emperor requested her abilities at court. She, however, rejected the offer. She died around 717.
This is the first time I’m hearing of this last name.
What is quite intriguing about this drama is that it actually puts emphasis on 琉璃’s non han Chinese background. In the book and the drama, she is called a 胡女 which is a historical term generally for people from nomadic tribes to the west of mainland China. The drama translates this to tatar ethnicity which are different Turkic ethnic groups. Different dynasties have different definitions for what kind of person falls in the category of 胡女 but you get the general sense that they don’t look like your common Han chinese person. So, it’s interesting that liu li, her mother, and young liu li are all acted by women from XinJiang province. I don’t know if they would exactly be considered 胡女 back in the day but still. It’s good to see recognition that they are not Han chinese. Generally in other dramas featuring 娜扎 or say 迪丽热巴 they just gloss over that fact or ignore that fact altogether.
Indeed, 裴行俭’s second wife in history did come from the 库狄 family which is a last name that originated from the 鲜卑 people, a tribe of people in the mongolia, inner mongolian regions of China which created separate kingdoms throughout the years and did engage in merges during the Tang dynasty.
We’ve stated this before, but it’s quite rare to have actors and actresses from ethnic minorities in China portray characters who are also ethnic minorities in a drama.
Let me showcase the additional two actresses who have limited screen time as Madame An and Little Liu Li.
Madame An is portrayed by 迪娜（Madina) who was born in the city Urmuqi in the XinJiang province in 1987. She is of the Uighur ethnic minority and grew up dancing in Urmuqi. She got her big break in the 2011 remake of Pearl Princess or 新还珠格格 as the new 香妃, a princess from the Hui minority. She then continued to act in several dramas and movies over the past decade. However, she hasn’t really broken out as an actress. I think this might have to do with the fact that she spent more time focusing on family in recent years.
爱克达, she’s super cute young girl also from the Xin Jiang province. She caught a lot of attention with this role as the very cute young Liu Li. She’s since released a few songs.
Thank you so much for listening to this intro to the drama episode!
If you’re interested in watching this drama, it is available on Jubao TV which is available on several platforms in the US. It just launched on Plex TV and is available for free with English subtitles.
We will catch you in the next podcast episode!