Welcome back to Chasing Dramas – this is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.
Today we are discussing episodes 19 + 20 of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you like what you hear please remember to give us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to and also feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or on our website.
For these episodes, we do a drama episode recap and then go into history and culture discussed in the drama.
Episode 19 and the beginning of episode 20 have some of the funniest scenes in the drama because we see the Emperor in all of his imperious nature turn into a pouting child.
We pick up from the last episode where Noble Consort Gao has successfully kept the Emperor for the night. In doing so, this means that the Emperor has to disappoint the Empress and left her to wait for many hours. Crestfallen, the Empress returns back to her palace. She understands that the Emperor has his duties but that doesn’t mean she can’t be upset.
璎珞 sees this and is pissed off that the Emperor so easily forgot the pain 高贵妃 inflicted on 愉嫔。She lets out her fury on 傅恒 the Empress’s brother who has come to see her. He highlights to her that the scandal with the golden pupils and the evidence against 高贵妃 were too simplistic. The Emperor can see right through the fact that this was probably planted to harm 高贵妃 which is why he isn’t as furious as he could have been. 璎珞 though changes the topic to ask if 傅恒 has any further leads about who may have left the banquet the night her sister died. 傅恒 says he hasn’t been able to find any evidence yet so 璎珞 decides that she has to get closer to the Emperor’s personal staff to get better answers.
Next we turn back to the Emperor and this is just a funny episode. The Emperor starts to itch and scratch while he’s looking over documents. Unfortunately, it turns out the Emperor has contracted scabies. This is an infectious skin condition that causes severe itchiness. And so, the Emperor is out for the count and requires round the clock medical attention so that he doesn’t further injure himself from his itching.
The Empress, seeing that her husband is now ill, decides to move into his palace to personally take care of him. Originally she wanted to bring 明玉 but 明玉 pushes this task onto 璎珞 who sees this as an opportunity to seek more answers about her sister’s death. So despite this being a risk since she might also be infected, she accepts this task.
(Ming Yu is the WORST)
Hilarity ensues as the Emperor is annoyed at having 璎珞 tend to him or at least help him put medicine on his infected spots but then he’s also annoyed when his eunuchs try to help. Given that so many people have been told to leave the Emperor’s side for their health, the only ppl left are 璎珞 and a bunch of eunuchs so the Emperor has no choice. Seeing him so annoyed is quite satisfying.
At night, the Emperor continues to turn into a child as he cannot suppress his itchiness and the Empress stops by to tend to his illness. The Emperor is twisting and turning which he cannot do so the Empress helps fan him cold air the entire night in an effort to ease his itchiness. I do think nie yuan does a great job showing the childish nature of the EMperor and is certainly a side of him we rarely see portrayed as emperor.
As the Emperor sleeps, 璎珞 takes an opportunity in the morning to as 李玉 the Emperor’s head eunuch whether or not he noticed any person leave the banquet at 乾清宫 earlier this year. 李玉 unfortunately doesn’t provide any more information since he has clear conviction that no one left the palace that night. 璎珞 is once again stumped.
It’s been a couple days and the Emperor is still not back to full health. The local doctor we met in the last episode 叶天士 is brought in to check up on the Emperor again and he confers with 璎珞 the best way to help the Emperor get back to full health. He whispers his remedy in 璎珞’s ear and she gasps aloud.
Inside, the Emperor is with 李玉 and the Empress and he is again itching up a storm. The Empress wants 璎珞 to come help grab some aloe that 璎珞 had procured but in this instance 璎珞 starts to berate the Emperor. She says things like oh the Emperor doesn’t recognize how much the Empress has done for him. Look at all of the other women in the palace who promptly hid from the Emperor after hearing his diagnosis and only the Empress remained to stay. And she’s heard that 高贵妃‘s attention by the Emperor is solely due to her father’s capabilities at court. The Emperor has to faun over women in order to please government officials related to the women in his harem.
璎珞 goes so far as to compare the Emperor to prostitutes. This is too much for the Emperor. He has not heard such insolence in his life I’m assuming. He grabs a nearby sword and starts stabbing towards 璎珞 who continues to laugh with derision at the Emperor who is only held back by the Empress and 李玉 who at this point all cannot comprehend exactly why 璎珞 is saying this things. Interestingly, 叶天士 is skulking just outside of view to see what’s happening in the room.
The Emperor in all his fury, then spits out a mouthful of blood.
Immediately, 叶天士 rushes into the room and 璎珞 kneels to the ground begging for forgiveness for what she’s said. The Empress demands an explanation for what happened while she helps the Emperor sit down, wiping his mouth of blood. He is currently unable to speak.
叶天士 explains that after reviewing medical records, he found that the Emperor hasn’t recovered primarily due to stress and had a blood clot that was not yet released. Therefore, he asked 璎珞 for help to infuriate the Emperor to cough up this blood clot. It’s only this way that the Emperor can fully heal.
The Emperor is like WTF and is heaving but wants to punish 璎珞。 He’s weakened right now and can’t say much but 璎珞 tries to flee while the Empress helps her in pushing the Emperor to bed so that he can rest before any more words can be uttered out of his mouth. Seeing she might not be able to get away so easily, she “faints” and the Empress takes this cue to immediately call for eunuchs to drag 璎珞 to safety.
[The Empress and 魏璎珞 are such a great duo! They know to trust each other and have each other’s backs!]
When the Emperor is finally up again, he immediately shouts for 璎珞 to be dragged in front of him. He wants to personally punish her for what she said. The Empress states that she cant be blamed because all she was doing was trying to help the Emperor’s illness but I honestly think he’s right. If she didn’t have those thoughts in her mind already, how could she say all those things so cleanly and without hesitation. She clearly took this opportunity to berate the Emperor with her personal opinions of him.
But, the Emperor cannot enact his revenge. Because…璎珞 has fallen ill. She herself now has been infected with scabies after tending to the Emperor. He has no choice but to let it go because how would it look if he punishes a maid that tended to him during his illness?
But that doesn’t mean he can’t mess with her. He allows her to remain at 养心殿 to recover but adds bitter herbs to her medicine as her compensation. This turns us to episode 20. The emperor specifically tells 叶天士 that 3 times a day, he is to find the most bitter herbs to add to 璎珞’s medicine and she must be observed to drink all of it. What a petty Emperor!
We find out shortly after that 璎珞’s illness was entirely a ruse on her part! She didn’t actually contract scabies but instead, she just caused herself to have an allergic reaction as she is allergic to peanuts. She purposefully ate peanuts and caused herself to get sick so that her symptoms look like she got scabies and also worked with 叶天士 to feign documentation that she did get scabies. She did this in order to escape punishment from the Emperor. I mean, I think this is a stroke of genius. Because yea, if she wasn’t ill, the Emperor totally would have killed her.
A few days later, the Emperor asks 李玉 where 璎珞 is and 李玉 responds that she went home. He is once again furious because it clearly means that she lied about getting scabies. How can she recover before him when she got sick after him. Obviously her illness was a lie. The Emperor is all worked up and stomps his way over to 长春宫 to personally punish 璎珞. Along the way though, he hears a number of maids gossiping about the last couple of days so…another hilarious part for this emperor, he stoops down and hides behind a corner to hear what these maids are saying. He even tells all of his eunuchs to hide too so you have this whole procession of people sneaking about trying to listen to some gossip.
The young ladies say that they think the Emperor is a good Emperor for having let 璎珞 go given her actions trying to help him with his illness. Any other Emperor would have already killed 璎珞. These ladies leave and the Emperor is again at a crossroads and poor 李玉 is on the short end of the stick. If the Emperor punishes 璎珞 now, everyone will think he is a wicked Emperor, someone who is too petty and ungrateful. And so, the Emperor can only walk away now and suffer her harsh words with no retaliation.
We do get a cute couple of scenes with 璎珞 and 傅恒。 During 璎珞’s period of illness, the handsome 傅恒 comes to take care of her in the night. He is very sweet and also steals a kiss on her cheek. Wow! Look at him! When she goes to confront him at his rooms, he aptly denies taking care of her and teases her that she must have been dreaming about him at night. She doesn’t have evidence and thinks she might have imagined it in her weak state but just as she is about to walk out, 海兰察 walks in and says he is never taking the night shift for 傅恒 again. 璎珞 turns and is like 傅恒！ You Liar! Lol.
The rest of the episode and into episode 21 revolves around the Emperor’s birthday which was alluded to in earlier episodes.
Today we are back at 长春 palace and the Empress with 纯妃 are reviewing a couple of paintings that the Empress made to gift to the Emperor for his birthday. One painting is a landscape painting while the other is of the 洛神. The group picks the painting of 洛神 to be sent to the Emperor as a gift as it is the better painting.
Meanwhile, 明玉 is once again annoyed that her opinion of the landscape painting was rebuffed. When she heads outside, she sees 舒贵人 and 庆常在 two women we haven’t seen in a while appear. They stop by with gifts for the Empress and is hoping for an audience. Ming Yu rather rudely turns them away because 舒贵人 clearly is hoping to ally herself with the Empress in order to get closer to the Emperor.
This annoys 舒贵人 who drags 庆常在 off to seek shelter with 高贵妃. At first, 高贵妃 is also not pleased to see these two women who are clearly here to ask for help. But, she does give them an opportunity. IF they are able to rid her of the annoying dog next to the Empress, she will help them in turn. The dog in this instance is of course, 璎珞。
The day of the Emperor’s birthday arrives and the palace is present for his birthday celebration. The Empress presents her painting to the Emperor but interestingly, is the landscape painting. It is applauded by the Emperor for her skill. 高贵妃 next takes this opportunity to give her gift. And immediately, we are presented with western music. The piece in question is the classic Cannon in D and the curtain raises for the attendees to see a full western orchestra playing music, complete with saxophone, guitar, violins, flutes, trumpets, trombones, archordian i think? We’re going to talk all about the ways that this scene is WRONG because a couple of these instruments weren’t invented in the west yet and also aren’t even required in the piece but whatever.
The Emperor is ecstatic to see these instruments being played because they remind him of his grandfather, Emperor Kang Xi who had a great liking to these instruments. Seeing these musical instruments played is a reminder to 乾隆 of his grandfather and that is a really special gift. What was even more challenging was getting people together to learn these instruments.高贵妃 clearly won this round of best birthday gift. Interestingly though, the idea came from 舒贵人.
高贵妃 does take this opportunity to present 舒贵人 in front of the Emperor and she presents her gift. A beautiful glass buddha tower complete with the relic of a renowned Tang Dynasty monk and has been named The Lotus Flower of Buddha. These relics are supposedly pearls or beads that appear from the ashes of the bodies of renowned buddhist monks.
This is another impressive gift to the EMperor as this is something that the Empress Dowager has been seeking for quite some time. The Emperor tasks the Empress with picking a couple of interesting gifts along with this tower to give to his mother. THe task, in turn, is given to 璎珞。That is promptly stolen by 明玉.
The Episode ends with, as you guessed it, the priceless relic going missing after all of the maids head outside to enjoy the fireworks on display to celebrate the Emperor’s birthday. Before that though, 璎珞 learns from 傅恒 of tunnels that were built in the imperial palace during the ming dynasty that were used by servants but seldom used now. Something of importance for ying luo in the future. But before we have time to think about that, 璎珞 must figure out exactly how and where the relic went or else they are doomed.
Pop culture time!
There’s so many couples to dote upon today!
First we have our 令后CP or the Empress and 璎珞 couple. It’s so cute that they really trust each other and I really like how 璎珞 really just wants the Empress to be happy. She’s like – the Emperor? Whatever, he sucks but how can I make the Empress happy?
Then we have 帝后 CP which is the Empress and the Emperor! The Emperor can be himself when he’s around the Empress and we finally see him act all childish around her. It’s super cute. Especially during his birthday when everyone is watching the fireworks, noble consort gao is like ooo look at me! And the Emperor just like ignores her to ask what the Empress thinks. HAHAHA
I remember all the comments when this episode aired were – 高贵妃 is once again the only one actually palace fighting. The main couple are just enjoying themselves.
Finally we have 富察傅恒 and 璎珞 cp! 傅恒 is making moves! Seriously get moving or else you’ll lose the girl!
Scabies – I’m going to lightly touch up on scabies. The first written records in China of scabies date all the way back to the 隋朝 dynasty – end of the 6th century / beginning of the early 7th century AD in the book General Treatise on Causes and Manifestations of All Diseases 诸病源候论 which was a compilation of 50 volumes on diseases and treatment methods. The original author was believed to have lived during the 隋 dynasty but the book wasn’t formally published until the Song Dynasty, some 400 years later.
Now, Karen and I aren’t doctors but I kind don’t think how the Emperor contacted it made sense because he needed to have had prolonged contact in order to get scabies. Well – it’s just a drama so let’s not dwell on it too much.
This is the original version of the painting that the Empress ultimately decides to gift the Emperor in this episode.
The original painter was Liu Songnian. He lived during the early years of the Southern Song Dynasty and lived from around 1131-1218. The years that he was alive differ wildly between english wikipedia and chinese baike. It’s kind of fascinating. English wikipedia has his years of living from between 1174 to 1224. I’m gonna going with the baike version of his age.
Anyways, he is considered one of the Four Masters of the Southern Song dynasty and excelled in landscape paintings.
四景山水图 or the 4 scenes of the mountains and water is considered one of his most famous. The original painting is comprised of 4 parts that depict the 4 seasons from the city of 杭州 in southeast China. The lake that is painted is most likely 西湖 or the Western Lake which is a prominent feature of the city.
Here are the 4 panels
- 第一幅，踏青，春花烂漫，杨柳葱翠；The first – spring, it depicts a small pagoda covered by the trees and flowers, with a misty mountain in the distance
- 第二幅，纳凉，夏木浓荫，碧荷点点；The next – summer, which is the frame we see in the drama – it depicts a pagoda next to the lake. The trees are flourishing. The people can enjoy under the shade of the pagoda
- 第三幅，观山，秋高气爽，霜叶尽染；3rd – Fall – enjoying the view of the mountains and fall leaves from the pagoda
- 第四幅，赏雪，山裹银装，万籁俱寂。4th – Winter – the world is covered in white. The view enjoys the pine trees and the stone formations covered in snow
The painting is currently held in the The Palace Museum in Beijing China
exNext up – let’s discuss this whole western musical group that Noble Consort Gao gathers for the Emperor’s birthday. The reason why I’m not calling it an orchestra is because like it really isn’t one? There’s a whole random assortment of instruments. If it was just strings – sure an orchestra or but there’s like random wind and brass instruments. It’s not a band because of the string instruments.
Anyways – There’s some history and a lot of bugs within the scene. Let’s first start with the history.
The Emperor was very pleased to see the western orchestra and said multiple times that these instruments date back from the time of his grandfather, Emperor Kang Xi. This is true to history and this may be surprising to listeners but China has had a long history with Western Classical music. I’ll do a little recap and the focus on the Qing Dynasty emperors.
In the 16th century, the italian missionary Matteo Ricci arrived from Portugal to Macau and then made it to Beijing to meeting the Ming Dynasty Emperor Wan Li. He brought with him musical instruments, striking clocks and other western inventions. His gift included a clavichord which is a small rectangular keyboard instrument. The Emperor promptly informed Ricci to teach a group of eunuchs how to play the instrument and they performed for the emperor.
Taiwan was partly under Dutch colonial rule between 1624 – 1662 and from 1664 to 1668. The Dutch established trade routes between the Ming Dynasty and the Qing Dynasty after that. Dutch and Spanish missionaries arrived and brought western musical instruments with them.
Western instruments and western music reached its peak popularity under Emperor 康熙 who lived from 1654 to 1722. The Emperor was very intrigued with western culture. There were several prominent missionaries who held positions at court and brought their western culture and music to 康熙 court.
One of the most famous is the Portuguese missionary and diplomat Tomas Pereira. This is the guy that Emperor 乾隆 mentions in the drama. Tomas was favored by the Emperor 康熙 and ordered to write basically a music theory book in chinese of western music theory.
Emperor 康熙 was very enamored by western instruments to the point that he did indeed practice playing several of them and would play chinese music on the western instruments. It didn’t hurt that the baroque style instruments were opulent and resplendent. The Emperor was noted to practice daily. Indeed, he could even play some buddhist mantras on the harpsichord! These accounts were reported by missionaries back to their respective kings back in the west, including King Louis 14th of France.
News of Emperor 康熙’s favor of the instruments traveled fast and soon there were many that were gifted to the Emperor. He then ordered for his sons to learn how to play these instruments as well. He even got mad when it seemed like his sons couldn’t really get the essence of the music. He wanted them to learn the theory in addition to having the actual skill of playing. The Emperor also had western orchestras perform in the palace almost daily for his enjoyment.
The Italian priest and composer Teodorico Pedrini was a missionary in China for 36 years even wrote baroque music in Beijing! Dodici Sonate a Violino Solo col Basso del Nepridi – Opera Terza is the only known baroque music written in China. The original manuscript is still preserved in the National Library of Běijīng.
Unfortunately, after the death of Emperor Kang Xi, his son Emperor Yong Zheng, kind of left Western Music to the wayside. He probably didn’t have much of an ear for western music.
Interest in western music picked up again in the reign of Emperor Qian Long – our emperor. He did order the musical instruments to be restored and repaired again. He was also very insistent on making his own western instruments in China and creating his own orchestra. By 1746 he even had an 18 person orchestra with violins and cellos and basses!
However, this all came to a halt in later years of Emperor Qian Long’s reign and through the rest of the Qing Dynasty. It is VERY rare that Chinese dramas depict this western music influence in China so I will give a lot of points here for introducing this to us.
However, Let’s get on to the drama which was like a whole rollercoaster for me. In the drama, the musical group plays Canon in D by the german composer Johann Pachelbel. Hopefully this is pretty familiar to audiences. The original piece was composed in 1680. We’re well into the 18th century at this point, 1741 to be exact. So that’s ok.
But but but – man – let’s look at the actual group!. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw it. I was like – come on, this is embarrassing! There’s the accordion, which was first invented in a basic form in 1882, and the saxophone, which was first invented in 1840. Not to mention like the VERY modern versions of the other instruments. There’s the guitar, violin, flute, trombone, cello, trumpet. So yes – I get that look cool, China had these western instruments all the way back in the 17th and 18th centuries, but like – could you please be somewhat historically accurate?
I’m not even talking about getting era appropriate instruments! Canon in D is strictly a string piece – just take out all the brass and winds and then remove that random guitar and you would have been all set! I mean – yes, the production probably didn’t know what musical piece they were going to overlay for the scene but c’mon, an accordion??? Why didn’t they throw in a piano or harpsichord? I would have forgiven a piano.
Ugh – as you can tell, I’m kind of worked up about it cause I was in orchestra for many years, Karen was in symphonic band. We know our classical music so like uh yea. Docking points from the drama for this.
Lastly – let’s discuss the 舍利子 or Śarīra (apologies on the pronunciation). These are pearl or bead-shaped objects that are purportedly found among the cremated ashes of Buddhist spiritual masters. These are essentially relics. I don’t think it’s really known why these Śarīras form after the cremation of monks. Because of this I would say phenomenon, these relics are highly venerated as they are believed to embody the spiritual master and to provide good luck.