Ep 43

[Cathy]

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 episode 43 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. 

 

Friendly reminder to go vote vote vote on our website for the drama you want us to discuss next!

 

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com.

 

This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap, some contemporary commentary, and we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.

 

 

[Karen]

In the last episode, Ying Luo has decided that she needs to take revenge against 纯贵妃 who not only harmed 明玉 but is now supsected to have been involved in the 7th prince and ultimately the late Empress’s death. Because Ying Luo is just a lowly maid with no power or connections, the only way to amass power IS by becoming a woman of the EMperor. So, with some clever scheming she successfully gets named Noble Lady Wei after a rockstar performance at the Empress Dowager’s birthday. We no return to the present day where it’s time to see Ying Luo take hold in the palace.

 

In episode 43, the new Empress assigns Wei Ying Luo to live in 延禧宫 quite a ways away from the palace center. We’ll talk about the palace later in today’s Episode. The Empress is quite happy to see this development because it helps balance out the power of favor in the palace. RIght now, 纯贵妃 has the most favor by the Emperor so it’s good for the new Empress to have someone to take some of that away. Meanwhile 纯贵妃 is already voicing her serious displeasure with Ying Luo. 愉妃, mother of the 5th prince and who has become quite close with 纯贵妃 is uncharacteristically harsh towards 璎珞 as well, saying all manner of degrading things. The two of them have their eyes open on what they can do to bring Ying Luo down.

 

When the imperial family returns from Yuan Ming Yuan, Ying Luo goes to her new home base. It’s a destitute spot that is in need of a cleaning. The staff she sees include former colleagues 琥珀 and 珍珠 who worked with Ying Luo and Ming Yu back in Chang Chun Palace with the late Empress. While 珍珠 is respectful to Ying Luo, 琥珀 is less so. She thinks that because they all worked together with late Empress, she is able to speak directly at 璎珞 and call her by her first name. She does not respect Ying Luo whatsoever.

 

This is already a test for YIng Luo who recognizes that she cannot openly punish 琥珀 because that would harm her reputation. It’s also pretty clear that someone purposefully told 琥珀 to serve Ying luo with the direct hope of disrespecting her and causing her to look bad in the palace.

 

But, Ying Luo tells Ming Yu that she needs to learn patience in the palace. Patience is key to being able to strike that satisfying blow when the time is right. 

 

Now the most important thing Ying Luo needs to do now is to garner the Emperor’s attention. He has neglected seeing her at all since they returned to the forbidden palace. And so, the games begin. 

 

Ying Luo is quite clever in recognizing that she should not go directly to the EMperor and seek him out. Instead, she goes over to the Empress Dowager. There, she is able to bring laughter to 寿康宫 by dressing up and telling fun stories to the aged woman. One day, the Emperor bumps into Ying Luo dressed up as a male storyteller telling her fun stories to the Empress DOwager. He is surprised to see her and tells her to leave for being out of decorum. However, after she leaves though, the Empress Dowager praises Ying Luo for her unique ability to bring a smile to her face.

 

Ying Luo continues to tell stories every day and every day when she leaves, she is ignored when the Emperor walks by to visit his mother. This goes on for about a month and YIng Luo decides that you know what? Tomorrow, I’m not going to go. She tells Ming Yu to take a day off as she is ahem “sick”.

 

We next see the Emperor working at his desk and without even looking up from his book, ask his head eunuch 李玉 if he’s asked.  李玉 is like, ask about what? And with a piercing glare from the Emperor, 李玉 chuckles and responds that noble lady 魏 has fallen ill. Sick?…Who asked about her? 

 

Haha. The Emperor clearly has too much pride and ego to want to let go but is still rather worried about ying Luo.  After about a second of thought, he decides to get up and go for a walk.

 

At 延禧宫 Ying Luo is “sick” and 琥珀 has arrived to bring her medicine. But she is extremely disrespectful towards Ying Luo and demeaning towards her. She even tries to take Ying Luo’s medicine from her hands when Ying Luo tries to tell 琥珀 to be more respectful. Unluckily for 琥珀 though, this exchange is overheard by the Emperor who is furious at her disrespect for 魏璎珞. She is ordered to be beaten 80 times and then banished to 行者库. What’s important here is that the Emperor punished 琥珀 because of her disrespect for his concubine. Not necessarily because it’s 魏璎珞. But because of this little show that 璎珞 orchestrated, she’s able to not only capture the attention of the Emperor, but establish authority in her palace with the help of the Emperor.  

 

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It’s also interesting to see that Ying Luo purposefully told Hu Po to serve her that night just so the Emperor can see her humiliate Ying Luo.

 

The next time the Emperor visits the EMperess Dowager and still does not see Ying Luo, it’s clear that Ying Luo has fully captured the Emperor’s attention. Even the Empress Dowager says so, joking that someone has taken the Emperor’s spirit. That night, the Emperor heads over to see Ying Luo and after all this planning, she successfully becomes a woman of the Emperor. Hook line and sinker.

 

This is just the first step to establishing her foothold in the palace. 

 

With Ying Luo gaining so much attention from the Emperor, the rest of the ladies are sure to be jealous. It’s not surprising because apparently, the Emperor spent the night with her 3 nights in a row. This is unheard of in the palace. Sure enough, at the daily greeting with the Empress, the majority of the ladies in the palace except for Qing Gui Ren and the Empress are chewing out YIng Luo for not following protocol and being too stuck up. She hasn’t even arrived to greet the Empress! That just shows how highly she thinks of herself. This deeply amuses the Empress as Ying Luo arrives shortly after with a glass full of morning dew water she collected. Apparently, Ying Luo arrived before the Empress even woke up that morning to collect dew water for the Empress’s tea. This is a slap in the face to all of the women who just mouthed off at her. 

 

The Empress motions for the ladies to leave. Privately, she finds this whole thing quite hilarious because she relishes in watching other people destroy each other. That way she doesn’t have to dirty her own hands. As for who will be Ying Luo’s next obstacle? It’s going to be 小嘉嫔. She’s the younger sister of the deceased 嘉嫔 and mother of the 4th prince. Outside of 纯贵妃 she is quite favored in the palace but has none of the patience and grace of 璎珞 or 纯贵妃. Instead, she is overtly domineering and aggressive towards Ying Luo when they first meet. And she becomes increasingly angry and distraught as Ying Luo manages to steer the Emperor away from her towards Ying Luo’s own palace, thereby reducing her favor. We will see in the next episodes how Ying Luo squares off against 小嘉嫔。

 

 

[Karen]

History

 

Today we’ll of course start off with the titular palace that 魏璎珞 now calls home. 延禧宫 or Yanxi Palace!

 

The palace itself was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and had the name of 长寿宫. The name changed to 延祺宫 in 1535 and then finally 延禧宫 during the Qing Dynasty in the in 1686 when it was renovated. The name 延禧 is represents -迎福请喜之意 or to welcome in luck and happiness.

 

It is one of the six main palaces in the eastern part of 紫禁城 or the Forbidden Palace, situated in the northeastern corner of the palace. This wasn’t a very favored Palace because of its rather far location from the Emperor’s main sleeping quarters of 养心殿. Due to the distance to the Emperor, it is thought that mainly lower ranking consorts and concubines lived there. There’s only a short list of women who resided at Yanxi Palace during the Qing Dynasty and all didn’t capture much attention from the Emperors.

 

In Empresses in the Palace, 安陵容 lived here. We of course now have 魏璎珞 live in this palace. These are of course all fictitious characters. 

 

I was doing some research and it looks like 魏璎珞 probably did live at Yanxi palace but only for a short while. This would most likely be due to her background as a Baoyi and only a lowly Noble Lady at that. 

 

When Wei Ying Luo rose through the ranks, she moved to 储秀宫, which is in the western part of the palace.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s talk about the architecture of this palace. 

 

The architecture and build of this palace was pretty similar to the other 5 palaces nearby, with 2 courtyards. The front courtyard had 5 rooms, with 3 side rooms to the east and west. The inner courtyard also had 5 rooms with 3 side rooms to the east and west. The roofing was all yellow glazed tiles. 

 

The problem with this palace is that it was prone to fires. After it was rebuilt in the 17th century, there were at least 4 notable fires at the palace. The fire in 1845 basically destroyed the whole building, with only the front door still intact. One of Emperor 道光’s concubines, 恬嫔, who was living there, perished in the fire.  Emperor Tong Zhi requested a renovation of this palace in 1872 but was denied due to the exorbitant funds that would be needed to renovate it.

 

In 1909, just 3 years before the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager 隆裕太后 ordered the renovation of the palace and the construction of a 3 story western style building, called a 水殿 or a water palace. The intention was to build a sort of crystal palace that would be constructed with glass as the walls, with metal supports and water that would be redirected from a nearby spring to surround the small palace. Because the palace was so prone to fires, the thought was to build something with water to prevent more fires.  It was during this renovation that electricity and heat was also added to the palace. 

 

Unfortunately, due to the lack of government funds and the end of the Empire, it was never completed. However, we can still see the crystal palace today. It’s kind of jarring because it takes up the whole courtyard. You can still see that it isn’t really finished. White marble was instead used for the walls and there’s the awkward metal skeletons for the pagodas at the top of the structure. Nevertheless, it is an interesting example of western influences in China, especially with the architecture.

 

This specific palace itself in Beijing wasn’t a top tourist destination because of its remote location but due to the wild success and popularity of this drama and Ruyi’s Love in the Palace, many tourists head there today to see the famed 延禧宫. It re-opened after shutting down during COVID so now tourists can go and enjoy this famed palace.

 

Filming of 延禧 palace took place in 横店 in the southeast part of china, only a few hours away from Shanghai. A Forbidden Palace was essentially recreated at this film lot and is where Empresses in the Palace and the Story of Yanxi Palace was filmed. Nowadays, you can actually tour the sets and people have taken photos of where the characters were during specific scenes. The 延禧宫 in the drama is nothing like the 延禧宫 in Beijing. However, thats’ not a big deal because well, the current YanXi palace in Beijing also doesn’t look anything like it did during 乾隆’s reign!

 

[Karen]

Costumes!

In this episode, we see 魏璎珞 wearing a completely new wardrobe to match her status as a noble lady. 

 

Let me talk about a couple of the highlights. I will apologize upfront because I’m not a fashion historian so if I butcher some names of clothing types, please give me a pass.

 

When she first enters 延禧 palace, she is wearing a cloak with a very unique shoulder design. That is called a 云肩披风. We’ve definitely seen other ladies in the Imperial Harem wear a cloak like this but since we now have 魏璎珞 wear these, let’s talk about them. 

 

Well 云肩 translates to cloud shoulder. There’s two ways of wearing this. The first is the type that would be worn over a piece of clothing, as we have with the cloak or how 魏璎珞 wears what looks kind of like a feathered collar later in this episode when she greets the Empress. The second is to have the clouds embroidered as part of the outfit. This is essentially what we see 明玉 have. 

 

云肩 has long roots in 汉 culture that can be seen in paintings dating back as far back as the Tang dynasty so 7th century. They are the first type – which the云肩 is worn on top of the blouse. Then we have the 云肩 that originated around the Yuan dynasty that was sewn onto the blouse. Then finally, we have the more commonly known 云肩 that originated during the end of the Ming dynasty. This is like a shoulder shawl that covers the shoulders. The original purpose was to protect the rest of the blouse from any oils that were used for hair products.

 

[Cathy]

The issue is that 云肩 were typically worn by Han women and the collars that Manchu or 旗 ren wore, were different. If we look at what 纯贵妃 and 舒嫔 are wearing in this episode, they don’t really have any embroidery on their collars, which was more in line with Manchu style. The Empress’s head maid’s embroidery / collar is definitely the most common Manchu style. In which there are the buttons that clasp the dress and the embroidery lines those buttons.

 

The Yun Jian style that we see most women in the women of drama wear, which in this episode, is 嘉嫔. Didn’t really come into fashion for Manchu women until the end of the 清 dynasty.

 

I’m reading several articles criticizing the costume designs for most of the women here in the drama when it comes to 云肩 because they wouldn’t have been as prevalent in the imperial harem during this time. It doesn’t mean Manchu women didn’t wear them, it just wasn’t as popular.

 

However – that doesn’t mean that costume designers didn’t do their research. It’s just that many of the pieces of clothing they recreated were from later in the 清 dynasty. This is especially true for the outfit that 魏璎珞 wears when greeting the Empress and her subsequent encounter with 嘉嫔. This is called a 蓝底绣仙桃团花纹 – Her outfit is what was considered a Manchu & Han mix style because there’s the 云肩 on top of her dress and then you can see the side embroidery for the manchu style underneath.

 

There’s a painting of Emperor 道光’s Empress wearing this exact same style of clothing. She just lived in the 19th century instead of the 18th. 

 

Another costume that I want to callout is the outfit that 魏璎珞 wears when she first arrives at 延禧宫 and takes off the cloak. It is a beautiful blue piece that we’ll call 群青底绣团花. It’s a lighter shade of blue. I suspect this was an attempt to recreate something similar to a painting that has survived of 魏璎珞’s historical counterpart. The woman in the painting is wearing a similar light shade of blue with flowers embroidered on her shoulders. This painting is among a collection of 清 dynasty paintings and is one of a few that survived to today. Perhaps that’s why a lot of 魏璎珞’s wardrobe as she rises as a concubine is blue? That’s just my speculation.

 

And lastly – we have some scenes of 魏璎珞’s night gown which is a 黄底绣菊花 or a yellow base with chrysanthemum flowers. 

 

I’ll continue discussing costumes and outfits moving forward. You guys should also spend some time discovering the different styles that each of the ladies wore. 

 

[Karen]

That is it for this podcast episode! Remember to vote on our website chasingdramas.com!

 

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also launched on Sling TV Again all of this is Free!

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

Ep 42

[Cathy]

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 episode 42 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. 

 

Friendly reminder to go vote vote vote on our website for the drama you want us to discuss next!

 

We also just published our 2022 wrap up and review podcast episode where we talk about ours and your favorite dramas of 2022 so go check it out if you haven’t!

 

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com.

 

This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap, some contemporary commentary, and we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.

 

[Karen]

In episode 41, we find that the imperial family is currently vacationing in Yuan Ming Yuan the summer palace for the Empress Dowager’s birthday.  The former Consort Xian is now the Empress. Consort Chun has been promoted to 纯贵妃 and has 愉妃 mother of the 5th prince with her in her camp. Elsewhere, Fu Heng has jetted off to war in the Sichuan plains.

 

This little visit gives Ying Luo, who has been stationed here for the last 2 years, to see her good friend Ming Yu who now is under the employ of Noble Consort Chun. Except this 纯贵妃 is no longer as kind as she once was. Ying Luo, who manages to get Ming Yu alone, discovers that Ming Yu has been injured and with the help of her old friend, the Imperial Doctor 叶天士, they find that Ming Yu has been injected with numerous needles in her bloodstream that will ultimately kill her.

 

Now we turn to episode 42. Ming Yu finally tells Ying Luo the truth about why she was so cold to Ying Luo earlier. For the last 2 years, 纯贵妃 has treated her pretty well but 3 days ago, Ming Yu discovered that 纯贵妃’s head maid is in an amorous liaison with the eunuch who used to lead the Charcoal department the year the 7th prince’s fire broke out that ultimately killed the baby. Because this eunuch was not working that day, he was able to escape punishment. At first, Ming Yu didn’t think much of it but then, the head maid 玉壶 informed 纯贵妃 and then injected Ming Yu with the needles. They want to threaten her to remain silent.

 

At that moment, Ming Yu starts suspecting that the death of the 7th prince may have had something to do with 纯贵妃。

 

[Cathy]

Ying Luo takes the evening to think through the events and decides that they must take revenge against Chun Gui Fei. They do not have the power and ability now to take on one of the most powerful women in the palace and so Ying Luo, after reminiscing about her past with both the Empress and Fu Heng, decides to take matters into her own hand. She, at this moment, is driven only by revenge.  The next day she sets her plans in motion. She asks for help from the Imperial Guard 海兰察 and also purposefully distracts her adoptive brother 袁春望。

 

The next day is the Empress Dowager’s birthday and it is a grand affair. The Emperor, Empress Dowager and the ladies in the Imperial Harem are present for the festivities, as well as Ying Luo. First up for activities for the day is for the Empress to let a flock of birds go free. This is called 放生 or Life release, a buddhist practice. Mixed among the flock of flying birds soaring through the air however, is a beautifully colored one. Ying Luo presents herself to the group as the maid watching over the birds and loudly proclaims that the colorful bird may be a phoenix. She is promptly shot down by 纯贵妃. The Empress Dowager on the other hand, is quite pleased to hear this but the present audience all claim that Ying Luo is purposefully making this up and should be punished.

 

Ying Luo the pipes up that she has another way of proving that today is an auspicious day with another blessed sign from heaven. She bets her life that another heavenly sign will appear based on the koi fish in the pond. And sure enough, after th e koi are released into the water, they disappear for a moment before swimming in the shape of the word 寿 or Longevity. This surprises the group and with Ying Luo’s sharp wit, causes the Empress Dowager to be extremely pleased with the result, thinking these omens were signs from heaven of her kind heart. The Empress Dowager asks Ying Luo what reward she wants for this wonderful birthday gift. Ying Luo takes this opportunity to voice her request. To return to the palace and serve the Empress Dowager in Shou Kang Palace.

 

[Karen]

The Emperor immediately rejects this request. He instead says that he can’t give her to the Empress Dowager because he himself wants to appoint her as a woman in his harem. This shocks all of the ladies in attendance. The Empress Dowager thinks that Ying Luo is worthy of the 贵人 title or Noble Lady which honestly is quite high. Before anyone says anything else though, Ying Luo promptly thanks the Empress Dowager for this blessing. In this moment, she also wonders if she can make another request. She asks for Ming Yu to come serve her in the palace. This obviously displeases 纯贵妃 and you can see her eyes turn into slits to show her displeasure. And with that, Ying Luo now is noble lady Wei or 魏贵人。

 

In my humble opinion, this scene was rather contrived. The whole reason why the Emperor jumped in to give Ying Luo a title is because he didn’t want her to serve the Empress Dowager. He knew she was going to be up to something and to deny her access to the Empress Dowager, he decides to keep her for himself. I feel like there could have been many other reasons or ways to keep Ying Luo from working with the Empress Dowager and this was not one of the best ideas. 

 

It is also interesting to see, of the ladies in the palace, who has it out for YIng Luo and who supports her. 愉妃 and 纯贵妃 want Ying Luo punished and do not want her back in the palace. While the new Empress and 庆贵人 don’t mind. 

 

[Cathy]

As Ying Luo packs up her things back in her rooms, no one is actually too happy for her. Ming Yu is upset that Ying Luo did this for her and Yuan Chun Wang is upset that Ying Luo reneged on her promise to stay with him in 圆明园。 He is also even more upset that she is going to “marry” the Emperor aka 弘历。 It’s important to remember that each time 袁春望 refers to the Emperor, he calls the Emperor by his actual name which is quite a no no. It caught both our ears when we saw this episode.  In any case, 袁春望 is utterly destroyed that 璎珞 is leaving him and tells her that from that moment, they are no longer related and vows to seek revenge. I do feel bad for this guy. He has abandonment issues and life has treated him poorly. Too bad his relationship with Ying Luo is not enough to offset Ying Luo’s love and relationship with the late Empress.

 

That night, the Emperor requests the presence of Ying Luo. In an upgraded outfit and hairstyle, Ying Luo walks over to the requested location with Ming Yu to meet the Emperor. She is forced to wait out in the cold for over 2 hours and he also requests that he meet her at 长春仙馆, the residence of the late Empress. It’s not difficult to deduce he’s trying to insult her. She doesn’t take the bait. Outside, she drinks tea and eats pastries. When she is finally told to see the Emperor, she undresses to show her mourning outfit. In front of the Emperor, she states that she is going to remain in mourning for the full 27 months to remember the late Empress. The Emperor at this point still thinks she is just a gold digger but cannot refute her actions here so he lets her go. 

 

At the end of the episode, the Emperor questions Hai Lan Cha as to how Ying Luo was able to make the koi fish in the pond swim in the longevity sign. He doesn’t hide the truth and shares that Ying Luo asked him to place food in that shape for the fish to eat. From here, we realize that Ying Luo planned this all along. Her path to revenge as a woman of the Emperor has started.

 

 

[Karen]

 

With this episode, 魏璎珞 is on a path of revenge! Why does that sound so familiar! Well, because it is! She first entered into the palace to get revenge on the death of her sister 魏璎宁 and now, she decides to join the Emperor’s harem to seek revenge for the Empress!

 

When the drama first came out in 2018, I remember viewers saying, wait, how will the drama play out because we know that 魏璎珞 eventually enters the palace at some point. People were dreading a true-love story between the Emperor and 魏璎珞 because that’s not historically accurate. The drama also faced fierce competition between Ruyi’s Love and the Palace, which was airing at the same time, and of course Empresses in the Palace. 

 

The reason why this drama captured the audience’s attention is because this drama is focused primarily on revenge rather than romance. Unlike its competition RuYi’s love in the palace where the two main characters go through romance, for the bulk of this drama, Ying Luo primary motivation is revenge which is more satisfying to watch.

 

Exactly, right now, she’s returning to the palace with the sole purpose of bringing down 纯贵妃, the Emperor and honestly the Empress Dowager are her paths to get there. 

 

 

[Cathy]

Let’s move on to some history! It’s important to frame timing for this drama because there’s plenty of historical inaccuracies right now with regards to the Ying Luo’s time in the palace

 

Today’s focus is actually 魏璎珞。

 

魏璎珞 was born in 1727年10月23日 in 北京, China into the Han Chinese Booi Aha of the Plain Yellow Banner by birth. Wiki has it wrong that she was born into the Bordered Yellow Banner. Her family was promoted or 抬旗 into that banner after she became consort. 魏璎珞 as a name is just created for the show. As with Empress Fucha, we typically don’t know the full names of women in history. We’ll just use 魏璎珞 because everyone’s familiar with that name.

 

Putting timelines in perspective, she’s 16 years 乾隆’s junior and not much is known of her earlier years. What we do know is that she was selected to enter into the palace at some point under what is called the 小选 or the small selection. We’ve talked about the selection before, typically the 选秀 that we think of is also called the 大选 or the big selection. This is where women from the 8 bordered banners are selected to enter into the palace as concubines or consorts for the Emperor and imperial family. The small selection is for women from the Booi Aha to enter into service in the Palace as maids for the various palaces. Typically, the women were of course of Manchu descent. The women of Han descent were much lower on the ladder – which is where we find 魏璎珞 as she is of han descent. But, as we said before, just because 魏璎珞 came from the Booyi aha caste, that didn’t necessarily mean that her family was poor or didn’t have status. Her father and ancestors held positions in the Imperial Household Department or Guards. So she didn’t show up in the Imperial Palace with no connections, it’s just that her connections or relations cannot compare to those of, for example, the Empress.

 

[Karen]

 

During the 小选, she must have caught the eye of the Emperor. However, due to her young age, she did not “serve” the Emperor, so she was sent to serve as a palace maid for Empress 孝贤, which is our Empress 富察. There aren’t any records of her time spent in 长春宫, which is the Empress’s palace.

 

When the drama begins, we’re in 1741,6 years into 乾隆‘s reign. 魏璎珞, at this point, is around 14, which could conceivably be when she enters the palace. 

 

In history, 魏璎珞 becomes a Noble Lady or 贵人 in 1745 or the 10th year of 乾隆’s reign. That makes her around 17 or 18. Please note, that in the drama, she doesn’t become a noble lady or 贵人 until 1750, which is where we are in the drama right now. 

 

As a quick reminder to our listeners, because we haven’t discussed the levels in the Imperial Harem for quite some time, here are the ranks in the Imperial Harem.

 

The lowest is 官女子 – these women would still serve or work in the palace.

Next we have 答应 or second-class female attendant

Then we have 常在 or First-class female attendant. 

And then we have 贵人 which is Noble Lady – this is where 魏璎珞 finds herself. 

 

[Cathy]

For all of these titles, there is no limit to the number of women at this level. Once they are promoted further, to the level of 嫔, there are strict limits on the number of women who can be at these levels. It is also at the level of 嫔, where women can then call themselves 本宫 because they run their own palace. 

 

In this current drama, 魏璎珞 immediately receives the title of 贵人 which causes a stir with the women in the Imperial Harem because 魏璎珞 skipped like 3 steps to become a 贵人. This is historically accurate, well we don’t have any records saying anything else, because her first recorded title is 贵人 in 1745. 

 

[Karen]

In contrast, 魏燕婉 from 如懿传 or Ruyi’s love in the palace, she started in the palace as a maid and was given the title of 答应 and slowly moved her way up in the palace. In that drama she also was in the palace as the Emperor’s woman for much longer than we see Ying Luo in this drama. I do find it funny to see the depictions of various dramas for historical women. Most if not all of them wrong.  

 

Speaking of, this gets us into a little bug in the drama. 魏璎珞 cleverly refuses to spend the night with the Emperor by saying that she still has to adhere to the 27 month mourning period for Empress 富察. However, in history, the new Empress Nala would not have been crowned Empress until AFTER the 27 month mourning period, which we discussed in the last episode. So, technically, this wouldn’t have been a good excuse. However, timelines with regards to 魏璎珞 for this drama at this point are completely thrown out the window so we’ll let this slide. In 1750, 魏璎珞 is only 23 or so.

 

[Cathy]

We started focusing more on costumes in the drama so let’s continue here! We get a splendid scene of all of the women in the Imperial Harem wearing what is called the 吉服. This is one step below in formality compared to the 朝服, which is what we discussed Empress 那拉 in the previous episode. Unfortunately we don’t get full body shots of any of the characters except for perhaps the Empress Dowager. 

 

吉服 translates to literally Luck Attire. This is worn for more formal occasions such as birthdays or celebrations at the ancestral temples. 吉服 was not unique to the Qing dynasty. We just have a pretty clear visual representation of the differences. In the Qing Dynasty, we think of it as the outer jacket that all of the ladies are wearing in this scene. It is typically black or a navy color with the circle on the chest, two smaller circles on the shoulders, and two circles between the waist and knees. Please note that the women also wear this collar. Which is period appropriate as well. For this drama, the costume designers did quite a bit of research to replicate several 清 dynasty 朝服 and 吉服 for this drama. If you compare what the ladies wear in this episode, it is formal but not AS formal as the Empress’s court attire in the previous episode. 

 

[Karen]

I read that what 纯贵妃 is wearing is called the 蝴蝶菊花团纹 which translates to Butterfly Chrysanthemum. We can see both in the large circle on her chest. However, I can’t quite make out what bird it is. As for the Empress, she has dragons on her chest. It’s the same for the Emperor. The other women in the Imperial Harem mainly have flowers for their embroidery, which fits their rank. For this scene, this is the Empress Dowager’s most formal attire that we see in the drama. I couldn’t find a historical counterpart, but someone online compiled this list and called it a 黑底金线绣花吉服. Which translates to Black Base Gold Thread Flower Attire. We don’t see the normal dragon here. The Empress Dowager is allowed to wear dragons.

 

We’ll see these ladies wear 吉服 separately but this is one of the grand affairs where the Imperial harem is out in force standing together. Please pay attention to the headdresses of each of the ladies too. I feel like they are slightly more formal, with more gold, 点翠, and jewels. Please compare what the ladies are wearing here to, let’s say, the next episode. We discussed 钿子 in episode 36+37.

 

On a side note, I rather like 魏璎珞’s current maid outfit. It stands out but not too much. 

 

[Cathy]

Lastly – just a super quick note on the two locations mentioned in this episode. 九洲清晏殿 was indeed the Emperor’s sleeping residence while at 圆明园. It became the primary residence for the Emperor during the reign of Emperor 雍正. It then became the favored residence for Qing Dynasty emperors. Emperor Yongzheng actually died here. It is located on a small island on the southside of Yuan Ming Yuan. Looking at a map, it is right after the entrance and a small lake. 长春仙馆 is located very close to it, just to the southwest of 九洲清晏殿. Unfortunately 九洲清晏殿 was destroyed during the second opium war in 1860 but the remnants are still visible at that location.

 

The park itself is absolutely massive. After 2 hours of walking, I gave up and rented a bike to get around. I remember thinking, how on earth did people travel in this park? As I’m saying this, of course they didn’t. The maids and eunuchs did, everyone else had carriages or palanquins. 

 

[Karen]

That is it for this podcast episode! Remember to vote on our website chasingdramas.com!

 

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also launched on Sling TV Again all of this is Free!

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

Ep 41

[Karen]

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 episode 41 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. 

 

Friendly reminder to go vote vote vote on our website for the drama you want us to discuss next and also which drama was your favorite in 2022!

 

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com.

 

This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap and we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.

 

[Cathy]

Episode 41 – This podcast episode is actually going to be quite history heavy as we are in a transition period for the players of the drama. The Empress Fu Cha has tragically passed away and Ying Luo has been banished to Yuan Ming Yuan the summer palace, never to return to The Forbidden Palace. She is joined by her adoptive brother Yuan Chun Wang who makes Ying Luo promise that she must stay with him in Yuan Ming Yuan forever.

 

That’s all well and good on our main character. But we do have an important scene for military matters with the Emperor. He is holding a private audience with a number of officials and the Emperor is furious. 讷亲 is an imperial general tasked with quelling a rebellion by the Jing Chuan chieftains in modern day Si Chuan province. We’ll get into this later on because this little interlude was historically accurate. 讷亲 had limited military experience and did not perform well on this campaign leading to the Emperor’s ire. I do find it slightly funny that pretty much all the lines the Emperor says to explain the situation are pretty much the summarizing lines from Baidu when reading up on the matter. Haha. I wonder if the screenwriters also did this cursory research to write this scene.

 

Anyways, the Emperor chastises the entire room of officials before asking which one of them is willing to lead the Qing army to protect the Qing borders.

 

Fu Heng volunteers for the job.

 

[Karen]

Back at home, Er Qing is making a huge ruckus because she does not want Fu Heng to go off to war. She states is because she’s worried about his safety but he immediately pushes back and states she’s more worried about her loss of status if she becomes a widow. A quick reminder here is that Er Qing is pregnant with the Emperor’s child. It’s appreciated that Fu Heng point blank tells Er Qing he knows full well how this child came to be. He is aware of the Emperor’s character who would not do such a thing so it’s pretty easy to deduce who plotted this little scheme for the child to come to be. This shuts Er Qing up who can only cry.

 

Before leaving for war though, Fu Heng makes a mad dash to Yuan Ming Yuan and sneaks a glance at Wei Ying Luo. To which I’m like. WHYYYY. Stop it Fu Heng. It’s not healthy for you!!!

 

And then we get a montage of time passing relatively peacefully. We’re now in Qian Long’s 15th year of reign or 1750. 2 years have passed since the death of the Empress. One day, the Empress Dowager meets with the Emperor to remind him that since it’s been some time since Empress Fu Cha’s death, it’s time to consider promoting Xian Huang Gui Fei to the position. Per the Empress Dowager, Xian Huang Gui Fei has been managing the Harem admirably since Empress Fu Cha’s death and should be given the honor of being the next Empress. And so, the Emperor agrees. 

 

[Cathy]

Our Xian Fei has stepped up and officially becomes Empress. In her full court regalia, she stands in front of a mirror and speaks to her deceased mother that she is finally the Empress. No one can look down upon her any more. Everything she’s done is to live up to her mother’s dying words. At last, she has finally achieved ultimate power. 

 

It’s a pity she’s not the main character of this drama. For those hoping to see what her coronation ceremony may have looked like, head on over to watch Ruyi’s love in the palace – the end of episode 47 has a fantastic representation. That’s a scene where you could tell big $$ was spent to create a more realistic ceremony. 

 

We turn back to Ying Luo in Yuan Ming Yuan. The servants there have been told that this year, the Empress Dowager’s birthday celebrations will be conducted there and for each of them to pay the utmost attention to their task.  Soon after, the royal entourage arrives. Apart from the Emperor and Empress dowager, we have the newly coronated Empress, 纯贵妃, 舒嫔, 庆贵人 and 愉妃。 愉妃 we haven’t seen in quite some time. She’s the mother of the 5th prince that 璎珞 helped at the beginning of the drama.

 

Ying Luo doesn’t care about all of these folks. She only cares about seeing her old friend 明玉 who has these last two years been working under 纯贵妃。But something is off when Ying Luo manages to find Ming Yu alone. Ming Yu is extremely cold towards Ying Luo and even dismisses her. Ming Yu also looks a lot paler than she did previously. At that moment, Chun Gui Fei and Yu Fei arrive. Ying Luo has no other option but to back off when told pointedly by both these consorts that Ming Yu didn’t want to talk to Ying Luo.

 

[Karen]

But at night, Ying Luo becomes increasingly worried something is amiss. Ming Yu would not behave this way in front of Ying Luo unless something was wrong. Soon after, Ying Luo sneaks out and grabs Ming Yu while she was on duty. Alone, Ying Luo questions Ming Yu as to why she’s so distant only to find that Ming Yu has been injured. She continues to deny anything but does give Ying Luo the warning to watch out for Chun Gui Fei. She is no longer the Chun Fei that they once knew. At this moment, 纯贵妃‘s head maid 玉壶 arrives, disbanding this little meet up. 璎珞 argues with 玉壶 on Ming Yu’s treatment and says she’ll investigate the truth as to why 明玉 is now so scared of Chun Gui Fei. As Ying Luo storms off though, 玉壶 threatens under her breath that 璎珞 has to have a life in order to do any kind of investigation.

 

Just as these words fall, a couple of eunuchs are seen sneaking into 璎珞’s rooms hoping to silence her forever. But they only find a couple of pillows in Ying Luo’s bed. When they try to leave however, they are caught by Ying Luo, 袁春望 and a head eunuch. This confirms to Ying Luo that the situation at hand isn’t as simple as Ming Yu makes it out to be. 

 

[Cathy]

The next day, the Emperor heads to pay his respects to the Empress at 长春仙馆 where Ying Luo has been working these last two years. He notices the flowers and the food placed on the altar. The cake in the center in particular though looks off from what he remembered. Ying Luo arrives and tells him a story that the Empress spoke to her in a dream the night before claiming she wanted this cake. But it was Ming Yu who used to make these dishes so Ying Luo could only try her hand. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as good as it used to. 

 

This little discussion on cake was actually planned by Ying Luo in order to save Ming Yu. And right in the knick of time. At that moment, Ming Yu was being questioned by Chun Gui Fei. Chun Gui Fei thinks Ming Yu sneaked a message to Ying Luo to be careful which is why she’s still alive and two lives were taken. Clearly, she was the one to send those to Eunuchs the night before to kill Ying Luo. But before Ming Yu could be taken away for some kind of punishment, Li Yu arrives from the Emperor and requests Ming Yu make the special cake for the late Empress. Given that this was a request by the Emperor, Chun Gui Fei has no option but to let Ming Yu leave.

 

[Karen]

In the kitchens, Ying Luo and Ming Yu finally meet. Ying Luo also purposefully injures herself in order to meet her old imperial doctor friend Ye Tian Shi who is here to tend to the Empress Dowager. He looks after Ming Yu and is shocked to find that in her body is a number of silver needles. Through much effort, the Doctor was able to retrieve 8 needles out of Ming Yu’s body that would ultimately kill her. There are a few probably still left in her body he was unable to retrieve. This is a horrifying form of punishment and we will learn in episode 42 exactly what happened to Ming Yu to cause her to be subject to this type of slow torture.  

 

 

[Cathy]

There is a lot of history that’s thrown at us in the early minutes of the episode. I thought these events flowed surprisingly well with the drama because they are all contemporaneous to the events that happened in the drama. 

 

Let’s first talk about Necin. 

 

Necin came from the powerful 钮祜禄 clan. That is the same clan that the current Empress Dowager is from. Or, if you remember towards the end of Empresses in the Palace, the clan that is gifted to 甄嬛. Necin’s lineage is just as aristocratic. His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all bequeathed the title of duke of the first rank either in life or in death.

 

He himself was a very favored minister official throughout the reigns of Kangxi, Yong Zheng, and the early years of Qian Long.  What’s interesting is that we don’t have any firm evidence of his date and year of birth. In 1727, Necin was already promoted to the title of Duke of the second rank. In 1733, he was promoted to the 军机处 and I’ll translated this to the Grand Council of the Office of Military and Political Affairs. In 1745, he was further promoted to lead the grand council. He became probably the most high ranking official in court. He was known to be an upstanding minister who did not take bribes, which also further contributed to his favor in court.

 

Unfortunately all of that came crashing down with the Jin Chuan campaigns. 

 

[Karen]

Let me pivot to the Jin Chuan campaigns. There were 2 campaigns in the Jin Chuan region during 乾隆’s reign. Jin Chuan is in present day Sichuan, which is in central China, but the people there are of the 嘉绒藏族 or Jia Rong Tibetan ethnicity. During 乾隆’s reign, the area was ruled by chieftains or 土司. The Greater Jin Chuan was ruled by the Tusi called 莎罗奔. He was trying to rebel against Qing dynasty rule and made a move to unite the different tribes. In 1747,  莎罗奔 attacked the chiefdom of Chakla or 明正土司, surprising the Qing officials in area. They called for reinforcements from Beijing. 

 

In 1747, 乾隆 sent the 张广泗, who was the governor-general of 川陕 in hopes of a quick victory. He arrived in the region in the 4th month of 1747. By the 8th month, 张广泗 finally realized the difficulty in campaign and requested for more aid from the government. 乾隆 then sent Necin to the front lines, believing that since he had been in the Grand Council and was familiar with the Emperor’s plans, he was the best man for the job. Necin arrived in the early months of 1748. 

 

[Cathy]

Unfortunately, Necin had no battlefield experience despite coming from a high ranking manchu family that was known for its military prowess. By this point, Necin was also an arrogant and headstrong man who ignored valuable suggestions from his military council.  张广泗 and Necin clashed with each other often on the front line. The combination of lack of experience from Necin and lack of clear leadership from both 张广泗 and Necin resulted in several embarrassing defeats for the Qing troops. 

 

In reports back to the capital, Necin pushed all the blame onto 张广泗. But 乾隆 received contrasting reports from other officials stating that Necin never once left his tent to join on the frontlines. These reports also informed the Emperor on the rifts between 张广泗 and Necin. A fellow minister 岳钟琪 also reported that there was a spy that infiltrated the ranks of 张广泗’s military council, leading to sensitive battleplans being leaked to the rebels. The Emperor, at this point, was completely disappointed by these two and ordered them back to Beijing in the 9th month of 1748. 

 

This was the end for the two men. 张广泗 was arrested obstruction of military plans. Under questioning by the Emperor himself, 张广泗 also pushed all wrongdoings to others. Even after torture, he continued to voice his “innocence” Seeing that 张广泗 felt no remorse, the Emperor passed his sentence. 张广泗 was sentenced to death in the 12th month of that year.

 

[Karen]

Back to Necin. He was once 乾隆’s most favored official. This campaign destroyed all of that goodwill. Honestly though, I think that the Emperor could have sent someone else to the front lines at first because he knew that Necin had no actual military experience. Anyways, once Necin returned back to the capital, he faced the wrath of the Emperor. 乾隆 gave him his grandfather’s knife to commit death by suicide. Necin died in 1749. 

 

Let’s remind listeners that this was happening all in the backdrop of the death of the 7th prince and Empress’s death as we saw in episode 39 and 40. In history, as with in the drama, the Emperor was dealing with A LOT. 

 

After the deaths of 张广泗 and Necin, well, before that, after the two were summoned back to Beijing, Emperor 乾隆 sent the then only 26 year old 傅恒 to the front lines in the 10th month of 1748. He arrived in the 12th month of that year. It took him less than 3 months to quash the Da Jin Chuan rebellion. I think it was a combination of Fu Heng’s military prowess and honestly 2 years of fighting didn’t help 莎罗奔, the Greater Jin Chuan Chieftan and his people. They were exhausted. 莎罗奔 surrendered several times. Surprisingly, Fu Heng did not execute 莎罗奔. Emperor 乾隆 even allowed him to stay as Chieftan or Tusi. 

 

This was a decisive victory for Fu Heng and Qian Long but also laid the foundation for future rebellions which is the second campaign that happens decades later

 

[Cathy]

那拉氏封后

 

The other big event that happens in this drama is of course the crowning of 娴贵妃 as Empress! We barely get to see anything in this drama as it’s just mentioned but we do get to see Charmaine Sheh in her formal court attire!

 

Here’s the timeline of events. 

 

Empress Fu Cha died in the 4th month of 1748. In the 7th month of that year, Emperor Qian Long, citing an edict from the Empress Dowager, announces his intentions to crown 娴贵妃 as the next Empress. However, because the mourning period for the previous Empress was 27th months, he first promoted 娴贵妃 to 皇贵妃, or the rank of Imperial Noble Consort, which is one step below the Empress. The ceremony was held in the 4th month in 1749. We skip this entire step in the drama. 

 

[Karen]

The imperial edict that we overhear in the drama is actually the edict that promotes her from Imperial Noble Consort to Empress. The drama just cuts out the lines that mention her status as the Imperial Noble Consort. As Imperial Noble Consort, she had several firsts. For example, she was the youngest Imperial Noble Consort of Qian Long’s life, at the age of 31/32. All of her ceremonial attire, allowances, and honors were equivalent to those of the Empress. Prior to her, there was a difference between 皇贵妃 and 皇后.

 

The now Noble Imperial Consort was finally crowned Empress in 1750 on August 11th at the age of 32. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Finally, let’s discuss the new Empress’s formal ceremonial attire! Unfortunately we don’t even get a full frontal shot of the outfit, all we see is the beautiful crown or 朝冠 and the back of the ceremonial outfit. My biggest recommendation is to go watch episode 47 of Ruyi’s love in the palace for those full body shots. We see from the back that there’s dragons on the robe. 

 

For ceremonial attire, the Empress has a lot to wear. This includes the ceremonial crown, the jacket, the robe, the dress, 金约 which is the item with all the pearls dangling from the crown, 领约, which is the non-pearl necklace or collar that the Empress is wearing, earrings, ceremonial pearls, and the 采帨 which this piece of silk. 

 

The dress is put on first, then the robe, then the jacket or it’s 穿着时朝裙在里,再穿朝袍,外加朝褂

 

The ceremonial dress is all neatly recorded in a collection that was compiled during the Qing Dynasty that records the formal dress. For example, the ceremonial crown is made of mink or sable skin for the winter and wool for the summer. There’s also long paragraphs on the number of pearls, the tassels, and the types of jewels that need to be added to the crown. The standards that were set during Qian Long’s reign were used all the way up until the end of the Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty ceremonial attire is probably the most difficult and complicated out of all of the dynasties – as we can see briefly in this episode.   

 

That is it for this podcast episode! Remember to vote on our website chasingdramas.com!

 

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also launched on Sling TV Again all of this is Free!

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

Ep 40

[Cathy]

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 episode 40 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. 

 

Since we are officially in the back half of the drama, we have posted another poll for listeners to vote on what drama we will discuss next! Go check it out and make your voice heard! You can vote for up to 3 dramas per week! So vote vote vote!

 

Similarly, we also created a poll for your favorite drama of 2022 – there’s plenty that we didn’t include so feel free to write yours in!

 

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com.

 

This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap and we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.

 

 

[Karen]

Episode 40 is incredibly heavy and is an important turning point in the drama. Ying Luo’s support suddently disappears and the Empress finally goes on to seek peace. We begin this episode with seeing the Empress absolutely hysterical at seeing her poor son, 永琮 the 7th prince dead in her arms.  In the last episode, a fire broke out in his rooms and he tragically passed away. 

 

The Emperor tries to come and console her but his words are more insulting than comforting. He wants her to pull herself together and not forget who she is. She cannot handle these words and point blank demands from the Emperor to tell her who she is. He answers “You are my wife. You are the Empress of the Qing dynasty”. These words absolutely break her. It’s not explicitly said but it’s because she has no personal identity left. There’s no 容音 only 皇后 or Empress. She cries out that she has not done a single bad thing in her life, why does she deserve for life to treat her this way. To which the Emperor has no response. 

 

The Empress goes ballistic at this point, screaming that she wants to see her son. She cannot accept that he has also gone. The Emperor has no choice but to tie and gag her and leave her in her palace. As she lies there, the Emperor utters perhaps the most cutting words to her. He reminds her what her role is and that she does not have the luxury of backing away from her duty. She has to remember what her duty is. She responds that in her life, the only thing she has left is her duty.

 

 

The message that the Emperor views his duty to the empire above all else is hammered home in the next couple of scenes. He originally wanted to personally oversee the 7th prince’s funeral proceedings but pressing military news takes him away. He orders for Fu Heng to meet him in the palace to discuss next steps and admonishes him for visiting his sister. The Emperor views this as a sign of weakness in the face of a pending national defense threat. He makes it very clear to Fu Heng that he expects Fu Heng to be his loyal and useful court official and that he does not care if all of the women in his palace perish. He, the Emperor, will always be Emperor and has a job to do for the people of his empire.

 

This to me was an extremely important point 最是无情帝王家。 The most cold hearted and unforgiving place is in the imperial family. The Emperor isn’t wrong in his view. He has the entire empire to manage. He has to have his wife be there for him. She’s not wrong either. She has been reduced to nothing but a title and a role. She lost herself as Empress.

 

[Cathy]

That afternoon, Er Qing shows up to chat with the Empress. We don’t know what she says but after Er Qing leaves, the Empress tricks Ming Yu away to give her some space and the Empress, dressed in white and walking around just barefoot, climbs a palace roof. She laments the mistakes she’s made in life – hoping for true love in the palace when love does not exist in the palace and the fact that she was not able to protect her two sons. Finally, she steps forward off the roof and returns to being just 富察容音. Not the Empress. She jumps from the palace roof and ends her pain.

 

The next day, Ying Lu o, who had been tricked into leaving the palace to tend to her father, returns to the palace and sees it decked out in white. She cannot believe what happened and her worst nightmare comes true. The Empress, her biggest support and bright light in the palace, has gone. 

 

The funeral proceedings had begun and Ying Luo changes into an all white attire. The Emperor arrives and tells Ying luo to dress the deceased Empress so that she passes on worthy of the title of Empress. This causes Ying Luo to get into a verbal spat with him about what the Empress actually wanted vs what the Emperor thinks she should want as Empress. 

 

[Karen]

The Emperor is not in the mood to entertain her mood and promptly orders for her to be put to death. Ying Luo is to accompany the Empress to the afterlife.  The rest of the servants are stunned but dare not incur the wrath of the Emperor at this critical moment.  However, Ying Luo is ultimately saved by the Empress. 

 

The Emperor retracts his orders after seeing the only request left by the Empress which requests that the Emperor save Ying Luo and allow her to leave the palace.  The Emperor stares coldly at this piece of paper and sheds a single tear which he promptly wipes away. He is saddened to see that the Empress did not leave a single message for him. She must have hated him so dearly to not leave him anything.

 

Despite his sadness, he gives his official decree for the Empress’s death which masks over her suicide and instead says she died of illness. This was done to save face for the Empress and we’ll talk about this more in a sec. As for YIng Luo? She is ordered to watch over the Empress’s portrait in Yuan Ming Yuan, never to return to the Forbidden Palace. And that’s where we are at now. A new status quo. Ying Luo is joined by her adoptive brother Yuan Chun Wang in Yuan Ming Yuan. We’ll see the next chapter of Ying Luo’s life unfold in the next episode.

 

Before we move onto history, let’s debate this a little bit. Duty vs individual identity. That’s the main theme for this episode and why the Empress was so distraught. She felt like her entire life was just being secluded in a cage that was made up of rules and restrictions. That’s the true tragedy of Fu Cha Rong Yin. She lived in a time where she could not love and also you could say there were not enough medical advancements to save her life and that of her beloved children. A lot of the things we saw in this drama were done for dramatic effect and we’ll explain the true timeline of Empress Fu Cha’s life but I think this drama did a rather good job of portraying a kind hearted and deserving Empress that ruled over the harem with grace and poise. This is a nice change of pace from previous Chinese palace dramas, and even in the comparative drama, RuYi’s love in the Palace 如懿传。 It is interesting to see the storylines from these two dramas that have the same backdrop but rather different outcomes. The focus on duty here also again reminds me heavily of the crown where the show emphasized how Queen Elizabeth the 2nd and her family had to suffer and give up a lot of happiness due to the restrictions placed on them as royals. 

 

[Cathy]

In this episode we say goodbye to our beautiful Empress, our 白月光. Or White Moonlight. She was the 白月光 in the drama to 璎珞 and honestly to me. In history, was she really a 白月光?Unfortunately most of what we know about Empress 富察 comes from historical records and honestly poems from her husband, the Emperor but from what we have, she most definitely was a 白月光 to Emperor 乾隆

 

We did an intro to her character during our Intro to the drama episode but I do want to spend the bulk of our time this episode to discuss the historical figure that is Empress 富察 and her impact to Emperor 乾隆. 

 

Born in 1712 to the powerful 富察 clan of the Bordered Yellow Banner or 镶黄旗, the Empress grew up in a very wealthy and powerful aristocratic family. Her father was 李荣保, who was a military commander of 察哈尔. In the drama, the screenwriters gave her the name of 富察容音, with 容音 as the first name but this is only for the drama. Unfortunately for most women in Chinese history, we don’t not know her first name. 

 

We’ll just call her 富察氏.

 

When 富察氏 was 12, her father passed away. However, her father had two powerful brothers, 马齐 and 马武。They had a very close relationship to Emperor 雍正, so much so, that when 马武 died in 1726, Emperor 雍正 had his son 弘历 attend the funeral. This was a very high honor because in the 13 years of Emperor 雍正’s reign, the 4th Prince 弘历 only went to this one Minister’s funeral. Every other funeral he attended was a royal family member. 

 

You could say that Emperor 雍正’s close relationship with the 富察 clan laid the groundwork for the marriage between the Prince 弘历 and 富察氏. The two married in 1727 when 弘历 was only 17 and 富察氏 was 16. Now, as a reminder, in Chinese culture, the age of a person will skew older because they count the time in the womb as a year. So in the gregorian calendar, we view that they married probably at around age 16 and 15 respectively but in Chinese accounts, it’ll be age 17 and 16 instead.

 

[Karen]

The two were happily married. 富察氏 was praised by the then 熹贵妃 for her obedience and warmth as a wife. The couple welcomed a daughter in 1728. Unfortunately this daughter died shortly after in 1729. 富察氏 gave birth to a son, 永琏, in 1730 the second prince. The name of 琏 was gifted by Emperor 雍正 himself. 琏 represents a vessel used specifically in the ancestral temple to hold millet. This is also a very powerful word for a name as this basically means someone who will hold the future of the ancestors. This is not unlike the name 永琮 for the 7th prince that we discussed in the previous episode.

 

In 1731, the 富察氏 gives birth to another daughter. So taking a look at history, within 4 years of marriage, 富察氏 gave birth to 3 children. This I believe reflects how much 弘历 favored 富察氏 at that time, and, to a certain extent, I believe also shows how much 弘历 wanted legitimate children. We don’t see any of 富察氏’s daughters in the show. 

 

In 1735, 弘历 ascends the throne as Emperor 乾隆. 富察氏 becomes Empress at the age of 24. The ceremony didn’t happen until the second year in 乾隆’s reign as was customary to wait until after the mourning period of the previous Emperor. We’ll call 富察氏 the Empress now. The ceremony was a grand affair and her husband threw every positive superlative he had towards her in the official edicts and records. I’m reading them and my head is swirling at just the sheer volume of praises. It’s quite funny.

 

[Cathy]

In the early years of 乾隆’s reign, the Empress sewed a silk pouch with lilies. We can still see it today, it’s in the Palace Museum in Beijing. This was a prized possession of the Emperor’s who kept it until the end of his life.

 

In episode 19 of the drama, the Emperor contracts a skin disease and the Empress decides to take care of him at risk to her own health. This is historically accurate. She moved to a small room outside of his sleeping quarters and took care of him for around 100 days. This again goes to show the deep relationship that they had. 

 

In 1738, the second prince 永琏 dies. The Empress gradually becomes more and more reclusive. At this point, 2 of her three children have died. She only has her one daughter with her.

 

In 1746, the Empress gives birth to the 7th prince, 永琮, which is what we saw in the last episode. The boy dies of smallpox on Lunar New Year’s Eve 1747. This was a major blow to the Empress, as we see in the show. After her son’s death, the Empress had a dream in which her son was taken away by a daoist goddess from Mount Tai or Tai Shan. The goddess is 碧霞元君 but that’s not super important.

 

In 1748, the Emperor had already scheduled a trip to the east of the empire. Upon hearing this from his wife, the Emperor decided to change the itinerary of the trip to go specifically to Mount Tai to pray to this goddess. As a man who didn’t really believe in Daoism, this was a grand gesture from the Emperor. 

 

[Karen]

Unfortunately this was a trip that ended in tragedy. The trip began in the 2nd month of the New Year with a packed itinerary. The Emperor and Empress did go to Mount Tai to pray to the goddess. Once the whole retinue arrived in 济南, the Empress fell ill. Seeing that his wife was ill, the Emperor decided to stay in 济南 for a few days. But the Empress, not wanting to hold up the retinue, told the Emperor to continue on their trip by boat. Unfortunately for the Empress, who was not really better, fell further ill on the boat. She really didn’t tell anyone until it was too late. Only a few days later, the Empress died on April 8th 1748 or on the 11th day of the 3rd month on the 13th year of 乾隆’s reign at the age of 37.

 

This was a tragic blow to the Emperor. In the drama, we unfortunately get a portrayal of a rather cold emperor, who was sad but also disappointed at her death. In history, the Emperor was utterly distraught. From a timeline perspective, Ru Yi’s love in the Palace or 如懿传 manages to portray the Empress’s decline more accurately as in she falls ill and passes away while the royal entourage is out traveling. 

 

The funeral was so protocol-defying that the main Prince overseeing the funeral literally had to go and reference a Ming dynasty book of rites on the protocol. Typically for the death of an Empress, only the officials in Beijing need to participate in the funeral and adhere to mourning protocols. For Empress 富察, Emperor 乾隆 went way further. He not only stopped court for 9 days, he also ordered all officials from the empire to adhere to the mourning protocols during the mourning period. No marriage or parties for 27 days and no cutting of hair for 100 days. This just didn’t happen for Qing Dynasty empresses so like I said, the funeral officiant had to reference a Ming Dynasty book. This just didn’t happen because basically the Qing Dynasty wanted to keep Ming Dynasty customs at arms length.  

 

[Cathy]

Emperor 乾隆 also lashed out at many officials who didn’t obey the mourning rites. Basically, funeral tables were dirty or if anything was written wrong, the Emperor just handed out punishments. Some officials were even killed over these offenses. In the drama, they basically just glossed over the funeral AND when they talk about it later in the drama, the Emperor was like – I had to show strength or else the officials in the Empire would fall. However, I don’t think that’s really the case. Just take a look at the punishments to the officials – it almost seems as though the Emperor wanted everyone to show the same respect that he felt for his wife. Ru Yi’s love in the Palace or 如懿传 also has some great scenes depicting the lavish nature of the funeral and the Emperor’s anger at the Empress’s death.

 

Similarly, in the subsequent days, months, and years, whenever there was an official remembrance ceremony for the Empress, he would personally attend the ceremony. Unfortunately in this drama, we don’t get much of the aftermath of the Empress’s death because she’s not the main character. I just wanted to give a little bit more color to this woman. 

 

When the Empress died, her posthumus title was granted as 孝贤纯皇后. 孝 means filial and 贤 means virtuous. The Empress actually requested this title for herself when she was alive and this was granted by the Emperor. 

 

Now – onto some other snippets after the Empress’s death and her impact on the Emperor.

 

I’ve mentioned this before that Emperor 乾隆 wrote over 40 thousand poems. There’s a general consensus that the poems reminiscing his wife are among his best. If you guys are interested, I can talk about a few of them including 述悲赋, 

 

[Karen]

Some other facts. The couple was gifted 长春仙馆 in 圆明园 or the old summer palace in 1729. We hear of this palace later in the drama. Almost 70 years later, Emperor 乾隆 still wrote to reminisce about the happiness of this marriage and the palace they lived in.

 

After the Empress died, 乾隆 never celebrated another concubine or Empress’s birthday. He held grand celebrations for his mother the Empress Dowager, but nothing for any other woman in the Imperial Harem.

 

Since the Empress died in 济南, in all of his subsequent trips to the eastern part of China, 乾隆 refused to step foot in the city, as that was the city where she had died. 

 

When Emperor 乾隆 abdicated at the old age of 86, he took his son, the new Emperor 嘉庆 to pay their respects to the tomb of the Empress who had died almost 50 years ago. This is all in stark contrast to Emperor 乾隆’s towards his next Empress.

 

There’s quite a lot of debate online right now on just how much the Emperor truly loved the Empress. It’s quite true that the Emperor had a lot of women in his harem and a lot of children. I do think that we don’t can really use our modern sentiments to judge the Emperor. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Let’s also say goodbye to our beautiful actress 秦岚 from this drama. 

 

秦岚 – got her big break in playing 陈知画 in the third part of Pearl Princess. That came out in the early 2000s.  She was absolutely gorgeous in that drama. We constantly joked earlier about the 5th Prince 永琪 when covering this drama because everyone was like – you can’t let 永琪 die! He’s your future husband!

 

As we discussed in the intro to the drama episode, she’s since been in dramas and films here and there but nothing too popular until her role as the Empress in The Story of Yanxi Palace.  

 

[Karen]

She has had a steady output of dramas over the years. There’s a drama that came out this year called Legacy or 传家 that features 秦岚 and 聂远, the actor of 乾隆, as a featured couple. There, their fate is much happier than what we see in this drama. The comments for that drama were all like – YAY my Emperor and Empress couple are finally together in a drama. 

 

Cathy of course also posted a review of Dr. Tang on our website.  

 

Some closing thoughts for this are that: 

秦岚 really did a great job portraying 富察容音. In behind the scenes videos, both 秦岚 and 聂远, spent time discussing the relationship between the Empress and Emperor and altered some of the script so that they relationship between the Emperor and Empress seemed more natural and close. They really wanted to show a loving relationship. 

 

In the drama, I think they really succeeded with the Empress, not so much with the Emperor but hey the Emperor needed to rule a country. 

 

[Cathy]

What I will say, is that one of the biggest draws of this drama was also the fact that this wasn’t your typical palace drama in the sense that the main character 璎珞 doesn’t try to gain favor with the Emperor at any point when the Empress was alive. She was really just trying to serve the Empress, who she viewed as an older sister. 令后 cp still has a huge following. People are still posting a lot of fan videos of the Empress, the Empress and the Emperor, and the Empress and Ying Luo.

 

What do you think about the Empress? Feel free to let us know!

Ep 38+39

[Karen]

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 38+39 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. 

 

Since we are officially in the back half of the drama, we have posted another poll for listeners to vote on what drama we will discuss next! Go check it out and make your voice heard! You can vote for up to 3 dramas per day! So vote vote vote!

 

Similarly, we also created a poll for your favorite drama of 2022 – there’s plenty that we didn’t include so feel free to write yours in!

 

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com.

 

This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap, some behind the scenes snippets and contemporary pop culture, and then we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.

 

[Cathy]

Today’s two episodes are probably my least favorite episodes in the entire drama. So much goes so wrong for the Empress that you gotta agree that the world just had it out for her.

 

[Karen]

I also think the screenwriter just needed to get the plot back to follow history so that’s why we have what we see in these 2 episodes.

 

[Cathy]

We start off back at Fu Heng’s household where his marriage with Er Qing is not going well. She is upset that he has been neglecting her despite his assurances that he will aim to make her his one and only. Her jealousy led Er Qing to act quite harshly when she saw a random maid help clean Fu Heng’s rooms. This led her to think he had taken her in. This poor maid was severely beaten and punished.

 

Fu Heng arrives to see what happened to the poor girl and she reminds him a lot of Ying Luo. Seeing the sad state she has been subjected to, he allows her to continue cleaning his study. Meanwhile, forbids Er Qing from entering his study. 

 

Er Qing tries to apologize to him but her apology only makes him more upset. As it’s clear she is only sorry for her jealousy, but not for how she treated the poor maid. Like the punishment was quite severe. Er Qing does not see servants or staff as human beings and doesn’t see anything wrong with her level of punishment. This and the fact that she has been networking nonstop which leads to the suspicion of creating factions leads Fu Heng to be disgusted by her character. He storms out after she continues to accuse him of being in love with Ying Luo which he does not deny but turns it around on her poor behavior as to why their relationship has not progressed. 

 

The hateful Er Qing vows to make Fu Heng pay for the pain she’s experienced.

 

[Karen]

Her tactic? Return to the palace and live with the Empress for a while. This to me honestly makes no sense because Er Qing has her mother’s side of the family to return to. But the Empress is too nice and obliges even though she knows that Er Qing must have done something pretty bad to make Fu Heng that mad at her. And I ultimately think that’s the problem for the Empress. She’s too nice and doesn’t know how to protect herself.

 

Er Qing returns to the palace and immediately tries to show who’s boss. She orders Ying Luo to clean up her luggage to which Ying Luo offers up alternatives. Er Qing refuses and even slaps Ying Luo across the face to establish who’s the master and who’s the servant. Of course our Ying Luo cannot have that. As Er Qing raises her hand again, Ying Luo stikes back with a slap of her own that actually results in Er Qing on the ground.

 

[Cathy] YAS Girl! That was SO satisfying

 

[Karen]

Er Qing yells at Ying Luo for this insubordination but Ying Luo claps back, admonishing for Er Qing for leaving the Empress when she needed her most.

 

It’s just astonishing how much hatred Er Qing has for Ying Luo and Fu Heng when she was the one to bring most of it upon herself. Ugh. She is the worst. 

 

[Cathy]

So the next series of events happen at lightning speed. Chun Fei gives birth to a young boy, the 6th prince named 永琏. This prompts Er Qing to act by gifting the Empress a special medicine that will ensure she gets pregnant. The reason Er Qing gifts this to the Empress is to help put her back into the Empress’s good books. And you know what, shortly after, the Empress gets pregnant.

 

This is shocking news to Ying Luo who was informed by 叶天士 offscreen, her friendly imperial doctor that the Empress is still relatively weak and not ready to carry a child. If she does carry a child, this could actually have devastating long term impacts to the Empress’s life span. She explains as such angrily to Yuan Chun Wang who actually agrees with the Empress’s choice of becoming pregnant to stabilize her position in the palace. Whereas Ying Luo is like ‘who cares about the Emperor’s favor, I just want the Empress to be healthy”. Hahahahah. Clearly someone has her head on straight.

 

[Karen]

Fast forward to the Emperor who has a moment of weakness while seeing the 6th prince. He is reminded of Yong Lian, the Empress’s first son who passed away at 9 years old. It is the anniversary of his death and the Emperor gets quite tipsy as he remembers his beloved son. He even sheds a tear over losing him that he didn’t shed when Yong Lian passed away. He then heads over to the Empress’s palace where again, shows his soft side as he drunkenly asks if Yong Lian wants to be his son again.

 

While this is a heartwarming moment, Er Qing has other plans. We move into episode 39 as Er Qing seizes her opportunity. Seeing that the Emperor is tipsy and resting in a separate part of the palace than the Empress, she sneaks into his rooms dressed as a maid. We can all guess as to what happened. She rushes out the next morning and is spotted by Li Yu who is absolutely stunned to see who spent the night with the Emperor. Er Qing is extremely pleased with herself for having enacted on her plan and promptly announces she is returning home as Fu Heng has returned to Beijing as well. This confuses Ming Yu who sees her leave. She also guesses that the Emperor spent the night with a maid but it is put out of her mind as if this were the case, the maid would have stepped forward for a reward but none has done so.

 

[Cathy[

Time fasts forwards as we head to the Empress giving birth. Wow, time does absolutely fly in these two episodes. Chun Fei had her son and now it’s time for the Empress.  The Empress’s birthing process is quite harrowing with it not looking good for her at all. This freaks out Ying Luo because she is scared the Empress would die due to childbirth just like her own mother. But luckily, at the last moment the Empress is able to give birth to a baby boy, the 7th prince. She is alive as well, albeit weak. Ying Luo weeps tears of relief as the Empress remains alive while the rest of the palace is overjoyed with the new prince.

 

Well, almost anyone.

 

Chun Fei who was promoted after the birth of the 6th prince is now 纯贵妃. She’s uneasy at hearing that the Empress gave birth and the rumors that it is the Empress’s son that will have a bright future ahead of him. She seems to have put her feelings for Fu Heng to rest and now has fallen into the familiar trope of wanting the Emperor’s favor for herself and competing against the Empress. Especially after the egging on from 娴贵妃 who knows exactly what to say to 纯贵妃 to get her to act. Also side note, her son grew up like 5 years in the last episode. We’ll set this straight in our history discussion.

 

[Karen]

娴贵妃 though really is the scariest person in the palace. She kills ruthlessly and manipulates people with such ease and with a smile on her face. She most certainly has a smile that never reaches her eyes.

 

The other big news here is that Er Qing is pregnant. At the Fu Cha household, Fu Heng’s mother is over the moon at the news while Fu Heng does the math in his head. It’s most definitely not his. But Er Qing just looks at him in a sneering manner.

 

Er Qing in her crazed nature openly shares with Fu Heng exactly who the child is. The Emperor’s. Alone, she cackles maniacally as she reveals that her plan finally came to fruition. She is here to make Fu Heng’s life a living hell. Whenever he sees the Emperor, he’ll be reminded of the fact that his wife’s child is the Emperors. What an absolutely despicable woman. She is absolutely crazy. I have no idea why Fu Heng’s brother is into her.

 

[Cathy]

Time fast forwards to QianLong’s 13th year so we’re now in 1748. It’s new year’s eve and Ying Luo gets news that her father fell from a horse and requires her assistance during his ill state. She at first refuses but then is advised by the Empress that she should go see him. He is Ying Luo’s father after all. The Empress gifts her clear buddhist beads for her trip and Ying Luo heads out. Keep these beads in mind. Those beads will stay with Ying Luo forever.

 

With Ying Luo gone, tragedy strikes. On this new years eve night, the 7th prince is alone in his room with his nanny. But soon, screams are heard as a fire broke out in the 7th prince’s rooms. The Empress rushes in to save her son and is rescued by Hai Lan Cha only to realize that the baby boy has devastatingly perished in the blaze. The nanny? Killed. All of this evidently was orchestrated by 纯贵妃 who somehow ensured that the water used to quell such instances had frozen over into ice. 

 

And with that, we end episode 39. It really is devastating to see what befalls the Empress though once again, pacing here is lightning fast as she loses yet another son. 

 

[Karen]

 

Phew – what a roller coaster of 2 episodes! The Empress gets pregnant and then loses her child! 尔晴 betrays her. 纯妃 betrays her too!

 

Before we talk about history, let’s talk about some behind the scenes information and pop culture from when these 2 episodes aired.

 

[Cathy]

So, in episode 39, we’re missing a couple of crucial scenes around what happened to 尔晴. In the show, it’s not made explicitly clear if 尔晴 slept with the Emperor. All we get is a quick scene of the incriminating bedding being hurriedly carried away by a maid. 

 

However, in a cut scene, all of this is made explicitly clear. 尔晴 is actually seen coldly watching the still sleeping Emperor the morning after. When he wakes up, she completely changes demeanor and behaves as though it was the Emperor who essentially forced himself on her in his drunken state and tries to “commit suicide”. However, the Emperor stops her and the whole “affair” is hushed up. The first part of the scene is cut, the second part where the emperor wakes up and sees her is seen only in flashback episodes later in the drama.

 

I’ll discuss a little bit more on this night in later episodes because there are more cut scenes or speculated cut scenes that hint at ANOTHER man in the picture.

 

[Karen]

Well, when these 2 episodes first aired – I remember it caused an ABSOLUTE uproar because these episodes were such a head scratcher. 尔晴 went from a pleasant enough maid to an absolute deranged jealous wife in 2 episodes who conspired to cheat on her husband with the Emperor no less. She went from a fan favorite in the opening couple of episodes to most hated with these 2 episodes. Not even 高贵妃 got the same vitriol that 尔晴 received.

 

People started giving 尔晴 all sorts of names. Her full name in the drama is called 喜塔腊·尔晴. People gave her the name of 稀巴烂尔晴 instead. That’s absolutely hilarious because 稀巴烂 in Chinese basically means something that’s smashed into a pulp. Basically people wanted to smash 尔晴 into a pulp because of her actions and the general terribleness of that character. Others include 杀千刀的 -> which just means death by a thousand cuts. Why do I feel like all of these names are very violent?

 

[Cathy]

The scene in episode 38 where 魏璎珞 slaps 尔晴 in the face also became a VERY popular meme. Basically whenever someone needs to use a meme to put someone in his / her place, they would use that meme.

 

The actress for 尔晴, 苏青, was a really good sport for all of this. In an interview discussing that very scene where she was slapped she mentioned how both her and the actress for 魏璎珞, 吴瑾言 where legitimately slapping each other. When 尔晴 first slapped 魏璎珞, she did it so hard that one of 魏璎珞’s earrings went flying. You can see in the scene that one of the earrings goes missing

 

 When 魏璎珞 slapped 尔晴, that force was also real, as in 尔晴 really did fall over because of the force of the slap. That reaction we have in the drama is quite a live reaction but kudos for 苏青 for staying in character. The two actresses definitely took everything in stride though because 苏青 was joking in the interview how she told 吴瑾言 to not worry about this scene and joked with her that since the two sides of her face was lopsided, this will help straighten it out. 

 

 

[Karen]

The history that we’ll discuss today primarily revolves around the timeline of events that happen because there’s a lot of time compression that occurred in the past few episodes, so I want to ground everyone on where we are in history.

 

First on the agenda is actually going to be the 6th prince, 永瑢. He is the son of 纯贵妃, who, in the drama has allied herself to 娴贵妃.

 

永瑢 was born in 1744 as the 6th prince. Contrary to what we have in the drama, 纯贵妃 in history, already had a son, the 3rd prince 永璋, who was born in 1735. We have actually never heard of him in the drama. We’ve only heard of 2nd prince, who was the Empress’s first son, the 4th prince, who is currently being raised by 娴贵妃, the 5th prince, who had a harrowing birth in the first half of the drama, and of course this is the 6th prince. So the motivations for 纯妃 are strictly for drama purposes.

 

In episode 37, we got the time jump that it was the year 1746. I’m just going to point out that 永瑢 was born in 1744.

 

[Cathy]

The 7th prince, on the other hand, 永琮, WAS born on May 27th 1746. As shown in the drama, the Emperor 乾隆 immediately favored this son. It was evident before he was even born. For example, the Royal family typically goes to 圆明园 or the Old Summer Palace to celebrate the New Year. However, to prevent any undue stress to the Empress, the Emperor ordered all celebrations to be held back in the Forbidden Palace.

 

On the lunar calendar, the 7th prince was born on April 8th, which is also Buddha’s Birthday, a very auspicious day, and one, where in China, it is the custom to wash a buddha. As 娴贵妃 mentioned in the drama, when the 7th prince was born, it rained heavily, easing the drought in certain parts of the empire. These were all very lucky signs. 

 

Emperor 乾隆 wrote a beautiful poem to convey the happiness of the day. On the following year for 永琮’s first birthday, it rained again. The Emperor wrote another poem expressing his happiness for his son.

 

As mentioned in the drama, the word 琮 indeed is a strong word. 琮 by itself is the jade goblet that is used during ceremonial rites in the ancestral temples. When you split up the word, the left side is Wang or King, and the right side is 宗 or of the ancestors. Putting the two together means that the Emperor already wanted his son as heir apparent as it means for the boy to continue the line of his ancestors.

 

There was apparently already another boy named 永琮 in the Aisin Goro family, so the Emperor basically forced the boy to change his name. He even gifted a new name to the boy 永瑺。

 

History most likely would have gone another way had the boy lived. Unfortunately, that was not the case. In the drama, it kind of makes it seem as though the boy died only a few months after his birth, but he died at about 20 months. He died on the Lunar New Year’s eve on January 28th 1748 so I’ll give kudos to the drama for being historically accurate here. However, his death was caused by smallpox instead of a fire. The fire was simply for dramatic purposes. 

 

Smallpox was the bane of the Manchu Royal family and several prominent members died of smallpox throughout the centuries. Smallpox is actually featured in several Qing Dynasty dramas.

 

The Emperor was utterly distraught at this news. He passed an imperial edict expressing his sorrow for his son. It is surprising to see what he mentions in this edict 

  1. The Emperor did indeed want him to inherit because he was a legitimate son from the Empress and because he was a smart boy
  2. The Emperor wasn’t able to grant him a posthumus title of Crown prince, as he did with the Empress’s first son
  3. But, he will still be buried with rites more extravagant than normal princes
  4. The Emperor asks he hasn’t done anything wrong to anger the ancestors and the heavens – why are his legitimate sons taken from him? Is it because since the start of the dynasty, all of the emperors were not the legitimate sons. When he want to select a legitimate heir apparent, the heavens won’t grant him this boon?

 

I think this is a really touching edict from Emperor 乾隆. It shows that he really loved this son and by extension, his wife, the Empress. We really don’t see much of this side in the drama, but when it came to Empress Fucha and her children, the Emperor really went above and beyond normal protocol.

 

The funeral was extravagant and took over 9 months to officially bury him. Over 10,000 paid their respects to the boy. Several officials who did obey actually were punished by the Emperor. 

 

[Karen]

We will talk about the Empress’s reaction in the next episode as it is intricately linked to her death both in the drama and in real life. 

 

That is it for this podcast episode! Remember to vote on our website chasingdramas.com!

 

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also launched on Sling TV Again all of this is Free!

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

Ep 36+37

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 36+37 of the Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in mandarin Chinese. 

 

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to reach out to us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com.

 

This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap and then we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.

 

—-

 

After the dreams have shattered in the last few episodes for both Ying Luo and Chun Fei, we are now at a new status quo starting in episode 36. 

 

Chun Fei who is utterly devastated at learning that after more than 10 years of believing 傅恒 had affections for her, realized that it was all a lie. The tassel she gifted him and which he had worn for the last 10 years was just a simple miscommunication. He thought the tassel was from his sister while she thought it meant he had affections for her. After cold heartedly removing the tassel when realizing it came from 纯妃, 傅恒 shattered 纯妃“s heart. Now, with a little bit of nefarious prodding from 娴妃 who suspects that 纯妃 must have some undisclosed affection for the 富察 family, finally stokes 纯妃 into acting.

 

And, with just a tiny bit of acting, 纯妃 successfully charms the Emperor into giving her favor. It’s quite impressive how easily distracted the Emperor is in my view but it also speaks to the fact that 纯妃 is an extremely capable woman in the palace. She just opted not to fight for favor these last 10 years.

 

But this for the Emperor was just an interlude. After the pointed questioning he received from the Empress in the last episode, the Emperor is rather flustered with his feelings for Ying Luo which he still cannot parse out or put his finger on. 

 

Regardless and no matter how sad of a face Fu Heng puts on in front of the world, he must get married. Honestly, I get he’s upset but he’s the one that made this choice so I don’t have a lot of sympathy towards him and his long face. We get a quick wedding scene where it’s his big day with Er Qing. Er Qing is beautifully dressed and on this wedding night, she is rather reasonable. She says she understands that Fu Heng still has another in his heart but she is willing to wait. Fu Heng at least says all the right things to her about how from now on he’s going to remind himself that she is his responsibility and his wife blah blah blah. 

 

In the very next scene, his resolve is severely tested.

 

On a blizzarding day, Ying Luo is by herself in the freezing cold, kowtowing every three steps in the palace. As she’s doing so, Fu Heng and Er Qing arrive. They are stunned at the sight and is explained that this is Ying Luo’s punishment. On the first snow of the winter, she is to kowtow every three steps for 24 hours around the palace. Once done, she is able to return back to Chang Chun Palace. At this heart wrenching sight, Fu Heng motions forward to help Ying Luo but is pulled back by Er Qing. Meanwhile, Ying Luo absolutely ignores Fu Heng and continues with her punishment.

 

It turns out, Ying Luo could have avoided punishment. The Emperor gave her a choice. Tell Fu Heng she never loved him and was only interested in him for his money and power. Otherwise, kowtow every three steps for 24 hours around the palace and apologize. Evidently, Ying Luo chose the latter. But this is almost her break up ritual. She is accepting this punishment because she does not want to deny her love for him. But after this punishment, she decides that she will only ever be strangers with Fu Heng. Their love is gone forever.

 

After about 8 hours of this, both Yuan Chun Wang stop by to look after Ying Luo who is adamant in her task, and the Emperor. In front of the Emperor, Ying Luo finally collapses and he immediately picks her up and carries her off. This really is quite the favor by the Emperor.

 

He carries her off to a room where she is laid on a bed to rest. He sits by her bedside and caresses her frozen cheek with his hand but remembering what the Empress said about his personal reasons for not allowing Fu Heng to marry Ying Luo, removes his hand as if burned. He is still struggling internally with how he feels but it is certainly coming to the surface. 

 

When Ying Luo awakes, she is dressed by several maids in clothes that are not her own but that of a woman with much higher status. The clothes are more elegant and her hair more elaborate. The maids hurriedly leave when she asks them what’s going on and runs headlong into the Emperor when she tries to leave the room herself.

 

That brings us to episode 37. Ying Luo is scared out of her wits as to what is happening but the Emperor calmly sits down in the room. He loudly shares that the Empress thinks he might be into Ying Luo and wants to hear Ying Luo’s thoughts. Ying Luo freaks out and hurriedly says all manner of things, trying to avert the Emperor’s attention and allow her to leave. But the Emperor actually forces himself on top of her on the bed. It is at this moment that Ying Luo changes tact and purposefully shares that this was her tactic all along. She wanted to attract the Emperor and state that she finally has that opportunity. It is with these words that confirmed to the Emperor his suspicions all along that she was just a greedy woman and instantly his interest fades. She is allowed to leave to return to Chang Chun Palace.

 

-Um, although, can we pause to state that it was rather distasteful of the Emperor. He was basically about to commit rape to 魏璎珞. 

 

And finally, Ying Luo returns into the arms of the Empress. Ying Luo and Ming Yu spend a wonderful several months helping the Empress recover her ability to walk. Honestly, I feel like this some of the best months for the three of them. No distractions and just one goal which is to help the Empress regain her mobility. Why couldn’t the drama have just left it here? 

 

By now it is spring time. And Yay! Success! After a lot of help from Ying Luo and Ming Yu the Empress can finally walk on her own. We officially get the year of 1746, the 11th year in 乾隆’s reign.

 

But that is not the only happy news in the palace. 纯妃 is pregnant! Looks like the time spent with the Emperor has been fruitful as now she is going to have support in the palace. Additionally, Yuan Chun Wang has also been promoted. Having impressed Xian Gui Fei in prior episodes, she provides him an opportunity with a promotion to a posting in the Internal Houshold Department or 内务府。 That’s quite the honor for him. So in all, things are going well for people in the palace.

 

The only place it’s NOT going well is Fu Heng’s household. He, unsurprisingly, has been extremely cold towards Er Qing despite getting married. And she does not take it kindly. She is upset that despite his reassuring words, he has not treated her well since getting married. He has basically buried himself in work and has neglected her which she is unhappy about.  Her extreme jealousy comes out when she sees a random maid help clean Fu Heng’s rooms and severely beats this woman. We will see more trouble in paradise in episode 38.  The only other thing to note is that Er Qing meets Fu Heng’s younger brother this episode.

 

What I do find absolutely fantastic though is that Fu Heng’s household is a complete mess and a lot of it is due to his own poor communication. But he is still pining over Wei Ying Luo despite saying the contrary. I personally think that Fu Heng needs to grow up. He’s already married 尔晴 and he promised her to try to make this marriage work. He’s doing like the bare minimum. Yes, 尔晴 has gotten quite paranoid but I blame that more on Fu Heng rather than her, at this point in time. 

 

On the other side, Wei Ying Luo has already moved past her previous feelings towards him. It does not mean that she loved him any less than him. I guess it’s due to their different upbringing. Ying Luo knows how difficult it is to survive so she recognizes when she needs to move on. She sees the world extremely clearly and should be commended! WooO! 

 

Let’s move onto history!

 

First up – let’s talk fashion because we haven’t in a while. The subject of today? It’s 尔晴’s wedding outfit! Specifically the headdress.

 

It’s very different from what we’ve seen before. It’s elaborate with a main headdress and two side pieces. I don’t even really know what to call the side pieces so I’ll just keep it as side pieces. 

 

That type of headdress is called a 挑tiāo杆gǎn钿子 . 挑tiāo杆gǎn essentially means rod / pole

 

But first – let’s talk about 钿子. That’s basically the term for the headdress or headpieces Qing Dynasty adult women wore. The bottom of the structure is created by either wires or wisteria twining vines. The structure is then covered with silk, fabric, or even paper. Then, accessories are added to the headdress. Accessories can include precious jewels, jade, pearls, gold flowers, and 点翠, etc. 点翠 , as mentioned in Episode 71 of the story of ming lan, is a style of Chinese art that features Kingfisher feathers. The color is a beautiful blue color. We actually see a lot of 点翠 being used by the women in the drama, especially by 纯妃 in episode 36. She basically uses exclusively 点翠 as her accessories. 

 

Back to 钿子 in general, the more wealthy and powerful the family, the more elaborate these 钿子 were. 

 

There were 4 types of 钿子 – 半钿、满钿、凤钿、挑杆钿。 Half, Full, Phoenix, and a mix between the full and phoenix 钿子, which gets us to the 挑杆钿 or pole dian.

 

The phoenix style was pretty elaborate. There would be, Phoenix, on the headdress. In addition, there were also be some sort of dangling accessories such as pearls. The phoenix style was developed during the Yong Zheng era. I’ll try to point them out next time we see them. 

 

The usage of the 凤钿 was twofold. The first was used during weddings and the second was when women had proper functions and banquets to attend. The 凤钿 was used by the Imperial Household all the way up till the end of the Qing Dynasty. 

 

We don’t see that many of the concubines wear 钿子 that often in this drama. The best example for the empress is actually in episode 1 when she was helping the Emperor select more women for the Imperial Harem. Women in Empresses in the Palace wore 钿子 much more often, think the Empress and 甄嬛 during the end of the show.

 

Let’s actually discuss the headdress that 尔晴 wears. It’s called the 挑杆钿 and is the most elaborate of the headdress styles. The 挑杆 refers to the tassels on both sides, which I personally don’t really get. I’ll need a fashion historian to correct me. 

 

The drama does an immaculate job of creating or I should say recreating the 挑杆钿, problem is, the timing for this is wrong. 挑杆钿 didn’t really appear until Emperor 光绪, which is the 19th century. We are currently in 1746 so this is an anachronism. There are actually surviving photos of women wearing this 挑杆钿. Please note that 挑杆钿 is Manchu. When we spoke about wedding headdresses, we spoke about 凤冠 or the Phoenix Haddress in the Story of Ming Lan. If you recall what Ming Lan wore, that headdress is very different from the one Er Qing wears here. The former is a 凤冠, which could be worn for for Han Marriages, the latter is the 挑杆钿, which could be worn for Manchu marriages.

 

Interestingly, the 挑杆钿子 rose in popularity during the mid to late Qing Dynasty especially outside of the Imperial Palace. It essentially replaced the 凤钿 in the aristocracy. In the palace, people would still wear the 凤钿, but it was rare to see outside of the palace walls, instead, people wore the 挑杆钿子

 

[Cathy]

As for wedding customs – we’ve talked about them quite a bit. The one piece I’ll remind the listeners is that both 尔晴 and 傅恒 had to take a bite out of a dumpling. The maids asked 生不生 which means, is it raw. 尔晴 responds 生的. This is a wedding tradition. 生 means raw but also means to birth. So if the bride says 生 then that means that she’ll have children.

 

The last thing I’ll say about this marriage is, in history, 傅恒 didn’t marry a woman from the XiTaLa clan but of the 纳拉 clan. The marriage was an extremely happy one, completely different from what we see in the drama, so please don’t take this drama for gospel.

 

Before I discuss the next history topics – I will pause to give praise to the actors and actresses for wearing such thick clothing during the winter scenes. Filming of this drama took place between June 2017 to October 2017 so there were no real winter scenes, however, it did look quite convincing and lovely in episode 36 when 璎珞 had to complete her punishment. 

 

Moving on to our next history topics! We have 2 poems to discuss. 

 

The first one comes from the conversation between 纯妃 and the Emperor. She is reminiscing about the wonders of city of 杭州 and says these two lines

 

山寺月中寻桂子⑸,郡亭枕上看潮头⑹ – 

 

This two lines come from the Tang Dynasty poem 江南忆,最忆是杭州 – or Remembering Jiangnan, the city I remember most is Hang Zhou. It was written by the very famous Tang Dynasty poet 白居易 who lived from 772 to 846.

 

This specific poem is the second of 3 that 白居易 wrote about the wonders of Jiannan – which, during the Tang dynasty, referred to a wide area south of Chang Jiang and includes the cities of Hang Zhou and Su Zhou

 

The full poem goes like this – 

 

江南忆,最忆是杭州:山寺月中寻桂子⑸,郡亭枕上看潮头⑹。何日更重游?

 

Here’s my translation – Remembering Jiangnan, the city I remember most is Hang Zhou. I remember visiting Buddhist temples to find the fall osmanthus flowers. I climbed the city tower, and while resting on a pillow, I looked down at the tides of the 钱塘 river. When can I return for a visit?

 

This poem is full of praise for the city of Hang Zhou. The author specifically remembers the autumn weather and his own experiences in the city. 

 

This definitely does work very well in the context of our drama as Chun Fei was trying to make a point of praising Hang Zhou.

 

Lastly – we will discuss the poem that 尔晴 reads from the papers that 傅恒’s younger brother, 傅谦.

 

The poem is titled – 眼儿媚 – 杨柳丝丝弄轻柔, or, as per the Youtube Translation, Bewitching Eyes, the Wind Gently Fiddles with the Fine Willow Branches.

 

眼儿媚 – was actually a style of poetry or music tune. It was a type of 词牌名, which means that that the accents of the poems and the musical tunes were already set. Authors would then use different words to fill this Ci. So there are many 眼儿媚 or Bewitching Eyes poems, the differentiators are in the actual lines of the poem. 

 

The full poem goes as such – I’m going to use a mix of the youtube translation and my translation.

 

杨柳丝丝弄轻柔②,烟缕lv织成愁。海棠未雨,梨花先雪,一半春休。③

而今往事难重省④,归梦绕秦楼⑤。相思只在:丁香⑥枝上,豆蔻⑦梢shāo头。

 

the Wind Gently Fiddles with the Fine Willow Branches, The Smoke weaves thousands of sorrows. It hasn’t rained on the Chinese flowering apple, but the pear flowers have already blossomed like snow. Too bad half of spring has already passed.

 

The realities of the present make it hart to remember the past. My dreams remember the tower you lived in. My heartache and rememberance for you continues to this date. On the fragrant cloves and the beautiful cardamom branch. 

 

This was written by the Song Dynasty poet Wang pāng who lived from 1044-1076. He died at a young age in his early 30s. During the course of his life, he had always been a sickly man, so he decided to live separately from his wife. His wife lived in the 秦楼 tower. After a while, 王雱’s father organized for 王雱’s wife to be remarried to another man. 王雱 is reminiscing his wife, which led him to write this poem. 王雱 came from a well respected scholar family and passed his imperial entrance exams before the age of 20. He was well respected at court for the time he was there but, due to his prolonged illness, he died at a young  age. 

 

I honestly don’t know why Fu heng’s younger brother 傅谦 is walking around with this poem when he first meets 尔晴. Does he have some he loves already? It makes more sense after they first meet though because in one scene we see 傅谦 kind of staring longingly up at 尔晴 when she is sitting in a tower. What will happen with these two?

 

That is it for this podcast episode!

 

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also launched on Sling TV Again all of this is Free!

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

 

Ep 35

[Cathy]

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 Episode 35 of 延禧攻略 or The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. 

 

I also did just post a few additional reviews on our website so please do remember to check out our chasingdramas.com periodically for our latest reviews and thoughts on dramas!

 

We’re picking up at the end of Ep 34 and then moving on to discuss episode 35. And we’re smack dab at the halfway point of the drama! There is some extremely important historical references here which will be important moving forward so we didn’t want to lump it in with our frustration towards Fu Heng.

 

[Karen]

Last episode, Fu Heng acted too rashly and promptly agreed to marry Er Qing in order to save Ying Luo’s life from the ire of the Emperor. Ying Luo is absolutely heartbroken at the news and bawls her eyes out in her shed living quarters in 辛者库。 Her adoptive brother, 袁春望 is present listening to her tears and is oddly upset that she so loudly pronounced her love for 傅恒。He tells her off for falling in love and is rather blunt in how useless love is. I mean, his words have some merit but I do think delivery could have been slightly better. But after hearing the next story, we get some sympathy for his dismissal for any type of love.

 

As Ying Luo is crying on his shoulder, she asks about how he came to the Forbidden Palace and he begins to tell his story. It’s a rather tragic one. Displaced for some reason or another when he was just a boy, his father wanted to leave him but his mother always came back for him. Five times his father left him and five times his mother came back for him. But after making it to Beijing, both of his parents fell ill and passed away. But upon her deathbed, Yuan Chen Wang’s mother reveals that he was adopted. His real mother passed away early and was brought to his adoptive parents as a means to extend the family line.

 

After Ying Luo inquires, Yuan Chun Wang reveals that he ultimately did find his father. Ying Luo doesn’t see the flashbacks but we get pretty telling clues. Yuan Chun Wang said he was tricked and ultimately sold to the big house where his father lived. The house is extremely big and filled with many jewels and riches. At the big house, he could only be a servant boy to tend to a young son of the master of the house. Except, young Yuan chun Wang was full of hatred. He could only play horse for the son and was severely punished when the son fell ill. And so, when young Yuan Chun Wang saw the bedridden son, he went and opened the windows. The implication is that the son would become more ill. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Now, Ying luo does not get as much information as we do in these flashback scenes but if you watch those flashbacks closely, you’ll understand who Yuan Chun Wang thinks he’s related to. And this is not necessarily a spoiler. They say it in the drama, we’re just bringing the clues to the forefront. 

 

While young Yuan Chun Wang was at the house as a servant, his clothes look exactly like those for a eunuch of the imperial palace. Furthermore, the son whom Yuan Chun Wang was serving called his father 皇阿玛 which is only reserved for the Emperor. And this man calls his son 福慧。 With those clues alone, we know that Yuan chun wang was present in the Imperial Palace. The father? Emperor 雍正. The son, his 8th prince, 福慧。 Importantly, this young prince in history only lived for 8 years, dying of illness at that tender age, and was the son of Hua Fei. That means, from Yuan Chun Wang’s story, he most likely helped murder the 8th prince because he opened the windows while 福慧 was ill, thereby contributed to his death. But more importantly, Yuan Chun Wang exclaimed he was furious his father did not recognize him as son even though he was right in front of his father.

 

That’s a bold claim. Right here, we learn that Yuan Chun Wang, the eunuch, believes himself to son of Yong Zheng, brother to our current Emperor.

 

[Karen]

 

Sadly, Ying Luo fell asleep and didn’t really pay attention to what he said. I do feel bad for Yuan Chun Wang who we see has had a hard life. He’s been betrayed by his family and his teacher in the palace. He has no loved ones which is why he is so protective of Ying Luo. I think it’s a little over the top but perhaps understandable given what he’s been through.

 

Anyways, this revelation is extremely important for the second half of the drama.

 

[Cathy]

We now turn back to Fu Heng who is currently being accosted by 纯妃 who is in disbelief that he would agree to marry 尔晴 to save the likes of 璎珞。 Fu Heng has a very tepid response to her and heads to walk away. At this point, she can’t take it any more and point blank calls him by his name and asks if he really doesn’t remember her. He has absolutely no clue what she’s saying.  In flashbacks we see that she and his sister, the Empress, were friends prior to marriage. When they were young, she already fell in love with 傅恒 after seeing him during a visit to the family home. She gifted him a tassel ornament for his jade pendant that she saw him wear ever since. Sadly, he ruthlessly removes the tassel ornament when he hears that it came from her. The only reason he kept wearing it all these years is because he thought the Empress gave it to her. 

 

纯妃 unfortunately, seeing that he wore it for so long, mistook that it was because he had feelings for her. She later finds out that the letter she wrote to him all those years ago that accompanied the tassel which  revealed her feelings for him never got to him. She had entrusted her maid to give it to 傅恒 but the maid, acting on her own volition, tore the letter into pieces.

 

[Karen]

This rightfully infuriated 纯妃. I’d be pissed at the maid too. This maid watched for a full decade as 纯妃 essentially made a fool of herself to support the Empress because she was in love with 傅恒 when he had absolutely no idea. But what’s worse is that she’s already married to the Emperor. Sure she didn’t have any intentions to betray the Emperor but still. It’s been 10 years. I think that’s honestly shocking. 

 

At this moment, 娴贵妃 arrives and taking a leaf out of Empresses in the Palace, brings forth Auntie Liu who had accused Ying Luo of cursing Gao Gui Fei in the last episode. She had revealed that she was told by 纯妃 to accuse Ying Luo. 纯妃 adamantly denies this and Xian Fei who now has strictly turned to the dark side, has this poor servant’s tongue cut out for her insubordination. 纯妃 is terrified at this extreme response and 娴贵妃‘s knowing look. 娴贵妃 now has her eyes set on turning 纯妃 into her pawn as well. Leveraging纯妃’s current weakened emotional state, 娴贵妃 starts suggesting that 纯妃 should really focus on having a child to aid her position in the palace. 纯妃 who had been so adamant on avoiding the EMperor for the last 10 years to side with the EMpress, starts to relent on her position.

 

[Cathy]

The remainder of the drama goes by rather quickly.  We see that 锦绣 in 辛者库 is making fun of yingluo after finding out that 傅恒 is going to marry another. She even goes to 袁春望 and blabs that she knows who killed 高贵妃。 袁春望’s eyes go very wide and next thing you know, he and a posse of eunuchs announce to the other staff of 辛者库 that 锦绣 has gone missing. 璎珞 is suspicious a maid would just up and disappear like that but we never really hear about 锦绣 after this. We’ll talk about this later.

 

[Karen]

The big news though is that finally, FINALLY, the Empress wakes up. The Emperor is over the moon about the news but sadly she’s still bedridden and cannot move too easily. It’s understood that because she was asleep for so long, her muscles atrophied and she’ll need some type of physical therapy to help her walk again. 傅恒 also arrives to see his sister. The Emperor leaves with a veiled warning the 傅恒 to not rock the boat and upset his sister but it’s to no avail. Once the Emperor leaves, the Empress questions whether or not 傅恒 really did agree to marry 尔晴。 The Empress really is the best sister to Ying Luo because the Empress knows exactly how Ying Luo will react. She is sad that these two young people in love have just passed their fate and asks 傅恒 whether or not he’s willing to accept this choice for the rest of his life.  He says he does which breaks the Empress’s heart even more. She dismisses him. 

 

In the ultimate act in my opinion of the Empress’s kindness and care for Ying Luo, when the Emperor next comes to see her, the Empress asks the most pointed question possible. She asks whether or not the Emperor has his eyes set on Ying Luo and wants her for his own. That’s why he is so adamant on breaking up Fu Heng and the woman he marries. The Emperor storms off in a flustered state. He adamantly denies it but his behavior already reveals the truth. The Empress hit the nail on the head. His attraction to Ying Luo is exactly why the Emperor would not allow Fu Heng to marry her.

 

How many of you feel so bad for the Empress. She essentially just unveiled the Emperor’s own feelings. In modern relationships, he’s having an emotional affair. But because he’s emperor, or because he’s a man during imperial china, this is absolutely no problem.

 

[Cathy]

We end the episode with a couple of cute scenes between 海兰察 and 明玉. They are a cute pairing but what will happen to them? 

 

Plot issues – 

 

Well first off – the child or the 4th prince 永城 still looks tiny. Which makes no sense due to the time jump AND also, I seriously doubt a kid that looks under the age of 5 could have such good handwriting as the one we saw in the last episode. Anyways, that’s just a small nitpick.

 

My main issue is the next one

 

Why do all of the ladies love 傅恒?? This is one of my biggest issues with dramas like these where different characters all have like 5 people who are madly in love with one character. Maybe because we only focus on certain characters but in this episode, we now find out that 纯妃 was in love with 傅恒 as well? So we now have 尔晴 who he will now marry, 纯妃 who he didn’t even know about, 明玉 who had a fleeting crush on him, and of course 魏璎珞 whom he actually loves. That’s a lot of ladies. Yes – 许凯 is also a handsome fellow but come on… I guess at the beginning of the drama, we already knew that he was really popular but this is kind of a lot. I should get off my high horse on this one – if we look back on Empresses in the Palace, all these ladies loved the Emperor and he wasn’t even a handsome fellow (sorry Mr. 陈建斌). 

 

[Karen]

Let’s also talk about the whole plot point of the Empress’s coma. I feel like the whole reason why she had to be in a coma was so that all the other plot points could happen because if she WAS alive and well, many of the developments from the last several episodes probably wouldn’t have have happened.

 

Let’s think about it. The now 娴贵妃 wouldn’t have had the opportunity to showcase herself after the Empress fell conscious. She also wouldn’t be catching the eye of the Empress dowager, the Emperor, AND the 5th Prince 弘昼 because the Empress would have taken on her responsibilities of making sure the Empress Dowager was well and probably not have allowed 高贵妃 to continue with her performance, ultimately leading to her downfall. 

 

The main reason though – was probably to move 璎珞 and 傅恒’s plot along because by the way it was looking, the two were going to get married. If that happened, then, this drama wouldn’t be called 延禧攻略 but probably 璎珞 – 富察福晋 or Ying Luo – the madame of the Fu Cha family. 

 

Well since we know how history unfolds, the screenwriter needed to take the most level headed character out of the equation, which is of course the Empress. When the Empress finally wakes up, she starts asking questions to 傅恒 like are you going to regret this! Like YES PLEASE – someone please knock some sense into him. Well that doesn’t happen but now we have the Empress back and act as the audience’s conduit in this episode for trying to smack some sense into 傅恒 and also the Emperor. 

 

 

[Cathy]

Behind the Scenes

 

There was also a scene cut from this episode. The Palace maid 锦绣 never shows up again in the drama. It looks like there was a scene cut between where 锦绣 goes to find 袁春望  and when 袁春望 simply informs everyone that she eloped with a palace guard. The scene that was cut was apparently that 袁春望, hearing 锦绣’s threats, actually kills her and throws her body into a well, which is why no one knows where she is. He thought that she was too much of a threat to 魏璎珞 and decided to take action. I don’t know why they cut this scene, perhaps because what we have right now was sufficient enough. She doesn’t matter to the overall story anymore so just say she disappeared instead.

[Karen]

There isn’t too much history today.

 

Let’s talk about the 8th prince that 袁春望 says he killed in these two episodes. 

 

In history, this is 福惠(1721—1728). I think timing actually works out because we’re now in like 1746 so 袁春望 is in his late 20s. 

 

In history, this young prince died very early, at the age of 8, so he was never known as the 8th prince. Emperor Yong Zheng only had 6 sons that lived to at least pre-teen years so those are the only ones that are listed as 阿哥. If you look at Baike though, it lists 4 more sons who died young. 

 

This 福惠 was probably emperor 雍正’s most favored son. The prince’s mother was none other than 年妃, or in Empresses in the palace, 华妃. Why do we say that he was favored? Well, 年妃 was able to personally raise her son, which wasn’t the case for almost all Qing Dynasty princes. When 年妃 died, Emperor Yong Zheng raised the boy himself. 福惠 was gifted fabulous presents by his father when he was only 4 or 5 years old that even his older brothers and uncles didn’t receive. 

 

Unfortunately for the boy, due to his mother’s ill health – let’s completely disregard Empresses in the Palace at this point – 福惠 also wasn’t in the best health. He died when he was only 8 years old. Emperor Yong Zheng was devastated at the news. For the funeral, he ordered for 福惠 to be buried according to the rites of a 亲王 or a Prince of the First rank. There’s like no way the prince was murdered by a eunuch so that was completely for plot purposes.

[Cathy]

Next up!

Chun Fei quotes two lines from a poem in her distraught state when she finds out that 傅恒 didn’t even know the jade tassel was from her nor even receive her love letter. 

 

The poem is written by the Song dynasty poet 李之仪 and is one of the 300 poems of the Song Dynasty. 

 

《卜算子·我住长江头》- bǔ suàn zǐ, I live at the source of Chang Jiang, which is also known as the Yangtze River. I’ll be using Chang Jiang for that name

 

我住长江头,君住长江尾。 日日思君不见君⑵,共饮长江水。

此水几时休⑶,此恨何时已⑷。只愿君心似我心,定不负相思意⑸。

 

Here’s my translation of the poem.

I live at the source of Change Jiang

You live at the mouth of the river.

I think of you every day but cannot see you

However, we both drink the water from the same river

When will the river not move as such

When will this dreadful separation stop?

I just hope that your heart is like mine

I will not betray your longing

李之仪 was born in 1038 and died in 1117 and was a Song Dynasty Poet. He was a member of the famed poet 苏轼’s inner circle. However, that was also his downfall. In 1103, 李之仪 was demoted to Tai Ping. Unfortunately for him, tragedy continued to strike. He lost both his daughter, son, and wife of 40 years. He hit rock bottom and 65. However, that’s when he met the courtesan 杨姝. She was courtesan of a righteous character. He fell in love with her and viewed her as a companion. He wrote several poems and songs about her including this one. While traveling with her near Chang Jiang, 李之仪 wrote this poem to love poem to her.

 

At this point in time in the drama, I think it was fine for 纯妃 to use these two lines. She said that she didn’t care if 傅恒 didn’t love her. She just wanted him to acknowledge her existence and love. Alas, that didn’t happen for her. We’re exactly halfway in the drama and this is 纯妃 official turn towards the “dark side”

 

[Karen]

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also launched on Sling TV. 

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

 

Ep 34

[Cathy]

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 Episode 34 of 延禧攻略 or The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. I also did just post a few additional reviews on our website so please do remember to check out our chasingdramas.com periodically for our latest reviews and thoughts on dramas!

 

The big day arrives and we are finally at episode 34. I have many thoughts on this episode.

 

Episode 34 begins with the Emperor finalizing his plans for tax reduction. In last episode and the beginning of this episode, we do see that the Emperor is one that is focused on ruling the Empire and we commend him for his efforts. One morning, he sees Ying luo clearing out weeds as part of her job at Xin Zhu Ku. Remembering her words that as long as he does his job one step at a time, his subjects will remember him, he decides that he’s been too harsh on her in the past and wants to lift her punishment. He wants to personally deliver her the news in Chang Chun Gong. 

 

[Karen]

But, luck really isn’t on Ying Luo’s side. One night, when Ying luo sneaks out of Xin Zhe Ku to Chang Chun Gong to take care of the Empress, she is seen by Er Qing. Er Qing is considered one of the worst people in this drama and we’re now seeing maybe 30% of how terrible she is. She is insanely jealous to find that Fu Heng has also sneaked to Chang Chun Gong to see Ying Luo and help her take care of her sister. 

 

When the Emperor arrives to see the Empress who is still in a coma, he originally came to tell the Empress the good news that he’ll place Ying Luo back at her side. But, Er Qing skillfully advises the Emperor to go find Ying Luo in the back to tell her the news personally. However, when they arrive, they happen upon Ying Luo and Fu Heng helping each other gather water in the back. Except their actions are extremely friendly. So much so that the Emperor is furious to see this scene and storms out. Er Qing, meanwhile, is extremely pleased with herself for sabotaging Ying Luo and Fu Heng in front of the Emperor. That edict to promote Ying Luo back to Chang Chun Gong? Nope, it’s being tossed away. I believe it is now that the Emperor has possessive affections over Ying Luo.

 

At this point, Ying Luo is none the wiser as to what happened the prior night. But back at Xin Zhe Ku, she is met with a messy scene. Ying Luo’s quarters are being searched by a slew of eunuchs and the managing auntie announced they found a wooden doll. This is serious business and is escalated all the way up to the now Noble Consort Xian as well as the Emperor who decides he wanted to interrogate the truth directly.

 

[Cathy]

Turns out, the wooden doll that was discovered is currently being claimed by Liu Mo Mo that it was used by Ying Luo to curse and kill Noble Consort Gao. The doll has Gao Gui Fei’s birthday on it as well as a red string tied around its neck. Clearly, it was used to kill Gao Gui Fei. Ying Luo soundly denies this but the Emperor does not want to believe her.

 

Meanwhile, Yuan Chun Wang also hears the news that Ying Luo is in trouble. He hurriedly rushes over to find Fu Cha Fu Heng to tell him the news. He quickly explains that Fu Heng cannot go to find the Emperor directly because it would solidify that Fu Heng has undisclosed personal feelings for Ying Luo that would land her in even worse trouble. That doesn’t prevent Fu Heng from rushing out and heading over to Chang Chun Gong where he pleads for his sister to wake up and save Ying Luo. While the Empress does shed a tear and moves her fingers to his pleas, she does not wake up. 

 

Er Qing, though, pipes up and says if he wants to save Ying Luo, there is only one solution.

 

[Karen]

Fu Heng is too gullible in my opinion because Ying Luo did not really need him to save her. In front of the Emperor and Noble Consort Xian, she easily pointed out several key holes in this accusation against her. The knot used for the red string around the doll’s neck is entirely different from what she normally uses. Furthermore, the place the doll was supposedly found is damp and humid over the summer. A wooden doll placed there for over 2 months would most certainly be moist or at least changed in shape. But this wooden doll is dry as a bone which means it must have only recently have been placed there.

 

Immediately the tides turn and both the Emperor and Xian Gui Fei become impatient at the false accusation from this Aunt Liu and she is dragged off.

 

Except this Emperor is still furious with Ying Luo. He agrees that she should not be punished for this false accusation but still orders her to be dragged off to the Department of Punishment or Shen Xing Si for having an affair with an imperial guard. He becomes even more furious when Ying Luo just gets up willingly to take her punishment. She doesn’t even try to beg or explain herself.

 

The scene shifts and we see Fu Heng kneeling outside of the Emperor’s palace. When the Emperor finally arrives outside to speak with him, the Emperor is still angry. He wants to kill Ying Luo. Fu Heng though, surprises the Emperor by declaring that he wants to marry Er Qing. 

 

Immediately, Ying luo is released from Shen Xing Si. 

 

UGHHHH. I’m SOOO pissed at BOTH of these men.

 

[Cathy]

Afterwards, Fu Heng has the gall to find Ying Luo. He tells her point blank he’s going to marry Er Qing. Ying Luo is absolutely heartbroken and she tells off Fu Heng. In my mind, I completely agree with everything she said. This would have been a much shorter drama but if Fu Heng had also persisted and came forward with their affections. Sure the two of them would have been punished or killed, but at least they didn’t give up. That’s what Ying Luo wanted. She was willing to fight for their relationship and take every punishment thrown her way because she knows she went against palace law and fell in love with an imperial guard. But what did Fu Heng do? He gave up on their relationship. We know he did it to save her life, but as Ying Luo said, despite having thousands of reasons why he did it, the reality is staring them right in the face. HE was the one who walked away. Not her. And he has the audacity to come back to return the fragrance pouch she made him. Any woman would have been royally pissed at that move. I’m proud of Ying Luo for just walking away.

 

Ugh. 

 

What do you guys think. In this episode, I see the fault almost entirely on Fu Heng’s hands. There were so many careless things that he did in this episode that resulted in him making one of the worst decisions in his life. I do place some blame on the Emperor but I don’t actually think he would kill Ying Luo. He’s just annoyed at the moment but he is the Emperor after all. It’s not worth his time to spend too much effort on the likes of Ying Luo. 

 

 

[Karen]

It’s going to be rather light on history today!

 

At the beginning of the episode, a bunch of the palace maids are discussing the Emperor. He is always working relentlessly and is an Emperor who knows several languages along with all of the other gentlemanly arts.

 

These are all historically accurate. For the 清 Dynasty, the education of princes was extremely strict. They started their education from the age of around 6 and continued into adulthood. If the prince wasn’t given a formal position / post then he would continue to attend classes. They were only give a handful of days off during the year to celebrate the major holidays.

 

The started extremely early for the princes. They would arrive at the classroom between 3-5AM in the morning to review the studies from the previous day. The teachers would then arrive to begin classes between 5-7AM. The Princes had several teachers throughout the course of the day. Most of them were prominent court officials and taught everything from Mongolian to Manchurian to Mandarin. However, the vast majority of the day when reading and writing was involved included the study of Chinese texts. In the afternoon, the princes would then practice riding and shooting. 

 

This is why, perhaps, the quality of Princes during the Qing Dynasty was pretty high. As in, most had a proper education. 

 

As for our Emperor 乾隆 – he continued with the tradition of rising early. He typically was awake by 4am, went to court, and then reviewed documents throughout the course of the day. Dinner was around 7PM and then he’d either choose to spend the night with a concubine from the Imperial Harem or else continue working. It was typically lights out before 10PM. That’s still a long day! So yes – while the maids in the palace had long days, it wasn’t a walk in the park for the Emperor either.

 

[Cathy]

Our 2nd and last history piece is just a watch and you’ll miss item. The Emperor is reviewing his son, 永珹’s homework. If we’ll recall, he is currently under the care of 娴贵妃.

 

The poem is called 滕王阁 or the Prince Teng’s Pavilion. It is written by the famous Tang Dynasty poet 王勃. This shorter poem is like the sequel to the very famous Preface to the Prince Teng’s Pavilion or 滕王阁序.

 

Here’s the full poem.

 

滕王高阁临江渚zhǔ⑵,佩玉鸣鸾罢歌舞⑶。

画栋朝飞南浦云⑷,珠帘暮卷西山雨⑸。

闲云潭影日悠悠⑹,物换星移几度秋⑺。

阁中帝子今何在⑻?槛jiàn外长江空自流⑼。

 

高高的滕王阁,下临赣江。那些贵人身挂琳琅佩玉,坐着鸾铃鸣响的车马,前来阁上参加歌舞宴会的繁华场面,现在已经一去不复返了。早上,画栋飞来了南浦的浮云;黄昏,珠帘卷入了西山的细雨,云影倒映在大江中,日日悠悠不尽。物换星移,不知度过了多少个春秋,高阁中的滕王如今在哪里呢?只有那栏杆外的江水空自流淌,日夜不息。

 

My translation is as such

The Prince Teng’s Pavilion is perched high on top and we see the gàn river below

The noble guests wear jade and jewelry, sitting in their splendid carriages

They have arrived to see the wondrous banquet

In the morning, they paint clouds from 南浦

At dusk, rain comes from the western mountains

The clouds are reflected in the river below, with no end

The stars move and the scene changes but after countless springs and summers

Where is the Prince of Teng

The only constant is the river flowing outside the railing.

 

This poem isn’t as famous as Preface to the Prince Teng’s Pavilion or 滕王阁序 but both are part of the standard repertoire of poems that one will have to learn even today. Time is a bit jumbled right now so I have no idea how old the 4th Prince 永珹 is supposed to be in the drama. However, this isn’t an entry level poem so definitely good for the Prince to be learning this.

 

As for the author of the poem – his name is 王勃(649~676). He had grand plans but he died shortly after writing this poem and Preface to the Prince Teng’s Pavilion or 滕王阁序 . He was actually traveling to Vietnam but drowned on the way there. If only he had lived longer, I’m sure he would have made a bigger name for himself than he already did. 

 

[Cathy]

And that is it for today’s relatively short episode. We just really wanted to get our disappointment out of the way this episode towards Fu Heng and also the Emperor. In the next episode, the Empress does this for us too.

 

[Karen]

 

If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to our sponsor JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. They’ve also recently launched on Sling TV Again all of this is Free!

 

We will catch you all in the next episode!

Ep 33

[Karen]

Episode 33 – 

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 33 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.  In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!

 

Episode 32 was all about the death of Gao Gui Fei and now we turn back to the other plot threads surrounding Ying Luo and the Empress find the next series of episodes rather choppy meaning the editing is a little rushed. We’re only discussing one episode today as there is quite a bit of history and culture to get through but also because of the divergent themes, we think it best to slow down a bit rather than rush through various episodes too quickly.

 

In any case, episode 33 begins with Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang together at Xing Zhe Ku. Ying Luo is appreciative of Yuan Chun Wang’s aid in helping her cover up her involvement in the death of Gao Gui Fei. After all, it was ying luo who advised the blacksmith performers to strick against Gao Gui Fei though, as we mentioned last episode, she doesn’t know Xian Fei also helped. To express her gratitude, Ying Luo calls Yuan Chun Wang 哥, much to his excitement. They agree to become brother and sister to help support each other in the palace. But can I say, is it just me or does Yuan Chun Wang seem like a creep. We’ll discuss more of this later but he totally wants ownership over Ying Luo. He just gives off creepy vibes.

 

[Cathy]

We now turn back to the Empress whom we haven’t seen in a while. She is still bedridden from her fall. This drama doesn’t explicitly state this but I’m just going to say that she lost her child. I don’t know why the drama cut that out but maybe they just thought that hey, viewer you should understand that anyone falling from those heights would lose their child. Ying Luo overhears some of the maids at Xing Zhe Ku gossip about the Empress’s health and point out that she’s taken a turn for the worse.

 

Of course Ying Luo cannot accept that and so, at night, she sneaks off into Chang Chun Palace to see if the Empress really has become sicker. She sneaks through one of the windows when she saw an opening but is greeted by none other than Fu Heng. Ying Luo immediately deduces that he tricked her into coming. He tells her that he struck a deal with Ming Yu to let her in whenever Ming Yu is on duty. That way, Ying Luo can come visit the Empress more easily. It is quite sweet to see Ming yu’s growth because she is willing to help Ying Luo. Unlike Er Qing who only just cares about Fu Heng.  

 

[Karen[

 

We turn back to the one now pulling all of the strings in the harem. 娴妃 accompanies the Emperor as he hears the edict for 高贵妃’s posthumus title and funeral related rituals. 娴妃 motions to leave but then stumbles on the way out. This prompts the Emperor to call for a doctor. No, she’s not pregnant. That was honestly my first thought. 娴妃 has been working herself too hard to arrange the funeral procession for 高贵妃 despite being injured herself from her burn. But she now also has a severe cough which the imperial doctor reveals can be quite serious. 娴妃 however just waves it off despite her burn injury being rather gruesome. In front of the Emperor, she plays up the understanding and effective consort who must tend to the matters of the funeral. She does not want to disappoint the Empress Dowager or the Emperor. The Emperor is not able to change her mind but 娴妃’s actions left a lasting impression on him. After discussing with the Empress Dowager, they decide that it is time to promote 娴妃 to 娴贵妃 Or Noble Consort. So In the end, it was all worth it for 娴妃. She gets revenge against Gao Gui Fei and she also now has the same title as she did. This is all going according to plan for 娴贵妃 who now has second highest rank in the palace.

 

[Cathy]

One late evening, Ying Luo is blocked from leaving Chang Chun palace because the Emperor arrived to have a heartfelt chat with the Empress where he is able to share some of the thoughts that have been troubling him. He is said that Gao Gui Fei passed away but also sad that he is unable to give her what she wanted – his love. It’s rather an interesting little monologue because we understand the challenges of being Emperor yet also tragedy that befalls all women in the palace. Yes, they have the attention of the Emperor. But it’s just that. He can only give them attention and favor but not love. I think these words impacted the Empress because even though she didn’t wake up, her eyes started moving in her sleep, much to the Emperor’s concern and excitement. 

 

Just as he’s questioning whether or not the Empress thinks he’s too cold and heartless, he hears movement in a nearby cabinet and catches Ying Luo.  He is furious that he is there but I honestly think he’s slightly pleased to see her. She tricks him into thinking the Empress is awake before running away just as the Emperor was about to shower all different types of threats against her.  But now, at least. The Emperor knows Ying Luo sneaks in to see the Empress.

 

[Karen]

We have an interlude with 纯妃 who can not accept that 傅恒 is interested in the likes of 魏璎珞. She blocks him in the palace one day and advises him to stay away from the palace and subtly hints that she doesn’t believe the rumors he likes a lowly maid. When he rebuffs her, she returns to her palace to fume. She is extremely upset that 傅恒 forgot about her which for any viewer at this point in the drama, the only logical thought process for us is … uhh what? There has to be more to the story right now. 纯妃 though decides that it is her place to act on behalf of the Empress in order to protect Fu Heng and calls for the aunt who manages 辛者库。

 

The remainder of the episode revolves around the Emperor’s bad mood following 高贵妃‘s death but also the work that befalls his shoulders as Emperor. We see him through a fit towards 高贵妃’s brother who reported that his father wanted to return to the palace to attend his daughter’s funeral. We find out that not only did 高贵妃 pass away, his two other daughters as well. The Emperor is upset that 高大人 would make this request because this means he is shirking his responsibilities in building levees against floods. 

 

The whole mini plot line with 小高大人 or 高贵妃’s brother in which he begs for forgiveness for his father’s decision to head back to the capital was a surprising throwaway. Why? Because why cast 郑皓原 in the role if he was only going to be in it for like 5 minutes? He was a pretty good actor and one I grew up watching in minor roles. In real life – this character, who was 高贵妃’s younger brother and not from the same mother died a pretty sad death due to corruption charges.

 

[Cathy]

That night, the Emperor heads over to 长春宫 and I feel like he went to expressly find 璎珞。 Seeing that she is making medicine for the Empress, he actually doesn’t berate her but sits down to chat with her. Once again, we hear from him the struggles of being the Emperor. Women in the palace always want something from him which is frustrating when he is trying to steer the ship of the Qing dynasty. He is constantly blown off course by different challenges. He has to worry about the victims of floods. How can he have the time to consider real love that the Empress wants? Ying Luo takes this opportunity to remind him that the Empress does want a true relationship yet she believes he is a good Emperor. To support him, Ying Luo reveals to the Emperor that the Empress even taught the Emperor’s poems to her. Not because the Emperor’s poems are that outstanding, but because the Empress wants to know how the Emperor is thinking at all times. The Emperor appreciates these words but then realizes that Ying Luo said she didn’t think his poems were that good. Hahahaha and she takes her leave. 

 

The Emperor takes her words to heart though, especially where she said that as long as he acted to the best of his ability and continues to solve through single tasks at a time, the citizens of the Empire will undoubtedly see that he IS a good Emperor.

 

Immediately, he returns to his office and summons court officials. We see just how brilliant the Emperor is as he spouts off tax revenue numbers that even these officials do not have on hand even though they are supposed to manage these affairs. The Emperor decides that it is time to exempt land taxes nationwide. We will see next episode more of the Emperor’s ruling capabilities.

 

 

[Karen]

 

So at the beginning of the episode, 袁春望 is ecstatic that Ying Luo agrees to be his sister and asks that they do a bunch of rituals. But the creepy part is he keeps on bringing up marriage rituals rather than those for becoming siblings. The one for siblings is called 金兰贴 or 金兰普 which became a more established tradition in the Ming and Qing dynasties where individuals that wanted to become brothers or sisters would exchange these cards to establish this relationship.

 

Previously we talked about 兰花 or orchids.  袁春望 said that he’ll become 魏璎珞’s brother. Typically, people will say let’s 结义金兰 – the 兰 is of course the 兰花 or orchid, once again representing the pure and unbending nature of the orchid or the relationship.庚帖  on the other hand is only used for marriages where the two parties of the marriage place their birthdates and family information which is exchanged by the two parties. 

 

[Cathy]

 

We are 33 episodes into the drama, almost at the halfway point and we now have more concrete evidence of the actual time jump of the drama. With the death of 高贵妃, we are now roughly in 1745 / 1746.

 

According to history and as I mentioned in the last podcast episode, 高贵妃 died on Feb 25th 1745. In the drama, the eunuch declares a decree on behalf of the Emperor for 高贵妃’s posthumous title. 

 

The words include 尔皇贵妃高氏,世阀钟祥,坤闺翊政,服习允谐于图史,徽柔早着于宫廷。职佐盘匜yí,诚孝之思倍挚,荣分翚huī翟dí,肃雝yōng之教尤彰。已晋崇阶jie,方颁瑞rui4物。芝检徒增其位号,椒涂遂失其仪型。兹以册宝,谥曰慧贤皇贵妃。

 

I’ll applaud the screenwriter here. These words come directly from the official decree and edit granting 高贵妃 her posthumous title. The full text is a bit longer but it makes sense that the drama cut it out. Similarly – we don’t see the full funeral ceremony but this is already good enough. Basically it just praises her and her family and confers her with the title. These words are super proper tough – basically I would never use these words in normal day to day speech. Which is to say – hey, good for the eunuch for knowing all of these words because they aren’t easy!

 

[Karen]

We basically then have a time jump. It’s quite clever what the screenwriters do because by using 娴妃 as the foil against 高贵妃, her rise in the drama coincides with her counterpart’s rise in history. 娴妃 was officially promoted to Noble Consort Xian or 娴贵妃 on December 9th 1745. 

 

In the drama, we see a very simple edict or decree with just a couple of words – 性生婉顺。质赋柔嘉 which means she of obliging temperament and gentle, is conferred the title of Noble Consort Xian. Those 8 words are taken directly from the official edict of her promotion. The difference though is that in the official document, it is actually the Empress Dowager that makes the decree NOT the Emperor. This was standard practice but in the drama, if you look closely at the edict, it says Emperor.

 

The  december date in 1745 was her official promotion date. There’s a whole ceremony that happens for these promotions where they get the official noble consort stamp which we don’t see in the drama. BUT, she was first promoted in history on Feb 23 1745 at the same time that 高贵妃 was promoted to Imperial Noble Consort Gao or 皇贵妃. This is also just 2 days before 高贵妃 in history died. Several other women were also promoted at the same time including 纯妃 to Noble Consort and 愉嫔 who is the mother of the 5th prince and who we haven’t seen for quite a while was promoted to consort.

 

[Cathy]

Alrighty – Next up! We’ll talk about the poem that 魏璎珞 recites in front of the Emperor!

 

魏璎珞 only recites the first 4 lines of the poem. Here is the full poem.

 

冬至斋居偶阅旧稿志怀 – Reading old manuscripts in a room during the Winter Solstice

 

静听迢迢宫漏长,斋居暂屏万机忙。

那无诗句娱清景,恰有梅 送冷香。

案积陈编闲检点,志期旧学重商量。

灰飞子夜调元律,又喜天心复一阳。

 

This roughly translates to 

The quiet corridors of the long palace halls

I’m in the room with countless work

There isn’t a phrase to describe this scene

But a plum blossom sends in a cold fragrance

Papers accumulate on the desk for review

Old documents and manuscripts need to be reviewed

The midnight tune strikes

I am happy that it is once again the winter solstice

 

At the end where it is 又喜天心复一阳 ->一阳生 also means 冬至 or the winter solstice, hence the title.

 

This poem is just one of over 40 thousand, yes 40 thousand poems that the Emperor wrote. Which is why for the life of me, I can’t find when this was actually written. He was a prolific writer but hilariously, most scholars and historians don’t think he was that good, which is why his poems aren’t really well studied. So that joke in the drama of 魏璎珞 saying it’s not because the Emperor’s poems are really outstanding that the Empress learned his poems is true, at least to scholars. His poems AREN’T that great. Haha

 

[Karen]

 

Lastly! Let’s talk about politics and money.

 

In the drama – the Emperor 乾隆 provides a rough amount of 33,950 thousand taels of silver. That’s 33 million taels of silver! as to how much his father left him in the treasury or the department or revenue when he ascended the throne. That in any stretch is a LOT of money! This is also true to history. I did a bit of research and it was roughly around that amount.

 

In the drama, Emperor 乾隆 decides to forgo taxes for one year in the year 1746. This is also historically accurate but this is the first time he did it. As was mentioned in the drama, in history, 乾隆 very much admired his grandfather and his grandfather Emperor 康熙 did indeed freeze taxes for a year.

 

Our Emperor though did it a whopping 6 times in his reign! The first time was in 1736 when 乾隆 first ascended the throne. The second is this time in 1746 but it was a more measured approach in that a rolling 6 provinces wouldn’t have to pay taxes. There were 18 provinces so for 3 years, 6 didn’t have to pay but the other 12 did. This at least ensured some government income. The other times this happened were in 1771, 1778, 1791, and 1795. Some were to celebrate special years during his reign. For example – the one in 1791 was to celebrate the Emperor’s 80th birthday so he said you know what – subjects don’t pay taxes!

 

Not bad right? The Emperor was widely praised for these acts during his lifetime which, I mean makes sense. I would like to not pay taxes some time!

 

There is a joke though because you know how earlier I said that his father left him with 33 million taels of silver? Well – he definitely didn’t leave that much for his son. He left him less than 20 million taels of silver. Emperor 乾隆 was an extravagant emperor. We’ll talk more about that later in the drama.

Ep 32

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

 

Today we are discussing episodes 32 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.  In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!

 

[Karen]

Today we are only focusing on one episode as there’s a lot of history to unpack and we also want to give a proper farewell to someone special.

 

It all starts in episode 32 with the Emperor arriving with Consort Xian or Xian Fei to meet Noble Consort Gao or Gao Gui Fei who is currently watching the preparations for a performance for the Empress Dowager. The performance itself is called 万紫千红 or in the drama they call it A Blaze of Colors. The direct translation is ten thousand purple one thousand red which ultimately reflects the burst of colors where molten iron is blasted out into sky into a burst of sparks that light up the night sky. It is quite stunning and I am impressed with how the drama filmed it. As we will discuss later, it’s also called the iron flower show

 

However, don’t you think the first moment you see this that wow that’s dangerous. Molten iron just being splashed around and no safety measures whatsoever!

 

Gao Gui Fei does not care though does she. She even steps forward to look more closely at the show and begins devising how better to put on a show. But just as she steps forward by herself with her maid, one of the performers direct a burst of sparks right at Gao Gui Fei and it hits her full on in the back. The Emperor wants to protect her but is held back by Xian Fei. In the chaos, the offending performer slips away while other performers create a diversion. The imperial guards immediately tell the performers to stop and then spread out to seek the perpetrator but it’s too late for Gao Gui Fei. She has been severely injured.

 

[Cathy]

The imperial guards search high and low for the perpetrator and even head to Xin Zhe Ku where Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang are working to see if the culprit hid there. They are not able to find anyone but Yuan Chun Wang knows what happened. He confronts YIng Luo and surmises that she must have planned to help the attacker a long time ago. She even purposefully shouted that she had no more connection to the Empress in order to prevent the Empress from being connected to anything that Ying Luo does. This does seem to be the plan that Ying Luo worked with one of the craftsmen for the performance in the last episode to carry out. 

 

Poor Gao Gui Fei. Her entire back is bloodied by burns from the scorching molten iron. She screams that she doesn’t want medical attention either if it means that it will leave scars on her back. You do have to feel bad for this type of injury of hers. What’s worse is that, as the doctors find out, the injury isn’t just from molten iron. But it’s actually gold water. The drama explains that gold water is where feces water has been added to the mix which causes any burns be unable to heal fully due to repeated infections from the feces. This is a rather low blow if you ask me.

 

[Karen]

 

The Emperor goes to visit Xian Fei and explains all of this to her while also checking up on her injuries. The thing is, even though she herself is injured, you look at her smile. This was all an act on her part to showcase how much she cares for the Emperor and for him to see that she cares a lot about him. Once again in Xian Fei’s eyes, you can see her calculating gaze.

 

BUT it ‘s not like I’m not thoroughly enjoying this hardened Xian Fei. We find out that Gao Gui Fei has not been a good patient and therefore has made recovery pretty much impossible. The infections on her back cannot be healed. Even the imperial doctors are at a loss at what to do. It seems like Gao Gui Fei only has but a few days left.

 

It is at this opportunity that Xian Fei comes in to gloat her success. Gao Gui Fei is shocked to hear that it is Xian Fei who mixed in the feces water to the molten iron mixture. Though I do find it interesting that Xian Fei said that she just helped “HER” aka Xian Fei knows it was Ying Luo who was involved in retribution against Gao Gui Fei but just added the final blow. This is Xian Fei’s revenge against Gao Gui Fei for how she treated her. Not only did Gao Gui Fei humiliate Xian Fei but she also had a direct hand in destroying Xian Fei’s family. This in Xian Fei’s eyes is fully justified.

 

[Cathy]

How did Xian Fei know about this though? Might I remind you that in the last episode Jin Xiu, the maid who dislikes Ying Luo oversaw Ying Luo speaking with one of the blacksmith performers and ran off. I’m assuming Jin Xiu went and told Xian Fei who then devised her own plan. She leveraged Ying Luo for this little revenge attack against Gao Gui Fei.

 

I do commend Gao Gui Fei though. After hearing what befalls her even if she does get better, she decides that nope. I’d rather 10000 people hate me than one person pity me. She cannot stand the thought that even if she’s healed, the Emperor will always pity her. She decides to end things on her own terms.

 

[Karen]

In front of the Emperor, she forces herself to dance one last dance. You can tell that this was an excruciating experience as her dress soon becomes soaked with blood from her back during her dance. As she falls to the ground, the Emperor and she finally have a heart to heart. She’s not blind to the fact that her favoritism from him is just that. Favoritism. Not love. He is wary of her family’s power and connections and so everything given to her always came with a hint of suspicion. Her last request is to have her mother be buried in the family shrine so that her spirit will have a place to rest. Say what you will about Gao Gui Fei, she is a good daughter to her mother.

 

Soon after, Gao Gui Fei adorns a lavish outfit. She does one last performance in her extravagant outfit before throwing out that white cloth. She decided to end her life on her own terms.

 

The Emperor fell silent upon hearing the news. He ordered that Gao Gui Fei be promoted to Imperial Noble Consort or Huang Gui Fei and her funeral be a joint effort of different ministries. He reflected upon her last words before remaining somber for the night.

 

[Cathy]

Behind the scenes!

 

There’s some juicy behind the scenes that I want to share here regarding 高贵妃 because this is the last time we’ll see of her!

 

Ok, when the drama aired back in 2018, there were official photos that were posted of 高贵妃 and 魏璎珞’s sister 魏璎宁 together that raised a few eyebrows from people. In them, 高贵妃 was dressed up as a male opera singer who is seen comforting the crying 魏璎宁. The scene is set in the day time and 魏璎宁 is seen crying in 高贵妃’s embrace. The whole drama aired and we didn’t get any actual scenes between the two of them so what happened? Of course, it was cut for the final airing.

 

Rumors were RAMPANT and I mean RAMPANT on what this all meant. Were we finally going to get an actual lesbian relationship? Fans were trying to guess what was cut. Some theories included 高贵妃 actually thought very highly of 魏璎宁. They perhaps encountered each other when 魏璎宁 sent clothes to 高贵妃 and 魏璎宁 caught 高贵妃’s eye. When 魏璎宁 was defiled by 弘昼, she went to seek some solace with with 高贵妃 which is where fans believed led to these photos. They also thought that this must have been the reason why 高贵妃 was able to so quickly gather the evidence for 魏璎珞. 高贵妃 must have believed that it was the 富察 family who committed the crime and one of the reasons why she kept on targeting the Empress. 

 

Alas, this was all conjecture. In an interview, the actress for 魏璎宁, 邓莎, dispelled the rumors and told us what was REALLY supposed to happen. Basically 高贵妃 was the bad guy in the photos.

 

So, 魏璎宁 was  upset and was wandering around in the palace. I don’t know if this was after her incident or just another instance when she was sad. 高贵妃 caught wind of this and then decided to dress up as a male opera singer to “pretend” to cheer her up and console her. 魏璎宁 finally cried in her arms. 高贵妃’s goal though was not to actually be nice to the poor girl. It was so that other maids would see this scene in broad daylight, mistaken 魏璎宁 as cavorting with another man, and be punished and kicked out. 魏璎宁 didn’t get kicked out then but was beaten up by a few other palace maids, sooooo…this didn’t turn out to be a good story for 魏璎宁.

 

——

 

[Karen]

Alright, next up! In this episode, before she dies, 高贵妃 makes a brief mention her 2 younger sisters. We don’t get any real indication of their fate until the next episode when in a voiceover, it is mentioned that her two younger sisters also died. Well, I can’t remember if it was a cut scene or not but basically, 高贵妃 ordered her two younger sisters to be poisoned so that they could not enter the palace to garner favor with the Emperor. As we saw in the show, she loved her mother and her brother. She did not want her younger sisters to enter the palace and ruin the gift that she requested from the Emperor, which is a proper burial for her mother. Say what you will about the woman and killing her sisters, but at least she really loved her mother. Her father – yea, a pretty scum of a human.

 

Next! Let’s talk about costumes! In this drama, 高贵妃 has roughly around 10+11 costumes, depending on how you count it. That’s actually not that much compared to the other women in this drama. I was doing some research on her clothing and it’s difficult to say what’s the truth. There’s a lot of creative licenses that the drama took for the show but they also tried in many places to stay true to history. That is the same for 高贵妃. The most iconic of hers is either the pearl shawl outfit which we see her wear in this episode or else her golden opera outfit.

 

[Cathy]

高贵妃 was a han woman so that meant that her costumes in this drama are slightly different. If you’ll notice with her clothing, they’re less form fitting that the other consorts in the drama, especially with regards to the sleeves as compared to the Empress and 纯妃 who are Manchu women. That was the case for early 清 dynasty women in which Han women and Manchu women dressed differently.

 

As for her hairstyle – she is one of the few in Chinese Qing dynasty dramas to not have a two pronged headpiece. This is more of a one piece headpiece or 旗头座. That style was much more popular during the late Qing dynasty, so the late 19th and early 20th century. We do have a photo right now of 婉容 who was the wife and empress consort of the last emperor of China with something similar to the hairstyle that 高贵妃 has.

 

Side note, there are many MANY posts of people pointing out the historical inaccuracies to this drama, especially with regards to costumes. We might focus on a couple if there isn’t much history

 

[Karen]

First up is the poem that 娴妃 recites when she first witnesses the 万紫千红show. It is the 14th of a collection of poems called 秋浦歌 or the 秋浦 ballads

 

Theses poems were written by the famous Tang dynasty poet 李白 in the mid 8th century when he was traveling to the area of 秋浦 which is now modern day 安徽 province. The one that is recited in the drama is the 14th out of 17 poems. It’s a standard Chinese quatrain or 五言诗 with 4 lines and 5 words.

 

The poem goes as such

 

炉火照天地

红星乱紫烟

赧Nǎn郎明月夜

歌曲动寒川

 

The fire from the furnace illuminates the earth and they sky

Red sparks shine amidst the purple smoke

In the moonlit night, the hard-working smelterers

Song reverberate throughout the cold mountain valley

 

The poet 李白 wrote these poems during his exile from the capital city of Chang An. He traveled the empire to explore and write poems. The village of 秋浦 was known for its silver and copper mines. He actually traveled to 秋浦 3 times in his lifetime. He most likely wrote these poems around 753. During this time though, he was pretty disappointed with the ways of the Empire as he saw the writing on the wall of 安禄山’s rise and future rebellion.

 

[Cathy]

 

Next, let’s talk about 万紫千红. It is more commonly known as 打铁花 or the iron flower show.

 

The history of this skill is quite long in China. There are some places who write that the skill dates back to the warring states period in China some 2500 years ago. Basically when China entered into the iron age. However, on 百科 it says that this tradition started probably in the Northern Song Dynasty. That is to say, this still has at least 1000 years of history. Please do NOT try any of this yourselves because it is an extremely dangerous skill.

 

Nowadays there are 2 ways to perform the show. The first one is the one we see in the drama, which is to say, the melting iron is poured onto a willow block and then struck to make the iron flowers or in our drama 万紫千红. I mean it absolutely looks gorgeous. I kind of wish that in the drama they gave us a proper depiction of the art instead of one in the night with scaffolding around because I’m watching some performances on youtube and chinese media and the shows are absolutely breathtaking.

 

There’s another way to create the effect and that is more of a spraying motion and “paints” the iron flowers onto a city wall.  Basically you have a large wooden spoon made of willow which has been soaked in water for 3 days and nights and coated with fire proof material. Then the performer sprays the wall with the melting iron in a circular motion. This method is more recent, having a history of around 500 years and originated in the 河北 province during the 明 dynasty. There are still remnants of city walls that have the residue of iron flowers on the walls. 

 

As of now, there’s only a handful of people who know how to perform this skill. I mean I don’t blame them, this is an extremely dangerous performance. The performers still basically wear the same clothes as their ancestors for the performance, goat skin and a wet straw hat. It’s still common to get injured or sprayed by the melting iron. For reference, the melting iron can get up to 1600 degrees celsius! 

 

In some of the more modern performances, I do see people wearing much better fire protection but I’ve also seen people wear pretty scrappy protection. As much as it is a beautiful sight, I really do hope people protect themselves when a) performing this show and b) when watching the show. As we see in the drama, getting injured with this is no joke.

 

[Karen]

At the end of the episode, right before 高贵妃 commits suicide, she sings the last lines that Noble Consort Yang sings in the opera 长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth. We talked about it in episode 27 so this is a slight refresher. 

 

长生殿 – Palace of Eternal Youth was written in 1688. The first half again recounts the love story between the Emperor 唐玄宗 and the concubine 杨贵妃 but it is also a criticism on the lavishness of the palace and the Emperor’s dismissal of his Empire, leading to the An Shi Rebellion. So this scene right now is aT the end of the first half of the opera.

 

The story of 唐玄宗 and 杨贵妃 is a constant motif that runs throughout the scenes we have with 高贵妃. She views herself as the tragic character of 杨贵妃 but unfortunately Emperor 乾隆 in this drama definitely does not see himself as the Emperor 唐玄宗.

 

Another point of comparison for Gao Gui Fei is actually with Li Fu Ren who was a concubine for Han Wu Di. We talked about her during our podcast series before but Li Fu Ren was ill and did not let Han Wu Di see her on her deathbed because she wanted him to always remember her beauty and be filled with regret for not being able to see her. I’m reminded of Li Fu Ren with Gao Gui Fei who wanted to die beautifully and be remembered as such than to die a painful death and wallow away with age.

 

Which leads us to finally talking about the historical counterpart of 高贵妃.

 

Posthumously granted the title of 慧贤皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble consort 慧贤. She came from the 高佳 clan and was a member of the bordered yellow banner. However, as we discussed before, her family previously was of han descent in the 包衣 class. Due to her favor with the Emperor 乾隆, her entire family was lifted to the status of manchu people. She was the first Noble Consort or 贵妃 and Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 of 乾隆’s reign. 

 

It isn’t really clear when was born, probably around 1711 or right around then. She died on Feb 25th 1745. 高贵妃 first entered the palace as concubine to serve the then 4th prince 弘历. She was then promoted to 侧福晋 in 1734, basically the second rank under the main wife. When Emperor 乾隆 ascended the throne in 1735, her whole family was lifted to the status of manchu people and she was granted the status of 贵妃 with the title of 慧 which means intelligent. 

 

She fell ill in 1745. 2 days before her death, the emperor granted her the title of Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 but she didn’t survive for the actual ceremony. 

 

[Cathy]

 

There unfortunately isn’t really much on her apart from the praises of her during her promotion ceremonies. However, the Emperor must have really liked her because he wrote many poems about her and reminisced about her lifetime. Her funeral was extravagant with many more prayers performed by the monks and lamas than was required for an imperial noble consort.

 

She did not have any children. There are official portraits of her in the proper gold gown and black hat. I do wish we saw a shot of this during the show but alas, all we got was the black formalwear.

 

In the drama, 高贵妃 dies of suicide. This would have been an absolute no no because the family of women who commit suicide in the palace were severely punished. Which is why it was a pretty good incentive to NOT commit suicide. I know this was for drama purposes but let’s just keep that in mind.

 

In the 1730s, her father 高斌 was also appointed an official post to manage the rivers in the southern parts of China or 河道总督. This is true to history as we see in the show. 高斌 also served as the Minister of Personnel or 吏部尚书 and Grand Secretary of Pavilion of the Imperial Library 文渊阁大学士 in the 1740s before falling into disgrace in the 1750s and ultimately dying in 1755 on the job. 

 

Last piece on 高贵妃 – the drama needed a bad guy so they chose her to be the first “bad” guy that we meet in the drama. I highly doubt she would have been evil if the Emperor cared this deeply about her especially years after her death. So listeners, please don’t let this drama color your perception of the true to life version of her.

[Karen]

With that – let’s give a round of applause to her actress 谭卓! Born in 1983, she started acting in 2009 with a film called Spring Fever 春风沉醉的夜晚. Since then, she has been in various films, dramas, and stage productions, focusing more on films rather than dramas. I would say her breakout role was probably this one in The Story of Yan Xi palace. She certainly turned a lot of eyes with this role. She doesn’t really follow the typical “pop” idol route and prefers to vary it up with modern and period pieces. I thought she did admirably here in 延禧攻略 and is probably one of the top 3 actresses in my book for this drama. Her gravitas really did shine throughout the drama and it was obvious that she put the work in for this role especially during her opera scenes.

 

高贵妃 – you were a pretty annoying character but in the end, you knew exactly who you were and I commend you for it.