The Story of Yanxi Palace – Ep 67pt 2 + 68
In the last podcast episode, we saw that the 5th prince, raised by Ying Luo, was gravely injured in a gun accident and the 4th prince, raised by the Empress Nala, was banished for his part in it. All of this was orchestrated by Yuan Chun Wang in which he claims is his way of paving the path for the Empress Nala’s birth son, the 12th prince to inherit the throne.
The last few episodes of this drama really allowed Yuan Chun Wang to shine as he is pulling all the strings in the palace and creating an inordinate amount of chaos. But the most skillful part of his plan is that in the process of harming all of the princes in the palace, he skillfully makes it all seem like it is the Empress Nala’s plan and paints her in a terrible light.
Lets turn back to the second half of episode 67 where the Empress Nala has fallen ill given the events of what happened with the 4th prince turning on her and now being banished by the Emperor. Little does she know that while she’s in bed, Yuan Chun Wang has already taken his next steps.
First, he persuades a maid in the Empress’s palace to dress more beautifully than before but this angers the Empress when she sees the maid and slashes her face. Unfortunately, this outburst is seen by the Emperor who comes to visit, putting him on edge for the Empress’s poor behavior. After the Emperor leaves, the Empress orders the maid to be lashed 30 times. However, what does Yuan Chun Wang do? He murders the poor maid. Unfortunately, the Emperor finds out that the maid has “committed suicide” and though not explicitly stated, it’s not far off to suspect that the Empress did it. But as we know, the Empress is in the dark. When she finds out that the maid committed suicide, she is actually quite furious because this looks very poorly on her. She becomes more enraged and rather psychotic at all of the recent developments.
The news of the maid’s death traveled fast and the Empress Dowager is now also aware of what happened which has left a bad taste in her mouth. But the pressing matter right now is discussing the upcoming expedition the Emperor has planned to visit the south of China. The Empress Dowager was chatting with Ying Luo, 舒贵妃 and 庆妃 when the Empress arrives to chat specifically about this topic. The Empress is adamant she is not sick and wants to be on that trip but things get rather heated with the Empress Dowager as well. It does not look good for the Empress.
She doesn’t do herself any favors as well because in her ill state, she confronts the Emperor and rather forcefully argues that she must be included in the expedition. Though I will say the Emperor was rather quick to point out that the Empress is going not for filial piety or to follow any tradition, but rather it’s because she wants to maintain her authority and presence as Empress. The conversation ends unpleasantly as the Emperor firmly states he will not be bringing the Empress while she insists otherwise.
Now onto Yuan Chun Wang’s next step. He sees that the Empress has been shut out and promptly finds an opportunity to speak to the 12th prince and convince him to try to persuade the Emperor. Once the 12th prince leaves to go see his father, Yuan chun wang then immediately tells a eunuch to inform the 5th prince what’s happening. The end result? The 12th prince kneels outside for several hours to no avail while the 5th prince arrives and just speaks a few words which convinces the Emperor to allow the Empress to join the expedition. Yuan Chun Wang’s tactic has two purposes. One) Cause the Emperor to be annoyed at the 12th prince for essentially weaponizing filial piety to force the Emperor to allow the Empress to come on the trip and 2) cause the Empress to be furious at the difference in treatment by the Emperor of the two sons. She clearly sees that the Emperor favors the 5th prince rather than her own.
Now onto Yuan Chun Wang’s 3rd step. He overhears Shu Gui Fei and Qing Fei arguing. As a reminder, Qing Fei is actually raising the 15th prince for Ying Luo at the moment and from this dialogue we understand that she is very protective of the young boy. Shu Gui Fei becomes upset after hearing that the gifts such as a very expensive writing brush and inkstone she gifted the 15th prince were all left unused by Qing Fei and she accuses Qing Fei of thinking she’s out to harm the 15th prince. Yuan Chun Wang overhears this and uses this to his advantage. One day, as the 15th prince is going to school, a eunuch bumps into the 15th prince and switches the writing brush the 15th prince uses.
Sure enough, Ying Luo, Qing Fei and Shu Gui Fei find out later that the 15th prince was poisoned. The culprit? The brush Shu Gui Fei gave. Luckily, the 15th prince is not in life threatening danger but Qing Fei and Shu Gui Fei are able to deduce that with all these injuries of these princes, the biggest beneficiary is the 12th prince. Or, the Empress. This puts them on alert as to what the Empress might be planning, though Ying Luo is a little more hesitant to point fingers. She thinks everything happened way too quickly for it to be the Empress’s actions. Which I agree. The Empress is able to wait for years before going in for the kill. The actions lately are not her style.
But that doesn’t stop Shu Gui Fei from informing the Empress Dowager who promptly disciplines the Empress who has no idea what has happened. That was all part of Yuan Chun Wang’s plan. For the Emperor and Empress Dowager to misunderstand the Empress which will allow Yuan Chun Wang to cry foul to the Prince of He.
In the very next scene, Yuan Chun Wang makes the Empress seem extremely pitiful in front of the Prince of He and make all of this Ying Luo’s fault in order to prompt the Prince of He into action. What kind of action? Well. Becoming regent. This is equivalent to staging a coup and the Prince of He, to his credit, is outraged at Yuan Chun Wang’s proposal but then turns around and requests for the responsibility of managing the protection detail for the Emperor and Empress Dowager during the southern expedition. That’s a lot of power and authority to have.
And the final push Yuan Chun Wang needed to make the Empress and the Prince of He take action is manipulating the words of the Empress Dowager and the Emperor. The Prince of He overhears the Emperor discussing with the Empress Dowager the desire to promote Ying Luo to the title of 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort which essentially means a “vice empress”. It would be a slap in the face to the Empress by promoting Ying Luo since it essentially strips the Empress of power. But in this conversation, both the Empress Dowager and the Emperor agree to table the discussion for now until after the southern expedition.
Yet what does Yuan Chun Wang tell the Empress? That the plan to promote Ying Luo is set in stone and the announcement will for sure be made after the southern expedition. They have to act now! The thought of losing her power as Empress definitely backs her into a corner and she immediately asks for a secret meeting with the Prince of He who makes the most dangerous proposal – kill the Emperor and take over. Otherwise, the 12th prince will end up like him, the Prince of He.
Yuan Chun Wang is once again smirking as he oversees this secret meeting. Ugh. Why is he able to be everywhere in the palace? Doesn’t he have a job to do? I totally feel like the writers made him so overpowered in these episodes to push the final conflict. He also manipulates the Empress’s head maid Zhen Er into stealing something of the Empress’s. Wow. Everyone in the palace really is his puppet.
The episode ends with the entourage from the palace heading out for their southern expedition. But before they leave, Fu Heng stops Ying Luo to give her a warning about the Prince of He as he is being sent off to war and will be unable to help Ying Luo if anything were to transpire on this trip.
We ge a lot about 弘昼’s life in the short scenes between him and the Emperor. Much is actually based in fact. For example, 弘昼 really did enjoy holding fake funerals for himself. He apparently once said – There is no one who will not die in a hundred years, so why avoid the inevitable? He’d sit in his courtyard at home and have family members mourn him while enjoyed the spectacle. He even ordered a variety of funeral vessels be made and placed in front of where he sat.
Kind of a weird hobby right? For this, he was punished a fine of 3 years worth of salary.
In my opinion, we don’t really see much of 弘昼 outside of the palace, so it’s kind of jarring that this piece of history was dropped on us by the Emperor.
There’s no evidence that he had any feelings for Empress Nala. We’ll talk about his death in the next episode
Duo Er Gun
In the episode, 袁春望 proposes that the Prince of He should aspire to become regent like 多尔衮 once did. The Prince of He’s face immediately turned white and basically called 袁春望 a traitor. What’s the story there?
多尔衮 was born in 1612 as the 14th son of 努尔哈赤, the founder of the Later Jin Dynasty. He was also younger brother to 皇太极, the found emperor of the Qing dynasty. Known for his military exploits, 多尔衮 was a critical member of the Manchu royal family in defeating the Ming Dynasty. When his older brother 皇太极 ascended the throne, 多尔衮 was too young to mount a challenge. However, when 皇太极 died in 1643, 多尔衮 with the Standard White banner and his two brothers supporting him, could mount a serious challenge to 皇太极’s eldest son 豪哥. Unfortunately because the two of them were so evenly matched, neither won out in the end, with the result being that both compromised and agreed to have the young 5 year old son 福临 being selected as emperor.
However, included in this compromise was that 多尔衮 would become co-regent. In 1645, 多尔衮 seized more power and was named “Imperial Uncle and Prince-Regent” (皇叔父攝政王). Later, in 1649, the title was changed to “Imperial Father and Prince-Regent” (皇父攝政王).
In folktales and rumors, the reason why 多尔衮 was able to name himself Emperor’s father was because he married the Empress Dowager 孝庄. This is just fiction but that hasn’t stopped many people still writing stories about this pairing.
Even though 多尔衮 greatly contributed to the creation of the Qing Dynasty, his act to appoint himself as regent and Emperor’s father was viewed unfavorably by EMperor ShunZhi after his death and basically wiped from the imperial ancestral temple. He was rehabilitated by Emperor Qian Long.
In the drama, the main reason why the Prince of He was scared about becoming another 多尔衮 is that connotation that he will essentially usurp the young Emperor, should Emperor Qian Long die. The rumor that 多尔衮 secretly married the Empress Dowager 孝庄 also was a trigger for the Prince of He because that meant that he might be accused of doing the same withe Empress Nala. Although in this drama, that’s probably something he wanted. You can see the parallels between Duo Er Gun and the Prince of He at this moment should he choose to take that next step.
The Southern Inspection Tour is the main topic of debate between the Emperor, Empress, and 魏璎珞. Why is it such a big deal and honestly, why haven’t we really heard about these tours in the drama?
During his lifetime, Emperor Qian Long had 6 Southern inspection tours starting in 1751. 2 years before his first tour, he issued 2 royal decrees detailing the 4 main reasons for his tours.
- The officials in the Jiangsu and 浙江 provinces, on behalf of the military and subjects, respectfully invited the Emperor to grace them with his presence
- Court officials referred to the historical precedent set by his grandfather Emperor 康熙 for southern inspection tours
- Inspect and investigate the local conditions in the south
- As an act of filial piety, take the Empress Dowager to enjoy the sites
With these edicts, the Emperor had 6 trips starting in 1751, 1757, 1762, 1765, 1780, and 1784 to the south of China. Each time, he would travel to present day 南京, 苏州, 杭州, 扬州. These cities were all located along the eastern Grand Canal. The primary method of transportation was actually via boats along the rivers and canals.
Each trip would take 4-5 months so these were grand affairs. The retinue often included the Empress Dowager, several ladies from the harem, prince and princesses, and many many officials.
The fourth one is what everyone is planning for in the drama. That trip occurred in 1765.
The trip started on the 16th day of the 1st month. The Emperor, along with the Empress Dowager, traveled from Beijing to the city of 德州 in Shandong Province. From there, they traveled south to the Jiang Su province and crossed the Yellow River at 徐家集. While traveling along the Yellow River, the Emperor inspected the affairs there and began to travel by boat.
The retinue then went to 苏州 where he toured the gardens. From there, he traveled to the cities of Jia Xing and Hai Ning. Finally they made it to Hangzhou to inspect the Fujian navy and enjoy Xihu. On the trip back, Qian long also stopped at Nanjing to pay respects to the tomb of the first Ming Dynasty emperor zhu yuan Zhang. The whole trip took 126 days, making it the longest southern inspection tour amongst the 6 that he had.
During this trip – something very suspicious happened with Empress Nala. We’ll discuss this at the end of this series because it is shrouded in mystery.
On the whole, these southern expeditions of Emperor Qian Long’s are extremely popular subjects of dramas and books as many different types of stories can be written and portrayed on screen about his various excursions. Once again, I will recommend watching clips from RuYi’s love in the palace because they spent a boatload haha of money recreating the scenery of these expeditions that we don’t really get to see in this drama.
Last note on this – there’s some beautiful paintings of Emperor Qian Long’s Southern inspection tours housed at the Met in NYC! We should go check it out some time!