Ep 34


Episode 34 begins on a rather unfortunate note. A group of foreign looking men are watching what seems to be an official in the crowded streets. This official asks the soldiers escorting him to clear a path because he’s looking at his papers and notices something is amiss with the names of workers for the big lantern. But, the men tailing this group creates a diversion by throwing money into the crowd. This is technically strictly forbidden because it causes stampedes and unintended consequences but that’s just what is needed. The soldiers are too distracted trying to catch the guy throwing money to notice that two other men in broad night time grabs the papers from this man from hte Bureau of Forestry, slices his throat and throws him in the water. His body won’t be recovered until the morning, at least according to the book and it’ll take even more time to realize he didn’t drown from the activity related to the crowds.


We’re still in the midnight hour.


Outside of the palace, there is a long line waiting to get in. The elderly gentleman Mao Shun sits in a carriage next to Long Bo. When questioned by imperial guards for passage, Mao SHun hesitates abit and is calmed by Long Bo before firmly stating they are there to ensure the final preparations for the lantern viewing experience tonight. They are allowed in without question.


Elsewhere, Zhang Xiao Jing and Yi Si made there way over to Chao Sen’s residence to ask for help identifying where various bamboo pieces came from in hopes of learning Long Bo’s true target. Very quickly Chao Sen was able to deduce from the various pieces of bamboo that only one person in all of Chang An has the skills to make such intricate pieces of bamboo work. It’s Mao Shun. Chao Sen doesn’t believe Mao Shun would be in league with nefarious individuals and even shares that the Emperor regards Mao Shun very highly. He’s been tasked with creating a 40 meter tall lantern to celebrate the lantern festival tonight. This structure is an unprecedented wonder and will be seen for miles around. It is placed right in front of Xing Qing palace for the Emperor to unveil tonight. Chao Sen also highlights that the bamboo fixtures are hollow perfect for hiding something inside it. It clicks for Zhang Xiao Jing. The giant lantern will is the target.


Just as Zhang Xiao Jing is looking to head to giant lantern to stop the explosion, 元载 and 王韫秀 arrive with a number of soldiers. THey want to capture Zhang Xiao Jing and ignore his yells that if they want to actually save Chang An to head to 兴庆宫. Yi Si tries to help create a diversion for Zhang XIao Jing in order to help him escape but is actually shot down by one of 元载‘s men. 元载 further injures Yi Si by stabbing him in the leg as a way to goad 张小敬 out of hiding. Poor Yisi. Hiding behind some structures, Zhang Xiao Jing recounts all of his friends that died in the last 24 hours and of Wen Wu Ji. He is angered that Yi Si is also injured. He readies himself and decides to fight by the words. Do Not Quit. Those words resonate once again with him. He grabs a nearby torch plunged in molten heat. He throws it against the upcoming soldiers and begins his attack. It is a stunning scene very reminiscent of 打铁花 or the Iron Flower Show we’ve talked about in the past in The Story of Yanxi Palace. Beyond the sparks though is a man letting loose all of his anger he experienced tonight in a bloody fight. One man against many in order to “Not Retreat”.


We do seem to be getting to the right location for the final showdown.  Long Bo with the help of Mao Shun bypasses security to get to the massive lantern structure. It seems that Long Bo has been working with Mao Shun for the last several months here and Long Bo does mention the official his men killed earlier to the soldier doing security checks that he was pushed into the water. That allowed Long Bo to proceed with little issue. What’s odd is that Mao Shun seems rather nervous in bringing Long Bo in through security so it begs the question as to why Mao SHun would agree to this. But when they see the structure, Mao Shun it seems is more focused his legacy. He is even willing to help Long Bo insert the correct bamboo pieces to have the most impact. Very interesting. 


Finally though, we turn to the palace. It’s been 34 episodes and we’ve heard all about the Emperor and Yang Yu Hua but we have not seen them until now. Everyone is gathering in the grand auditorium or 花萼楼。 That’s the english translation but it’s not quite right. The literal translation is the Flower Sepal Tower. This structure is certainly more a tower rather than an auditorium and we see hear the right chancellor complaining about climbing many stairs to meet the Emperor while th Crown Prince and the Prince of Yong are also making their way up. They take the narrower staircase while the Emperor takes the much wider one.


Before we meet the Emperor however, we follow Tan Qi who snuck into the tower. She is stopped by non-other than 杨玉环. The english translation is Lady Tai Zhen for her current title and in the drama her name has been changed to 严羽幻.  严羽幻 apparently knows Tan Qi and even requests that Tan Qi calls her Yu Hua rather than her formal title. She is currently in daoist attire which fits Yang Yu Huan this moment of history. We will discuss more of Yang Yu Huan later in this episode. 


In the drama, Yang Yu Huan tells us via plot exposition that Tan Qi saved her life when she was still married to the Prince of Shou 寿which is why Yang Yu Huan recognizes her. In the book, it’s less interesting. When Yang Yu Huan the Prince of Shou’s wife, she fell on a horseback ride and injured her foot. IT was Tan Qi who helped massage her foot and helped her recover. The two of them got along well together and became acquainted. 


Another change in the drama that I actually thought was done quite well is the fact that Yang Yu Huan seems much more cunning and savvy of her position. She tells Tan Qi that she is constantly bombarded by people asking her for help in front of the Emperor. Even today, she’s been asked by many. Right now, she’s waiting for an earth shattering piece of information, she does not have time to help Tan Qi at the moment. In the book, she is depicted as a more romantic woman who hears Tan Qi’s story and is immediately open to helping. I feel like the drama’s version of Yang Yu Huan is more befitting of being in the palace vs what is shown in the book. 


At long last, the time has come for us to greet the Emperor. Pang Ling shouts that it is at the midnight hour which I feel like we’ve been saying for many episodes but the drumbeats signals the time. Crowds out in the square shout 上元安康 to greet the day for the Lantern Festival. The Emperor climbs the stairs decked in golden robes while the rest of his court wait. Director He wears purple while the Right Chancellor and the Crown Prince both are in cloth robes. There is a lot to take in for this scene. The crowds release numerous lanterns into the sky as we see the gravitas of the Tang Emperor entering into the room. Soldiers line the path he takes, musicians take their places, all members of court kneel to show their respect. Along with the drum beats, we finally get to see the Emperor. The famed 李隆基.


Outside, Long Bo has taken Li Bi as hostage up to the top of the giant lantern. Li Bi was sneaking around the lantern and just so happens to run into Long Bo. Inside the lantern we saw that it was an entire production of men putting things together. Evidently, they all work for Long Bo and are part of tonight’s bigger plan. Now the focus is on the lantern and what happens at Xing Qing Palace.


There’s a couple of interesting historical topics for today.


First – during the conversation between 张小敬 and the Blacksmith, they discuss the creator of the bamboo contraption 麒麟臂. The person they are discussing is craftsman, 毛婆罗’s son 毛顺. We’ve seen 毛顺 in the previous episode and again in this episode. We’ll talk about him later but today let’s focus on 毛婆罗.


毛婆罗 was a sculptor during the era of Emperor Wu and hailed from the land of 东夷. In the old book of Tang, 东夷 could mean 5 regions including 高丽、百济、新罗、倭国、日本 that encompass modern day Japan and the Korean peninsula. He was the head of the Imperial Workshop or held the role of 尚方丞, which was a 6th rank position. 


His most important work was a pillar or 天枢 dedicated to then Emperor Wu, the only female Emperor in Chinese history. In 694, Turkish forces invaded the Zhou Empire but Zhou armies were able to withstand the assault and actually pushed the Zhou border further out. 


In the same year, Bahram VII, the Shahanshah of the Sasanian Empire proposed the construction of a pillar noting Emperor Wu’s accomplishments. This was completed in 695 毛婆罗. This 天枢 represented the accomplishments of Emperor Wu and how she transformed the fate of Tang under her leadership. In Chinese, 天枢 also represents Dubhe or Alpha Ursae Majoris, the first star in the Big Dipper. She wanted to call it as such to represent her place as the center of the universe and empire. It was also called a 擎天柱 that had a height of this pillar was 105 feet with a width of 12 ft.  The base was built with iron and there were copper mythical beasts on the base. 4 dragons wrapped around the pillar, with the heads coalescing at the top. The 4 maws opened wide with a fireball at the top. The pillar itself was engraved with the names of members at court and tribal leaders, representing their support for the Emperor. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the reign of our current Emperor Tang Xuan Zong in 714.


毛婆罗 also constructed a 鼎 and zodiac animals for the Emperor using over 30 to 40 tons of copper and iron. Rumor was that he used all of the copper and iron in the empire. Not only was he a noted craftsman but also a celebrated artist and was praised by others during the time of Emperor Wu. We discussed in the last episode about the influence of other Japanese bureaucrat 晁分. 毛婆罗 is another prime example of skilled men traveling to the Tang to contribute to the empire.


One side note, it is unclear 毛顺’s birth or death so we can’t pinpoint if 毛婆罗 or 毛顺 are related.


Speaking of 毛顺, when he and 龙波 were trying to enter into the grand lantern tower, the soldiers call him 尚灯监 or Lantern Overseer. I believe that’s a role created just for this drama.



With all of the characters coalescing for the midnight festivities, the Emperor and his court have assembled at 花萼相辉楼


The tower was built in 720 during the reign of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong and was located in Xing Qing Palace in Chang An. It was known as 天下第一名楼 or the most famous tower in the world because of its location right in Chang An and was used as a plaza where the Emperor could enjoy performances with his subjects. 


During the early years of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong’s reign, he was appreciative of his older brother’s decision to relinquish his claim to the throne and specifically built 花萼相辉楼 to enjoy with his brothers – such as listen to music, eat, drink, play go etc. In 736, the tower was rebuilt and expanded as the Emperor began chasing more earthly pleasures.



The name of 花萼相辉楼 originates from the Book of Song. 常棣之华,鄂不韡韡. This poem talks about brotherhood and very much matches with 花 and 萼. Or the flower and sepal. The sepal of a flower supports the bloom. Unfortunately, the grand tower was destroyed during the 10th century and we can only get a glimpse of its grandeur in poems and surviving documents.


In 花萼楼, 檀棋 makes her way to find a certain someone. That person is none other than the famous 杨玉环 or Noble Consort Yang in history. To pass the censors for this drama, post production changed her name from 杨玉环 to 严羽幻. What’s hilarious is that you can hear the actress 徐璐’s voice dubbed here and there to overlay the new name. For those of you who find her familiar, 徐璐 is the same actress as 玉娆, 甄嬛’s younger sister from Empresses in the palace. 



Back to 杨玉环. She is one of the most famous women in Chinese history. In this drama, we’ve heard multiple people speak of her, but when she shows up on screen, perhaps people are surprised to see that she’s wearing taoist nun robes. I’ll recount her history up to where she first meets 檀棋 because her story and motivations will also unfold throughout the drama.


杨玉环 was born in 719 to an aristocratic family. Her father was a census official at the Shu prefecture or modern day Si Chuan Cheng Du and she grew up there. She had 3 sisters and one brother. While each of her sisters are very well known to history, there’s not much known about her brother who most likely was a cousin. When 杨玉环 was 10, her father died and she moved to Luo Yang to be raised by her third uncle. Having grown up in an aristocratic family, she was known to have excelled in the arts, especially in dancing and playing the 琵琶.


In 735, when 杨玉环 was 16, she attended the wedding of Princess 咸宜 in Luo Yang. The princess’s younger brother, the Prince of 寿 李琩 fell in love at first sight.  He was the 18th son of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong. 李琩 asked his mother Consort Wu to have the Emperor bless their marriage and the 2 married shortly after. She was titled 寿王妃 or the Princess of Shou. Wikipedia noted that she married in 733 but the Chinese records had her married in 735 or the 23rd year of the Kai Yaun era. Wikipedia also has the Prince of Shou’s name as 李瑁 instead of 李琩. The spelling is almost the same but not quite. I literally had to do more research as to why there is a discrepancy. It seems like the old and new book of tang have 李瑁 but his tomb has 李琩. We’re gonna go with 李琩


The two had only a few happy years of marriage. In 737, then Crown Prince 李瑛 was forced to commit suicide, leaving the race for Crown Prince wide open. Her husband 李琩 was a prime contender for crown prince and was favored by the Right Chancellor 李林甫. In a weird twist of fate, 李琩’s mother 武惠妃, who was very favored by the Emperor, also died 737, leaving the Emperor deeply saddened. He couldn’t find any happiness within his harem and was becoming depressed. Um…you’re a man in your 50s, what more do you want? Someone, I don’t know who, proposed that this young 杨玉环 was a beauty and would fit nicely within the Imperial Harem.


Well – the Emperor heard the recommendation, perked right on up, and said – yep, let’s bring her into the palace! I don’t care if he’s my LIVING son’s wife, she’s gonna be my concubine. But hey – what would people think of me? I basically stole my son’s wife, nah, I can’t be THAT obvious. Oh I know! I’m gonna have her become a taoist nun who “prays” for my mother. That’ll shut the censors and voila! 杨玉环 went from Princess of Shou to a Taoist nun with the tonsured name of 太真 in 740. She was only 21 at the time. 


We are now in the year 744 for the drama and she’s been a daoist nun for several years. It’s an open secret that she is the Emperor’s lover despite being a nun, as seen by her appearance at 花萼楼 tonight. There’s been a TON of discourse and discussions about her relationship with the Emperor, especially how the Emperor discarded proper decorum and essentially stole his daughter-in-law. The Tang Dynasty, from the early years up to the reign of Emperor Tang Xuan Zong, had some wild stories involving affairs and marriages, so perhaps people weren’t as fazed by this event. I mean, look at Emperor Wu. She was first bedded by Li Shi Min before becoming his son’s Empress.


In the drama 严太真 recounts how she met 檀棋 back as the princess of 寿 – so this probably was some time between 735 and 737. The two of them will have an interesting development in the upcoming episodes. 


Last but not least – in episode 34, midnight of the lantern festival, we finally meet the great emperor Emperor 唐玄宗. We will see much more of him in the last quarter of this drama so I’ll discuss snippets about his history as we continue with the drama.


Leave a Reply