Season 1 – Ep 1+2

The drama begins with us in the modern day. Zhang Qing is a student speaking to a professor and he wants to participate in a writing competition. He is showing the professor his initial draft. This professor seems to be focused on historical Chinese text, looking at pieces of Chinese writing to analyze.


Side note – the professor here who has a brief cameo is none other than the actress 袁泉 Yuan Quan. I was surprised to see here here and she literally only shows up for the first and last episode of season 1 and then the first episode of season 2 for like 2 minutes. I don’t know why she’s in this drama because she is quite famous. She won a golden rooster award in 2020 for best supporting actress in the movie The Captain. If you look at the list of awards she’s won or was nominated for, it is quite lengthy so she is a well established actress now in her mid 40s. 


We dive into the story as the student shares the draft of the text he’s writing. But before we do so, the student Zhang Qing looks up at a notice near his workstation that discusses the 2nd edition of Hong Lou Meng or Dream of the Red Chamber. This gives Zhang Qing the inspiration for the name of the book, called Qing Yu Nian.


The drama begins with a young man in modern day that has Myasthenia gravis or an autoimmune disorder that impacts his movement. He walks up as a tiny baby in what seems like a historical Chinese feudalistic society but has all of the knowledge retained from his modern day body.


A handsome individual whose eyes are covered by a black cloth fights off a number of assassins while protecting the baby. The man, Wu Zhu which translates to Five Bamboo, meetsi with another man in a wheelchair. This is Chen Ping Ping, head of the Overwatch Council. Jian Cha Yuan. (That’s the translation on Youtube which I’m fine with) so we’ll use that. They discuss a mistress which is assumed to be Wu Zhu’s mistress who seems to have died already. Wu Zhu managed to save the son of the mistress.


Now, Wu Zhu questions why Chen Ping Ping wasn’t in the capital city when this happened and Chen Ping Ping responds that he was on order away from the capital. It dawns on him that something deeper is afoot. 



In order to keep the young boy safe, the two decide that Dan Zhou is the safest place to be. Chen Ping Ping just says “the old grandma lives there” and Wu Zhu doesn’t think further before bringing the baby there, to the Fan mansion.  


We learn that the baby’s name is 范闲. This name IS interesting for our listeners who don’t speak Chinese natively. The two words that make up the name Fan or the last name of Fan and Xian which this character means not busy, extra spot. The opposite of busy. However, in the drama, the narrator has this line “I know what you might be thinking, this name really is annoying”. That is because the sound of Fan Xian if written with different characters is 犯嫌. Same sound but this time, the meaning is, someone who is really annoying. The author of the book, Mao Ni, has many of these types of insider naming jokes where the written words of a name on the surface are fine, but in modern slang can mean something completely different. 


A few years later, we see the young Fan Xian now living in the Fan mansion. There is grandma Fan and also a young Fan Ruo Ruo, Fan Xian’s younger sister. Grandma Fan is played by the same woman who played Grandma Sheng in The Story of Ming Lan. She’s only on screen for 2 episodes in this drama, but I have literally miswrote her as Grandma Sheng like 5 times already. Lol 


It’s clear that Fan Xian and Ruo Ruo are close but she is ordered to return back to the capital while Fan Xian stays in Dan Zhou because of his status as a bastard child of his father Fan Jian. This name is another one we have to chuckle at because normally in Chinese slang, Fan Jian means to do something with no self respect. Very quickly we learn that Fan Xian has essentially been tossed aside to live alone with his grandma in Dan Zhou.


Fortunately, Fei Jie from the Overwatch Council was instructed by Chen Ping Ping and Fan Jian to come be a teacher to Fan Xian. Their initial meeting is hilarious as Fan Xian was scared of Fei Jie and knocks him out but the two soon develop a very close bond. Fei Jie leads the 3rd bureau of the Overwatch Council and is a master in poison. So, he teaches Fan Xian all about poison, starting with human dissection. Here, young Fan Xian brings his modern day knowledge by stating that there’s bacteria everywhere and they need gloves to work. This actually is brought up again in season 2 so a nice call back I would say. He learns about poison from Fei Jie while he learns martial arts from Wu Zhu.


Wu Zhu is able to share only tidbits about Fan Xian’s mother whose name is Ye Qing Mei but it seems like he has lost his memory so doesn’t remember much more. 


Fan Xian learns quite a bit from Fei Jie who returns back to the capital after Fan Xian essentially graduates from Fei Jie’s teachings after successfully poisoning him. Before leaving, Fan Xian gives Fei Jie a pair of gloves akin to modern medicinal gloves to help him during his work. Fei Jie on his part, gives Fan Xian a token from the Overwatch Council which says Fan Xian is the 提司 Ti Si. This grants Fan Xian significant power in the Overwatch council. 


Grandma Fan, who has generally been cold towards Fan Xian, says Fei Jie’s departure is ultimately a good thing because it removes the eyes from the Capital on Fan Xian in Dan Zhou. Grandma Fan warns that when the Red Knights arrive in Dan Zhou, that’s when the danger will really arrive.


So, what does Fan Xian do? He waits for the Red Knights. We will discuss who they are in more detail in another episode. Queue montage of him waiting years until one day, the Red Knights actually arrive and we see Fan Xian now as a young man. The goal of the Red Knights is to bring Fan Xian to the capital. 


Grandma Fan is opposed to this but Fan Xian wants to go. Her reasoning is simple. He’ll live longer if he stays in Dan Zhou.


Sure enough, next thing we know, Fan Xian detects that someone is trying to poison the entire Fan household. Fortunately he now knows all about poison and was able to detect it before Grandma Fan could have any and immediately helps out the staff who were poisoned with the bamboo shoots. 


Fan Xian immediately heads to Lao Ha’s residence. He is generally the man who sends food to the Fan mansion and Fan Xian deduces that this man was probably kidnapped or else strongarmed into sending the poisoned food. When he arrives, Lao Ha is indeed tied up and Fan Xian meets Teng Zi Jing, played by Wang Yang,  a member of the 4th bureau of the overwatch council. He was sent to kill Fan Xian. They get into a furious fight where Fan Xian gains the upper hand. Apparently, there was a kill order within the Overwatch Council on Fan Xian but when Fan Xian flashes the Ti Si token from the Overwatch council, Teng Zi Jing stops resisting, recognizing that Fan Xian is one of their own. Fan Xian, though, wonders how was Teng Zi Jing able to pretend to be Lao Ha’s nephew to send food into the Fan mansion so quickly? There must have been a spy. 



Luckily, Grandma Fan already knows who it is. The main butler of the house. He was sent by the second wife of Fan Jian, Fan Xian’s father, to keep an eye on Fan Xian. The goal is to prevent Fan Xian from returning to the capital and split the wealth of the Fan family. Grandma Fan is brutal in how she punishes the butler. His legs are to be broken and the left out to sea on a boat, never to return to land.


Given that it doesn’t look like it’s safe for Fan Xian to stay in the Capital, he ultimately decides he wants to go to the Capital to figure out who wants him dead. Another reason also arises from Wu Zhu, his so called uncle. Wu Zhu has not aged a day since we saw him when Fan Xian was a baby. He remembers something that Fan Xians’ mother told him as Fan Xian is packing to head to the capital. One thing that he wants to do, is to open a large case that Fan Xian’s mother left Wu Zhu. The case, which looks like is made of extremely sturdy leather which should not appear in this world, is unbreakable. The key to open to case is in, you guessed it, the Capital. So, Wu Zhu will also head to the Capital.



That’s the first two episodes in a nutshell and the pace moves EXTREMELY quickly! I want to spend some time to discuss the key relationship to history and culture in this episode, which is the name of this drama 庆余年.


Zhang Qing, the modern day college student, introduces his story to the professor. He pens the name 庆余年 for his novel, inspired by the song 留余庆 that itself originates from 红楼梦 or Dream of the Red Chamber. 


红楼梦 is one of the four classics of Chinese literature and was written by 曹雪芹 during the Qing Dynasty sometime during the mid 18th century. There’s still plenty of debate on who is the author of Dream of the Red Chamber but it is generally believed that the first 80 chapters out of 120 were written by 曹雪芹, with the remaining 40 written by an anonymous person. The Dream of the Red Chamber depicts the rise and fall of 4 families and provides a glimpse into the lifestyles, social relationships, culture, and norms during the Qing era EVEN though the novel makes it clear that it is set in an indeterminate dynasty. 


In the Dream of the Red Chamber, we focus on the Jia family of the Rong Guo House and the family’s connections to 3 other families. Jia Bao Yu is the young and carefree male heir to the Jia family. His sickly yet beautiful young cousin Lin Dai Yu comes to stay with the Jia family. Jia Bao Yu develops an instant attraction to her. Unfortunately, he is destined to marry another cousin from the Xue family, Xue Bao Chai. This forms the backdrop of the story to showcase the declines of these great houses.


Back to the drama, Zhang Qing recites most but not all of the lines for 留余庆. The full song goes as such. 





Here’s my translation – thank the virtues that stemmed from the previous generations good deeds, thank the virtues that stemmed from the previous generations good deeds, I suddenly met my savior when disaster struck. Thanks to my mother, thanks to my mother. She accumulated merits to benefit her future generations. To all in the world, heed my advice, aid the poor. Don’t be like my treacherous uncle and cousin who only care about money but not family. The good and the evil will all be served their just reward. All determined by heaven.


This seems a little morbid right? The song itself originates from the 5th chapter of Dream of the Red Chamber. Jia Bao Yu goes into a daoist dream in which a goddess invites Jia Bao Yu to listen to songs from 12 female dancers. They are known as the 12 beauties of Jing Ling. Each of their songs foreshadows their fate, and early on in the novel, hint to the decline of the great houses. These 12 songs are also known as the 红楼十二曲 12 songs of the Red Chamber, which is what the professor references in the drama.


The song 留余庆 is sung by the character 巧姐. 巧姐 is the daughter of 王熙凤, the wife of the second son of the Jia Family. Early on in the book, 王熙凤 gifts some money to the poor Grandma Liu, a peasant who arrives in the capital to try her luck as her family has some relation to the Wang family. Years later, she heard that the Jia family had come on hard times and that some men from the Jia family were conspiring to sell Wang Xi Feng’s daughter 巧姐 off to be a concubine to a far off Prince. It was Grandma Liu, who, remembering Wang Xi Feng’s charity all those years ago, rescued 巧姐 away from her conniving family. 


The song is sung from the perspective of 巧姐 who thanks the heavens for her mother’s charity and for Grandma Liu’s actions. Liu means to save, 余 can mean leftover, 庆 – means to celebrate  The Song Liu Yu Qing, which directly translates to – saved leftover celebrations. This is a song of gratitude and of advice – 巧姐 is thankful for a second chance at life and gives advice to aid those in need. Tying this back to the drama – in the original novel the main character 范闲 dies in our world and is reborn into an alternate universe. He has saved his leftover life to celebrate it in the kingdom of Qing. Hence the name 庆余年 – or Joy of Life.


Quite a lot of 庆余年 or Joy of Life is inspired by Dream of the Red Chamber and I’ll touch on those as we proceed with the drama. 


That’s the main piece of history or culture that I want to touch on today but the Dream of the Red Chamber theme actually continues on with Fan Xian and Grandma Fan.


Let’s discuss this Grandma Fan. She is the mother of Fan Jian and wet nurse to the Emperor. She is 100% more than just an old lady in the city of Dan Zhou. 


In the book, Fan Xian does return to Dan Zhou to visit Grandma Fan after a time and this old lady is able to tell Fan Xian to not worry about taking sides – the Fan family will always stand in front of the Emperor. She also knows many details of Fan Xian’s life in the capital. 


If we go back to Dream of the Red Chamber, wet nurses and older maids called 嬷嬷 all have higher standing than the younger generation of children. They can sit in front of the matriarch of the family, Lady Jia whilst the Jia Bao Yu, the heir to the Jia family, can only stand. Grandma Fan is like those 嬷嬷 from Dream of the Red Chamber – she has an outsized influence because she essentially raised the key players of the Qing Empire including the Emperor, Fan Jian, Chen Ping Ping, the prince of Jing, AND the Crown Princess. 


She is the one person that they all trust – especially the Emperor. In the book, he hears that Grandma Fan has fallen ill and changes course to visit her. He even calls the Emperor 姆妈 which is another endearing term for mother. At the beginning of episode 1, Chen Ping Ping even says the Old Lady is there in Dan Zhou. They all implicitly know that Grandma Fan has the abilities to keep Fan Xian safe. When there’s an attempt to poison Fan Xian, she quickly “cleans” up the household but in a very calm manner. 


To summarize, Grandma Fan might seem to be a nice old lady but she is aware of the powers at play in the Qing Empire and is not to be trifled with. 

Lastly, let me take a second here to discuss Ye Qing Mei’s death. The beginning of this drama ends with Ye Qing Mei’s death. This is an integral part of the entire drama and we already hear hints that something more nefarious was at play. We do not see exactly what happens in both season 1 and 2 so it’ll be interesting to see if we see them film what happened in season 3 as a flashback. 


Leave a Reply