Season 1 – Ep 4


In the last episode, Fan Xian first steps into the capital and encounters a mysterious young woman who has taken his breath away. He has no idea who she is, all he has is a half eaten chicken leg she gives him.  He then heads to the Fan manor where he reunites with his younger sister 范若若 Fan Ruo Ruo and meets his younger brother 范思辙 Fan Si Zhe as well as his father’s concubine 柳姨娘 Liu Yi Niang, mother of Fan Si Zhe.


This episode sets the stage for what Fan Xian has to deal with in the Capital. Before we start, we must level set. There ARE MAJOR SPOILERS here so please proceed with caution. Well, more like please don’t listen to this episode if you haven’t watched all of season 1 and don’t want the second half of it spoiled for you.


 The main spoiler we must reference in this episode is that Fan Xian is NOT actually the son of Fan Jian, but rather, just an adopted son. His birth father is the Emperor himself.


Fan Xian meets his father for the first time – 司南伯 or the Earl of 司南 Fan Jian 范建. He is also a Secretary in the Ministry of Revenue or in Chinese 户部侍郎. 


For a first meeting, the two spend a little time playing some games to become acquainted with each other. Now, we have to remember that Fan Jian has never met Fan Xian before, having left him in Dan Zhou for his entire upbringing.  Fan Jian ignores Fan Xian for hours when they first meet as Fan Xian is just left to watch Fan Jian do work. Fan Xian isn’t fazed by this after they finally do talk and Fan Jian asks what Fan Xian intends to do with his life. As a bastard son, Fan Xian cannot inherit so he must find some way to make his life in the world. But importantly, we learn that Fan Xian’s primary goal in life is to just live peacefully as a rich man with beautiful women. He does not have grand ambitions at court or to usurp any title.



This subsequent sequence is quite funny because Fan Xian lists 3 things that he believes will be a slam dunk – glass, soap, and white sugar! He’s from our universe and believes that the universe with Nan Qing won’t be as advanced. Oh how wrong he is! With each idea, his father immediately quashes these dreams by stating that these have already been invented! And by none other than Fan Xian’s mother Ye Qing Mei. This surprises Fan Xian because these are all relatively modern ideas. Stuff that took many years or generations to create and needs significant improvements in technology and knowledge. This is the first hint we get that Ye Qing Mei is more similar to this reborn Fan Xian than he realizes.


Fan Jian then informs Fan Xian that his mother was a businesswoman who built her own business empire with her countless ideas. Well, in reality, just products from our world that she brought into this world. Her business empire or company was the wealthiest in all the land but upon her death, control of the company transferred to the Royal family, specifically the Royal Treasury. In Chinese, it is call 内库. 


This is a fun little pun on the word. Ku means vault but it sounds exactly like Ku, which means pants. In common vernacular, 内裤 directly translates to inner garments or else, as everyone uses it in Chinese, underwear. Fan Xian hears this and immediately responds with – who came up with this name? It’s very inelegant, while also picking up his pants to signal the name pun. The translation on youtube doesn’t catch this subtlety but this definitely gave me a chuckle. I mean, that makes sense as in ancient times, underwear wasn’t called 内裤 but 亵裤 Xie Ku. This similarity is another name pun the author of the book included for us with modern day knowledge to chuckle at. 


Nei Ku in the context of this story as the royal treasure makes sense. In Chinese history, the Royal Treasury was typically called 国库 Guo Ku. You’ll hear that quite often in other dramas. 



Fan Jian then introduces who in the Royal Family actually controls this Royal Treasury. In this speech, Fan Jian basically lays it out for us. The princess royal supports the crown prince and we see rather off the bat that the two are working together.


The information we get about the Princess Royal is rather interesting. He describes her as someone who is stunningly beautiful, which I fully agree with. The actress Li Xiao Ran was in her early 40s when this was filmed and looks amazing. She still looks great now in her late 40s in season 2. Like jeez, how do i have her skin care regiment? Fan Jian also describes her as having a mild temperament. The word I use when I reheard that is guffaw. Yes, I guffawed at that statement because we all know that this princess is craaazy. 


Furthermore, we learn that she is the princess royal but NOT the Emperor’s birth sister. SO the english translations here call her the Eldest PRincess which is the term in Chinese. It means she is the sister of the Emperor or King, not the oldest daughter of the Emperor. In English, the term is also the Princess royal. 



The announcement that the princess royal Li Yun Rui is NOT blood related to the Emperor is important. In the book, the Emperor and the Princess Royal were actually related. That meant that Fan Xian being betrothed to Lin Wan’Er was a little iffy because they are cousins marrying each other. In the grand scheme of incestuous relationships in the book, that’s probably not the most eyebrow raising which…we’ll get to in the future. But, in one easy line of exposition, the screenwriters for the drama removed a lot of incestuous implications in the drama by simply saying that she is a princess but not blood related to the Emperor. In the drama, it’s rather mum on who are birth parents so we just go with the flow that she, Li Yun Rui, just somehow is raised in the palace with privileges and titles of a princess.


In the book, it’s quite simple – she’s the daughter of the now Empress Dowager and late Emperor. 


We also learn that this Princess Royal is unmarried but had a daughter out of wedlock. Scandalous. This, just as Fan Xian states, is juicy gossip. 



Fan Jian raises this because Fan Xian is betrothed to Lin Wan’Er in order to secure the rights to control the Royal Treasury. This is the decree set by the Emperor. Therefore, Fan Jian snuck Fan Xian into the capital in order to help him reclaim the rights to the Royal Treasury which originally was his mother’s. 


Of course, the princess does not want that. Losing control of that much money? No one would be happy to give that up. She first begs for help from the Empress Dowager but is given a slap in the face instead for meddling in the Emperor’s affairs.


Meanwhile, Fan Jian continues to explain that Li Yun Rui is in league with the Crown Prince. He and the 2nd prince are fighting for the crown and the power of the treasury must not fall in the crown prince’s hands in order to keep political balance. Thus, we bring in Fan Xian to stir the pot.


Before we move on, i want to point out that the drama makes it rather clear from this conversation that Fan Jian and Fan Xian’s mother are separate and that he has tremendous respect for her. Fan Jian wants Fan Xian to reclaim the royal treasury or Nei Ku simply because it was his mothers. He has no desire to take control of it for himself. Instead, he is sharing all of this information in order to help set Fan Xian up for what is to come in the capital and help him be more prepared. Additionally, notice that Fan Jian always uses the term “your mother”. It might make sense in the context that Fan Xian technically is a bastard child but in my mind, it is another way Fan Xian is being separated as Ye Qing Mei’s son. Not his son, because Fan Xian isn’t. 



Finally it’s time for the Fan family to have their first meal together with the 3 children, Liu Yi Niang, and Fan Jian. Last episode, we mentioned that this drama ALMOST became a family drama but with this one dinner, Liu Yi Niang had no opportunity to make more family drama. Fan Si Zhe is excused and Fan Jian lays out the situation in the open with Liu Yi Niang informing her that there was an assassination attempt on Fan Xian’s life by Housekeeper Zhou, who was directly sent by her. Liu Yi Niang is shocked to hear this because of the severity of the accusation. Plus it involves the overwatch council which means there are even more powerful players in the game. Liu Yi Niang hears all of this and immediately becomes flustered. Sure she wants to bring Fan Xian down a notch but would never want to kill him simply because if she was discovered to have made the kill order, she and her son would be kicked out of the Fan Manor. Next thing we know, and Fan Si Zhe knows, Liu Yi Niang is exceptionally kind and caring of Fan Xian, much to Fan Si Zhe’s confusion. The reason being that if Liu Yi Niang is anything BUT nice to Fan Xian now, she would be under suspicion of being connected with powers she should not be.



While Fan Si Zhe is weirded out by this swift change, a much tenser conversation is happening in the palace. The princess royal goes to see the Emperor and the crown prince arrives as well. The Emperor knows full well that the princess Li Yun Rui was the one to order those palace maids to try to cause a scene when Fan Xian arrived. She even forced the death of the managerial palace maid who made that order. While the crown prince tries to apologies for trying to seek control of the royal treasury by bringing down Fan Xian, the Emperor instead admonishes him for NOT wanting to seek control of it as crown prince.


Here we see that the Emperor doesn’t mind the machiavellian fighting amongst the various factions at court. He was disappointed at the methods which were clearly not as elegant as he would have liked. Why? Because the actions would reduce the perceived authority of hte imperial power and weaken the public’s perception of the royal family. That would cause unrest because the 3 royals in the room inherently think they are better than mere commoners. 


The Emperor stuffs a list of court officials that are being demoted and removed from their posts into the crown prince’s hands. A number of them are tied to the Crown Prince. That is the Emperor’s punishment for the crown prince’s inelegant actions against Fan Xian and a warning to what his threshold is.


However, as the princess royal Li Yun Yui states, the Emperor never said they cannot attack Fan Xian. The Emperor clearly is playing puppet master already in episode 4. We see this more significantly in season 2 but it’s interesting to see that these threads are already there looking back in season 1.



The actions of the Emperor are in stark contrast with Fan Xian’s own beliefs. Back at the Fan manor, he pushes back against his Father’s wishes to marry Lin Wan’Er because he doesn’t see himself as a chess piece. Even when his father reveals that his mother was murdered and that Fan Xian should try to take back what was once his mother’s, the royal treasury.  This modern belief of individualism and being one’s own master extends later on when Fan Xian doesn’t know what to do with the number of servants in his rooms. He tries to treat them as equals but they completely freak out. Only until he shouts at them to leave do they obey. This difference in values where Fan Xian treats people as equals while this feudalistic society and the Emperor does not is a driving factor to conflict for this entire series.


The episode ends with Teng Zi Jing sneaking into the Fan Manor.




Let’s now move on to some pop culture and history found in today’s episode.


During the conversation between Fan Xian and his father Fan Jian, Fan Xian makes a quip to his father that essentially all the information Fan Jian is providing him is essentially Ba Gua, or gossip. 


If you take the words literally Ba Gua translates to Eight Symbols. This term originates over 2000 years and represents the 8 trigrams. These 8 trigrams were used in divination for religious purposes by the ancient chinese and is also further described in Yi Jing, the ancient chinese book of divination. How did we get from this ancient symbol, which is still used today and can be found in many daoist temples to gossip?


I was wondering that same thing because I feel like Ba Gua as gossip has just been in the Chinese consciousness for the past 3 decades. I then went down a rabbit hole to figure out the origins and there seems to be several theories. 


One theory is that it originated in Hong Kong. Gossip magazines were trying to sell more issues and decided to place these Ba Gua images strategically on women’s private parts. These magazines became known as Ba Gua Magazines, which then transformed the whole phrase of Ba Gua to gossip.


Another theory that also originates from Hong Kong – in Cantonese Ba Gua simply means a nosy person gossiper. This extended to the paparazzi and the term Ba Gua transformed into gossip.


In Mandarin, there’s also the explanation if someone is searching for gossip, they’re peeling skin or 扒皮. As for people watching these events, they’re eating melons or 吃瓜. Add those two together you have 扒瓜, or sounding very similar would be 八卦. Anyways – Ba Gua has become part of the common vernacular but I think people take it for granted. It honestly irks me to NO end when I’m watching a romance period drama and the characters are saying things like – oh did you hear the latest gossip or did you hear the latest 八卦? I’m like…uh hello?? That’s not at all historically accurate!



Continuing with the theme of not so subtle hints regarding names, let’s discuss the name of the Crown Prince because it was listed in today’s episode. 


One interesting difference in from the book is that the drama decided to name the Crown Prince as 李诚虔qián with the characters spelled differently than in the book 李承乾 even though they sound the same. 李承乾 as in the book is the exact same name as the original Crown Prince under Emperor Tang Gao Zong Li Shi Min who lived from 619-645 AD. He was named Crown Prince in 626 and was set for life. Unfortunately, his younger brother was eyeing the title of Crown Prince. The Crown Prince attempted to assassinate his younger brother and staged a coup. This was quashed by the Emperor, which foreshadows the fate of the Crown Prince in this story. 


It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that in order to get through the censors, the drama had to rename the character of the Crown Prince in this drama to have a different name. He is one of a few characters who have names that directly tie back to historical characters. If you recall back to our discussion on The Longest Day in Chang An, that drama had to do essentially the same thing. 



Lastly, let’s conclude with book differences!


We’re not introduced to the Princess Royal or her alliance with the Crown Prince and all of the scheming this early in the book. We squarely follow Fan Xian as he meets his different family members. The whole dinner conversation that Fan Xian has with Liu Yi Niang also doesn’t occur this early on. He’s spending a little bit more time guessing as to whether she was the real culprit behind the assassination attempt.


In re-reading the book, it’s quite obvious Fan Jian and several characters in the book know of Fan Xian’s true parentage. As was mentioned for the drama, Fan Jian typically refers to Fan Xian in terms of his mother rather than as his father. That’s the case in the book. Several other characters also make the distinction between Your Father and the Earl of Si Nan. When I first read the book, I was like, oh, they’re talking about the same person, but no, several characters make the distinction on purpose.


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