Ep 13+14

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. I am Karen and this is Cathy. Today we will finish discussing episode 12, and then also discuss episodes 13 and 14 of The Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。

This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases said in Mandarin Chinese. Follow us on instagram or twitter or else email us at karenandcathy@chasingdramas.com if you have any questions. 

For today’s episode, we do an episode recap, and then discuss the history brought up during the episode, and then finally close with any book differences or character analyses we’d like to highlight. 

Let’s get started!

[Cathy]

The theme of these episodes will be this chinese idiom – 祸从口出 or misfortune comes from the mouth. Or in more layman’s terms – watch what you blab to others because it might come back to bite you.

There are also two main storylines – one involving 顾廷烨 and his family and the other involving the 盛 family. Let’s focus on 顾廷烨’s family first.

So I want to start with the very end of episode 12. 顾廷烨’s father, the Marquis pays a visit to the examiner to try and understand his son didn’t perform very well on the exams. The examiner, at first hesitant, divulges the reason. For all talk that 顾廷烨’s father doesn’t care about 顾廷烨,he’s still willing to make this step so he does actually care about his son. 

The Marquis is furious when he returns home. When he hears that his son 顾廷烨 is once again passed out due to drink, he lashes out at his son and expresses his disappointment at his son’s carelessness.

Turns out 顾廷烨 was good enough to place in the exams. But his name was personally stripped from the list by none other than the Emperor himself. Why? Because he heard that 顾廷烨 voiced his sympathies for a Mr. 杨无端. The Emperor was so enraged at this that not only did he purge 顾廷烨’s name from the 进士 graduates list but he also decreed that as with this Mr. 杨无端, 顾廷烨 will not be allowed to take any more Imperial examinations until the age of 50!

That’s crazy!

[Karen]

So who is this 杨无端? He doesn’t exist in history but there is a real life counterpart called 柳永. Born in 984AD, he was a major contributor to developing 宋 poetry and its unique styles. However, he didn’t have much luck when it came to the Imperial Examinations. By the time he took his first Imperial examinations at the age of 25, he was a well known poet. However, the subjects and topics of his poetry were often about brothels and singers. This was unseemly for the conventional styles of the time. The Emperor 宋真宗 or the father of the current Emperor of this drama himself was displeased with 柳永’s poetry. After boasting that he will rise to the top of the list for the Imperial examination, 柳永 was shocked to find out that he didn’t even place. The Emperor probably had something to do with it. 柳永 was pissed and wrote an actually lovely poem 鹤冲天·黄金榜上 criticizing the Imperial exam stating that the title of a 进士 graduate was nothing but an empty title. In the poem, he wrote I’ll find more happiness with the women in the brothels. Ok I’m not doing the poem ANY justice but that’s the main gist. The Emperor, hearing this, of course was pissed! 柳永tried 3 more times! On his 4th try, at the age of 40, he was still denied a spot as a 进士 graduate. By this point, it is now the reign of 宋仁宗, our current Emperor. He basically held the same grudge as his father against 柳永 and didn’t approve of 柳永 still finding pleasure within the brothels. Finally at the age of 50, 柳永 became a 进士 graduate because of certain reforms enacted on the Imperial Exams. He only became a lowly bureaucrat and died pretty much a pauper in 1053AD. He is mainly remembered today for his poems and was influential in creating the 婉约派 or what I guess you could translate to as the graceful and restrained style of poetry during the Song Dynasty.

Back to 顾廷烨. 顾廷烨 is incredulous at hearing this news. Yes, he voiced his sympathies for this 杨无端 but that was when he was 12! How can the Emperor himself find out?

Let’s go directly to episode 13.

顾廷烨 rushes to his older brother 顾廷煜’s residence and begins to interrogate him. Apparently the only person who overheard him saying this all those years ago was his older brother while 顾廷烨 was practicing calligraphy. 顾廷烨 is incredulous that his brother would be this vile. Who else could have blabbed?

His brother though, swears on this life, that he did nothing of the sort. Their father quickly cuts 顾廷烨 off from harming his brother, all the while scolding 顾廷烨 that if he hadn’t said those things out loud, who can overhear him?

[Cathy]

In a strict society dominated by Imperial rule, his father does have a point. The Marquis is disappointed that his son will not own up to his mistakes and hasn’t over the years. 顾廷烨 is adamant that whenever anything wrong happens, it’s always his fault, and storms out.

Let me put this out there to the audience right now. Who do you think did blab to the Emperor? Is it 顾廷煜, 顾廷烨’s elder brother? Or someone else? Let’s think who can blab to the Emperor? What if everyone in this situation is right? 顾廷烨’s older brother didn’t’ say anything. 顾廷烨 also hasn’t done many of the things he’s accused of. The Marquis also isn’t dismissing everything 顾廷烨’s has done. Could there be a darker force at work here?

Dejected and feeling utterly hopeless, 顾廷烨 retires to his little residence outside of the Marquis manor where he laments his misfortunes over more drink. The kind 常嬷嬷 tries to cheer him up. 顾廷烨 decides that he’ll move his family out of the capital in search for another way at life. They’ll make the preparations and leave soon after. 

[Karen] 

顾廷烨’s mistress 曼娘 on the other hand is taking care of the children inside. She cannot hide her disappointment that not only did 顾廷烨 not do well on the exams but he also decided to cut ties with his family. She plainly states to her daughter 蓉姐儿 that they probably won’t have a stables life. She begins to devise a scheme and asks for a trinket from her daughter. 

The next day, 曼娘’s continues the pretense that she loves him for him, nothing more. He’s still painfully oblivious that 曼娘 does not want the quiet life of a country girl but that’s all he can promise her right now. 顾廷烨 leaves to buy some supplies as the servants are busy cleaning and packing. After 顾廷烨 leaves, 曼娘 also tries to leave the house but 常嬷嬷 stops her. 常嬷嬷, like we’ve said before, sees right through 曼娘 and her superficialness. Maybe it’s a woman’s intuition or just frankly 曼娘 doesn’t pretend when 顾廷烨’s not around. 常嬷嬷 asks the question I always ask 顾廷烨 – what do you see in 曼娘?

Well, under the pretense of talking to her children, she quietly opens a side door. Before long, her daughter 蓉姐儿 sneaks out to try and buy some candy. 曼娘 quote on quote rushes out to find her daughter before 常嬷嬷 can stop her. Where do they go? The Marquis’s manor of course. They aren’t allowed in and the two just loiter for a bit but 曼娘 purposefully drops the trinket from her daughter. Who just so happens to be spying on this scene? The current madame of the house, the marchioness. 

[Cathy]

顾廷烨 returns to find 常嬷嬷 frantically trying to find 曼娘. He gathers pretty quickly where they might have gone. Ok – so does he think she went there themselves or was kidnapped? I don’t know. Regardless, 曼娘 got her wish and is brought to the Marquis himself.

The Marquis is furious with this whole situation and bluntly asks what she wants. To his credit, he only insults his son, but doesn’t verbally demean 曼娘 and 蓉姐儿. 曼娘 stands up and gives a whole story on how she’s of low birth and knows she isn’t worth any status BUT for the children all she wants is to stay by 顾廷烨’s side as a 妾室 or a concubine.

The Marquis immediately turns down this request. There’s no way a lowly singer will enter the Marquis manor. The Marquis orders his servants to throw them out. He dispenses with the niceties and claims there’s no way a whore will become a concubine. The marchioness tries to placate him but listen to her words. What about 顾廷烨? We need to think about him? This just adds fuel to the flame and the Marquis orders the servants to hurry up. Well right then 顾廷烨 rushes in to save 曼娘 and her daughter and declares to that father that he will admit her into the family. This is very important – listen to the word he says 纳 which means to admit as a concubine. He does not say the word 娶 which means marry. There is a HUGE difference. 

[karen]

Father and son get into another argument. The marquis is furious at the existence of this woman. Who will marry 顾廷烨 now? 顾廷烨 declares that if no one will marry him. Then he won’t marry and resolutely breaks ties with his father. He states to his father – my mother was tricked into this marriage which is why she died and storms off. His father is utterly perplexed – no one tricked his mother. What is he talking about?

顾廷煜, 顾廷烨’s older brother, watches the scene from afar and laments that if only 顾廷烨 was his brother from the same mother, everything would be different. Unfortunately his mother is that evil woman and he must do everything to get rid of gutinye. He sighs at this turn of events.

That closes 顾廷烨’s storyline for these episodes. I will talk at length in our analysis about this.

[Cathy]

The rest of this episode and the next episode is again about troubles that come from being overly talkative. 

After court one day, 盛纮 is requested to remain in the palace by a palace eunuch. 盛纮 is led into an empty room in the palace and left there to just wait…and wait…and wait… It’s been a day and he’s still waiting.

This has never happened before and understandably, the Sheng family is extremely worried. Each tries to figure out who to speak to in order to gather information on what happened. 长柏 seeks out 顾廷烨 and then 齐衡‘s mother. 齐衡’s servant sneaks info to 明兰’s maid. 王大娘子 is the one who freaks out the most and rushes to speak to Grandma 盛 about this whole debacle. Grandma 盛 though, analyzes the situation and explains that the current Emperor is known for his generous disposition. She shares an anecdote where the Emperor once didn’t have water available when he was thirsty during an important meeting. But instead of making a big scene of this because it would mean that the palace eunuchs serving him would be punished, he waited for a long time until he returned to one of concubine’s rooms and to drink water. He was definitely parched but out of kindness, rather himself suffer than his eunuchs. That shows this Emperor is not one to just randomly kill court ministers. That is indeed the primary worry of the family – that Sheng Hong did something wrong and the Emperor intends to kill him. 

Grandma Sheng instructs 王大娘子 to keep her composure. She is the madame of the family after all and has to keep the family afloat while they wait for news about 盛纮。王大娘子 isn’t very pleased to hear this. She thinks that because Grandma 盛 is not 盛纮‘s birth mother, she doesn’t care. Do we believe this? No, 王大娘子 just doesn’t understand Grandma Sheng’s words of wisdom. Finally it clicks on her that she’s supposed to take this opportunity to clean house or in other words, get rid of 林小娘. I don’t entirely think that’s what Grandma Sheng was implying but that’s what 王大娘子 heard.

[Karen]

So is the Sheng Family really in trouble? Not really. Grandma Sheng accurately deduced that if Sheng Hong was really in trouble, people like 齐衡 and his mother would not so easily be able to garner information about Sheng Hong’s wherabouts. This means that the Emperor doesn’t care too much that people know. It’s probably a scare tactic of some sorts. Sheng Hong’s position in court is also too low to have made any major mistake. None of these mistakes would have been enough to kill him so they should just wait.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking is not shared by everyone in the family, particularly 林小娘。She right now is looking for ways to sell off property in order to have some cash on hand in case she needs to run. Just look at this difference will you? 王大娘子 is there worried about her husband while 林小娘 only cares about herself. As if we didn’t need any other reason to hate her. But we do hear why she’s like this. Her own father went missing for a day and never came back. Next thing they knew, she and her mother were sold off and all their wealth sold. 林小娘 doesn’t want this to happen again which is why she’s so eager to sell off her property for cash. 

[Cathy]

林小娘‘s maid was instructed to go out and look for buyers. Only one person was interested in the properties but needed the owner to be present to confirm the deeds or paperwork are not stolen.  With no other choice, 林小娘 and her maid head out to meet this unknown man. As if this was not evident enough, but going out and meeting unknown men by yourself is just not something that you do. And sure enough, this man is rather grabby and is not respectful of 林小娘。 He isn’t willing to accept the price but doesn’t let her leave when she tries and pushes her into the room where they’re meeting.

At this point, a large posse of servants burst into the room and tie the 3 up. 林小娘 and the buyer bound and gagged and tossed into carriages waiting outside.

This brings us to ep 14. The people who arrived are none other than 王大娘子’s maids. They thought they were capturing 林小娘 cheating.  While this is not exactly what happened, it’s still does not look good for 林小娘 at all.

All of this was happening while 盛纮 was stuck in the Palace by his lonesome. Sigh. And it’s unfortunate because 王大娘子 doesn’t have the highest intellect so this episode we’re largely left being frustrated at 王大娘子‘s inability to complete her task.

林小娘 is tied up and forced to sign a statement saying she was committing adultery. Like we said this is not true but 王大娘子 doesn’t care. She’s caught 林小娘 and needs to take this opportunity to banish her from the house.

[Karen]

The best part about all this though is Grandma Sheng’s reaction when she hears the news that 林小娘 was caught with another man. She has a little side glance and immediately clutches her chest to start falling down. Why is she doing this? She’s feigning illness in order to give 王大娘子 the authority in the house. We all know that 王大娘子 hates 林小娘 so this prevents 林小娘 from begging Grandma sheng for leniency. Similarly when 盛纮 returns, he can’t go blame Grandma Sheng for not doing anything if she’s sick. I’m telling ya, Grandma Sheng is the best.

But…but…but 王大娘子 is just such a disappointment. She can’t get things done. She even had a 牙婆子 or what’s translated to a human broker? I don’t know if trafficker is the right word here. They are in the business of selling people. For men, this can be sold as servants in various roles. For women this can be maids or concubines.

Problem is 长枫 the 3rd son, broke out the tied up buyer and came to the main hall to argue. Things got so bad that 林小娘 and 长枫 even told a few servants to go raise this issue in their version of court so an official can make a decision. Obviously we can’t have that. Otherwise the entire world would know that 林小娘 was captured with an outside man. Even if they were just doing business, it would be a humiliation on the 盛 family. 

Sigh.

Seeing that this probably won’t work, 明兰 at the behest of her Grandmother steps in to share orders that 林小娘 is to be beaten 20 times. 王大娘子 is also to remain in her rooms. 王大娘子 then goes overboard by instructing that 长枫 be the one to enact this punishment. 

[Cathy]

Luckily at this point, the eldest daughter 华兰 returned to the family. I do love 华兰 she’s understanding, calculating and patient. All qualities her mother does not have. At night, she explains that what her mother has done is too extreme. 

So…after all this, 盛纮 is finally released from the Palace and he’s has wobbly legs by now. And even though 王大娘子 can’t get rid of 林小娘, I’m laughing again when she hears that 盛纮 returned. The way she screams at seeing him and falls into his arms just has me chuckling. I feel bad but it does. 

Clearly something bad happened but 盛纮 isn’t ready to divulge just yet. After a brief visit to Grandma Sheng’s, 王大娘子 takes care of 盛纮 for dinner.

At that moment, 林小娘 brings her 2 children along to see their father. I think she’s hoping that this will help soften the blow for her misdeeds. But, when 长枫 speaks, this actually infuriates his father. Why’s that?

[Karen]

It turns out that the whole reason why 盛纮 was accosted in the Palace for 2 days was because 长枫 spoke about who should be the next heir in public. Remember this was right after 长枫 didn’t place in the Metropolitan exams in ep 12? He got drunk and openly praised Prince Yan should be heir. Well, someone shared this piece of info with none other than the Emperor himself.  After a day of confinement, the Emperor came to see 盛纮 to share that his son was expressing his views out in public. This must be because 盛纮 talks about this back at home, otherwise why would his son have these views?

And here is where 盛纮 has 明兰 to thank. He remembered that in this debate back in Ep 11, 明兰 said that why should they debate this topic, instead they should all just be loyal subjects. That is the proper path.

This calms the Emperor down and let’s 盛纮 go. And I”m here wondering why 盛纮 isn’t nicer to 明兰。She literally saved him from possible death or exile. 

You would think that this is all over now but nope, 盛纮 has to return home to his own family drama. 

[Cathy]

王大娘子 was hoping that because 长枫 made such a big mistake, she could also bring down 林小娘 but 林小娘 fights back by exposing that 王大娘子 participated in creating high interest loans. Think of it as pay day loans to help her parent’s side of the family out. This caused quite a bit a trouble and there’s even court cases over it.

This infuriates 盛纮 even further. To be honest, I’m surprised he hasn’t passed out from anger yet. If he was any older, I would have expected him to spew blood. Like geez, I was confined in the palace because my idiot son couldn’t keep his mouth shut and I come back to my concubine trying to sell property for cash and my wife also trying to make a quick buck that has now landed in court.

It’s almost comical how much this guy has to deal with. 

Character analysis 

Gu family 

顾廷烨 – the first person I want to discuss is 顾廷烨. So far in this drama, we know that he is intelligent but extremely stubborn, especially against his father. He enjoys the good life but is willing to rough it out. He has crazy relatives and his family relations are strained. He isn’t married but already has a mistress and has fathered two children with her. This is the portrait of a complicated man. What do we think about him? 

What I do like about this drama is that these characters are a product of their society and will have viewpoints and beliefs in accordance to that time. There won’t be that random person who will all of a sudden have extremely modern notions of equality and freedom. For example, with 顾廷烨. No matter how much he verbally disavows his birth, his father’s title, and claims to like 曼娘, he still is a member of the aristocracy and has certain views towards women.

Here’s one instance shown in the episode.

During his confrontation with his father, he states his intention to admit 曼娘 into the family as a concubine. The word he uses is 纳 instead of 娶 marry. There’s a huge difference. As we’ve seen already in the drama, the woman a man marries as his wife carries a ton of weight. Throughout his entire courtship with 曼娘, he never had any intention to marry her. He will never make her his proper wife and his children with her will only ever be 庶出. He is very much a product of the patriarchal society of the time. He still expects a proper wife to handle the affairs of the household and father legitimate children. Fathering two children with a woman else isn’t a huge deal – the most he’ll do for her is admit her into the family as a concubine.  He tries to act all loving and caring to 曼娘, promising to give them a good life in the countryside but deep down he knows that 曼娘 isn’t up to “standards”. All she’ll ever be is a concubine. 顾廷烨 treats 曼娘 much better than most nobles do towards singers or women of the same status. I will give him props for that but in certain aspects, he still is very much “old school”. He won’t throw away convention to marry 曼娘 in the name of love.

[Karen]

As for 曼娘 – we finally get a glimpse of her ambition. She plainly states that she wants to be admitted into the 顾 family as a concubine or 妾. Why does the Marquis immediately shut down this request? Let me explain – 曼娘 is currently just a outside woman or in chinese a 外室. She has no status and no formal relation with the 顾 family. Her children are considered bastard children and have not been added to the family genealogy. If 顾廷烨 decided to up and leave her, she would be left alone with these children. He’d be 100% fine but she’d be left out to dry. Yes, Chinese society sucked in that way. If she was admitted as a concubine or a 妾 , her status would change completely. She would live in the 顾 manor and potentially rise to favor like 林小娘. She could be gifted with money and land and her children will be listed in the family genealogy. Her son while a 庶出 son – would be able to go to school and potentially take the imperial examination. I will not fault 曼娘 for this – this is her only opportunity. She came from nothing and will seize any opportunity she gets. She does a master job manipulating 顾廷烨 into believing that she doesn’t care for his title nor wealth. I’m just gonna say 顾廷烨, you are extremely oblivious to the world, especially the people around you.

[Cathy]

Lastly – let’s consider the events that happened with regards to 顾廷烨 in episode 13. He storms off and leaves the family with his mistress. Who has the most to gain? Who was the one who allowed 曼娘 to enter the 顾 manor?  Why the marchioness of course. 

I only figured this out on repeated views of the show but almost every argument the men in the family has has a shadow of the marchioness. 顾廷烨 claims that his brother told the emperor. If he didn’t, who else might have overheard? The marchioness. She could have easily told a minister’s wife and that news would have traveled to the Emperor. She spied on 曼娘 when she brought her daughter to the 顾 manor and was 100% the person to let them in. She constantly fans the flame to ignite more conflict between the Marquis and 顾廷烨 but she always acts the loving and doting mother. With 顾廷烨 gone, and the eldest son 顾廷煜 sick, the person who will most likely inherit the title will now fall to her son 顾廷炜. Since this podcast is about analysis – I will just put it plainly here that the marchioness has been plotting for this for years. As we continue with the drama – please keep in mind that every action she takes in the 顾 family is to seize the title for her son. Her sons two older brothers must be taken out of the picture. She looks like she succeeded with 顾廷烨 and just now needs 顾廷煜 to die.

Now let’s move onto the Sheng Family

[Karen]

This episode also highlighted very plainly to me that unless you were the wife of the family, as a woman you were essentially a servant. 王大娘子 in ep 14 almost successfully sold 林小娘 off. When the broker lady came, it was part of her day to day business to sell these people. She was at first hesitant because she’s heard of 林小娘’s reputation but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t going to do it. And that’s illuminating. Women in the household are seen as property. Not humans. We’ll talk about this in future episodes but each person has a certain class they belong to and they have deeds or contracts that dictate the life they’ll live. All of these women in the household and 林小娘are nothing more than servants. 

That’s why it is so problematic that 盛纮 cares for 林小娘 so much. He is neglecting his wife in favor of a concubine, which is not normal.

[Book]

As for book differences – the two major events didn’t happen in the book. In the book though both sheng hong and wang da niang zi treat ming lan much better than in the drama. Although 盛竑 isn’t very close with 明兰 in the book, he nevertheless does try to make up for it. 王大娘子 also doesn’t as overtly favor her daughter 如兰 and does treat 明兰 pretty decently.

[Karen]

That’s that for today!

Well that is it for this episode of the Story of Ming Lan. Certainly a lot going on and many characters already introduced to us but also many interesting aspects of Chinese history that were presented. 

The music you heard in this episode is the Chinese Zheng version of the main theme of the show. The sheet music is written by 玉面小嫣然 and played by Karen. 

If you have any questions or comments on the show or what was presented in today’s episode, please let us know.  Thank you all so much for listening. We will catch you in the next episode.

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