Ep 15

[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 discuss ep 15, of The Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。This episode is certainly not as action packed as the last episode and there isn’t a whole lot of history involved so we’ll go through it rather quickly. Reason being that the next episode, ep 16 will be rather action packed so we won’t combine the 2.

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]

This episode is kind of a filler episode that sets the stage for future events. It starts off with the master of the 盛 household, 盛纮, requesting aid from Grandma 盛 to manage the household. He is taking this step because in the last episode, we saw that his wife, 王大娘子 and his concubine, 林小娘 both behaved very poorly and are thus not fit to manage the household. 王大娘子 was involved in illegal high interest loans while 林小娘 was trying to secretly sell property for quick cash. Grandma 盛 doesn’t want to be involved and instead recommends 明兰 to manage the household. 明兰 is detail oriented and thoughtful. Grandma Sheng said she’s very capable.

And so, to prevent the power of managing the household fall to the hands of 林小娘 and to also give 明兰 some management experience, 明兰 is “promoted” to this position. Grandma Sheng, thoughtful as she is, also requests 明兰 to have her own yard. This is a great vote of confidence for 明兰 and a wonderful opportunity to finally be a leader in the family. And the first step to independence is not allowing her grandmother to worry about which maids to give to Ming Lan.

[Karen]

Sure enough, 王大娘子 sends over 2 of her own maids to serve with Ming Lan. I’m honestly impressed since Ming Lan is able to plan so far in advance. 

But, most people are rather unhappy with this promotion for 明兰. 墨兰 in particular increases the frequency with which she insults 明兰. Oddly, 墨兰 gifts 明兰 a painting which 明兰 hangs up next to the painting she received from her mother. We’ll talk about what this painting means at the end of the episode.  王大娘子 is not pleased that Ming lan is now the manager but is calmed down when her maid reminds her that at least 林小娘 doesn’t have this power either. The only person who’s seemingly happy for 明兰 is 如兰。

After a particularly heated sparring match between 墨兰 and 明兰 where 明兰 now actually starts standing up for herself, 明兰 cleverly plants a seed in 墨兰’s mind that the manager role in the family will ultimately go to whomever is best for the family. 

[Cathy]

-I loved that part! 明兰 finally fights back against 墨兰. 墨兰 is astonished at I guess 明兰’s gall? 如兰 however turns around and happy asks – you’re finally alive! She’s happy to have 明兰 in her camp. She’s hilarious.

明兰 was purposefully vague in this little monologue of who this power will go to. Sure enough, 墨兰 immediately tells her mother 林小娘. Both 墨兰 and 林小娘 think 明兰 is talking about them, which honestly, is rather rich of them. BUT, because they’re now scheming for this position, 墨兰 suggests giving 明兰 a few maids as well. And not just any maids. These are maids that often distract 长枫. 林小娘 in particular doesn’t want her son distracted by all these maids and who better to dump them off to than 明兰?

[Karen]

But before she can just make this decision, 林小娘 takes this opportunity to break the frigid relationship between her and 盛纮。Ugh. 林小娘 goes over to 盛纮‘s study. He initially doesn’t want to listen to anything she says but she does this whole act, crying on command and explaining why she was so eager to sell property. In reality, it is a sad story. Her own family was imprisoned and their wealth confiscated. She was forced to live in destitute conditions with no other options. She was looking to sell property because she doesn’t want to endure such hardship again. With her tears and such a sad story, 盛纮 warms up to her and listens to her request that her son wants to gift a few maids to help 明兰。 We all know that 长枫 doesn’t actually want to gift this maids, it’s all 林小娘’s idea but 盛纮 doesn’t know that. 

And so 林小娘’s head maid, 雪姨 stops by 明兰‘s place and drops off 2 maids Now 明兰 has 2 maids each from 王大娘子 and 林小娘。But right as 雪姨 is walking out, she’s stopped at the entrance by Grandma Sheng’s head maid with Grandma Sheng’s choice of maid to help 明兰 run the household – 翠微. 雪姨 is quite displeased to see this and walks away in a huff.

[Cathy]

Why is she so displeased? It’s because, as we hear 林小娘 analyze later that night, Grandma Sheng planned this all along. Let 王大娘子 and 林小娘 plant whatever people they want with 明兰 and then Grandma Sheng will immediately send over a tier 1 maid to manage all of the new maids. If you listen, the maids 王大娘子 sent over were tier 2 maids. Grandma Sheng’s pick is a tier 1. This way, there’s order in Minglan’s yard and the maids from the other 2, particularly 林小娘 can’t disrupt 明兰 too much. This was also planned because Grandma Sheng’s residence is literally right next to Ming Lan’s so she knows exactly when 林小娘’s people were coming over and was able to time the entrance of Grandma Sheng’s maid flawlessly. 

Sure enough, in the very next scene we see 翠微 laying down the law with a list of rules of how to behave in Ming Lan’s yard and immediately, the new maids from Madame Wang and Mistress Lin start to question authority. 翠微 was able to manage this discontent quite well but this sets the stage for how the yard will behave in the next few episodes. These maids will not be pleased to listen to Ming Lan. But, MingLan isn’t bothered at all.

[Karen]

Now here’s a question – Mistress Lin doesn’t think Ming Lan is capable of setting up such an elaborate plot, it must be Grandma Sheng who set this trap. But, what do you think? In the beginning of the episode, Ming Lan was the one to clearly tell her Grandma not to worry about staff for her yard so she is clearly capable. I do think this hints to us why Mistress Lin is going to run into trouble in the future. She underestimates Ming Lan.

The rest of the episode revolves around a visit from the oldest daughter 华兰。Grandma Sheng feigned illness in order to have a perfect excuse for 华兰 who is currently married to return back home. 华兰 is initially very concerned for her Grandmother but upon entering the main hall, is surprised to see that Grandma Sheng is healthy, happy and having a friendly chat with some guests. Grandmother He and her grandson 贺弘文 are here for a visit. Grandmother He has even brought some fabrics for the daughters to choose from. Madame Wang immediately tells 华兰 to go select some fabrics and is accompanied by the 2 grandmothers. Hilariously, both of the grandmothers tell their grandchildren – one is Ming Lan and the other 贺弘文 to stay behind.

So…what’s going on. It turns out, Grandma Sheng invited her old friend Madame He to do a check up for 华兰 because she has not been able to birth a son since getting married. Madame He is known for her medical abilities and therefore, Grandma Sheng created an excuse for Hua Lan to come back to visit. The aim is to do a medical check up for Hua Lan without having her husband’s side of the family know this is happening. As a woman during this time, Hua Lan’s position in her husband’s family is only solidified when she births a son. 

[Cathy]

Back at the main hall, that just leaves 明兰 and 贺弘文 to sit in awkward silence. They make some small talk about the silks and fabrics. 贺弘文 finally jokes that it’s hard being a doctor. We must come under the pretense of showing fabrics and silks! 明兰 immediately understands him and sighs that being a woman is even harder. Her sister can’t openly request for a physician regarding matters of fertility. The two have a pretty open discussion about the hardships for women. He laments that if his grandmother was born a man, she would have been a revered doctor. Unfortunately, she can only use her skills for secret meetings such as this and to teach her grandson these skills. It’s a very pleasant conversation! He ends with a recommendation to Minglan to not drink cold wine at night. She’s absolutely shocked! How does he know!

I like him! He seems very amiable and in Jane Austen words, agreeable He has actually very progressive ideas about women. It looks like 明兰 also enjoys his company. We should say that he is the first man that she’s greeted on her own, with the consent of adults of course. Could something happen between them?

[Karen]

With the check up complete, Grandma Sheng has a private chat with 王大娘子 and 华兰. Madame He has vouched that 华兰 will be able to get pregnant again. With those words, Grandma Sheng immediately informs 华兰 to give up the tasks to manage the household and focus on her health. 王大娘子 doesn’t agree but both 华兰 and Grandma sheng convince her that it’s the right thing to do. I’ll do a bit more analysis on this. 

华兰 then mentions a Polo match hosted by The Countess of 永昌. She invites all of her sisters to go. Outside, 王大娘子 is pissed that 华兰 mentioned it infront of grandma sheng.  Now, she’ll have to bring all 3 daughters to the polo match. 明兰 is fine but she’ll have to bring 墨兰. That is something she doesn’t want to do.

华兰 – ever the loving daughter and kind hearted older sister, persuades her mother that treating 明兰 well is beneficial for all of them.

That’s it for the episode recap! As we said, this is more of a filler episode. Next time, we get to see a lot more interactions with different characters!

[Cathy]

Let’s start with some of our historical analysis and character analysis!

First up is going to be 舐犊情深!This is the subject of the painting that 墨兰 gifts 明兰.

舐犊情深 is a chinese idiom that translates to show affection and love for one’s children. The idiom comes from the Book of Later Han or 后汉书. 舐 means to lick and it describes the love a mother cow shows for her calves by licking them. The painting 明兰 receives depicts the mother cow and her calf. I’m actually surprised that 墨兰 gifted this painting to 明兰. 明兰 doesn’t have a mother and her father barely takes notice of her. This isn’t a painting about sibling love. 明兰 uses it to remind herself of her mother and mainly the fact that she needs to take revenge for her mother’s death.

Ok next up  

[Karen]

We have a new character introduced here! Mr. 贺弘文!

In the book, Grandma 盛 and 明兰 meet 贺弘文 and his grandmother on a separate trip back to the family clan. He’s three years older than 明兰. Similar to the drama, he is very passionate in his medical studies. Here, he’s a pretty handsome young man and can hold a great conversation with 明兰. In the book, he’s more of a nerd, focused mainly on his medical studies but he also appreciates the fact that 明兰 is well educated. The conversation between 贺弘文 and 明兰 in this episode is almost copied verbatim from the book, but as I mentioned, this wasn’t their first meeting. They’ve met before in the book. 贺弘文 is very much taken by 明兰.

Madame He’s family comes from a family of doctors and she learned her craft from her family. She married into the He family, who according to the book were academics and ran an academy. The He family is quite wealthy. Madame He’s third son passed away some years ago and she helped raise her grandson 贺弘文. He doesn’t aspire to take the Imperial Examinations. Instead – he just wants to be a doctor/physician. We’ll see more of 贺弘文 in the future. Do sparks fly between the two? We’ll see!

Just a note – In Chinese culture – the career of a physician or doctor wasn’t very coveted. Sure, they were always needed but people often viewed doctors with some suspicion. As a doctor worked with his hands, the profession also wasn’t viewed very highly. This is not unlike European cultures. 

[Cathy]

Finally, I’ll dive a little bit into 华兰’s husband’s family to clear up the storyline.

华兰 is married to the second son of the House of Yuan, the Count of 忠勤, 袁文绍. She has been managing the household for several years. She has a very problematic mother-in-law who favors her eldest son and daughter in law. In the book, her other daughter-in-law just also happens to be her niece so of course she will favor that side of the family. What this means for 华兰 is that everything she does is wrong in the eyes of her mother-in-law. No matter how she manages the household, her mother-in-law will nitpick and pick a fight. When the countess managed the family, there were a lot of questionable finances. Over the years, 华兰 has had to use her own dowry to settle debts for her husband’s family. 

In chinese culture, a woman’s dowry is considered her own money. The bride can use it as she pleased. It is also HIGHLY embarrassing for the husband’s family to request to use any of the bride’s dowry to pay for anything. This is also money that the woman can use to support herself, kind of like her protection money. It just goes to show how scummy the count’s family is to even allow 华兰 to settle debts with her dowry.

Say what you will about 盛竑 and his favoritism to his concubine but he has never touched 王大娘子’s dowry. 

Due to all the stress from managing the household, 华兰 hasn’t really taken care of herself, hence why she hasn’t gotten pregnant again. Grandma sheng immediately orders 华兰 to relinquish managing the family because a) it’s good for her health and b) there’s no point. 华兰’s husband will not inherit the title so it doesn’t matter if she has a good reputation right now. We don’t see 华兰’s husband in the show but he’s a pretty good guy. He does care for his wife and their relationship actually continues to improve throughout the book.

I really like 华兰 as a character both in the drama and in the book. She can manage a household. She’s a 嫡女 but not arrogant like 如兰. She’s perceptive and intelligent. She’s way better than her mother 王大娘子. Again, I’ll give props to Grandma sheng because grandma sheng actually raised 华兰 for several years, according to the book. 华兰 also looks out for her siblings – especially 明兰 in both the drama and the book. 明兰 responds in kind. Now, 华兰 will always be looking out for her mother’s side of the family, but she’s very clear headed as to the cost and benefits of certain relationships. She knows 明兰 is someone to have on her camp. It’s heartwarming to see at least some semblance of normal sibling love in this show. We haven’t seen much of it in either the sheng family nor the gu family.

I just which 王大娘子 could figure this out.

[Karen]

Alrighty – let’s talk about book differences!

Book difference

These episodes stray pretty far from the book. 明兰 is still very young in the book, under 15, so she doesn’t get to manage the household. This part is completely different from the book.

Madame 贺 and 贺弘文 does indeed come to the Sheng manor to perform a check up for 华兰. By this point 华兰 already had one daughter who’s about 5-6 but no son. This is very troubling for her position in the family, which is why Grandma Sheng made the request of Madame 贺. Once again, this just goes to show how tough it was for women at the time. 

That’s that for today!

Well that is it for this episode of the Story of Ming Lan. We were introduced to new characters and a potential match for 明兰 today! Let’s see what happens.

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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