Ep 18

 

[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 18, of The Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。

 

There’s a lot to discuss in this episode. Not so much on history but on character analysis.

 

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 will do an episode recap, then discuss the history brought up during the episode, and analyze some of the characters, and then close with book differences.

 

In the last episode, 顾廷烨 decides to propose marriage to 明兰’s good friend 余嫣然. Let’s pick up from there

 

[Cathy]

余嫣然’s father looks set to agree to the marriage. However, her grandfather is still adamantly opposed. Part of it is because of 顾廷烨’s poor reputation and the other is to prevent 余嫣然’s family from taking advantage of her. We’ve discussed 余嫣然’s family in episode 16 and we’ll talk more about her at the end of the episode. The thing is, we hear that 嫣然’s father and new wife have spent all of 嫣然’s mother’s dowry. 嫣然’s grandfather thinks her father wants 嫣然 to marry because it means they will have a large sum of money come into the family. This is particularly interesting because as we’ve discussed in the last episode, husbands are not supposed to use their wife’s dowry. But we now have another example of a well to do family squandering funds. 

 

Without much option, 余嫣然 hurries to 明兰’s courtyard to tell her about 顾廷烨’s intentions. 明兰 pulls her aside to show her an embroidery left for her by her mother. It depicts Princess 平阳昭. I’ll dive into the story of this legendary woman. 明兰 then recounts the story of how 顾廷烨 tried to help save her mother when she was little. Perhaps 余嫣然 should give him a chance?

 

余嫣然 however points out that 顾廷烨’s reputation is quite terrible. He is intimate with prostitutes and frequents brothels. How can she marry someone like him. She starts tearing up again at her own situation. Her mother died and now her father doesn’t really much care about her. Maybe she’ll just marry to get it over with.

 

明兰 tries to knock some sense into 余嫣然. They were both raised by loving grandparents and shouldn’t just throw away their happiness. 明兰 is trying to paint more of a fair picture of 顾廷烨 for 嫣然…which I think is actually quite interesting.

 

[Karen]

The 余 family takes 明兰 along to pray at the temple. The madame of the household, who is 嫣然’s grandmother requests from the nearby daoist monk to have 嫣然’s fortune told. There’s a lot of jargon that the daoist monk spews out which eh we on’t take too much time to translate because there’s only one important line that he says in plain Chinese – The daoist monk foretells 嫣然’s marriage won’t actually be for a while. Interesting. 

 

顾廷烨 somehow caught wind that the 余 family will be at this temple and finds 嫣然’s grandfather outside. He requests a private conversation. 顾廷烨 behaves in a very humble manner and openly repents for his previous actions. He promises that he will be a changed man. He states that he didn’t do well in the most recent exams and can only use money as a way to show his intentions. 嫣然’s grandfather is surprised and begins to waver in his convictions against allowing 顾廷烨 to marry his granddaughter. Why is this? The grandfather is impressed that even though 顾廷烨 is the son of a marquis and a 武官, he still went to study for the imperial exams. In the drama, it’s stated that 顾廷烨 didn’t make it to the final round with the Emperor but he did make it to the metropolitan exam. This impresses the Grandfather greatly because it means he is hard working, and intelligent. He’s not just a nobleman enjoying his wealth and status but does care about academics. 

 

[Cathy]

Just as it looks like 顾廷烨’s words did the trick, someone charges in to scramble all of this.

 

Who is it? Why none other than 顾廷烨’s own mistress and mother to his two children 曼娘.

 

曼娘 is outside of the Yu family manor’s main door causing quite a commotion She loudly says that she wants to meet Miss Yu to let her into the family and accept her tea. 明兰 just so happens to see this from her carriage and quickly enters the Yu family manor via the side door. She hurries to find her friend to figure out what is happening.The rest of the family is out so it’s just up to 余嫣然 and her grandmother 

 

Unfortunately, 余嫣然 and her grandmother have no idea how to handle the 曼娘. 余嫣然’s grandmother is so angry that she has now fallen ill and 余嫣然 can only weep. They already tried dismissing 曼娘 but she refuses to leave.

 

明兰 recommends bringing the woman into the manor for questioning. Outside, when 曼娘 hears this, she instead DOESN’T want to go in. She says, who knows if I’ll come out alive. Well, the maids finally drag her into the household as she’s kicking and screaming. 

 

[karen]

In front of 嫣然, 曼娘 continues to beg her to give her a way to survive. All of us watching this drama know that this is someone with no sense of humility. She’s acting incredibly entitled and is essentially bullying 嫣然 into accepting her. Well 明兰 can’t see her best friend be conned and bullied by someone like this. So, our superwoman 明兰 steps out to speak. 

 

And YAS – i absolutely love these scenes because we get to see Ming Lan absolutely kill it. She is calm but absolutely no nonsense. The moment 曼娘 sees 明兰, she puts up a show of obedience – calmly stating her name and expressing that she is an ill fated person. 

 

Ming Lan though is like – Nope, nuh uh. Don’t give me that BS and immediately expresses that 曼娘 is not ill fated at all. Very few women would dare make such a scene outside of this respected household. Immediately after this rebuttal from Ming Lan, 曼娘 recognizes that she’s met a tough opponent and changes tact. She says that she’s scared.

 

But our girl 明兰 cuts her off again! Scared? You’re not scared. You come here without stating your name or background and is forcing 嫣然 to drink your tea. This is not how things are usually done. How is it possible 曼娘 is scared?

 

At this point, 曼娘 is properly called out and has no option but to be respectful to Ming Lan’s questioning. The find out that 曼娘 used to be a singer at an opera troupe. She says it’s only a few days but we’ve discussed this before on our show. In China back in the day, being a singer was severely looked down upon. There are many unsavory attributes to what that means. 

 

[Cathy]

After further discussion, 明兰 and company find out why 曼娘 is really here. It’s because the 顾 family will not accept her. Therefore, she decided to come here and ask 嫣然 instead. If 嫣然 agrees to accept 曼娘 then the Gu family really don’t have any option. Upon this revelation, our girl Ming Lan completely cuts of 曼娘 – telling her to shut up. I am absolutely loving it and here’s where I sometimes struggle with translating Chinese to English because there are tons of terms to express Ming Lan in this scene that comes to mind but is more challenging in English. I guess all I can say is that 明兰 totally skewered 曼娘 in this conversation. Ming Lan rejects every attempt by 曼娘 to be accepted by 嫣然. It gets to the point where 曼娘 has no other option but to say she’ll kill herself here unless they agree to allow her into the family. 

 

[Karen]

I gotta give it to the actress for 曼娘 – she plays this part so well. 

 

Ming Lan doesn’t have any of it. 嫣然 is over there worried that 曼娘 will actually harm herself but 明兰knows it’s just a tactic. In front of 曼娘 she sternly states that every woman can see through her schemes. She has two faces – one for the men, and another for everyone else. The Yu family will not fall for her schemes. After telling 曼娘 to shut up one more time, 明兰 gives 曼娘 2 options – leave herself or else be tied and tossed out. Seeing that she has no choice, this 曼娘 totally DEFLATES. Ming Lan soundly wins this round.

 

How many of you listeners are SO satisfied with seeing how powerful 明兰 is in this scene? She totally owns 曼娘 and is for once such a powerful presence. She does not take shit from 曼娘 at all. I’m seriously like – YAS girl. 

 

We have a happy resolution here as it turns out 嫣然 was previously betrothed already but the boy was in mourning after the death of his mother. Now the mourning period is over so 嫣然 will marry off to this man in another city instead of stay in the Capital. And thus, 顾廷烨’s proposal falls flat.

 

[Cathy]

At night, 明兰 and her Grandmother discuss what happened. Grandma Sheng is primarily worried that this showdown will negatively impact Ming Lan but Ming Lan explains that under these circumstances, no one will expose that Ming Lan was there. They’ll keep this confrontation hidden. But she wanted to stand up for her friend to save her from a lifetime of unhappiness. We really can’t fault her for that. We can only fault society for having such restrictions on women that even sticking up for your friend has to be secretive. 

 

Soon after, 明兰 sends off 嫣然 and her family. We don’t see 嫣然 much any more in the drama after this scene as she will now be married far away from the Capital. 明兰 is saddened to see her close friend leave but it’s for the best.

 

And the second highlight of this episode comes in this next scene.  明兰 is out eating dessert and 顾廷烨 doesn’t even say hello before heatedly questioning her as to why she foiled his proposal!

 

Ming Lan doesn’t back down either. She details all of the things 曼娘 did to cause such a havoc, and even pointed out that if it wasn’t because of 曼娘,this marriage would have actually happened. Grandfather Yu was ready to consent to the marriage but 曼娘 had to come make a scene. The moment 曼娘 showed up, 明兰 knew why 顾廷烨 wanted to marry 嫣然 and 明兰 could not have her best friend be subject to this terrible situation. 

 

[Karen]

Another moment please to applaud 明兰 shall we?

 

It’s because of her words that 顾廷烨 finally pauses to think. He’s never seen 曼娘 behave this way.  He firmly believes that 曼娘 is weak and feeble but 明兰 bluntly states that that is not the case. She tries to offer a warning which at this point, he’s not fully willing to accept so he retaliates by stating that he knows the Young Duke 齐衡 likes Ming Lan. This causes 明兰 to become anxious and they have a shouting match as he leaves the dessert spot.They start bickering and he makes that joke that maybe he shouldn’t have proposed to 嫣然, he should have proposed to her instead. He means it as a way to harm her. I find it hilarious because she’s yelling at him saying she would never marry someone like him all the while trying to hide from view. It’s because it’s not proper for her to yell like this and to the son of a marquis no less but she does it. 

 

I personally love this scene and there ar e behind the scenes clips of this conversation. The last few lines were actually filmed in 1 take and it’s super fun. There’s such natural chemistry between 冯绍峰 and 赵丽颖。 It doesn’t feel like they’re acting. It feels like this would be a natural conversation between these 2 people. You can also tell that there are minor slip ups in the conversation but the director decided it’s ok to keep them in. There are a few other scenes like this in the drama where this happens. I personally think it adds to the natural atmosphere.. That’s why I love this drama. 

 

Now, CAthy has a lot to say about 顾廷烨 later but I do want to point out that in this scene, it’s evident that 明兰 does not feel like she has to hide when she’s in front of 顾廷烨。She is rude, direct and quite resolute. She would never be like this In front of the young duke 齐衡. To me, this already hints at who would provide her with a more comfortable future. And listeners – this is a mark of a good relationship. You should never have to feel like you have to hide in front of your partner. 明兰 does not.

 

[Cathy]

Yes – I will have a lot to say about him. Unfortunately, 曼娘 does not give up. We’ll see what happens in the next episode as she hears that the Yu family will now try to marry over the 3rd daughter instead of the eldest.

 

[Karen]

 

Now with 顾廷烨’s marriage drama out of the way, we’ll turn briefly to the other series of events that was happening in this episode. It’s the management of Ming Lan’s household. Throughout the last couple of episodes, we saw that Ming Lan has no control over her maids gifted from 王大娘子 and 林小娘。In this episode, we see Ming Lan purposefully ask her second brother 长柏 to bring her something but then she leaves him outside for a long time with a maid waiting on him. If you couldn’t’ tell, she was waiting until the maid does something out of decorum towards 长柏 in order for him to become frustrated. The moment he becomes frustrated, 明兰 turns up. When she does, 长柏 actually reprimands her for not managing her maids well but 明兰 explains that those maids were given by their mother so she can’t really say anything. 长柏 leaves in a huff.

 

These events travel to the ears of 王大娘子 who is furious. They all think it’s because 明兰 is too weak but we know that’s not the case. It’s all a plot to help clean the house in the future.

 

That’s it for the episode recap.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s get onto some historical analysis!

 

When 余嫣然 comes to visit 明兰, 明兰 shows her a painting of 李娘子镇守娘子关.

 

Who is this 李娘子? She is a truly legendary figure. She is Princess 平阳昭.  She is the third daughter to the first Tang Dynasty Emperor 李渊 and was born to his wife Lady 窦

 

Her real name is not recorded in history. Some fictional stories gave her the name of 李秀宁. In life, she was known as Princess 平阳. However, in Chinese history, there are several Princess 平阳’s so to clarify the reference, people refer to her as Princess 平阳昭. 昭 is her posthumus title. We’ll just refer to her as 平阳昭。

 

It is actually unclear when she was born but people place her birth between 589-598AD. She married 柴绍, who came from a militaristic family, and the couple moved to 长安, the capital of the 隋dynasty. In 617AD, 平阳昭’s father 李渊 decided to take up arms and rebel against the 隋 dynasty. He sent a secret missive to his daughter and son-in-law to rejoin him in the west and prepare for battle. Fearing that they would get caught by spies if the both of them left the city at the same time, 柴绍 consulted with his wife on next steps. 平阳昭 told him to head off solo, she’ll be able to hide more easily. 

 

平阳昭 hid at one her family’s farms. She distributed her wealth to several hundred starving people, earning their loyalty and building up an army for her father. She sent her servant 马三宝 to persuade local rebels such as 何潘仁 to join her. Her army quickly grew and successfully captured several cities. 

 

平阳昭’s army was maintained order wherever they went. She forbade pillaging and ransacking of towns. As such, many people from all over joined her army to a point that her army was over 70K strong.

 

When her father’s army crossed the Yellow River, Princess 平阳昭 brought with her 10K men to rendezvous with her husband and brother 李世民. Her wing of the army became known as 娘子军 or the Army of the Lady. 长安 fell shortly after and 李渊 ascended the throne and proclaimed himself Emperor.

 

It was during this time that Princess 平阳昭 received the title of 平阳. After the successfully capturing 长安, the empire was still in unrest. Princess 平阳昭 was sent to guard 苇泽关 or 苇泽Pass, a crucial passage of 山西 province. She was stationed at the garrison here for several years. The name of the pass was changed to 娘子关 or Lady’s Pass in her honor.

 

There were no other records of her military achievements after this time. She died in 623AD but it is unclear how she died. There are rumors that she died in battle or died of old injuries. She was granted a grand military funeral by her father the Emperor. The Minister of Rites at first opposed this decision saying that a woman’s funeral could not have a band. The Emperor to his credit dismissed this objection, stating that his daughter fought on the battlefield and was instrumental to the founding of this empire. She was not a normal woman and deserves a full military funeral. 

 

She was the only woman in Chinese history to be granted a military funeral. What a legendary woman! She has been depicted in several dramas. The one I remember the most is as 李秀宁 from the TVB show Twin of Brothers. I was obsessed with that drama when I was young.

 

[Karen]

Character analysis

 

First let’s start off with 

 

余嫣然

She is I would say your typical protect little flower. She grew up under the protection of her loving grandparents and is gentle and naive. She has no idea as to how to deal with the likes of 曼娘. If 明兰 wasn’t there to help her, 曼娘’s evil schemes probably would have worked. 余嫣’s reputation would have been ruined and she probably would have gone to a nunnery and became a nun. I guess it’s good that she grew up in blissful ignorance, but at some point she had to face the harsh realities of the world.

 

明兰 is roughly the same age, and while she grew up under the protection of her grandmother, she still has had to live under the shadow of 王大娘子 and 林小娘 all her life. She’s learned to some extent the wiles and ways of women. Is it sad that women during this time period had to learn all of these tricks?

 

All I’ll say is, the woman who has the happiest marriage in this entire drama is 余嫣然’s grandmother. Her husband is very faithful and loyal to her. 余嫣然’s grandmother didn’t have to deal with mistresses and such so she’s lived a full life of blissful ignorance. I guess that’s the storybook ending every woman wanted during this era.

 

Next up is 曼娘.

 

This is the first episode where we finally see 曼娘’s true colors. What do I mean? In previous episodes, we’ve seen her plot and scheme to enter into the 顾household as a mistress but she had help from 顾廷烨’s stepmother. In this episode, her actions and schemes were all her own doing. 

 

She is what in chinese is called a 绿茶婊 or a literal translation called Green Tea Bitch. What is a Green Tea Bitch? 

 

[Cathy]

顾廷烨

We’re back to him again. Ugh, I am SO angry with him this episode. His half truths and blindness towards 曼娘 literally destroyed an innocent woman’s happiness.

 

Early in the episode, he corners 余嫣然’s grandfather at the temple and pleads his case to him. He claims that he became taken with 余嫣然 at the polo match and felt a connection to her because they both lost their mother. He promises that he’ll change from his old habits and keep only his mistress. He states didn’t place in the Imperial examinations and fears that he won’t have prospects in the future. 

 

余嫣然’s grandfather is impressed at the fact that he made it to the metropolitan exams and that’s the main basis for changing his mind about 顾廷烨. However, 顾廷烨 does not come clean and tell him that the Emperor himself has forbade him to place in the examinations until the age of 50! 顾廷烨 purposefully hid that crucial piece of information in order to gain points from 余嫣然’s grandfather. That to me is a low blow. You are simply playing with a woman’s happiness

 

Also such a sign of the times. When 顾廷烨 confesses that he has a mistress, 余嫣然’s grandfather doesn’t even care. It was looked down upon that 顾廷烨 had a mistress but it wasn’t a deal breaker for 余嫣然’s grandfather. Ugh, men.

 

顾廷烨’s actions and words towards 明兰 at the restaurant are in my mind absolutely despicable. As an outside man, he openly sits at 明兰’s table and starts reprimanding her for destroying his marriage prospects. This is already very dangerous for 明兰. She has no chaperone, what would happen if people saw? They would think she’s cavorting with a man and trying to get his attention. This would destroy her reputation.

 

When 顾廷烨 storms out stating, oh i get it, this is how everyone sees her and sees me. I rolled my eyes. Um yes! 曼娘 did a terrible thing! 顾廷烨, you allowed this to happen. You aren’t self reflecting and you’re just mad at 明兰? What is this? She’s not judging 曼娘 due to her birth. She’s judging her character and quite frankly your character too.

 

The piece that to me is so enraging is he is standing OUTSIDE of the restaurant deflecting his mistress’s actions and then blaming 明兰 for keeping 齐衡 on a leash. 

 

Did he at once care about her reputation in this situation? He’s actually shouting at her in front of random people about 齐衡. Who is 齐衡 the only son of the duke of 齐. If anyone caught wind of this conversation, what would have happened to 明兰? What would have happened to the 盛 family? Ming lan got punished for just playing polo. These words could literally kill her. Ugh I get so mad every time I watch this scene. Notice how she doesn’t even dare to leave the restaurant. She’s afraid! He has no regard for 明兰’s predicament in this situation. What a hypocrite.

 

Book difference

Let’s get into some book differences. In the book, 明兰 does indeed help 余嫣然 deal with the 曼娘 situation. However, 余嫣然’s family wasn’t living in the capital at the time so it was easier to hide this story to the public.

 

曼娘 showed up at the 余 family manor with her two children. The rest of the scene is quite similar.

 

In the book, when 顾廷烨 accosts 明兰 to question her about his marriage proposal to 余嫣然, this is the first time the two actually meet. 顾廷烨 corners her when she’s by herself during a social gathering. See? That’s more prudent. 顾廷烨 didn’t know that 曼娘 went to the 余 family. In the book, 明兰 simply tells him that a woman by the name of 曼娘 along with her two children wen to the 余family manor. 余嫣然’s grandfather spat out blood. News of the other marriage betrothal quickly leaked afterwards. When 顾廷烨 heard this, he was actually shocked. That was the extent of the conversation. I much prefer how they handled this in the book. 顾廷烨 actually starts reflecting upon hearing the news. 

 

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