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 19+20, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
These 2 episodes are entirely focused on our male lead – Gu Ting Ye. In my eyes, he finally gets some redemption but at a tremendous cost. These 2 episodes are also probably my two least favorite episodes in the drama because of how sad everything is but they are two incredibly important episodes in the drama because the devious masks finally comes off for 顾廷烨’s stepmother and his mistress.
So what happens?
In the last couple of episodes, we saw that 顾廷烨 wanted to propose marriage to the Yu Family in order to provide a home for his mistress and 2 young children. The eldest daughter was married to someone else with the help of our main character 明兰. Now, the opportunity falls to the 3rd daughter but, given 顾廷烨‘s poor reputation, this doesn’t look like the match will be likely.
The person who has most to gain or lose, depending on how you think about it, is 曼娘。That’s 顾廷烨”s mistress. In the last episode, we saw how she isn’t as feeble and weak as 顾廷烨 thinks she is. She has also bribed one of the maids to make it known to the Yu family that there are two children running around out of wedlock. So that’s how we start episode 19. A maid taking care of the two young children accosts one of the Yu family maids and exposes the fact that 顾廷烨 has two adorable children. Upon hearing this, the Yu family maid is livid on behalf of the Yu family as this is highly out of decorum. And this instigates the primary conflict in the episode.
After discovering this little nugget of truth, the Yu family mother heads over to the Gu family/ She speaks to 顾廷烨”s father and stepmother because she doesn’t want her daughter to marry 顾廷烨. To be quite honest, that’s not an unreasonable ask. 顾廷烨’s reputation is not good and he has a mistress plus two children. Any mother marrying a daughter into this family would take a long hard look as to what that would mean for my daughter. 顾廷烨’s father, the Marqui of 宁远 and the Marchioness, stepmother to 顾廷烨 are actually trying their best to ensure the Yu family mother that the mistress and children will not be allowed into the family even after the marriage. What’s very interesting here is that the Marchioness does everything she can to try to help 顾廷烨.
顾廷烨 is summoned to try to confirm for the Yu mother that all will be well. But instead, he says that as a man, he would greatly appreciate it if the Yu family will allow his mistress and children to have a place in the Gu family after marrying. In his view, he still thinks his mistress, 朱曼娘 is weak. The classic line which is now somewhat of a meme is 我那个外室 柔弱不能自理 which translates to “my mistress is weak and cannot take care of herself”. Which we all know if not true but he believes it. He is even willing to gift 3 salt farms as compensation to allow this woman and two children to enter into the family. In his mind, and this is where Cathy will get all up in arms that he’s such a product of a patriarchal society, he’s doing Miss Yu a favor by giving them so much money as a way to buy the children and his mistress into the family.
The Yu mother though, upon hearing this, is absolutely adamant that she is not going to marry her daughter to 顾廷烨。 Why? And her reasoning is actually sound – if 顾廷烨 is willing to give up 3 salt farms each worth close to 10,000 liang a year, that’s means these 3 individuals have immense value to 顾廷烨。Before entering the marriage, the balance of power is already established. 顾廷烨 will favor this outside mistress and children over the Yu potential wife. 顾廷烨 totally did not think of it that way. He has money and power so he thought that was enough. He thinks that it’s his duty to protect his mistress and children at the cost of another woman’s happiness.
This causes the Yu mother to leave with the Gu stepmother or Marchioness running after her. Alone with his son, the Marqui is livid at his son’s behavior. And he’s not particularly wrong. His son had children outside of wedlock and is losing face for the family. But he decides, as he always does, to beat his son for his insolence.
顾廷烨, shedding tears though, tries to reason with his father and to understand exactly what happened with his mother. The challenge is that there are two forces at play here. 顾廷烨 is full of anger and hate at how his mother was treated. She was used for her money and essentially tricked into marrying into the 顾 family. His father though, is justifying his actions as a way to protect his family and says that 顾廷烨’s maternal grandfather married her into the Gu family as a way to become an aristocrat in order to escape the label of a merchant. It’s tough for 顾廷烨 to understand what was true and what’s false so he tearfully pleads with his father to tell him the truth. Sadly, as they’re having this rather emotional discussion, his father spews out blood and falls unconscious.
The frantic 顾廷烨 rushes out to find his stepmother who he informs of his father’s condition. She instructs him to go seek one of the imperial doctors to care for his father which he flies off to do without a second thought.
ANd this is where you actually have to feel bad for 顾廷烨. He realizes just how badly he was tricked by his older brother and his beloved step mother.
When he tries to come back to the Gu Family with imperial doctors, he’s blocked at the entrance. The family servants create a wall, not letting him in. The doctors run off not wanting to be a part of the drama. His older brother comes out to yell at him as well. 顾廷烨 has no option but to wait in a separate room to hear news of his father’s health. But at night, no news arrives for him. When he finally makes it to the main hall, he sees that his father has already passed.
He is absolutely distraught at seeing this. To add insult to injury, the lies start piling on. His stepmother claims that she never told him to go seek doctors. He clearly didn’t want to come home from his mistakes. Everything that happened, according to his stepmother, was his fault. The rest of the family believes this too and admonish him for killing his father. They hurl insults at him and push him to leave the family.
Slowly, does 顾廷烨 finally realize that all of this was a plot by his evil stepmother. To everyone else, she was the kind, understanding and serene stepmother to 顾廷烨。She did everything for him but it was in order to make him seem like a flake and to ruin his reputation. She contributed to worsening the relationship between 顾廷烨 and his father in order for this day. This day, she is able to kick him out of the family.
He says this line – 郑伯克段于鄢
I’ll be honest, it’s heartbreaking but also satisfying to see that 顾廷烨 finally has blinds lifted from his eyes. He is able to see, at the cost of his dead father, that his stepmother is truly evil. She spent years setting him up for this moment so that he can be kicked out of the family. 顾廷烨 also interrogates his younger brother 廷炜 to see if he was involved but 廷炜 is very clueless about what happened so clearly. So, out of everyone in the family, it looks like 廷炜 is the only kind hearted and innocent one in this all.
A shattered 顾廷烨 pays his last respects to his father as the rest of his family – his brother and his uncles, all push to kick him out of the family. He has no other choice but to leave in a daze. On the street, the Sheng Family brother, 盛长柏, finds 顾廷烨。 The best friends have a heart to heart about what happened. 顾廷烨 believes he killed his father while 长柏 recognizes that his stepmother and older brother are to blame. 长柏 reminds 顾廷烨 about his other family which reminds him he has to go home.
And that’s where we head over to episode 20. If episode 19 was about uncovering 顾廷烨 ‘s stepmom’s mask, episode 20 is where 顾廷烨 finally sees the truth about 朱曼娘。
After he returns from a night out drinking away his sorrows, he is being tended to by 曼娘 and his childhood wetnurse, 常嬷嬷。 常嬷嬷 has seen through 曼娘”s ways and tries to warn 顾廷烨 but he still doesn’t think 曼娘 is lying. At least 顾廷烨 has not told 曼娘 that he’s sitting on a lot of money. She just thinks he’s a son of a marquis.
He doesn’t have much energy to pay more attention to 曼娘 as he falls sick after these events. Who wouldn’t fall ill right? 曼娘, believing that he indeed has no more money anymore because he’s said that he’s been kicked out of the Gu family, starts stealing all material possessions in the household to pawn for cash. This is caught by 常嬷嬷 who garners evidence that 曼娘 has been selling everything she can get her hands on. Some of the jewelry is even jewelry left from 顾廷烨’s mother. 常嬷嬷 presents this evidence to 顾廷烨 who is finally seeing what might be the truth. While still skeptical, he finally agrees to follow 朱曼娘 to see what she actually does on her outings to buy groceries.
Sure enough, 顾廷烨 sees her meeting with her supposedly deceased brother. She’s told 顾廷烨 that her brother passed away which leaves her all alone thus garnering more pity from 顾廷烨 but as he saw with his own eyes, her brother is alive and well. Absolutely livid, he decides to set a trap to confirm her true nature.
That night, he asks her for some items that he knows she must have pawned. She admits to this and denies lying about anything else. He shows her deeds of various properties he has which means he is actually still very wealthy. When he tries to burn one of the deeds, she grabs it and reads it aloud, showing him that she lied about not knowing how to read. She once again denies lying about anything else. With no other choice, 顾廷烨 brings out her brother. That was the last straw for him as he finally sees 朱曼娘’s true nature. She only wanted to be with him for money and status.
They have a confrontation where she begs him to forgive her but he has had enough. He tells her through his tears that she must leave with her brother and never come back. Well, the next day, she does leave, but took her son as well. The episode ends with 顾廷烨 desperately searching for his son.
So… that was quite the doozy of two episodes. Despite being a jerk in the last few episodes, we have to really feel for the guy. His beloved step mother turned out to be evil and his beloved mistress also turned out to be a gold digger. The only bit of warmth and love 顾廷烨 experienced from this whole debacle was from his trusted servant 石头，his wetnurse 常嬷嬷 and interestingly, 盛长柏 and 明兰。 We didn’t touch on this earlier but there was a scene where 盛纮, 长柏 and 明兰’s father told 长柏 that he shouldn’t go to see 顾廷烨 because it would affect his career prospects. But 长柏 doens’t listen and sneaks out to see his friend. Ming Lan actually follows him out, providing him with a basket of food to give to 顾廷烨。These two siblings have the kindest hearts out of everyone in the drama. 长柏 sees 顾廷烨 because they’re friends. 明兰 sends food as a way to thank him for helping his mother all those years ago. This hints to how the relationship with the Sheng family will go in the future.
Now with the story recap done, let’s chat about what happened. The Evil Step Mother has finally revealed her true self. 顾廷烨’s older brother, has also revealed that he will do anything to kick his younger brother out of the family. Why does the step mother do this? It becomes more clear in like 20 or so episodes, but the step mother has been planning for years to get rid of 顾廷烨 in order to ensure that her own son becomes the next marquis. It’s really a lamentable situation for 顾廷烨 because throughout the drama so far, this stepmother has been a beacon of motherly love. She’s kind and thoughtful to 顾廷烨 but all of that was just an act to make his failures seem more radical. The thing is, 顾廷烨 was a rascal but not as big of a rascal as his reputation suggests. Otherwise, he would not have tried so desperately to find a suitable marriage for his mistress and children.
That brings us to 朱曼娘。 She’s your classic gold digging manipulator. She lied about so many things in order for 顾廷烨 to pity her and take her in. She knew he was wealthy and had status so she put up this act to secure her life. It’s unfortunate because she is also very poor so she must have thought that this was the only way to move up in the world. The last scene where she leaves though is probably the most despicable. She didn’t take her daughter, only her son because she knows that her son will be more valuable to the Gu family than her daughter. That’s her primary leverage against 顾廷烨. It’s effective for sure and it shows us how little she valued or cared for her daughter, seeing them first and foremost as tools for a better life.
Now I do want to discuss the relationship between 顾廷烨 and his father. This father-son duo would have benefited greatly from family therapy or family counseling. Both love each other but do not know how to express that love. The Marquis has shown us that he does care for his son – he went to ask the imperial examiner about why his son didn’t place on the exams and he’s sitting through these marriage discussions because he wants his son to get married. He just doesn’t know how to express it. And unfortunately, he did have a rather unsavory past in marrying 顾廷烨”s mother.
In the end, there are 2 key pieces of information that tells me, 顾廷烨“s father did care about him. One, we hear that he was calling out for 顾廷烨 as he was on his deathbed. Unfortunately 顾廷烨 was not there to listen to this. And 2, 顾廷烨’s name was not removed from the family genealogy. Despite all the talk by the brother and uncles that 顾廷烨 is to be removed from the family genealogy, during the funeral procession, we find out from 盛长柏 that 顾廷烨”s name was not removed. To me, that only means one thing – someone explicitly said to not do that. The only person who could make that decision is the Marquis. Overall, 顾廷烨 and his father had a very unfortunate relationship that was strained by lack of communication and now 顾廷烨 has left the Gu family. All according to his step mother’s plan.
There’s not a whole lot of historical analysis to discuss in these two episodes as it’s so character driven but there was one line that 顾廷烨 uttered after understanding his evil stepmother’s plan. He says that you are 郑伯，I am 共叔段。
This story the drama talks about and we’ve actually discussed in one of our previous podcast episodes for Empresses in the Palace. The story is 郑伯克段于鄢 which translates to Duke Zhuang of Zheng Defeats his Brother Duan at Yan comes from 左传 or the Commentary of Zuo.
We’ll remind folks of what the story is about as it is very apt. The book originates from the Spring and Autumn Period, published in the 4th century BC.
The story goes like this.When the Duke Zhuang of Zheng was born, his mother had a difficult birth with him so the Duke was not favored. So much so that his name even means “difficult birth”. Instead his mother favored his younger brother Duan. As such, his mother continuously plotted for her younger son Duan to seize the throne over this older brother. Talk about favoritism. Nevertheless the Duke ascended the dukedom after the death of his father.
His mother requested a fiefdom for Duan, the younger brother, to which the Duke reluctantly agreed. All of his courtiers were skeptical of this request but the Duke waves away their concerns. The Duke continues to indulge his younger brother with his heart’s desire. After arriving at his fiefdom, Duan immediately began stockpiling weapons and fortifying his fortress. News of this reached the Duke and his courtiers. They all begged him to take precautions and actions against Duan. The Duke does not, stating that there’s no proof of a planned rebellion.
After a short while, the Duke is called away for business to another state. Seizing this opportunity, his mother quickly dispatches a message to Duan ordering him to invade the capital city of Zheng. She’ll open the gates for him. Duan successfully invades the city but the Duke was prepared for him. He orders his courtier 吕 to attack the city with 200 carriages. The people of the capital city also revolt against Duan. With nowhere to go, Duan retreats to the city of Yan. The Duke has a final confrontation with Duan at the city of Yan. Defeated and humiliated, Duan flees to the nearby state of Gong 共. Hence why he’s called 共叔段。
I’ll quickly gloss over the rest of the story. The Duke banishes his mother and declares he’ll see her in the next world. After a while, he regrets the declaration. He orders a tunnel to be dug so that he can see her and they mend their relationship. That part to me is a bit wild.
The main lesson is that the Duke just let his brother and his mother continue on with their schemes and indulge them in order to lure them into a false sense of security. The Duke, however, was always aware of their plots. He indulged his brother until everything erupted and it was easy to destroy them in one fell swoop. If his brother Duan and his mother were content with their lives, nothing would have happened to them. But they weren’t and plotted the rebellion.
顾廷烨 here believes himself to be 共叔段 – and in this instance he is. He’s defeated. But he’s not the evil one in the story, the stepmother is. He’ll definitely be back for his revenge.
无题 – 曹丕
顾廷烨 quotes this poem when he’s out in the woods lamenting his father’s death. The poem doesn’t have a title. It was written by 曹丕, the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of China. So this is around the late 2nd century to early 3rd century AD.
The poem mainly depicts a hunt. 顾廷烨 only recites 4 of the 6 lines of the poem. I read out the whole thing. Here’s my rough translation – the carriage leaves the palace. The hunt takes place near the eastern river. The traps are set for the rabbits. The bird’s nets are cast in the sky like clouds. The bow is drawn and with a sudden gallop, the arrow strikes two hornless deer.
顾廷烨 recites this poem as a final realization that everything that has happened to him was nothing more than a finely laid trap set by his step mother. He walked right into the trap without any suspicion. Finally, at his father’s deathbed, his stepmother shot the arrow and stepped in for the kill to kick him out of the family.
There’s not much to say about book differences. These are only recounted later in the book and not experienced first hand.
That’s that for today!
Well that is it for this episode of the Story of Ming Lan. I know Cathy has been harsh on 顾廷烨 in the past couple of episodes but here’s where he begins his redemption arc in my eyes. Unfortunately at a terrible cost. His world came crashing down on him. Let’s see how he’ll survive this.
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.