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 22 and the first half of episode 23, 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 email@example.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 then close with book differences.
Let’s start off with the recap.
Ep 22 starts where Ep 21 left off – Ming Lan and her adorable Grandma Sheng are debriefing about how Madame Wang helped Ming Lan clean her house of spies. Ming Lan was originally worried Grandma Sheng would be upset at her scheming but instead, Grandma Sheng leaves her with a couple of nuggets of truths that I personally think we should all abide by.
She says – In the future, your brother, mother, husband, children, are not going to be able to accompany you your entire life. You must walk your own path.
What do you think? Isn’t that very wise? Ultimately she’s saying that you should never depend on someone too much but I do also think the underlying message there is that it’s ok to uh scheme against your loved ones in order to live comfortably.
Well – Grandma then asks Ming Lan if she had to redo this, would she still scheme the way she did? Ming Lan’s like…yes? And Grandma says ABSOLUTELY. Hehe. That’s why she is a gem.
In the next scene we see that it’s the wedding for 长柏 and his new wife, 海朝云。This is the first of several weddings we’ll see in the drama though this scene is rather simple. The main story is not around 长柏’s wedding but of the arrival of 平宁郡主 and her son 齐衡。 As we’ll remind listeners, this is a great honor to have such esteemed guests at the Sheng household because their low status compared to the likes of a princess and duke.
This to me is a hilarious if not a cringey scene. 齐衡 thinks his mother is here to help him propose marriage to 明兰. His mother, though, has other thoughts. She at first is rather haughty and passive aggressive in her comments towards the Sheng Family but you’ll see that Grandma sheng is able to retort well. The topic shifts to the beautiful Sheng daughters. After the Princess compliments the daughters a bit, she calls 齐衡 in who almost trips over himself in excitement.
But once in the hall, the Princess says that didn’t 齐衡 always want to have younger sisters? Why don’t we name these Sheng daughters as your 嫡亲妹妹, or your younger sisters. The key word here is 嫡亲 which implies from the same mother.
This stuns 齐衡 and the rest of the Sheng family who promptly try to say that the Princess is probably tipsy from drink for such a thought. The Princess, though, is adamant and says she’s even prepared gifts. The atmosphere immediately becomes icy. One the surface this is a great honor. Being the sister of a duke! But what this means is that 齐衡 can never marry a Sheng daughter. 齐衡 positively deflates at this news. Ming Lan is holding back tears but has no other choice but to very respectfully accept the gift from 齐衡 to signify that they are now brother and sister.
That night, both 王大娘子 and Grandma Sheng are separately upset about this. They think, and rightly so, that this talk of being siblings is actually a humiliation to the Sheng Daughters. Madam Wang doesn’t think too much of it after recognizing that this is probably for the best. Grandma Sheng comes to the same conclusion but understands that Ming Lan did like 齐衡 so she is probably heartbroken right now. Grandma Sheng knows deep down this match would not have worked but what if 明兰 is able to marry into a prosperous household? That would mean a lot less pain than her current living situation. Grandma Sheng vows to find a good match for Ming Lan.
So the next morning, Grandma Sheng devises a plan to give Ming Lan some space. Apparently Ming Lan has a fever which Grandma Sheng accurately deduced is a result of crying all evening over what happened.
Grandma Sheng calls her son over for breakfast to discuss visiting the Sheng family in their hometown of 宥阳。Ok I’m going to gloss over explicitly explaining the relations here as it’ll get complicated. Basically she says that her elderly sister in law’s health is deteriorating and it would be a good idea to visit her and the family before her sister in law passes. 盛纮, a character we haven’t seen in a while, agrees and suggests that he accompanies Grandma Sheng. She kindly refutes this idea as he has to stay in court in case the Emperor needs something. After going through a few rounds of who should accompany her, Grandma Sheng nonchalantly asks for Ming Lan. This will allow the role of manager of the family to return back to Wang 大娘子。盛纮 doesn’t have a whole lot to say to this and agrees.
Shortly after, 明兰 and Grandma Sheng set sail to 宥阳。Upon doing research, there isn’t a historical town called 宥阳 so it looks like it’s just a made up place to help set the hometown of the Sheng family. The rest of the episode and the next couple of episodes revolve around 明兰’s adventures outside of 汴京, the capital city.
The whole point of Grandma Sheng bringing 明兰 to 宥阳 is to give her space away from the heartbreak over 齐衡. But guess what, this young duke actually gets on a ship and chases her down the river. Guys, how romantic is this? He sends a messenger to her boat that says he wants to speak with her. At first Ming Lan is reluctant but Grandma Sheng agrees it’s probably for the best that the two speak face to face.
And so, Ming lan uses an excuse of grabbing medicine for Grandma Sheng to dock and is able to see 齐衡。The smitten 齐衡 reaffirms his affections for her and his intention to marry her. He says he’ll do anything possible to make her mother agree to this marriage. Ming Lan deep down probably knows this is never going to happen but in this moment, she wants to believe that she will be able to achieve happiness. 齐衡, the romantic, even gifts 明兰 a female porcelain doll as a token of love. The male version, he said, he’s kept. Awwww how cute is that. 明兰 returns to her boat to continue on to 宥阳 while 齐衡 returns to the Capital. 明兰 reminisces about her interactions with 齐衡。 She’s most definitely moved. I mean, any girl would be.
That night, chaos breaks out. In the pitch black, 明兰 and company hear fighting and screaming come from a nearby ship. They can’t see what’s happening but people are being tossed overboard. The logical conclusion is that there are pirates on the river looking to pillage the ships. It’s a tense moment and Ming Lan shows us once again that she does extremely well under pressure. Without knowing exactly what’s going on, she leaps into action – waking up her sleeping Grandmother and putting her onto a tiny rowboat to be rowed to shore for safety. There’s bound to be guards on the shore so once on shore, they should be safe. But after the boat leaves, Ming Lan and the rest of her maids are left on the boat to fend for themselves.
Shortly after, the pirates board their ship and the situation turns very tense. Ming Lan and her maid escape to the roof of the ship as they hear pirates capturing a maid below who betrays Ming Lan but is then killed. Ming Lan has no other choice but to tell her maid, Xiao Tao, to jump into the water as a chance to survive.
This brings us to episode 23 – on the roof of the Ship, the pirates discover Ming Lan and look to capture her. After a brave effort in pushing back the pirates, Ming Lan also jumps in the water. Her clothes drag her down and she is resigned to her fate. In the darkness, she sees the doll that 齐衡 gifted her which she grabs tightly as her last source of comfort. A figure dives in after her and saves her.
PHEW what a harrowing experience for Ming Lan and us viewers right?
The next scene we see Ming Lan wake up in a tent, clothes changed and being watched over by an adorable young girl. The girl is super sweet – making sure Ming Lan is covered under the blankets and, upon seeing Ming Lan wake up, pours her ginger tea to help her warm up.
Ming Lan is befuddled at her surroundings and at first is a little apprehensive about what happened to her. Only to discover that her savior is none other than 顾廷烨。 The young girl tending to Ming Lan is 顾廷烨s daughter, 蓉儿。
Interestingly, 明兰 doesn’t actually recognize 顾廷烨 at first. Eh, I’ll give it to her. He now has a full beard and it’s dark out. I think he’s the last person in her mind that she’ll have met.
In this conversation, 明兰 again reveals her trusting personality. She gives her full name to 顾廷烨 without knowing who he really is. 顾廷烨, behaving as a gentleman, warns her to not reveal this information again.
Ming Lan is led out of the little tent to the riverbed where she’s introduced to the rest of 漕帮. This includes 顾廷烨’s servant, 石头, his brother and his brother’s wife. It’s a grand old time and they reveal that their motley crew had been getting in skirmishes with the bandits, which is why they just happened to be nearby.
明兰 and 顾廷烨 go for a stroll in which the two have a rather candid heart to heart. 明兰 tries to persuade 顾廷烨 to rethink his current situation, if not for himself, but for his daughter. Her daughter will grow up to be whatever her father is. If he’s a bandit, she’ll be a bandit’s daughter. If he’s a marquis, she’ll grow up to be a marqui’s daughter. As the father of a daughter, 顾廷烨 must plan for her daughter’s future.
顾廷烨 is surprised at 明兰. How would she know what’s best for a daughter? She doesn’t have kids. 明兰 however says I’m a daughter and I know how difficult it is. She then brings up the story of 触龙 and 赵太后 from the Strategies of the Warring States. Her mother taught her this story when she was young. Parents will plan for their children’s future. I’ll dive into this later.
顾廷烨 is very impressed. He then reveals to 明兰 the betrayal he experienced from his own stepmother. 明兰 recounts her own experience when she was trying to save her mother. No one wanted to help, no one bothered to help except for him. Once her mother died, everyone else returned to their own happy family. She was just left with her own thoughts and a grandmother’s love. 明兰’s shocked that she revealed so much to 顾廷烨. She pleads for him to not tell anyone and continues to implore to 顾廷烨 to plan for his daughter’s future.
明兰 leaves shortly after. Inspired by her words, 顾廷烨 decides to join the army.
That’s where we’ll leave this podcast episode. We’ll get into the next storyline in the next episode.
触龙 and 赵太后
The main historical reference mentioned in these two episodes is just the story of 触龙 and 赵太后 from 战国策 or the Strategies of the Warring States. The original author is unknown and it is believed that many people contributed to the compilation. It was first compiled during the Han Dynasty.
The story of 触龙 and 赵太后 goes like this. The Empress Dowager 赵 of the state of 赵 was in power. The state of 赵 as in great peril. The nearby state of 秦 was mobilizing its forces to conquer the State of 赵. The Qin army had already captured 3 cities. The State of 赵 sent a plea of help to form an alliance with the State of 齐. The State of 齐 agreed under the condition that the Empress Dowager 赵 send her youngest son, 长安君 to the state of 齐 as collateral or basically as a hostage. The Empress Dowager refused, leading the State of 赵 almost to the brink of destruction.
It was at this time that the advisor 触龙 bravely stepped forward to discuss the matter with the Empress Dowager.
触龙 apologizes for not paying his respects to the Empress Dowager earlier. The two exchange pleasantries about exercise and food. Then 触龙 requests for his young 15 year old son to be a guard at the palace. He’s getting old but he still needs to plan for his son’s future and well-being.
The Empress Dowager, surprised, asks do men also pamper and lover their young children?
触龙 responds – why yes, more than even women!
The Empress dowager disagrees – women love their children more.
触龙 then turns the topic towards the Empress dowager and says – I believe your majesty loves your daughter 燕后 more than your son 长安君. The Empress Dowager quickly retorts, no that’s not true.
触龙 then states this line: 父母之爱子，则为之计深远
The quote translates to the love of a parent, means that they will plan long and far for their children.
Your majesty, when your daughter married, you prayed that she will always stay in the state of Yan. It’s not to say that you don’t miss her. You knew that her best prospects are to stay there and birth a son who will be the future king of the state of 燕. You planned for her future.
触龙 then turns the conversation towards the Empress Dowagers youngest son 长安君. 触龙 gives examples that brothers and sons of kings don’t live very long. He continues to make the argument that as a royal with no merit, what will happen when the Empress Dowager passes? The Empress Dowager must plan for his son’s future and not just think of the current situation. Her son must earn his place in the world. Upon hearing these word, the Empress Dowager agreed to the State of Qi’s demands and sent her son as a hostage. The State of Qi sent troops and successfully warded of the invasion from the state of Qin. Moral of the story – parents will always plan for their children’s future.
Oh boy – lets dive a lot into the book differences today.
In the drama, this is the first time that 明兰 travels back to the Sheng family estate in 宥阳 and travels with her beloved Grandma. In the book, this is the second time and she travels instead with a cousin 盛长梧, his pregnant wife 康允儿, and younger brother 盛长栋. 长梧 is mentioned briefly earlier in the episode. 盛长栋 as a character doesn’t exist in the drama. Grandma 盛 traveled earlier than 明兰 to 宥阳.
齐衡 doesn’t meet her along the journey. That part was added for the drama.
In the whole confrontation against the bandits, 明兰 is wayy more of a badass in the book. I wish they portrayed more of her intelligence here in the show. Since they don’t, I’ll dive into what she does in the book!
On the trip down the river, apart from the 盛family boat, there are two other families traveling in different boats. There are cargo boats in the front and rear of the convoy. The patrol boats who protect the families and cargo ships are in the middle, so are the 3 boats holding the families mentioned earlier. The water bandits aren’t very polished because they first target a cargo ship. That surprise attack gave the other ships enough time to regroup for people to flee and mount a retaliation.
明兰 orders her cousin 长梧 to take his wife and younger brother ashore in a small boat. She satys on the boat with the maids and some guards. Because the family is returning to the 盛 family estate, they brought a significant amount of valuables and goods. 明兰 hurriedly orders the maids to toss out/blow out all of the candles. Then she has some of the maids go into the cargo hold to tie up some small metal boxes and has her maid 小桃 tie them to the bottom of the boat. That way the valuables won’t be found and they won’t be lost. 小桃 in the book is a very good swimmer. 明兰 then orders everyone left on the boat to hide in the kitchen. Her reasoning is this, not all of the bandits will be able to swim to the boat. There’s over 10 rooms that they will have to search and since they just swam aboard the boat, it’s unlikely that they can quickly start a fire to begin searching. These factors will at least give them a fighting chance.
The girls hidden in the kitchen actually quickly and quietly dispatch 2 bandits that make their way over. 明兰 personally stabs one in the chest with a hairpin! Unfortunately, as in the drama, one maid reveals that 明兰 is still on the boat. With no other option, she tells everyone to jump and she plunges into the river
In the span of like 2 minutes or one chapter, we see 明兰’s quick thinking and fearlessness. She confidently orders her maids to prepare for the worst. In the drama, she just has 小桃 jump and she kind of fights off some bandits? That’s like not possible. The book was much better in this regard.
Well in the book, she swims for like one hot second before she’s rescued by another woman. The woman brings her to shore and 明兰 is quickly wrapped in a blanket. When 顾廷烨 shows up, she immediately recognizes him. Similar to the show, 顾廷烨 is now a leader of 漕帮. His servant, 石头, 石头’s brother, and sister-in-law are all assisting in dispatching the bandits. The group heads back to the Sheng family boat. 顾廷烨 shoots more bandits swimming in the water with his bow and arrows. 明兰 returns to the boat to see much wasn’t damaged.
In the book, this is 明兰 and 顾廷烨’s like 4th or 5th time actually meeting one another. 明兰 and 顾廷烨 have a rather open discussion about 顾廷烨’s marriage prospects etc. I like the overall conversation in the drama better because 明兰 and 顾廷烨 actually have had serious discussions before.
In the book, there’s one line that 明兰 says that describes 顾廷烨 perfectly. The quote from the book is this – 二表叔，您虽瞧着一身反骨，满京城里最瞧不上世俗规矩，其实骨子里却是个最规矩不过的. This translates to – Uncle – even though it seems like you are the most rebellious man in the capital city, but deep down you are as traditional as can be.
顾廷烨 retorts with one line that describes 明兰 perfectly. The quote is this – 你的一举一动虽瞧着再规矩不过了，其实骨子里却嗤之以鼻，平日还能装的似模似样，可一有变故，立时便露了马脚！只盼着你能装一辈子，莫教人揭穿了！
This translates to – Even though every step you take strictly follows convention, but, deep down you despise it. Usually, you can hide your disdain but as soon as something happens, this facade disappears. I hope you can hide this forever and no one will expose you.
What do you think listener? Don’t you think this perfectly describes the two of them? 顾廷烨 for all his rebellious ways, still adheres to social norms and stratifications. He won’t marry 曼娘, he wants to respect his family. 明兰, she has no choice but to adhere to the rules of this unfair society. However, in the drama, we’ve seen time and again how she’s tried to rebel.
I wish the drama kept these lines in during this conversation. It shows that these two people actually understand each other. In the drama, I feel like 顾廷烨 is more appreciative of 明兰’s words of encouragement to plan for his daughter’s future.
In the book, it is this encounter that sows the seed of interest in 顾廷烨’s mind.
Well that is it for this episode of the Story of Ming Lan. 明兰 has her heart broken, not by 齐衡 but by the social norms of the time. She just survived a harrowing bandit attack and met none other than 顾廷烨. What’ll happen next?
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.