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 episode 26, of The Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。
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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.
This episode is more of a transition episode to the more nefarious events that are upcoming and there are 2 main threads.
First is 明兰’s relationship with 齐衡, the Young duke. We begin episode 26 with the return of Grandma Sheng and 明兰 to their home in the Capital. As a way to greet them, Ming Lan’s father, 盛纮, and his wife, 王大娘子 met 明兰 and Grandma Sheng at the outskirts of the city – at a temple. Once safely together, the family share major events that’s happened these last few months.
Madame Wang shares a happy bit of news. 明兰‘s oldest sister 华兰 gave birth to a healthy son! That’s great news because if you recall, 华兰 was struggling with fertility and so having a son is a great blessing. 明兰 is excused to visit her mother’s memorial tablet. Notice how her father doesn’t really care at all about this or 明兰’s mother. On the walk over, a young daoist monk trips right in front of 明兰 and slips a note of paper into her hand. It’s quite subtle and the ruse definitely works because I didn’t catch it the first time watching. 明兰 gives her caretakers an excuse to be alone in the room to read the note. It’s from her aunt, Miss 卫, stating that she’ll be coming to the capital in a few days. She needs to meet 明兰.
In the meantime, 顾廷烨 has also returned back to the capital and is reunited with his nanny 常嬷嬷. As 明兰 He plans for his daughter 蓉姐儿 to go to school and asks for help from 盛长柏. He agrees and will ask his wife about it. The cutie 蓉姐儿 gives her thanks to 盛长柏 and accidently lets slip that they protected 盛明兰 and the 盛 family retinue on their way back to the capital.
The next morning, as the 盛 family is preparing to depart the temple, none other than the Countess of 永昌 or 永昌伯爵夫人 also visits the temple. Upon hearing that Grandma Sheng is there, this countess heads to greet the ladies. She plainly declares that she wants to see 盛明兰. This countess is the one who hosted the polo match.
Weather doesn’t quite match here – in one scene, there’s snow on the ground, and another, it’s raining but oh well. Just a small nitpick.
The Countess greets the 盛 family ladies. She begins the conversation by stating that she’s here to pray for a good match for her youngest son. She then quickly turns the conversation towards the Duke of 齐. In the past few months, the HOuse of Qi has not been very peaceful. The young duke 齐衡 has been waging a quiet war with his mother. The countess doesn’t know much of the details but apparently a maid who served in 齐衡’s room was killed.
At this point Grandma Sheng requests her leave. The countess sighs saying that she’s said what she needed to say. The Duke of Qi is too high a ladder to climb but her house is easier to enter. She clearly wants 明兰 as her daughter in law.
明兰 returns home and urgently asks her maid about the events at the Duke of Qi. Her maid 丹橘 confirms the events and even adds that it is suspected that the maid who was beaten to death looked somewhat like 明兰.
Later that evening, 明兰 visits her grandmother. Grandma sheng decides to frank conversation with her granddaughter. She informs 明兰 that the Countess of 永昌 or Madame Wu most likely has deemed 明兰 as a suitable match for her son. This is a very high match for 明兰. The topic turns towards the Duke of Qi.
Grandma 盛 tries to lay it out for 明兰, using the example of her cousin 淑兰 from the previous episode. What if her life will be like 淑兰’s life? Her parents won’t dare go against the Duke’s family if 明兰 is suffering. Grandma Sheng tries to persuade 明兰 to be prudent and expresses her disappointment at 明兰. She says the line – you’ve turned your spirit upside down for a man! Have you forgotten all my teachings? When I heard this – my reaction was – yes grandma, this is what you should be teaching. True love is nice, but you’ve got to protect yourself first honey!
明兰 – in I think the first time where she reveals her true feelings – pleads to her grandmother to forgive her. 明兰 is willing to risk everything for the Young Duke. She’s seen everything he’s done for her and wants to fight for a potential future with the Duke. It’s heartwarming and heartwarming. 明兰 knows how difficult it will be for the two of them but she’s willing to make the effort.
The big event for the episode is the Lantern Festival or 元宵
节 which is the 15th day of the new year. We’ll talk more about what the lantern festival is at the end of the episode but as the lantern festival’s name suggests, there is a myriad of lights and lanterns to enjoy. The Sheng family sisters and brothers partake in enjoying the view. We haven’t seen the Sheng family siblings in a while so we’re back to 如兰 being upset at 墨兰’s behavior while dragging 明兰 along.
The streets are packed with families enjoying the night with beautiful lights and actors in masks on the streets. It’s a little overwhelming for 明兰 who is hoping to see…someone. As she’s looking around, a masked man stops her and her maid, 小桃. It’s 齐衡’s servant, 不为 who sends a message to 明兰 to speak privately. They make an excuse and break off to a quiet alley. There, 不为 requests for 明兰 to give him a message to 齐衡。As heard earlier, 齐衡 has been refusing to eat in order to force his mother to agree to allow him to marry 明兰。He’s currently lost a lot of weight and 不为 wants to hear from 明兰。 明兰 is obviously moved but as they’re chatting, soldiers start clearing the streets. There’s chaos on the streets but before 明兰 hurriedly leaves, says this to 不为: 他若不负我，我定不负他。Which more or less means, if he doesn’t give up on the relationship, then I won’t give up on the relationship. That’s a pretty brave thing to say as she could have easily backed out by now but no, she is willing to give this relationship a shot. Shortly after, the soldiers clear the streets of the festivities as everyone is forced to go home.
Next morning, Grandma Sheng and 盛纮 discuss what transpired. Apparently, there’s a rebel uprising that claimed several provinces and there was a fear of rebel spies in the capital, thus the lantern festival was cancelled. But Grandma Sheng doesn’t think this can be the case because in previous years when there was actual warfare, the lantern festival still continued. How can a much smaller rebel uprising that’s far away cause such panic? Something isn’t right.
王大娘子 comes through with the gossip. It turns out that the sister of 容妃，her name is 荣飞燕， was kidnapped at the festival yesterday. We’ve met 荣飞燕 in episode 16 during the polo match. She is one of the women observing the match when 明兰 and 齐衡 were facing 顾廷烨.
This is a big deal as 容妃 is a favored concubine of the emperor and therefore, 容妃’s sister is also royalty. For someone of this status to have been kidnapped means there’s severe security threats in the capital city. The Sheng family daughters are instructed to be very careful from now on.
Pause – madame 王 or 王大娘子’s actress is just so on point especially when she burns herself with the ice. It’s absolutely hilarious!
In the very next scene, a woman is dropped from a carriage onto the street. She’s passed out, unconscious and completely disheveled. Passersby recognize it to be the missing 荣飞燕。That night, this 荣飞燕 commits suicide by hanging.
This causes an uproar for the 荣 family. The Empress begged the Emperor on behalf of 容妃 to send out Imperial Troops to search for the bandits who did this. The entire Rong family is waiting outside the local magistrate’s office to no avail. It’s been several days and not a hint of who or what did this has surfaced.
明兰 hears of this news and astutely points out that something’s fishy.
So with all of that, the other thread for the next few episodes starts picking up in earnest. And this thread is about Ming Lan’s mother’s death.
Given the chaos, 明兰 then takes this opportunity to seek her aunt at 玉清Temple, per the note earlier in the episode.
It’s a little dodgy as she’s not supposed to leave but she is able to convince 王大娘子. At the Temple, she meets her aunt and a surprise guest – 小蝶。 小蝶 was a maid for young 明兰 and her mother back in episode 1 and 2. She was kicked out of the 盛 household for having stolen food and supplies but she has kindly returned to tell 明兰 the truth. She was framed. She never stole any of those things. Ming Lan’s aunt also brings another surprise witness – the Doctor that examined Ming Lan’s mother one time early in her pregnancy. This doctor was invited by 林小娘. The doctor tells Ming Lan that he remembers telling 林小娘 that as long as Ming Lan’s mother avoided heavy foods and exercised, there would be no problem to the pregnancy. That is when Ming Lan remembered what happened. Her mother was provided all of the heaviest, oiliest foods and was prevented from exercising too much. When she relayed this to the doctor, the doctor was furious saying that if this happened, the mother would have a baby too large to be born and die.
This solidifies the truth to 明兰 that the person who killed her mother was none other than 林小娘。
The episode ends with 林小娘， whom we haven’t talked about it a while, suspecting something might be amiss with 明兰 as she’s been leaving the house quite frequently but has no proof Ming Lan is onto her.
Time for some historical analysis
Let’s start off with the Lantern festival! 元宵节 or 上元节 is celebrated on the 15th day of the lunar calendar. It ends the 2 week festival to celebrate the new year and people went out to celebrate with a sky full of lanterns. 元宵节 is one of the biggest festivals still today in China and marks the end of the new year celebrations. First records of celebrating the festival dates all the way back 2000 years ago during the Han dynasty. During the 宋 dynasty, the festivities lasted 5 days and nights. Men and women were able to be out on the streets and participate in games such as Lantern Riddles and watch fireworks, dragon dance, and enjoy the lanterns. People looked forward to this festival because it meant people, no matter the status could go out and enjoy, as we see the ladies of the 盛 family out in the streets. This would not be allowed in regular times. The main food that people eat during the Lantern festival are sticky rice balls called 汤圆 with various fillings such as sesame, red bean paste, or peanut butter. The reason people eat this, and I actually quite like them, is because the name is a homophone for union and being together so it signifies that a family is together. Kinda like the moon festival. Chinese people like phrases that signify good things.
鳌山 as mentioned in the drama is just a huge mountain made of lanterns.
In this episode, we have an extended scene where we see 明兰 ironing clothes. Yep, that’s right, China had tools for ironing dating over 2500 years ago. The earliest physical records of iron presses date back to the Western Han Dynasty, so around 200BC. The ones unearthed from tombs were made of bronze. People would place heated coals or wood in the iron presses to smooth out the wrinkles. Over the centuries, as silk became more abundant especially amongst the nobles, ironing was very important to the upkeep of clothes. During the 唐 dynasty, there are written records and paintings of maids in the Imperial Palace ironing clothes for their masters. By the 宋 dynasty, people invented a contraption that combined ironing with incense so that the clothes smelled better.
Now onto character analysis
Countess of Wu
We haven’t seen much of Madame Wu or the Countess of 永昌 in that many episodes. However, it’s quite obvious that she’s very taken with 明兰. Even though she is also a Countess, she clearly aims to have 明兰 as her daughter-in-law and have 明兰 marry her youngest son 梁晗。 Do we think Madame Wu is very progressive? She doesn’t care about 明兰’s status as a 庶女 and clearly favors her over 墨兰. This is a pretty impressive woman right? Oh no no no, we’ll see in future episodes exactly why Madame Wu is willing to overlook 明兰’s birth status. Hint: her son isn’t all that great.
There isn’t much to discuss this week in terms of book differences. Most of it doesn’t happen in the book, especially the whole storyline with 明兰 and her aunt. The drama greatly enhances the storyline between 齐衡 and 明兰 so this piece doesn’t happen. What does happen though is mysterious death of 荣飞燕. This gets more screen time on the show. It’s basically a line in the book.
Well that’s it for this episode of the story of ming lan! As always, if you have any questions or comments or want to let us know what topics you’d like to have us cover, let us know! Otherwise, until next time!