Ep 28

 

[Cathy]

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 28, 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 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 then close with book differences.

 

In the last episode, the young duke 齐衡 declared his love to 明兰 and promised that he’ll marry her. Unfortunately this dream came crashing down when his mother, the princess ping ning ordered 齐衡’s servant 不为 to be beaten to death. Later that evening, she divulges the difficult position the family is in. Two of the most prominent families in the capital want 齐衡 as a son in law. The Prince of 邕 already showed his hand, capturing the young daughter of the 柴 family, humiliating her, causing her to commit suicide. The Prince of 邕’s only goal is to force 齐衡 to marry his daughter. Things are looking grim for the 齐 family.

 

Let’s start off with episode 28. 

 

A servant comes into report to 齐衡 and his mother that the Duke of Qi was basically dragged into the Prince of 邕’s estate for a “meal”. It’s now late at night and the Prince’s servants come to report that the duke had too much to drink and will stay the night. 

 

齐衡 and the Princess immediately understood the meaning of this. The Prince of Yong essentially has kidnapped the Duke. The Princess is furious and immediately heads to the Palace. She demands an audience with the Emperor himself. 

 

At the palace, Princess 平宁 sits with the Empress to await news. A Eunuch returns to report that there is no sign of the Duke at the Prince’s estate. The Prince’s servants claim the Duke left earlier in the evening. The Princess is incredulous. There must be secret chambers or rooms in the estate! She begs the Empress to summon the Prince himself but the Empress informs the PRincess that the Prince of Yong is currently performing the worshipping rituals and cannot be disturbed.

 

You can see the gears turning in Princess 平宁’s head. The Duke’s disappearance was plotted in advance! The Empress doesn’t give much more aid and orders the Princess to head to a side chamber and get some rest as they await news. Notice the Empress during the entire scene. She seems quite annoyed at the Princess. The Princess, in her distress, has acted quite out of decorum but there might be something else at play with the Empress…

 

After some time, the restless Princess cannot wait any longer and leaves the Palace, sobbing. She’s not granted another audience with the Empress. The Empress has evidently decided that she either a doesn’t want to deal with this situation or b it’s not worth it for her. There’s not much 齐衡 and his mother can do anymore and return home. The Princess falls ill and it’s now 齐衡’s turn to tend to her bedside. The Princes, in her weakened state, tells 齐衡 that she’ll return to the Palace tomorrow to beg again.

 

齐衡, ghostly white, slowly walks out of his mother’s room. He finally has a few minutes to digest the events of today. He hopes that in the next life, his loyal servant 不为, doesn’t end up in a house like this one again. He tells the new servant that to the outside world, it looks like they live a life of luxury, splendor, and without worries. He himself believes that of the Emperor. But in the end, they are all human. They all have pain and suffering. They all have to deal with matters outside of their control. 

 

朱一龙, the actor for 齐衡, does in my opinion an amazing job here portraying 齐衡’s desperation and realization that his life is outside of his control. his laugh at the end of the poem he recites is chilling. The young duke finally realizes that he has to bear the burden of his family which means he cannot do what he wants. 

 

齐衡 pays a visit to the Prince of 邕. His wife, the Princess consort, meets him instead. Right off the bat, 齐衡 requests for his father to be released. The Princess Consort continues to lie and says she has no idea what he’s talking about. 

 

In a daring move, 齐衡 pulls out a dagger and points it at himself. He threatens that the Princess Consort can have her daughter marry his corpse instead. 

 

The Princess Consort smirks and actually states – my young boy, you’re too young. We didn’t kidnap your father, we simply invited him over to discuss the pros and cons of this union. She has the gall to say – we’re both royalty – it doesn’t benefit us to strain our relationship with blood. 

 

Kudos to 齐衡 for absolutely blowing up at her. The Princess Consort finally lays it out. The whole reason for their actions tonight was to have 齐衡 himself show up at their door exactly as he is doing now. 

 

The Princess consort bluntly tells 齐衡. You’re right, we can’t do anything to you but we can destroy the 盛 family. The only reason why you won’t marry my daughter is because of that 盛 family girl right? It’ll be quite easy to squash that family. If you die, the 盛 family will die with you. 

 

Poor 齐衡, it’s just one blow after another. He lowers his dagger. Um, look at the Princess Consort? She’s dabbing her eyes too. Excuse you, what do you have to be crying about? You’re threatening murder as leverage over 齐衡!

 

齐衡 responds with two phrases that we’ve talked at length about 舐犊情深 and 父母之爱子则为

之计深远. In the previous episodes, these were phrases that praised the parent’s love and devotion to their children. 齐衡 here though now mocks the Princess Consort with these phrases. He asks her, what kind of planning is this?The heavens are mocking the Emperor. The dynasty will fall into the hands of people like you. 

 

The Princess Consort coldly stands up to tell him – he has no other route. If he signs the marriage contract, 齐衡’s father will return home immediately and the 盛 family will be safe. 

 

Faced with this enormous decision, 齐衡 weighs his options. He slowly turns to the piece of paper.

 

朱一龙 continues his streak of amazing acting here. His incredulousness, his helplessness, and his quite frankly naivety are perfectly shown here. He’s no match for the scheming Princess Consort. The Prince of 邕 and his wife has pushed 齐衡 and his family into a corner. 齐衡 has no other option but to sign.

 

We actually don’t see him sign it but in the next scene the Countess of 永昌 or 吴大娘子 spills the gossip to the ladies of the 盛 family. The Countess of 永昌 of course isn’t there to be benevolent. She need 明兰 to hear this news so that perhaps she’ll consider her house instead.

 

明兰 keeps very quiet. 如兰 and 墨兰 continue their bickering outside about the news they just heard. Both of them don’t really care about 齐衡’s marriage. 墨兰 sets her sights on a next target. 

 

Back at her own quarters, 明兰’s writing a poem. Her grandmother comes to console her. This kind old lady has some very stern words for her, but they’re just what I think 明兰 needs to hear. You just tripped. Have a good cry, get up, and keep on living. At the end of the day marriage isn’t always up to the children for people like us. You fought for it so you should have no regrets. Grandma 盛 finishes with – I will help you find a good match. For the first time ever, 明兰 finally cries in front of someone else. She in her mind did love 齐衡 and despite her head telling her not to hope for a marriage, still wanted to believe that it could happen. Now, in the face of reality, the only thing she can do is cry. 

 

I want a grandma like Grandma Sheng. My grandparents are great, but this woman is on another level.

 

We finally get back to 顾廷烨. He’s being requested to head back to the front lines. Look at 石头, 顾廷烨’s servant, in the background. 石头 means rock and he’s standing there like a rock. It’s hilarious. 顾廷烨 finds out from 常嬷嬷 about 齐衡 impending marriage. He quickly schedules a meeting with 齐衡. 

 

齐衡 is just a shell of a human right now. This is a fascinating scene as we get to see how the two men respond to the exact situation. 

 

齐衡 asks 顾廷烨 what he would have done in his situation. 顾廷烨 immediately says – I would have entered the palace, sought an audience with the Emperor, and sue the whole family of the Prince of Yong. Another option – I could copy them! The Prince kidnaps your father? I’ll kidnap his daughter. Without a daughter, who will you marry? You delay a couple of days and that’s it. 齐衡 is speechless. Listen to his response – your suggestion might lead to the annihilation of the entire family. 

 

顾廷烨 then responds with I think is the most apt description of 齐衡 and his weakness. He tells 齐衡 – you want to live however way you want. To do so, you must take risks! You grew up with everything, so you never had to fight for anything. Because of that you never knew what it meant to compete, to scheme, to fight for your desires. He bluntly tells 齐衡 that this whole situation was 100% his own fault. Look at 齐衡 now – he tries to retort but he doesn’t. He knows he missed every opportunity with 明兰. 齐衡 then claims that he cannot face 明兰 anymore because of what he’s done and hands a box over to 顾廷烨.

 

顾廷烨 stops him however. The most important thing for 明兰 right now is a stupid present, it’s her reputation. Everyone in the capital knows now that 齐衡 wanted to marry 明兰. Now if you marry the Prince of 邕’s daughter, what’ll happen to 明兰’s reputation? What’ll happen to her marriage prospects? 顾廷烨 asks – have you thought about her?

 

Um, just looking at 齐衡’s face? He doesn’t care as much. He dares to respond – yes, I know but what can I do? I can’t put the entire 齐 clan in danger! 

 

顾廷烨 gives 齐衡 one last chance. If 齐衡 wants to fight for 明兰, 顾廷烨 will do it for him. 明兰’s reputation and happiness all depend on 齐衡’s one decision. 

 

C’mon 齐衡 – where are you going to find a friend like 顾廷烨? But honestly, did anyone believe 齐衡 would agree to this? 顾廷烨 coldly tells him – you keep saying that it’s fate but if you worry about every step you make, then stop planning. It’s not worth it. 顾廷烨 leaves with the box. 齐衡 is left at the table, still not uttering a word.

 

With this scene – I’m over 齐衡. He’s a product of his family and society. He keeps claiming that he’ll fight for 明兰 but when push comes to shove, he’ll use his family to cover for his cowardice. 

 

顾廷烨 pays a visit to 明兰 under the pretense of visiting 盛长柏. 顾廷烨 has with him the box 齐衡 gave him. 顾廷烨 and 明兰 have a coded conversation about 齐衡 since of course she’s still an unmarried woman and they can’t be talking about other men. The maids are outside listening too. 顾廷烨 compares the calligraphy sample to the situation between 齐衡 and 明兰. 明兰 opens the box to see the male clay doll that 齐衡 bought.  明兰 returns to her room to pick up the female clay doll and gives it to 顾廷烨. 

 

明兰 laughs – when she warned 顾廷烨 of 曼娘, he didn’t listen. When 顾廷烨 compared 齐衡 and her to 唐明皇 and 杨贵妃 in the last episode, she also didn’t listen. Look where they both are now. He tries to console her to look ahead. If anyone says anything about her marriage prospects, he’ll take care of it when he returns. He again thanks her for enlightening him towards another path and he tells her to do the same. 

 

明兰, at the end of the episode, watches 顾廷烨 leave and states – you’re right. I need to look ahead. I came to this world and I should live a happy and content life. 

 

With that the story of 明兰 and 齐衡 comes to an end. 

 

Phew – that was a long recap!

 

What do we think about 齐衡 and his choices? Let’s think about that while we dive into history.

 

First up, 

孟婆汤

 

齐衡 briefly mentions 孟婆汤. The literal translation is Grandma Meng’s Soup or forgetfulness soup. The properties are similar to that of the river lethe of greek mythology. 

 

Legend has it, there’s a Yellow Spring road to the realm of the dead. There’s a river of forgetfulness called 忘川河。 In Chinese mythology, 孟婆 is the goddess of forgetfulness. On the bridge of forgetfulness, 奈何桥, there’s a pagoda called 望乡台。孟婆 serves a soup of forgetfulness or also the five flavored tea of forgetfulness. This tea wipes the memory of the drinker so they can reincarnate into the next life without the joys and burdens of the previous life. They will reincarnate based on the karma accrued from their previous lives. 

 

齐衡 hopes that his servant 不为 drinks the soup and forgets all of the pains from this life.

 

Next up, 

 

其苦不堪言,其痛难言尽。洛河三千星,不独照月明

 

These few lines are recited by 齐衡 as he, heartbroken, wanders out of his mother’s chamber. This poem is actually written for the show and has no historical basis. The translation on youtube of the first two lines are good so i’ll use that and the last two lines are my translation.

 

This pain that cannot be mentioned

This ache that words cannot stop

The river reflects three thousand stars

It doesn’t only reflect the moon.

 

Here 齐衡 is lamenting the predicament that his family and even the Emperor is in. They suffer all the same. The river reflects 3 thousand stars – the stars are all the normal folks like 齐衡. The moon is the Emperor. He’s trying to say that the river will show everyone’s pains and sorrows, not just that of the Emperor. I think it’s an ok poem. Not really sure why this needed to be repeated again when 齐衡 said this in plain chinese just before this poem but ok.

 

Finally,

 

After hearing the news of 齐衡’s impending marriage, 明兰 writes poetry that reflect her current state of mind. The two lines mentioned are 

 

吴会非吾乡,安能久留滞 – 吴会 isn’t my hometown, how can I stay long?

 

This poem was actually written by 曹丕 the the first emperor of the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms era who lived from 187AD to 226AD. We’ve talked about him before. The whole poem itself is titleless and I don’t have an exact date of when it was written but we can probably attribute it to sometime post 200AD.

 

The poem is about a traveler and his trials during his travels as he finds himself far from home and becomes homesick.

 

The full poem is as such

西北有浮云,亭亭如车盖。

惜我时不遇,适与飘风会。

吹我东南行,行行至吴会。

吴会非吾乡,安能久留滞。

弃置勿复陈,客子常畏人。

 

This roughly translates to

The are clouds in the northwest, they look like carriage covers.

My timing is unfortunate and was caught in terrible storem

It blew me towards the south east, towards 吴会

吴会 isn’t my hometown, how can I stay long?

I shouldn’t think too much, as a guest in a foreign place I should be wary.

 

This is a lovely poem, the two lines featured in the show, in my opinion aren’t as applicable to 明兰’s situation as the last two lines. Her grandmother correctly points out, where do you want to go? She’s at home. Where can she go? It is true that she must be wary of different people. 

 

The other references made during this episode can be found in previous episodes

舐犊情深 – the chinese idiom that translates to show affection and love for one’s children. Check out episode 15

父母之爱子则为之计深远 – translates to the love of a parent, means that they will plan long and far for their children. Check out episode 22 + part 1 of episode 23.

唐明皇 and 杨贵妃 – the tragic love story between the famous Tang dynasty Emperor, 唐玄宗 and his consort, 杨贵妃. Check out episode 27

 

Now – let’s get onto our character analysis!!

 

The star of the episode is of course 齐衡!

 

I’ve praised the actor 朱一龙 enough in this episode for his acting but let’s dive into the character of 齐衡. I admit, I have shown my favoritism towards him over 顾廷烨 but I think that’s because I know 齐衡 will never be the perfect match for 明兰, so I let his faults slide. Here though I’ll do a deep dive on his character. 

 

齐衡 truly is a standout gentlemen. In this episode, we see his filial piety, his devotion to family, and his love for 明兰. But we also see his naivete, his helplessness, and finally his cowardness.

 

In this entire episode, 齐衡 was always just the pawn that dutifully showed up where he was needed. The unseen Prince of 邕 and his wife, the Princess Consort, used their own scheming and plotting to force 齐衡 into this marriage. They acted ruthlessly for their daughter’s happiness. 齐衡 didn’t even think to act the same. The best thing he had to offer was his life, which the Princess Consort scoffed at. You threaten me? I’ll threaten you with the 盛 family. 齐衡 of course caved. At no point during these two episodes did he scheme or try to find leverage against the Prince of 邕.

 

He knows his duty towards his family and clan. At the end of the day, he chose his family over 明兰. True, 明兰 and her entire family were at the mercy of the Prince of 邕. This would have spelled doom for 明兰 and 齐衡 believes that he had no other choice to make but forsake 明兰.

 

Again, I mentioned earlier, 齐衡 in my mind behaved exactly as a man of his time. He is a true gentleman. In the face of love, he was cautious because he didn’t want to harm anyone. In the end, he hurt everyone. 明兰 even said – I don’t blame him. Everything he tries to do, he ends up messing it up. But because he is that true gentlemen, the Prince of 邕 was able to easily trap him to do his bidding. 

 

However, 顾廷烨 was 100% correct in saying that this whole thing was his fault. Why didn’t he tell his mother sooner? Why didn’t he plot for any leverage against the Prince of 邕? His naivete of the world prevented him from scheming and his cowardice prevented from making that final decision to fight for 明兰 when 顾廷烨 offered him the chance to do so.

 

齐衡 in the end was 唐明皇 or the Emperor 唐玄宗. Ok, not as bad. He didn’t kill 明兰 but, he gave up 明兰 for the safety of his family and the safety of 明兰’s family. 

 

What sealed the deal for me is when 顾廷烨 asks 齐衡 what’ll happen to 明兰’s reputation after all this? 齐衡 claims that he can’t do anything about it but he could have! I don’t mean marry her but you can pay off people to not spread rumors, something! He is simply wallowing in his own sorrow and has disregarded 明兰’s situation. Let’s contrast his behavior to that of 顾廷烨, who over the past 10 episodes, has transformed into someone who is constantly there for 明兰 and is fully aware of the difficult predicament that she’s in as a woman in this strict society. 

 

齐衡 let his one chance with 明兰 slip away from his fingers. He will regret it for the rest of his life but this is all on him. There’s a hilarious comment on youtube where someone wrote – what on earth do the ladies like me for? I’ll change! Buddy, to little too late.

 

Lastly let’s talk book differences!

 

The drama vastly enhanced 齐衡’s role in the show. 明兰 and 齐衡 never had any real reciprocity in feelings, it was all much more subtle. 明兰 very much cut him out of her life early on. Other male characters have a much bigger presence in the book, including of course 顾廷烨, the doctor 贺弘文, and even 明兰’s other male cousins and brothers. 

 

In the book, his marriage to the Prince of 邕’s daughter is briefly mentioned.  The predicament that the Qi family found themselves in, as in their favor hanging on a thread, and very much dependent on the favor of the Emperor is described in the book. The aftermath of this marriage will be highlighted in the book and show so I won’t divulge more. 

 

The clay dolls are actually featured in the epilogue of the book. Spoilers right now! If you want to be spoiled, this will be the end of the episode for you! Thank you for listening today!

 

At the end of the book, 齐衡’s grandson, who is ranked second, marries 盛长柏’s granddaughter who just so happened to be ranked 6th. She’s also a 庶女 or not born from the main wife. We’ll call her 盛小六. When 齐衡, finally dies, 盛小六 finds an old box. In the box are two clay dolls. The coloring has faded due to the years. On the dolls were inscribed 盛小六 and 齐小二. This of course the exact same dolls that were sent back to 齐衡 after they were rejected by 明兰 all those years ago. With the marriage of 齐衡’s grandson to 盛小六, the two will be together forever and fill the regret that 齐衡 will feel until his dying breath. I will dive into the ending of the epilogue towards the end of the drama but wanted to share the fate of these clay dolls in the story today!

 

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! 

 

I spent covid time brushing up my zither or 古筝 skills and learned this version of the theme song to the drama. Sheet music is written by 崔江卉。 Definitely check out her youtube, she has tons of great zither renditions of popular Chinese pieces. 

 

Otherwise, until next time!

 

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