Welcome back to Chasing dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese History and culture through historical Chinese dramas. I’m Karen, and Cathy. Today, we are discussing Episode 31 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 spoken in mandarin Chinese. As we always do, the first part of the podcast will be an episode recap and then we’ll get into the historical analysis.
If you haven’t left us a rating on whichever platform you listen to us to, please do so and leave a comment! Also, we have revamped our website and will be updating it more frequently. We have added more drama reviews in case you’re looking for a drama to watch and want to get our thoughts or recommendations.
I’m going to be honest that when we were first figuring out what to write for this episode, I thought it would be rather plot heavy but after rewatching a few times, I realize there’s actually quite a bit of history and culture to discuss so we’re focusing on just episode 31 today.
In the last 2 episodes, Ming Lan started turning on the offensive towards her sister 墨兰 and 林小娘 but didn’t get quite the results she wanted. Ming Lan has been flaunting the attention she received from Countess Wu who is interested in having Ming Lan as a daughter in law for her son, 梁晗. Ming Lan totally recognizes why this marriage would be terrible as 梁晗 is the definition of a wealthy playboy. He has his own mistresses at home that is causing drama which is why Countess Wu wants to find a strong wife to manage her son’s household. Why would anyone want to walk into a trap like that?
Well, 墨兰 and 林小娘 of course. Ming Lan goaded her sister into slashing her cheek but it was not enough for her sister and 林小娘 to receive a big enough punishment. At the end of the last episode, Ming Lan says let’s make the mistake even bigger so that is what we’ll see happen in this episode.
Episode 31 starts with 明兰 telling her maids to document every single gift that Countess Wu has given Ming Lan so far because they are certainly going to return them in the future. We find out that the expensive jade bracelet Ming Lan gave to 如兰 and the fabrics given to 墨兰 were not actually from Countess Wu, but purchased personally by Ming Lan as a way to trick her sisters into thinking she has a great relationship with Countess Wu. Technically, Ming Lan could have gifted actual gifts from Countess Wu but this is her tactic of creating the facade she wants but also not beholden to anything from Countess Wu in the future.
In the next scene, we see 如兰 gossiping with her maid about Countess Wu’s visits and how upset this makes 墨兰 which pleases her greatly. What’s interesting is that 如兰 quickly bumps into a mysterious young stranger at her home. It’s definitely one of the students that 盛纮 has invited to stay at the household. Who’s he and what do you think will happen?
The father of the house 盛纮 has decided, at the end of episode 30, to match 墨兰 with a guy named 文炎敬. He’s a bright young lad who is sure to have a great career ahead of him but he does not come from wealth or status. He also currently is only a 举人, or a recommended man. He has yet to pass the metropolitan exams so he doesn’t have any position as a bureaucrat. This is of course, unacceptable, for 林小娘. At a dinner one night with 盛纮, she uses all her tactics to try to convince him that 文炎敬 is too poor for her daughter. It’s increasingly obvious that 盛纮 is displeased with 林小娘’s viewpoint as it reflects her shallow tendencies so he storms off. This pushes the mother daughter pair to want to take 墨兰‘s marriage into their own hands…which is straight into 明兰’s trap.
Meanwhile, 明兰 visits her aunt at the temple. She learns from her aunt that the Countess Wu will bring her son 梁含 to the temple on the 15th of this month for a big ritual. This is crucial information that Ming Lan needs in order to lure 墨兰 out.
As 明兰 leaves the temple, she spots 齐衡 with his new wife 嘉成县主. This stops her in her tracks seeing her old crush with his new wife. He’s as gentlemanly as ever and I would say 明兰 turns very sad to see 齐衡 and his wife seemingly very happy together.
Well, it doesn’t seem like the relationship is AS calm as it at first appears. 齐衡 prays to the gods for the nation’s prosperity and homeward peace but, as his new wife notes, did not pray for kids. His wife keeps pushing him until he finally relents and agrees to pray for that too but it’s in a very aloof manner. You can tell he’s not super looking forward to kids with this 嘉成县主。 When she leaves, 齐衡 quickly returns to pray for 明兰’s happiness and health and even that she matches with a good person. What do you guys think? Like it’s sweet of him to do so but for both people, the ship has sailed so… Oh well.
Later that night, 明兰 converses with her grandmother while playing a game which I’ve personally never seen before and they don’t focus on it in the show but it’s more just there in the background. She states that she won’t be visiting the temple as much in the future.
Over at 林小娘’s courtyard, 林小娘 hears the rumors that 明兰 will go to the temple on the 15th of the month, the same day as Countess Wu. 墨兰 begins freaking out, believing she’s missed her chance as she’s still stuck at home. 林小娘 though immediately tells her daughter, it’s time to abandon all shame and propriety to seize the opportunity for happiness. If 墨兰 doesn’t do anything, she’ll be forced to marry a pauper. 林小娘 continues guiding her daughter – saying that she herself quickly got herself pregnant with 长枫, otherwise how would she have survived in the family? 墨兰 must not hesitate anymore. 墨兰 finally agrees and states – if I can marry in the the house of a Count, who cares about shame?
So what happens? 墨兰 dresses as a maid who has the same stature as her and sneaks out of the house with only another maid in tow and head towards the temple. Countess Wu and her son are of course there at the temple. We also get a more complete picture as to just how much of a rascal 梁含, the 6th son is, and how scheming Countess Wu is. 梁含’s current concubine is very much pregnant and Countess Wu desperately needs 梁含 to marry now. Any talk of love or status? Nah – it’s all very transactional. What a waste for 明兰 if she actually did marry into this family.
墨兰 who’s at the temple successfully stages a “meet cute” in the temple with 梁含. Who was there to guide this meet-cute? Why none other than 明兰’s aunt! To me it’s hilarious because Ming Lan’s aunt tells the women to not go over to that section of the temple since it’s all men, and what does 墨兰 do? Uh. Go to where all the men are. They bump into 梁含 who is absolutely shocked to find 墨兰 but is very pleased to see her.
I must say, the director of this drama used this scene to showcase an even more artistic side which I’m laughing about. And after a hug between 梁晗 and 墨兰, we can assume what happens next. But the amusing part is that we don’t see any of the next steps. Instead, we only see a few scenes of dew drops or rain drops fall from leaves. This actually has 2 meanings, we’ll talk about in our historical analysis portion of the episode. But I must say, this is wayyyy classier than Bridgerton. Have any of you listeners watched Bridgerton on netflix? Like it’s great for what it is when you go in knowing what you’re watching but it’s hilarious in my view comparing these scenes with The STory of Ming Lan that just use a few drops of water to cover the event.
Anyways, It’s interesting though that before heading to see 梁含, 墨兰’s maid actually tries to stop her. She warns what will happen to her family’s reputation if this got out. Listen to 墨兰 – she says who cares about my family? It’s about my future happiness. This is 墨兰’s whole view of life – I will get what I want, screw everyone else. This unfortunately will come back to bite her and everyone in the 盛 family. So uh, this maid has more sense of shame than 墨兰。
We then get an extended scene of theSheng daughters evidently at another time paying their respects to Grandma Sheng. There’s a decent amount of sniping from 墨兰 who clearly got what she wanted and thinks she is way more superior to Ming Lan. The conversation turns towards 墨兰’s maid though who somehow keeps leaving the Sheng family manor to buy supplies. This gets 墨兰 all antsy because she’s worried her ruse will be discovered.
明兰 knows that her fish is on the hook and now it’s time to reel her prize in so, she invites 如兰 over to grab the presents for their nephew, 华兰’s newborn son. 如兰 is surprised to see 3 large pots filled with Lillies. 明兰 says that the daoist monks at the temple told her this would help her marriage prospects. 如兰 teases 明兰 a little bit about this and actually tells 明兰 to not worry about all the gossip about her and 齐衡 or the Countess Wu. 如兰 tells 明兰 to brush it off because everyone else is simply jealous of her. This surprises 明兰. She’s genuinely touched that 如兰 thinks this way and gifts her some more handkerchiefs etc. This is honestly so sweet. 如兰 may not be the smartest but she thinks highly of Ming Lan. To me, this shows 如兰‘s true character.
Well why did Ming Lan explain all this about the daoist monks and her marriage prospects to 如兰? It’s for her to relay this information to Madame Wang. 如兰 shows the gifts to her mother and chuckles about the large pots placed in 明兰’s quarters. Madame 王, 王大娘子, hears this and decides that she’ll also head to the temple to ask for a prediction in order to secure marriage prospects for 如兰 as well. And this is all going according to 明兰’s plan.
王大娘子 heads to the temple and who does she spot? None other than 墨兰 and her maid. 王大娘子’s own maid 刘家的 goes to investigate. She sees 墨兰 enter into a room and 梁含 enter shortly after. 刘家的 hurridley reports back to Madame Wang.
Madame Wang is absolutely shocked to hear that 墨兰 is having a tryst with 梁含! She wants to barge in there immediately to catch the two red handed. Luckily her maid stops her. She wisely tells 王大娘子 that she is absolutely no match against 林小娘 or 墨兰. They’ll just turn the story upside down and make 王大娘子 seem like the bad guy.
For once in her life 王大娘子 listens to reason and actually hatches a plan. Her maid suggests that they report back to 盛纮 and have him personally catch them red-handed. That way, 林小娘, can’t twist the story.
So, later that night, 王大娘子 informs her husband of this. He cannot believe his ears. He blatantly states that she’s slandering his daughter. Ugh – what an idiotic man. Well, 王大娘子 tells him to just go and personally catch them himself and then he’ll believe her. 盛纮 is every more enraged at this. This is so funny because his feet are currently bathing so he can’t actually move so he’s just twisting and turning in disbelief. Without even drying his feet, 盛纮 begins to leave to try and bring 林小娘 and 墨兰 over to discover the truth. 王大娘子 swears on 如兰’s own marriage and 华兰’s happiness at her husband’s family that what she says is true. Upon hearing this, he turns back towards his wife with a completely different demeanor. He actually begins to cry as he begins to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Shortly after – 墨兰 heads out again to rendezvous with 梁含. 王大娘子’s maid spots them and informs Madame Wang. She’s all in a tizzy but in at least one moment of clarity, tells her maid to inform 盛纮 to catch them and bring only servants who’ve signed death contracts. They will tightly surround the courtyard so that no one will flee the premises.
In the next episode, we will talk about the aftermath of this discovery and what this uh plot meant for the Sheng Family. Quite a lot of action in this episode but really it’s due to 墨兰‘s complete lack of shame in order to marry the son of a Count but also uh, 梁晗，you are suuuuch a play boy. You have a girl at home pregnant and you’re now here with another woman. Girl, you chose SOOO well.
In the beginning half of the episode when 明兰 is chatting with her grandmother, she is putting together a little toy that she and her grandmother play with as they’re talking. I’ve never seen this type of gadget before in any other drama I’ve watched so I did some research.
The game is called 推枣磨 and I have absolutely no idea what the direct english translation is so my best attempt is that this is a date pushing mill or grinder. Because Tui means to push, Zao means date as in the fruit or it’s also called a jujube, and 磨 means grind.
This game was first documented in the Southern dynasty around 400 AD and there’s a painting by a guy named 苏汉臣 during the Song dynasty that painted this game between 2 children. Essentially, it’s a game where you have a bamboo stick with 2 dates on either side of it. And then you have to balance it on another date but this date is cut in half so that half of the seed is exposed. And then, you are to balance the bamboo stick with the 2 dates on either side of it on that seed which is supported by a few other bamboo sticks. The aim is to spin the top portion and whoever causes the top portion to fall, loses. They don’t show that in the drama, only 明兰 and her grandmother trying to balance the dates. Anyways, a rather interesting little game that I’ve never seen and I am glad they showed it in the drama for me to learn something new!
Now, let’s talk about 墨兰 and 梁晗’s uh mature encounter that was glossed over with a few dew drops. Why did the director choose this? Two meanings. Now 露水 dew drops or rain drops are often referenced in Chinese dramas concerning the Emperor’s harem when people are telling him to spend time evenly with his various ladies. The term you hear a lot is 雨露均沾。In the last drama we talked about, Empresses in the Palace, we heard that a lot when the Empress Dowager is telling the Emperor he has to stop spending so much time with Zhen Huan and should spend time with other ladies in the Harem, it’s advised that 雨露均沾 will cause a more harmonious environment. So dew drops or rain drops are the metaphor for the graces of the husband if you will.
Another idiom is called 露水情缘 which literally translates to dew drop relationship. This is used to describe fleeting encounters and usually associated with the illicit type of relationship between a man and woman. So, in future, if you’re watching a Chinese drama, that’s why there may be rain drops or dew drops used in place of a bedroom scene, in a recent drama – Rattan or Si Teng, there was a scene with dew drops after the main characters kissed and fans were all like ooooo their relationship must have gone to another level otherwise the director would not have put these dew drops in the show.
We got introduced to a new dessert this episode called 冰酥酪. It had been mentioned before but hadn’t been shown. This is a summer dessert that looks kind of gelatinous or creamy. From behind the scenes videos, the prop master created this dessert mainly with yogurt, ice and fruit. It apparently was quite good according to the the actress for 墨兰. She had a bite, thought it tasted quite good but had to say her lines. Next thing she knew, the other two actresses for 如兰 and 明兰 already had 2 bowls! Haha
Now I couldn’t really find too many historical references to this.
There are historical records of people using ice during the summer dating back to the Tang Dynasty. By the Song Dynasty, people added fruits to their summer desserts. During the Yuan dynasty, the Emperor, who enjoyed milk, added ice to milk to invent a rudimentary form of ice cream. During this time this dessert was called 冰酪
Another record comes from 红楼梦 or Dream in the Red Mansion where the author describes a 糖蒸酥酪 or a sugar steamed milk custard. This is very similar to the milk custards still found in Beijing today. The book however was written in the Qing Dynasty, so over 500 years after when this story took place.
Some fans have made versions of the dessert and the main ingredients include milk and rice wine actually. The videos online look quite tasty
When 王大娘子 hurries to try and catch 墨兰 and 梁含 in the act, she quickly tells her maid to bring only people who have signed a death contract or 死契. The literal translation is a death contract or an irrevocable deed. What does this mean? By the 宋 Dynasty, we’ve mentioned before that slavery had been banned. People could sell themselves into service. A 活契 or a living contract or revocable deed means that as the servant, you could earn a wage that you could ultimately buy back your freedom. With a 死契 or a death contract, it meant that you couldn’t buy back your freedom. It’s pretty similar to a slave. Your master will decide your fate and you’re technically his / her property. The only difference is, if your master treats you poorly, you can still sue him / her. If the master kills you, he will also face a lawsuit. Now, it was really difficult to prove anything but this at least meant you had some rights. Back to the situation at hand, the reason why 王大娘子 wanted only people who signed a 死契 is because they won’t gossip. Their lives are in the hands of 王大娘子 so they would dare not talk and are therefore actually the most trustworthy servants. For someone with a living contract, they could potentially be bought out for spilling the secret.
Finally let’s briefly talk about differences in the book. 明兰 in the book didn’t go on this whole vendetta to avenge her mother so she actually played little to no part into 墨兰’s decision to uh sully her own reputation and begin this tryst with 梁含. 明兰 at most said to her grandmother that she didn’t want to marry him. The timeline of the story is also a bit different as 明兰 and Grandma 盛 only find out about the fact AFTER 墨兰 and 梁含 get caught in the next episode. I’ll dive a lot into the episode next week as I think the book does a better job at showing some people’s motivations and the drama does better with others.
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!
墨兰 decided to go on a path that would destroy her family but she doesn’t care. What’ll happen in the next episode as her father sets off to catch her? Tune in next week to find out what happens!
Otherwise, until next time!