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 32 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.
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So this episode is a headache for the Sheng Family as the ugly nature of what Mo Lan and her mother has done comes to light. As with last episode, we were like ummm there’s probably not a whole lot to talk about as it’s primarily plot driven but then we start writing out what we want to talk about and then bam, a ton of ideas come out. Like the fact that for some reason there are a few scenes that are seriously funny in this episode even though it’s a somber reality which makes me feel better about it. And I guess only this drama can make me laugh when uh discovering impropriety. There’s also not as much history to discuss in this episode but it is a master class of acting between key characters so we’ll do more in depth analysis at some of the scenes and then, i’ll will share various differences from the book in this episode to round out some of what is going on because there are certainly instances where the book explains the severity of what happens better than the drama. Anyways, let’s get started.
The episode starts with Mo Lan going again to meet her lover, the 6th son of the Count of Yong Chang, Liang Han. It’s evident they’ve been having this illicit relationship for a while but what is super interesting in the conversation between Mo Lan and Liang Han is when Mo Lan raises the up that Liang Han should go to her family to propose marriage, he actually says he doesn’t think he can because his mother won’t approve. His mother only likes Ming Lan and not Mo lan.
Hold up. What the heck Liang Han! So you fully know what you’re doing while having fun but take no responsibility in the fact that you just ruined a girl and her family’s reputation. What a terrible person.
And just as Mo Lan is getting upset that he’s not going to take responsibility and marry her, her father BURSTS into the room to catch them together. He bursts in but I’m bursting out laughing because his yell is so comical. I’m sorry I shouldn’t be laughing but it’s just so funny. He of course recognizes the gravity of the situation and actually has her tied up and taken back home. He even calls her a prostitute which is probably the worst insult a man can say to his daughter.
Back at the Sheng residence, the despicable Mistress 林 stops over to where 墨兰 is tied up and kneeling in front of her father and Madame Wang. 林小娘 is up to her usual tricks again, pretending to faint and pushing all mistakes onto her so that her daughter won’t be punished. She really hasn’t improved her tactics over the years since Madame Wang sees through it and even Sheng Hong is ignoring her antics now. He is so upset at Mo Lan for what she’s done that Mo Lan is to kneel at the family shrine to await further orders and Mistress Lin is confined to her courtyard. Sheng Hong even has the thought to beat Mo Lan to death in order to save face.
Madame Wang is obviously over the moon about what happened because this is a mistake so huge that it cannot be overlooked as previous mistakes were often done. But just as she’s about to celebrate with some wine, her eldest daughter 华兰 also bursts into her mother’s rooms which is very odd because she’s married and shouldn’t be coming back to her own family’s place. But 华兰 interrogates her mother if it’s true what the rumors say. Madame Wang is shocked because no news should have leaked but it turns out, all of the Capital heard the Mo Lan tripped and was helped up by Liang Han and they were very touchy feely.
Madame Wang is like, uh the rumor is only that Mo Lan tripped and was helped up by Liang Han, not that they were having an affair? And this is where I’m bursting out laughing again. 华兰 hears that they were having an affair and cries “Omg a few times” before crying about how she won’t be able to live if the entire capital hears about this. And then, Madame Wang recognizes the gravity of this rumor that now the capital heard SOMETHING, which to our modern eyes seems rather unobtrusive, but is enough to ruin their entire family, Madame Wang actually falls over in shock and passes out. Hahahahahaha. Again, apologies, shouldn’t be laughing but it’s hilarious because the way she passes out is like she falls over onto her daughter.
Realizing now that he cannot contain the situation and needs help from someone smarter than him, a sheepish Sheng Hong stands in front of Grandma Sheng clearly wanting her help on how to resolve the matter hahaha because apparently Madame Wang is non stop fainting and Ru Lan wants to jump in the lake or else go beat her sister up. But Grandma Sheng takes this opportunity to tell off Sheng Hong for how he was the one to create this mess anyways and I am again LOVING it. She directly berates Sheng Hong that it was because he spoiled Mistress Lin all these years which caused her to not be afraid of any consequence whatsoever. The two things though that Grandma Sheng says that actually impacts Sheng Hong is that Mistress Lin taught her daughter to become so self centered as to not care about ruining the reputation of all women in the Sheng Family, and then that because Mistress Lin taught her son, Chang Feng to also be this self centered, he was drunkenly saying egregious things that caused Sheng Hong to be detained by none other than the Emperor himself. Remember this was in episode 14 or so? Only upon remembering this, does Sheng Hong take real action. In his mind, his reputation in court and his standing in court are THE most important things. Nothing can jeopardize that.
So, he goes to interrogate Mistress Lin directly. In this confrontation, Sheng Hong finally sees Mistress Lin for who she truly is. This scene though is a masterclass of acting between 高露 who plays Mistress Lin and 刘钧 who plays 盛纮 as it escalates from calm to incendiary。Let’s break this scene down by tier 1 to 5.
Tier 1 – relatively mild. Mistress Lin is still acting as sweetly as possible, kneeling in front of 盛纮 but the moment she sees an opening, asks 盛纮 to go request marriage from the Liang family. The rumors are already out in the open so it’s best to get this sorted before both families lose face. 盛纮 is shocked that Mistress Lin only cares about this marriage and also pauses to think, wait a minute, how would she know about the rumors flying around. She’s been in lockdown since this whole thing happened. Only for it to dawn on him that she must have been the one to spread the rumors.
This is then I would say, tier 2 in terms of anger and frustration. 盛纮 can’t believe Mistress Lin would waste her daughter in such a way but Mistress Lin fires back that no one cares about her daughter’s happiness. He only wants 墨兰 to marry a poor student and if the student is not ambitious or a bad match, she will have wasted her life. As long as they bring a little bit more dowry for 墨兰, then there’s no reason for 墨兰 to be looked down upon by the Count and Countess of 永昌。
Now we’re in tier 3 – 盛纮 is even more angry because he’s questioning where 林小娘 will get the dowry that will be enough to save face. She is just a concubine after all with no background. She has the gall to say that Madame Wang should provide some money as wife of the house and there’s also even Grandma Sheng. 盛纮 is so frustrated now but he’s more frustrated at himself for seeing how conceited this woman is for thinking how the rest of the family will help her daughter. But I say he’s only at tier 3 in terms of frustration because he wants to slap mistress lin across the face but slaps himself instead. I take it as a way for him to wake up to the fact that this woman is wretched.
But that brings us to tier 4. He keeps saying how can Mistress Lin teach her daughter in such a way, does she not know any decency. And this is the breaking point for Mistress Lin. She actually stands up from her kneeling position and rather directly confronts Sheng Hong for decrying her for not having any decency. This is also probably the only time I agree with Mistress Lin because she says, how dare you call me out for not having decency when I gave myself to you. Oh so when we were having a good time, you didn’t realize I didn’t have any decency only for it to matter now when I’m trying to plan for my daughter? For 盛纮 it’s like a blindfold was lifted from his eyes as he sees this woman clearly for the first time. He’s recognizing that everything Mistress Lin has done in the last 20+ years was an act in order for him to provide for her. He asks her if she would have said all those sweet things to gain his sympathy if he was just a poor student. She doesn’t directly answer. He wants to slap her but still can’t do it as he is heartbroken to realize that even though he’s cared for her for 20 years, she probably never truly loved him and only used him for personal gain.
Mistress Lin brings the conversation back to the matter at hand. Who cares about these issues of the past? The family should be thinking of how to marry 墨兰 to 梁晗。And this finally escalates to tier 5 as Mistress Lin lays out how her rumors and what Mo Lan has done will do to ruin everyone in the family. The other unmarried daughters, 明兰 and 如兰 won’t be able to find husbands. The eldest son 长柏 will also be looked down upon. His wife from the Hai family will also lose face. She, Mistress Lin, wants the Sheng Family, Madame Wang’s Wang Family, Grandma Sheng’s family, and even the Hai Family to all come up with a solution that favors HER.
At this point, 盛纮 finally does not hesitate and slaps Mistress Lin across the face and curses at her. The woman he loved has turned out to be a shameless woman who only cares about wealth and status. She, in her own right, doesn’t even say anything against what happened and instead doubles down on her threat. If she goes down, the entire family will go down with her.
Let’s give a round of applause for 高露 and 刘钧. Particularly 刘钧 though I really dislike him as a father, in this scene you could tell 盛纮 really cared for Mistress Lin and is devastated to see the woman he loved for so long was only using him for personal gain.
After this scene, we continue to explore how Mo Lan’s actions could impact the entire family. As 华兰 tends to her mother who is sick in bed, she reveals that her own mother in law has continued to mistreat her. Even though she birthed a son, her son has been taken away to be raised for a while based on some flimsy excuse. Her son has been neglected and her daughter had to help prevent her brother from getting burned so she was burned herself. The reason this story is important because it emphasizes how much harder 华兰’s life will be if such ruinous story came out about her family. Madame Wang’s son, 长柏 will also likely be affected and his career in court ruined. Weighing these realities, Madame Wang agrees to go to Countess Yong Chang to try to get this marriage settled.
But, when Madame Wang meets with Madame Wu, the Countess of Yong Chang, she actually declines this marriage. She knows full well what type of person 墨兰 is and does not want her for a daughter in law. She recognizes that it was extremely difficult for Madame Wang to come to her to make this request so she has a counter proposal. 墨兰 can marry in as a concubine but 明兰 must marry in as the wife.
Madame Wang brings this solution back to the Sheng Family but is promptly shouted down by Grandma Sheng. I have to say, we would all only be so lucky in our lives to have a Grandmother like Grandma Sheng. And if you’re not lucky enough to have a grandmother like her, she’s someone I strive to be. She stands up for Ming Lan because both 盛纮 and Madame Wang who are sheepishly looking for permission to agree to this don’t care about Ming Lan at all. As long as this can solve their immediate trouble, what’s the big deal that Ming Lan marries into the Liang Family? Grandma Sheng angrily reveals why Madame Wu so eagerly wants a wife for her son. It’s because he got someone else pregnant. Grandma Sheng doesn’t want Ming Lan to marry into such a messy family but is happy for Mo lan to go deal with the mess herself. Grandma Sheng exclaims that an alternative solution is to actually beat Mo Lan to death for what she’s done. At least this will exchange the reputation of a strict family. Ming Lan and Ru Lan will still be seen as proper young women. Yas Grandma. Her aura and presence is quite unmatched.
Let me just pause and say, why didn’t they just do that? This solution was presented like 3 times in this episode. Someone please explain to me why this didn’t just happen.
Speaking of 墨兰, she is kneeling in front of her ancestors at the family shrine. Her older sister 华兰 and sister in law, come to bring her food but also shares with her the fact that Madame Wu, so Liang Han’s mother rejected Madame Wang’s proposal for marriage. Madame Wu doesn’t want 墨兰 for a daughter-in-law. I really appreciate this scene as the actress for 墨兰，施诗 does a great job showing a fearful moment when she realized that her plan may not have worked even though moments before she was still rather self-righteous. She hesitantly reconfirms that if they don’t want her, does that mean the sheng family reputation isn’t wanted either. But to this, 华兰 responds that Grandma Sheng said it’s best to beat 墨兰 to death and they’ll still retain their reputation.
And that’s when 墨兰 throws a curveball that she’s pregnant and uses this as additional leverage, to force the rest of the family to help her. 华兰 is furious at this sister and wants to find a doctor to confirm her statement but is held back by her sister-in-law. What if they find a doctor who is very chatty? By having that doctor come for a check up, they risk this information slipping out. 华兰 is so angry she pretty much struggling for words. I mean yea, with this kind of sister, I’d be blowing up too.
In the end though, it is Grandma Sheng who saves the day. After recognizing the difficult situation the family has strangled in, she decides to make the trip to ask Countess Wu to bless this marriage. This was certainly a difficult step and even Ming Lan chimed in that she doesn’t care if she marries or not. They should not have to submit to this type of blackmail. But, weighing all of the fallout that could potentially happen for the rest of the family, Grandma Sheng, being the daughter of a Duke with some sway in the Capital, still does what’s best for the family. I don’t think the drama does a good job explaining the weight of Grandma Sheng’s words or her true power in the Capital which Cathy says is better explained in the book so we’ll talk about that at the end of this podcast episode.
The episode ends with the sister-in-law, so Chang Bai’s wife, 海朝云，coming to see 墨兰 again at the shrine to inform her that it is done. The marriage has been arranged. 墨兰 gets up and only cares about the fact that she will now marry into the aristocracy. She does not care whatsoever about the cost to her family or the potential dangers of marrying into this type of family – only that she will be a wife of the son of a Count. And to that, I can only say, good riddance.
All right – there is not a whole lot of history to talk about in this drama. I think it’s very clear that Mo Lan’s actions were ruinous to the entire family. There are a few idioms to explain.
千里之堤，毁于蚁穴 – In the first half of the episode when Sheng Hong is being told off by Grandma Sheng, she tells him this line to explain how it was his spoiling of Mistress Lin that caused this drama in the family. What does it mean. The direct translation is that – a thousand chinese mile levee or dike is destroyed by ant holes. A levee is a structure that holds floodwaters at bay. Think along river banks or at river mouths to combat floods during tsunamis or hurricanes. The idea is that even the strongest of structures can be destroyed by the smallest of cracks. Therefore, it is important to not look past the smallest things for it can have a deleterious impact in the future.
The phrase was written by a guy named 韩非 who lived between 281 – 233 BC. The story goes, or the story provided on the phrase per Baike, is that along the Yellow River in China, there was once a powerful levee built to withstand floodwaters. One day, an old man walked by and noticed there were termite or ant holes in the levee that seemed to be expanding. He raised this concern to his son, thinking he should go report this to someone in the village but his son waved it off. That night, against strong wind and rains, the rising waters seeped through those cracks from the ant holes. The water destroyed the levee and flooded the village.
投鼠忌器 – This is another idiom Grandma Sheng utters at the end of the episode to explain how Mo Lan and Mistress Lin plotted against the family, that she, Grandma Sheng will ultimately do what they want because of this.
投鼠忌器 more or less means to beat mice but also wary of nearby valuables pots and pans. Originating in the Han dynasty, the idiom’s story is that there was a wealthy man who had an exquisite bowl he was very fond of. One day, a rat entered his room to eat leftover food in the bowl. The wealthy man angrily threw a rock at the rat who was killed but in the process his valuable bowl was also destroyed. So the idiom’s meaning is to say that even though I want to get rid of a nuisance but I have to think about how this would impact others. It’s a rather apt way to describe what’s going on with Mo Lan. Punishing her is not the issue, but what’s the impact to the rest of the Sheng Family?
In this episode, I want to give another round of applause to several characters. This episode really showcased the acting abilities of all the cast members but for me the standouts are the adults.
盛纮 – 刘钧
林小娘 – 高露
王大娘子 – 刘琳
Grandma Sheng – 曹翠芬
No offense, as much as we love 赵丽颖, the actress for 明兰, she still has a bit to catch up to these veterans. Some of the younger actresses also held their own! Shout out to 施诗, the actress for molan and 王鹤润, the actress for 华兰
盛纮 – 土拨鼠叫
Let’s also briefly talk about pop culture! In this episode, 盛纮 became a meme that still is widely used by the chinese internet. What is that meme? Well – it’s called the groundhog shriek or marmot shriek. His yell of absolute surprise when he catches his daughter is very similar to a groundhog shriek. Fans of the show literally just put his shriek alongside a groundhog shriek and the meme of 土拨鼠叫 was born. It’s now used whenever people are in shock.
Finally, let’s go through the book differences. We’ve talked at length about the despicable actions of 林小娘 and 墨兰 in the drama. I’m gonna do a recap of the events as they occurred in the book, which will give us more insight on Grandma 盛。
In the book – 墨兰 and 梁含 didn’t have an illicit affair. All that happened between them was actually the rumors that 林小娘 put out in the drama. 墨兰 fell out of her carriage on the way to the temple. 梁含, who was riding a horse closeby, rescued her. He carried her in his arms for a long distance and then sent her back home to the 盛 family.
This all happened when Grandma 盛 and 明兰 were actually away. They come back to find the family in complete disarray. The rumors are running rampant in the Capital city. 盛长柏’s wife – Madame 海 was the one running around dealing with most of the fallout because Madame Wang fell ill due to the shock. Not really about 墨兰, but because her daughter 如兰’s marriage prospects also were dashed. It’s been about a month and 墨兰 and her mother have been locked up. Countess Wu has not bothered to even come to the Sheng family to discuss marriage. The Sheng family’s reputation is on the brink of destruction.
In the book, Grandma Sheng is the one who basically resolved the whole situation. 明兰 actually doesn’t care that much. She doesn’t have this whole revenge plot going. When Grandma 盛 learns about this, she asks 明兰 is she should deal with this sticky situation. 明兰 tells her Grandmother that in the end, she has to for the good of the family but she must make her father 盛纮 truly beg for it. The two decide that Grandma Sheng will “reluctantly” agree after the 5th time 盛纮 begs for help.
Grandma 盛 reprimands her son for all of his mistakes for allowing 林小娘 to destroy the peace in the 盛 family and similar to the drama makes it clear that 林小娘’s actions have and will continue to impact his own career. Grandma 盛 informs her son that she will handle the situation but Mistress Lin needs to be severely punished and that might include death. 盛纮 that actually says – the bitch deserves it. Even if she does die, her death will avenge the death of Mistress Wei or 明兰’s mother. In the book, 盛纮 isn’t as in love with 林小娘 as he is in the drama and in the book the author actually describes 盛纮 feeling hatred towards 林小娘 after realizing her impact to his career.
Grandma 盛 then has the servants drag Mistress lin and 墨兰 out for questioning. 盛纮 and 王大娘子 listen in, hidden in another room. 墨兰 immediately starts and says – if you want me to die, I’ll die. Grandma 盛 doesn’t even hesitate and has a servant bring out a white sash and 砒霜 or Arsenic trioxide, basically poison and point blank tells 墨兰 – have at it. Grandma sheng then absolutely blows up at 林小娘. In the drama we don’t see the two have many scenes together, but in the book Grandma 盛 absolutely destroy 林小娘 by laying out every single misdeed 林小娘 has committed in this whole debacle. 林小娘 planned the encounter between her daughter and 梁含. Grandma 盛 is one badass woman.
In the book, madame wang didn’t ask for marriage so the the request to have both 明兰 and 墨兰 marry into the family doesn’t happen.
In the drama, 墨兰 mainly disgusts her sister and sister in law. But in the book, she disgusts her grandmother and by proxy, her father. Here’s what happens in the book.
Grandma 盛 asks 墨兰 – what did she think would happen if the Count’s family doesn’t want her?
墨兰 has the gall to say the following – Madame Wang hasn’t asked the Count’s family. Why wouldn’t the countess want me? She wants 明兰 and my mother is better than her mother! You’re my grandmother too, why aren’t you thinking of me? Why is it that everyone likes 明兰? Even the aristocracy likes her? Why can she marry better than me? You need to take pity on me grandmother and help me! Have father go and ask for marriage. If that doesn’t work, also have Madame Wang go. My father is an official, this marriage would be advantageous to everyone. The count’s family will say yes! If my father loves me, he needs to think about my future!
Let’s dissect this – in the drama, 墨兰 isn’t as blatant in her desires to exploit her parents and grandmother to their face. This is definitely not the case in the book. 盛纮 almost keels over in anger after hearing this because he’s been cautious his entire career. He’s now hearing his own daughter disregard everything he’s worked for for her own personal gain.
Grandma 盛 coldly responds to 墨兰 in a way that has a lot more gravitas – she says to 墨兰 – growing up, the entire family knows how much your father favors you. As a 庶女, you have everything that 如兰 has. Look at the other 庶女’s in the city. How do you compare to them? Truly ask yourself when has this family treated you poorly? You are so arrogant and ungrateful that you’ve risked the whole family. You’ve spat at your father’s love. You know the biggest difference between you and 明兰? She is grateful and knows what she can and cannot do. You want me to plan for your marriage? Did you want it? No.
Grandma 盛 ends with this bombshell and a pleasant surprise for 墨兰 – fine Madame Wang will not ask for marriage. I will!
And she does.
In the drama – no one actually tells 墨兰 to her face that she’s an ungrateful little bitch. I really wanted to see that in the show. Watching the episode – I just felt frustrated because in the end 墨兰 got what she wanted. In the book – Grandma 盛 tells this to her face and 墨兰 reveals her true colors that she’s a gold digger and will openly exploit her family to get what she wants. Grandma 盛 made sure 盛纮 learned of his daughter’s true nature and we see just how strong this woman is. She will first and foremost protect her family, even if her son and granddaughter messed up but she damn well will make sure that everyone is punished. Grandma 盛 then orders 林小娘 to be banished to the countryside for life. Grandma 盛 is the rock of the family that unfortunately everyone turns to when issues arise. Grandma 盛 just doesn’t care about some of the pettiness that happens but she will fight tooth and nail for this family. Unfortunately no one except for 明兰 realizes this. The drama does an excellent job fleshing out the characters of 林小娘 and 墨兰. They really came to life this episode as selfish, conniving women. The book does a much better job of fleshing out Grandma 盛. It’s no surprise that the 盛 family is doing as well as it is right now. It’s because of Grandma 盛 and the book does a much better job of showing it.
Now let me get into why Grandma 盛 asking the Countess to agree to the marriage did the trick. In the drama it’s not well explained. Grandma 盛 was the sole daughter of a well respected Marquis. She still holds a lot of sway in the Capital and as the matriarch of the 盛 family, for her to ask for marriage is both a huge slap in the face for the 盛 family for the matriarch to ask for marriage and two showing the Countess that the 盛 family is very serious about this marriage. Even the Countess would think twice before refusing her. That’s why in the drama, the countess outright refused Madame Wang but not Grandma Sheng.
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!