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 34 and 35 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.
Episode 34+35 are probably the 2 most confusing episodes in the drama. Not going to lie, I’ve rewatched this drama a bunch of times and only recently did it click to me what exactly happened in these 2 episodes because everything happens rather quickly. The biggest issue with this drama and especially these 2 episodes is that this drama does not have labels of who each person is so you’re left guessing who is who and only after multiple viewings do things click.
After Ming Lan got her revenge and Mistress Lin is no longer a part of the story, the drama has to move the plot along and we turn back to the next big catalyst and that is with Gu Ting Ye’s storyline which involves politics and a coup.
A couple of things we need to remind listeners of is:
- 顾廷烨 goes under the pseudonym of 白烨。Why 白烨? It’s his mother’s last name. He doesn’t want people to know he’s nobility or to rely on the fact that he is from the Gu family to make a name for himself.
- 顾廷烨 saved a guy named 赵策英 and his father, 赵宗全’s life from assassins in a previous episode. They are descendants of 太宗 or the founder of the Song dynasty but are not favored royal family members and have to live rather meekly, with their head down in order to avoid suspicion and jealousy from other royal family members that could lead to death.
- The current emperor is aging but unfortunately does not have a surviving son so the title of crown prince is up for grabs by any member of the royal family. The two people who have the most power or are most likely in line for the throne are 2 princes, 1 is 兖王 and the other is 邕王，both clan members of the royal family. 兖王 is someone we have not met yet. 邕王 is the powerful prince who essentially blackmailed 齐衡 into marrying his daughter.
- 荣妃 is a favored concubine of the emperor. The 荣 family did not come from nobility and was rather poor so is looked down upon. 荣妃‘s sister 荣飞燕 committed suicide after being kidnapped and humiliated at the hands of 邕王 because she was competition against his daughter’s marriage prospects to 齐衡.
The episode starts out with 顾廷烨 grabbing a drink with some buddies in the city of 禹州。He recently quelled a large rebellion for the nation and has been promoted and recognized for his service but decided to visit 禹州 for a bit. This city is in modern day He Nan province and I just google mapped it, this city is around a 2 hour drive from the Song capital city of 开封 and depending which route, around 145 km away. This is important for the story later on.
赵策英 or the son, asks to speak to 顾廷烨 alone where he reveals that he received a secret imperial edict from the Emperor himself. The edict first praised the father son duo but then mentioned that the Emperor’s health was failing and that he wants 赵宗全 and 赵策英 to support the new Emperor when he ascends the throne which will ensure the futures of these 2 men. 赵策英 needs some advice from 顾廷烨 as he came from the capital city for some guidance of what this odd edict could mean. The worry is that the Emperor sent this edict as a warning since the title of crown prince is up for grabs or worse, a target because this edict might mean there’s favor to this royal relative and someone might want to get rid of them.
顾廷烨 suggests that they don’t make any sudden moves. The best course of action is to get a few more soldiers or bodyguards to protect 赵宗全. When the son asks where they’d get new trustworthy bodyguards, 顾廷烨 was confused. He just saw a bunch of rather foreign faces in the yard. Weren’t they new security hired to help the family? That’s when 顾廷烨 realized that those new faces? Probably a trap.
Sure enough, out in the field where 赵宗全 is examining the crops, a couple of killers are waiting. They kill a few servants and then turn their attention to 赵宗全。Just as 赵宗全 is struggling to keep his life, he is saved by 顾廷烨 with his long spear. As more assassins pop up, thankfully the son, 赵策英 arrived with his own group of soldiers to subdue the group. After a tense moment, 顾廷烨 is able to capture one of the assassins alive for questioning.
And that’s where we get to start seeing Mr. Gu’s acting abilities. With their prisoner tied up, 顾廷烨 terrifies the poor guy with a whole slew of torture devices into divulging that the person who orchestrated this assination plot is none other than 兖王。With this information, 顾廷烨 advises 赵宗全 that instead of hiding away to stay alive, why not head to the capital and expose 兖王‘s actions to the Emperor. After all, killing clan members is not acceptable and exposing the assination plot might actually keep them safe instead of hoping no one finds them where they hide.
赵宗全 is hesitant and prefers to head to a nearby farmstead instead, dressed as merchants. That night, under the cover of darkness and in their disguises, they head off to find safety. But just as they’re heading out, lo and behold, more assassins show up. After further intense fighting, 顾廷烨 manages to fend off the assassins once again which leads to 赵宗全 hurriedly exclaiming that they must head to the capital. When 赵宗全 makes this exclamation, i feel like 顾廷烨 gave a sly smirk. I feel like he saw the assassin way earlier than anyone else but instead of making a move at that time to prevent an attack, he let the assassin scare the procession so that 赵宗全 will see the danger of trying to hide away. They will continuously be followed and attacked so the best thing to do is to head to the capital.
And so, we assume, they pack up and are ready to leave.
From what we see so far, this 兖王 has been gathering troops and military support in order to command the throne at a moment’s notice. We see him trying to eradicate the competition outside of the capital city, it’s now time to see what’s happening inside the capital.
To get there, there are 2 facets. 1 are the government officials, and another is the military prowess in the capital. How does the drama move this storyline along?
On the government official side, Ming Lan’s father and brother are both currently in the imperial palace working to prep documentation and what not for the new still unknown crown prince. They’ve been staying in the imperial palace for a couple of days and after discussing with Grandma Sheng and Ming Lan’s sister-in-law, Ming Lan actually visits her brother and father in the palace because she made fresh fish soup for them. BUT, as she is ready to leave, a eunuch tells them that there are no guards at the main gates to open them. That’s rather odd because it’s the middle of the day. Why would there not be any guards?
This brings us to the third group of people to pay attention to. Earlier in the episode, 顾廷烨’s step mother, the Marchioness of Ning Yuan or who we’ll call is 秦大娘子 because her last name is 秦, is not fussed about not being invited into the palace by the powerful 荣妃。 She is a favored concubine in the palace. 秦大娘子 was not invited whereas her sister-in-laws and several other prominent female members of nobility were. She’s not on the radar anymore but that turned out to be to her benefit.
In the palace, we meet 荣妃 who is entertaining female guests. AND THIS IS IMPORTANT. The women in attendance include Princess 平宁 who is 齐衡’s mother and 顾廷烨‘s aunts. The KEY line that 齐衡’s mother utters is that she notices the ladies in attendance are all the women of military officials. None of the families that 荣妃 are close to are there which is quite odd. Shortly after, a eunuch bursts in to the rooms to share that another eunuch has been killed at a gate. 荣妃 stands up and is not surprised whatsoever. Instead, she slaps this eunuch across the face and has him dragged off. That’s when the ladies realize it’s a trap. 荣妃 has colluded with a group trying to overtake the palace. The women invited for this soiree are now hostages of all key military officials in the capital. Anyone who dares make a move against 荣妃 will have their families killed.
Why is 荣妃 doing this? She sneered at the group of ladies that each one of them has insulted her background and are waiting for her downfall after the emperor passes. She has to ensure she remains in power after the transition of power. But the person she hates most? Is Princess Ping ning. It’s because she tried to protect her precious son, that her sister was kidnapped. And it was because of everyone’s gossip about her experience that caused her to commit suicide. For revenge, 荣妃 has these women under watch but Princess Ping Ning in particular is dragged off.
What the heck is going on?
荣妃 has sided with 兖王 to initiate a coup for the throne so the guy she is standing with is 兖王。 They have kidnapped 邕王 and his wife and daughter and several other family members. Remember, 邕王’s daughter is currently married to 齐衡 who is Princess Ping Ning’s son. 荣妃 hates the lot of them. 邕王 is furious this happened and starts a fight with the guards.
In the main hall, the Emperor also hears news that rebels have completely surrounded the palace. There is nowhere to run.
Back where Ming Lan is, a kind eunuch tells them that there are dead bodies everywhere. The rebels have started entering the palace and committing unspeakable acts. This terrifies the officials and particularly 盛纮 and 长柏 who want to protect 明兰。The eunuch shares there’s a dog hole that he and Ming Lan can try to escape out of due to their small size and 盛纮 for once being a good father to Ming Lan, pushes her to leave at once. It’s not safe in the palace anymore. The eunuch said he has an extra set of eunuch clothes he can give to ming lan to help her escape and that’s where we head to episode 35.
Ok so this is probably one of THE most confusing scenes in the drama because the drama doesn’t explain exactly what happened. In the beginning of episode 35, we see several bodies on the ground because, 邕王, his wife and daughter were just straight up murdered by 荣妃 and 兖王’s guards. The only person left alive right now is Princess Ping Ning. And this is Key. I for the longest time had no idea what was going on or just wasn’t paying too much attention to the bodies on the ground to realize that 齐衡‘s wife is now dead. 荣妃 also wants to kill Princess Ping Ning but Princess Ping Ning was smart enough to fake being crazy. I think she was faking it because it was her only option to stay alive. 荣妃 indeed doesn’t have her executed but instead has her dragged out to the streets so the world can see her. It is humiliating but still, the Princess has her life. Unlike 邕王’s entire family.
Now with the Emperor, he is furious that this has happened. He has no choice but to ripe his own robe, bite his own finger to decree the next crown prince at this critical juncture. He chooses none other than 赵宗全 as he is closest to the capital and could help fight against the coup but also he is more kind than any of the other clan members that could be options for the throne. With this blood edict and 兵符 in hand, a brave young maid stands up to bring the message to 赵宗全。The reason why she accepts the potentially fatal task is because of the kindness that the Emperor exhibited to her several years back. This story we’ll talk about at the end of the episode as it is a true story, or at least as true of a story as can be for it’s been documented.
The young maid, with this precious cargo, sneaks away using the dog holes that Ming Lan is using to escape as well. Dressed as a eunuch, the two bump into each other and successfully sneak out of the palace and into the city. Unfortunately, the palace walls have been breached and the whereabouts of the maid with the edict has been sold out to a rebel general who orders troops to search for the maid. Out on the streets, these soldiers spot the fleeing maid and Ming Lan. With probably the worst luck, the maid is hit in the back of the head by i think a rock and starts bleeding. After hiding and running for a bit, the young maid lost too much blood to continue and entrusts the edict and the 兵符 to Ming Lan in order to save the Empire. With the maid’s dying breath, she pushes Ming Lan to go find 赵宗全.
Not given too much time to think, 明兰 jumps onto a cart with a horse and flees out of the city with soldiers hot on her heels. All seems lost as this defenseless woman cannot protect herself against a group of soldiers but none other than 顾廷烨’s party sees the conflict and saves the day. Honestly, I’m pretty impressed with some of the stunts that they pulled in this drama. The traumatized Ming Lan is crying her eyes out at what happened but luck would have it, the message that needed to be sent finds its rightful owner. The blood edict and the military seal is sent to the right owner.
After some consideration, 赵宗全 accepts being named crown prince and heads to the nearby military encampment to procure troops in order to save the Emperor. Before heading out, 顾廷烨 ensures that Ming Lan is taken care of and it’s rather sweet the conversation they have. Ming Lan recognizes that he always seems to save her when her life is in danger. She doesn’t have a lot to repay him with except her life. You can see the glint in his eye when he hears Ming Lan say this. After leaving his trusted servant with Ming Lan to protect her, 顾廷烨 heads out with Zhao Zong Quan to save the emperor.
By now it’s nighttime and the palace is being controlled by 兖王 who is currently trying to force the Emperor into naming him crown prince. The Emperor is stalling and trying not to adhere to this request but also recognizes what precarious situation he’s in. In the end, the EMperor believes that if he simply dies, then 兖王 will not have a leg to stand on when he takes the throne so either way, 兖王 needs to wait for that royal edict. Outside, 顾廷烨 and company have gathered enough troops. At the palace gates, they pretend they are here at the behest of 兖王 to trick the guard managing the palace gates to allow them in. Once the gates are open though, 顾廷烨‘s party streams in, fighting off the rebels or 兖王’s men.
Hearing the commotion, 兖王 takes the Emperor hostage to the entrance of the palace but before he can really even do anything, he is shot with an arrow but none other than 顾廷烨。 LOL. And with that… 兖王 is dead and the rebels are eliminated. Within the span of like 5 min, the Emperor is safe and this coup is over. It’s kinda funny the way the Emperor sits on the ground chuckling at the sight.
With the coup over, the Emperor and Empress sit to meet 赵宗全，赵策英 and 顾廷烨。It really is fate that the blood edict was delivered to the hands of 赵宗全 so quickly because if there was any further delay, who knows what would have happened to the Emperor.
Now with the harrowing parts of the last 2 episodes over, the rest of episode 35 is to wrap this up. There is a hilarious scene where the Emperor reveals Gu Ting Ye is in fact nobility but then Gu Ting Ye straight up asks the Emperor why he prevented him from passing the imperial entrance exams. The important result of this conversation is that the Emperor decreed that no one will treat the Gu family poorly for Gu Ting Ye’s bravery in the day’s actions.
Gu Ting Ye is able to escort Ming Lan’s father and brother out of the palace safely and send signal to Ming Lan as well. The craziness of the day is over and all seems to be settled.
The episode ends with the Emperor passing away of illness and the new Emperor, Song Zong Quan, ascending the throne with an Empress Dowager also presiding over court matters.
The reign of Song Ren Zong is over and now we are under the reign of Song Ying Zong. Sadly, Qi Heng’s wife and her family have been executed in the coup so he is now a widow.
Cameos! I don’t know how many of you listeners have watched Nirvana in Fire or 琅琊榜 but, there are several actors and actresses from that drama that make an appearance in these 2 episodes! Yan Wang, Yong Wang and Rong Wang Fei only had like 2 scenes but all three were prominent actors in Nirvana in Fire.
Let’s talk history. The conflict between 兖王 and 邕王 did not actually exist in Song dynasty. The two princes and their conflicts were written for the book, the Story of Ming Lan. The fact that the current Song Emperor did not have any heirs though WAS a problem for him and this dynasty.
We’ve talked about 宋仁宗 before in this podcast but to recap, he was the longest reigning Song dynasty Emperor, ruling for 41 years and passing away at age 52 in 1063 AD. He was well known for his kindness and understanding. The reason why the young maid stood out to risk her life for the Emperor is due to his kindness. The story she recounts about how the Emperor didn’t make a fuss when he was thirsty in order to save her from being punished is one that we’ve discussed previously in episod 13+14. This simple story speaks to his kind nature. The biggest regret he had in life is probably that he did not have a surviving son to take the throne. That’s where we get to this new Emperor.
In the drama, the person is named 赵宗全 but in history, he is named 赵宗实. His name was later changed to 赵曙。Born in 1032, he ascended the throne in 1063 at 31. He is the great grandson of the founding Emperor of the Song Dynasty, as was stated in the drama. I don’t know if I should feel bad for the guy or not, but from a young age, he was brought to the palace to live as if he were crown prince because even then, the Emperor did not have any sons so it was kind of an insurance policy starting in 1035. But the Emperor did have a son in 1039 so this guy was kind of not needed for a while and allowed to leave the palace. But then when the Emperor’s son died in 1041, the only other option was 赵宗全 again. I feel like that would be such an uncomfortable way to live. Like my value is whether or not the Emperor can birth a surviving son? Eesh.
As you can see from what I described, for many years this person was primed to be Emperor due to the lack of sons by the Emperor. I’m sure there are conflicts, but the conflicts were not as bloody as the drama made it out to be. Not shown in the drama, this Emperor only ruled for a few years before dying of illness in 1067年1月25日
The Empress dowager is another key person in history we will want to touch on in future episodes. She plays a key role in the latter half of the drama.
There’s one idiom or classic allusion that was referenced in episode 35 by 赵宗全。 烛影斧声 or shadows by the candle and sounds from an axe. 赵宗全 exclaims that he doesn’t want to be remembered similarly as this idiom.
Well, what does this mean? This is referring to the succession dispute surrounding the death of the first emperor of the Song dynasty in the year 976 AD.
The first emperor of the Song Dynasty, 赵匡胤 invited his younger brother 赵光义 to the palace to discuss political matters. Later that night, the Emperor 赵匡胤 died and 赵光义 ascended the throne. This is odd because the throne was passed down to a younger brother, rather than a son.
According to the account written by 文莹, a buddhist monk in 1060AD, it was snowy day when 赵光义 dined with the then Emperor. The palace eunuchs and maids saw in the distance, 赵光’s shadow by candlelight, moving a lot. The floor was covered in snow and they heard an axe chopping the snow. 赵光义 was heard saying 好为之 or do it right. Later the then Emperor was heard snoring in his bed. 赵光义 stayed in the palace overnight. A few hours later, the Emperor was pronounced dead by his brother 赵光义 who then ascended the throne.
Hence why the idiom 烛影斧声. Now there’s no concrete evidence of fratricide but these rumors still exist today. To add more fuel to the rumors, let me add a bit more spice to this.
If we back up to the year 961 so some 15 years before the death of this Song Emperor, Empress Dowager Du made him promise that his younger brother will succeed him to the throne. In her mind, the reason why Song Dynasty came to be was exactly because the previous kingdom they usurped had a 7 year old king. This is the alleged 金匮之盟 or golden shelf promise. This edict for the golden shelf promise was supposedly recorded and sealed and reopened when 赵光义 ascended the throne to justify his ascension. However by 976, 赵匡胤’s eldest surviving son was already 25 so the argument of a young emperor doesn’t make much sense. And! Get this – that son, 趙德昭 committed suicide only 3 years into the reign of this new emperor 赵光义. So it’s kind of fishy as to the justification of the ascension as the whole thing is clouded in mystery.
Back to the drama – 赵宗全 didn’t want to be mired in scandal if he stormed the capital proclaiming himself as the crown prince.
There is a nitpick from me though. I don’t think in actual history, any member of the royal family would say this idiom because at this point, they are all mostly descendants of 赵光义, the brother who ascended the throne. Wouldn’t it be blasphemous to bring up this idiom? He would be pretty much confessing that his own ancestors captured the throne in an illegitimate fashion. Food for thought for us listeners.
Let’s discuss some book differences! In the book, the events shown in the drama are only spoken of after the fact. What happened in the book is that the master of the Sheng family 盛纮 and his eldest son 盛长柏 were in the palace and just didn’t return for 6 days. The women of the 盛 family could only wait anxiously. Different military groups stormed the city and blood runs don the street. The women luckily are safe at home. After 6 days, 盛纮 and 盛长柏 return home – shaken but safe.
The two recount the events of the past few days. There was a hidden room in the palace where the group of them hid and were safe. Everything that happened in the drama were spread over the six days. 荣妃 did indeed conspire with a Prince to instigate the coup. As in the drama, she did lie to many female aristocrats and invited them over to the palace, only to round many of them up and kill them. It was explicitly stated in the book that for the revenge of the death of their younger sister, 荣妃 and her brother captured 齐衡’s wife 嘉成县主 and her mother. They were raped and then killed.
Unlike in the drama, the Emperor himself had his own military branch to kill the traitors. 顾廷烨 and 明兰 don’t play any role in this coup. There’s a couple in the story, so i’ll just focus on this one today. The Emperor doesn’t die in the book right after this and the prince that 顾廷烨 is aiding is only summoned to the capital after this event.
The 盛 family emerged from this coup pretty well! Family members were promoted. 明兰’s brother-in-law, so 华兰’s husband actually aided in warding off the traitors so it was a pretty good event for them.
The timeline for the events of these two episodes are also very different than in the drama. These events occur early on in the book, before 墨兰 gets married so 林小娘 is very much alive for these events.
Let’s now remind our listeners that this of course is a drama and it needs to match with the story, rather than history. The book itself is not set during the Song dynasty so it didn’t have any history constructs to follow. As mentioned before, this coup didn’t happen in history and the drama is just depicting the events from the book.
I’m personally a fan of how the drama portrayed the conflict even though execution wise, they could have added at least some freaking labels on who was who. It makes a lot more sense how and why Gu Ting Ye became so heavily favored by the new Emperor. I will let go of disbelief though that Ming Lan was able to successfully evade soldiers for that long and pass along the message. There were probably too many instances where luck and fate moved this story along but that doesn’t mean these 2 episodes weren’t enjoyable.
平宁郡主 recovered from the coup a little bit differently. The next we see of them is actually a couple months later so she’s not in a daze. She’s extremely regretful of her decision to force 齐衡 to marry 嘉成县主. In the book, the Qi family wasn’t outright forced to marry 嘉成县主. 平宁郡主 only had a hunch as to what happened to 荣飞燕 and who had a hand in it. 齐衡 is now a widow and even as a man, that makes him, in society’s eyes, damaged goods. She actually is now willing to propose marriage for 齐衡 and 明兰. 齐衡 doesn’t outright ask his mother. But alas, nothing comes of it.