Welcome back to Chasing dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history through historical Chinese dramas! We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy!
Today we are discussing episode 37 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。This drama is set in the Northern Song dynasty now under the reign of Song Ying Zong. The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.
This episode has one of THE funniest scenes in the entire drama which I’ve watched a million times. The cast of this show is simply hilarious.
In the last episode, after embarrassing his own vile family members, Gu Ting Ye turns his sights towards marriage. Ming Lan’s pending marriage to the doctor 贺弘文 seems to be on the rocks though because a random cousin shows up. Elsewhere, Ming Lan’s sister 如兰 has a late night encounter with the man of her dreams and is unfortunately spotted by Ming Lan.
This is where we start episode 37.
After being discovered, 如兰 and 明兰 are at 如兰‘s rooms to chat about what happened. And it’s so cute for these sisters to be talking like they do. 明兰 warns 如兰 that 炎文敬 could just be a gold digger since he is from a poor family 如兰 attests to his character and gives some examples. She knows that she can’t compete with her sisters but hopes that it’s enough for 炎文敬. The biggest obstacle for 如兰 right now, isn’t 炎文敬’s poor background, it’s the fact that their other sister 墨兰 didn’t want him. If you recall, this is the guy that their father wanted 墨兰 to marry but she thought he was way too poor and thus took the plunge to seek out her current husband. Madame 王 would faint at hearing her own daughter choosing someone who 墨兰 of all people shunned aside. It’s a heartwarming scene as we see the sister truly bond as they discuss 如兰’s future. Haha 如兰 even tries to bribe 明兰’s silence which was adorable. Finally some positive sibling interactions!
Back at the He household, Grandma He, grandmother to 贺弘文， tries to plead with Grandma Sheng and Ming Lan about her family’s delicate situation.. 贺弘文’s mother’s health isn’t good and the return of the 曹 family has actually improved her health. THe issue is, the 曹 family is trying to force their daughter to intrude on Ming Lan’s marriage. Grandma 盛 immediately shuts this down and says I’m not making my granddaughter jump into a fire pit just because your daughter in law can’t figure out who are the leeches in her life.
Right after, Ming Lan is requested by 贺弘文’s mother for an audience solo. She’s bedridden. Grandma 盛 agrees and allows 明兰 to go. Well – who do we see in 贺弘文’s mother’s room? None other than the cousin 曹锦秀 and her mother. A quick reminder that 贺弘文’s mother and 曹锦秀’s mother are sisters. Summoning 明兰 was just another way to corner her into agreeing to have 曹景绣 be a concubine for 贺弘文.
Let’s dissect this conversation. 明兰 apologizes for her brashness the other day and says whoever 贺弘文 wants take in as a concubine has nothing to do with me.
贺弘文’s mother has one reaction to this and 曹锦秀’s mother has another reaction. 贺弘文’s mother turns around stunned because her interpretation of what 明兰 just said, which is the correct one, is that 明兰 has turned down the marriage. Whatever 贺弘文 does won’t impact her because they will just two separately families. Why would she care?
曹锦秀’s mother takes it in a completely wrong direction, believing 明兰 to have agreed to 曹锦绣 being a concubine because she immediately haughtily says, you’re right. It’s all dependent on the mother of the son who decides who her son will have as a concubine implying that Ming Lan has absolutely no say in the matter anyways. Uh – how despicable. This woman changed face in one second. Look at her on screen, she’s like of course my daughter will be the concubine, who are you?
明兰 then asks a couple of questions which actually humiliates the 曹 family. And this part is so satisfying because Ming Lan doesn’t yell or scream but is able to slap the Cao family’s face. The questions she asked were important. If 曹锦秀 enters the family, will she be a concubine or a family member? Because a family member is someone to be respected whereas a concubine is just a servant that can be discarded. 曹锦秀’s mother of course wants to be considered family , but as Ming Lan correctly points out, this will create a lot of conflict in the family. Listening to this, 曹锦秀’s mother, in her embarrassment, actually calls 明兰 a little bitch to her face! Welp! You can definitely call this marriage goodbye.
贺弘文 stops his aunt right now. The cao ladies immediately change tact and start crying again. Now where have we seen this before? Why with 林小娘! 明兰 – run as fast as you can. Which is basically what she does. She walks away and just blankly stares at the scene unfolding in front of her.
Grandma Sheng and Grandma He walk in to find the Cao family still crying. 明兰 tells her grandmother that the cao family were telling her that they want 曹锦秀 to become 贺弘文’s concubine. Even though it has nothing to do with her, she listened a bit. Grandma sheng then says – my, you really don’t see yourself as an outsider! What would others think if they heard!
WIth these two phrases, everyone in the room now understands the Sheng family’s meaning. This marriage is toast. Why? Because both Ming Lan and Grandma Sheng keep reiterating that they are two separate families. There’s nothing between them. Grandma He catches on the fastest and says – you’re right 明兰 is like a younger sister to 贺弘文. There’s no problem to have her listen.
曹锦秀’s mother continues to behave rudely and is shut down by Grandma Sheng. You go grandma! The Sheng women take their leave. 贺弘文 is very disappointed. When he turns to look at his cousin, she starts sniffling again. Ugh – she sucks.
贺弘文 immediately finds his grandmother for clarification. He’s already decided that he won’t take his cousin in as a concubine! Unfortunately, it’s too late. His own grandmother sees that. It was their fault for letting 贺弘文’s mother indulge her sister and now this marriage is thrown out the window. Poor 贺弘文 – he really does want to marry 明兰. It wasn’t as though he did anything but the presence of the 曹 family was enough for the Sheng family to decline this marriage. He vows to make changes to their family dynamics. It’s not for his marriage but for the fact that the 曹 family could potentially destroy the He family.
On the way back home, 明兰 has a heart to heart with her grandmother. 明兰 says a line that I believe everyone should listen to. She says – just because 曹锦秀 is more pitiful, I have to yield? What world is this? Is it whoever is more pitiful then they are to get more out of life? How is that fair at all?
This is advice that I definitely will take to heart. 明兰, even in her position, as a 庶女 knows not to yield in this stalemate because she will be the one suffering in the end. What’s the point? There’s other people to marry and she must look forward.
With this marriage thrown out the window, we must turn towards 如兰’s marriage! She’s freaking out that her mother is reviewing eligible bachelors for her. We hear of this Aunt 康 who seems to enjoy meddling in affairs. Aunt 康 is Madame Wang’s older sister. Keep this name in mind. We’ll see much more of her in the future.
如兰 gives all of us her philosophy towards marriage. She believes it’s not always better to marry up. She gives the examples of her sisters. Her oldest sister 华兰 has an evil mother in law. 墨兰 has other concubines to deal with. BOth of them married up in life but it’s not blissful at all. Everyone will suffer in a marriage so are wealth and riches worth it? Honestly, for her, that’s not a bad way to look at it. Why? It’s not stated in this episode but If she marries 文炎敬’s, her family background will give her a lot more autonomy than if she married into nobility. This conversation gives Ming Lan a lot to think about. What she learned from Ru Lan is that no marriage is perfect so why care too much. The thing is, Ru Lan actually loves文炎敬 and he likes her. They have a relationship foundation whereas Ming LAn does not love 贺弘文。
Soon after though, 贺弘文 visits Grandmother 盛 to provide the latest update to his family drama. He looks pretty different from the last we saw him as hehas a bruise on his face! What happened? He says that shortly after Grandma Sheng and Ming Lan left, he went to the 曹 family to tell them that the he will not marry his cousin and that his own mother agreed to have 曹锦秀 be an adopted daughter. They will just be as brother and sister from now on which is a commendable solution to raise 曹锦秀’s status. Unfortunately, the 曹 family elders decided to beat 贺弘文 for this. That wasn’t even it. The cousin 曹锦秀, upon hearing this news, tried to commit suicide. This is serious! Fortunately, they saved her and 曹锦秀 revealed the truth. When she was a concubine in exile, the madame of the household made her drink red saffron soup, causing her to become infertile. As a woman during this time period, she has a tattoo on her face which means she’s marked for life and now has lost the only value she has as a woman which is to be a mother. She is of no threat to anyone and really has no other option.
This is a bombshell for Grandma 盛 and she quickly informs this to 明兰. Grandma Sheng is somewhat wavering as this means 曹锦秀 will never be a threat to 明兰‘s status as wife. To her surprise 明兰 says its alright too! What?
明兰 explains that after thinking through it all, she realizes that that not everything that is good means it’s better. In this instance, if 明兰 and 贺弘文 truly cared for each other and this type of 3rd partied was forced into their relationship, they would have been crying rivers of tears. But did they? No. Both Ming Lan and He Hong Wen are rather accepting of what happened which speaks to their shallow affection towards one another. In Ming Lan’s eyes, this is not a bad thing at all. Instead, this will mean their marriage will be respectful. Isn’t that all she’ll need for her remaining years?
I, along with Grandma Sheng, are saddened to hear Ming Lan’s explanation because it means she pretty much has a dead heart! She is not out there seeking love but she’s more resigned to living her life as society expects it. She would speak this way because she knows that she cannot hope for better as a Shu Nv. She once did with 齐衡 and nothing came of it. She is not like her sisters with natural ability to marry better or the inclination to scheme for better. Though her monologue of how to live happily for the rest of her life is an important one for women in particular. Save up money to have financial independence but then live life to the fullest without focusing solely on a man. I told you this drama was great for relationship advice!
Elsewhere 顾廷烨 and 赵策英, the son of the new Emperor, return home after being victorious in battle. What do they talk about? Why marriage of course! It’s a bit of a mess when it comes to royal marriages. We’ll discuss this at length in future episodes. After hearing this, 顾廷烨 immediately declares. I have to get married as quickly as possible!
And after returning to the capital 顾廷烨, immediately goes to propose marriage.
I couldn’t stop laughing the rest of this episode so if I start chuckling please bear with me. 顾廷烨 shows up at the 盛 family with a ton of presents. His good friend 盛长柏 is utterly shocked. He’s like WHAT IS GOING ON! Wait – you want to marry one of my sisters?!
顾廷烨 goes on this whole long monologue as to how now that he’s wealthy and has favor everyone wants their daughters to marry him. He can’t trust people like this! It was only the Sheng family who never changed their position and treated me as a friend for all these years. Even after becoming a favored general, the Sheng family was respectful and didn’t ask for favors. 盛长柏’s reaction is hilarious – he’s like…that doesn’t sound like my family…I’m blushing just hearing you say this.
Please watch this scene – who knew 顾廷烨 was such a flatterer? 盛长柏 then asks the million dollar question – which of my sisters caught your eye? 顾廷烨 responds – why of course the pretty one and the one with a good character.
Hm – who is this? I think it’s 明兰 right?
Imagine my utter surprise when later that evening, 盛长柏 informs his parents who are drinking tea that it’s 如兰 that 顾廷烨 wants to marry. My surprise is exactly the same 盛长柏’s parents. AHAHAHAHA it’s so funny. They both spat out their tea and Madame Wang even falls over. Please watch this scene, it’s hilarious.
Madame Wang cannot believe her ears. Gu Ting Ye wants to marry Ru Lan?!?! 盛长柏’s responds – of course! 顾廷烨 told me he’s seen her a couple times at the polo matches. She’s gracious, highly cultured, and has a graceful demeanor.
盛纮, the master of the household, stunned responds with – uh are you sure you’re not talking about 明兰? HAHAHAHA
Madame Wang immediately retorts why can’t it be 如兰? She hasn’t made any mistakes in public, which is true. 盛纮 and Madame Wang immediately interrogate their son on 顾廷烨’s character, to which 盛长柏 tries to paint his friend in a good light and he does a pretty good job! 盛长柏 basically restates 顾廷烨’s earlier talking points and successfully flatters both is parents. Madame Wang is all about this marriage. 盛长柏 warns her that in the end 如兰 needs to agree. 王大娘子 responds – how dare she not! This is an excellent match. Who does she want to marry – the Jade Emperor?! Hahaha – i love Madame Wang’s comparisons.
盛长柏 isn’t convinced that it’ll be easy. Sure enough – 如兰 adamantly refuses to marry. Again, it’s a funny scene which is capped with 如兰 saying if my brother thinks that 顾廷烨 is such an upstanding guy, why does he go marry 顾廷烨. Hahahahaha
The episode ends with Ming Lan going to 如兰’s room to try and comfort her. Here again, we see the difference in character between 如兰 and the now married 墨兰. Even though 如兰 loves 炎文敬, she point blank says that she will not elope with him. As a daughter of the sheng family, she cannot bring shame to her family. Compare 如兰’s decision with that of her sister 墨兰. 墨兰 did not give a second thought to bringing shame to her family. She thought – well why not? My family should work for ME, not the other way around. Again, in this episode, 如兰 very much surprised me with her devotion to family and her outlook on life.
明兰 tries to state all of 顾廷烨’s good qualities for 如兰 to hear. 明兰 really does know 顾廷烨 quite well. 如兰 responds – why don’t you marry him then! 明兰 doesn’t miss a beat and smiles – but he doesn’t want me!
Oh how little you know!
There actually isn’t much to discuss with regards to history today so let’s discuss the scene with the 曹 family. I’m going to combine this section also with the book analysis because the book fleshes out the scene a bit more.
In the drama, Ming Lan poses a few questions to 曹锦秀’s mother. She asks if 曹锦秀 is taken in as a concubine to the He family, will you be the mother to a concubine or still an elderly relative? 曹锦秀’s mother responds, of course i’m still an elder. 明兰 then responds – why if that’s the case, the relations need be clearly stated. The birth mother of a concubine is a servant and can be thrown out by the wife of the family. If there’s children, what will the status of the children be? To this 曹锦秀’s mother becomes enraged and calls Ming Lan a bitch. This is because Ming Lan is telling her that as soon as 曹锦秀 becomes a concubine, she should stop dreaming of getting any benefit from the He family.
In the book, Ming Lan asks two more questions. Here’s the first question. She says – a concubine is basically a servant. Will 曹锦秀 as a concubine be a servant that can be ordered about by the Madame of the household or is she still the highly delicate cousin? 曹锦秀’s mother angrily responds – with my sister and my nephew here, I don’t believe anyone will treat my daughter poorly.
To this, Ming Lan asks the next question. You’re right, but a concubine is still a concubine and cannot rise above the Madame of the household. Whatever 贺弘文 decides, there can’t be an auntie who can dictate his comings and goings about how he treats his concubines. Would whoever 贺弘文 marry have a hard time in this family?
The purpose in the book was to make it clear to 贺弘文’s MOTHER that having 曹锦秀 enter into the He household would be a terrible match. Unfortunately we don’t see much of her reaction in the show.
Beyond this scene, I will remind our listeners that being a concubine was still essentially a servant role. She could not usurp the position of the Madame of the family. The 曹 family is despicable in this way because this family blatantly wants to enter into the household as a concubine and then steal power and money away from the future madame of the household or even the He family. The cao family sees no issue in latching onto the He family.
Lastly, when Grandma Sheng enters into the room, 曹景绣’s mother or Madame 曹 still acts rudely towards the Sheng family ladies. Grandma Sheng immediately shuts her down by saying.
Wow – I heard that even pardoned exiled officials and their families must return to their home province. Secretly returning to the capital is another criminal offense. Did the Emperor amend the law or give special permission to the Cao family to not only come back to the capital but also get supported by relatives?
Well why does Grandma Sheng say this?
- At this point, she’s pissed at the 曹 family for putting her and 明兰 in an awkward situation, basically destroying this marriage.
- This is a very cleverly veiled threat towards the 曹 family. She’s made it clear that the Sheng family will not marry the 贺 family. If the 曹 family spreads rumors out in society, the Sheng family has ways to deal with the 曹 family, namely, making it public that the 曹 family is in the capital. If the authorities found out, the harsher sentence could be torture.
In the drama, Grandma Sheng says these phrases but I feel like the threat isn’t as obvious. In the book, the author states it more clearly and the cao family also immediately understands the threat.
Well – i’m continuously awed at Grandma sheng’s intellect.
Anyways – 顾廷烨 wants to marry 如兰 but 如兰 of course does not want to accept. Does 顾廷烨 marry who he wants? We’ll see in the coming episodes!