Ep 38

 

[Karen]

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 38 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.  

 

In the last episode, Gu Ting Ye surprisingly proposes marriage to Ru Lan. 如兰 is devastated at the news because she loves another. Her parents of course immediately agree. 明兰 tries to console her sister at this new match. 

 

This is where we start episode 38. 

 

[Cathy]

 

Episode 34+35 was a key turning point in the drama from a political standpoint where as I think episode 38+39 set us up for the next chapter of Ming Lan’s life. 

 

To set the stage now that we are under the reign of Song Ying Zong, we get a scene of him personally tending to seeds he’s trying to grow in the palace. This is to show that he’s focused on providing food to the people of his empire. A little on the nose if you ask me but hey, this at least is a quick and simple way of telling us that he is not someone that’s just power hungry. With him are 4 people of interest.

 

  1. The Empress – Song Ying Zong’s wife. In this story, her last name is 沈  and has a younger brother.
  2. 沈国舅 – Younger brother to the Empress and good friend of 顾廷烨
  3. 顾廷烨
  4. 赵策英 – The Emperor’s son

 

[Karen]

顾廷烨 semi-seriously but also quite cleverly requests to for a batch of crops from the harvest has a wedding present. The Emperor’s intrigued! Who has caught the eye of 顾廷烨.

 

顾廷烨 responds and I quote – 盛家嫡女 which translates to a legitimate daughter of the Sheng Family or one born from the madame of the wife. Ummm what? That’s very odd. Because the 嫡女 of Sheng Jia is 如兰。

 

If you recall, in the last episode, Gu Ting Ye has gone to the 盛 family, with the help of the 2nd son 长柏 to request marriage with 如兰。 And now he’s talking about it with the Emperor? 

 

The Emperor hears this news and immediately gives his approval. This is a BIG ask as it’s approved directly from the Emperor himself. Very few people have this honor. And this is where we start seeing how Gu Ting Ye spins his web to ensure he marries the person he wants.

 

[Cathy]

At the Sheng household, Madame Wang tries to reason with 如兰 to accept the marriage. She, however, doesn’t want to accept because she already loves another. But after thinking through the fact that 顾廷烨 could potentially destroy her love, 文炎敬, who has no  power or status, she decides to accept the marriage. 明兰 also tries to position the argument a bit differently. If 如兰 marries 顾廷烨, she will be marrying into the house of a marquis and could be a future marchioness! That would trump their sister 墨兰’s marriage. Isn’t that satisfying? 如兰 definitely cheers up when she hears this.

 

One day, at Yu Qing Temple, 顾廷烨 brings 长柏 out for a stroll to enjoy the fall views. Pay attention to 顾廷烨‘s language. He is very excited to be marrying Chang Bai’s younger sister. The word he uses is 妹妹 which means younger sister but he does not specify which one. As the 2 are walking, they hear a woman crying int he background. When they go to investigate, they find that it’s 如兰 tearfully saying goodbye to 文炎敬. 长柏 doesn’t know this and after rewatching this scene I actually burst out laughing. A young woman alone with a man? What is going on? He practically falls over in shame and his reaction is soooo funny. He’s like GO HOME whereas 顾廷烨 sees this and doesn’t really have a reaction.

 

Back at the Sheng family, 如兰 is being yelled at by her father. He has a white cloth with him which is what people use to hang themselves. He is so livid at 如兰 for doing almost exactly what her older sister 墨兰 did. It’s shameful to the family and he wants to use that white cloth to kill  如兰. My real question is…WHY does he have that? Can someone tell my why people just happen to have these white cloths used for committing suicide just readily available?

 

[Karen]

Why did all of this happen though?The key result of the fact that 顾廷烨 witnessed 如兰 speaking to 文炎敬 is that the Sheng family is stuck. As Grandma Sheng explains to her granddaughter in law or Chang Bai’s wife that when 墨兰 did her shameful deeds, she, Grandma Sheng could at least go to the Liang family and request that there be a proper marriage. In this instance, there really isn’t anything Grandma Sheng can do even though she’s the daughter of a duke herself. She doesn’t think 顾廷烨 or the Gu family will care. So they are stuck with marrying a 嫡女 over to 顾廷烨。

 

To discuss next steps, Madame Wang and Sheng Hong go over to speak to Grandma Sheng to suggest marrying 明兰 to 顾廷烨 instead. These 2 reason that 明兰 has already been placed under Madame Wang’s name so she is also considered a 嫡女 not a 庶女 anymore. Besides, 顾廷烨 only publicly stated he wanted to marry a 嫡女 he did not state which one. Madame Wang says that this works perfectly! Ming Lan marries Gu Ting Ye and Ru Lan will marry into the Wen family.

 

Grandma Sheng is adorable in how furious she is. She’s like NO absolutely not. Fat chance! And chucks a tea bowl at the ground near madame wang. But instead of it being intimidating, for me it’s so cute. Awwww. Grandma Sheng truly cares to protect Ming Lan and calling out Madame Wang and Sheng Hong for being excruciatingly selfish. And the two are just listening, accepting the admonishment sheepishly. Hahahahaha.  

 

[Cathy]

As all this drama is happening, we turn back to the young duke 齐衡。 It’s the day where the imperial examination results are published and we see that both 齐衡 and RuLan’s love interest 文炎敬 have made it. Evidently, time has passed where 齐衡 sat through another imperial exam and this time, performed well. The camera cut over to 文炎敬 is important as well because it tells us that he is intelligent enough to place on this exam. He has the capability to do well even though he comes from humble beginnings. To me, it tells me that 如兰 chose well.

 

The results are exciting news and 齐衡 hurriedly returns home to to share the wonderful information with his mother. When he sees her, he actually bows twice and we’ll talk about this at the end of the drama as his bows are specifically discussed in behind the scenes commentary for the drama. 齐衡‘s mother is overjoyed at hearing this and sheds tears of delight. 齐衡 doesn’t hesitate to request his true wish though. He would like his mother to head over to the Sheng family to propose marriage to Ming Lan. And this time, his mother, Princess Ping Ning, does not rebuke the request. Instead, she sincerely accepts and says she will go to the Sheng family to make this request. Qi Heng is overjoyed to hear it.

 

[Karen]

Elsewhere, the funniest conversation in the entire drama happens. Every time I watch this i’m laughing my head off. Ming Lan is having a meal with her eldest sister at her eldest sister’s place. 华兰 is called away to tend to her son so Ming Lan is left alone. Who just happens to show up? None other than 顾廷烨。

 

Ming Lan is pissed to see him. And let’s take a step back to think about this conversation. In the ENTIRE drama so far, the only person who 明兰 has ever had the gall to be so blunt and direct with in her life is 顾廷烨. She calls him out for tricking everyone because now she sees that from the very beginning, he wanted her, not her sister 如兰。 When he actually praises her for seeing through his plot, I love how she rolls her eyes. And now, 顾廷烨 finally tells the truth. Ever since he saved her from the bandit attack on the river when she was visiting her relatives, and she gave him helpful advice, he knew that she was the one he wanted to marry as wife. 

 

Wow, that’s a long time ago.

 

In this conversation, Gu Ting Ye fully embodies the phrase 人贵在自知 which means that one’s value is knowing oneself.  When asked why he didn’t just go propose marriage directly, he says he doesn’t think Grandma Sheng would accept. Particularly because his past wasn’t so great. He explains that he knows full well how easy it is to prevent a marriage from happening and difficult to ensure that it happens. 

 

[Cathy]

Ming Lan then brings up the fact that she’s pretty much ready to marry into the He Family. And that’s when 顾廷烨 steps in again to say that it won’t happen because of 贺弘文‘s cousin, 曹锦绣。This shocks 明兰。 How does he know about 曹锦秀?

 

Turns out, this has been a super long con for 顾廷烨。 Ever since he returned to the capital, he’s been gathering info on Ming Lan’s family. He heard that Grandma Sheng is very friendly with Grandma He and young 贺弘文 constantly goes over to their household so he knew more or less what was happening. But the saving grace was discovering that He Hong Wen has a cousin he grew up with that was exiled. He jokes that when he heard that news, he was so happy he didn’t sleep for an entire night! Lol. If I were Ming Lan, I’d be annoyed at him too. This is so stalkerish of him!

 

He put a plan in action so that he can focus on fighting wars and have someone delay Ming Lan’s marriage proposals. HE was the one to actually pay for 曹锦绣 to be able to leave her husband’s family and be included in the list of pardoned names. HE was the one to find someone to tell the Cao family to go to the capital for help rather than return to their home town. And HE was the one to leverage his connections and ship 曹锦秀 to the capital so quickly.  

 

The way Ming Lan blinks and then he blinks at her blinking is too funny. She’s processing what he’s saying and realizing that only he would be able to bring 曹锦绣 over. If we look back at Episode 36, when 顾廷烨 is riding off to battle, he specifically calls his trusted servant 石头 to do something for him. This is what he was doing. 

 

[Karen]

While 顾廷烨 is comically explaining his intentions, another important conversation is happening at the Sheng family. Princess Ping Ning arrives at the Sheng household in order to help propose marriage for her son. As they enter though, they see a young man with what looks to be a matchmaker leaving the premises. This piqued her interest. Why would there be a matchmaker? 


When seeing Madame Wang, Princess Ping Ning shares the large amount of gifts she’s brought for hte Sheng Family. And this is a rather interesting conversation. She doesn’t outright say that I’m here to propose marriage, instead, she tactfully states that these are gifts to the Sheng family to thank them for their tutelage which allowed her son to place on the exam. The thing is, sure these are gifts to thank the Sheng family, but they could also have been gifts as part of the wedding proposal or the bride price. But Princess Ping Ning is tactful enough to not bring it up just yet.

 

[Cathy]

And this certainly helps her save face because Madame Wang doesn’t hesitate to share the happy news that both of her daughters are going to be married. This stuns Princess Ping Ning. Both Daughters? I only heard that 顾廷烨 wanted to marry the 嫡女 of the Sheng Family. Is Ming Lan already betrothed too? 

 

Madame Wang, rather haughtily, explains that yes, Ming Lan has been listed as her daughter so technically she’s a 嫡女。 如兰 will marry 文炎敬 and 明兰 will 顾廷烨。She then goes on to say a bunch of things that’s a straight slap in the face to Princess Ping Ning about how 顾廷烨 doesn’t mind at all his future in laws aren’t of a super high rank, how he links that the Sheng family is focused on academics etc. Everything that Princess Ping Ning cared about previously. 

 

The episode ends with Madame Wang suddenly turning to ask if Princess Ping Ning wants to stay for dinner. A dumbfounded Princess Ping Ning quickly declines and leaves.

 

That is it for episode 38! 顾廷烨 comes clean to 明兰 about his intentions to marry her. 

 

—-

 

[Karen]

 

纲常伦理 – When 顾廷烨 reveals that he purposefully butted into Ming Lan’s supposed marriage with 贺弘文,Ming Lan angrily wonders why 顾廷烨 did that. Does he not know 纲常伦理。On youtube, its translated to Feudal Ethical Codes and Moral Principles which I think works. At least, I can’t come up with a better translation. 

 

What is this? Part of the reason why I went down the rabbit hole and want to learn about this is because I’ve heard of it but never fully understood it. And now I’m doing research, it’s a rather deep rabbit hole. 纲常伦理 originates from Confucius teachings. 

 

They refer to three Fundamental Bonds and Five Constant Virtues that make up the structure of feudal Chinese ethics and morality. Gang translates to bond where Chang in this instance roughly translates virtues. This establishment first became articulated during the Han dynasty.

 

What are they?

 

The 3 gang are: 君为臣纲,父为子纲,夫为妻纲. Which means that retainers must adhere to their lords, sons adhere to their fathers, and wives adhere to their husbands. It classifies importance for which Chinese society is based. 五常即五人伦:仁 which stands for Virtuousity、义 – justice/morality、礼 – etiquette、智 – wisdom、信 – accountability. 

 

This term was not heavily used though until around the Song dynasty right where we are in the drama though where there was a renewed focus on Confucius teachings. In this instance, Ming Lan is calling out Gu Ting Ye for not adhering to morality and ethics by stepping into her marriage prospects. But Gu Ting Ye doesn’t care. He has a wife to marry!

 

[Cathy]

So, when Qi Heng finds out he finally placed on the Imperial Exams, he rushes home and performs two bows to his mother to show his excitement. In the behind the footage, the director says, how can we show your excitement during this time period. So what do they do? When he shows up, 齐衡 immediately gets on his knees and 磕头 to his mother. In english the term is kowtow. Kowtow has a negative connotation in English or at least in my history classes in the states but it is a sign of utmost respect. By kowtowing immediately shows his eagerness and excitement. THe only way he can express how happy he is is by kneeling. 

 

Next, he does another bow and kowtow. The behind the scenes footage reveals to us that this is a more complicated rite again, r-i-t-e that is generally reserved for the Emperor or when in court. These 2 combined reflect that he is someone who has had strict etiquette upbringing growing up. Even during the most exciting event of his life, he doesn’t forget to maintain propriety in front of his mother. His bows also showcase his respect for his mother as you can see even she was rather surprised to see such intense bows. 

 

[Karen]

Character Analysis

 

Ru Lan

 

Let’s continue to discuss 如兰. Over the course of the drama, we’ve seen more and more of 如兰’s character. She’s a spoiled but decent girl at heart. She also understands her role in her family but is willing to fight for her interests and friends. Let’s give an example. When Ru Lan’s maid was being beaten for participating in helping 如兰 meet 炎文敬,, we hear that she actually went and laid on top of her maid and took a few beatings in order to save her. This is a HUGE juxtaposition to the young duke 齐衡 who did absolutely nothing except kneel on the ground and cry when his servant and closest friend 不为 was beaten by his mother. 不为 unfortunately passed while 如兰’s maid survived. This is the difference between someone who has courage vs someone who is not willing to take risks and stand up for oneself. In the end, both agreed to accept fate but 如兰 was willing to protect her servants for her mistakes while 齐衡 didn’t.

 

[Cathy]

 

Book analysis

 

So! There were a few points that weren’t fully explained in the drama. The book however, goes into a lot more detail. We’ll discuss a few in this episode and then we’ll continue in the next episode.

 

In the book, 顾廷烨 doesn’t go through 盛长柏, the 2nd brother, to request marriage for 明兰. He asks 明兰’s brother-in-law or 华兰’s husband 袁文绍. In the book, 顾廷烨 isn’t very close to 盛长柏 and 袁文绍, 华兰’s husband, is a junior official under 顾廷烨. 顾廷烨 doesn’t spot 如兰 and 炎文敬 at the temple. It’s one of his servants that does and, as in the drama, they make a huge ruckus out of it.

 

In the book, 顾廷烨 is also a widower. He actually married 余嫣红 – the woman we saw in the drama as the arrogant sister at the polo match in episode 16. 顾廷烨 and 余嫣红 marry but she mysteriously dies shortly after they marriage, leaving 顾廷烨 a widow.

 

This whole marriage is completely excluded in the drama. It isn’t really needed so I’m glad we didn’t have to see it. The reason why I’m bringing this up now is because in the book, 顾廷烨’s status as a widower made it more palatable for him marry a daughter of the 盛 family. Him being the the son of a marquis was still too big of a leap for a daughter of the 盛 family to marry. 明兰 brings up 顾廷烨’s widowhood to try persuade Madame 王 why the match between the two families wouldn’t be good. Even if 顾廷烨 remarries, the new wife still needs to perform a concubine curtsey at the deceased wife’s spiritual tablet during formal ceremonies. Usually, a respectable family wouldn’t want their daughter to marry a widower because of this. Her status in her husband’s family won’t necessarily be very high. 

 

However, this issue is quickly smoothed over in the book with a decent explanation by 华兰 no less. 顾廷烨 has no legitimate sons or sons born from the main wife. He does have a son with 曼娘, 昌儿 but his son has NOT been added to 顾 family genealogy. 昌儿 will pose no threat to the new wife. In other households, the new wife isn’t treated well because there usually is a legitimate son and there will be hostilities against the children of the different marriages. Let’s look at 顾廷烨‘s family. 顾廷烨’s father had three wives and the children from those 3 marriages all have some animosity towards each other.

 

Let’s transition to another topic. In the book, 明兰 and 贺弘文 have one final conversation. 贺弘文 manages to squeeze a conversation with 明兰 when he visits the 盛 family. He makes a solemn oath that he will only have her as a wife but he can’t see his cousin wilt away and goes on about how he has no choice but to have his cousin enter the household as a concubine. He promises that he will only see his cousin as another person and that’s it. He couldn’t let his cousin die and this was the best option. He makes all of these promises. 明兰 at first was very cold towards 贺弘文 and started to waver a tiny bit because for her, these promises are probably the best that she’ll ever get. She was disappointed that the cousin will always come between them but what other options did she really have? 明兰 doesn’t respond to 贺弘文 and looking back years later realizes that this was the last conversation that she has with him. 顾廷烨 spun the web – poor 贺弘文 was no match for 顾廷烨. 贺弘文 is a very decent guy but a little too soft hearted.

 

Finally, we also get a special chapter from 顾廷烨’s point of view in which he shares how and why he chose 明兰. 

 

The title of the chapter translates to – My report of my mental journey to marry a pretty little liar. As I’ve mentioned throughout the podcast, in the book, 顾廷烨 and 明兰 only meet a handful of times but each time 顾廷烨 sees 明兰, he’s left with lasting impression. He’s impressed with her wit, her poise, and her ability to blend into the crowd, to play the role as a 庶女 even though she hates it. He can see that she hates it and in her mind calls her a pretty little liar. He vows to marry her after he spies 明兰 chuck mud at her sister 墨兰 during a social gathering. In the drama, that’s episode 29 and 顾廷烨 isn’t present. To him, he’s never seen another woman behave the way 明兰 does. She wants to be free but can’t so she hides away her true self. 顾廷烨 can’t help be drawn to her even though they don’t really interact. He has a heart to heart with his nanny, the kind 常嬷嬷, and tells her that he does want to marry. However, to marry 盛明兰, he admits to himself that must plot each step. This is when he decides that he needs to spin his web. 

 

[Karen]

Well – 顾廷烨 certainly spun his web. He came clean to 明兰. Now will she accept? What will 齐衡 do when he finds out that 顾廷烨 proposed marriage. We’ll find out next time!

 

 

Well – it’s the end of summer and we’ve been watching some new shows and rewatching some of our favorites. If you enjoyed our Palace episode, please go ahead and check out jubaotv! It’s j u b a o t v. It’s available in the US to stream for free on Xumo (Xumo), Comcast Xfinity, and Cox Contour. They have a slew of dramas and movies to watch! I’ve been rewatching Pretty Li Hui Zhen on it since I’m big fan of all the actors. There’s some cool documentaries that I’ll be checking out as well!

 

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