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 39 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。The podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us on instagram or twitter at Chasingdramas or else email us. Also leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to!
We jumped the gun a little bit by naming the last episode Spiderman himself. However, I defend that decision because I think this episode is about showing us AND ming lan that someone truly understands her and wants her to thrive (apart from her grandma). This episode will also have heartbreak for Qi Heng as he finally realizes he lost her forever.
The episode starts off with Ming Lan and 顾廷烨 still having their conversation about the plots 顾廷烨 set up to marry Ming Lan. In the first 2 lines, 顾廷烨 shows 明兰 that he knows exactly the type of person she is. In relation to accepting 曹锦绣 as a concubine in oder to marry 贺弘文，顾廷烨 states that on the surface, Ming Lan seems very meek and unquestioning, but she’s incredibly stubborn in reality. So, she placed 曹锦秀 as this chess piece to delay Ming Lan.
When 明兰 deflects by saying that only if there wasn’t 文炎敬 who is 如兰’s beau because then 顾廷烨 would not have succeeded, 顾廷烨 jokes that when he heard about 文炎敬 he was so happy he didn’t sleep ANOTHER night.
He reveals that in order to marry Ming Lan, he did a ton of background research. He learned about 文炎敬‘s character and confirmed he was upstanding or else 顾廷烨 would have helped push him out of the Capital. He learned about all the characteristics of 明兰’s family such as her sister, mother, father etc.
I think he was hoping Ming Lan would enjoy hearing this but she actually storms off. She is upset that she’s being presented as a prize for him to win.
While the blinds have been open as to what 顾廷烨‘s ultimate intentions are, the young duke 齐衡 cannot accept this. When his mother reports back to him that 明兰 is now betrothed to 顾廷烨, he is furious and requests a meeting to interrogate 顾廷烨. 顾廷烨 though, already knew this conversation was happening.
That night, they meet at a restaurant. 齐衡 does not hesitate with any pleasantries and gets straight to the point. “You know i’ve always continued to think about Ming Lan. Why did you agree to marry her?”
In this conversation, we see just how much 顾廷烨 knows and cares about Ming Lan and just how little 齐衡 knows about her.
顾廷烨 explains that he did not know 齐衡 was still thinking about 明兰。After all, 齐衡 decided to focus on studying after his wife died. 齐衡 rebukes that he had to study and pass the imperial exam in order to be worthy of proposing. But 顾廷烨 calmly retorts that in this relationship, it was 齐衡 who first gave up on Ming Lan. When pressured by his now deceased wife’s family, 顾廷烨 offered to help 齐衡 and 明兰 but 齐衡 didn’t accept. That was 齐衡‘s decision to back out, no one elses. One could say, yes, he was pressured but he wasn’t brave enough to stand up for this relationship. Does he know what happened to her after he got married? Him, a duke, married the daughter of a Prince. No one had anything to say about him. But Ming Lan? She’s just a 庶出 daughter of a lowly court official. Does 齐衡 truly not know what would happen to her in social circles?
And now, given the chance to marry Ming Lan again, he didn’t propose marriage immediately after the death of his wife. Instead, he had to wait and wait until he placed on the imperial exams. Was he supposed to make Ming Lan wait forever as well? How is that fair to Ming Lan?
This explanation was almost as if lightning had struck 齐衡。 He’s desperately trying to push back on 顾廷烨 and try to convince him not to marry Mign Lan. After all, she’s not the one he HAS to marry. 顾廷烨 point blank responds, how do you know she isn’t. This was a further blow to 齐衡。It dawned on him that 顾廷烨 has wanted to marry Ming Lan for a while. 顾廷烨 does not deny this and states that he fought furiously on the battlefield just to marry 盛明兰。
齐衡 cannot accept this and rushes to try to speak to 明兰 directly. But 顾廷烨 knows that it will not matter. Of all the options 明兰 has, he knows that she will never go back to 齐衡。Once again, we see that 顾廷烨 truly knows Ming Lan.
Sure enough, 齐衡 is refused at the door by Ming Lan’s maid 小桃。齐衡 wants to explain what happened and recover this relationship. In a satisfying exchange, 小桃 tells off 齐衡 for his actions. In his mind, he thinks he had no option in his relationship, but that doesn’t mean there are no consequences. He was the one who ignored Ming Lan when she told him to not bug her, but when push came to shove, he was again the one to give her up. He does not get to come back to Ming Lan again after all that’s happened. Poor 齐衡。 He has no choice but to walk away alone, heartbroken once again.
明兰 also teared up hearing 齐衡‘s exchange with 小桃 but as she says to her other maid, never look back. In my view, 明兰 cried more to lament their past relationship. I sure have relationships where I look back and am sad they ended but it does not mean I want to continue that relationship. That’s what I think is happening here. The past is the past. In all of this though, 齐衡 finally learns that he never really understood Ming Lan and that his cowardice in his relationship with her has cost him.
With these conversations out of the way, the next steps are to finalize the marriage. On one hand, Gu Ting Ye has to update his side of the family while on Ming Lan’s side, she still has to decide whether or not she wants to accept. Let’s start with 顾廷烨。
顾廷烨 informs his stepmother and his older brother that of his plans to marry 明兰。He doesn’t give much opportunity for them to push back because he says that the Emperor himself has accepted this marriage. From dialogue, we learn that his stepmother has been secretly trying to plan a marriage for him. This meeting was done primarily to annoy the 2 of them has 顾廷烨 flaunts the wealth and status he’s enjoying from the Emperor. In my mind, I have no issue with that because his older brother and step mother were extremely cruel to him so power to him for fighting back.
The important piece of this conversation though is that 顾廷烨‘s older brother 顾廷煜, who is the current marquis, is recognizing that his step mother is plotting to take his title. 顾廷煜 is frail and has no sons. Who has most to gain from the downfall of both 顾廷烨 and himself? Their step mother who has her own son. The third son, 顾廷炜。We won’t spend too much time on this thread for now as it will become more apparent in the future. The veil is being lifted though for the oldest brother as to who is the real devil in their family.
On Ming Lan’s side, she is informing Grandma Sheng of what transpired and how 顾廷烨 spun a huge web just to trap her into marriage. It’s super cute because she’s annoyed at him but also quite pleased that someone is willing to go through so many hoops just to marry her. In this chat, she’s blushing heavily and the most animated she’s ever been in front of her grandmother. At least on screen. Her primary concern though is that she won’t be able to handle all the issues in the household of a marqius. After all, she’s just a 庶女 from a small family. She’s not fit to marry a marquis!
Grandma Sheng is also hilarious. Her face changes and becomes more and more shocked each time 明兰 recounts the times 顾廷烨 saved her. Grandma Sheng cannot believe all this happened!
And so, the marriage is currently stalling as 明兰 hasn’t agreed. Funnily enough, 明兰’s older brother 长柏 is quite worried for 顾廷烨。顾廷烨 though takes in stride and says to not worry. He’s personally asked the Empress herself to set up a polo match. All they have to do is get Ming Lan to attend the match.
It’s a spring day and the polo match is underway with powerful women in attendance. The Empress is there, 顾廷烨‘s stepmother, the Marchioness of Ning Yuan, and 墨兰, Ming Lan’s 4th sister, is there with her mother-in-law, the Countess of Yong Chang. That’s quite the entourage I must say. Ming Lan arrives after being dragged to attend by her eldest sister, Hua lan.
In an extravagant and meaningful display, Gu Ting Ye presents himself in front of the Empress and notes that he requests a worthy prize to win on the field for his future wife. The Empress agrees and pulls out a hair accessory that she wore when she was coronated Empress. In essence, this tells the entire party in attendance the importance that Gu Ting Ye places on the marriage with his future wife. Only he is going to the Empress to request a gift or prize. That’s not normal.
But Ming Lan takes it the wrong way. She doesn’t like the attention being placed on her so she runs. In her flustered state, she actually forgets where her carriage is and runs the wrong direction. This is another instance in her life where she forgets her facade. SHe is normally calculated and reserved but in front of Gu Ting Ye, she loses track of that image. She is stopped, though, by Gu Ting Ye himself who requests a private audience with her. If he doesn’t agree with her after this conversation, then he will back away forever and never bother her again.
She agrees to speak with him.
Away from the field, Gu Ting Ye asks her why she doesn’t want to agree to this marriage. After some prodding, she reveals she’s primarily worried about being able to handle the complexities of being married to the house of a marquis. Gu Ting Ye waves away those worries. If she doesn’t want to live at the Gu Manor, they can move elsewhere. He promises that he can’t guarantee marrying him will be rainbows and flowers, but he can guarantee that she will never be bullied and have to suffer. The words he uses which aren’t easily translatable in english are 委屈憋闷. 委屈 is when someone has been bullied or wronged and is then upset. 憋闷 means they have to keep everything to themselves and hold in their frustrations or anger.
When 明兰 tries to deny that she’s ever suffered, 顾廷烨 doesn’t hold back in stating that that is a lie. Since she was born, she’s been suffering. She’s always had to pretend to be this perfect daughter of the Sheng family and do things she doesn’t want to do. She has to pretend to accept society’s constraints on women of her status. She has to pretend like she isn’t intelligent in order to prevent herself from attracting too much attention. She has never been truly happy.
And finally he declares that if she marries him, whatever position he is with men, she will have the same position with women.
In chinese, the phrase is a bit more brusque.
With this declaration, Ming Lan finally agrees to this proposal. They return to the field as a pair, each beaming with happiness at this decision. Gu Ting Ye in particular is over the moon with being able to marry such a capable and intelligent woman. On the platform of onlookers, Gu Ting Ye’s step mother isn’t pleased. Neither is 墨兰, Ming Lan’s 4th sister or her mother in law. After all, her mother in law wanted Ming Lan. She knew how great of an asset Ming Lan was. The only other person happy for Ming Lan is Ming Lan’s oldest sister 华兰。
This scene in the drama where they return to the field is also kinda hilarious when you see the behind the scenes footage. The camera swirls around the pair to evoke a feeling of euphoria as the two walk along side each other. To achieve this effect, the camera crew literally race around 顾廷烨 and 明兰 in circles with a steady camera to prevent the shot from shaking too much. In my view, it’s almost like a game of tag and the goal is to try to NOT be in the shot and distract from the main characters.
The remainder of episode 39 sees Ming Lan preparing for her wedding. First she chats with her sister Ru Lan who is a little upset at Ming Lan primarily because of how beneficial this marriage will be. But it’s revealed that the reason Ru Lan is upset is because she sees that her future mother in law will be a handful and she’s not excited about that. With a few jokes though, Ming Lan is able to appease Ru Lan and help her be excited about her pending marriage with Wen Yan Jing.
The episode ends with Ming Lan speaking with Grandma Sheng and Grandma Sheng telling Ming Lan how to prepare to handle the relationships in her new home. We’ll see more of this in the next episode as well as Ming Lan’s wedding! That will be an extremely long podcast episode so we’ll probably split it into 2.
Ultimately why is Gu Ting Ye a good match for Ming Lan. 齐衡 was attracted to Mign Lan but had no clue about her true nature nor did he have accountability in his relationship. 贺弘文 was also attracted to Ming Lan but could not stand up for Ming Lan in the face of pressure from his family to also marry a concubine. Neither of these men would allow Ming Lan to marry and thrive. In Qi Heng’s instance, he would not defend her when there were issues at court or if his mother pushed. Think about how little he did when his servant was beaten to death. How could anyone expect him to grow a backbone and stand up for Ming Lan if there was conflict? He Hong Wen’s the same though maybe not as extreme. In both instances, Ming Lan would live looking down. She would not be able to hold her head up high. SHe would also constantly have to pretend to be the good natured, meek woman she lets everyone believe she is. There will never be escaping that if she married either one of those men.
This is a different story for Gu Ting Ye. Since the beginning, Gu Ting Ye has known that how ming Lan presents herself in front of others was nothing more than a facade. Only he knows how much she suffers and only he plotted to marry her in a way that places her to the highest position possible. Ming Lan doesn’t necessarily want riches or status. She just wants to live freely. Gu Ting Ye shows Ming Lan he knows that and will offer that for her. Notice how when they return to the polo field after agreeing. Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye are equals and walking alongside each other. Gu Ting Ye sees her as his equal. Not someone who he has to save. He respects her true self and values that true nature. That is why he is marrying her.
I do want to point out that Ming Lan though, does not yet love Gu Ting Ye. Sure the words he’s saying to her are agreeable. They have also always been incredibly friendly towards each other. But that does not mean she has any more affection than him. In this marriage, he is smitten with her. She only respects him and accepts him as a husband.
Let’s also take some time to talk about exactly how big the web that Gu Ting Ye spun in order to marry Ming Lan and how it shows his love for her.
First – Stalling 明兰 by meddling in her marriage prospects with 贺弘文。
Next – Telling the Sheng family that he wants to marry a 盛家嫡女。I don’t know how he found out that 明兰 has been placed under Madame Wang’s name and is listed as a 嫡女 but he was careful in picking those words specifically. Why? That way, when 明兰 marries, her status is elevated.
After that – Telling the Emperor himself that he wants to marry 盛家嫡女 such that it is now imperial decree. This is crucial. In front of the Sheng family, or his own, there is no way to back out of his marriage to the Sheng family because he has raised it to the highest power of the land. Backing out of this marriage would be looked down upon.
Fourth – exposing that the true 盛家嫡女 is not fit to marry him. This I think is a bug in both the drama and the book. In my view, I think 顾廷烨 found out ahead of time by maybe spying on the Sheng family’s activities that 如兰 was secretly meeting 文炎敬。That’s why he went to the Temple where he and 长柏 “accidentally” run into 如兰 meeting 文炎敬 and saying goodbye. 长柏 says that 顾廷烨 has been super busy lately. So why did he just randomly come to the temple that day? It has to be because he needed an excuse to expose Ru Lan thus making her unfit to marry him. This way, the only person who can marry him is 明兰.
Lastly – sharing his feelings to 明兰 – In the 2 conversations he has with Ming Lan, he reveals not only does he know the true Ming Lan, but he has what it takes to make her happy. He recognizes her value as someone who has helped him and wants to provide the environment to ensure she can hold her head up high. No other man in her life so far – 齐衡 or 贺弘文 has allowed her to feel comfortable enough to show her true nature.
These steps are crucial because it places extremely high importance on Ming Lan when she marries. She will be placed on the highest pedestal as the wife of Gu Ting Ye. Not some lowly 庶女。This marriage is so important that even the Emperor and Empress are personally involved. That is a great honor for someone of Mign Lan’s station but this is exactly what 顾廷烨 wanted for her.
Let’s talk history! There’s a lot of idioms today
First up! The phrase 瓦罐不离井上破, 将军难免阵前亡 which is something 顾廷烨’s older brother mentioned to his wife while discussing their step mother’s plot to take his title for her own son. This phrase comes from the book of han.
The first part of the phrase translates to a pot used for collecting water from a well won’t be far from the well when it breaks. The second part of the phrase means that a military general may not help but be killed in action.
This phrase means – even if you have to perform a seemingly mundane task repetitively, you have to be very careful. This is because one slip of a mundane task might lead to catastrophic events. In Gu Ting Ye’s case, he’s going off to fight in wars quite regularly so it’s to be expected that he could meet an untimely end. Call it occupational hazard. For the step mother’s own son, 3rd in line to become marquis, she needs to wait for the oldest son to pass, which is likely because he’s quite frail, and to plot for the second son to pass without an heir. That way, hier son will naturally assume the title.
This is the idiom 顾廷烨 uses in his conversation with 长柏 to describe the lengths he’s gone to marry 明兰 and that he has requested for the Empress to set up the polo match.
The literal translation is pulling the wood out from under a stove but the meaning is to take drastic measures for a situation.
釜 – historical stove
薪 – firewood.
If the stove is boiling water and you want the water to stop boiling, you could add cold water but to stop the boil indefinitely, you remove the firewood.
It is also one of the 36 stratagems for war and politics in Chinese culture. The first mention was by 董卓 in the late 2 century AD and added into the 36 stratagems a few centuries later。
This idiom is what 顾廷烨’s daughter writes during the similar conversation. The literal meaning is when the horses come, we will win. The meaning basically translates to an instant win or a confident win.
This is actually an anachronism in the drama. This phrase doesn’t appear until the Yuan dynasty, which is around 200 years after this time.
In present day, many people paint this idiom with horses and it is a phrase of good luck.
Let’s discuss book differences!
顾廷烨 was successful on his first try to propose marriage to 明兰. The drama split the two conversations into 2. The meeting orchestrated in the beginning of the episode by 明兰’s sister 华兰 and of course the polo match. However, in both the drama and book, 明兰 agrees after hearing 顾廷烨 promise that whatever position he is amongst men, that will be her position amongst women.
The book goes into a lot more details on 如兰’s marriage. The drama glosses over much of this. 炎文敬 actually proposes marriage before taking the imperial exam and luckily he did well. 盛纮 is the biggest winner of the whole saga actually. His reputation at court is bolstered as someone that isn’t a gold digger. Why? Because his own 嫡女 is marrying a poorer man, his 庶女 to people who know, will be marrying 顾廷烨. In the book, 盛纮 very much enjoys his newfound status at court.
The dowry is also a big topic of discussion. 如兰 and 明兰 will marry around the same time but to vastly different people. 如兰 is considered marrying low whereas 明兰 is marrying up. Madame Wang, being the mother of 如兰, of course wanted to give more to her daughter but was roundly chastised by her husband on this. 盛纮 has a surprisingly firm stance on this. Whatever 如兰 has, 明兰 must have. Whatever Grandma Sheng gives 明兰, Madame Wang must not interfere. I will say, 盛纮 isn’t a good husband, but he is a decent father. Despite his overt favoritism to 墨兰, he’s made sure all of his sons and daughters got a good education. He did try to find decent matches for his children too. It’s just that 墨兰 and 如兰 acted out of propriety and in the end married who they wanted.
In the book, 明兰 meets several people that she doesn’t in the book. The first one is actually 顾廷烨’s stepmother 秦大娘子. 秦大娘子 tries to sow discord between 明兰 and 顾廷烨 but 明兰 doesn’t fall for it. In the book, 明兰 and 齐衡 actually do meet before her she marries. They meet at 如兰’s wedding. The drama doesn’t show this wedding. 齐衡 is slightly tipsy and confronts 明兰 as to why she never returned his affections. At the end, 明兰 rejects him formally and turns her head towards her marriage to 顾廷烨.
Yay! Ming Lan agreed to marry 顾廷烨!
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The music you heard is the zither piece called Lan with sheet music by 冰酒蜗牛军 and played by me!