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 finishing our discussion of episode 40 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!
For this podcast episode, we continue with Ming Lan and 顾廷烨’s wedding! In the last episode, we covered topics such as the dowry and events for the groom to meet his bride. We’ll start right off as the wedding procession makes its way towards the Marquis Manor or 顾廷烨’s family home. Please note that this is not his home. His stepmother and the current marquis (宁远侯) who is his brother live at the marquis manor.
Typically, we do an episode recap, then discuss history, and then discuss book differences. As we did in the previous episode, we’ll discuss history during the episode recap so we can point things out as we see them, and then end with book differences.
We start our recap with 顾廷烨 and 明兰 on the way to Gu Manor or at the Marquis Manor. One thing I didn’t mention in the last episode but was explained to us by the behind the scenes clip of the drama is that for the 花轿 or litter that 明兰 was sitting in, they also added 行障 and 步障 which roughly translates to a walking veil or walking blind. If you look at the procession, this veil is there to help protect Ming Lan from onlookers. It’s to also give another level of importance to Ming Lan.
According to the etiquette or rites director, the drama crew referenced a memoir called 东京梦华录 The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, is a memoir written by 孟元老in 1127 or so. The memoir gave detailed descriptions of life during the Song dynasty including imperial palace architecture, food, the arts and the rites and rituals for funerals and weddings. They also referenced another memoir called 梦粱录 by a Song dynasty writer called 吴自牧 which detailed Southern Song dynasty etiquette and customs. Both of these memoirs were written after the time this drama is set but probably still relevant. Many of the items shown in the marriage procession were explicitly stated in these memoirs.
Now let’s get to the Gu Manor and in the main hall!
Once the Bride and Groom arrive, they are to perform the 拜堂 marriage ceremony.
The 拜堂 ceremony was mentioned briefly in the A New Account of the Tales of the World or 世说新语 which is a historical compilation of the chinese scholars and accounts of the 2nd – 4th centuries AD. During this time the groom and bride would 对拜 or bow to each other. The practice became more standardized and widespread during the Tang Dynasty between the 7th-10th centuries. The phrase 拜堂 appeared during this time. By the Song Dynasty, this ceremony included bowing or praying to the ancestral placards on the wedding day. The day after the wedding, the couple would pray to the earth and heavens or in mandarin 拜天拜地. Later, during the Southern Song dynasty, praying to heaven and earth was moved to the same day. The marriage ceremony that includes 一拜天地，二拜高堂，夫妻对拜 was standardized regardless of status and wealth and continued all the way through the early 20th century. When you watch chinese dramas, you’ll usually see this custom. First you bow to the heavens, then you bow to the groom’s parents, and then finally the couple bow to each other.
All of Gu Ting Ye’s family is in attendance sitting in the hall for the wedding. This includes Gu Ting Ye’s brothers, his aunts and uncles, his stepmother, and interestingly, the son of the current Emperor, 赵策英. He’s the guy in gold. For him to be in attendance for this wedding is a great honor.
Interestingly, as General Duan mutters to General Geng, Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan are bowing to the spirit tablets of two people. We can assume it’s the spirit tablets of Gu Ting Ye’s deceased mother and father. As implied in the drama, Gu Ting Ye’s stepmother is not happy about that because it means Gu Ting Ye would rather bow to dead people instead of her. It’s a slap in the face to her. But Gu Ting Ye probably doesn’t care and wants it to be a slap in the face. Plus, you have the son of the Emperor there. What can she really do?
The knot the couple are holding in the hand is called a 牵巾, or 同心结. It’s also a true love’s knot. I’m reading baike and it looks like the couple would also hold one end of this to pray to the ancestors. The meaning of this is that the couple will now forever be tied together. They are one unit. This custom most likely dates back to the 3rd CEntury AD with Emperor Wu of Jin or 晋武帝 who picked a concubine her like and tied a knot on her arm. This again could be said to reflect the patriarchal society of the times cause it’s basically like tying your bride almost as if she’s property. This knot is also recounted in the Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor or 东京梦华录 which depicted life during the Song Dynasty. I mentioned this book in our recap of episode 21.
Now in the bridal chamber or 洞房, the couple perform the 对拜 ritual and are dragged to sit on the bridal bed. Women then perform the 撒帐 ceremony or I guess you can translate it to cast away the net?
The purpose of this ceremony is to wish the new couple plenty of children in the future. Women will throw or cast money and a variety of nuts or fruits on the bed. The items thrown on the bed were specifically chosen for their auspicious representation whether it be through the name or shape of the item.
In the drama, I see 铜钱, copper coins, dates 枣, lotus seeds 莲子, 龙眼 or 桂圆.
Dates – 枣： Sounds like 早 or early. Typically you would also add 栗子 or water chestnuts. Together it sounds like 早立子 – or have a child aka son early
Lotus seeds – 莲子: In a lotus flower, lotus seeds are very bountiful so lotus seeds are thrown to wish the couple many children
Longan or 桂圆: 桂 sounds like 贵 which means valuable and 圆 is used for 圆满 – which means completeness or happiness.
These all are very lucky items to throw on the bed!
The phrases spoken by the female well wishers also come from 宋元话本《快嘴李翠莲》which we referenced in the last podcast episode. It’s a Song dynasty written vernacular text called the Fast Words of Li Cui Lian. Ming Lan’s prayers were taken from that text too：
The whole phrase goes like this – 撒帐东，帘幕深围烛影红，佳气郁葱长不散，画堂日日是春风。
I dont’ like the youtube translations so my translation for the last to lines is that, let the festive air continue to grow and not scatter, let the painting hall have spring breezes every day.
Essentially, it’s all good luck words.
Next up 常嬷嬷 comes to perform the 合髻 hé jì ceremony or hair knot ceremony. This was a custom of the Tang and Song Dynasty. This is also mentioned in 东京梦华录. Hair in chinese culture is very important. Because you are a product of your parents, to be respectful of your parents, you would never cut your hair. Hence why in chinese culture, hair is always kept very long. At least until the Qing Dynasty. There was tons of defiance against the Manchu by the han people because the Manchu custom was for men to shave the front half of their head. Anyways, marriage is an important milestone in one’s life and to cut one’s hair and tie it together with his or her spouse again meant that the couple is united as one. The phrase often spoken is 永结同心 – which means always together as one or to tie the knot!
Finally the couple performs the hé jǐn jiǔ 合卺酒 or 交杯酒 ceremony. Basically drink the nuptial wine cup.
The practice of 合卺酒 dates all the way back to the Zhou Dynasty more than 2500 years ago. 卺 actually meant Calabash or a bottle gourd. For the wedding, you would split the gourd in 2, empty it, tie the two pieces with a red string, and fill it with wine. This represented that the bride and groom were originally separate. With this red string and the drinking of the wine, they are now one couple. Why the calabash? Well it has a bitter taste and the meaning was that the couple will stay together through the bitter and the sweet or 同甘共苦. If you watch some dramas set in the Han Dynasty or before the Song Dynasty, you’ll see the two pieces of the gourd or calabash used. By the 宋 dynasty, the gourd pieces were replaced with wooden cups. In the drama, the couple uses a porcelain cup. You see the red string! 顾廷烨 empties his cup and turns the cup upside down. There’s also a custom for this. One cup stays up (Ming Lan’s cup) and one cup down ( 顾廷烨’s) – this represents balance or harmony with yin and yang or 阴阳和谐. This is very auspicious.
I’ll give kudos to the drama – notice how 明兰 is sitting on the left and 顾廷烨 is sitting on the right? That was actually explicitly stated in the Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor or 东京梦华录 that the man would sit on the right and the woman on the left.
Now that all the ceremonial rituals have been completed, it’s time for the celebrations! Well at least for the Groom. The Gu Manor has set up a festive banquet to celebrate the wedding and the groom goes around to drink with guests! He even gets the opportunity to go sarcastically toast a drink to his older brother and thank his older brother because if it wasn’t for him and their stepmother, Gu Ting Ye wouldn’t be the same person he is today. Hahaha. Gu Ting Ye really does have an ability to put people off with a smile doesn’t he.
While everyone else is having a grand old time at the banquet, the bride is left all to herself. Sigh. Cathy mentioned this already and it’s sad because that’s pretty much what happens. Ming Lan asks her maid to go get her some food because she’s hungry. After a tray of snacks arrive though, none other than Gu Ting Ye’s daughter sneaks into Ming Lan’s room. Rong Jie. We saw her briefly in her more grown up state in episode 39.
Now this is highly interesting. She tells Ming Lan that she was told by the head maid to Gu Ting Ye’s stepmother that once Gu Ting Ye marries a wife, he won’t want her, Rong Jie anymore. So, that is why Rong Je wanted to come see who the wife was with a brush to paint turtles on her face. Turtles are generally seen as an insult which we won’t go into here. The piece I’m more intrigued by is that this was the Stepmother’s head maid saying this to Rong Jie. Clearly, the evil stepmother is trying to sow discord between the daughter and the new wife of Gu Ting Ye.
I want to link this back actually to Gu Ting Yu, Gu Ting Ye’s older brother. All the way back in the beginning of the drama, during a flashback episode someone was telling young Gu Ting Yu that it was Gu Ting Ye’s mother that killed HIS mother. We never saw her face but the voice is that of this stepmother. She is trying to use the same tactic she used with Gu Ting Yu to create animosity in Gu Ting Ye’s family life.
Luckily, Rong Jie recognizes Ming Lan a lot and they’re able to connect on a rather friendly level. But like i said, this evil stepmother already is making moves to create challenges for Gu Ting Ye.
Soon after, Gu Ting Ye returns to the bridal room after faking drunkenness in order to escape some heavy partiers. And it is at this point on the episode we see the bride and groom interact with each other alone. Instead of romantic, the interactions are rather comical, at least in my eyes. Of course, the lively and joking background music certainly helps.
After arriving in the room, Ming Lan is still a little shy and holds up her fan to cover her face. When she puts the fan down, 顾廷烨 is surprised at her appearance and beauty. He recites,
此女之应天上有，人间哪得几回见。 This translation is that This Woman is so beautiful she should only be from the heavens. How many times on earth does one get to see such beauty.
This line is a slight change from the original poem by Tang Dynasty Poet master Du Fu. The poem is called 赠花卿 written in 761. In his original poem, he’s actually talking about heavenly music. The original phrase is 此曲之应天上有，人间哪得几回闻。 So instead of a beautiful woman, it’s that this piece of music is so heavenly, one should only be able to hear it in the heavens. How often on earth can one hear such music.
The change to the poem is not unique though to this drama. I’ve definitely heard this in other instances and this line is what one considers a 绝句 or a classic.
After this exchange, Mign Lan’s stomach starts grumbling. Immediately, Gu Ting Ye gets up to change and heads off to 樊楼 to get take out for his new wife. Funnily, before he leaves, he tells Ming Lan to move his daughter, who has fallen asleep next to Mign Lan, back to her own rooms, and to take off her heavy crown. I appreciate how he talks to her. It’s very real and human.
Gu Ting Ye zips off to Fan Lou to get food.
Fan Lou is a multi-story restaurant that appears in both this drama and 清平乐 or the Serenade of Peaceful Joy and was documented in the classic Chinese book 水浒传 or Water Margin. Built around 1000AD during the Song Dynasty, baidu says that this was the best of the 72 restaurants in the capital at that time. It was a spot that even Emperors would visit. The liquor created at the restaurant was also highly popular and became a liquor distribution spot in addition to a restaurant. There’s a rebuilt version of this restaurant tower currently in China.
Of course, the likes of Gu Ting Ye would come to Fan Lou because he has money. This scene where he’s coming to grab food is rather random but it’s hilariou to see the onlookers stare at him as he’s leaving with food for Ming Lan. He’s your personal Uber Eats or Seamless! Everyone is like, isn’t he supposed to be getting married today? Lol. Shi Tou says everyone will think Ming Lan is a 母老虎 or a Tigress which in Chinese essentially means a tough, controlling and overbearing woman. Gu Ting Ye scoffs at this and heads back.
But, when he returns,Ming Lan then literally exclaims, what? Everyone will think I’m a Tigress or 母老虎。 Lol。 At this point, Ming Lan has taken off her wedding headdress/crown and once again, why this drama is more human. She has two imprints on her forehead to show the weight of the headdress. I really appreciate this detail because it shows that it’s not necessary to be perfect at all times. In any other drama, she had to have been perfectly done up and beautiful but in this drama, she is specifically displaying how hard it is to be the wife of a marquis.
Gu Ting Ye tries to wave off Ming Lan’s concerns by wafting the wonderful smells of the food he’s brought over to her. She is indeed distracted and names what he’s brought.
羊肉泡馍 – Lamb Stew with Flat Bread – this is a classic dish of Xi An
螃蟹 – Crab
鸭爪 – Duck Claws
软酪 – I think it’s a type of soft custard. I was doing some research and people have different recipes but it looks to be made of sticky rice with some cream.
At the sight of the food, particularly 软酪，Ming Lan starts stuffing her face using her hands. But remembering that she’s in front of her new husband, grabs her chopsticks to eat. Gu Ting Ye doesn’t mind tho and turns the topic to other important matters now that they are husband and wife. First is to discuss the fact that he still has a son that has gone missing and will do anything to bring him back. BUT he said he promised Ming Lan’s grandmother that he will never let his son surplant Ming Lan’s son as her son will be the legitimate heir whereas his oldest will not be. Ming Lan acknowledges this and says that it’s difficult to 幼吾幼，以及人之幼. This line comes from Mencius which essentially means that when taking care of your own child it is also important to take care of children that are not blood related to you. But she essentially acknowledges these two children that are not her own and says she will not let Rong Jie, who’s with them now, suffer what she suffered. Gu Ting Ye is so grateful that he bows to Ming Lan.
Continuing on the unusualness of this wedding night, Gu Ting Ye carries Ming Lan over to the bed and announces there’s something extremely important they haven’t done yet. Ming Lan blushes but then Gu Ting Ye, being Gu Ting Ye, carries over a giant box and places it onto the bed. Ming Lan is like, what is this? Gu Ting Ye reveals that the box contains the deeds for all of the inheritance that his maternal grandfather left him. The box is stuffed full of papers. Each paper represents a property or business primarily in the salt business with an annual income of 1000 liang if not more. Gu Ting Ye says he is supposed to have a cut from the Gu Family but his stepmother and brother have claimed it so he ONLY has this much. Me and Ming Lan have the same reaction. Only that much? That’s SO MUCH MONEY. Ming Lan is dumbfounded as Gu Ting Ye has entrusted her with managing all of the money.
She’s adorable because she then brings out the box of property her grandmother gave her as part of her dowry. She’s like, I thought this was already a lot but it’s TINY compared to Gu Ting Ye’s inheritance. He trusts her though to manage all of this. That’s what I think is great about this relationship. He knows her capabilities and is very happy to give her the reins.
He does reveal that his inheritance was procured with great difficulty. Back in episode 1-2, the conflict with his Bai family relatives after the death of his grandfather were all because they want this money. So, Gu Ting Ye had to create a will that is actually blank to protect him from further assassination attempts by the Bai Family. Ever since writing this fake will, the Bai family has continuously sent spies to his family to learn who is written in the will. The only people in his life that he trusts are Shi Tou, his nanny Chang Mo mo and now Ming Lan.
This is certainly a somber revelation for Ming Lan who now recognizes the challenges Gu Ting Ye has had to face in his life. As Gu Ting Ye states, they are now married and are on the same team. Gu Ting Ye also promises to never betray Ming Lan.
With all of that, the couple close the curtains on their wedding night.
And that is that for episode 40!!! Wasn’t it super fun? To be honest I’m a little exhausted with how much history and culture was jammed into this episode for us to discuss. We hope we got most of it!
I will say that the Chinese wedding ceremony is steeped in culture and tradition. However, I want to point out that Chinese weddings are inherently very misogynistic. Everything is about the bride marrying into the groom’s family and tying the knot. The new wife is essentially stuck in this new life with limited options to escape. The groom on the other hand can of course have more women in his life in the form of concubines. We don’t see it in this drama but it is expected that the bride is a virgin. After the consummation of the wedding, the resulting blood from the act is expected to bleed onto a special handkerchief. This will be inspected by the female elders the next day to prove the bride’s fidelity to her husband. Needless to say – this whole act is very antiquated, misogynistic, and doesn’t even work but unfortunately this was a common practice for thousands of years. For now, let’s enjoy this marriage but keep in the back of your minds that women generally got the short stick in life in China.
Overall – I much prefer the drama depiction of the wedding compared to the depiction shown in the book. The book focused more on 明兰’s perspective and the ability of her maids. She’s marrying into the family of a Marquis and she’s only the 庶出 daughter of a lowly official. The older women of the Gu family were very surprised at the poise and rigor displayed by 明兰 and her retinue. They all internally give props to Grandma sheng for this type of training.
At this point in the book, 明兰 and 顾廷烨 have only met a few times. 顾廷烨 doesn’t go get food for his bride. The newlywed couple don’t have a heart to heart about 顾廷烨’s vast wealth and 明兰 doesn’t meet 蓉姐儿. Instead, the book events are pretty traditional. The couple go straight to performing their marital duties and consummate the marriage. Well – its more like 顾廷烨 does everything.
I’ve hidden some of my dislike towards 顾廷烨 in the past 10 or so episodes but be warned! I will not be very kind to him soon either in the book or in the drama.
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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!