Ep 41



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 will discuss episode 41 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 also have a new poll on our website! We are more than halfway through our current drama and are looking to you to vote for what drama we should discuss next! Please head over to chasingdramas.com top vote!


We will start off with the episode recap, historical analysis, and the close off with some book differences!


This is the first episode with Ming Lan and 顾廷烨 as a married couple. She has a new hairstyle, a new wardrobe, new living conditions and of course, new challenges. As the new bride in the family, there’s a ton of rules she must follow and of course with the Gu family, there’s a lot of pitfalls she must avoid. There are new characters in her battlefield after she has significantly leveled up and her adversaries are much more complicated than any she’s encountered so far. Let’s see how 明兰 does on her first days!


The morning after the wedding, the Gu manor is still bedecked with red. 顾廷烨 is already awake and practicing martial arts while Ming Lan is lazing around in bed. She’s a married woman but she still hasn’t been able to shake the fact that she is a late sleeper. 


Because Ming Lan is now married into the Gu Family, the morning after the wedding is dedicated to the Gu side of the family, specifically the women. The yawning Ming Lan is helped by her new husband in putting on makeup as he lays out the family relations.


Let’s go through the list of GU family women for now:

  1. 秦大娘子 – Gu Ting Ye’s stepmother. She prides herself in being outwardly kind hearted, poised and serene but in reality, she is as evil as it gets
  2. 4th aunt – She is the wife of Gu Ting Ye’s 4th uncle. She’s short tempered
  3. 5th aunt – She is the wife of Gu Ting Ye’s 5th uncle. She’s a little more calculating.


It is customary for new brides to be bullied by the husband’s side of the family. Ladies, doesn’t that just suck royally?


After Ming Lan fixes up her make up that Gu Ting Ye confidently ruined, she heads over to greet the women. And so, the first battle begins. At first, initial greetings go well but then, just as Gu Ting Ye predicts, the short tempered 4th aunt starts with the offensive. She mentions that on this day, there is someone that should be brought to the forefront. After some back and forth between Qin Da Niang Zi and the 4th aunt in law, Ming Lan inquires as to who this is.


Qin Da Niang Zi explains that this is a woman named Hong Xiao. She used to be a maid in Gu Ting Ye’s residence. After a while, he decided to keep her in his rooms. Qin Da Niang Zi has given back Hong Xiao’s 卖身契 and money in order to marry elsewhere but she is adamant in waiting for 顾廷烨. This woman has gone and tried to commit suicide because she has no wher else to go.


And this is where Qin Da Niang Zi starts exhibiting her prowess with words. She tactfully explains that 红绡 could be seen as romantic. After all, she was waiting for 顾廷烨 to return and now he’s married and probably forgot all about 红绡. As a woman, how will she ever live in society moving forward?


Ming Lan gets the gist of the conversation. She point blank asks whether the request is to bring 红绡 back to her quarters and put her up as a concubine.


And that is exactly what these ladies want. The morning after a wedding, they are trying to give Ming Lan a slap in the face by adding another person into her marriage. Qin Da Niang Zi and the 4th aunt in particular, have the gall to say that having a new concubine will help Gu Ting Ye improve his stature at court. What kind of man doesn’t have a couple of concubines?


This is rather despicable. They are women themselves. Don’t they know how hurtful this can be? Why are they using the binds put on them by men to other women instead of helping each other out?

Ming Lan is backed into a corner but she’s not to be trifled with. She resolutely says with a dry smile to please forgive her for not being able to follow these orders. 


This greatly displeases the 4th aunt who starts to admonish Ming Lan saying things like – is this how the Sheng Family taught their daughter? 


But, Ming Lan hides behind her husband and brings out the fact that he said he doesn’t want to bring in concubines at the moment. Therefore, if Ming Lan brings home a concubine, it would displease her husband which she cannot do. As a wife, her husband’s wants are the most important. 


The ladies in the hall don’t fully accept this and Qin Da Niang Zi even pushes Ming Lan further. Why doesn’t Ming Lan just bring Hong Xiao back to their quarters. The type of position they give her can be discussed at a later time.


Ming Lan, though, isn’t fooled. She knows full well that if she brings Hong Xiao back to their quarters, it’s game over for them. If she tries to get rid of a concubnie in her home, she’d garner a jealous and critical reputation. Plus, the in-laws will be able to insert themselves further. The only option for Ming Lan at this point is to stand her ground. Soon after, Hong Xiao becomes upset that no one wants her and decides to try to kill herself on the spot. As the drama heats up, Ming Lan deploys her next tactic. Before anyone can say anything, she proactively kneels to the ground and professes that she has made a mistake. She then asks to kneel in the Gu family shrine to recant her faults. 


Next thing we see is Ming Lan in the shrine. At first, this seems like a rather heavy self inflicted punishment. But Ming Lan explains to her two maids that are kneeling with her that she knows ful well that the Gu family women want to cause her trouble so why not just fall off the horse now and admit defeat instead of consistently fighting in the near future. Besides, it doesn’t look good to the outside world if the new bride is forced to kneel in the family shrine the first day after marriage. To the outside world, it means that the mother in law is extremely harsh. That is what Ming Lan is banking on to help resolve this issue – for Ming Lan’s mother in law to come fetch her from the shrine in order to save her reputation as a kind woman.


Sure enough, the three senior women are discussing the events. The 4th aunt is still all in a huff, saying all sorts of nasty things while the 5th aunt stays silent. Qin Da Niang Zi though, as predicted by Ming Lan, tries to calm the 4th aunt down and goes to pick up Ming Lan from the shrine in order to seem as though MIng Lan was only bullied by the 4th aunt but saved by the mother-in-law. 


At the shrine, Ming Lan continues to show an apologetic tone and says that she will do whatever Gu Ting Ye would like for Hong Xiao’s future. The step-mother-in-law though, calmly explains that this was all a misunderstanding and there’s nothing more to be said on this subject. She helps Ming Lan up from kneeling and escorts her out of the shrine. With that, Ming Lan has won her first battle in the Gu Family. These ladies wanted to put her in her place on the first morning by adding another woman into her marriage but she was successfully able to fend off these advances. Great job to Ming Lan!


ANd now to my favorite part of the episode. Ming Lan returns to her rooms and sees Gu Ting Ye calmly writing at a table. She immediately discards with any pretense of being calm and demure. Instead, she sees him sitting there and doesn’t even say hi. She tosses her handkerchief on a set and angrily sits down while questioning why he didn’t even come find her. What a change in attitude but that is also her true self. You see that even though they’ve only been married one day, she is able to be herself. Do you think she would have been able to behave this way if she married He Hong Wen or QI Heng to them? Probably not?


Gu Ting Ye takes all her frustrations in stride but then they have a great debrief of the saga that was Ming Lan vs the female in laws  . Ming Lan saw straight through the fact that it had to have been Gu Ting Ye’s step-mother who orchestrated the whole thing. After all, no one other than the mother of the groom would have the ability to stick a concubine in her son’s room the day after the wedding. Ming Lan surmises that this stepmother in law must have complained and cried about Hong Xiao to the 4th aunt for several days which caused the 4th aunt to attack Ming Lan. 


This is a really smart tactic if you ask me. Cause havoc but doesnt let it seem like the havoc was caused by the stepmother. Instead, have the animosity come from the 4th aunt. Fortunately, Ming Lan surmised all those years of fighting between the women in her own home and was easily able to unravel the plot.


However, Ming Lan then asks whether or not Gu Ting Ye actually wants to bring Hong Xiao into the chambers. That’s where Gu Ting Ye revealed the sad truth that it wasn’t he who wanted Hong Xiao, but rather one of his cousins. After the act, they stuck Hong Xiao with Gu Ting ye to avoid any responsibility. Gu Ting Ye didn’t have much choice and had to accept them framing him for wanting Hong Xiao. 


Ming Lan accepts this explanation and, much to the sadness of Gu Ting Ye, says that if he ultimately wants to get a concubine in the future, that’s ok. As long as the woman has a good character and can live peacefully, then she doesn’t have an issue. That saddens Gu Ting Ye and will be a recurring theme in the second half of the drama. To distract them from this heavy topic though, Gu Ting Ye drags Ming Lan off to eat at Fan Lou, the best restaurant in the city. And with that, the first day of being married in the Gu Family.


While Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye are happy with the results, the evil step-mother is not. Her kindly demeanor immediately shifts from one of serene and calm to another of extreme anger after learning that her two sister-in-laws were chatting poorly about her behind her back on this whole debacle. This information, was of course, relayed to the step-mother, by her trusty maid, Xiang Mama. 


Anyone realize who Xiang Ma Ma is? She is none other than the nun 静白 from Empresses in the Palace!!! Surprised? In both dramas, she plays an unsavory character that is out to harm the main lead. 


In any case, we see the anger and wrath that comes from the evil step-mother for failing to cause drama. She recognizes immediately that Ming Lan is someone that will be difficult to trifle with. But, this 秦大娘子 is patient. There will be plenty of time to cause havoc. 




Gu Ting Ye though, in an effort to dote and protect his wife from the drama of the Gu Family, calls for a meeting with his step-mother and his 4th and 5th uncle. He announces that he and his new wife are going to be moving out of the Gu manor into a nearby property called Cheng Yuan that the Emperor gifted him. This greatly displeases his uncles who think this is disrespectful to Gu Ting Ye’s stepmother. After recounting how their wives that bullied his wife on the first day of marriage, he provides a rather veiled threat to force the family to accept this move. He says that as a new member of the Emperor’s inner circle and one who was awarded numerous gifts and wealth, if the step-mother does not agree to letting them go, she’ll end up with a greedy reputation. It’ll seem like the only reason she wants Gu Ting Ye and his wife to stay in order to keep his wealth. 


As Qin Da Niang Zi says, where does this type of thought come from, to which Gu TIng Ye says, you never know how rumors start and it will be difficult to quell. My reading is that he’s more than happy to start spreading these rumors. Qin Da Niang Zi cares for her reputation beyond all else and therefore has no other option than to back down.


Even though Gu Ting Ye successfully secured this move, as his older brother surmises after learning of these developments, Gu Ting Ye will not be able to separate his relationship with the Gu Family. There will be plenty of actions by their stepmother in the coming days. 


The episode ends with first, a tour of the new grounds that Ming Lan will now manage. Again the property is called Cheng Yuan and will certainly be a test for Ming Lan as the new wife to Gu Ting Ye. And lastly, on the 3rd day of the marriage, Ming Lan and her husband head back to the Sheng family. This is customary to return back to your mother’s side of the family after the 3rd day of marriage and to bring your husband. For this reunion, all three of the younger daughters return with their husbands – ming lan, ru lan and mo lan and immediately, Mo Lan starts complaining about the fact that their carriage is smaller than Ming Lan;s and is upset. In the next episode, we will see what issues crop up now that Ming Lan has married to such a wealthy and powerful man. 


Alrighty! Let’s start with our historical analysis!


First up!

  • 拜高堂


Early in the episode, Gu ting ye’s in the courtyard doing a workout with his spear. He tell’s 丹橘 not to bother 明兰 and to let her sleep a bit. They had already performed the 拜高堂 ceremony earlier that day. We discussed in the previous episode that this is to pay respects to the parents and also to the family shrine. As the wife of a son of a main wife, Ming Lan is also added to the family genealogy. This step isn’t shown in the drama.


Let’s talk about Ming Lan’s appearance now that she is married. On the first day of marriage she is wearing red, fine, but when she heads back to the Sheng family, her outfit is a deeper blue than she has worn while as an unmarried woman. Her hairstyle has undergone the biggest change. She previously had bangs and a softer look. After marrying, you’ll see that all women in the drama have their hair fully pulled back into elegant knots and buns at the top of their head. This specific type of hairstyle from what I’ve read is called 朝天髻 and is favored by Song dynasty married women. There is a clear delineation between the married and the unmarried and a key differentiator is hairstyle. You’re supposed to seem more poised, collected and reserved with this hairstyle and with clothing color choice. 


Small callout for the drama – hierarchy was very important in chinese society. That could be seen in how the 4th and 5th family’s sat in the hall. For the ladies, the 4th aunt always sat closer to the step mother. For the gentlemen, it was the same. It’s subtle but I appreciated the fact that the drama also took note of this.


  • 通房 – 

Next up, let’s explain the drama with this Hong Xiao whom the step mother wanted Ming Lan to take back as a concubine. It’s probably some of the more unsavory portions of Chinese culture that I am extremely glad does not exist anymore. When watching Empresses in the Palace, every woman that the Emperor enjoys, is given at least some type of title, no matter how big or small. That is not necessarily the case outside of the palace walls. The literal translation of Tong Fang means to enter the rooms. This stands for maids who are able to freely spend the night with the man they are serving. It could be a man who has not married yet, as was the case with Chang Feng, Ming Lan’s 3rd brother, or with men who are married, as is the case with Hong Xiao. Often times, Tong Fang are there young men to get some experience before properly marrying. The status of these women are extremely low, beneath even that of a concubine. These women act as maids but are also able to spend the night with their male master. There was literally no way a 通房 could become a wife of a prestigious household. The best she could do is probably become a concubine. Usually 通房 either just keep their status as a maid, gifted to others as a concubine, or marry a man of rather low status.  For me the existence of this type of title or role speaks to the patriarchal society that imperial china developed which debased women as thoroughly as possible.  There were so many expectations set on women while men can go off to have fun with whomever they liked. Ok, rant over. And now you know what Tong Fang Ya Tou means. 


  • 三日回门 

This is a traditional custom in which the newlywed couple returns back to the bride’s family. The meaning is to thank the bride’s family and of course to show family and friends that the couple is happy and content. Typically all family members from the bride’s family including all of the husbands arrive to celebrate, which is why we see 如兰 and 墨兰’s husbands in attendance. 华兰 should also be there and it’s not really explained why she isn’t.


Let’s get through the hierarchy of the Gu family


There’s the eldest house -> 大房 which is includes 顾廷烨’s father. This line inherits the Marquis’s title. Then there’s the 4th house and the 5th house. The current masters are blood brothers with gu tin ye’s father so they are both di chu or born from the main wife. The book doesn’t go into detail about the other houses but it can be assumed that they most likely were from shu chu lines or they decided to fen jia several years back. The 4th and 5th houses are basically leeches on the Marquis’s title. No one from those lines really made a name for themselves and as it’s somewhat alluded to in the book, some members of these families are absolute dogs.


Let’s talk book details!


In the book, Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan wake up the next morning to complete their marriage ceremonies, which includes meeting the family and having ming lan be added into the family genealogy. Ming Lan is introduced to the whole family including all the in-laws, cousins, and extended family. We don’t see this scene in this drama. The book goes into a lot more details on the intricacies of the Gu family. There’s a ton more characters that the drama thankfully cuts out.

Once again, in the book, the women of the Gu family are quite impressed at Ming Lan’s poise and demeanor. Ming Lan internally jokes that Madame Kong or Kong Mo Mo’s teachings didn’t go to waste. Who knew that three of the four sheng family daughters would actually use her teachings later in life?


Gu Ting Ye quickly gets into a row with the family about moving out. In a huff, he actually ditches Ming Lan to fend for herself amongst the rest of the family. She’s able to hold her ground pretty admirably. It’s hilarious cause like 20 minutes after, Gu Ting Ye sends a maid and profusely apologizes to her that he forgot about her. In book, Gu Ting Ye’s daughter rong jier has never met ming lan before so they don’t have a relationship. She meets ming lan for the first time. The others that are introduced includes a few other concubines. The family doesn’t outright put Ming Lan in the awkward position to accept the concubines without Gu Ting Ye. They introduce them in gu tin ye’s presence. Ming Lan doesn’t say much and accepts them. Gu Ting Ye’s actually gets quite pouty later of the fact that Ming Lan seemingly doesn’t care about he concubines. Buddy, she barely knows you, she can only portray the loving wife. What did you expect?




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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!


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