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 42 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!
Now Ming Lan is married, she needs to ponder every word that she speaks because she now represents both the Sheng family and the Gu family. We’ll see that very much on display in this episode.
Let’s start with the recap. At the end of the last episode, Ming Lan returns home to the Sheng Manor with her husband in tow to complete the 三日回门 which is returning to your maternal home on the 3rd day of marriage. This is a customary Chinese tradition. Joining Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye are her 2 sisters, Mo Lan and Ru Lan with their husbands respectively.
With the new stage set in the last episode of characters Ming Lan has to manage from the Gu Family, it’s now time to meet her obstacle on the Sheng side of the family. The couples head to meet Madame Wang in the household. Sitting next to Madame Wang is her sister, Aunt Kang or 康姨娘. This woman isn’t to be trifled with.
Madame Wang reveals that one of 梁含，墨兰’s husband’s, concubines just gave birth to a baby girl. 墨兰‘s face instantly turns sour and her husband tries to cheer her up. Honestly, 梁含 isn’t a bad guy. I don’t know what 墨兰 is so hissy about.
Aunt Kang immediately begins to sow discord between her sister and Ming Lan. She coldly tells her sister that Ming Lan is nothing but a 庶出 daughter. Even though she’s married into a Marqui’s household, she must be reminded of her place. If Madame Wang won’t teach her a lesson, she will. Ok – who are you again? You’re not even blood related to Ming Lan. This is a woman who has too much time on her hands and only finds comfort in wreaking havoc in other people’s lives. Even though we are meeting her on screen for the first time in this episode, she’s been mentioned a few times in the drama previously. When Ru Lan was looking to get married, it was this Aunt Kang who had one of her relatives in mind for Ru Lan. Both of these ladies know Aunt Kang should be kept at arms length and we will see more of why that is.
What I find absolutely fascinating is the color choice of clothes for the 2 ladies in this forum that are the most despicable. Mo Lan and Aunt Kang – both of them are wearing pink. Aunt Kang is in an even deeper shade of pink. What did we talk about before? Ping is generally reserved for concubines. Both of these women are proper wives of their husbands so why the need to wear pink? Look at the other wifes – Ming Lan, Ru Lan and Madame Wang. They’re outfit choices are Blue and Green. Much more in line with what their status dictates. Though of course, later on in the episode, Ming Lan is wearing a beautiful pale pink dress while managing her new household. Though I attribute that more to her wanting to be comfortable in her own home than much else.
At lunch, as is custom, the men and women separate for the meal. Ming Lan pays her respect to Madame Wang and she’s quite happy with the praise from Ming Lan. Aunt Kang butts into “kindly remind” Ming Lan that since she’s married the best out of the whole family, she shouldn’t forget her roots and help out her brother-in-laws and family. Ming Lan plays dumb and responds – I have a tally of who’s been kind to me over the years and I will definitely repay everyone back. See? Ming Lan doesn’t promise anything and the underlying message is – you’ve never been kind to me so why would I help you? Madame Wang, for all of her faults and naivete, has helped Ming Lan in the past. Madame Wang also clearly doesn’t think there’s anything wrong right now with what Ming Lan says. Aunt Kang, though, is most likely stewing at Ming Lan’s non-response to her.
Fortunately, Ming Lan is quickly rescued by her grandmother who summons her away, as was their coordinated plan. Grandmother and granddaughter finally sit down for a peaceful meal. Grandma Sheng is heartened to hear that Gu Ting Ye treats Ming Lan well. Grandma Sheng is just the best.
But pay attention to these 3 crucial questions from Grandma Sheng
- How is the chief steward or butler of the family?
- How are the house and grounds? Shouldn’t it be renovated?
- How many fixed assets are under the manor’s name?
It’s been 3 days and Ming Lan hasn’t even begun to think about these matters! Grandma Sheng immediately goes into Grandma mode and begins to give Ming Lan advice on how to maintain her marriage with Gu Ting Ye. And to all the ladies listening, there’s no better advice than Grandma Sheng’s advice to be a successful woman. So what does she say?
- Make sure you have money!
- You must have a trusted aide
All words to live by!
Grandma Sheng continues, You must communicate with Gu Ting Ye. He appreciates honesty and you shouldn’t hide anything from him. Dang grandma! You’ve barely spoken to him and already figured Gu Ting Ye out!
As Ming Lan heads out, she bumps into her father and immediately gets reprimanded. On the carriage home, Ming Lan is in a sulky mood. Gu Ting Ye of course notices and hops onto the carriage to figure out what’s wrong. Ming Lan tells him that her father reprimanded her for showing off her wealth. It’s her fault for not being discrete. Gu Ting Ye literally rolls his eyes. Ming Lan’s still in this sulky mood saying stuff like inequality breeds resentment. It’s better to be discrete.
Gu Ting Ye tells her to not worry about it. The word he uses is 怼. I actually did a double take. Here’s me nerding out. He says 怼 third tone and he uses it to tell ming lan to retort back to who thinks this. 怼 in the dictionary is 4th tone and means hatred. 怼 third tone means to retort but that didn’t become widely used until very recently, like 2015 recent. This word is now very common but before 2015, you would rarely see this word used.
Ming Lan tells Gu Ting Ye that it’s best to be discrete and gives one really good reason. If they seem like a very close couple, the whole wide world will be asking Ming Lan for favors. What would she do if that happens? Say no? That would put Ming Lan in the awkward position of being either non-filial or aloof. There are definitely relations that MIng Lan does NOT want to help. Aunt Kang is one of them.
This is the unfortunate circumstance of Ming Lan’s family. His father is not pleased to see his daughter return, but rather, how it would impact his reputation in the eyes of other people seeing his daughter with such a flashy entourage. Instead of being proud that Ming Lan married so well, he reprimands her instead. On one hand, I get where Ming Lan’s father is coming from, but on the other, there are many different ways to express this sentiment than the way Sheng Hong does.
The couple have a heartfelt discussion of how best to behave in front of others in the future and Ming Lan continues to express her gratitude at everything Gu Ting Ye has done for her so far. Gu TingYe, however, is still not 100% pleased with the response to his question – did she not care if he got a concubine?
I love the random shots of Gu Ting Ye’s entourage cause it’s absolutely ridiculous. There’s a million people walking behind them. No wonder why some people in the Sheng family (cough Aunt Kang and Mo Lan) are jealous.
The second half of this episode sees Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye moving out of the Gu manor into their own property called Cheng Yuan or the Geng Gardens. It is a property gifted to Gu TIng Ye by the Emperor and the property is essentially next to Gu Manor. They just have 2 separate entrances.
Ming Lan is busy overseeing the movers while Madame Qin or the evil Step Mother In Law is there providing her own opinions on how the new dynamics are playing out. I love a couple of the youtube comments that say that in the Sheng Family, no one can tell that Ming Lan is acting or truly think she’s not that smart. But once at the Gu family, they’re operating on a totally different playing field. Madame Qin can immediately tell that Ming Lan is not someone she can easily manipulate and sees that Ming Lan acts dumb to her advantage. This is definitely a leveling up for Ming Lan not just in terms of her status but her enemies.
That night, as with every moving experience, Ming Lan is exhausted. Gu Ting Ye comes to check in on her as she is too tired to say or do much else. I think these scenes are really cute as the acting is very natural. She may be smart and capable, but she’s also human. After a long day of helping manage movers, of course she’ll be tired. She bolts up from the bed though, when Gu Ting Ye warns her that she’ll have to pay attention to the new staff her in-law’s just provided to her. Ming Lan is surprised. How come no one told her about these new servants? The answer is that if someone told her, she’d provide an easy excuse to not allow them into her household. Now, she has no excuse.
What’s the issue with servants from the Gu family? The implication is that they were sent by the various members of the Gu family to A) act as spies and B) cause drama in the household. Both Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan recognize the harm these servants can pose on their household and so, Ming Lan’s next battleground is to rid the family of these servants. The challenge is how to remove them in a manner that is excusable. Otherwise, gossip will travel and say that Ming Lan is vindictive and ungrateful.
And so, a new battle has started. One that is highly entertaining. Ming Lan is not going to be bullied around any more and I am HERE FOR IT.
After a lazy morning, Ming Lan greets a whole courtyard of new servants. To watch how Ming Lan manages the process of assigning roles to the new staff is the 5th aunt-in-law and her daughter in law. The 5th aunt-in-law we saw in episode 41. She’s relatively intelligent and may be an inconvenience to Ming Lan.
The 5th aunt explains that Madame Qin, or Ming Lan’s proper mother-in-law sent over 2 nannies. She and the 4th aunt in law each sent over one nanny. The rest of the maids were sent by Madame Qin.
Right on queue to start causing some trouble, a random nanny steps up and announces that she was gifted by the big madame to help Ming Lan. Without prompting from Ming Lan, this woman explains that she’s considered the manager of this group of people and can be counted on to keep this group in line. The underlying message is of course that she will have more power than Ming Lan in managing these people.
But Ming Lan doesn’t take the bait. She is fully prepared to systematically process this group of people in an orderly fashion and in a method that is befitting of her status. Ming Lan’s maids step in to speak for her and know to take notes for her so she actually does little. She is not going to allow the likes of random nannies to step all over her. Her plan is to have each individual step forth and provide their background which will then be documented. Each person will also have to fingerprint to certify that what is written is accurate.
The group starts with a young attractive woman in the back. She steps forth and announces that her name is Ming Yue. Ming Lan’s maid Dan Ju immediately says that this is not acceptable. Please have her parents change her name as it is too close to Ming Lan’s name. This is a rather interesting custom. When discussing the last drama, Empresses in the Palace, we explained how the Emperor’s brothers had to change their names once the Emperor ascended the throne as it was taboo to have the same name as the Emperor. That made sense to me. This was the first instance in any drama where it was told that having a name too similar to the madame of the household was also not acceptable. Ming Lan quickly steps in and says why doesn’t she just be called Chun Yue instead and leaves it at that.
Dan Ju continues to ask questions while Ming Lan calmly drinks tea. In responding to Dan Ju, this Chun Yue constantly highlights her connections to Madame Qin which Dan Ju cuts off. Dan Ju asks whether or not Chun Yue knows how to read and write. Specifically, Dan Ju asks if Chun Yue has read 千家诗 or 百家姓。We’ll explain both of these books later in our podcast episode. At every question, it seems like Chun Yue is put in her place. Ming Lan and company are not interested in hearing her background and connection to Madame Qin but what her capabilities are.
The nanny who interrupted Ming Lan earlier in the conversation interrupts Ming Lan a second time. This Lai Nanny, who is the mother of Chun Yue, thinks Ming Lan is wasting time questioning each servant and makes it known. Ming Lan is unfazed and actually calmly reprimands Nanny Lai for interrupting her twice. Though her words are calm, Ming Lan tells Nanny Lai to know her place. Ming Lan makes it known that those who listen to her in the household will be treated well. Those who cause trouble will not be given mercy. They should only manage the tasks in their purview. If not in their jurisdiction, they should keep their mouth shut as her husband hates anyone who gossips and causes trouble. Such direct words immediately cause the group to understand that she means business and retreats in their attitude significantly.
At this, the 5th aunt and her daughter-in-law hurriedly leave the premises. Just as Madame Qin made this realization, the 5th aunt now also realizes how capable Ming Lan is. Moving forward, she knows how to behave around Ming Lan. This is a huge win for Ming Lan as I’m sure word will travel fast to leave her alone to avoid any unnecessary challenges.
The rest of the episode closes with Ming Lan wrapping up her questioning of the new staff. Chun Yue, though, is seen trying to enter Gu Ting Ye’s office which is strictly forbidden. Dan Ju finds her and tells her off but the implication here is that Chun Yue is trying to seduce Gu Ting Ye. There’s no other reason why she would be there.
The next couple of the episodes will revolve around Ming Lan dealing with this new obstacle that is the servants gifted from the in-laws.
Time for some character analysis and history!
Let’s start off with Grandma Sheng. When 明兰 returned home and the two of them were having lunch, Grandma Sheng asked these 3 crucial questions.
- How is the chief steward or butler of the family?
- How are the house and grounds? Shouldn’t it be renovated?
- How many fixed assets are under the manor’s name?
Why are these crucial? Ming Lan is now the Madame of the household and she will be running the household especially since her and her husband will not be living in the marquis manor for the time being. She’s been married for 3 days and hasn’t met any of the servants and doesn’t know what’s really happening in the family. That’s not a good start, especially since Ming Lan doesn’t come from a really prestigious household. What would the Gu family think? What would the servants think if the new bride has been doing nothing but sleep in? Well I know that’s not entirely true. Ming Lan has already had to deal with a concubine but it is true that she’s been putting off her actual duties and enjoying marital bliss. The questioning from her Grandmother was a very good reminder for Ming Lan that she needs to have a firm grip of her household. As we saw later in the episode, the servants are a difficult bunch especially with meddling from 秦大娘子. Once again, Grandma Sheng is the real MVP!
Then let’s talk about the Ming Lan and her behavior as she meets the servants. Her biggest calling card is that no one in the Gu family really knows much about her. The servants look down on her because she’s only a 庶女 from a lowly household. They didn’t dare think that she had the guts to make a statement. But 明兰 surprised all of them with her display in front of both the servants and the 5th aunt.
She didn’t do much during the interrogation and had her personal maids do the questioning. As the Madame of the house, it is not befitting for her to talk to the servants. The maids are enough AND add to the fact that all of her maids know how to read and write AND didn’t need any direction from Ming Lan? That’s a big display of power from Ming Lan right off the bat. Maids rarely know how to read or write and the maids were all in sync with their master. Notice how most of the servants shut up except for Lai mama? Ming Lan then shuts Lai mama with some strict questioning. Of course Ming Lan still has a lot to do but she really put a stake in the ground that day both in front of the servants and in front of the rest of the family. This again is a testament to Ming Lan and her Grandmother’s tutelage.
千家诗 – During the servant questioning, Ming Lan’s maid Dan Ju asked Chun Yue how much did she know to read? She asked Chun Yue whether or not she’s read Qian Jia Shi or Bai Jia Xing.
Qian Jia Shi which translates to Poems of a Thousand Writers, is a book compiled by Song Dynasty scholar 刘克庄 and then amended by a few other people in the Southern Song dynasty and also the Qing dynasty. The modern version of the book has only about 200 or so poems while the original compilation by Liu Ke Zhuang had more than 1200. This compilation has poems that are easier to read, understand and more importantly, memorize. It was an introductory book for children to learn Chinese that was very popular especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The mentioning of this compilation though is an anachronism as Li Ke Zhuang was born after the setting of this drama.
百家姓 – Or Hundred Family Surnames is the other text that was mentioned by Dan Ju. Compiled during the Northern Song dynasty so that time period we’re in now, this is another text that is used to help people, children particularly, learn Chinese characters. As the name suggests, it is a text of the major Han Chinese surnames. The original text had 411 surnames while it was later amended to be about 504. It’s an interesting text as there’s cadence to how the names are listed. Memorizing these last names meant you could read hundreds of Chinese characters and provided a good foundation for reading Chinese.
I want to take a second to talk about 康姨母 since we have some time. She is the sister of Madame Wang. We already caught glimpses of her character and we’ll only see more of her in the future but let’s discuss her actress! Aunt Kang is portrayed by 张琰琰 who 20 years ago starred in a hit martial arts drama called Wu Lin Wai Shi. Her other notable appearance in recent years though was in Nirvana in Fire. There, she portrayed Princess Li Yang, sister to the emperor, aunt to the main character. She was fantastic in that role as the Princess had to make incredibly difficult choices for the sake of her loved ones and family. It is a complete 180 from the character of Aunt Kang in this drama which speaks to her range as an actress. She’s no longer top billing in the shows she’s in but she makes an impression in the various roles she’s in and it looks like she maintains a healthy pipeline of work. We are in for a treat seeing her portray the despicable Aunt Kang.
Book Differences –
Lastly, let’s move to book differences. In the book, Grandma Sheng isn’t quite as happy with Gu Ting Ye as it seems in the drama. That’s because it’s been quite evident in the book that ahem the couple has been busy with other matters in bed. We definitely don’t see that in the drama.
The drama also condenses some visits into one, especially the scene with the servants. Ming Lan interrogates the servants solo in the morning and then in the afternoon the 5th aunt comes barging in to try and speak up for her servants.
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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!