Welcome back to Chasing dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas! We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy!
Today we will discuss episode 43 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 to vote!
We will start off with the episode recap, historical analysis, and then close off with some book differences!
In the last episode, Ming Lan began to manage the household as the wife of Gu Ting Ye. Her in-laws planted spies in the form of servants in her staff. 明兰 was able to establish herself as the leader of the household but that doesn’t mean the new servants will fully listen to her. Now, she must figure out how to remove these spies. Let’s see what she does.
It’s the evening and 顾廷烨 has returned home to find 明兰 still pouring over the staff notes that were captured earlier in the day. She’s rightfully stressed out. 顾廷烨 hilariously gives no good advice. He recommends just rounding them up and throwing them out of their household. 明兰 quickly dismisses that idea. Reputation is important! What would the court say if they found out that 顾廷烨 is treating elderly servants that way? This is the real challenge. It’s not an issue expelling a servant, but the method of expulsion has to be legitimate. In other words, it has to be the fault of the servant, not simply because Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan don’t want them around. Otherwise, the gossip will be that Ming Lan is a bully and disrespectful of her in-law’s gifts of helping her.
The couple then get into some cute banter over some of the younger female servants. 明兰 has no objections for 顾廷烨 to see them cause she states he’ll have to take a concubine anyways. She won’t get jealous. 顾廷烨 immediately asks why not and gets all sulky again when she doesn’t say much else. 明兰, seeing this, playfully pretends to get all jealous. Anyways, it’s a cute scene but 顾廷烨, she’s married you for like 4 days, of course she’s not gonna have all these feelings for you!
But to showcase just how problematic these new servants can be, we see Nanny Lai, who is considered the leader of this new group of servants as she used to work for the Stepmother, accosting another maid as a bunch of them carry armloads of items into the manor. The maid reveals that all this stuff are actually gifts from other members of court and the servants have been tasked to accept them all. Well this is news to Nanny Lai and she quickly scuttles away to inform someone.
Sure enough, the next day, Madame Qin, the stepmother, comes to question Ming Lan. After Ming Lan helps Gu Ting Ye prep for the training arena and Gu Ting Ye heads out for the day, he sees a litter from the Marquis manor head towards his home. Afraid that 明兰 can’t handle his stepmother, he doubles back to make sure 明兰‘s ok. His servants stand over his stepmother’s maids menacingly so they don’t warn anyone of Gu Ting Ye’s appearance. I’m very pleased with him for this action because he doesn’t actually intervene, he just is there in case 明兰 can’t handle it. Now that’s a good husband.
But 顾廷烨 needn’t have worried. This whole exchange between 明兰 and 秦大娘子 is hilarious. You know 秦大娘子 isn’t going to win this round when 明兰 comes to greet her and doesn’t even curtsey to her. 秦大娘子 even half stands up expecting a curtsey but nope 明兰 just sits down! 秦大娘子 awkwardly sits back down. Hahaha this is hilarious although in reality, this action was quite dangerous for 明兰 because it is quite rude to now curtsey to your elders. To me, she’s establishing that even though 秦大娘子 has come to visit her, it’s still HER, Ming Lan’s space.
秦大娘子 starts off the conversation by questioning 明兰 as to why the two nannies, nanny lai and nanny diao still haven’t received their positions. 秦大娘子 passively accuses Ming Lan of believing these two nanny’s are not capable of posts and that’s why they aren’t staffed yet. Ming Lan calmly diffuses this accusation by saying that Nanny Diao has injuries and therefore she doesn’t want to overwork her. As for Nanny Lai, she’s a seasoned veteran and thus Ming Lan doesn’t want to rush into staffing her yet. 秦大娘子 has to accept this answer and moves onto the more egregious fault. Ming Lan has been accepting gifts from everyone who provides them. This is unacceptable. Why? Because it would equate to corruption and accepting bribes! This is something 秦大娘子 can claim as a win against Ming Lan if this was true.
Ming Lan, though, calmly states that she really has not accepted gifts. 秦大娘子 doesn’t believe her so Ming Lan recounts what her husband told her. The current political climate is not stable. If she doesn’t accept any gifts, she’ll create enemies for her husband everywhere. But if she’s selective in receiving gifts, she’ll be accused of creating factions. Therefore, she’s been accepting all gifts but not removing any seals. She’s documenting each gift she’s received and then notifying the emperor himself so that they can submit it to him.
Immediately, 秦大娘子’s face changes. She was all ready to tell off Ming Lan but now, she has no grounds to stand on. Instead, she leaves shortly after. Gu Ting Ye is at least able to rest easy knowing his wife has not been bullied.
What does this entire visit tell us though? As Ming Lan and her maids debrief after 秦大娘子 leaves, it’s evident that the likes of Nanny Lai have informed 秦大娘子 of the comings and goings within Gu Ting Ye’s household. 秦大娘子 knew that both Nanny Lai and Nanny Diao don’t have posts. And she knew that Ming Lan was accepting gifts. Both of these two pieces of information are not intel Ming Lan would have shared with 秦大娘子 herself so it’s reasonable to assume that one of the new staff went to tell her. Though, the fact that Nanny Lai didn’t tell 秦大娘子 all of Ming Lan’s activities with the gifts tells me that Nanny Lai lacks full investigative capabilities. Otherwise, she would have told 秦大娘子 that the gifts were sealed and saved 秦大娘子 the embarrassment of a failed interrogation.
秦大娘子 finding no fault, has no other choice but to leave in a huff. That’s another round won by 明兰! 顾廷烨, who has been waiting for news on the sidelines, is impressed to hear of Ming Lan’s victory and happily heads to the drill fields. 明兰 though returns back to her quarters pissed about everything that just happened because of course, there are spies in the staff! She needs to spend extra effort to deal with them now. 小桃 is also hilarious here. She’s also pissed at what just happened but has no other way of showing her frustration besides fanning the flames of the tea angrily.
The conflict with the maids is just getting started though. As we hit the midway point of the episode, Nanny Lai is gossiping with a couple of other middle aged maids about all the rules Ming Lan has established. These maids immediately turn to Nanny Lai as their leader and continue to talk poorly about Ming Lan. It’s frankly quite astonishing to hear some of the words that are coming out of Nanny Lai’s mouth. She’s a servant and saying stuff like – it’s not proper for a 庶女 to be so jealous, who does she think she is? 小桃 overhears this and is rightly furious! Who does Nanny Lai think SHE is? How dare she talk about the madame of the household in such a way? But, 小桃 can’t find real evidence against Nanny Lai and can only let these words slide this time.
Ming Lan’s oldest sister, Hua Lan, also comes to tell her that all of Bian Jing, aka the Capital, is saying nothing but bad things about her as well. Clearly, Ming Lan’s stepmother has been spreading the worst rumors about Ming Lan far and wide while making it seem like she’s been bullied even though Ming Lan and we know she’s the one causing all the trouble. Ming Lan doesn’t have a lot of options right now though. Her stepmother is established in the capital. She’s the widow of a Marquis. Ming Lan is just a shu nv recently married to Gu Ting Ye. Very few people are going to listen to Ming Lan’s explanation.
With no other choice, Ming Lan rounds up the maids and provides them with staffing instructions. She pretty much gives each of these maids the positions they held while they were working for 秦大娘子. At first, it seems like this is Ming Lan admitting defeat to these servants. Indeed, Nanny Lai in particular, immediately starts speaking poorly of Ming Lan to some of the other maids. She complains about the rules that Ming Lan imposed and the lack of connections they’re allowed to bring into the manor.
However, in my view, Ming Lan’s tactic this entire time was to let these problematic people do their thing as it will inevitably catch up to them. Indeed, shortly after, Nanny Lai is confronted by a maid for stealing from the family and blaming it on new maids. It’s only been a few days but because Nanny Lai is in charge, she thinks no one can report her actions. Ming Lan oversees this scene and right after this little tryst, calls in the maid who confronted Nanny Lai to her main hall. For the entire hall of other servants to hear, Ming Lan “promotes” this maid to managing the gardens which requires interfacing with funds. This maid is of course over the moon with this assignment. Ming Lan is using this as a signal to the rest of the household as to who she prefers.
This seems to be the right play as this maid soon confronts Nanny Lai again! Geez Nanny Lai. She was found taking valuable tree branches that she’s going to sell in the market for a profit. Of course, she roundly denies this and starts attacking anyone who accuses her. This unseemly sight is seen throughout the manor as even Gu Ting Ye’s daughter, Rong Jie’er runs around trying to see the action.
Chang Mo Mo, Gu Ting Ye’s wetnurse and current caretaker for Rong Jie’er also sees this and asks Ming Lan what her view is on the current dynamics in the household. After all, everyone can tell that it’s not peaceful. Ming Lan explains that it’s not worth it to reprimand someone for small misdemeanors. If you punish them too often for these small things, the servants will realize you don’t mean business and then will no longer be afraid of you. And so, Ming Lan asks for Chang Mo Mo’s help.
This conversation, to me, is highly reminiscent of the ones that Zhen Huan would have with her maids in Empresses in the Palace and how the Emperor enacted many of his punishments. Remember Nian Geng Yao and Hua Fei? The Emperor let those two disregard his imperial authority and placed them on a pedestal only to crush them when the evidence mounted against them to such a degree that the Emperor was able to wipe them out in one fell swoop. This is the tactic that Ming Lan is looking to employ.
In the next episode, we will see exactly what kind of help Chang Mo Mo provides Ming Lan and how Ming Lan plans to clean house.
There were a few other scenes peppered in the episode that continue to showcase family life at home for Ming Lan. In one scene, it’s raining outside and Gu Ting Ye returns home soaking wet. He’s a little pissy because Ming Lan didn’t notice what he took to court thus resulting in him getting rained on. This again, is another example of Ming Lan not fully paying attention to him as a lover. He feels that if she truly cared, she would have noticed how he went to court every day, rather than how she expects him to go to court. He normally rides horses rather than take carriages or litters.
There is also a cute scene with Ming Lan spending time with Gu Ting Ye’s daughter, Rong Jie. From a plot perspective, I think this primarily highlights to us that Rong Jie is already rather learned. She spent time with her dad learning poems when she was younger and then is now at a women’s private study, courtesy of Ming Lan’s brother and sister-in-law. Her affinity however, is more like Ming Lan, in the boyish activities. Rong Jie wants to learn to play polo from Ming Lan.
In the last scene in the episode, we randomly turn to the young duke Qi Heng and his family. We haven’t seen him in 4 episodes. His parents are gossiping about what Ming Lan’s been up to. Qi Heng’s mother, Princess Ping Ning is saying all sorts of things like thank god we didn’t allow Ming Lan to marry into the family, look how much drama she’s caused the Gu family etc. I’m just like, please lady, you don’t know what you missed out on. This is overheard by Qi Heng who at this point, is a shell of a person. Despite this though, he still quietly stands up to his parents for speaking poorly of Ming Lan. The 2 key takeaways from this conversation though is that 1) Qi Heng, who has been ill for a while probably from heartbreak, is now ready to take a position in court. After all, he did place on the imperial exams so he should be assigned a position. 2) He accepts whatever marriage his parents prepare for him. The one he wants to marry is married to another. His heart is dead. Haha.
梨汤 – Just briefly when Ming Lan returns to her rooms after 秦大娘子’s visit, she is chugging water. Shortly after, her maid comes with a pot of soup and indicates this is 梨汤。It’s a small detail but one that’s near and dear to our hearts. 梨汤 is simply pear soup. You cut up pears and boil them. You can add rock sugar, goji berries and other ingredients to add flavor but the purpose in Chinese medicine is to help clear the throat or help when your throat is dry. It’s a staple in Chinese households and we have it all the time at home. So in the future, if your throat is dry and want a sweet drink to help, try out some pear soup!
Next, we want to discuss this idiom. This is spoken by 明兰 when she tries to persuade 顾廷烨 to let her deal with the servants.
The literall translation is this – There is a pot of boiling water. To stop the water from overflowing, you simply ladle out some of the water. Voila! It’ll stop boiling. But the problem is, it doesn’t actually solve the problem that you’ll inevitably have water that will boil over.
This idiom means that you found a quick and easy way to solve a problem in the short term but it wont solve your problem forever. Ming Lan says, why not 釜底抽薪, which, as we discussed in episode 39, remove the firewood to solve the problem forever!
The first mention of this idiom appeared in the book of han, so the 2nd century AD about a story that happened in the 2nd century BC. 刘濞 – A Prince of Wu decided to rebel agains the emperor 汉景帝 or The Emperor Jing of Han. One of his courtiers tried to persuade him against this action saying that whatever you do won’t solve this problem. The prince ignored him and of course was executed after the failed rebellion, hence the birth of this idiom. Pretty cool right?
Let’s discuss some of the book differences!
The drama accentuates much more of the personalities of the servants. The drama showcases Nanny Lai’s ill deeds. This isn’t much shown in the book, rather, it’s described. Nanny Lai and the maids are also shown in the drama to be more bold in their belittling of 明兰. You hear Nanny Lai gossip about 明兰 to other maids and she’s very haughty when 明兰 gives her basically her old job. The drama currently makes it seem as though 明兰 doesn’t have a master plan. It’ll take a couple episodes for us to see what she’s up to.
In the book, the servants are actually very astonished at 明兰’s prowess. She posts a full set of servant schedules and roles a few days after the interrogation and the Cheng gardens begins to form the shape of a grand house. Of course, Nanny Lai and the spies are still wreaking some havoc but it’s not as blatant as it is in the book. 明兰 has a more feared reputation amongst the servants in the book. The book also goes into detail about other family events. 华兰 has a 3rd child and 长柏’s wife has another daughter. 蓉姐儿 in the book is still just a timid girl at this point and doesn’t have a good rapport with 明兰. The drama disposes with this aspect of the book.
If you haven’t already, check out our website with the latest drama reviews we’ve done or follow along with the dramas we’re currently watching. If you’re looking for sites to watch dramas and you’re in the US, head on over to JubaoTV, that’s J-u-b-a-o TV. It’s a FREE service that has a selection of Chinese dramas and movies to watch. You can stream it through the website xumo or else access it on tv if you have xfinity or cox contour. Again all of this is Free!
The music you heard is the zither piece called Lan with sheet music by 冰酒蜗牛军 and played by me!