Ep 44

 

[Karen]

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 44 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!

 

[Cathy]

In the last few episodes, Ming Lan has encountered her first serious obstacle in her new home in the form of servants sent to her from her new stepmother. These servants have been wreaking havoc on her home and act as spies to tell her stepmother in law all the comings and goings in her home. There are also a couple of younger maids scheming to become Gu Ting Ye’s concubines.

Ming Lan does have a few allies in her group of servants that are new and have no allegiance to the Gu Manor but she needs a spark or a mistake so big that she’ll have no choice but to get rid of these servants. What should Ming Lan do?

 Ming Lan recruits Chang Mo Mo, Gu Ting Ye’s wetnurse to help.

[Karen]

One night, Chang Mo Mo is out in the yard grabbing a few drinks with Hua Ma Ma and Tian Ma Ma. These two came over from the Gu Manor. But, as Chang Mo Mo goads, they have been pushed down by Lai Ma Ma who acts like she rules them all. This Lai Ma Ma has been stealing, yelling at other servants and all other manner of irritating things. Chang Mo Mo latches on to Nanny Lai’s shortcomings and asks these other Nannies if they want to make a change for the better.

The analogy Chang Mo Mo uses to make the actions of the other Nannies clear is Gu Ting Ye’s current fortune. Gu Ting Ye is now as powerful and wealthy as he is because he helped quash a coup and supported the new Emperor. If these Nannies help Ming Lan get rid of the obstacle in her household, these Nanny’s will of course be rewarded for their efforts.

The other two Nannies are understandably hesitant. Why doesn’t Chang Mo Mo do anything to help Ming Lan get rid of Lai Ma Ma? Why is it on the two of them? Chang Mo Mo explains that she is Gu Ting Ye’s wetnurse. Her position in the Gu Manor is already established and cannot be changed. She is trusted by Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan and she can’t really be elevated further. Nanny Hua and Nanny Tian, on the other hand, have plenty to gain from helping Ming Lan. They’re currently not favored in the household but by getting rid of Nanny Lai, they’ll most certainly be rewarded.

Nanny Hua and Nanny Tian are still hesitant to which Chang Mo Mo basically calls them cowards for not standing up for themselves and their career. Only after this, do these two nannies agree to act. Little do they know, this was all a trap set by Ming Lan and Chang Mo Mo.

[Cathy]

Shortly after, Ming Lan has guests over to her residence at Cheng Yuan or Cheng Garden. They are the Empress’s younger sister and younger brother, with the last name of Shen. As is customary, Ming Lan spends time with the Shen sister and Gu Ting Ye spends time with the Shen brother. While out fishing, Ming Lan connects rather well with the Shen sister. Both of them don’t come from wealthy backgrounds and married up. In the Shen sibling’s case, they were originally doing fine in Yu Zhou but then suddenly they became highly visible nobility by being connected to the new emperor. This Shen sister confides in Ming Lan that most of the aristocracy in the Capital make fun of her. She’s not poised enough or graceful enough. She likes being active and not be a proper lady all the time. This is another reason why Ming Lan and her get along so well. At their core, these two ladies don’t like the restrictions that society has placed on them as women.  

To me, this Shen sister’s current predicament is quite classic. A woman suddenly becomes insanely wealthy and is sister to the Empress but is not accepted by the established court for she has no aristocratic pedigree. Ladies and gentlemen, this I think is what they don’t tell you about Cinderella’s story. At least fortunately for this Shen sister, her husband and her husband’s family treat her kindly. We never see them on screen though, only mentioned in passing.

[Karen]

Elsewhere, Gu Ting Ye and the Shen brother are having a drink and catching up.

It is during this visit that chaos happens in the Cheng Gardens. In the kitchen, Nanny Lai has been accosted by Nanny Hua and Nanny Tian for stealing valuable vegetables. Nanny Lai claims that she thought those leaves were just weeds. The other two nannies knew better. These were vegetables specially grown for Gu Ting Ye’s daughter’s soup. Nanny Lai is planning on stealing the leaves to sell in the market for a profit. Nanny Lai at first denies this but then turns around to accuse these Nannies saying that they are just bitter that they can’t profit off the household. And with this, all hell breaks loose. A massive food fight begins in the kitchen. Vegetables and meat are flying everywhere. Servants are throwing punches and some pretty good slaps I must say. It’s a proper food fight! Xiao Tao, one of Ming Lan’s trusted maids, rushes over to see what’s happening but couldn’t help but laugh when vegetables are being tossed around and servants are beating each other up on the floor.  

The commotion was so loud that on Ming Lan’s side, the Shen sister hears it and asks if Ming Lan needs to manage anything. Ming Lan is like, nah, I’m going to ignore it. Same thing on Gu Ting Ye’s side. He’s informed, right in front of his guest, the Shen brother, that there’s a food fight in the kitchen. Gu Ting Ye is like, not my problem. That’s Ming Lan’s problem. To mask the sound of the fighting. Gu Ting Ye invites the Sheng Brother to a friendly sparring match, complete with drums to help hype up the fight.

That night, the gaggle of food covered servants are lined up out in the yard waiting to hear their fate.

[Cathy]

Ming Lan doesn’t come out, it’s only Ming Lan’s head maids, Cui Wei and Dan Ju that serve out the punishment. All of the servants involved in the food fight can no longer be used in the household. They must be moved to a farmstead the next day for further placement.

Nanny Hua and Nanny Tian are in utter disbelief. Why would they be treated this way? This is a severe punishment! They were trying to help the Madame because they couldn’t stand Nanny Lai. Cui Wei responds, accurately, that sure it’s fine to stand up for the Madame but what’s up with fighting? If they killed someone on the Madame’s behalf, is it also the Madame’s fault they killed people?

To this, the servants have no strong response. Clearly, these women were not intelligent enough to bring down Nanny Lai without implicating themselves. And so, they have only themselves to blame for this result. 

[Karen]

As for Nanny Lai, she’s been on bedrest after this scuffle. Cui Wei also comes to see her. Nanny Lai still thinks she’s in charge and tells Cui Wei she’ll help procure new servants to manage the household and expresses her discontent at how these people treated her. Cui Wei though, informs Nanny Lai that she will also be moving to a farmstead off the property to help her recover from injuries. Nanny Lai knows full well this is a form of punishment as she’s pretty much in exile and tries to say she’s fine she doesn’t need time off to recover. Cui Wei brings out the fact that Gu Ting Ye, master of the household, heard about sending Nanny Lai to the farmstead and asked two of his servants to assist so there’s no pushing back. Nanny Lai is defeated at hearing this.

Without skipping a beat, Ming Lan and company provide new keys and responsibilities to the maids and nannies loyal to her. Now, she has her own cadre of servants that answer only to her, not her stepmother-in-law.

[Cathy]

So what exactly happened. Let me recap how Ming Lan was able to successfully eliminate such a large swath of problematic servants.

As Ming Lan explained earlier, she needs these servants to commit such a large offense that there is no alternative but to remove them from the property for poor behavior. That’s where Chang Mo Mo came in. She fueled the flames of discord between the various nannies. Sure, the nannies wanted to get rid of nanny lai to help the madame of the house, but they didn’t know exactly how to do it. And, importantly, Chang Mo Mo only had this conversation with nannies that also came from the Gu Manor. Note, she didn’t have this conversation with new staff loyal to Ming Lan. Only those she wanted to get rid of.

[Karen]

The perfect opportunity came with the visit of the Shen siblings. They are honored guests. Sister and brother of the Empress. While they may not be fully integrated in court, they have a certain amount of standing. When the food fight broke out both of these people heard the commotion. This in my mind has 2 effects.

  1.       There are witnesses to the fight. No one, aka the stepmother can say that it was just Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye faking a fight to remove the servants. There are 2 major witnesses and who knows how many servants that it wasn’t Ming Lan or Gu Ting Ye’s doing. But rather, servants from the kitchen causing a commotion.
  2.       By causing a food fight with such esteemed guests in the house, Ming Lan has no option but to remove these servants. It is a humiliation on the entire household, and by extension, the Gu Manor for there to be such commotion with the Empress’s relatives around. Now, it is easy for Ming Lan to remove these servants in one fell swoop.

Hopefully that makes sense.

[Cathy]

And indeed, Ming Lan needed to have a concrete enough reason to remove these servants because of course, the evil stepmother-in-law, Madame Qin, comes to see her. With the events that happened, Madame Qin doesn’t blame Ming Lan. Instead, she wonders aloud how these nannies could have acted out so poorly. But, she firmly states that she knows 2 of maids who didn’t participate. These are Nanny Lai’s two daughters. One of them is Ming Yue and the other is Ru Yue. Madame Qin points out that Ming Yue in particular is well mannered and thoughtful. She is someone Ming Lan can rely on.

On the surface, Madame Qin said a bunch of reconciliatory things to Ming Lan to appease her of the fight that happened but Madame Qin is not pleased at all. The underlying message in this conversation is that Ming Lan is not to touch these two maids, Ming Yue and Ru Yue. I also think that Madame Qin is purposefully slighting Ming Lan by calling the maid Ming Yue instead of her new name Chun Yue. Remember in Episode 42, this Ming Yue was called out for her name being too close to Ming Lan’s name and had it changed. It’s not possible Madame Qin doesn’t know about this disrespectful name but still decided to call the maid Ming Yue.

[Karen] 

Why highlight this Ming Yue and Ru Yue? I’m gonna call her Chun Yue to be respectful to Ming Lan. As Madame Qin explains while in the litter returning to the Gu Manor, seething with anger at losing all of these spies, she expects one of these two maids to become a concubine of Gu Ting Ye. She doesn’t think Gu Ting Ye can resist having these maids around. This will surely create problems in their household, aka, Gu Ting Ye will take notice of these maids and sleep with them. 

Ming Lan, though, isn’t too perturbed by their stay. They cannot force Chun Yue and Ru Yue to leave but that doesn’t mean they cannot leave on their own. Once the weather turns cold, Ming Lan allows Chun Yue to visit her mother, Nanny Lai, who is now in the farmstead. The brilliance of waiting for the weather to turn cold before allowing Chun Yue to visit her mother is that now, her mother can only complain at the poor and freezing conditions on the farmstead.

And that’s exactly what happens. Once Chun Yue sees her mother, Nanny Lai recognizes that they’ve been discarded by Madame Qin. They don’t have any further backing or support from the Gu Manor and have been left to fend for themselves. They’re stuck in a rock and a hard place because Nanny Lai’s conditions won’t necessarily improve unless Chun Yue becomes a concubine which she doesn’t necessarily want to do. Nanny Lai advises Chun Yue to beg Ming Lan to let them leave.

[Cathy]

In the very next scene, we see Chun Yue kneeling in front of Ming Lan, begging Ming Lan to allow her, her mother and sister leave the Capital back to their hometown. Ming Lan puts on a little show of reluctance but ultimately agrees to Chun Yue’s request. After all, it’s exactly what Ming Lan wanted. With these 3 gone, her home will finally achieve some peace and quiet. 

That’s another round to Ming Lan! Yay!!!

Ming Lan celebrates, like many people would, by stuffing her face with yummy food after this victory while Gu Ting Ye watches lovingly at Ming Lan’s overjoyed countenance.  

[Karen]

The episode ends with two updates and another relationship advice. First, Gu Ting Ye hears from his servant Shi Tou’s family member that they had spotted his son and his mother. They unfortunately lost track of them but thought it prudent to inform Gu Ting Ye that they were at least seen. Gu Ting Ye is understandably eager to hear more. 

The second is on Ming Lan’s side. Now she’s handled affairs in her household, she has time to survey the farmstead properties that they own as Madame of the household. She heads out with her maids and a couple of male servants to meet a couple of the managers of the household to review their accounts and inspect the land. This turns out to be more problematic than a simple survey which we’ll see more of in the future.

As for the relationship advice, Gu Ting Ye overhears Ming Lan chatting with her maids after the euphoria of removing the unwanted servants. Ming Lan’s maid observes that Ming Lan treats Gu Ting Ye almost like a creditor or a boss, not a husband. Ming Lan actually agrees that she has to treat him like a manager. She views her role as wife as a job. Not as a relationship. This part most people wouldn’t agree with but she does say that it’s not good to constantly rely on your partner for help. It may seem fine at the beginning especially during the honeymoon period but after a while, your partner will feel the weight of supporting you if it’s constant and they will start resenting you for it. I think this is rather insightful. One shouldn’t always expect your partner to shoulder the brunt of your issues. The key word is “expect”. Instead, one should be self-sufficient. It’s comforting when your partner is there to help but the expectation shouldn’t always be there. What do you think listeners? I think there is a lot of wisdom in these words. Gu Ting Ye doesn’t like it because it means she doesn’t fully trust him since she won’t rely on him. Do you agree with Ming Lan or Gu Ting Ye?

[Cathy]

I have thoughts on this. I believe as of right now, Ming Lan is correct in her assessment. She’s seen all too well what happens when a husband basically discards his wife in favor of a concubine. Look at her father and Madame Wang. Mistress Lin came between them and that had a lasting effect on the whole family. Ming Lan doesn’t really know how Gu Ting Ye feels about her. Honestly, I don’t think anyone does. Does he? He still has a terrible reputation for being a philanderer and womanizer. Why would Ming Lan drop all of her responsibilities and “expect” Gu Ting Ye to do everything for her? Gu Ting Ye is expecting WAY too much.

—-

[Karen]

Okay! Let’s get into some history! Today’s historical analysis is actually quite military focused since Ming Lan is using military tactics to beat her stepmother in law.

When explaining to Gu Ting Ye and his daughter how they must go about removing the two young maids left over, she states

不战而屈人之兵.

This phrase comes from the famed 孙子兵法 also known as Sun Tzu’s Art of War, one of the earliest and most well known military tactic texts in Chinese history. Anyone read that text before? The phrase means to not use any weapons but still win by making the opposing army lose their willingness to fight.  In the current situation, Ming Lan cannot go head on anymore against the two young maids. Even if they make a mistake, it’s not for Ming Lan to punish, but instead, her stepmother-in-law. Therefore, the next step is to defeat the enemy from within. That’s why Ming Lan allowed Chun Yue to visit her mother in the winter. 

Next, after Ming Lan explains all of this to Gu Ting Ye and his daughter, Gu Ting Ye marvels at whether he married a 子房. Looks like the youtube translation does note who this is but I thought this passing reference is important to explain.

子房 is the courtesy name of 张良, a renowned strategist for the first Emperor of the Han dynasty 刘邦. If there’s ever a story about how 刘邦 defeated the Qin dynasty and defeated his rival Xiang Yu to unify China under the Han dynasty, Zhang Liang is sure to feature in that story. 

Zhang Liang was born during the warring states period in the kingdom of Han. His family was wealthy but that all suffered when Qin shi huang destroyed the other kingdoms and unified the land under the Qin dynasty. Zhang Liang, still a young man at the time, spent his time and energy trying to seek revenge for the kingdom of Han and kill Qin Shi Huang. It is documented that he tried to assassinate Qin Shi Huang but failed to do so. Of the three documented assassination plots against Qin Shi Huang, Zhang Liang was the only one to survive the attempt and subsequent manhunt. 

Given this failure, he kept a low profile for many years but learned key components of early daoism. He brought this knowledge with him in a chance meeting with Liu Bang. In this meeting, he saw Liu Bang’s potential and decided to be his strategist. His contributions to the forming of the Han dynasty cannot be understated. He also had the wisdom to know when to step away from power. When his colleagues were being eliminated for knowing too much and having too much power, he decided to leave his position of power. This allowed him to live out his life peacefully.

For Gu Ting Ye to reference Zhang Liang is high praise to Ming Lan’s intellect and strategic acumen.

 

I want to take us on a detour right now and discuss the brother and sister duo that visited the Cheng Gardens this episode. We first have 小沈氏 – or little Shen. Unfortunately the author never gives her a full name, so that’s what we’ll call her. She’s the younger sister to the current Empress and was recently married to a young general. We then have 沈从兴 or General Shen. He’s the Empress’s younger brother and is now a newly favored aristocrat and general at court. His marital life is in deep shambles and we’ll watch that unfold in the drama. The 3 members of the Sheng family come from a relatively lowly bureaucratic family. Their parents died when they were young and were raised by family elders. 小沈氏 and 明兰 become fast friends. We don’t see too much of her in the drama but she’s a fun woman in the book.

[Book Differences]

Alrighty and finally lets wrap up with book differences! 

 

In the book, 明兰 gets rid of the Nannies or specifically Nanny Lai in a different manner. Nanny Lai one day makes a ridiculous suggestion that since Gu Ting Ye does have concubines, Ming Lan should set up a schedule so that he goes and stays with the concubines on a regular basis. Her excuse is that if Ming Lan doesn’t do this, she’ll be considered as a jealous wife which is a big sin for wives at the time. Ming Lan actually becomes very upset about this and point blank shoots Nanny Lai down. She asks – did the Marchioness do this when she was married to the Marquis? Does anyone else in the household do this? No – so do not ask this again. 

 

Then Ming Lan has servants loyal to her get into regular shouting matches with Nany Lai. When Nanny Lai becomes ill, Ming Lan calls for doctors to tend to her. Once she recovers the whole cycle starts again. Nanny Lai basically surrenders to Ming Lan and is left powerless in the manor. 

 

Some of the events occur out of order in the drama but it doesn’t detract from the show.

 

That is it for today!

 

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!

 

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