Ep 49




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 49 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, character analysis, historical analysis,  and then close off with some book differences!



The episode starts off with the Emperor blowing off steam at Gu Ting Ye for publicly asking for mercy for his relatives. They’re not at court anymore but rather the Emperor’s study. He is slumped in his chair, furious at this blindsighted request. The Emperor didn’t think it was appropriate to say such things in public because it puts him in a bad spot. On one hand, this creates a precedent for other nobles or court ministers to step up and ask for leniency. On the other, if the Emperor doesn’t show leniency to Gu Ting Ye’s family per this request, people may think they have a deteriorating relationship. Either way, the Emperor is cornered.


Gu Ting Ye is kneeling to the ground and defends his actions. He says that by making this request publicly, people will see the EMperor being cornered and won’t think he’s showing favoritism behind the scenes. The Emperor’s slouch is quite funny in this entire scene. Haha. 


Two things that are very illuminating to me in this conversation is 1) the emperor is aware of all of the family dynamics within the Gu Family. He knows of the troubles Gu Ting Ye’s mother faced and his difficult upbringing. I think that’s important for trusting Gu Ting Ye. And 2) The Emperor and Gu Ting Ye must have very direct lines of communication. Otherwise, why would the emperor be so frustrated that Gu Ting Ye didn’t first ask him for mercy in private rather than in public and unannounced. This means they plan plenty of things together in private.


After Gu Ting Ye leaves, a concubine arrives. We’ve seen her before, throwing a temper tantrum at food not being properly cared for for her son. This time, she walks in with some sweets she’s prepared for the emperor who has no appetite to eat. She, though, then starts pointing fingers and noting how poor Gu Ting Ye’s behavior has been. She thinks Gu Ting Ye is starting to ally himself not with the Emperor, but with the Emperor’s son, Prince Huan instead. The Emperor is furious at hearing her words and throws her out of the study.


We’ve discussed enough palace etiquette to know that this Imperial Concubine is wayyy overstepping. She is not supposed to discuss court matters. For her to do so this openly is rather taboo. Clearly, she is not someone who is happy to be behind the scenes but instead, have a say in court affairs. We’ll see how that plays out for her.



Given Gu Ting Ye’s public plea, we next see his younger brother, Gu Ting Wei, being released from prison. His mother, Madame Qin and her head maid, Nanny Xiang go to pick him up. Gu TIng Wei is made aware that his older brother has passed and that Gu Ting Ye is now the head of the family. 


Qi Heng and his wife, Madame Shen, pay their respects to the deceased older Gu Brother. This madame Shen is still trying to figure out her husband and she also oversteps. As they return home, instead of sitting in a carriage, he decides to walk home and she follows. Outside, he is discussing current state of affairs at court. Madame Shen slips in that Gu Ting Ye and his wife were not present at the main hall to greet them because they’re running afoul at court. This touches on Qi Heng’s pain point and he immediately cuts her off – Issues at court are all the fault of Gu Ting Ye alone. Why bring in mention of his family? He suggests they drink a cup of tea before heading home and walks off.  Madame Shen to her maid says that it’s clear, Qi Heng can’t forget Ming Lan. So messing with her husband to let out some of his anger is probably a good thing. 


And this is what I find so annoying about Qi Heng. Not only can his wife see that he’s unfairly targeting Gu Ting Ye but so can Madame Qin as well. When she went to pick up her son from prison, she told him that the whole reason he went to prison is because Qi Heng is trying to battle with Gu Ting Ye. Sigh – Qi Heng, you are now being childish and hot headed. You’re doing this because you’re pissed Gu Ting Ye married the woman you wanted. Like geez, let it go. But as we’ll see in future episodes, he does not. 


Unfortunately, not everyone in the Gu family was saved from punishment. While Gu Ting Wei was able to leave, the cousin, Gu Ting Bing, from the 4th house was sentenced to exile for his part in supporting the rebel prince. As he’s being led off, he’s crying to his parents that Gu Ting Ye is a terrible person for not saving him and that he did this on purpose. His father has no words even tho the women of the family are crying. The 4th uncle refuses to bow in front of Gu Ting Ye and ask for help. Ah male ego and stubbornness. 


Despite death and exile, there is good news to come from the Gu family imprisonment drama and that is that Gu Ting Ye’s mother received a posthumous title as wife of the former marquis, and was able to change her citizenship to that of nobility. Not only that, the Emperor has decreed Gu Ting Ye the new Marquis of Ning Yuan and Ming Lan also received a title. She is now a 诰命夫人。 This is a high honor which we will talk about later on. It is very rare and special as Ming Lan says even her grandmother, the sole daughter of a duke, does not have this title. This special honor is bestowed upon her, as Gu TIng Ye explains, because she married him. 


Sadly, members of the Gu family arrive shortly after to rain on their parade. Madame Qin, Gu Ting Wei, and the uncle and aunt from the 5th house come over to berate Gu TIng Ye for not saving Gu Ting Bing, the cousin who is now in exile. The 5th uncle thinks it’s because Gu Ting Ye wanted his cousin to serve punishment. Gu Ting Ye accurately corrects him by saying that he didn’t want his cousin to serve punishment, but rather it was the Emperor. 


Insults continue to be hurled at Gu Ting Ye and is hysterically escalated when Gu Ting Ye publicly questions why the 5th uncle always steps in to protect his sister in law, Madame Qin. What’s the reasoning there? Hahaha. He’s furious at the implication while Madame Qin is over there loudly crying crocodile tears and how much she’s been bullied by Gu Ting Ye. Her fake tears always bring a smile to my face because she’s wailing loudly but we all know it’s an act. Gu Ting Ye throws a vase on the ground in anger when she says that she doesn’t know what she’s done. She’s been nothing but accommodating yet raised such a son. Like Please. Funnily, Gu Ting Ye doesn’t scream or yell, he just simply states that he won’t keep the crowd for lunch. The staff are all holding in their laughter as the group leaves hastily, but not before Madame Qin assesses the situation with her eyes and continues crying again.


Outside in front of their carriage, Gu Ting Wei is also annoyed at his mother for coming along on this excursion. After all, it is as Gu Ting Ye says, these people are coming into his home to berate him. Gu Ting Wei thinks he now can’t rely on his brother to get a job at court. Madame Qin’s demeanor immediately changes. Instead of the wronged woman, she swiftly turns into a sharp and threatening mother. She claims that he, Gu Ting Wei, and Gu Ting Ye are sworn enemies. Gu Ting Wei doesn’t believe so. In the carriage, he’s listening to his mother angrily analyzing court affairs. She’s furious that Gu Ting Ye has taken the title of marquis, something that should be her son’s. I really like Gu Ting Wei because he is probably the most clear headed person in the entire Gu Family. He pushes back on his mother that since Gu Ting Ye already secured the title, he’s not of frail health and he has a great relationship with his wife, he, Gu ting Wei will most likely not have the opportunity to succeed the title. So it’s better not to think about it. His mother continues to plot and openly states that she’s not the only one that wants Gu Ting Ye dead. Plenty of people want him dead so they just have to wait. At this, Gu Ting Wei is so annoyed at his mother he jumps off the carriage. 


Honestly, it’s true. As he asked before getting on the carriage, when they were young, Madame Qin was a doting mother to Gu Ting Ye and he, Gu Ting Wei had a loving brother who looked out for him. What’s wrong with that? Why can’t they keep that relationship anymore? And yea, if you recall in the first 2 episodes when Gu Ting Ye was just a teenage boy, Madame Qin and Gu Ting Wei went to pick him up from the port after returning from Yang Zhou. I distinctly remember that scene because there’s a layer of innocence between the brothers that is missing now with the cloud of titles and power hanging over them. 


That night, Gu Ting Ye warns Ming Lan that with these new titles and what not, they have to be extra careful of the continued threats from the likes of Madame Qin. Ming Lan is hard at work using her abacus to review accounts within the family. She acknowledges that it will be challenging and is rather stressed out about it all. But what does Gu Ting Ye focus on instead? The fact that she calls him Guan Ren as his title rather than call him by his name. So he spends the next couple of moments try to push her into calling him 二郎 which simply means second guy? Lang is a word often used by family members to call someone in a more intimate way. She wants to call him by Guan Ren which is the more formal way for a wife to call her husband. We’ll explain what the significance of this later on but we clearly see what Gu Ting Ye is worried about. The fact that his wife is not calling him by a doting name but rather a respectful title. Ok dude. Great priorities. Lol



As Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye continue to level up so to speak in their position and titles, their conflicts also escalate. The rest of this episode and the next 1 and a half are dedicated to the challenge that presents itself from old enemies. I’m not going to lie, these are probably some of my least favorite episodes in the entire drama but we will power through.  


One day, at the San Qing Temple, Madame Qin and her maid are stopped by a middle aged man wishing to sell them some incense. At first the women try to wave him away but he reveals that what he has to sell comes from Yang Zhou. It is revealed that he is from the Bai family. If we go all the way back to episode 1 and 2, he’s the Bai family member who tried to take the Bai family inheritance from Gu Ting Ye’s grandfather after he passed. This Bai person is a relative of Gu Ting Ye’s who wants his entire fortune. He is displeased that Gu Ting Ye is able to claim everything just because he’s the heir to the Marquis. 


Here again is an entitled relative who expects much more than should be received. 


In any case, he has come to present relevant ammunition to Madame Qin in the form of one: Zhu Man Niang. That’s right, she is Gu Ting Ye’s mistress and mother of his two children. Despite Gu Ting Ye’s country wide search, it was the Bai family who was able to locate this woman first and bring her to the capital. This will prove to be extremely useful to Madame Qin who quickly plots her next move. 


In the very next scene, we see Madame Qin in a litter outside of Gu Ting Ye’s residence. She calls to him to travel together since he’s going to the palace for court and she’ll head to a temple. One small detail that is not important but I appreciate is that GU Ting Ye is now a marquis so his outfit has upgraded to a purple one rather than the red one he was wearing earlier in the episode.


As the group heads off, Zhu Man Niang suddenly appears and stops Gu Ting Ye in his tracks. She repeatedly cries out for him and Madame Qin also pretends to be surprised by stepping out of her litter and pretend recognizes this woman.


In the main hall back at the Cheng Gardens, Man Niang is kneeling on the ground with Ming Lan and Madame Qin at the head of the room with Gu Ting Ye sitting to the side. This is a little interesting to me because I guess with Man Niang around, she’s under the purview of Ming Lan’s authority at home. Madame Qin does not hesitate or take a breath in making a slew of passive aggressive comments towards Ming Lan. All of them are to urge Ming Lan to allow Man Niang into the family. Ming Lan, pushes back with the fact that the late Marquis, Madame Qin’s husband adamantly refused to allow this woman into the family. And he’s only passed recently. The implication is that Madame Qin is acting contrary to her late husband’s wishes which she should not do.  Zhu Man niang also tries to goad Ming Lan into a poor light by recounting how Ming Lan roundly admonished her years ago on behalf of her friend Yu Yan Ran and whether that was all a plot to marry her darling Gu Lang. 


Anyone have goosebumps just listening to her repeatedly call Gu Ting Ye, Gu Lang or Er Lang. Ew blegh. Ugh. It just sounds so unnatural. 


Ming Lan responds that she’s not as smart as Man Niang is. She married where her family told her to marry and she had very little say in the matter. Though you can tell Madame Qin is now quite intrigued by what Man Niang is revealing. Recognizing this may get out of hand, Gu Ting Ye, who’s been largely silent during this conversation, tells Madame Qin that this is his family’s affairs and requests she be escorted out. 


The primary concern for Gu Ting Ye is to see his son. He couldn’t care less about Man Niang. Her condition though, is to allow her to enter the Gu family and for her name to be included in the ancestral book. Only then, will Gu Ting Ye be able to see his son.


In Ming Lan’s private quarters, Gu Ting Ye is pacing angrily back and forth. He doesn’t think there’s much option other than to first pretend to accept her conditions which also involves spending a night with Gu Ting Ye. Once his son surfaces, they immediately rescue him without further thought of Man Niang. Ming Lan reminds him that Man Niang doesn’t seem like someone that can easily be dealt with. She’ll probably continue to raise requests. They’ll have to be careful because this request is easy to satisfy but what about future requests? 


This is another gut punch to Gu Ting Ye because he now sees that Ming Lan doesn’t even care if he spends a night with another woman. She has absolutely no jealousy whatsoever. He storms away absolutely furious at Ming Lan’s nonchalance towards sharing her husband. But I guess this is not the time to try to further this conversation.


That night, Gu Ting Ye goes to the room where Zhu Man Niang is situated. She’s in a rather nice bright pink outfit, miles nicer than the cheap clothes she was wearing earlier. Man Niang shares all the pain she’s suffered while on the run. All of her money was spent by her good-for-nothing brother and to take care of her son. Her hands are blistered and worn because she has been taking many odd jobs to make a living.  For a hot second I was worried that Gu Ting Ye would turn soft. It’s hard to push back against her when she speaks in a soft and sweetly voice. When Gu Ting Ye tries to press for answers around his son’s whereabouts though, Zhu Man Niang repeatedly pushes back against this request and firmly but softly states that unless she sees her name in the ancestral book, she will never reveal where her son is. 


Gu Ting Ye promptly stands up to tell Zhu Man Niang that if she treats him this way by not answering even one question before she’s entered the family, how will she treat him after being named a concubine? Phew thank god he has a clear head. He’s clearly seen through her schemes that she will continue to take and take. He is firm in not giving her anything until he sees his son. She quietly agrees to tell him and requests he step closer. But instead of telling him where his son is, she brings out a dagger and actually stabs Gu Ting Ye. 


He falls back and cries for his servants to come help. That’s when Zhu Man Niang, in a craze, screams a huge bombshell. Their son has died. He’s been dead for a long time. The episode ends with Zhu Man Niang being dragged off as Gu Ting Ye screams in disbelief. He thinks she’s lying. 



Let’s turn our attention to historical analysis!


First up is all of the titles that are granted to our main couple 顾廷烨 and 明兰.


With the death of 顾廷烨’s brother, 顾廷煜 who had no male heir,顾廷烨 now inherits the title of Marquis of 宁远. A eunuch comes to read out the decree. The imperial decree starts off with some pleasantries praising 顾廷烨. 


A couple of places and items are mentioned


峒山 – these are the kong tong mountains that are located in Gan Su province in china and a sacred mountain for Daoism. It is the legendary meeting place for the Yellow Emperor and Sage 广成子 where they discussed governance and health. These mountains house one of the 5 main schools of Chinese martial arts! It is a sacred place in chinese culture which I guess is why the imperial edict states 峒山之粹气 – pure air of the mountain


黄石 – the sacred book of 黄石. The original book is actually called 素书 but written by 黄石公 a Qin / Han Dynasty philosopher who died in 195BC. The book is about ways of governing in moral, righteous, and virtuous manner. It is said that the advisor 张良 used 黄石公’s sacred book to aid 刘邦, the first emperor of the Han dynasty after overthrowing the Qin Dynasty


金紫光禄大夫 – In addition to inheriting the Marquis title, 顾廷烨 is also granted the title of 金紫光禄大夫。 Honestly, there isn’t really a good translation, so I’m gonna use the youtube one. golden purple glorious grand master. There’s not much to this title During the Sony Dynasty, the rank is of minor second rank which is quite high. Later in the drama, 顾廷烨 says that he’s a 3rd rank official which is a bug for the drama. However, with this title, he now wears purple while at court because anyone with a 3rd rank or above, gets to wear purple!




Let’s discuss 诰命 specifically for 明兰! I couldn’t find a translation of it easily on the web but basically means that the wife or mother of an official is granted an official title. This is different from just marrying into nobility. These titles were granted / gifted by imperial edict. 


There were inner court ladies and outer court ladies. Inner would be related to the Imperial Harem, unmarried princesses, or close female servants and relations. Outer court ladies refer to married princesses, the wives or mothers of members of court.


Before the Tang Dynasty, sof the 7th century AD, there was a preliminary ranking system but most wives were simply titled 夫人, which is the same translation as wife nowadays. The ranking system became more developed during the Tang Dynasty and that’s when the term 诰命夫人 came to be. Typically a woman’s title would match her husband’s rank at court. As a 诰命夫人, the lady could now attend official banquets in the palace hosted by the Empress. She would also receive a salary. 


As the wife of a 金紫光禄大夫, who is of the second rank, 明兰 is gifted the title of 永嘉郡夫人 – the youtube translation is lady of yongjia commandery. Her rank though is 郡夫人 which corresponds to the 2nd rank. 永嘉 is the name. For Ming Lan – this is the highest title amongst all of her family. As mentioned, her grandmother doesn’t even have a 诰命 title. Her step-mother-in law was recently granted the title of 太夫人 which means mother of the noble or official. We’ll see that many people in the Sheng Family, cough 墨兰, gets jealous.


There’s also a quick shot of the incense that is burning when the imperial edict is being read. I believe this is correct because this is a very formal decree and setting up the incense shows respect to the Emperor. Usually you don’t see this being shown in different chinese dramas.




There’s a cute little interlude this episode where 顾廷烨 wants 明兰 to stop calling him 官人 which is what a wife called her husband during the 宋 dynasty. The literal translation is official man. At home, the man is the head of the household. In Imperial china, wives couldn’t directly say their husband’s name so it would be either 官人 or as 顾廷烨 wants 二郎 cause that’s less formal. If you pay attention in the drama, I don’t think any of the women ever speak their husband’s names. Well, unless they’re super pissed.


虚与委蛇xū yǔ wēi yí


Lastly – there’s an idiom used called 虚与委蛇, which means to deal with someone courteously up front but without sincerity – basically just flattery


The first record of this idiom appeared in the Book of Zhuang, so based off of the philosopher Zhuang Zi’s teachings. He lived during the warring states period from 369BC to 286BC.


The origin of the story goes like this – In the kingdom of 郑, there was reportedly a shaman called jì xián who claimed that he could predict life and death. A daoist monk 列子 really believed him and told his teaceher 壶子 who agreed to summon this shaman. When the shaman first arrived, he told 列子 that 壶子 would die soon. 列子 was very distraught, but in private 壶子 tells 列子that he was pretending. Over the course of the next few days the two men summoned the shaman but the shaman would say something different each time. On the last day, the shaman sees 壶子 and promptly runs away. 壶子 admits that he was stringing the shaman along the whole time and once the shaman figured out that 壶子 knew that the shaman was just saying things to please him and not making any observations, he fled. Pretty cool right? This whole story is in the context of daoism!


This is also a fascinating instance of linguistics cause the word 蛇 by itself means snake or 蛇 but the phrase 虚与委蛇 and specifically the pronunciation of 蛇 was documented in the Song dynasty and that has stuck ever since. I did some basic research and I think the word itself is only ever used as yi in the context of this idiom


Book differences


Phew – that was a LOT of history. Let’s close out with book differences and there are many!


In this episode, the drama gives more insight on the struggles that the Emperor is facing at court and the repercussions that 顾廷烨’s actions have. These aren’t really depicted in the book as the focus is of course on 明兰. The drama brings politics up to the forefront which I think is a clever way to bring 齐衡 back into the mix. He basically disappears in the book after 明兰 gets married except for a few scenes. The concubine that shows up gets more screen time in the drama as well. 


Ugh – can I just say for the – 齐衡, get over it with 明兰 and treat your wife well. And Madame 申, please accept the fact that your husband has a past and stop purposefully stepping on his landmines. 


Ok – next up, 明兰 receives her 诰命夫人 title way earlier in the book. She receives it shortly after she’s married but it does make sense that it’s placed here since it pairs nicely with 顾廷烨’s title of marquis.


We’ll discuss 曼娘 at length in the next episode but suffice it to say that in the book, 顾廷烨 actually had tabs on her throughout the years. He granted her money and her son land but banned her from returning to the capital. The events in the later half of the episode and the next episode diverge significantly in the books.


That is it for today!


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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 Karen!




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