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 50 + 51pt1 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. Please leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to! It helps us a ton!
We will start off with the episode recap, character analysis, historical analysis, and then close off with some book differences!
In the last episode, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye were conferred titles or aristocracy. Following, a haunt from the past suddenly appears. This story line is one of my least favorite storylines in the drama but it’s worth going over for what the wider conspiracy is.
Zhu Man Niang, Gu Ting Ye’s former mistress and mother of his two children randomly shows up in front of him. She’s still holding 顾廷烨’s only son 昌儿 hostage. Desperate to find his son, 顾廷烨 agrees to “spend a night” with 曼娘 to have her divulge his son’s whereabouts. When it looks like 曼娘 won’t tell her anything, 顾廷烨 coldly shuns her. 曼娘 however, has other plans, and stabs 顾廷烨, shouting that their son 昌儿 has died.
That’s where we start the episode.
顾廷烨 is back in his rooms all bandaged up. 明兰 comes in a tearful state and blames herself for his injuries – she should have thought to check Man Niang for weapons.. 顾廷烨 waves it off because no one could have prevented 曼娘 from doing anything she wants. She is evil and manipulative, it’s in her nature. Though Gu Ting Ye shares what Man Niang screamed about his son. He doesn’t believe that his son is dead.
After Gu Ting Ye is fit to walk again, the go see 曼娘 once more. She has been thrown in a shed. 顾廷烨 and 明兰 interrogate her further. 曼娘 in her mad craze continues to cry that their son is dead and it’s all 顾廷烨’s fault. I’ll say this throughout the episode but the actress for 曼娘 does a splendid job in these next two episodes. She plays the mad, screaming, wronged but still manipulative person really well.
Enraged,顾廷烨 orders his servants to tie 曼娘 up and prepare to torture Man Niang for informatio but luckily, Ming Lan drags him outside to cool his head. And this is Ming Lan’s primary value add to Gu Ting Ye. She calmly explains that under these circumstances, after a whip or two Man Niang may just die. But isn’t it odd that after years of searching, Man Niang just suddenly appears and right when next door, aka Madame Qin is around specifically to see Man Niang enter the premises. If anything happens to her, Madame Qin is bound to latch on to this mistake and cause chaos for the family.
She then analyzes the larger implications of what would happen if Gu Ting Ye does torture Man Niang. The new government is still in its nascent phases. The Empress Dowager is looking for any and every excuse to create chasms in the new Emperor’s court. This would provide the perfect ammunition for her.
Gu Ting Ye is still not appeased. Man Niang tried to murder him. That is a crime punishable by beheading, isn’t she worried about that? Ming Lan urges him to reconsider this too. Apparently, this crime must be publicly documented. If done so, his daughter, Rong Er’s marriage and future prospects are going to be ruined for having this type of mother.
Mini bug! 顾廷烨 says that he’s a 3rd Rank Official! Yesterday we discussed that his new title of 金紫光禄大夫 is a lower second rank!
Since it seems like all options of punishing Man Niang are currently exhausted, Gu Ting Ye finally calms down though still furious. Their next course of action is to search the capital for traces of why this woman showed up and what larger plots there may be.
The search proves fruitful as I think it seems they captured the Bai relative who connected with Madame Qin in the last episode. I say “i think” because they never fully explain the drama. Back at the Cheng Garden, Gu Ting Ye recounts to Ming Lan the full extent of the plot that was uncovered.
Shortly after Man Niang escaped with her son, she was noticed by the family. Since she could not forgo the wealth and riches in the Bai family, she agreed to work with them to help kill Gu Ting Ye. Once Gu Ting Ye is killed, because Ming Lan has no sons, the only heir to the family will be Man Niang’s son, Chang er. At that point, they can use Chang er as a puppet to control the entire Bai family.
Ming Lan points out that Gu Ting Ye has a will, even though it’s blank, but the Bai family doesn’t know that. Gu Ting Ye further explains that that’s why the Bai family connected with Madame Qin. After Gu Ting Ye’s passing, Madame Qin will step forward to say Gu Ting Ye’s will is ineffective and push Chang’er as the heir. In exchange, the Bai family will publicly state that because Chang’er is too young to help with court matters, they will allow Gu Ting Wei, Gu Ting Ye’s younger brother and Madame Qin’s son to inherit the title of marquis. With this, the Bai famiyl gets what they want – money, and Madame Qin gets what she wants – the title of marquis for her son.
It’s a rather ingenious plot if you think about it. As Gu Ting Ye points out, the entire scheme revolves around Chang’er being alive which gives him hope that Man Niang was lying.
Unfortunately, after another search of even the Bai family where their boat and salt was extorted, there still isn’t news of Chang’er’s whereabouts.
In this drama, there have been plenty of parents who have thought long and hard about their children’s futures. Sadly, we now see a prime example of a woman who cares very little of her children and focuses only on herself. One night, hoping that her mother will listen, the kind hearted Rong’er, goes to the shed where her mother is currently locked up to see if she can talk some sense into her. In her mind, her mother loves her deeply. Little does she know, Man Niang continues to tell the story that Chang’er is dead. As Rong’er presses her further to share where Chang’er is, Man Niang actually tries to strangle Rong’er. She screams that if Rong’er wants to see her brother, then go to hell to see him.
What kind of mother does that? She is so mentally unstable that she is willing to kill her daughter! She is upset that her daughter languished in lavish wealth in the Marquis manor while they were out on the road in poverty which she cannot accept.
Luckily, Ming Lan and company barged in to save Rong’er from her mother. Gu Ting Ye is again furious but Ming Lan was able to push him back. She turns to Man Niang and roundly chastises her again this time for her poor act as mother.l If she truly cared about her son, she would have left him in the Marquis manor. Or else she should have found him a tutor to teach him. Has she done any of that? No. She’s hidden him away and now he’s lagging behind in life because of her actions. What will his life be like in 10 or 20 years? If she truly cared about him, she should think about his future.
After Ming Lan turns to leave though, Man Niang screams after her to find him in hell. Ming Lan pauses as this may ultimately be the truth that Gu Ting Ye refuses to accept.
Ming Lan comes up with a plan to help Gu Ting Ye find his son and that is to simply let Man Niang go. The only person she can possibly rely on to care for her son is her brother and she will most likely go see him after a while, especially if she doesn’t have a place to stay in the capital.
The background acting is great here! Notice 小桃 dozing off in the background? She suddenly wakes up when 顾廷烨 picks 明兰 up in an embrace. Hahaha – 小桃, please don’t change
And so, Gu Ting Ye kicks Man Niang out of the house but are careful to not hurt her in any way. He also orders his servants to strip her of any valuables and not allow her to eat or sleep anywhere in the capital. The aim is to push her out to see her son so that they can follow her. The scenes where she’s out on the street are both infuriatingly annoying but also comical. Her screeches are so grating but her flapping arms and annoyed countenance as she’s being barred from every opportunity to eat or find a place to sleep is rather satisfying.
But, this woman is not to be underestimated. Starting in episode 51 which is the next morning, she starts screaming in the streets about how Gu Ting Ye is a cold hearted man. He threw her out and killed her son. All words she’s twisted for her benefit but which benefits her narrative. Now the entire capital knows about this and is gossiping about Gu Ting Ye’s poor behavior. With this narrative, Gu Ting Ye and company can no longer push her out of the capital because then it would seem they are only kicking her out because the story is true.
The scandal grows so big that it escalates up to court and none other than Qi Heng brings it up in front of the Emperor, Empress Dowager and the entire court. He states that Gu Ting Ye has acted without propriety and is extremely critical of Gu Ting Ye’s actions. The Emperor does not publicly admonish Gu Ting Ye but privately yells at him for causing such a mess. His personal affairs should not have had a place at court especially now with so many things they need to resolve. Luckily, Gu Ting Ye’s good friend, Prince Huan, steps in to explain that it’s only Qi Heng’s word against Gu Ting Ye’s at the moment. The other ministers who heard of this scandal didn’t have much to say after seeing Gu Ting Ye’s stab wound from Man Niang’s murder attempt. Once the Emperor hears of the stab wound, he calms down a little as well and after a little more appeasement waves off both Gu Ting Ye and Prince Huan.
The pressing matter at the moment is to go see Qi Heng. He’s the only person causing trouble for Gu Ting Ye and so it makes sense to explain the specifics of what’s happening so Qi Heng can retract his criticism. Can we just say that I just want to slap Qi Heng across the face right now? Like seriously, this guy is using his power and position to enact personal revenge. The entire world can see it.
That night, when Gu Ting Ye goes to see Qi Heng, Qi Heng is rather cold towards Gu Ting Ye. And Gu Ting Ye calls Qi Heng out on it. Even if Qi Heng complains about Gu Ting Ye and leads him to lose his title and court position, Ming Lan already married him. There’s no turning back. Everything Qi Heng is currently doing is actually making it worse for Ming Lan. Has he thought about that? No.
For Qi Heng, it really all comes down to his personal vendetta against Gu Ting Ye. He thinks that he trusted Gu Ting Ye with his personal feelings about Ming Lan, asked him to bring his items to Mign Lan and what did that get him? What was his ending? He does not want the Emperor to misplace his trust in a man like Gu Ting Ye. Sigh. What a great way to hide behind your cowardice and Gu Ting Ye responds with exactly that. If he were Qi Heng and liked a girl, he would propose marriage the very next day. But Qi Heng didn’t do that. He waited and waited until he was forced into his first marriage. Gu Ting Ye gave Qi Heng every opportunity to pursue his happiness with Ming Lan but he did nothing.
After Gu Ting Ye walks away, Qi Heng tearfully shouts after him that everything he’s doing is for the country and court, not for his personal reasons. He even has to repeat this last line to himself to fool himself into believing that it’s not for personal reasons.
All I can say is the more we see of Qi Heng the more grateful I am that Ming Lan did not marry him. And didn’t Qi Heng and 顾廷烨 already have this conversation previously or am I having deja vu? 顾廷烨 also said it right – if qi heng goes after him, he’s hurting 明兰. Why doesn’t he think of that?
Outside, Gu Ting Ye hears news that Man Niang has headed off to a cemetery. Gu Ting Ye is in disbelief but after discussing with Ming Lan, the pair with a group of servants head off to find Man Niang. It is there that we see Man Niang was telling the truth all along. She is burning paper money in front of a mound of dirt. It’s really quite a sad state because her son doesn’t even have a proper tombstone. Just a mound of dirt with a rock on top. This speaks to how poor Man Niang must have been when burying her son. We find out as she’s talking to his burial ground, he passed away due to illness. Interestingly, the person he cried out to on his deathbed is his sister, not his mother. That tells me how little his mother actually cared for him.
Gu Ting Ye and company arrive shortly after. Gu Ting Ye is furious to see this scene and pushes Man Niang away while she still laughs maniacally. In what is one of the most satisfying actions in the entire drama, Ming Lan slaps Man Niang across the face in order to force her to shut her mouth while Gu Ting Ye shouts at his servants to dig. He cannot believe his son is dead. But he has to face the truth once he sees the bones. He turns to Man Niang and says that she will never, ever see Rong er ever again before having his servants drag her away from the capital. The scene ends with Gu Ting Ye crying in despair at finding out the truth with Ming Lan trying to comfort him.
We’ll stop the recap there. It is heartbreaking that Gu Ting Ye discovered his son has been long deceased but I am actually more intrigued by Madame Qin. I purposefully ignored scenes with her until now because I want to discuss them in more detail. She placed Man Niang in the Gu family specifically to wreak havoc. She thought that per Gu Ting Ye’s nature, the actions of Man Niang would incite him to torture her which would create many opportunities to ruin Gu Ting Ye’s reputation and strip him of his title. Unfortunately for Madame Qin, Gu Ting Ye married Ming Lan who was indeed his advisor. She prevented him from making any such mistake that could be used as a weapon against him. Madame Qin is annoyed because she could see the strength in this marriage. She helps him defend while he helps her attack. She needs to crack this marriage in order to destroy Gu Ting Ye.
The other notable piece of information we learn is that Madame Qin knows the Empress Dowager is potentially on her side. The news of Gu Ting Ye being berated by the Emperor reached Madame Qin’s ears rather quickly. It came from her son who heard it from a eunuch that is loyal to the Empress Dowager. With this connection, Madame Qin now has another ally in her quest to bring down Gu Ting Ye.
That closes the chapter on the character of 曼娘. Let’s give her a round of applause as I think the actress 李依晓 did a phenomenal job. From the outwardly loving concubine, to the scheming woman, to the finally destitute mother at the end, 李依晓 portrayed 曼娘 with a lot of depth. The actress had to portray her in a way in which we as the audience understand why 顾廷烨 was so taken with her. Her acting is very different from lets say the actress for Mistress Lin and both to great effect.
李依晓 has been in many dramas over the years but mainly as side characters. So you’ll see her pop up here and there including Rattan from 2021. She actually was trained as a Chinese opera singer so the two seconds that you see 曼娘 try to sing opera in episode 50 are all her! We’ll miss her acting but good riddance for 曼娘 as a character. I would say a mini boss has been dispatched.
To me, the character of 曼娘 is a very interesting one. She’s a reminder to the reader and the viewer that Cinderella stories are really few and far between and that society typically works against the woman. She always wanted to become 顾廷烨’s wife even though time and again he told her that she will never be his wife. She will ever only be a concubine to him. 顾廷烨 constantly says that 曼娘 was too greedy after finding out about her true intentions. To him, it’s true. He’s done everything for her. He had children with her, gave her money, and went so far as to go against his family for her. What more could she want? For her though, she wanted the title of his wife and schemed half of her life for it. It’s quite sad that 顾廷烨 never once thought of marrying 曼娘 because he didn’t think she was “worth” the title of his wife. She was a lowly artist with no background. 顾廷烨 even said – I liked her but never loved her. She wasn’t fit to be my wife. In the story of 知否, who fulfilled this Cinderella story? 明兰.
There’s not much in terms of historical analysis today. We have 3 to discuss.
The first is the poem that 娴姐儿 recites for Madame Qin in episode 50.
The poem was written by 李煜, the 3rd ruler of the Southern Tang dynasty, and lived from 937AD to 978AD. His kingdom was overthrown by the Sony Dynasty in 974AD and died two years later. Baike and Wiki have different years of when his kingdom was overthrown. One says 974 and one says 976. I’ll go with the former. He wasn’t a great ruler but he was a great poet. Many of his poems are still recited today including 长相思 which is one of Karen’s favorite poems.
This poem here – with the title that roughly translates to the Midnight Cry was written in 975AD as he was lamenting his own kingdom of days gone by.
The lines roughly translate to:
Time passes like the waters of a flowing river
In the end, it will but naught but a dream. The wealth and splendor of years past will never come back
The roads back home are flat and easy to get to when I’m drunk. Otherwise, how will I get back?
This poem is overall a sad story about days past and it really doesne’t make sense that xian jier is reciting this poem cause she’s only a child. What does she really have to reminisce about? It’s pretty obvious that it’s her mother who’s lamenting about her past.
There’s a phrase 明兰 says 豆腐落灰 which means dust has fallen onto the tofu. Which means that this is a tough situation because there’s dirt on the tofu, but you can’t touch it or swap it away because then you’ll break the tofu or in this case, 曼娘. I’ve actually never heard the phrase used before but it’s pretty apt in this case.
These are the few words that 曼娘 starts to sing when she’s trying to find a place to stay for the night. She tells the innkeeper that she knows how to sing opera and begins to sing these words. A great way to insert 李依晓, the actress’s actual talent for singing opera. The phrase 姹紫嫣红 refers to all the beautiful flowers that are blooming at once.
This reference is off as the opera where the phrase originates from was first written during the Ming Dynasty. The Opera itself is 牡丹亭 or the Peony pavillion, written by 汤显祖 in the late 16th century and first published in 1617. The phrase is sung as a Miss Du is in awe of the flowers blooming in her garden but is saddened that they are stuck in the garden with only the wall as a partner.
The Peony Pavillion is a famous opera that is regularly performed today.
The drama’s treatment towards 曼娘 is very different from the book. This drama, despite being 70+ episodes long trims a lot of fat from the story and focuses it squarely on 明兰 and 顾廷烨 and I believe the screenwriters wanted to finish this storyline in these episodes but 曼娘’s storyline doesn’t wrap up until the very end of the book. I’m gonna spoil a bit of the book / drama so I recommend skipping this section if you don’t want to be spoiled.
Let me give an overview of what happens in the book. As I mentioned in the previous episode, over the years 顾廷烨 actually always had tabs on 曼娘 and his son 昌儿 in the book. 曼娘 decided to ditch 蓉姐儿 at the Gu Manor and raise her son 昌儿 on her own several years before 明兰 marries in. Her reasoning is that her son is more valuable to her and to 顾廷烨, which in the patriarchal society, isn’t false. She left 蓉姐儿 at the 顾 manor to also create a thorn in whoever is the new Madame’s side, a reminder that 顾廷烨 already has a daughter.
During the years where he was struggling, 顾廷烨 always kept tabs on them and sent money whenever he could. Once he returned back into the capital as one of the Emperor’s trusted advisors and generals, he asked if 曼娘 wanted to part with her son and have him be raised by 顾廷烨. She could then remarry if she wanted. 昌儿 of course would have a lot of wealth under his name. 曼娘 refused on all accounts and adamantly stated that she wanted to keep 昌儿 by her side. To this 顾廷烨 agreed. Mother and son lived outside of the capital, always under the watchful eye of 顾廷烨 and didn’t return to the capital. It wasn’t until Madame Qin had another vile plan and snuck them into the capital did they return.
When 曼娘 returns, she returns with her son in tow and basically causes 明兰 to go into labor, who at this point is heavily pregnant. 曼娘 and Madame Qin schemed to have 昌儿 become 顾廷烨’s legitimate heir. They fail in this attempt. 曼娘 is caught and sent away with her son.
顾廷烨 to either his credit or I guess pressures of society never once thought of placing his son 昌儿 in the 顾 family genealogy. This was to protect his future sons, or 嫡子. He knew full well of the dangers of having an the eldest son as a 庶子, especially with a mother like 曼娘 and preemptively dashed all of 曼娘’s hopes for seizing an power in his household. With 昌儿 not on the family genealogy, he has no claim to any of 顾廷烨’s wealth or titles. The poor boy, despite the money from his father, is squandered by his mother who refuses to give him an education. 曼娘 and 昌儿 are sent away after. They are mentioned again towards the end of the book. 曼娘 decides to drag her son in the dead of winter to find 顾廷烨, who was away on the battlefield. The journey ultimately cost 昌儿 his life as he fell ill and died shortly after. 曼娘 after hearing of this, goes insane.
We don’t see more of 曼娘 in the drama but she as I said is a fascinating character. If 顾廷烨 was still the same gullible man as before, he probably would have fallen for her wiles. He had the clear mind to marry 盛明兰 who has put him on I guess a straight path. I appreciate the fact that he owns up to his mistakes, but it really pains me that yes, it was a fact of life that women couldn’t hope for much more than a concubine. I didn’t like how 顾廷烨 kept calling her a 毒妇 or evil woman in the drama. I mean she was that but hey – show a little form of basic respect? Anyways, I guess the show rounded out his character and finished her storyline as much as possible but in the end, no one was going to come out pretty from this, maybe except 明兰.
Last point – the young duke 齐衡 plays no part in this saga in the book.
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!