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 51pt2 + 52 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!
After the excitement of the last podcast episode where Gu Ting Ye’s mistress came with nefarious plans to kill Gu Ting Ye and where Gu Ting Ye found out that his son has sadly passed away, the pace slows down and turns back to family affairs. We haven’t seen the Sheng side of the family in quite a while and it’s quite nice to see them again.
This day, Ming Lan and the other Sheng family sisters, Ru Lan and Mo Lan are back at the Sheng Family meeting their new nephew, son of their second brother and sister-in-law Madame Hai. The scene opens with Ming Lan holding this round ball of cuteness while Grandma Sheng, Madame Wang, Mo Lan, Ru Lan and Madame Hai look on.
The congregation of women dote upon the new son and immediately the passive aggressiveness starts. Through the barbs we discover that Mo Lan has accepted quite a few concubines for her husband and that one of her husband’s favored concubines lost a child in miscarriage. On Ru Lan’s side, she is actually pregnant! Though quite early in her pregnancy. One of the bigger underlying conflicts though start to show itself when Ming Lan tries to abate some of the aggression between the ladies and brings up a trip to nearby hot springs. Madame Wang suggests Ming LAn invite her sister, Madame Kang to go since she is good friends with Ming Lan’s mother in law. Needless to say, that’s already quite a red flag for Ming Lan.
Grandma SHeng immediately steps in and tells the group of ladies to go off on various errands. The aim is to keep only Madame Wang and Ru Lan around to tell Madame Wang to distance herself from her sister. Grandma Sheng is just the best. She bluntly points out that this Madame Kang is too eager to play up the relative narrative with Ming Lan even though Ming Lan just married in the Gu family and does not yet have a stable foundation.
Ru Lan seems to have grown up quite a bit since getting married as she chimes in that if Madame Kang needs a place to go, she should come visit her instead to help her against her difficult mother-in-law. It’s frustrating because Ru Lan has married below her station but is still being bullied. And this is where Grandma Sheng provides additional sage advice on marriage relationships or at least, advice my mom would appreciate. She says that marriage should be between two families that are of equal standing. In instances where one marries higher in society or one marries lower in society, there is an imbalance. I don’t think in modern day this type of marriage or relationship advice is the most accurate but what do you think? Do you agree with Grandma Sheng? Why or Why not?
The real conflict in this visit comes at the meal the family shares shortly after. Ming Lan’s father, Madame Wang, Ru Lan, Mo Lan and her husband, Liang Han are all at the table. Liang Han tries to strike up a conversation with Sheng Hong about the Emperor’s recent visit to pay his respects to his father. This causes Mo Lan to tearily bring up her own mother. She wants to place Mistress Lin’s plaque in the temple with the family for people to remember her. The moment Ming Lan hears this conversation start up, she tries to prevent her father from responding in the affirmative by repeatedly giving him food. Her father calls her out on it and Mo Lan puts on her usual act of playing innocent. But now, Ming Lan sees red. She actually throws her chopsticks to the ground and says many harsh words though her tone remains calm. She will never allow Mistress Lin’s plaque to be put in the temple. In front of the group, she reveals that Mistress Lin was the one to kill her mother.
Sheng Hong and Mo Lan are in disbelief. They think Ming Lan is lying. But Ming Lan stands up and holds her ground stating that she has evidence and witness testimony. If no one believes her, she is willing to go to court. Notice that Sheng Hong looks at Madame Wang and Ru Lan’s reactions. Neither of them stood up or acted in any way surprised by this revelation. That to me at least, was enough evidence that what Ming Lan said had at least some truth to it.
In the beginning of episode 52 where this confrontation continues, Ming Lan is still being berated by Sheng Hong but Ming Lan is not willing to back down. She cannot stand the fact that her father who was so upset at Mistress Lin for her involvement in Mo Lan’s marriage but now is willing to forget her past faults? With this reveal, Liang Han also becomes furious. Now he’s finding out that his meeting with Mo Lan at the temple may not have been genuine. Mo Lan roundly denies this but Ru Lan chirps in a word of affirmation before being glared down by her own mother. Clearly, Madame Wang knows that this is not a conflict she needs to be involved in.
Sheng Hong is furious and is about to raise his hand against Ming Lan. But none other than Gu Ting Ye arrives to talk him down. Sheng Hong as is his MO, always turns into a tiny mouse when someone of higher rank appears and Gu Ting Ye outranks him by several levels. The Moment Gu Ting Ye arrives, the entire power dynamics of the conversation shifts. Gu Ting Ye outright states that it does not make sense for Mistress Lin’s plaque to be placed in the Temple nor should her name appear in the family genealogy. Notice that Gu Ting Ye does not ask, but rather states. These are his thoughts and he expects Sheng Hong to adhere to them. Mo Lan tries to rebuff Gu Ting Ye but at this point, even Sheng Hong tells her to stop talking. Clearly he knows in his head what is right and wrong but thought he could bully Ming Lan out of it. He does not have that kind of sway with Gu TIng Ye. After seeing this scene unfold, Grandma Sheng, who had been peering a ways away from the entrance to see if she has to step in to protect Ming Lan, is comforted to see that someone else now can care for Ming Lan.
The consequences of this conversation are twofold. On one hand, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye actually strengthen their relationship as the two share their love for their lost mothers who both died hoping that they would grow up and succeed. Awww. It was fated that the two end up together based on their tragic experiences in youth. It is quite sweet that Gu Ting Ye is such a supportive husband. He is even willing to call Ming Lan’s mother as her actual Mu Qin, not a concubine. In this world of such unfairness where women are often times treated as objects, this is a huge sign of respect for Ming Lan’s mother, and for Ming Lan.
The other consequence is that Mo Lan’s marriage is now in danger. Back at their own household, Liang Han is not in a good mood. Mo Lan continues her act as a green tea, manipulating the facts of her upbringing in order to make it seem like she was impoverished and destitute. However, Liang Han is starting to see through it. He bluntly asks Mo Lan to tell him if their meeting in the temple was the heaven’s will, or if it was a conniving plot. Mo Lan tearfully trickle truths what happened but Liang Han’s trust in Mo Lan has waned significantly. Later in the episode, Liang Han even comes on to one of Mo Lan’s maids in order for her to tell him the truth of what happened. Mo Lan has forbidden this maid from marrying, a terrible move that will clearly be met with hatred and so without much other option, this maid agrees to by with Liang Han. She reveals that the two maids previously serving Mo Lan were killed which further supports the story that his marriage started out as a ruse. He is now extremely upset at Mo Lan for playing him.
All I can say is, Mo Lan, you dug your own grave. If you didn’t bring up your mother during the meal, then none of this would have been exposed.
The remainder of the episode is quite hilarious. Right after Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan return home, an unexpected visitor in the form of Gu Ting Ye’s aunt arrives. Gu Ting Ye heads off to change from his court attire but this turns out to be the opportunity he did not want to provide. This aunt shows up with a young woman in tow. In an awkward exchange, this aunt quite condescendingly highlights the fact that Ming Lan has been married almost a year and is still not pregnant. The Gu family cannot have that so she has brought a woman to help the Marquis. The word she uses is that this woman is very fertile. Ew.
Gu Ting Ye has changed back in his rooms and is told that there is a young woman who arrived with the aunt. Immediately he feels something might wrong and hurries to the main hall. Along the way though, he meets Ming Lan’s maid, Cui Wei with this woman. Dan Ju introduces her as Qian Feng Xian who has been accepted by Ming Lan to be a concubine for Gu TIng Ye. I guess normally men would be rather pleased with this arrangement but Gu Ting Ye is not. He’s like – how quickly did Ming Lan accept this. Was it immediately or was it after lots of imploring from the Aunt. All he cares about is whether or not Ming Lan is jealous of this new woman. Hahahaha. And the remainder of the episode will be about the funny actions Gu Ting Ye takes to try to get a jealous reaction out of Ming Lan.
But before we get to see this hilarious development, Gu Ting Ye, who finally makes it to the main hall to greet his aunt and escorts her out, has a heart to heart with her about what just happened. He reveals that he knows she did not like her mother marrying into the Gu family back in the day because it was a huge humiliation for her. She probably was ridiculed relentlessly in her husbands family for what happened. The Aunt does not deny this. Slowly, Gu Ting Ye unveils that she has been tricked into coming here with this concubine by Madame Qin in order to make their lives more difficult. The only person to gain from Gu Ting Ye’s suffering is Madame Qin. At first the Aunt doesn’t believe him but the moment he states that if he dies, the Madame Qin’s son will become Marquis does it click for her. He’s right. Madame Qin probably isn’t as pure intentioned as she lets on.
Unfortunately, the damage of a new concubine has been done. Madame Qin is rather pleased to hear that Ming Lan has kept this new woman as she thinks it will certainly be a foil in their marriage. She believes that Gu Ting Ye will not be able to reject this woman in the long run which will create chasms for him and Ming Lan.
It’s now night and well, it’s 顾廷烨’s “wedding night” to 凤仙. 顾廷烨 had no intention of sleeping with 凤仙 that night and retains to the main chambers expecting 明兰 to be there but nope – she’s over at the Shui Xian pavilion figuring out the essentials for 凤仙
顾廷烨 is incredulous and storms over there only to see 明兰 serenely listing out what else is needed. 顾廷烨 asks 明兰 to return back to their chambers but she smilingly just says – enjoy your wedding night and leaves with her maids in tow. 石头 is hilarious because he closes the door behind him. 顾廷烨 continues his streak of looking incredulous.
Over the course of the night, 顾廷烨 just sits there. 凤仙 is left to just stand there awkwardly. I rather enjoy how they make 顾廷烨 look all glassy eyed cause it’s midnight. He’s waiting for word from the the madame of the house to summon him back and he constantly asks 石头 if he’s heard anything but 石头 responds no and then promptly closes the door each time. It’s so funny! The only 顾廷烨 gets out of 石头 is all of the desserts that 明兰 and 小桃 ate that night.
Finally, closer to like 3AM, 顾廷烨 has had it and storms out back to his main chambers. For him, he’s disappointed that 明兰 didn’t seem to care at all about pushing another woman into his bed.
He doesn’t hear this but 明兰 and 丹橘 do have a conversation about this earlier in the evening. 明兰 can’t risk NOT accepting the concubine. This would stain her reputation as a jealous wife and in turn stain 顾廷烨’s reputation. She cannot risk that. He’s been too good to her and this is the least she can do. 明兰 at this point still can’t tell that a proper wife isn’t what 顾廷烨 wants. He wants someone who actually loves her and will act based on her feelings instead of what is proper. 明兰 still hasn’t gotten to this stage and is still very much at the “protect your own heart” stage. She’s definitely sad about this unexpected turn of events but she will carry forward with what is proper, not necessarily what 顾廷烨 and herself might want. To be fair, a fight is exactly what Madame Qin wants so this currently is the right call for 明兰.
The episode ends with this new concubine Feng Xian being awoken by the noise but alone in her rooms.
This is certainly quite the different reaction we were expecting from both Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan!
Now Before we move onto historical analysis, I do want to take a moment to discuss this staunch change in Ming Lan. Notice how aggressive she was during the meal with her family. In the past, she never would have rebuffed her sister and argued with her father in the way she did. Even if it WAS in connection with her beloved mother, her past self would have held it together. Why the change? In reality, it’s not actually a change in her character. She was always this way, but she now has experienced more support and is now used to being able to express her true self. And where does that come from? Her husband. Gu Ting Ye, who, even though at the beginning of the meal, has been incredibly supportive of her wife and allowing her to come out of her shell. We are seeing her blossom right now.
妾室 – concubine
The whole drama has been about the battles of women within the family courtyard but this time 明兰 has to deal with a concubine for her own husband.
The reason why 顾廷烨’s aunt was able to saunter into their home and thrust a concubine upon 明兰 is because she currently isn’t pregnant. That is one of the seven sins! Or 七出. Karen discussed this at length in episode 23 and 24. The other threat is if 明兰 doesn’t accept 凤仙, that’s another sin – 善妒 or jealousy. Each are grounds for divorce. What a world. More often than not, wives don’t have any say in whether or not a concubine enters into the household.
The formal ritual for a concubine to enter into the household is called 敬茶 – we’ve heard the term during the marriage ceremony. In a marriage, the newlywed couple will present the tea to the parents. By accepting the tea, the parents accept the marriage. For a concubine, she has to present the tea to the madame of the household. The madame of the household is the owner and can treat the concubine as she wants.
There are of course differences based on the type of concubine one is but generally, the parents of the man aren’t really involved in these rituals. Typically when a concubine enters the household, there’s a simple banquet and the man goes to enjoy his new woman
Concubines were not allowed to enter through the front door of the household. She always had to enter through the side door and generally lived a subservient life. However, let’s put this in perspective, no matter how poorly a concubine might be treated inside a household, a concubine in an aristocratic house or even an official house probably lived a better life than a regular farmer’s wife or a shopkeeper’s wife. Look at 林嗪孀 or 曼娘 why did they try so hard to marry in even as a concubine? The wealth and riches of course! If they birthed a son, who knows what could happen? Even more power, wealth, and riches. I won’t fault women for agreeing to be concubines but unfortunately oftentimes women had no say in becoming one. It’s quite despicable seeing mothers gifting their sons concubines because they all went through the same heartbreak, why do the same to each subsequent generation? Well, this patriarchal society didn’t offer many opportunities for women so this is all they knew.
Ok I also want to touch on this whole discussion about giving a husband a concubine when a wife is pregnant. In China, if a wife was pregnant, husband and wife typically wouldn’t sleep together. Well, what is a man to do? He has needs! If he can’t sleep with a wife, he will turn his gaze elsewhere. Usually the wife or female family members will offer another woman as a concubine to satisfy the man’s needs while the wife is pregnant. Let’s pause there to reflect on how ridiculous that is. There are other options for the man but nope, the solution usually is, here’s another woman!
Ugh – anyways – how many more times do we need to reiterate? Being a woman sucks.
First up is the 明兰’s behavior towards her father and 墨兰 during the meal in episode 51. In the book, none of this happens. 林嗪孀 does not die in the book but is left to rot in a small town. 明兰 doesn’t have this whole revenge plot and after she’s married, couldn’t care less about 墨兰. She ignores 墨兰. That’s basically the same tactic the other ladies of the 盛 family take. Unless there’s formal family functions, they don’t invite 墨兰 and don’t really engage. There were conversations peppered throughout the book that 墨兰 wanted to bring her mother back to the main house but is roundly shot down by 长柏 and her father. 明兰 probably did a little pushing there but she never threw a tantrum like this.
梁含 continued to be as oblivious as ever. He treated 墨兰 very well and they were relatively happily married. He just never remained very faitihful to her.
Next up is 凤仙 and 顾廷烨’s paternal aunt. In the book, 凤仙 was already thrust upon 顾廷烨 before 明兰 married in. She was gifted by another noblewoman and basically was left alone by 顾廷烨. 顾廷烨’s aunt was not involved. She shows up mainly to assist with 顾廷烨’s younger sister who is another of Madame Qin’s daughter. She’s written out completely in the drama. 顾廷烨’s aunt did have a conversation with 顾廷烨 about her dislike for his mother and left with the revelation that Madame Qin isn’t all she seemed to be. This aunt is a haughty woman but at least knew that she never helped 顾廷烨 when he was down and doesn’t expect anything from him now that he’s favored in court. We don’t see much of this aunt afterwards. 顾廷烨 never sleeps with 凤仙 in the book and remains VERY faithful to 明兰.
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!