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 53 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!
We left of the last episode with 顾廷烨 fleeing his new concubine’s rooms. He’s pissed that 明兰 didn’t say anything to stop him. When he returns back to the main bedroom, he’s exasperated and somewhat disappointed to find 明兰 fast asleep. He was hoping that she would wait for him but no. 明兰 prioritized sleep first.
The next morning, 明兰 is surprised to see 顾廷烨 in her bed. 顾廷烨 presses again on why 明兰 agreed to the new concubine. 明兰 gave a pretty diplomatic answer with stuff like, we’re in a difficult position. Previously, I wasn’t sure of the family’s situation but now I can manage the household. Don’t worry, once everything’s more settled, we can kick her out. 顾廷烨’s disappointed that 明兰’s not at all jealous and gets up in a huff.
Later that morning, the couple discuss the combining of their cheng gardens with the marquis manor. That is customary since 顾廷烨 is now the Marquis. It’s a political event and both 明兰 and 顾廷烨 must prepare for all the theatrics that will take place.
Can we pause on this scene – what I love about it is the fact that both 明兰 and 顾廷烨 are actually EATING with ACTUAL food throughout the scene! It looks to be one long continuous scene. I’m staring at the bao that 明兰’s eating. It seems to be the same one the she’s munching on the entire scene. Why is this so important to me? Well cause we don’t get scenes like this anymore! Usually the dramas just cut out on the food cause actors or actresses don’t want to eat the food or there’s too many cuts of the scene so it’s hard to have continuity for the food. In this scene you can see the steam coming off of the food so you know that it’s fresh and actually being eaten!
Yay! Now I will point out to you listeners that talking during a meal and talking while in bed was a big no no in China. The phrase is called 食不言，寝不语 or not talk while chewing and not talk will sleeping. This was a rite dating all the way to the times of Confusious over 2500 years ago. As the son of a marquis and a woman raised by the daughter of a marquis, both 顾廷烨 and 明兰 knew full well of these rules – at least in the book. For tv show purposes, many conversations have to take place during meal times or at night, otherwise there would be no plot development. However – I want to highlight that this wouldn’t have been the case in real life.
Ok back to the scene. 顾廷烨 then continues to tell 明兰 the differences he felt for his father and his stepmother. 明兰 still hasn’t quite figured out what 顾廷烨 wants to hear and kind of just says – i respect you and love you. 顾廷烨 – still exasperated leaves for court.
Minglan’s quite perplexed but doesn’t have much time to ponder 顾廷烨’s current state as she has to plan for the banquet! Her maid 小桃 brought back some desserts that are very tasty. Minglan asks to have these desserts ready for the banquet. That decision unfortunately comes back to bite her.
And now it’s banquet time!
A slew of guests in the family ensures there will be gossip, barbs and passive aggressiveness traded. Of the most notable to have arrived includes Ming Lan’s sisters, Hua Lan and Mo Lan, Madame Wang and her sister Madame Kang.
The web of individuals determined to harm Ming Lan quickly reveal themselves. Ming Lan originally did not plan for Mo Lan to be invited having devised an interesting plan with Gu Ting Ye to have Mo Lan’s husband and mother in law be away for the invite but Madame Qin, Ming Lan’s difficult step-mother-in-law individually sent Mo Lan an invitation. I’m not entirely sure how Madame Qin knows Ming Lan doesn’t have a great relationship with Ming Lan. Maybe from all the information Madame Kang shared during their gossip sessions.
Shortly after, Madame Shen makes her way over to meet Ming Lan. Madame Shen is the young duke Qi Heng’s new wife. She’s been jealous and sad at learning that her husband is probably still in love with Ming Lan and is not here to purely exchange pleasantries. No, she’s here on a passive aggressive mission to at minimum, annoy Ming Lan. Why do I say this? Madame Shen opens her mouth and calls Ming Lan, shen shen, which means aunt. On the surface this can seem like a respectful name to call Mign Lan, but she is immediately aging Ming Lan significantly which is a slight to her.
Ming Lan is a little taken aback by this woman whom she’s never met calling her aunt. She is immediately on her guard the moment it is announced that she is the family of the House of the Duke of Qi. She does not reference Qi Heng whatsoever in acknowledging Madame SHen. Instead, she says, “oh you’re from the Princess’s family”. And this Princess means Princess Ping Ning or Qi Heng’s mother. We continue to see that Madame Shen is not here to make friends when Ming Lan tells Madame Shen that there’s no need to keep calling her aunt as their marriage relations are quite far and it’s embarrassing to call her as aunt. But in the very next sentence, Madame Shen continues with calling Ming Lan aunt, blatantly ignoring her request.
Upon sitting at the table, Madame Shen immediately turns the conversation to how she is unable to make her husband smile and whether or not Ming Lan has thoughts. Ming Lan’s maids try to get her out of this conversation with a fake excuse that is immediately shut down by Madame Shen.
Stuck, Ming Lan answers Madame Shen on the offensive. She says that men have aspirations and ambitions to help the government and court. Qi Heng is certainly focused on the various matters at court. Importantly, Ming Lan calls Qi Heng, Heng Ge’er which is generally what elder family members call the children of the family. In the next breadth, she also asks whether or not Madame Shen agrees with her but calls Madame Shen niece-in-law. This wipes the smile from Madame Shen’s face. See, Ming Lan is not having it. Madame Shen wants to age her, then Ming Lan is happy to return the favor and put Madame Shen in her place. Ming Lan continues that as long as you kids are happy, then us elders are happy. Ming Lan’s maids can’t conceal their snickering at Ming Lan’s words while Madame Shen feels the humiliation being aimed back towards her.
As the words continue to escalate though, Ming Lan turns to look outside at the yard and sees Mo Lan. She immediately understands that Mo Lan must have been chatting with Madame Shen and shared plenty of her past secrets. That must be why Madame Shen is here. With this split second realization, Ming Lan changes her tone and her words. She understands that Madame Shen is here because of Ming Lan’s past with Qi Heng and so Ming Lan shares her rather personal struggles with Madame Shen in the hopes that she will understand that it’s currently not easy for Mign Lan to run the Gu household. What Ming Lan is trying to tell Madame Shen is that there are too many challenges in the world as a woman. If we continue to make it more challenging for ourselves, then we will really struggle to survive in this world. Ming Lan is guessing that Madame Shen came to be difficult to Ming Lan because she is probably having marital troubles with Qi Heng and the only target of her frustration is Ming Lan. But with these heartfelt words, Madame Shen is a little taken aback as well by the honesty. At this point, she calls Ming Lan “fu ren” which just means Madam, rather than Shen Shen. She’s now not trying to humiliate Ming Lan.
When Ming Lan leaves, she sends away most of her other maids and quietly tells Xiao Tao to find Qi Heng to meet her. At this point, Ming Lan feels she must step in to speak openly with Qi Heng. It’s obvious that hers and Qi Heng’s past has escalated to the point where even his new wife knows. This is not healthy for any of them and may cause additional further drama for everyone. And so, she requests this meeting.
But Qi Heng though, did not realize what this meeting was going to be about. He ran over to the part of the grounds Ming Lan was impatiently waiting for him with his eyes full of hope. The two have probably not seen each other in person for at least a year and the moment he is close enough to speak to Ming Lan, continues to call her 6th younger sister or Liu Mei Mei, just as he did while they were studying together. He is still in love with her as he tries to tell her to continue to call him Yuan Ruo.
Ming Lan though, is not here for pleasantries. She is here to break Qi Heng’s heart once and for all. She is extremely distant and cold towards his attempts at small talk and starts the conversation by empahsizing that he should call her aunt as that’s her station by marriage. He’s taken aback by this. She then continues by sharing that she is willing to exchange all she currently has – her wealth, status, carriages, grounds, titles, – everything, just to trade her mother’s life again. She is willing to do anything to get her back. But Ming Lan understands that her mother will never come back, and so, she has to continue living. Time that has gone will never come back. She is married and so is he. They can never go back.
To these words, Qi Heng finally lets out his frustration. He turns and pounds his hands on the bridge railing where they’re standing. He shouts that every day he regrets what happened. He wishes he proposed earlier. He wishes he ignored his family’s refusal. He wishes he didn’t act such that the Prince’s daughter took notice of him. He wishes that all of this didn’t happen. To this, Ming Lan says she understands. Fate played with them both.
At this point, Qi Heng is shedding tears. He hopes that Ming Lan will not hate him or be upset with him. Oddly, when Ming Lan says that she does not hate him and is not angry with him, Qi Heng actually becomes angry. Why doesn’t she hate him? The implication is that she didn’t have strong enough feelings for him that would make her angry. He continues to press her. Has she ever thought about her current husband the way he’s thought of her? Has she cried all night thinking for her current husband the way he has cried all night thinking of her? She hasn’t!
He is so emotional he actually grabs Ming Lan’s shoulders. She quickly pushes herself out of his grasp and storms off. After a few steps, she turns back and angrily tells him that she also never cried all night for him. Then questions his motives at court. He constantly criticizes her husband at court, has he ever thought if it was for her or for his own frustrations? Has he ever thought about how this would affect her at home? As he pauses to think about his true motives, she again tells him that everything between them has already ended. The only person that has not let go is him. With that, Ming Lan promptly turns around, leaving a heartbroken Qi Heng alone on the bridge.
The episode ends with Ming Lan returning to the banquet fully aware she hurt Qi Heng but recognizing it’s for the best.
I’m realy glad Ming Lan had this conversation with Qi Heng because clearly, the two conversations with Gu Ting Ye didn’t have the impact Gu Ting Ye was hoping for. Qi Heng was still holding out hope for Ming Lan. But honestly, what is he thinking? They’d have an affair or somethign? What did he expect? He is also already married. He is completely disrespecting his wife by holding out hope for Ming Lan. Qi Heng is still too childish and selfish to understand that his actions and feelings have an impact on other people and usually in a negative way. He also is too selfish into thinking that just because he feels one way, that the other person should return those feelings. Ming Lan has already moved on from her feelings for him because she is practical. Qi Heng is too much of a romantic to realize that the realities of the society they’re currently in prevents Ming Lan from waiting for him. At least now, he will have his dream fully shattered and hopefully stop causing issues for other people because he can’t get over a break up.
Importantly, Gu Ting Ye saw half of the conversation between Ming Lan and Qi Heng. We’ll see how he reacts in the next episode.
Before moving onto historical analysis, we glossed over the introduction of some new characters. At the beginning of the festivities, Gu Ting Ye is greeting his good friend, Shen Guo Jiu, or the brother of the Empress arrives with his wife, Madame Zhang. Gu Ting Ye is pleased to see them but suddenly, Shen Guo Jiu’s concubine shows up. This is actually quite the humiliation for Madame Zhang and Shen Guo Jiu. We’ve said time and again that concubines are not to be present for social events. They’re largely servants to please the husband or head of the household. They have no standing. But here, this concubine is rather arrogant and does not think she’s out of place. We’ll see this escalate further in the next episode.
Additionally, this MAdame Zhang who is the daughter of the Duke of Ying, begins to develop on unsavory opinion towards Ming Lan after the ladies gossip in the hall with Madame Qin, Ming Lan’s step-mother-in-law and Madame Kang, Ming Lan’s aunt with no blood relation. This pair tell a number of lies to paint Ming Lan in a bad light that is easily believed by listeners so Ming Lan will unfortunately have to deal with that soon as well.
The first idiom
The full moon will wane, the full water will spill. This expression is to represent something that is at its pinnacle will inevitably fall.
The first variation of this phrase appeared in 周易 or 易经 or Book of Changes. It’s a classic book of divination and compiled during the late 9th century BC.
This was a direct threat Madame 申 gave to 明兰. She states that 顾廷烨’s power is at it’s apex right now and that 明兰 should be careful of what befalls them. This is a VERY bold statement to make, especially to someone’s face. If you look at the scene, minglan’s maids in the background are also worried of what they just heard. It’s quite improper for Madame 申 to threaten 明兰 this way especially since 明兰 has done nothing to her.
黄粱梦醒 – waking up from the foxtail millet or yellow millet
This idiom is used by Madam 申 when 明兰 tries to persuade her to stop turning her frustrations to other women. Madam 申 worries what will happen when she confronts 齐衡. Perhaps she will wake up from a dream.
The World Inside a Pillow – was written by 沈既济 during the Tang Dynasty and takes place around the early 8th century AD. In the story a mister 卢 meets the wandering daoist monk 吕 at an inn and laments his current destitute situation. The monk offers a porcelain pillow for Mr. 卢 on which to sleep. While mr. lu is sleeping, the inn was starting to make gold millet. In the dream, Mr. 卢 dreamt of vast wealth, prestige, and riches. However, once he woke up, he realized it was all a dream and the millet wasn’t even ready yet. Hence the story of 黄粱一梦. The dream is but a fantasy of the desires of the dreamer and will inevitably wake up.
Madame Shen wants to believe that there’s an opportunity with her husband but worries that even that desire is just a dream.
四司六局 – 4 divisions and 6 bureaus
Event Planning / Decorations
Tea / Wine
Dried fruit and nuts
Arrangement / scheduling
The drama vastly deviates from 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!