Ep 54



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 54 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, please please do leave us a rating on whatever platform you listen to us to. If you have not already, check out our website to see which dramas we are currently watching or our drama reviews. 


We will start off with the episode recap, a character analysis, historical analysis, and then close off with some book differences!


In the last episode, the Ming Lan and Gu TIng Ye completed renovations to their property and therefore threw a banquet to welcome guests. Pretty much all the aristocracy and socialites in the capital turned up not just for the food and drink but for the gossip as well.Ming Lan privately met with Qi Heng in order to tell him to get over their failed relationship after his new wife accosted Ming Lan during a passive aggressive meeting. The encounter was part way overseen by Gu Ting Ye.


We now return back to the main grounds where further squabbles are arising. This time between a Madame Zhang and a Mistress Zou. Before we proceed further, let’s explain who these people are. Madame Zhang is the sole daughter of the Duke of Ying or 英国公。He is a seasoned veteran and a highly ranked official at court. He’s what you would call the old blood of court. As we can see, Madame Zhang comes from a powerful family and we can infer she’s been raised well. She is now married Sheng Guo Jiu as wife. He is the younger brother of the new Empress. As a reminder, the new Emperor and Empress are relatives of the deceased Emperor and previously lived in Yu Zhou, not at the capital. Therefore the entire new imperial family, including this new Shen Guo Jiu, were not raised in the Capital and are relatively new to the comings and goings at court. Shen Guo Jiu was also previously married to a Madame Zou. But as we will hear more details of later, is now deceased and he has since brought in her younger sister to become his mistress. That is now who we have as Mistress Zou.



Mistress Zou, though, seems to be rather arrogant and thinks too highly of herself as she, as a concubine, thought it appropriate to appear at Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye’s party. This is certainly out of propriety as her station as concubine means she is not allowed to appear at these types of functions. And we now see the two women, Madame Zhang and Mistress Zou start bickering in front of all of the guests that have congregated at Ming Lan’s party. 


Ming Lan steps in to try to diffuse the conflict but Madame Zhang turns her ire towards Ming Lan. Much of this is because she’s been influenced by a lot of the gossip she heard from Madame Qin, Ming Lan’s step-mother-in-law which we saw in the last episode. Things turn rather ugly as Madam Zhang sneers at Ming Lan’s low birth status and insults her repeatedly. Luckily, Gu Ting Ye and Shen Guo Jiu arrive to separate the women and turn the crowd away from this rather humiliating spectacle. In the end, this was a blatant display of disrespect towards Ming Lan since her party was pretty much ruined but Shen Guo Jiu was also humiliated that his wife and concubine would fight like this in public. Though, if you look, once the onlookers turn away, Madam Zhang is left by herself, her husband has clearly chosen Mistress Zou’s side. 


Such a gossip worthy event meant that word travels fast both within the Gu family and outside. Madame Kang and Madame Qin continue to scheme and say deplorable things about Ming Lan. While all the way in the Imperial Palace, the Empress Dowager is discussing the events with Imperial Concubine Liu.  From these two, we now recognize that while this was a tiff between two women in the same household, this has implications to the entire new imperial family and their standing at court. Imperial concubine liu points out that the Emperor must be displeased with this news as his closest advisors lost face at this banquet, which in turns means that he loses face.



Not too long after, Ming Lan is summoned to the palace by the Empress where the Empress details the tragic backstory of Shen Guo Jiu’s first marriage. Her younger brother, Shen Guo Jiu, was married to Madame Zou. But it seems that soon after the coup, a group of assassin’s thought that Madame Zou was Madame Shen, aka the new empress, and beheaded her to claim wealth and riches. That is the only reason the Empress was able to survive and become Empress. As such, her life is owed to Madam Zou.  That’s why they quietly allowed Shen Guo Jiu to take in Madame Zou’s younger sister as a concubine. 


The issue is, this complicates matters quite a bit. The subsequent marriage between Shen Guo Jiu and Madame Zhang, daughter of the Duke of Ying, was to bridge the gap between the old court and the new court. But as we saw, Madam Zhang is left to her own devices because there is a much stronger relationship between Shen Guo Jiu and the Zou family. The fracturing of this marriage could spell disaster for the new Emperor’s court as the minister and aristocracy from the old regime could turn their support away from the new Emperor. Understanding the magnitude of this conflict, Ming Lan volunteers herself to speak to Madame Zhang to try to calm things down.



And so, Ming Lan heads over to the Shen household to try to speak to Madame Zhang. At first, Ming Lan is left to wait for quite some time. Evidently, Madame Zhang does not want to speak to Ming Lan which I think is understandable. Mistress Zou, however, decides to greet Ming Lan herself. I think it’s to try to develop a relationship with Ming Lan to help support her in the Shen household. Ming Lan, however, recognizes that Mistress Zou is not someone you want to support and tries to take her leave. 


Mistress Zou doesn’t relent and follows her out. Through this conversation, we see that Mistress Zou does indeed think incredibly highly of herself and her family. She thinks that her family is royalty and actually looks down upon the likes of Madam Zhang who in her eyes, are simply ministers and courtiers. They’re not royalty. She completely disregards her station as a mistress. Ming Lan does not agree with this whatsoever and is rather blunt in her disapproval. Ming Lan points out the ways Mistress Zou acted out of propriety and tries to urge her to stop creating conflict. This greatly displeases Mistress Zou and turns away angrily.


At this point, Madame Zhang’s maid who evidently heard Ming Lan’s admonishment, invites Ming Lan to speak to Madam Zhang. Initially Madame Zhang didn’t want to see Ming Lan because she thought Ming Lan was here to laugh at her, But after hearing through her maid what Ming Lan said to Mistress Zou, it seems like Mign Lan understands her. Madam Zhang is in a rather depressed state. She is alone in bed and lamenting her life. She knows full well that she’s been married to the Shen family for reasons beyond her control and so she thinks there’s not much she can do to change her current situation. This is where Ming Lan comes in. She shares the story of her grandmother’s head maid, Nanny Fang who grew up incredibly poor and was sold off but learned many crafts to become her grandmother’s maid. She even was able to be married and had children of her own. For someone like her to be able to change her life, Madame Zhang certainly can live her life to the fullest. After all, she was born into one of the best families a person could ask for. Ming Lan also reflects to Madame Zhang that in these types of arranged marriages, the only people in the end that benefit when such marriage conflicts arise are men. Therefore, as women, they should try to live their life to the fullest. I think Ming Lan’s words are really important for us to remember on how we should live our lives.Everything we do is for ourselves, not for other people. Therefore, living our own lives to make ourselves happy is the most important thing rather than trying to please others and ignore the challenges that may be in our path.



Upon hearing her words, Madam Zhang recognizes that Ming Lan is not the rude, unintelligent, gold digger other people made her out to be. And this is where a wonderful friendship between two women begins. 


On the flip side, Gu Ting Ye is also trying to talk sense into his friend, Shen Guo Jiu. I actually really appreciate this scene because we see how heartbroken Shen Guo Jiu is to have lost his wife. I think it’s rather rare to see where the guy doesn’t want to marry either. There were snippets through the last couple of episode where we heard how deeply Shen Guo Jiu loved his wife and we see it here. He didn’t want to be a part of this arranged marriage with Madame Zhang but he had to do it because of his status. Instead, he wants to shower his deceased wife’s family, the Zou family, with as much wealth and status as power in an effort to repay what she has done for his family. 


Gu Ting Ye then explains that this would all be well and fine if Mistress Zou was like her older sister Madame Zou. Though we do not meet Madam Zou, we can infer that she was poised and understanding. Mistress Zou is not like that at all and everyone can see it. If Shen Guo Jiu doesn’t get a grip and take control of his household, the Mistress Zou will wreak havoc on not only his family, but also the entire court. Shen Guo Jiu deep down recognizes this but it doesn’t mean he’s not still deeply mourning his wife’s death and his preference for the Zou family. 



Fortunately, Madam Zhang takes Ming Lan’s words to heart and immediately steps out of her shell to practice polo. In the very next scene, we’re back on the polo fields with Ming Lan, Gu Ting Ye, Madam Zhang, Shen Guo Jiu and Mistress Zou. It’s clear that Madam Zhang in an accomplished polo player or at least equal to Ming Lan in skill. On horseback, she is extremely comfortable and is thoroughly enjoying her time. Her husband, Shen Guo Jiu who has been taking Mistress Zou around trying to teach her how to ride is enraptured by Madam Zhang’s stature. And a reminder to everyone, you are most attractive when you yourself are happiest rather than when you are trying to please someone. Take a look, Shen Guo Jiu thoroughly just ditches Mistress Zou in favor of helping Madam Zhang in a match against Ming Lan and Gu TIng Ye. What a great way to strengthen a husband and wife relationship than teaming up against your friends on the polo field? The two couples play a heated match but in the end, Madam Zhang and SHen Guo Jiu actually beat Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye. As a prize, the couple actually win Gu Ting Ye’s prized spear that he was gifted by the Emperor. The bigger prize is of course, the kindled relationship between Madam Zhang and Shen Guo Jiu. 



The episode ends with Ming Lan telling Gu Ting Ye over breakfast that it looks like the Shen Household has calmed down quite a bit over the last few days but Gu Ting Ye continues to cold shoulder Ming Lan. Throughout the episode and ever since the party, Gu Ting Ye has been rather cold towards Ming Lan. Part of it is because he saw Qi Heng and her speak but as we’ve mentioned multiple times throughout the podcast, the true reason why he’s upset is that he realizes she still doesn’t love him. Everything she does is for him as Marquis but nothing she does is for him as her lover. He feels rather depressed he can’t seem to get into her heart and so he’s been extremely sulky. While they were able to help their friend’s marriage, it seems like their own marriage has some work to do. The primary issue is that Ming Lan doesn’t see this as a problem she needs to overcome. She thinks it’s just how life is as a married couple where the husband loses interest so as long as she lives her life, she’s fine. Though she is a little saddened by the emptiness of her rooms without Gu Ting Ye around.



Character analysis




We want to actually turn our focus on 沈国舅 today as a character. On the battlefield, he may be a valiant soldier, but when it comes to matters of the home and of court, he is a rather spineless man. I am not hiding my distaste for him here at all. 沈国舅 and the Shen family essentially destroyed two families with his actions. He wanted to curry favor with the old aristocratic families of the capital so he married Madame Zhang, the daughter of the duke of Ying. He knows that Madame Zhang is an upstanding woman but he spends his days pining and mourning over his deceased wife. I commend him for his loyalty to his wife but why did he then decide to agree to have his dead wife’s younger sister enter into his household as a concubine?


It was mentioned a couple times during the episode but I want to point out step by step each mistake 沈国舅 makes in this episode or directly preceding this episode.


  1. First – He agreed to marry Madame Zhang while still mourning his wife. This is unfair to Madame Zhang who will always be living in the woman’s shadow. Madame Zhang, by comparison knows this and doesn’t try to fight it
  2. Second – He then agrees to have 邹三娘 enter into the household as a concubine. She entered into the household as a 贵妾, which is a noble ranking concubine. Not only that, but as a concubine she has a title of 诰命. This is absolutely. unheard of! This new concubine has no sons and did absolutely nothing and already has a title that many noblewomen do not. Sure – 沈国舅 wanted to repay the 邹 family but why did he have to go this route? He could have just promised more riches and power. In the book, the 邹 family really pushed for this direction and 沈国舅 acquiesced. But, as 顾廷烨 said, if the concubine knew herr place, no one would say anything but as a concubine who kept on overstepping the Madame of the family, that reflects poorly on everyone, especially 沈国舅. He knowingly favors his concubine over the wife that he CHOSE to marry. No one forced him to marry this concubine so his actions are quite despicable. He then goes and cries to 顾廷烨 saying why can’t i give everything to the 邹 family? Ugh – I wanted to smack him. Wake UP – you can’t get the best of every world. Yes, your wife died but you are just making every problem worse.
  3. Lastly – let’s talk about him in this episode and his treatment of the two women. At the beginning, he clearly favored his concubine. Then at the end of the episode, he saw that Madame Zhang was a sight to behold on the polo field and promptly ditches his concubine in favor of Madame Zhang and goes on to flirt with her for the rest of it. I personally think that if Madame Zhang was just scouring on the sidelines, he would have just ignored her but no, Madame Zhang herself is a formidable woman and her husband finally sees that. All I’m seeing is a man with no backbone who is too prideful to admit he screwed up and will continue to destroy the lives of two women.


This man and the shen family directly contributed to this tragedy, so in this regard, I’m not too happy about them.





Let’s move on to our historical analysis of this episode!


First up is the Opera that Madame Zhang mentions at the beginning of the episode – Su Qin Returning Home in Glory or in Chinese



This is actually a Yuan dynasty opera so this is an anachronism. The Yuan Dynasty was founded in the late 13th century. We are currently in the Song Dynasty – mid 11th century. 


The opera is about the brilliant political strategist Su Qin who lived during the Warring States period. His birth date is unknown but we do know when he died. He died in 284BC. He was a proponent of the vertical alliance strategy and his crowning achievement included the vertical alliance where persuaded the leaders of the six kingdoms of Chu, Yan, Qi, Zhao, Han, Wei to unite against the state of Qin. The state of Qin did not act for another 15 years. 


The opera itself was styled in the typical Yuan Za Ju style with 4 acts and 1 wedge or an intro aria – or else 四折一楔子. The author for the opera is unknown and the opera itself draws heavily from the Records of the Grand Historian which was finished in the 1st century BC


The opera recounts the story of Su Qin and his struggles to succeed. During the Warring states period, 苏秦、张仪 were bonded brothers. 张仪 was able to gain a position at court. Due to illness 苏秦 was forced to stay at home. His parents, brother, and even wife all treated him rather coldly. In his frustration and anger, he left home to forge a new path and position for him. He reached out to his old friend, 张仪, who at that point was a high ranking official in the state of Qin but unfortunately he was also treated rather rather coldly and distantly. Disappointed, 苏秦 was at a loss for next steps. 张仪 sent money and supplies to inform him to try elsewhere and build a reputation. Su Qin took this to heart and spent years canvassing across the other 6 kingdoms to form the vertical alliance against the state of Qin. Su Qin became chief administrator and wore the insignia of the six member states. After he became famous, he returned back home in all of his glory. He finally reconciled with his family and his good friend 张仪


This story is used correctly in my mind by Madam Zhang – 顾廷烨 was kicked out of the capital by his family and was treated rather coldly. He returned back to the capital in all of his glory which fits the name 衣锦还乡..


Next up!



杜康! 顾廷烨 and 沈国舅 mention him when talking about drinking during their heart to heart.


According to baidu, 杜康 is the inventor of alcoholic beverages. He is known as god of wine. During the reign of the Yellow emperor, there was a man called 杜康 who was in charge of food storage. In a bountiful year, the people had no choice but to store the food into a damp cave. Unfortunately it all spoiled. Seeing this, Du Kang needed to find another way to store the food. On a walk du kang saw some dead trees that were hollowed out and decided to try to store crops in the tree. After a while, he returned to see animals lying near the trees as if dead. There was a curious liquid that was seeping out of the dead tree. Upon a taste test, Du Kang realized that the new substance was delicious. He brought the new liquid home and shared it with his people and thus the legend of alcohol and wine began to travel. Of course there’s little historical record of the actual inventor of alcohol. 


According the Records of the Grand Historian, he was also a king of the legendary 夏 dynasty.


何以解忧,唯有杜康 – how can we solve our problem? Only through du kang


These two lines come from the Grand Chancellor 曹操, whom we’ve talked about before. This was composed during a banquet. 


 According to legend, du kang’s son invented vinegar



Book differences


As with the previous episode, the drama condenses a lot of things that happen in the books into this one episode just to get the plot moving. Madame Zhang and Mistress Zou don’t get into a fight at 明兰’s banquet. Ming Lan and Madame Zhang actually become fast friends and without a lot of the misconceived ideas from Madame Qin. 


I personally didn’t like that the drama had Madame Zhang and Mistress Zou fight during the banquet because it then makes 明兰 seem very incapable, which is exactly the rumor that spreads throughout the capital city. In the book, 明兰 has a firm grasp of her guests and does not allow any of these shenanigans to happen. 


The drama also gives more scenes to the Empress Dowager and her plotting, which we don’t see much in the book. 顾廷烨 doesn’t get all pouty about his wife’s feelings or at least not really. This part has really dragged on in the drama…





That is it for today!


By helping Madam Zhang with her marriage, she now has a good friend in the daughter of a duke which is certainly going to help her in the future.This episode was more or less dedicated to the marital issues between Madam Zhang and Shen Guo Jiu but we’ve hinted at how this has larger implications at court which we will continue to see bubble up. Additionally, as a reminder that the initial rudeness from Madame Zhang towards Mign Lan was due to the badmouthing of Madame Qin who has consistently been in the background trying to destroy Ming Lan. But it seems that this particular tactic has failed since Madam Zhang and Ming Lan are now actually great friends. 

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