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 55 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 at firstname.lastname@example.org. And 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. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying LuoYang and Sword Snow Stride, both currently airing on Tencent and IQiyi respectively. I’ve written initial thoughts about the shows on chasingdramas.com so definitely check those out if you’re looking for a drama to chase during the holidays.
For this podcast episode. We’ll actually combine the historical analysis with the episode recap since there’s actually quite a bit and then close off with some book differences!
In the last episode, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye had to act as marriage counselors for their friends, Shen Guo Jiu and Madam Zhang. Shen Guo Jiu married Madam Zhang but then also took in his deceased first wife’s younger sister as a concubine. This concubine is extremely arrogant and was therefore causing all sorts of drama in the Shen household. Fortunately, the husband/wife pair of Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan were able to kindle a relationship between Shen Guo Jiu and Madam Zhang but that doesn’t mean Gu Ting Ye is happy about his own marriage to Ming Lan.
We start the episode with 顾廷烨 and his loyal servant 石头 out hunting in the woods. He’s taking some time to hide away from his current troubles – a.k.a still pouting over why 明兰 doesn’t love him. They’ve caught a rabbit and have it currently cooking over the fire. That rabbit looks quite burnt actually.
盛长柏, Ming Lan’s 2nd brother and best friend of Gu Ting Ye – whom we haven’t seen in a while comes to find him. 顾廷烨 hilariously wants to avoid him because he hasn’t gone to court the past couple of days and he thinks that Chang Bai is here to berate him.
The whole conversation between 盛长柏 and 顾廷烨 is an absolute treat because 盛长柏 responds to every one one of 顾廷烨’s gripes with an analogy or anecdote or poem in an effort to provide some advice.
Let’s actually do the analysis here because I think it’ll flow better.
顾廷烨 starts with 明兰 is so heartless!
盛长柏 responds 种豆南山下，草盛豆苗稀.
These two lines come the poem 归园田居 or Returning Home by 陶渊明. We talked about this man in episode 5 of the story of Ming Lan. A quick recap, he lived 365～427during the eastern 晋 dynasty. He was a famed poet and the considered the father of 田园诗 or pastoral poetry which focused on the serene nature of the countryside, the rural landscape, or the garden. These two phrases are from a different section of the poem that was recapped earlier.
The translation is as follows – I planted beans at the bottom of the Southern mountains, the grass is luscious but the bean sprouts are few.
盛长柏 responds with this to tell 顾廷烨 that he understand his situation. 顾廷烨 put so much effort into marrying 明兰. He planted the beans at the bottom of the mountain. In return, 明兰 has responded with a lot of gratitude, which is the grass, but not love, which are the bean sprouts that 顾廷烨 wants.
顾廷烨 then continues with how he persuaded 沈国舅 the other day to resolve his family issues. 沈国舅’s concubine Mistress 邹 was very displeased with him.
盛长柏 responds with 妾身丝萝，依托乔木
This translates to the mistress is the vine or lichen that, that will attach to a tree. 盛长柏’s meaning is of course, the mistress relies on the husband.
Here’s where I nerd out a bit.
The 丝萝 actually represents 2 things. and 女萝. After a quick wiki search, 菟丝 translates to cuscuta chinesis lam, which is a vine. 女萝 translates to usnea diffracta vain which is a type of beard lichen. Both 菟丝 and 女萝 have been found in chinese medicinal texts and in poems. Both have healing properties and have been used to treat ailments. In poetry, the words 丝萝 often are used to represent a female and marriage. The vine is intertwined with the tree which represents man.
顾廷烨 here is mad at 明兰 because other concubines and wives openly care about their husbands and really are the vines that latch onto the tree. His wife, 明兰, nope, she’s a bramble bush with prickly leaves who can hold her own. 顾廷烨’s angry that 明兰 isn’t sad at all about bringing a concubine into the household.
I’m gonna pause and roll my eyes at 顾廷烨 – no one has time for his childishness.
盛长柏 then responds with 与治其国着，先齐其家 – or those who want to govern the country must first manage their own household. This phrase comes from 礼记 or the Book of Rites – specifically from the book 大学 or the Great Learning. The book of rites is a collection of ceremonial, social, and administrative rites that were compiled for centuries over 2000 years ago.
With this phrase, 盛长柏 here is blatantly telling 顾廷烨 that he stands with 明兰. He can tell that 明兰 is removing all obstacles for 顾廷烨 in the household so that he can have a continued standing in court. If she started throwing jealous rants, that might come back to bite 顾廷烨 in court. Let’s remind folks of what happened with 曼娘. 顾廷烨 got into a lot of trouble because he didn’t manage that relationship well.
Thank you 长柏 for saying this to his face!
顾廷烨 then goes on to say – how does your sister not understand what I’m angry about! She’s so intelligent.
盛长柏 responds with one more poem – he quotes 4 lines
I’ll use the youtube translation cause it’s quite good
That far away cowherd star (Altair)
The bright weaving maid (vega)
Separated by a clear and shallow milky way galaxy
Forever unable to talk to each other
The poem title is 迢迢牵牛星 or That far away cowherd star (Altair)
纤xian 纤擢 zhuó 素手⑷，札zha2 札弄机杼 zhù⑸。
The whole poem translates to this:
That far away cowherd star (Altair)
The bright weaving maid (vega)
The weaving maid’s white and soft hands
Continuously weaves using her loom
But she cannot complete any piece
Because of all of the tears in her eyes
The milky way is clear and shallow
How far are they truly separated?
Standing separated by the milky way
They look longing at each other, forever unable to talk to each other
This comes from an anthology of chinese poems called Nineteen Old Poems and believed to have originated from the late eastern han dynasty around the late 2nd century AD to early 3rd Century AD. The authors of these poems are unknown. The anthology in it’s current form was compiled during the 6th century under orders from the crown prince of 梁 萧统.
Here 盛长柏 uses the story of the weaving maid and the cowherd to warn 顾廷烨 that this couple can’t talk to each other because they are separated by the milky way and the tragedy of 织女 and 牛郎 is such that they cannot be together. You guys aren’t separated by a milky way, it’s better to just talk to each other.
盛长柏 accurately points out that 顾廷烨’s guidance to 沈国舅 was also a way for himself to talk about his current woes. In reality, he is inwardly upset. Then he recites the words.
This phrase comes from the Ming dynasty so it’s an anachronism by a guy named 李贽. He was a Chinese philosopher, writer and historian. The phrase comes from the book, The Book to Burn of 梵书 which was a critique of social and cultural norms of the time. The direct translation is that one is taking other people’s liquor glass and pouring it on ones own dirt mound. That is to say, one is using alcohol to help resolve the issues in a person’s heart.
Gu Ting Ye doesn’t agree with Chang bai and so Chang Bai advises 顾廷烨 to stop beating about the bush with 明兰 and simply tell her what he wants. 长柏哥哥 or Brother 长柏 is the best! Someone needs to tell 顾廷烨 to wake up and stop playing these games.It’s also great that Chang Bai knows exactly what’s bothering Gu Ting Ye. THey’re such good friends that it’s almost too sweet.
Hilariously, 顾廷烨 responds with his own recitations – specifically 由爱故生忧，由爱故生怖 or with love comes worries, with love comes fear. These two lines come from buddhist sutra. 顾廷烨’s biggest worry is that if he tells 明兰 what he wants, 明兰 will just comply because she’s his wife.
盛长柏 said it correctly – there aren’t any problems in the world, but the worriers make problems for themselves. I’m absolutely with 盛长柏 here, haha.
Elsewhere, 明兰 and Madame Zhang have become fast friends and while on a walk, Madame Zhang reveals that she’s pregnant! 明兰 is very happy for her friend. 顾廷烨 returns home and the couple discuss the pregnancy. 明兰 tries to slip away but the servants all know what’s up and under the pretense of dinner, barricades the couple in the room.
Meanwhile the servants 小桃 and 石头’s relationship is progressing nicely. They are so cute! Their relationship mainly revolves around food. Haha
A couple months later, we now are back at the polo fields. 明兰 is on the field handily winning her matches. Madame Zhang is in the stands, visibly pregnant, waving her support for 明兰.The evil stepmother Madame Qin is watching as well with a gaggle of other wives. Madame Qin is up to her usual tricks, trying to paint 明兰 in a bad light but the wives this time surprisingly don’t listen. 明兰’s close relationship with Madame Zhang has caused many people in the capital to change their minds about 明兰. If Madame Zhang, the daughter of the Duke of Ying who holds much sway in the capital, favors 明兰 then 明兰 must have some clout amongst the political families. The wives reveal that even Madame Zhang’s mother, the Duchess of Ying, has put in good words for Ming Lan and instead persuade Madame Qin to stop being so picky of 明兰. After listening to this Madame Qin leaves with a long face, pissed that 明兰 was able to turn the tables in her favor in such a short time. This scrambles all of Madame Qin’s plans for the Marquis title.
Madame Qin said it best though – there are countless intelligent people in the world and many have fought to a bloody demise. Being intelligent isn’t enough. 顾廷烨 and 明兰 act as one unit, which is why it’s been so hard to destroy them. Madame Qin will patiently wait until this couple reveals cracks in their wall.
At the palace, the Prince of Huan, the Emperor’s eldest son and friend of 顾廷烨, comes in to greet the Emperor and Empress. The Prince of Huan gives an update on 沈国舅’s marital status – all seems well. The Empress and Prince congratulate the Emperor on his good fortune for having such loyal subjects but the Emperor turns this around and oddly says – it’s not my good fortune, it’s because the Prince makes good friends. This is a really telling phrase because to discerning listener (especially the eunuchs), it seems like the Emperor is displeased with the Prince and the faction that he has built. The Emperor is suspicious that this group of men are not loyal to the Emperor but loyal to the Prince. Where have we heard this rhetoric before? That’s right, with the Empress Dowager. This is not good for the Prince nor 顾廷烨.
In the evening, 顾廷烨 and 明兰 are out on a walk headed back home. 顾廷烨 points out that his loyalty and the loyalty of the group from 禹州 was gained through blood, sweat, and tears. They fought and died for the Emperor. That loyalty isn’t something that can be replicated. The politicians in the capital didn’t lose an ounce of blood and are claiming that they are loyal to the Emperor. Who knows what they’re actually thinking about? I think this is important because if you recall, in the Song Dynasty, the military is highly looked down upon because the Emperor who created the Song dynasty knew that the military could overthrow an Empire and therefore purposefully weakened the strength of the military to prevent such a thing happening to the Song dynasty.
顾廷烨 recounts the story of 沈国舅 and his late wife and how loving the pair were back in 禹州. They had a strong and loving relationship but once she died, the 邹 family couldn’t reap any of her rewards. The 邹 family was so eager to push the mistress into the 沈 family to keep power and relations with the imperial family. This is all a game of politics. 明兰 understands that as long as Madame Zhang and Mistress Zou don’t fight in front of 沈国舅, then he can pretend none of this is happening. She might not agree but she acknowledges 沈国舅 wants to be spared from trouble and wants to be happy himself. Where did she learn this from? It has to be her father. That’s pretty much how her father dealt with the drama in his household.
顾廷烨 once again asks 明兰 what she would do if she was in this situation. 明兰 responds that she’ll endure and she’ll heal. 顾廷烨 grasps on to this answer and presses on again to ask what she would do if this happened to her. 明兰 promptly turns around and responds that she doesn’t know, but she won’t commit suicide. 顾廷烨 is unhappy with this answer and responds really?
明兰 then turns around and faces 顾廷烨 to rather heatedly say. What do you want me to do? If you have a change of heart, do you really want me to place a knife on my neck and one on yours and live out our days? Is that a way to live?
顾廷烨 cannot comprehend this answer. 明兰 and I completely don’t understand his response. I think it was a perfectly valid thing to say. Women don’t have much recourse if their husband cheats or has a change of heart so rather than cause a fuss, find a way to live out peacefully!
顾廷烨 is not having it. He then goes on to say some ridiculous things including – if 明兰 had the option to choose again, would she choose him or 齐衡?
What kind of question is this? 明兰 chose you s o she won’t ever choose him. I am so mad at 顾廷烨 here – he has the gall to ask 明兰, when you confronted 齐衡 about his actions in court was it for 齐衡 or for himself?
Now this entire scene seems to have been shot in one take and quite a bit of it was improvised or else the director allowed the pair to keep acting despite some flaws. It’s one of the most naturally hilarious scenes in the entire show because Gu Ting Ye is rather over-the-top in his frustration with Ming Lan while you can tell Zhao Li Ying, the actress for Ming Lan, is almost laughing in some moments. She’s struggling to keep it together. Hahahaha
Ming lan responds of course it was for him. Hello! She risked her whole reputation to tell 齐衡 to back off. 顾廷烨 is over here salty that she told 齐衡 to stop meddling in court matters and she didn’t say anything to him. 顾廷烨 keeps harping on why 明兰 doesn’t understand him, why he doesn’t care for him. Ming lan is totally bewildered at 顾廷烨’s attitude. I’m pissed off at this point. Once again, what more does he want?
The aftermath of this? 顾廷烨 and 明兰 are no longer sleeping in the same bed and Gu Ting Ye has actually moved out!. Word travels fast and Madame Qin is already plotting her next move.
Ming Lan has fallen ill and summoned a doctor. 顾廷烨 is surprised to hear of this but decides to not act. Instead, he informs the servants to summon the doctor after the visit with 明兰. In her own quarters, 明兰 doesn’t summon the doctor, instead, she informs 丹橘 about a marriage proposal for her. The lucky man is one of her older cousins who has waited for 丹橘 for years. 明兰 vows to give 丹橘 a grand wedding. Master and servant have a touching scene as they must part with 丹橘’s impending marriage.
顾廷烨’s still waiting for word from the doctor but he gets no details. 石头 tries to persuade 顾廷烨 to move back into 明兰’s rooms cause 小桃 is also mad at him! Haha
For the rest of the episode, we will turn our attention to politics. Minister 韩 pays a visit to 顾廷烨 to discuss the ceremonial rituals of honoring the late emperor 宋仁宗 and the current emperor’s biological father. At court, the Minister 韩 and 顾廷烨 are in one camp. Minister 韩 proposes that the current emperor titles his late father, the prince of 舒 as 皇考 or Royal Father.
The Empress Dowager is in the other camp and disagrees. The late emperor 宋仁宗 adopted the current emperor before he died and of course should be titled as the Royal Father. The two camps fight over blood vs adopted father.
顾廷烨 is summoned to provide his opinion. 顾廷烨 agrees with minister 韩. 齐衡 though disagrees. He cites the customs of the common folk in which adopted parents are considered as parents and the place where once comes from are just relatives. The royal family is not exempt from this custom.
Minister 韩 presses on, if the Emperor calls the late emperor as Royal Father, then what should he call his own father? 齐衡 responds – 皇伯 or Royal Uncle. 齐衡 and 顾廷烨 get into a heated argument which culminates in the Empress dowager passing punishment on 顾廷烨. He is to be caned 20 times.
That was it for the episode recap for today! A lot happens politically but we’re still treading the same steps between 明兰 and 顾廷烨. 顾廷烨 is angry that 明兰 doesn’t love him and 明兰 is bewildered at 顾廷烨’s behavior.
Now onto historical analysis!
We’ve already discussed quite a bit already but there’s a few more that I want to talk about.
First up is
万言万当不如一默 – the youtube translation is pretty good so I’ll use it here – a moment of silence is better than an eloquent speech.
This was spoken by 顾廷烨 when he was mad at 明兰 as to why 明兰 tried to persuade 齐衡 to stay away from the political fighting between the Emperor and Empress Dowager. 顾廷烨 was disappointed that 明兰 told this to 齐衡 but wouldn’t say these words to himself.
This phrase originates from Huainanzi, which is a collection of Chinese text and essays that were the result of a series of debates held at the court of Liu An, the Prince of Huainan during the Western Han dynasty, around 140 BCE. The texts continued with many daoist traditions. 21 books survived to the present day.
Next – which is the main topic of next week’s episode revolves around the debate towards the title of the Emperor’s late birth father and the late Emperor.
In history, this debate is called 濮议 or the debate of pú. I found a chinese article that does a pretty good recap of the debate so I’ll translate what I can from there and give a synopsis.
Let’s first start off with the actual history. The current emperor is 宋英宗. His father was the Prince of Pu or in the drama the prince of shu. The Prince of Pu and the late emperor 宋仁宗 were 1st cousins or they had the same grandfather, the Emperor Song 太宗。宋仁宗 agreed to have 宋英宗 as his adopted son and named crown prince early in the man’s life but 宋仁宗 then had a son and striped the man of his title. Unfortunately the young son died at the age of 4. 27 years, with 宋仁宗 again having no living male heir, he readopted this current emperor 宋英宗 as his crown prince and 宋英宗 ascended the throne. There was no coup as was shown in the drama.
Now all of this really does screw with a person’s head. 宋英宗 was adamant about naming his father as 皇考. 考 is the word the living referred to one’s deceased father, grandfather, or other direct ancestor. This was written in the book of rites, which as mentioned was written over 2000 years ago. Prime ministers 韩琦、欧阳修 stood on the side of the new emperor and pushed to pass the law to have 宋英宗’s birth father posthumously titled as 皇考. Unfortunately previous history was not on their side because precedents set during the Han dynasty, the 3 kingdoms era, and even the more recent five kingdoms era all stated that the adopted father was the rightful father. Song Ying Zong was technically in the wrong.
We’ll see what happens in the next episode and I’ll also discuss the actual historical events.
That was a lot of history today – let’s move onto book differences.
Because the book was set in a nebulous time period, the book didn’t get into the whole debate over the titles for the late Emperor. The drama decided to highlight this to be closer to history.
明兰 and 顾廷烨 don’t have this prolonged fight over 顾廷烨’s childish games so thankfully that doesn’t really take up much time in the book. 明兰 is much more focused on dealing with all of the other relatives of the 顾 family and running her household in the movie
明兰 does find 丹橘 a very happy match, the same man as described in the drama and we’ll see more of that play out in future episodes.
That is it for today!