Ep 60

 

[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts Karen and Cathy.

 

Hope everyone had a great Lunar New Year. We are in the year of the tiger wooo! Before we start the new podcast episode, I’ve put up the new drama I’ve been watching which is 流光之城 or City of Streamer currently airing on Teng Xun. It features Jing Tian who I’ve become obsessed with after her display in Rattan last year. I’ve put up a little blurb on our website in case anyone is interested in chasing the drama. Also, I’ve written up my latest review for Feng Qi Luo Yang which is also on our website. That drama has the first episode on youtube but the rest on iQiyi. 

 

For today, we are going to be talking about episode 60 of The Story of Ming Lan, 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。This podcast is in English with proper nouns in Mandarin Chinese. As always if you have any questions please reach out to us via email or on instagram and twitter.

 

[Cathy]

For this episode we actually do a ton of character analysis and provide book context for a variety of characters. Through the book, we get a better understanding of their motivations and backgrounds as well as how it ties to Ming Lan.

 

In the last episode, the despicable Aunt Kang tried to seriously hurt Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye by sticking one of her shu chu daughters on them as a concubine. She’s the type of woman who doesn’t care at all for the lives of the women and children in her household and ins fully ready to use them for her personal gain.  Thankfully, Grandma Sheng       was able to see through Aunt Kang’s ploy rather quickly and helped Ming Lan solve her dilemma swiftly.

 

Unfortunately, in the entire Sheng family, the only person that actually cares about Ming Lan is Grandma Sheng. After Grandma Sheng came back to the Sheng household, she roundly told off Madame Wang, who is sisters with Aunt Kang, for maintaining a close relationship with her despite Grandma Sheng’s orders to stay away. Episode 60 begins with Madame Wang coming back to see Grandma Sheng after having had a short chat with her sister. 

 

Madame Wang reports to Grandma Sheng that she spoke to her sister but doesn’t think she’s able to make an impact on Aunt Kang. Grandma Sheng dismisses Madame Wang’s explanation as she never actually thought Madame Wang would truly care about Ming Lan. So instead, Grandma Sheng dishes out an incredibly harsh punishment – Madame Wang is to kneel in the hall for the entire day. 

 

This is a humiliation for Madame Wang because, as she cries, she is the madame of the house. What will the staff think? She can be openly gawked at by the entire household. Her reputation within the family and her gravitas will be greatly diminished after this! But, as Grandma Sheng refuted, Madame Wang has never really respected her. She’s ignored most things Grandma Sheng has asked for and Grandma Sheng has let it slide because Madame Wang was bullied before by Mistress Lin but it’s created an environment where Madame Wang is now too spoiled. And so, Madame Wang is left outside to serve out her punishment while crying silent tears at her supposed injustice and furious when she is finally able to get up. 

 

[Karen]

Elsewhere, the evil step-mother-in-law, Madame Qin and her head maid, Xiang Mama, are in the Gu family shrine. This is a rather interesting set design choice which works for the next scene.  Xiang Mama reports that Ming Lan and Grandma Sheng have already sent the proposed concubine away in the night. Both of these women are actually quite impressed with how decisive Ming Lan acted and Xiang Mama even urges Madame Qin that maybe it’s time to back off. 

 

Madame Qin, though, says there’s only two options – 1 is for Gu Ting Ye to boil her with fire, the 2nd is to find her own path that makes her happy. 

 

Can we just take a second to say, lady, can you just calm down. Who told you there are only 2 paths? Can you recognize that Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye only retaliate when provoked? Otherwise, they’re perfectly fine! And I think that’s probably the best way to live. Don’t go out actively provoking drama but have the capability to respond when instigated. 

 

But I think this woman is actually just really sad. As she shares with Xiang Mama, her aim is to push Gu Ting Ye to despair just like his father. Her husband, the late Marquis, prayed to be with his first wife, Madame Qin’s older sister. As we learn from Madame Qin, even though her older sister had a myriad of issues and was not the ideal wife, the late Marquis solely liked her. No matter how virtuous or capable any other person is, he only had eyes for her. Once she died, all that’s left was an empty shell. That is why Madame Qin must kill Sheng Ming Lan. Once Sheng Ming Lan dies, Gu Ting Ye will also become a shell of a human being. At that point, he will essentially be useless. Even if Ming Lan’s child survives, the child’s drama with its stepmother that Gu Ting Ye will have to marry will be another great comfort for Madame Qin. 

 

[Cathy]

This is absolutely phenomenal acting from the woman 王一楠 who plays Madame Qin. From her plan to kill Ming Lan, we can see how hollow her life has been and can now more understand her hatred for the Gu Family. She married into the household as 3rd wife to the late Marquis and step mother to his children. Evidently, her marriage was empty because it’s implied that the Marquis didn’t show much affection for her despite how capable she was. Therefore, she’s taking out all of her anger out on Gu Ting Ye and Ming Lan for their success and taking away the title of Marquis from her son which I believe she thinks she deserves due to all the hardships she has endured in the household in her life. This is an illuminating scene for us, the audience, to give context as to why exactly she is so antagonistic towards Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye. I talked about this in the last episode that 可恨之人必有可怜之处. Which means that people who are hated must also have reasons to be pitied. This is why Madame Qin is the way she is. 

 

The real culprit is again, the archaic and patriarchal society she lived in but alas, we can only change the present.

 

So to recap here – previously, Madame Qin only wanted to seize the Marquis title from Gu Ting Ye and make Ming Lan suffer a bit. Now, Madame Qin is hellbent on their deaths. It kind of reminds me of a disney villain finally declaring his grand plan with an evil grin.

 

Back at the Sheng Manor, the eldest daughter 华兰 gets wind of her mother’s punishment and rushes over that evening to console her mother. In this scene, we see once again how short sighted Madame Wang is and how big of a miracle it is that she was able to raise such a wonderful daughter in Hua Lan. Madame Wang is bawling her eyes out from the shame of being punished earlier that day. She laments that she’s spent decades serving this household only to be roundly punished for it in the end. Madame Wang STILL doesn’t understand why she was so harshly punished 

 

华兰 tries to put everything in perspective for her mother. Aunt Kang always berated Ming Lan, why on earth would Ming Lan respect her? She is also of no blood relation! Why would Ming lan do anything for her? The Sheng family even knows not to bother Ming Lan when she’s pregnant. Aunt Kang has absolutely no shame and barges up to the Gu family to try and a) cozy up to the Gu family and b) put Ming Lan in her place. Madame Wang is still trying to side with her sister. Ugh I wanted to shake the idiotic woman awake. 华兰 is much more patient. She informs her mother that no matter what, Ming lan and herself and the rest of their siblings are blood relations. No matter what happens, 明兰 will help the Sheng Family. This is the point that needs to be hammered into Madame Wang’s brain.

 

Madame Wang’s current issue is that she’s feeling lonely in the Sheng Family and Aunt Kang is the only one who will talk to her. Well – the reason that no one really wants to talk to her is because she’s not all that intelligent..why waste time talking to her? As they finish the conversation, one very important news is shared. Madame Wang’s family will soon arrive in the capital. This includes her formidable mother and relatively meek brother and his wife.

 

[Karen]

Sure enough, the Wang family arrives in the capital and soon join the sheng family for lunch. We have in attendance from the Wang family – Grandma Wang – the matriarch of the Wang family. Uncle Wang – Mama Wang’s only son and eldest of her children, Aunt Wang – wife of Uncle Wang. Aunt Kang – her oldest daughter. and Madame Wang – the youngest daughter and wife of Sheng hong. 

 

In attendance from the Sheng family – we have Grandma Sheng, Sheng Hong, and Ming Lan.

 

The meal is cordial for about 2 seconds before Aunt Kang starts trying to find something, anything to gross out Ming Lan including asking where 蓉姐儿, Ming Lan’s stepdaughter, is for the meal. Aunt Kang is trying to sow discord between Ming Lan and Rong Jie’er. Before 明兰 responds – this time it’s Madame Wang and Sheng Hong who step in to stop Aunt Kang from continuing the topic. Good for them! Aunt Kang continues to persist but her own mother Mama Wang stops her. Aunt Kang finally shuts up but we also learn from the conversation the Mama Wang knows a LOT about Ming Lan and her household. For example, 蓉姐儿’s age.

 

丹橘 comes in to disrupt the meal. She hurriedly comes to inform 明兰 that Madame Zhang is going into labor and is experiencing some trouble. She requests 明兰’s presence. With that 明兰 takes her leave. If you recall, Ming Lan helped Madame Zhang create a relationship with her newly wedded husband, Shen Guo Jiu, the brother of the current Empress and a capable general. Due to this, Ming Lan and Madame Zhang are incredibly close.

 

[Cathy]

Before we head over to the Shen household to see what’s going on with Madame Zhang, we get a rather fantastic scene at the Kang Manor. Aunt Kang is telling her son that she can try to get him a position through her Wang family connections. The conversation is interrupted by MisterKang, Aunt Kang’s husband who dismisses their son and then gets to the point. He’s furious that the entire world knows Aunt Kang tried to sell off his daughter except him. Aunt Kang doesn’t deny any of it and tries to justify her actions. She thinks that with Zhao Er in the Gu family will mean better connections for the Kang family. This dream is shattered when Mister Kang tells her that Zhao Er has already been sent off to You Yang to be married there. Aunt Kang is dumbfounded and even more furious that her plan was foiled. She continues to yell and scream at her husband which culminates in him slapping her across the face. He storms off but she is now even more resolute that she will not let Ming Lan live well. Sigh. Whyy???? She has too much time on her hands.

 

This is the only time we see this Kang Hai Feng or this Mister Kang. In the brief conversation we are affirmed as to why he is not a good husband.

  1.  He didn’t know his daughter was sold off which means he does not care about his children, especially his shu chu children. 
  2. His primary concern is more his reputation and face than anything else. He said he was humiliated when Sheng Hong told him about his daughter’s current whereabouts and the note that he should stop treating Zhao Er’s mother poorly, he did not care about their wellbeing but more that he was humiliated.
  3. He is one of those men who touched his wife’s dowry to fill financial gaps in the family. We’ve talked about this quite a bit in previous episodes. Men who used the money from their wife’s dowry are looked down upon. Even though we have now seen several examples of men who do this. 

Overall, I do feel bad for Aunt Kang for having picked this degenerate to marry. Probably a lot of her anger stems from the woes in her marriage but also, as we will discuss later, her mother’s spoiling.

 

[Karen]

Now let’s get back to the next conflict in the episode. Ming Lan, who is herself heavily pregnant, rushes over to the Shen Household to help her friend Madame Zhang who is currently in labor. It turns out that Madame Zhang is in labor early because of a little tryst with the concubine of the household, Mistress Zou. Upon seeing Madame Zhang’s poor state, Ming Lan is immediately taken back to her own childhood when she saw her poor mother die during labor. The circumstances right now are eerily similar.

 

The imperial doctor that the household had requested is nowhere to be seen while Madame Zhang is screaming in pain. Everyone is at a loss at what to do except for Ming Lan. She is trying to prevent her friend from befalling the same fate as her mother who passed away because a doctor couldn’t arrive in time. Apparently, the concubine, Mistress Zou, has accosted the doctor in her own yard.  

 

Thinking quickly as to what to do next, Ming Lan rallies a group of servants to head over to Mistress Zou’s yard but not before unsheathing a sword and carrying it with her. Sure enough, Mistress Zou and her brother had contained the imperial doctor in her quarters. The excuse they gave was that Mistress Zou’s brother has an ailment that required the doctor’s attention but we all know that they were keeping the doctor to prevent him from tending to Madame Zhang. Fortunately, the men Ming Lan brought were able to quickly find the doctor and escort him back to Madame Zhang’s rooms but not without Ming Lan pulling her sword and threatening to harm Mistress Zou.  As they back away after the doctor rushes by, Ming Lan even actually slices at Mistress Zou’s brother’s arm who was not only insulting Ming Lan but was insisting that they keep the doctor. 

 

In her fury, Ming Lan shouts that she saw this tactic as a child. But she is no longer a child!

 

What a line and what eminence even while heavily pregnant herself!. She’s clearly doing everything she can to not allow the tragedy from her childhood to happen again and it’s really smart she grabbed that sword. Who knows what would have happened if she didn’t

 

[Cathy]

Madame Zhang’s labor continues into the night but at least by now, the doctor is available to tend to her. Ming Lan is waiting in a chair outside while Madame Zhang’s mother is berating Shen Guo Jiu. Madame Zhang’s mother, who is a Duchess and we’ll call Duchess of Ying, is understandably furious with her son in law as her daughter is suffering while in labor. 

 

The situation gets worse as we hear cries from Madame Zhang who may not make it. The Duchess rushes over to her daughter and at this point, the Duke of Ying, Madame Zhang’s father also arrives in full armor. Fortunately, Madame Zhang births a son and mother and child are both healthy. The episode ends with both the Duke and Duchess berating Shen Guo Jiu for his treatment of his wife. They want the two to separate so that Madame Zhang can be treated better in the future. The Duke carries his daughter and grandson home as news travels to the Emperor himself the next day at court about the drama that has occurred overnight.

 

Character overview

 

This episode is very plot heavy with a lot of characters introduced so I’ll spend time discussing the Wang and Zhang families. Much of this isn’t really discussed in the drama or are mentioned in passing but I think is crucial to fully understanding what’s going on between these families.

 

Let’s first start with the Wang Family. So far, we’ve only been really introduced to the vile Aunt Kang. In episode 60 – we are introduced to the rest of the Wang family and some extent the Kang family. The book goes into much more detail about the Wang family so I’ll flesh out these two families with both information from the drama and the book. I’ll point out book only details where applicable.

 

Grandma Wang – is the formidable matriarch of the Wang clan. She married into the Wang family. 

 

Her late husband Minister Wang was a lauded politician and scholar and rose to the rank of a cabinet minister or 阁老. After his death, it was decreed by the emperor that Minister Wang’s memorial tablet to be moved to the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙. This is an extremely high honor because the people with memorial tablets housed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple will be honored by future Emperors. So during large festivals or holidays that even the emperor has to pray to his ancestors, these people will also be prayed to.

 

Now there’s no real benefit to being placed in 太庙. It’s not like you can pass a title down to your children or you are gifted any more money, however, it’s a huge reputational bump. It opened doors for descendants and people in the capital paid attention to family members of a person / man who’s memorial tablet has been moved to the Imperial Ancestral Temple or in chinese 配享太庙.

 

Madame Wang and Aunt Kang constantly use the phrase my father 配享太庙 to show how “important” the wang family is.

 

And indeed, the Wang clan is and has been a very respectable scholar family that has produced high ranking officials. Because of that, they are also very wealthy.

 

[Karen]

Minister Wang and Mama Wang have 3 children.

 

The eldest Uncle Wang. He isn’t featured much in both the book or the drama. He didn’t inherit much of his father’s intellect. According to the book, he didn’t grow up with his parents when they were sent for provincial appointments. Although he did pass his imperial exams and is an official, he’s only a lowly official who has been appointed to mainly provincial roles. He’s very filial and caring for his siblings. He often has to deal with the aftermath of his younger sister Aunt Kang’s vile deeds which is not limited to cover ups and bribes. He’s married to Aunt Wang and they have several children but only one son. This son, 王佑 married Aunt Kang’s daughter 康元儿. If we recall, 如兰 was a potential candidate to marry 王佑 and Madame Wang was very approving of the match. However, Aunt Kang stepped in to marry her daughter off first.

 

Ok – next is the vile Aunt Kang. Unlike her brother, she grew up with her parents and became the spoiled and selfish brat that you see here. She married Mister Kang and has 3 children. 1 son and 2 daughters. 康晋- her son is the one you see in this episode. He doesn’t have much skill but is an overall ok fellow. 康允儿 – aunt kang’s older daughter married into the sheng family back in 宥阳。She and her husband 盛长梧 get a lot more book time but are barely referenced in the drama. They are very happily married but in the book 康允儿 does receive the wrath from family members when her mother’s evil plots come to light. Finally we have 康元儿- Aunt Kang’s youngest daughter. She is married to 王佑, the son of Uncle Wang. 康元儿 inherited all of her mother’s worst traits and has a terrible relationship with her aunt / mother-in-law

 

[Cathy]

Next we move to Madame Wang – wife of Sheng Hong. As the youngest daughter to Minister Wang and Mama Wang, she is kind of like the child that was left behind. She was raised by her maternal aunt and uncle until the age of 10 in the countryside. She returned back to the capital when her parents returned from their appointments. At home, Madame Wang was always in the shadow of her haughty older sister and was extremely self conscious of her “country” upbringing. She did have a harder time integrating into social circles. She also knew that she wasn’t as intelligent or as beautiful as her older sisters and cousins. When it came to the topic of marriage – Grandma Sheng brought 盛纮 to request a hand in marriage for any of the two Wang daughters. 

 

This was a very bold ask because of 3 reasons. 1. 盛纮 was a 庶出 son who dared ask for the hand of a 嫡出 daughter of the well renowned Wang family and 2. 盛纮 at that point didn’t pass his imperial exams at that point (I don’t think). With no immediate prospects of fortune or political standing, what did 盛纮 have to offer the Wang family? And 3. The rest of the Sheng family are all merchants. As we’ve mentioned before, merchants are the lowest class in chinese society apart from the slaves and unmentionables. 

 

The only things going for 盛纮 were 1. Grandma sheng – the daughter a marquis is the one making the ask. Her station still holds some clout and 2. He was a good looking fellow. That’s it. On paper – that’s not really a good match. 

 

Minister Wang did not approve of the match but surprisingly Grandma Wang did. She defied her husband’s wishes and approved the match. In a surprising twist, it was Aunt Kang who was supposed to marry Sheng Hong. Grandma Sheng and Sheng Hong didn’t really care which daughter, they mainly wanted to marry a daughter of the Wang family. Aunt Kang, however, thought Sheng Hong was beneath her and dismissed him. She saw Uncle Kang from behind a panel and it was love at first sight, well mainly because he was a very handsome young man and came from a good family. The rest is well – the basis for our story here. Madame Wang married Sheng Hong. Aunt Kang married Uncle Kang. Because Grandma Wang agreed to Sheng hong’s marriage, Grandma Sheng and Sheng hong have always been very grateful to the Wang family. The Wang family did indeed pave a smooth path for this son–in-law in many of his official appointments. However, 盛纮 has already paid much of that in kind as seen by his and his son 长柏’s current success.

 

So in summary – Aunt Kang is a spoiled brat. The Sheng family is indebted to the Wang family and the other two Wang siblings are decent enough people, if just not very intelligent.

 

All this isn’t really mentioned in the drama. The details come from the book.

 

Phew – did you get all that? 

 

[Karen]

Next let’s move to the Zhang Family.

 

Madame Zhang hails from the powerful Zhang family and her father is the Duke of Ying. This family is known for their loyalty on the battlefield and have served the Empire for generations. The Zhang Clan, especially the Duke of Ying’s family, has been entrenched in the capital for years. They are what you would call old blood. Half of high society in the capital are related some way or another to the Duke’s family. The Duke and Duchess had Madame Zhang later in life which is why Madame Zhang is very young compared to her parents. Her marriage to 沈国舅 was at its core a political one. Unfortunately as we have seen in several episodes and especially this one, how the 沈 family handles this marriage is pretty repulsive.

 

I will skewer State Uncle 沈 or 沈国舅 in the next episode.

 

 

[Cathy]

Book Differences

 

Let’s move to book differences! 

 

Similar to the last episode, a lot of the conversations were taken directly from the book but the order of events is a bit scrambled. 

 

Madame Wang’s punishment from Grandma sheng and Hua Lan’s consolation is basically the same as the book. Madame Qin’s evil turn happens a bit later in the book but the conversation and result is also similar.

 

The conversation between Aunt Kang and her husband is pretty similar to the book. Here I want to sidebar into a character analysis of the 2.

 

Uncle Kang is at his core also a despicable man. He takes concubines left right and center, has children, and then promptly discards the women or children at his pleasure. He has no political ambitions and spends all of his wife’s money. Aunt Kang is correct in saying that much of her troubles stem from him. However, that gives Aunt Kang no right to treat everyone else in the world like dirt simply because her life isn’t fair. I suspect she would be the same regardless of her current marital woes. Aunt Kang is simply put – an evil woman.

 

Now – the main event of this episode – Madame Zhang’s pained labor and birth of her son is slightly changed from the book. In the book, 明兰 and Madame Zhang at this point aren’t amazing friends. 明兰 finds herself at the Shen Manor because she wanted to drop off some food and then happened upon the crazy episode. Madame Zhang had her doctor come in for a regular check-in. Mistress Zou – of course – drags the doctor for a check up as well. This time though, the doctor takes too much time. Madame Zhang comes to investigate and sees that Mistress Zou’s family members are here hogging the doctor’s time too. A scuffle breaks out – Madame Zhang falls to the ground and she goes into labor.

 

In the book, 明兰 didn’t really play a huge role. By the time Ming Lan arrives, the Duchess of Ying had already arrived and so has Shen Guo Jiu, who’s just useless. Ming Lan doesn’t slash anyone in the book but she does stay to maintain order in the manor. The Duchess of Ying takes much more of a leading role. Madame Zhang’s cries when she finally gives birth are taken straight from the book. The Duke of Ying does rush back to see his daughter but does not take her home.

 

And that is all for this episode! Quite a bit of additional context for us as we learn more about the various characters in the drama.

 

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