Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. I am your host, Karen. It’ll just be me today to chat about episode 62 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。
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The next couple of podcast episodes really revolve around Grandma Sheng’s mysterious illness. They are in my view the most intense episodes in the entire drama. Ming Lan stands up for herself and shows just how capable she is now in the face of a dangerous threat to her Grandmother’s life.
This really starts at the end of episode 61 when 明兰 receives news that her grandma fell ill. Ming lan rushes over to the 盛 manor to find her father, Madame Wang, and her sister-in-law all scrambling, waiting for the imperial doctor to give his diagnosis.
When asked by Madame Wang, the doctor surprisingly hesitates and simply says that he will try his best. When pressed by 明兰, Madame Wang gets all of a sudden very jumpy and tries to stop doctor from saying more. Episode 61 ends with 明兰 informing her father that she’s staying over to take care her grandmother.
We open episode 62 with Ming Lan returning to her grandmother’s rooms with the imperial doctor in tow. WIth everyone gone, 明兰 quickly informs all of the loyals servants left to take stock of all of the comings and goings of people in the manor.
She then turns to the doctor to ask a very pointed question – what happened to her grandmother? Everything is too suspicious. The doctor finally reveals that all symptoms point to poison. 明兰, who had suspected something was off, is stunned but quickly asks the nearby maid if her grandmother ate anything suspicious recently.
The maid at first doesn’t recount anything suspicious but pauses at the discussion of some pastries. Grandma Sheng has developed a sweet tooth in recent years and enjoys these pastries from a certain JuFang Pagoda so she always had servants go buy them twice a month. Madame Wang, after seeing how well her grandson is being raised by Grandma sheng (this is 全哥儿, who is 长柏 and Madame Hai’s oldest son), volunteered to buy the pastries for Grandma Sheng monthly. However, this has happened for the past few months and nothing has happened. Why would the sweets be poisoned all of a sudden now?
明兰 quickly tells the doctor to inspect the pastries. After some further investigation, the doctor is both impressed and disgusted at the scheme. The poison is made from 银杏芽 or ginkgo sprouts. The doctor informs 明兰 that Gingko is edible but ginkgo sprouts are poisonous. A concentrate [?] made of ginkgo sprouts is fatal. Thankfully Grandma Sheng only ate a small amount of the pastries containing the poison, otherwise she would have already passed. The doctor will try his own methods to save Grandma Sheng, but in her elderly state, he’s not optimistic of her chances. He hurriedly heads off to tend to his patient.
明兰, having learned that someone tried to poison her beloved Grandmother, is furious but springs into action. I’m also furious. Grandma Sheng!!!! How dare anyone touch this absolute gem of a woman??? She quickly orders her loyal maid 小桃 to return back to the Cheng Gardens, gather their loyal guards, head back to the Sheng manor and block all entrances. No one can enter or leave the premises. After 小桃 rushes out, 明兰 can’t do anything but wait. She starts tearing up and curses whoever did this – using the phrase “王八蛋” which means bastard.
Whoever did this is truly a bastard. Hurting Grandma Sheng is the line you do not cross with Ming Lan. Grandma Sheng is the person that saved Ming Lan’s life and so now, we get to see Ming Lan fight and use everything she has to seek justice for her grandmother. She is now 纽祜禄-明兰。哈哈哈哈哈哈
The next morning, Madame Wang’s loyal maid, 刘妈妈 is making a ruckus because 明兰 has sealed all entrances. No one can go in and out. Master Sheng still has to go to court! What is the meaning of this?
明兰 doesn’t say much and simply orders 小桃 to bring the box of pastries. Then, they follow 刘妈妈 to Madame Wang’s rooms. Let’s take a look at Madame Wang’s face when 明兰 enters. She’s VERY shifty. Sheng Hong on the other hand is upset. What would it look like if the capital found out that a daughter surrounded her own house and prevented him from leaving? How will that look for the Sheng family and his reputation? Fortunately, Ming Lan knew he was going to say this. 盛纮 relaxes when 明兰 informs him that by taking a day off of court to take care of his ill mother will only help his standing in court.
Once again, Madame Wang probably did something suspicious and Sheng Hong doesn’t care at all about Grandma Sheng, only about his face. What a joke.
明兰 turns towards more serious matters. She spells it out for her father. Someone poisoned Grandma Sheng. Man, Madame Wang’s acting here is top notch. She is so afraid of being implicated that she doesn’t dare look at 明兰。Problem is, as we know, her intellect isn’t that high so it’s not difficult to figure out something is off about her. 小桃 brings forth the box of pastries and 明兰 slowly informs everyone in the room exactly how the pastries were poisoned. 明兰 finally aims her anger to Madame Wang. She isn’t actually angry right now. She’s simply says – Madame Wang’s maids wanted to take the rest back yesterday to give them to 全哥儿 but luckily Grandma Sheng’s maid saved some. The underlying message is – a) madame wang wanted to destroy the evidence, and b) if it wasn’t for the leftover pastries, no one would have found out of Madame Wang’s evil schemes.
Sheng Hong actually turns towards Madame Wang and starts interrogating her. Madame Wang tries to stand her ground and spouts a number of theories as to how or why Grandma Sheng could be poisoned in an attempt to extricate herself from the blame. Seeing that Madame Wang isn’t going to cooperate, Ming Lan threatens the husband wife pair with the extreme – since Madame Wang doesn’t believe this imperial doctor, Ming Lan will go ask for several more imperial doctors to confirm the diagnosis. If Madame Wang doesn’t tell the truth, Ming Lan will bring the case to court for all the publically investigate what happened.
Of course, both of these acts are immediately shut down by Sheng Hong. What will people in the Capital think if people heard what is happening in the Sheng family? They will lose all reputation and face! Once again, Sheng Hong is so despicable that he doesn’t actually care about Grandma Sheng. The thing that is most important to him is his reputation.
In the face of this uninterest by his father, Ming Lan finally blows up. She calls him out on the fact that Grandma Sheng gave up everything to help the Sheng family. She was even disowned by her own family. Sheng Hong, Ming Lan and the rest of the people in the Sheng family are actually related by blood but only Grandma Sheng is not. And so, why would 盛纮 risk his current career for something small like this? 盛纮 is so upset by Ming Lan’s words that he actually slaps her. But she doesn’t care. She further screams that even if she insults every member of the family, loses her status as Marchioness, loses her wealth, she does not care as long as she can gain justice for her grandmother.
You can tell that in this instance, the hurt that she experienced from her father’s treatment of her mother when she died is still fresh in her mind. She will not allow her father to do the same thing to Grandma Sheng, especially now she is older, wiser and more capable.
Perhaps some of what Ming Lan has said finally got through to Sheng Hong as he turned around to then threaten MAdame Wang with divorce. In the book, it’s described that 盛纮 at this point realizes internally, that 明兰 won’t let this go, which is why he turns his attentions to Madame Wang.
Madame Wang, though, continually shouts – how can you do this? Do you realize that I am from the Wang family? Oh ho. And there you have it. She thinks so highly of herself because she is from the Wang family. Throughout this entire interrogation scene, she raised her Wang family status more than once to force Ming Lan to back down. We will touch on this more in future later but this is truly one of the most infuriating aspects of both Madame Wang and Aunt Kang. Just because they’re from the Wang family, they think they have the right to escape punishment.
As Madame Wang is still screaming that she will never tell the truth, her head maid, Liu Mama, bursts into the room. She isn’t here to try to protect Madame Wang but instead try to push her to tell the truth. This Liu Mama is much smarter than her master. She accurately deduced that Madame Wang probably was not the main culprit in this plot. Creating a poison from gingko sprout concentrate takes meticulous planning and thought. That is not Madame Wang’s style. Besides, this must also be why Ming Lan is here to interrogate the truth out of Madame Wang. Ming Lan must also believe that Madame Wang was not the actual mastermind in this. Otherwise, Ming Lan would have already planned Madame Wang’s punishment rather than come here to ask for more details.
Ming Lan actually applauds this Liu Mama for being the only person who understands the situation at the moment. Liu Mama then also cries to Madame Wang that she should just tell the truth. Madame Wang has to think of the futures of her children who may get caught up in all of this. What will happen to them?
Finally, Madame Wang reveals the truth. Her older sister, Aunt Kang, was the one who told her to give Grandma Sheng the pastries with poison. However, Madame Wang did not know that the pastries would actually have poison. She just thought that the pastries would cause Grandma Sheng to fall ill and not have any energy to manage the household, a power which she revoked from Madame Wang. That way, Madame Wang will be able to regain power of the household instead. She never wanted to poison Grandma Sheng, just remove her from power.
When Madame Wang revealed Aunt Kang’s name, Sheng Hong was full of disgust. Ming Lan who has calmed down a bit, lets Madame Wang think about what could have happened to her grandson, who constantly spends time with Grandma Sheng. If Grandma Sheng gave the pastries to her grandson, do you think he would still be alive today? Madame Wang is dumbfounded. Her sister would never do that to her! Liu Mama tearfully steps in – it’s Madame Wang’s grandson, not Aunt Kang’s grandson. Why would she care what happens to Madame Wang’s grandson?
Ming Lan further helps explain the extent of Aunt Kang’s plot. Once Madame Wang kills Grandma Sheng, she, Aunt Kang, will be able to blackmail Madame Wang with the knowledge that she committed this atrocity. Anything that she wants, she will tell Madame Wang to do. If Madame Wang can’t get it done, she will tell her son or daughter to do. With this batch of pastries, Aunt Kang will have full control of Madame Wang and the Sheng family.
Madame Wang closes her eyes and cries in despair as the truth is revealed to her.
Outside, one of Ming Lan’s guards was able to capture a maid who was attempting to escape the manor. The guard drags the maid into the room where Ming Lan and Sheng Hong are currently interrogating Madame Wang. It turns out, this maid is one of Madame Wang’s maids. At first, she lies about why she is trying to leave but after some ahem, pressure, she reveals that Aunt Kang bought her off. She paid the maid money in order to find out exactly what’s going on in the Sheng Household. This maid was trying to escape to tell Aunt Kang what happened in the last day.
Madame Wang is now even more upset to find out the extent to which her older sister is trying to ruin her. Ming Lan doesn’t have time for tears and jumps into action. She instructions the guard to take the maid out to continue interrogating. Then, she tells Liu Mama to head over to the Kang manor to trick Aunt Kang to come to the Sheng Manor. Liu Mama must pretend that things aren’t going well in the Sheng household and that Madame Wang needs support. That way, Aunt Kang will surely come.
Her father, Sheng Hong, has clearly not thought through anything. He wants to push everything onto this Aunt Kang which I mean is not false. I’m somewhat surprised he is willing to let his wife off so easily because she didn’t actually try to poison Grandma Sheng, it was all Aunt Kang. This man. Seriously. Such a cold hearted and ungrateful man.
After her confrontation with her father, Ming Lan evidently has calmed down quite a bit. She’s no longer in upset mode, but rather in battle mode. She takes a break to eat some food and shortly after, Liu Mama returns with the update that Aunt Kang has indeed arrived and is already with her sister, Madame Wang. Thankfully, Liu Mama is trying to protect Madame Wang from her vile sister because she has already helped Ming Lan detain the staff that Aunt Kang arrived with and also informs Ming Lan of Aunt Kang’s most trusted maid who is NOT here. Ming Lan gives Liu Mama additional orders to retrieve this maid.
Next, Ming Lan heads over to Madame Wang’s room once again where Aunt Kang is now waiting. She is gloating over her victory and completely disassociating herself from what has transpired, instead placing all the blame on Madame Wang. Madame Wang is utterly heartbroken at how her sister played her, finally seeing her sister for who she truly is. Ming Lan calmly enters the room and states that they will interrogate Aunt Kang for the truth. At first, Aunt Kang scoffs. Who does Ming Lan think she is to have the authority to interrogate her?
Unfazed, Ming Lan tells the guards to bring in the maid who spied for Aunt Kang. She has evidently undergone torture as her hands are now bloodied. This sight shocks Aunt Kang and she is further backed into a corner as the maid point blank tells the room that it was Aunt Kang who gave her money to spy on the comings and goings of the Sheng household. Aunt Kang tries to deny all of this but Ming Lan just calmly tells a couple of nannies to bring Aunt Kang away. The episode ends with Aunt Kang being dragged away from these nannies who know exactly how to handle these types of aristocratic women.
Before we move on – quick note about ginkgo seeds!
The book is correct! Eating raw ginkgo seeds could lead to food poisoning. There was a case of a woman who developed nausea and abdominal pains after eating around 50-60 fried ginkgo seeds. So that’s a lot of ginkgo seeds. ginkgo seeds are used quite often in East Asian cuisine. Just a reminder to not eat a lot of it in one sitting!
After closely watching this episode, I am honestly furious at how everyone treated Grandma Sheng except for Ming Lan. Both Sheng Hong and Madame Wang’s faults were amplified to the max such that everything we’ve talked about in previous podcast episodes about their characters is on full display. Sheng Hong cares more about his face and reputation than Grandma Sheng’s life. Every word out of his mouth is about how they have to think what others will think of this plot surfaced to the public.
In the drama, Ming Lan is constantly put in her place as her station of a shu nv and in general, a person of a younger generation. Chinese tradition and culture dictate that the youth are always to be filial to their elders which in theory is correct but as we see in this episode, that is used against her in the face of massive injustice. The level of entitlement that older people have in this drama is just outstanding and while we can balk at this in our podcast because we are seeing it in a drama, I’m sure people of all cultures experience this to some extent in their own lives today.
On the way out of Madame Wang’s rooms and after Ming Lan has a chat with her father, XIao Tao asked Ming Lan whether or not they will actually be able to bring justice for Grandma Sheng. Ming Lan responds that oftentimes, it’s all about how much a person is willing to sacrifice in order to get what they want. This line is one that I think about often in both the context of this drama but also in my own life. As Ming Lan states, her father, Madame Wang, the Kang family and the Wang family, are all not willing to sacrifice too much. But she is. All of those people are bound by society, by reputation, by their relations. If one step goes wrong, everything else falls apart. Sheng Hong is so worried about how this would impact the future of the Sheng family that he is willing to let Grandma Sheng’s injustice just happen without fighting back. Madame Wang is so easily placed under the clutches of Aunt Kang because Aunt Kang knows Madame Wang is not willing to sacrifice the futures of her own children and grandchildren. Courage often comes in the face of how much you’re willing to give up and we even today are often bound by a myriad of ties. Our family, our jobs, our income, our titles, are the top constraints that come to mind. Ming Lan has stated she does not care about any of that and that’s why she is willing to stand up for her Grandmother. In today’s world, we should all look to have the bravery and courage Ming Lan has exhibited in the face of injustice that I’m sure we have faced in one capacity or another. This is true love that Ming Lan exhibits towards her grandmother.Grandma sheng did everything for her own family and raised a great granddaughter. It’s satisfying to see that this kind of love is reciprocated. Say what people will about 明兰 and 顾廷烨’s relationship, 明兰 and Grandma sheng’s relationship is the most touching to me.
Next let’s discuss the character flaws of Madame Wang.
Madame Wang did not have the foresight to think that her sister would ruin her. She is what you would call a 糊涂人 or a pretty dim-witted person. Her heart is ultimately in the right place but she really has no opinions and just blindly follows. I’m very frustrated with her here but nowhere near as frustrated as I am with 盛纮. We’ll breakdown everything in the next episode.
Finally, let’s of course talk about Madame Kang or Aunt Kang. Aunt Kang’s vile nature was already introduced previously but her selfishness and blatant disregard for her sister is on another level. She could care less about whether her sister was punished or caught because she would come out as the winner.
Something that I want to point out is actually the language spoken by the different characters. Aunt Kang constantly belittles other people, using phrases such as 小杂种 meaning bastard or 贱人 which means bitch, or whore. She is the character that uses the phrase constantly. Madame Wang does use it often but only when someone really annoys her. She rarely calls the younger generation this phrase. Even at the height of her hatred to Mistress Lin, she only called 林嗪孀 a bitch and rarely called 墨兰 that phrase. Contrast that to Aunt Kang who uses the phrase to describe everyone under the sun. She’s called 明兰 that. She basically even called Grandma Sheng this phrase. At least for me, language is a very telling signal of a person’s true nature. Well – there are obviously many evil people who use very florid language and what not but at least in this drama, I look down on ch aracters who constantly use derogatory phrases.
Book differences and details
Let’s dive into book differences! As I’ve said before, the drama really shines when it closely follows the book and the events of this episode is no different. I’ll pick out a couple more places in the book that provide some more context to the character’s thoughts and reasoning. This hopefully will flesh out some places that aren’t directly spelled out in the movie. Unfortunately, this section will also be a slight critique of 赵丽颖’s acting. I rarely do this but there are places that I want to call it out because it does diverge from what I expected from the book.
Much of the episode is directly imported from the book. Why change the method of poisoning when it is already so ingenious? In the book though, 明兰 shows a lot more emotion in response to her grandmother’s poisoning. For example, when 小桃 leaves and 明兰’s alone. 明兰 throws a teacup against the wall, shattering it, before cursing “bastard”. We only see 明兰 sit down in the drama. It’s a subtle but different choice.
When 明兰 and 盛纮 have the first confrontation about the poison with Madame Wang. Madame Wang comments – do you think there’s no one from the Wang family? This is a threat directly targeted to 盛纮. If he raised a ruckus, the Wang family might withdraw their support of him. Notice how 盛纮 immediately tried to appease 明兰? That’s because he didn’t want to incur the wrath of the 王 family. He’s still thinking about his political career. The only reason why 盛纮 turned against Madame Wang later in the conversation is because he saw that 明兰 was serious in her threats to expose this scandal to the world. On balance, divorcing Madame Wang was the easier choice.
Ok, next I will have to turn my attention to gently critique 赵丽颖. I love her, she’s great. But she really doesn’t capture 明兰’s anger, disappointment, and ultimate resolve to save her grandmother that is described in the book. I see her crying but I don’t see her distraught. She’s just sort of monotonally engaging with everyone. For example, in the book, when 明兰 informs 刘妈妈 to head to the Kang Manor to dupe Aunt Kang into coming to the 盛 family, it’s noted that 明兰 is jovially engaging with her, which confuses 刘妈妈. 明兰 is all smiles but includes subtle threats in her words, which freaks 刘妈妈 out. 赵丽颖 doesn’t really act that out here. She mainly just informs 刘妈妈 to do x,y,z.There’s a scene in the book that didn’t make it into the drama where 明兰 whispers to her unconscious grandmother that she will catch every single perpetrator. She promises that no matter what happens, she will be there for her grandmother. I don’t see a woman seething in anger on the inside, but willing to kill for her grandmother’s justice on the outside. I just see 明兰 still kind of in the background saying her lines in the drama. The timing of this event is not quite the same as in the drama. 明兰 is not heavily pregnant in the book so perhaps that’s why 明兰 seems a little bit more reserved? The rest of the cast do a great job and are pretty close to their book counterparts. 赵丽颖 is just slightly overshadowed by the rest of the cast.
Once we wrap up this series of events, I will do a complete analysis of what happens in the book as I don’t want to spoil too much.
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