Welcome to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. I am your host, Karen and Cathy. episode 63 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。
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Ok let’s get started on our podcast.
We continue the saga of fighting for justice for Grandma SHeng. In the last episode we found out that Grandma Sheng has been poisoned! At first, it seemed like Madame Wang was the culprit but it turned out to be her evil sister, Aunt Kang who tricked Madame Wang into giving Grandma Sheng poison. Ming Lan, who lept into action to find who did it and protect her grandmother, tricks Aunt Kang into coming to the SHeng manor and then promptly has her detained.
We start episode 63 with the next steps. How will they finally bring justice for Grandma Sheng? By now, Ming Lan has gotten over her shock and worry for Grandma Sheng and now is thinking more clearly. She has a private chat with Madame Wang about what happened and surprisingly, is rather forgiving. Madame Wang agrees with Ming Lan on what to say publicly about why Grandma Sheng is sick and is willing to help Ming Lan in case the Kang family or the Wang family come to ask what happened. When Ming Lan brings up the maid who betrayed Madame Wang though, Madame Wang actually implores Ming Lan to be lenient on the maid. This leniency and softheartedness is ultimately why Ming Lan does not try to push for harsher punishment of Madame Wang. Unlike her sister, Madame Wang may have a bad temper but never thinks to harm others. Her character is of a higher quality than most other people. That is why she is able to raise such intelligent and caring children of her own. Think Hua Lan, and Chang Bai. Ming Lan informs Madame Wang that Grandma Sheng originally wanted to give Madame 王 the “keys” to the mansion. She just wanted to wait for Madame Wang to distance herself from Aunt Kang. Madame Wang would be able to enjoy being a proper madame. Unfortunately, with this incident, all of that would of course be thrown out of the window Upon hearing this, Madame Wang collapses to the ground crying.
More importantly though, Ming Lan is thinking about Grandma Sheng’s future. If she is too harsh on Madame Wang, what will happen to Grandma Sheng? Ming Lan is hoping that by expressing leniency towards Madame Wang, she will then in turn treat Grandma Sheng with more respect and deference in the future which will help Ming Lan immensely.
And now it’s time for Ming Lan to turn her ire towards the Kang family. Mind you, she is already heavily pregnant which is a rather interesting sight. Ming Lan has her staff tie up Aunt Kang’s staff that she brought with her to the Sheng household and throw them in a storage room where Ming Lan starts to question them. Or, she sits there to say a few words and her staff help her uh beat Aunt Kang’s staff into submission. Again, I’m super impressed that Ming Lan doesn’t raise her voice whatsoever but has a level of ruthlessness in her words that scares Aunt Kang’s staff. Well that and also the uh, forceful questioning they will be subject to. After all, Ming Lan has the maid who betrayed Madame Wang also thrown into the room for Aunt Kang’s staff to see. This woman is already extremely bloodied which adds more fear into Aunt Kang’s staff.
Liu Mama, Madame Wang’s head maid, elsewhere was able to trick the two men who are primarily in charge of Aunt Kang’s affairs into coming to the Sheng household. They’ve also been tied up and thrown into the room where Ming Lan is. She tells her staff to put the men in separate rooms to question them separately.
After Ming Lan is done with the staff, she then heads over to the room where Aunt Kang has been tied up. Immediately, Aunt Kang starts cursing at Ming Lan. We talked about this in the last episode but it’s not graceful or poised of her at all to be yelling such words to Ming Lan. Aunt Kang keeps on mentioning how she’s from the Wang family but it’s quite the juxtaposition to see her degrade herself in such a way. She’s not a classy woman whatsoever. Even with the continued insults, Ming Lan doesn’t get angry. She just says to the room that she hates that she has to worry about consequences because otherwise, she would torture Aunt Kang to death for what she’s done. Aunt Kang is in disbelief but Ming Lan doesn’t care.
I want to spend a little bit more time on this conversation because of just how laughable the words coming out of Aunt Kang’s mouth are. I’ll pick a couple of the highlights.
Aunt Kang spews – 你心狠手辣的东西. 你早晚都会有报应的. This translates to – You ruthless and heartless thing. You’ll get your retribution sooner or later.
WHAT? You were the one who goaded your sister to poison Grandma Sheng. You were the one who came up with the scheme to use ginkgo sprouts as poison. You also murdered a ton of people. Now you accuse 明兰 of being a ruthless person? Look into a mirror. You are 10 times worse.
The next highlight – she then says – wait, so you’re only going to punish me? What about my sister who also agreed to this plot. When 明兰 says – oh don’t worry, Madame Wang will not escape punishment, Aunt Kang then yells – haha my silly sister raised an ungrateful little wolf.
Pause – Aunt Kang – you were the one who beautifully schemed to have your sister involved precisely because you knew that if the scheme was discovered, your sister would take the fall for you. Now you throw her under the bus to get punished and when Ming Lan says of course she’ll also be punished, you then say – what a heartless daughter? Um – like of course? Ming Lan is fully justified in everything that she’s doing. My biggest gripe here is that Aunt Kang does not recognize the fact that she did anything wrong. She doesn’t admit nor apologize. She instead tries to find someone, namely her sister, to take the fall. How despicable.
明兰 has her maids tie Aunt Kang up using large fabrics against a pole and then has her gagged. Aunt Kang will be fed some water but that’s it. The point is to prevent her from harming herself which would cause more problems for Ming Lan but the nannies who are in charge said they’ve had plenty of experience with women like this so they know exactly how to counter them. Wow look at that.
In all the chaos, Madame Hai or Chang Bai’s wife sent word of what happened to her husband. This will prove crucial as…the next day, the Wang family arrived to appease the conflict.
But Ming Lan is ready. The first person she has to have on her side is her father. In this patriarchal society, only the men will have authority to sway the outcome. So, on his way to court, Ming Lan walks with him through the household to explain what she thinks might happen now that the Wang family are here. Indeed, the language Ming Lan uses now is much more deferential than words used the previous day. It’s because she needs her father to agree and help her now vs yesterday she needed her father to actually realize the gravity of Grandma SHeng’s situation.
She points out that it’s interesting only the Wang family, meaning Aunt Kang’s own family is here, but not her husband’s side of the family. There are only two reasons for that. One, her husband knows what she’s done and does not care or two, her husband doesn’t know at all. Most likely the Wang family doesn’t want him to know either. The marriage between the Kang and Wang families cant suffer another blow
Ming Lan then explains that to explain Uncle Kang’s absence, there are only two excuses that will be provided: 1 is that Uncle Kang is sick and cannot come or 2, that Uncle Kang is too busy and cannot make it. As for the Wang family, there are 3 reasons for coming. 1 – the Wang family doesn’t know of Aunt Kang’s actions and is here to just to ask about Grandam Sheng’s health. 2 – the Wang family knows what Aunt Kang is done and is here to ask Sheng Hong how to forgive Aunt Kang and let her go. Or 3, the Wang family will push all the criminal activity onto Madame Wang to make what happened an internal affair for the Sheng family.
Ming Lan explains all of this to her father to urge him to go to the main hall to hear exactly what the Wang family wants. At first her father is reluctant because he has to go to court. But Ming Lan says she’s already requested a day off for him which will actually help his reputation at court. Only then does her father agree to meet the Wang family.
Now the fun starts. Who do we have in attendance? Grandma Wang, the matriarch of the Wang family, and mother of both Aunt Kang and Madame Wang. Master Wang, grandma Wang’s son and Aunt Kang and Madame Wang’s brother. His wife, Aunt Kang’s son, Kang Jin and Madame Wang are there. It’s the Wang family on one side and the Sheng on the other.
Sheng Hong greets the group with respectful bows. He then asks Kang Jin where his father is. Just as Ming Lan predicted, Kang Jin says that his father is not feeling well. The implication is that he probably doesn’t know what’s going on and that’s why he’s not here. This question by Sheng Hong in my mind is rather important because it helps give credence to Ming Lan’s warnings earlier. THings are playing out more or less as she said she would so that he can have some idea of how to react.
And sure enough, just as Ming Lan theorized in what might happen, the Wang family knows what happened to Grandma Sheng aka the poisoning and is trying to push all the fault on Madame Wang. Thankfully, Ming lan had prepped her father because he is rather like wtf, so Aunt Kang is not at fault at all here? Notice though how the Wang family, especially Grandma Wang starts to belittle 明兰. Saying things likelike – why are you here? This is not a discussion for you.
At this point, Ming Lan is ready to reveal all that she’s gathered in the last two days. She has Aunt Kang brought to the hall who is in a rather destitute state and the attendees are shocked at her appearance. Mama Qi, whose two sons were tricked into coming to the Sheng Household, has also arrived to scream for her sons. But Ming Lan is unfazed and begins to recount the extent of Aunt Kang’s plot to kill her grandmother and take control of the Sheng household while also sharing the written testimony.
The Second Qi steward has revealed that two months ago, he connected with an old daoist priest who specializes in creating harmful medicines. The steward requested the daoist priest create a poison that can both kill someone very quickly but also not be detected by silver. The daoist suggested using a heavy concentrate of freshly sprouted ginkgo. Once consumed, the person will die swiftly.
The room is stunned. Not only does Aunt Kang have nothing to say to this but Ming Lan presented written testimony from the steward himself. It’s hard to refute this truth. What I think is so funny is that as Ming Lan continues, Sheng Hong is like Oh my god, oh my god, can’t believe this while Grandma Wang’s face becomes darker and darker. She’s great! Notice how she just slams the evidence on the table without looking at it anymore? Ming Lan’s maid continues to share with the group the written testimony of what happened but at one point, Grandma Wang doesn’t even read or open the folded testimony anymore. She just slams it down on the table. She knows full well that her daughter plotted this and it will be very challenging to refute the evidence.
So what happened? Aunt Kang’s stewards paid a handsome sum of money for the poison. All the receipts and even an extra bottle of the poison was recovered by Ming Lan’s staff and presented at the hall. One day, Aunt Kang’s servant went out to send a plate of food to Madame Wang to give to Grandma Sheng.
What a despicable plan.
With the truth revealed, let me go through the intricacies of the various family dynamics happening. Each person has a role to play and it’s quite important. Grandma Wang wants to push all the blame onto Madame Wang because it would then end up a Sheng family issue. If Madame Wang is the main culprit, then most likely the Sheng family would hesitate to expose the plot because then it would be the Sheng family that would lose face. This would then also protect Aunt Kang from further harm but of course, Grandma Sheng’s injustice would just fade away. Aunt Wang, so Master Wang’s wife, doesn’t care at all which of the sisters gets implicated as long as it doesn’t trace back to the Wang family. That’s why she was so upset at hearing Aunt Kang only started procuring ingredients for poison directly after the Wang family returned to the capital. It’s because she wanted to use the Wang family for cover and save her from any consequence.
Ming Lan could see the family dynamics at play here. She didn’t want to be the one to outright say who she thought was the main culprit because she knew she would get rebuffed. That is why she turned the pointed question around to Grandma Wang. She should be the one to decide which of her daughters is the main culprit. Madame Wang or Aunt Kang. To help her cause, Ming Lan also turns to her father when saying that her Grandmother’s fate is still unknown, there has to be some type of explanation. Only with this prompting, does the man of the house pipe up that trying to kill an elderly relative is absolutely unacceptable.
RIght now, the Sheng Family, the Kang Family and most importantly, the Wang family are at odds with each other. It’s even hard for us in this podcast to enumerate each line of dialogue but this episode requires repeat viewing. You will see through each line of dialogue that each person is trying to push their agenda and also push away the blame because they don’t want their own families to be implicated.
At the end of the episode, Aunt Kang cries to her mother that she is being abandoned. She cannot be returned back to her husband because she will be destroyed. Most everyone in the group is in agreement that Aunt Kang is the ultimate culprit here but her maid and son tries to drag her away to leave the Sheng manor. THat is where the episode ends and we will pick up in the next episode.
Book details and differences
This episode follows rather closely with the book. The book does provide a lot more details about different characters’ motivations and thoughts so let me expand more here.
Let’s start with the end of the conversation between Ming Lan and Madame 王 at the beginning of the episode. 明兰 informs Madame Wang as to why Grandma Sheng chose Madame Wang for a daughter-in-law. It’s because at the end of the day, she isn’t a bad person. When 明兰 leaves, Madame Wang falls to the floor, a crying mess.
At this point In the book, Madame Wang reminisces about her childhood and how everything got to this step. When she was young, she was raised by her aunt and uncle and treated as a princess. She returned to the capital when she was 10 but constantly felt beneath her sister and the rest of the socialites in her circle. She tried to act like her sister to fit in even though deep down, she really wanted to stay in the small village with her aunt and uncle. In recent years, everyone, from her daughter, to her son, to her maids, tried to persuade her to enjoy life and let go of past grievances. But she just ignored them and turned towards her sister Aunt Kang. She enjoyed listening to vile gossip from her sister. Pretty soon, Madame Wang turned into a vindictive person, similar to her sister, who believed that the whole world did her wrong. Right now, it’s as though Madame Wang woke up from her dream. How did her life turn so horribly? If her aunt and uncle saw her now, what would they think? She could still ask her daughter and son, but how would they look at their mother? A mother who tried to kill their grandmother?
I really like this little snippet into Madame Wang’s thoughts because this again shows that deep down, she’s not a bad person, she’s just not a very smart one.
In the book, the 3rd son 长枫 and his wife cleverly ignore everything that is happening in the rest of the sheng family. Well, mainly his wife.
Next let’s get to the whole deposition with the Wang family.
First off, it’s not really clear in the drama but in the book, Grandma Wang really didn’t know that Aunt Kang was the mastermind of the plot before heading to the Sheng family. She was just informed that it was Madame Wang.
One character in the drama that doesn’t get much screen time but acts in a peculiar way is Aunt Wang, the wife of Master Wang. We mentioned earlier that Aunt Kang in the drama mainly just wants to make sure the Wang family isn’t implicated. However, in the book, there’s another reason. Her son married Aunt Kang’s daughter. Unfortunately her daughter-in-law is as evil and vile as her mother. Aunt Wang secretly hates Aunt Kang and will try everything and anything to get rid of this woman.
Let me discuss a little bit more about 明兰 pushing Grandma Wang to face the fact that this whole mess was the result of her two daughters. In the book, it’s clearly stated that it’s a “kill 3 birds with one stones” scheme.
Someone from the wang family will face punishment, whether it’s aunt Kang or madame wang
Grandma Wang will face the guilt of making this choice for the rest of her life
The wang family and the relationship between the siblings will be forever tainted after this
Because Grandma Wang makes the final decision, the resulting aftermath stays with the Wang family. The Sheng family were just victims. Aunt Wang in the book actually is very impressed at Ming Lan’s scheme.
The rest of the episode actually follows the book almost verbatim. Even the quick shot of Madame Hai, Chang Bai’s wife, praying for 长柏 to return was pulled from the book. It was quite good to see!
Lastly, let’s finish with a character analysis
Madame Wang – we’ve talked about her at length already. At the end of the day, Madame Wang isn’t a bad person, she’s just easily swayed. She also isn’t as sharp as the rest of her family. She constantly is put in a bad situation because she doesn’t know how to dispute the twisted story that is presented to her. She’s easily manipulated and the target for much of Aunt Kang’s gaslighting. we see time and again that her only response to Aunt Kang is – you manipulated me! Or this is a false accusation! Honey – we want to help you but we can’t
Aunt Kang – victim
Can I first say kudos to the actress 张棪棪. Well, I’ll say this quite often. She acts the vile Aunt Kang so deliciously well. Even though she’s screaming or bound up, I can quite clearly understand every single word that is spoken, which is quite a feat!
Ugh – this woman. Here’s how I want listeners to see her now. She constantly plays the victim card and then gaslights everyone around her. She’s a master manipulator who pushes all of her wrongs to other people. When the evidence was brought forth, Aunt Kang’s immediate reaction was to push all of this to Madame Wang. She only did her bidding. It’s quite fascinating to watch. This evil woman will drag anyone down. Aunt Kang is also a very frequent user of the “一哭二闹三上吊” tactic, which is, first cry, then make a ruckus, and then pretend to commit suicide. People can’t really do anything about her because, I mean, what can you do?
That’s a question to everyone here – what CAN you do when faced with someone like Aunt Kang? Quite honestly, I’d be at a lost.
Sheng Hong – in this episode and in the next, he is only half useful. He knows at a higher level what is right and wrong but deep down he doesn’t want to have to deal with this kind of drama. You will notice that almost every comment he makes during this face off is prompted by someone, mostly Ming Lan. Sigh. What a disgrace of a son. In the book, a lot of his posturing is also because he knows that he has to “act” a certain way – namely the outraged son.. It isn’t as though he really cares about GRandma Sheng, it’s more that he knows how he should behave. Pay attention when Grandma Wang begins to pay the family card – especially about how the Wang family added him throught the years? 盛纮 immediately softens his stance. This gets particularly bad in the next episode. I was so frustrated with him when reading and watching the book.
Grandma Wang – she is not a character to be trifled with. She is cunning and sharp. She knows exactly what card to play to the right people. She plays the elder card in front of ming lan. She plays the doting mother in law in front of Sheng Hong. This effectively shuts them up for a spell. If 明兰 was a lesser woman, she probably would have cowered at Grandma Wang’s wrath. Grandma Wang wasn’t able to smooth the situation because she underestimated Ming Lan in this episode. Grandma Wang at the end fo the day, is a good mother. The problem is that she unconditionally accepts her daughter, Aunt Kang, and will turn a blind eye to everything that she’s done. At the end of the episode, it looks like Grandma Wang chose madame Wang. But is that really the case? Everyone believes so. Everyone except 明兰. Let’s take a look a what happens in the next episode to really see what this very cunning woman does.
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