Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episodes 65 and pt 1 of episode 66 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。
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In episode 65 we get a bit of a breather after all the craziness of Grandma Sheng’s poisoning. She is ultimately ok and with the timely return of Gu Ting Ye and Chang Bai, Ming Lan’s brother in particular, Ming Lan and the Sheng family were able to get justice, somewhat at least, for Grandma Sheng. For those that need a brief recap, Grandma Sheng was poisoned ultimately by the dual hands of Madame Wang and Aunt Kang, the latter being the bigger culprit. The Wang side of the family tried to save Aunt Kang from retribution by the Sheng Family but Ming Lan used everything she was capable of to prevent them from doing so by laying out all the evidence possible to show that it was indeed Aunt Kang who poisoned Grandma Sheng. However, in that time period, because of Ming Lan’s gender, she still was not able to fully prevent Grandma Wang, the Wang Family matriarch from getting her way. Fortunately, her brother and husband returned. And as a shock to everyone, Chang Bai is on Ming Lan’s side. He decisively decreed that Aunt Kang would receive punishment for what happened and even subjected his own mother to heavy punishment. He used his current position at court as leverage to prevent the Wang family from pushing back. Aunt Kang is to be beaten and sent to prison.
For this podcast episode, we largely tie up loose ends and then turn to the next conflict on the horizon.
We start episode 65 with Ming Lan finally taking a breather in her husband, Gu Ting Ye’s, arms. After all the stress of the last few days, she is able to cry safely that everything that’s happened to Grandma Sheng is ultimately down to the fact that Grandma Sheng loves Ming Lan too much. If it weren’t for Ming Lan, she would not have punished Madame Wang for how Aunt Kang was treating Ming Lan which then snowballed into the retaliation in the form of a poisoning that we see today.
Elsewhere, Madame Wang is crying in despair as her own son punished her to essentially house arrest in the Sheng family hometown of You Yang for a full ten years. She’s to pray for Grandma Sheng and repent for her crimes there. I’m sorry, the moment the scene turns over to her wailing I can’t help but laugh. Haha. Fortunately, she has a thoughtful head maid in Liu Mama who helps her see that this trip isn’t all bad and even agrees to head to You Yang with Madame Wang. It’s with this that Madame Wang finally accepts that what she has done is wrong and will head to You Yang.
We now turn to one of the most important scenes between Ming Lan and her father as Ming Lan finally calls him out for the absent father he is. Ming Lan has to ask her father’s help in securing Aunt Kang’s testimony of what happened from her husband, we’ll call Uncle Kang. Sheng Hong is in his study analyzing a round of Chinese Go while concurrently boiling tea. Ming Lan joins him across his table and explains what she needs from him. At first he does not want to help Ming Lan talk to Uncle Kang because he thinks Uncle Kang wants nothing more than to divorce his wife. Not send him to prison. But, Ming Lan describes in depth the inner workings of Uncle Kang’s household and the forces at play. As Sheng Hong follows her logic, he finally makes the realization that his daughter is not to be trifled with. He tells her that he couldn’t figure out how his once obedient daughter suddenly turned into a woman who doesn’t blink an eye in the face of violence. But it now makes sense. She didn’t suddenly turn into this woman, she always was this person. She just hid it very well.
As he’s pouring her tea from the pot that just boiled, Ming Lan lays it out rather calmly. She never held a grudge against him for his unfair and cold treatment of her. He should be very happy that she is a daughter who does that much for him. As she calmly drinks the bowl of tea in her hands, she states that it’s because of him her birth mother was killed by Mistress Lin and that she always deeply remembers those that showed her kindness. The ones the helped her, she will repay with her life if needed.
And almost as a threat, she asks her father if he remembers her mother at all – her birthday, her favorite color? He ashamedly turns away from her to fumble through some books and just says he was too busy at that time. She continues that she knows more about him than even he knows about himself. She knows that he cares most about the family’s prosperity and does not care about the squabbles in the household. She knows that he is a capable scholar but is also hypocritical and cold hearted. He will only take a stance when he has something to gain. Otherwise, he is happy to play both sides.
She puts down her bowl of tea and turns to leave but not before loudly saying that the family should just continue living as they have been. Why ask too much?
After she leaves, her father turns from his position and crawls under his desk to pick up a go piece that was stuck under one of the legs. When his attempt to pick it up failed, he burst out in tears. I would like to assume that he is ashamed for how he treated Ming Lan and how clearly she saw through all of his faults.
This conversation between Ming Lan and Sheng Hong really stuck in my mind. It’s clear she always held some level of hatred or at least anger towards her father for ultimately causing the death of her mother and the fact that he never really cared about her growing up. I am proud of her because she is now strong enough to stand up for herself in front of her father. He has seen just how capable she is and can I say is a little threatened by what she can do? He always thought she was this meek, obedient woman who can easily be pushed around but now, she is mature, clear headed and ruthless. I almost get a sense that from this conversation, Ming Lan is stating that since you know what I’m capable of, don’t try to play dumb with me any more. I know exactly what type of person you are, father, and will not be willing to put up with any of your falseness.
This is also one of the rare instances where a man in this patriarchal society has to look in the mirror to see himself for who he truly is. I don’t think Sheng Hong doesn’t know that he’s the person Ming Lan described but has never had it spelled out so clearly of what his faults are. I’m glad Ming Lan was able to say this to his father and moving forward, hopefully he will treat her more fairly.
Everything is now more or less settled and the men, Gu Ting Ye, and Chang Bai, have to leave the Capital because they effectively abandoned their post. With Gu TIng Ye’s return, he’s still focused on the fact that his wife didn’t write to him even though she was faced with the pressure at home. He pointed out to her look why did your sister in law write to your brother but you didn’t write to me? Ming Lan is still confused as to what exactly he wants from her and she brings up whether Wei Hang Shou was more understanding. She’s the prostitute that is a close friend of GU TIng Ye’s. In any case, now Ming Lan is wondering everywhere what Wei Hang Shou has that she should learn from, even going so far as to ask her grandmother. In a little bit of lightheartedness, Gu Ting Ye questions Chang Bai as to whether he was the one to mention Wei Hang SHou to his sister and threatens that if Ming Lan starts arguing with him over Wei Hang Shou, he’ll come after Chang Bai. Lol. Quite fun after all the mess in the last few episodes.
Continuing on with the festivities is that now it’s time for Dan Ju’s wedding. Dan Ju is one of Ming Lan’s closest maids who is marrying her cousin. Ming Lan, as her master, was kind enough to host Dan Ju’s wedding and even helped remove her from her class as slave and is now instead a regular citizen. This is a great honor and this scene in my mind is very important because it shows how 1) loyalty is rewarded but 2) what it means to be a good master. Ming Lan treated Dan Ju very well and wanted her to marry the one she loved rather than stay with her in the Gu Family. This is what good managers and masters should be. They should not aim to keep you tethered to them but should want what’s best for their growth. Contrast that to how Mo Lan treated her maid which was to prevent her from marrying and even Ru Lan who is in attendance at the wedding saying that Ming Lan should have kept her and had Dan Ju marry a dependable steward in the capital instead so she can still rely on Dan Ju. These two women see the maids still as staff whereas Ming Lan sees them as sisters. You’d want your sisters to marry well and be treated right. Right? In this wedding you also see that Dan Ju’s wedding outfit and headdress is much simpler than Ming Lan’s which makes sense as she’s just a maid but I find it hilarious that it’s more elaborate than Mo Lan’s outfit when she married. Evidently, Ming Lan was very generous to Dan Ju in her dowry as well.
Speaking of Mo Lan, she shows up again after being MIA for quite some time. I’m not going to lie, I’m rather annoyed to see her still hanging around. You know? It’s like, we just got rid of or think we got rid of the awful Aunt Kang but now we are reminded that Mo Lan is still in the picture. Mo Lan returns to the Sheng family and is muttering to her maid, the one she prevented from marrying, that clearly the Sheng family doesn’t treat her like a daughter of the Sheng family anymore because she’s being kept in the dark about the comings and goings. Like uhh duh? Given what she’s done to marry Liang Han, why would anyone think of including her in any of the conversations moving forward?
She heads to the Sheng Family where she’s rebuffed not only by her sister-in-law, Madame Hai, but also her brother Chang Feng. We haven’t seen Chang Feng in like 30-40 episodes it feels like and he’s clearly benefited from the removal of his mother and sister’s influence. He’s married a woman we never see on screen but now has a daughter. He’s been more focused on raising his daughter and actually studying than the drama his sister is focused on. Mo Lan is annoyed she can’t get more yummy details about Grandma Sheng’s illness from Chang Feng but he doesn’t care. He’s quite happy with where he’s at now and that’s a good spot to be.
In episode 66, Mo Lan tries her tactics on Sheng Hong to gain some more gossip. I think Ming Lan’s telling off worked to some degree but also evidently Chang Bai had prepared his father because Mo Lan started off with her initial act of playing the victim. Sheng Hong was JUST about to tell his daughter what happened but then we see Chang Bai’s face pop up as Sheng Hong remembers his son told him that anyone outside of Ming Lan, Ru Lan and Hua Lan should not know what happened to Grandma SHeng because it would mean that their positions at court could be in jeopardy. And Sheng Hong couldn’t have that, can he? I will say this is i think like the ONLY time in the entire drama we have flashback type scene? So it’s rather jarring to see Chang Bai’s face just pop up randomly and it go into a flashback scene lol.
Sheng Hong finally calls Mo Lan out for trying to learn the gossip of the family. He even tells her off that she shouldn’t come home to learn about the Sheng family’s comings and goings when her own household is a wreck of concubines fighting each other. He tells her off in a way that she literally has no response because everything he said was true. MWAHAHAHA. Hehehehe. Ming Lan would have loved to see this hahaha.
But Mo Lan can’t just leave it at that right? As she leaves her father’s quarters all upset, she bumps into Xue Yi. She was actually Mistress Lin’s head maid. Earlier in episode 65 and in this episode, we saw her in a rather poor state. She’s crippled now with a bum leg and is left to do the dirtiest of chores. When she brought food to Aunt Kang in episode 65 and Aunt Kang threw the food on the ground, this Xue Yi even ate the rice off the ground. Clearly she hasn’t eaten rice in a long time. Cathy will talk about this more later on but rice was a luxury that she now is no longer afforded.
Xue Yi begs Mo Lan to try to help her get out of this state. And to contrast just how cold hearted Mo Lan is to Ming Lan, Mo Lan completely ignores Xue Yi’s begs for help even though Xue Yi practically helped Mistress Lin raise Mo Lan. It turns out that Xue Yi was beaten pretty badly after Mistress Lin and Mo Lan’s actions came to light and has no savings. Mo Lan was about to walk away when Xue Yi offers a trade. Money for information.
That’s how Mo Lan discovers the whereabouts of Aunt Kang. Mo Lan wants more information about exactly what happened to Grandma Sheng and here is again where Mo Lan is just waiting for her com euppance because she refers to Grandma Sheng in one of the most derogatory terms. She again makes a deal with Aunt Kang that if she is abel to help Aunt Kang get out and give her money, Aunt Kang will tell her exactly what happened in the Sheng family.
And so, we see Xue Yi causing a fire in the Sheng family kitchens. In the commotion, she helps Aunt Kang slip away but only after Aunt Kang spills secrets to Mo Lan’s maids. We will chat in the next podcast episode what the consequence of this is for Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye.
Before we end the recap and head on with some Chinese history, I just want to briefly raise the fact that the illegal departure of Gu Ting Ye and Chang Bai did not go unnoticed. Word traveled to the Emperor and Empress. The Emperor is uhh furious. However, notice that the Empress doesn’t say much but reminds the Emperor to not be too angry or else he’ll get a migraine. It is only THEN that the emperor says, oh yes, my head hurts. Hmmmm that’s odd right, to have to be reminded that your head hurts? The Emperor is also watching carefully when the eunuch who brought the news of Gu Ting Ye’s actions to the Emperor leave without a trace of a headache in his facial features.
Chinese history – there’s a couple of items to discuss
The first is the idiom 首鼠两端, which means a rat who, when faced with two choices, is indecisive and keeps backing in and out. As you can probably tell, it’s a pretty derogatory idiom used to describe a person who is very indecisive and always checking behind themselves to make sure they made the right choice. 明兰 uses this idiom straight to her father’s face when she frankly rips him to shreds on the type of man he is. This is very disrespectful to say to someone to their face, let alone someone’s father.
The idiom itself first appeared in 史记 or Records of the Grand Historian, completed around 91BC by the historian 司马迁. The idiom appears in the Chronicles of the Marquis of Wei Qi and the Marquis of 武安. The chronicle recounts the political battles and stories between Marquis of Wei Qi 窦婴, the Marquis of 武安 田蚡 and another official 灌夫. The Marquis of 武安 田蚡, plotted to kill both 窦婴 and 灌夫. One day, the Marquis of 武安 田蚡 wanted to have another official 韩安国 ride with him. This 韩安国 was mad that the Marquis still hadn’t made a decision on when to act and called him 首鼠两端. Which is where the idiom came from. Ultimately, this marquis was successful and disposed of his enemies. But he died after constant nightmares believing that 窦婴 and 灌夫’s ghosts would come back to haunt him.
In the drama, Mistress Lin’s former maid 雪姨 is in a rather destitute state. When Aunt Kang shuns the food she brings and tosses it on the floor, 雪姨 scoops up the food and eats it. She warns Aunt Kang that when she’s in the palace prison, she won’t even be able to eat rice, she’ll only be able to 吃糠. The Youtube translation says is candies but that’s not quite right. 吃糠 means to eat bran or basically the outer layers of cereal grain. According to baike, kang was really only eaten during times of famine. People don’t really eat it any more because of its coarseness. Now there’s an idiom called 吃糠咽菜, which translates to eat bran, swallow wild vegetables. This is usually used to describe someone who is in a destitute or very poor state and cannot buy anything better to eat. Interestingly, the idiom is used pretty often but doing a quick spot check shows that the idiom was only created in the 20th century. I’m highly skeptical of this but that’s what it says on baike, the chinese equivalent of wikipedia.
武陵春 一曲 – 魏行首
There is the poem or song 武陵春 that was mentioned by 小桃. The prostitute 卫 composed this piece in the drama and created quite a stir with her talent.
武陵春 is a 词牌名 which is the name of the poetry form. It was first created by the Northern Song poet 毛滂. The main structure includes 48 words in 4 verses. Many different poets then wrote poems using the structure. One famous is example is 武陵春·风住尘香春已尽. This was written none other than 李清照, the female author of the name of this drama or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。She wrote this in 1135 after fleeing from the Jurchens. She was already 52 at this time and wrote this during a time of despair.
The wind has stopped and the flowers fell from the tree branches. Only the the ground still has the faint aroma of the flowers. I raise my head to see the sun ahead but I have no desire to get dressed. Time has passed and everything changed. Tears fall down my cheek when i reminisce of past events. Rumor has it the spring leaves near the double creek is good. I’ll row my boat to clear my head. I worry that this small boat will not be able to carry my heavy heart
内狱 / 慎戒司
Ok – let’s talk about the palace prison or 内狱. There really isn’t a historical equivalent during the Song Dynasty. We mentioned 慎刑司 that was rather prevalent in the 清 dynasty. The term 内狱 is just a replacement for the fictional 慎戒司 that is mentioned in the book. Now 慎戒司 in the book is described as a prison to punish women of officials and the aristocracy to hard labor for crimes they have committed. The place is pretty hush hush but is a known secret. Essentially if the family wants to punish a woman but not shame the entire clan, they would send the woman here. Family is only allowed to visit once or twice a year. The women sentenced there are essentially left to work there for the rest of their sentence or essentially, the rest of their lives. Cruel? Yes – but for a woman like Aunt Kang. She deserves it.
The past couple of episodes were basically directly pulled from the book. This is not the case here.
The first piece that I want to discuss is really the relationship between 顾廷烨 and 明兰 and how it differs from the book. In the drama, 顾廷烨 comes back to “rescue” 明兰 and once again gets kind of bitter that 明兰 didn’t think of summoning him for help. To be honest, I’m over 顾廷烨’s hang up on this. I really don’t like how long 顾廷烨 has been having an issue about his wife’s love for him. As a warning, I will spoil quite a bit of the book where it diverges from the drama so please skip to the next book difference section.
顾廷烨 and 明兰 have the same discussion about why Grandma Sheng acted the way she did towards Madame Wang, which led to these events. It’s because Grandma Sheng loves Ming Lan dearly and acted without thought of her own well-being to protect Ming Lan.
顾廷烨 saw how 明兰 reacted to Grandma Sheng’s poisoning. 明兰 cast away her disguise as the meek and rather calculating woman. She turned into the fierce woman who quite frankly acted rashly, albeit she ultimately got the job done. 明兰 constantly rebutted elders and captured the culprit and orders servants to be tortured. This is not like the 明兰 that 盛纮 has ever seen and 顾廷烨 has only seen glimpses of this. In the book, 明兰 tells him, that truly loving someone is when you throw away all pretenses and only think of that person. 明兰 never saw this from 顾廷烨. At this point in the book, 明兰 already gave birth to a son. During her birth, 曼娘 came and tried to kill 明兰. 顾廷烨 returns and swiftly banishes 曼娘. 明兰 though asks him – when this happened, did you lose control, did you feel a need for revenge? 顾廷烨 couldn’t answer because he truthfully didn’t 明兰 and 顾廷烨 come to an agreement that at that point they didn’t “love” each other and vow to move forward with their lives. In the drama, all I see is 顾廷烨 constantly asking whether 明兰 loves him but what has he done to truly merit her love? Did he do anything rash like what Grandma Sheng did for 明兰? I don’t think so. Hence why, I’ve already said many times already, I’ve tired of this storyline because I’m pretty irked with 顾廷烨 on this. You say you love 明兰 but what have you really done to deserve that love? Once 明兰 sees that, she’ll maybe l
Ok – now just on to regular book differences.
The book covers a lot more of the aftermath of 长柏’s decision to banish his mother for 10 years. He has a frank conversation with his maternal Grandmother and uncle. Aunt Kang is the rotten apple that will spoil the rest of the Wang family. Once 长柏 analyzes the benefits and costs of keeping Aunt Kang around, Grandma Wang finally agrees to send her daughter to the Palace Prison. They cut this out from the drama and you’ll see that the Wang family in the drama does not let this punishment of Aunt Kang go lightly.
The conversation between Ming Lan and Sheng discussing the Kang family and Ming Lan’s final analysis of her father is quite different in the book. In the book, 盛长柏 is the one who analyzes Uncle Kang’s motives for sending his wife to the palace prison instead of divorcing her. Because it was Chang bai discussing this with 盛纮, Ming Lan doesn’t have that rather cutting conversation with her father. If we recall, in the book, 明兰 is from the present. She has little to no recollection of her mother and didn’t have any expectations of her father. For book Ming Lan, she’s quite happy with her father. Sure – he has all the faults that Ming Lan mentioned in the drama, but she wasn’t expecting anything. 盛纮 actually exceeded her expectations as a father because he quite frankly provided a relatively steady home for his children and treated them well enough.
Now from here on out – the drama will diverge dramatically from the book
In the book, 明兰 doesn’t really care about 卫行首. 丹橘 was married off much earlier in the book. 墨兰 plays little to no part in the rest of the book so she definitely isn’t stirring up trouble with Aunt Kang. All of the conversations with her father and her brother are basically expanded in the drama. Aunt Kang is sentenced to the palace prison and that’s basically the last we hear of her. That’s definitely not the case in the drama. I’ll be quite honest, I don’t particularly like 墨兰’s involvement with Aunt Kang but I guess 墨 兰 needed to be added back into the story somehow.
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