Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. Today it’s just Karen. Today we are discussing episodes pt 2 of episode 66 and all of episode 67 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。
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If you are new to the podcast, please check out our intro the podcast and intro to the drama episodes. As we normally do for our podcast episodes, we will do a drama episode recap and then talk about culture and or history referenced in the drama and finally end with some book differences.
In the last episode, things calmed down as Ming Lan’s brother and husband raced back to the capital to help her seek justice against Aunt Kang who tried to poison her grandmother. Luckily, Grandam Sheng is now awake and recovering while Ming Lan’s brother Chang Bai Aunt Kang’s punishment. Chang Bai and Gu Ting Ye, who had effectively abandoned their post to return, hurriedly left the capital after matters were settled. Unfortunately, everything that’s happening piques Mo Lan’s interest. She’s been left in the dark on the drama that was Grandma Sheng’s poisoning by the entire family but upon returning to the Sheng Household, she discovers that Aunt Kang is being detained there. Recognizing the opportunity to further hurt Ming Lan, Mo Lan and company set fire to the kitchens which allows Aunt Kang to escape.
We start our podcast discussion with the second half of episode 66. Sheng Hong is inspecting his burned kitchens when Uncle Wang shows up to ask what happened. Uncle Wang is Aunt Kang and Madame Wang’s brother. Sheng Hong is annoyed that Uncle Wang would show up because he thinks Uncle Wang was the one to set fire to his household in order to help Aunt Kang escape. But when they both don’t know where she is, each has a big question mark over their heads as to where she’s gone.
It turns out, she escaped to the Gu Manor, to conspire with Madame Qin, Ming Lan’s step-mother-in-law. Madame Qing received news that Gu Ting Ye has suffered another assassination attempt while out on duty for the Emperor. This is valuable information for her to leverage in the future. And shortly after, Aunt Kang shows up. Interestingly, Madame Qin doesn’t call her Madame Kang anymore but instead Madame Wang. I think it’s the first time she’s been referenced this way and so I’m wondering if there’s a reason. Like if the Kang side of the family has already sparated with her which is why she’s now referred to as Madame Wang. I’m still going to call her Aunt Kang so it’s easier for us to follow.
The news that Gu Ting Ye and company were attacked also reaches the palace. Whispers reached Ming Lan as well who, in her worried state, meets her brother, Chang Bai, who has now returned from his salt tax excursion to ask about Gu Ting Ye’s wherabouts. It is suspect that he is not with Chang Bai which increases Ming Lan’s level of worry. Chang Bai, though, reassures her that nothing is wrong. Gu Ting Ye is simply taking a longer route home due to his military related duties.
Ming Lan, who is now heavily pregnant, is skeptical that everything is as he says because she keeps on having nightmares that something happened to Gu Ting Ye but her brother urges her to return home to relax. While at home, she overhears a couple of maids muttering under their breath that their master, aka Gu Ting Ye, may have died while protecting Prince Huan while on assignment. Their muttering was loud enough for Ming Lan to hear. By now, she is clearly much mroe attached and emotionally invested in Gu Ting Ye given all he’s done for her such that she freaks out over hearing he might be dead. In an effort to hear more, she trips while rushing over to the maids. This impact plus the emotional despair causes Ming Lan to go into early labor.
News of Ming Lan’s current predicament travels quickly over to Madame Qin who is overjoyed with glee. This is her opportunity to finally eliminate Ming Lan once and for all. She was definitely the one to spread rumors about Gu Ting Ye’s death hoping it would cause Ming Lan to miscarry. Clearly, it’s working right now. Madame Qin has two further steps to help ensure MIng Lan is killed. One, she lights a fire. Taking a leaf out of Mo Lan’s book, she has her servants start a blaze in MIng Lan’s Cheng Gardens. I believe it was signaled by lanterns that Madame Qin lights in the sky. The second is of course, instigating Aunt Kang into action. Aunt Kang overhears that Ming Lan has birthed a healthy child which at this point is not true. Madame Qin puts on the act that she is very pleased Ming Lan and child are alive because it’ll mean peace and prosperity for the GU family. Aunt Kang cannot accept this and angrily storms out thinking she must kill Ming Lan or else she herself is doomed. Little does she know, this is exactly what Madame Qin wants. Madame Qin doesn’t want to be the one to bloody her own hands so she has allowed Aunt Kang to do her dirty work. Episode 66 ends with Ming Lan in the throws of labor while a roaring fire has started in the Cheng Gardens, The Cheng Gardens are a mess as a group of servants try to quell the flames while another group tries to help Ming Lan give birth.
In Episode 67, the flames that are plaguing the Cheng Gardens can be seen for miles around. In this instance, Qi Heng, who is currently brewing tea with his wife, sees the flames and immediately jumps up. He recognizes that the flames are coming from the direction of the Cheng Gardens and orders his servants to gather up so they can help put the fire out. His wife, Madame Shen, tries to stop him from going but he just ignores her. In the main yard, Qi Heng is stopped by his parents who also urge him not to go. They all believe it’s not his business. And this is the one instance in the entire drama where Qi Heng finally grows up. He knows that Gu Ting Ye has not returned and perhaps may never return. He knows that Ming Lan is pregnant and therefore is home by herself in the midst of a raging fire. In front of his parents, he pushes back against their words stating that in all those instances when he should have stood up for both himself and her, he never did. Now, when he has an opportunity to save her, why should he not go?
Yayyyy Qi Heng. The one time you grew a back bone! His parents and wife are still all thinking about how this would look if the world saw that Qi Heng who is already married went off to rescue Ming Lan who is also already married. They’re thinking about the gossip that would ensue should people find out. They did not think about Ming Lan’s safety at all. Without a doubt, this is THE hottest Qi Heng is in the entire drama. He is finally doing what he knows is right and not thinking about the consequences to his reputation.
Back at the Cheng Gardens, a mess of servants are all still trying to put the flames out. In the chaos, Aunt Kang snuck onto the property. By now, after intense pain, Ming Lan has finally birthed a healthy son. He is placed in blankets and onto the nearby bed but Ming Lan doesn’t even have an opportunity to take a breath before Aunt Kang bursts into the room with a knife screaming to kill her. Many maids try to stop Aunt Kang but given that Aunt Kang is brandishing a knife, they are all pushed back. I never noticed this before but Xiao Tao is injured as she is clutching a bloodied arm in the background. Aunt Kang has the craziest look in her eyes as she turns to Ming Lan who has now hunched over her son in an effort to protect him. She has no weapons or energy to fight back so all she can do is protect her son with her own body. Aunt Kang raises the knife in her hands, ready to land the final blow onto Ming Lan.
We see a sword protruding from a body but instead of Ming Lan, it’s Aunt Kang who is killed. Gu Ting Ye has returned in the knick of time to protect his wife and child. Gu Ting Ye pulls out the sword he used to stab Aunt Kang who is left to bleed out on the floor.
Ming Lan turns around still waiting for death but instead sees her husband. In my mind, it is at this moment, she realizes how much she loves him. She cries into his arms that when she thought he was dead, her heart was shattered. This is also some of Zhao Li Ying’s best acting in the entire drama. Her tears of despair and pain as she’s giving birth but then also relief and shock when she sees Gu Ting Ye alive in front of him are extremely touching. You are brought into her world and are also ecstatic to see that he is alive.
Outside, Qi Heng has also rushed over to see how Ming Lan is doing. Upon seeing Gu Ting Ye with Ming Lan though, he walks away quietly. We will talk more about Qi Heng at the end of the episode.
Now that Gu Ting Ye has returned, all is well again in the Cheng Gardens. The flames have been put out and their son is healthy. In a throwaway line which I think is really heartwarming is that Gu Ting Ye tells Ming Lan Xian Jie, so his older brother’s daughter, helped rescue Rong Jie, his daughter, from the fire once it started. I find it heartwarming that these cousins actually take care of each other and have a good relationship when the easy trope would have been for Rong Jie to die in the flames because of Xian Jie or something. It also speaks to the fact that Mign Lan’s kind treatment of Xian Jie paid off in the end.
While Ming Lan’s side has calmed down, the drama only continues. Flames at the Cheng Gardens have subsided but another fire broke out in the Gu Manor. This time, Gu Ting Wei, Gu Ting Ye’s younger brother’s rooms have been destroyed. His mother, Madame Qin, rushes over to see if he’s ok and he blows up at her. Gu Ting Wei’s wife reveals to Madame Qin that the flames were lit by ShI Tou, Gu Ting Ye’s head servant. Madame Qin is furious but is rebuffed by both Gu Ting Wei and his wife. They both know that the fire was set by Gu Ting Ye because Madame Qin must have done something against Gu Ting Ye and therefore Gu Ting Wei is the collateral damage of their feud. Madame Qin cannot apprehend why Gu Ting Wei does not understand her but he is adamant to move out. He can no longer stand his mother.
Word of Gu Ting Ye’s return has traveled fast within the capital and the person outside of Ming Lan most anxious to see him is the Emperor. The Emperor sent his eunuchs to requests Gu Ting Ye’s presence but Shi Tou rebuffs the requests on behalf of Gu Ting Ye. Shi Tou simply says that Gu Ting Ye’s wife just gave birth and therefore must stay at home and spend time with her.
When the Emperor hears of this, he is furious. How can he be second to Gu Ting Ye’s wife and child? He, the emperor is waiting to hear from Gu Ting Ye about his salt tax assignment but has been left to wait? That is unacceptable. He expressing his anger in the company of the Empress with a bunch of servants in the background and this conversation is quite technical. What do I mean by technical? I mean, it is rather planned in its contents. First, the Emperor describes why he’s furious which I just touched on. He feels he’s in second place. Then the Empress responds with why Gu Ting Ye is valuable. Then the Emperor explains some of the issues happening on the border which requires Gu Ting Ye’s expertise. The Emperor says he’ll let it slide for now because Gu Ting Ye is useful.
And then, the Empress monologues that the Emperor has been suffering from a lot of headaches lately which can’t be diagnosed properly and was not an issue in the past. He should rest. This causes the Emperor to flare up again in anger. He states that because he doesn’t have that much time, he needs to get rid of the Empress Dowager who is his main obstacle. Shortly after, the Concubine Liu Gui Fei shows up and the Empress is dismissed as she has angered the Emperor. The technical components of this conversation is that for someone who is overhearing the key points are this: The Emperor is furious with Gu Ting Ye for his rude and arrogant behavior but is not going to touch him just yet because he’s still useful. And, the Emperor is currently suffering from headaches and therefore must act quickly to defeat the Empress dowager.
Looks like Gu Ting Ye better watch his back. The Emperor is already placing a target on his back.
Back at the Cheng Gardens, Madame Qin has come to have a standoff with Gu Ting Ye. She shows up screaming that he, as a court official, has started fires. She is going to the Emperor to report him, blah blah blah. At a certain point, he had enough and slammed the table. He point blank tells her that he killed Aunt Kang who tried to kill Ming Lan and their son. To this, Madame Qin is utterly shocked. Aunt Kang is of the noble class! How could he do it? He simply tells her to think about how she is going to explain this to the Wang family and leaves. She on the other hand collapses.
Why is this a problem for Madame Qin? Why was she so shocked? It’s quite simple and something that Grandma Wang figures out pretty easily. The fact that Aunt Kang died on Gu Property means that Madame Qin must have known of her existence and presence. Madame Qin cannot escape the connection with Aunt Kang no matter what is said. She has to come up with a plan now that Aunt Kang is dead.
So, she has Aunt Kang placed in a coffin and she, Madame Qin, cries crocodile tears all the way to the Wang family residence with the coffin in tow. There, she informs the shocked Grandma Wangof the death of Aunt Kang. Madame Qin paints Gu Ting Ye as the villain in this act, calling him a murderer and that the Wang family must enact their revenge. Grandma Wang though doesn’t immediately spring into any action when Madame Qin is there and shuffles off in her grief.
Privately though, that’s another matter. Grandma Wang definitely wants to take matters in her own hands and get her revenge. Uncle Wang’s wife, tries to persuade her mother-in-law that Aunt Kang was an evil woman, a bad apple that would destroy the whole basket. Grandma Wang however, dismisses all these words and instead accuses Aunt Wang of being a traitor to the family. Grandma Wang vows to make gu ting ye suffer for what he’s done.
– tries to place all the blame onto Gu Ting Ye. And she tries to egg the Wang family into action
rushing to Ming Lan’s aid when he saw the fire.
This is a story pulled from the poem 陌上桑
It was written during the Han Dynasty but the author is unknown. The story of the poem mainly goes like this. There once was a beautiful woman from the Qin family known as luo fu. She skilled in raising and harvesting silkworms. The young men in the village all stop to admire her beauty. One day, an official from the south arrived. His carriage wouldn’t move forward. The official asked his assistant who was the beautiful woman. The assistant replied why its Luo Fu. The official then asks luo fu directly, do you want to ride with me in my carriage? Luo Fu immediately refused, saying sir, you have a wife and I also have a husband. He himself is an official in the south.
Basically, the point of this anecdote and poem is to warn Qi heng to watch himself. He is married, so is Ming Lan. It’s improper for two married people to get entangled in matters.
Qi Heng –
We see in the drama that during childbirth, ming lan is actually standing up to give birth. That’s something that we don’t see very often. I think it was one of the only times that I saw this shown. During that time, it wasn’t uncommon for pregnant women to choose standing as a way to give birth.
There was a 10 Important Points of childbirth or 十产论 published by 杨子建 during the Northern Song dynasty, so right around the time period of this drama that recounts the various methods of childbirth. It does include the method for women to perform childbirth standing up so this is factually correct. A woman would stand behind the pregnant woman to help stabilize her and another to basically catch the child.
明兰带在脑袋上的东西 – 抹额
We see 明兰 wear headband called a 抹额。 The main purpose of this headband is to protect the new mother from suffering head colds and avoid sweating too much. It’s according to chinese medicine and the goal is to protect the new mother from illness and / or being left with some permanent health issues. A lot of these cultural habits are passed down to this day. THat includes not drinking cold water and during Imperial China, women didn’t bathe for a whole month! It’s basically the same concept of not wanting to endanger the woman in catching a cold. You could wash with a hot towel but not take a bath. Can you imagine?
Phew ok – from this episode onwards to the end of the drama, the drama and book differ vastly. The drama tries to wrap up loose ends with the existing cast of characters so i’ll focus on the major differences instead of pointing out every small detail.
First, 墨兰 plays no part in Aunt Kang’s escape. That’s because in the drama, Aunt Kang is successfully sent to the Palace prison and remains there for the rest of her life. There’s not much more mentioned about this woman. She definitely doesn’t sneak back into the Gu Manor nor does she try and attempt to kill Ming Lan. She is not killed by 顾廷烨. Someone does attempt to kill 明兰 during her first pregnancy and that’s 曼娘 but 顾廷烨 successfully staves her off.