Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese History and Culture through historical Chinese Dramas. We are your hosts, Cathy and Karen! Today we are discussing Episode 6 of The Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain Chinese phrases said in Mandarin Chinese. Follow us on instagram or twitter or else email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
The first part of the podcast we always do an episode recap and then we go onto discuss any interesting historical references or explain some Chinese traditions from the Song dynasty mentioned in the episode.
Last episode, the Sheng family started going to school. Their classmate is none other than the young duke of Qi, named 齐衡. While they are studying, we see that 齐衡 has developed affections for our main character 明兰 who tries her hardest to hide from him and doesn’t accept his affections.
顾廷烨, the second son of the Marquis, also recently rejoined the Sheng family to study, having spent that last couple of years away from the capital city studying elsewhere.
Episode 6 starts with 顾廷烨 joining the rest of the students to study. 4th daughter 墨兰 and 5th daughter 如兰 are introduced to 顾廷烨 and they greet him as Uncle, calling him by the same generation as the young duke 齐衡. Everyone sits down and prepares for class. 齐衡 quickly recognizes the brush in 如兰’s hand. It is of course one of two brushes that he gifted to 明兰 in the last episode。He asks 如兰 about the brush and she smugly responds that 明兰 gifted her the brush. Not to be outdone, 墨兰 chimes into ask if he has other brushes too. She also received one from 明兰. 齐衡 finally turns around to shoot a questioning look towards 明兰. She avoids his eyes and continues to grind ink. He’s of course, surprised and saddened she just gifted away his gifts to her from the last episode.
Back at her own mother’s 林小娘 or Mistress Lin’s quarters, 墨兰 discusses the new addition to the class with her mother. She doesn’t think much of 顾烶烨. He’s rumored to have been seen frequenting brothels and cavorting with entertainers. What will become of her is 顾烶烨 chooses her as a wife? Her mother 林小娘 teases her that it’s not like 齐衡 has said anything to her. 墨兰 coyly responds that 齐衡 has indeed praised her for her penmanship. Why wouldn’t he be attracted to her? 林小娘 is very pleased after hearing this. According to 墨兰, despite his current reputation, 顾烶烨 is still quite haughty and only willing to marry a 嫡女 or a legitimate daughter. Although he is the second legitimate son of a Marquis, he has a poor reputation which is why he’s still unmarried at his age (over 20).
From this conversation, we can see that 墨兰 and her mother 林小娘 care deeply about marrying up above their station but there is also an emphasis on reputation. The best person everyone wants is actually 齐衡, the young duke as he is principled, will inherit the dukedom, and quite handsome. Other men who have poor reputations are not as favored. From my perspective, I do think 墨兰 thinks too highly of herself. Her father is not a high ranking official and she herself is a 庶出 daughter but she thinks she should be expected to marry nobility. While that ambition is to be applauded, this is contrasted heavily with 明兰 who has no thought of getting close to the likes of the young duke.
This is fully displayed in the next scene. 明兰’s maid speaks to 齐衡 and provides him with a basket of pastries from 明兰 as a way to apologize for gifting the brushes away. Through her maid, 明兰 essentially tells 齐衡 he should stop being so nice to her. She appreciates his gifts but it’s mostly wasted on her. 齐衡 is disappointed and annoyed to hear this. It’s probably the first time he’s ever been rejected in this way. I mean, he is a young duke after all! How many women would fall over themselves to speak to him and gain his affection? But 明兰 knows her place in society. She has no connections and is bullied often in her family. Getting too much attention from 齐衡 is only going to make her living conditions worse.
Speaking of bad living conditions, we now turn to 顾廷烨. The second son of the Ning Yuan Marquis. His father calls him onto the main hall and we see his father, his stepmother, his younger brother 廷炜 and a servant from a brothel. Apparently, 顾廷烨 has a lot of unpaid debt at this brothel so this servant is here on behalf of the manager to try to settle the debts. 顾廷烨”s stepmother is trying cover for him and save face while his father is absolutely livid. But through the conversation, we see there’s something off. 顾廷烨 himself says he hasn’t been at this brothel in a long time so why would he have debts? The finger prints don’t match on the receipts and the servant can’t even confirm it was indeed 顾廷烨 who went to the brothel. What’s going on? 顾廷烨 tries to explain that it may be his cousins from his uncles side who are just using 顾廷烨“s name because he has a poor reputation from a couple of years ago, people just lump it onto him. His father doesn’t believe him at all and they get into an argument. It ends with his father beating his son. This gives us a glimpse at how the relationship in the 顾 family is right now. 顾廷烨 is not close to his father and his cousins and uncles frame him for all their poor actions. 顾廷烨, sadly, doesn’t have much option that to just take it.
Interestingly, the step mother and his younger brother at least try to protect him.
His poor relationship with most of his family members is further emphasized in the beginning of episode 7. 顾廷烨 is requesting his father to allow his wet nurse, 常嬷嬷 to come live at his yard and be a lead maid. His father becomes upset and does not want to allow this woman to come. They get into a small argument about this which is further exacerbated by the arrival of 顾廷烨’s older brother, 顾廷煜。Though this brother is very sickly and on the surface is trying to protect his brother, he shares with their father that 顾廷烨 has a mistress and a family outside. This mistress is also a singer which means she is of extremely low birth. This infuriates their father who orders 顾廷烨 to be beaten again. 顾廷烨 holds his ground though and exposes his older brother’s schemes in trying to get him to reveal the location of his mistress. Their father wants 顾廷烨 to expel his mistress but he doesn’t want to.
From these two scenes, we see that 顾廷烨 does not have a good relationship with most of his family. He is constantly fighting against his relatives. Overall, I think the father means well but unfortunately, the son and father pair do not have good communication styles and always results in conversations turning into arguments and punishments. The older brother though, is quite unforgiving of his younger brother.
The rest of the episode and carrying on to episode 7 revolves around a surprise visit from 永昌伯爵夫人 and her 6th son 梁晗。Based on the nobility ranking, this woman is wife to the Earl of 永昌 and is a countess. 伯爵 is one step lower than 顾烶烨’s family title of 侯 and is equivalent to a count or an earl.
Anyways, she brings her handsome 6th son for a surprise visit and the wife of the Sheng family, 王大娘子 comes to greet them. This sets off a rush for the 4th and 5th daughters, 墨兰 and 如兰。Both of their mothers rush for the daughters to get changed and put on makeup in order to look presentable in front of the Countess. She is nobility and a well known member of society. The mothers think that for her to stop by, she must be interested in seeking a wife for his son so the mothers are rather eager to make their daughters presentable. Here, you see the difference between the 2 daughters. 如兰， daughter of the main wife, doesn’t really have an interest in meeting the countess and her son. 墨兰 initially is also not interested. Her sights are set on the young Duke who outranks the countess and her son but her mother says she should look beyond just the Duke.
But this Countess did not come to meet any of the daughters. She was instead originally interested in just paying respects to Grandma Sheng. 墨兰 and 如兰 are waiting impatiently to be summoned to meet the Countess but this summons doesn’t come so each take their leave. 如兰 seeks out 明兰 and tries to bully her to do her bidding on a number of things while 墨兰, per a suggestion by one of her mother’s maids, goes through the back door to try to catch a glimpse of the Countess and her son. It goes without saying that this is not a proper thing to do but for her future, she decides to take this risk.
As 墨兰 sneaks over to the main hall, she is seen by 如兰 who then drags 明兰 along to see exactly what 墨兰 is up to. 明兰 tries really hard to escape the situation because she knows full well this is going to end badly but she doesn’t have much choice.
And indeed, it doesn’t end well. Though the 3 get a look behind a screen of the various men and women in the main hall, the 3 get into a argument, well mostly 如兰 and 墨兰， and the three actually tumble down in front of everyone.
[Cathy] – eh more like 墨兰 seized the opportunity to push her two sisters out into the open.
The hall is shocked to see these girls there and it’s a huge disgrace for the 盛 family. The Countess and her son leave, discussing why this happened but we see that she’s still understanding. She doesn’t care too much if someone is a daughter of a concubine. 齐衡, the young duke, is also chuckling at the sight. He doesn’t find it that disgraceful, more amusing that 明兰 would be involved in this.
Master 盛 and his wife though do not find this funny at all. Poor 如兰 and 明兰 are punished with slaps to the wrist as the kneel in front of their father, being punished for their poor behavior. Crafty and manipulative 墨兰 is able to twist the story such that the fault primarily fell on 如兰 and 明兰。Despite 明兰 saying that it was indeed 墨兰 that led the sisters to the hall, their father is not willing to believe her because 墨兰 is adept at framing the narrative to her favor.
[Cathy] – man, I need to learn these skills from 墨兰.
The episode ends with Master Sheng punishing 明兰 and 如兰 to kneel in their ancestral shrine for 3 days.
Poor 明兰 and 如兰, 明兰 in particular. 如兰 is upset at this injustice. Why isn’t 墨兰 also punished? 明兰 shares her insights that it doesn’t matter if they say more, their father was not going to believe it was 墨兰 so why try to argue?
The next morning, 王大娘子 at least heads over to see her daughter and 明兰。 She’s very worried about her daughter’s condition. Whatever you say about her temper, she is at least a good mother. She cares a lot about her children and tries to take care of them. Even though she is not 明兰”s birth mother, she also prepared medication for 明兰 to help heal the bruises on her knee which shows that she is not as heartless as she may seem.
王大娘子 did wonder why Grandma 盛 hasn’t been to see 明兰 yet but as we see in a later scene, Grandma Sheng knows all. She fully understands that 明兰 was framed and is not the main culprit but leaves her to kneel. It’s not that she doesn’t care, it’s just that there’s not much she can do. In the end, she does tell her maid to give 明兰 some padding to help make her more comfortable.
王大娘子 isn’t going to stop trying to protect her daughter. How does she do that? Why trying to change her husband’s mind of course! And this is probably the highlight of these 2 episodes. Earlier in the day, 盛纮 is eating with the concubine 林小娘. She is her usual meek self, trying to even say good things about 如兰 and 明兰 to prevent them from more punishment but that’s her plan. She wants Master 盛 to hear her words and double down on the punishment.
[Cathy] – 林小娘 is quite the master manipulator. She says exactly the right words to prod 盛纮 along. It’s quite a master show. Everything she says on the surface seems like she’s trying to help 明兰 and 如兰, but of course she wants the exact opposite. She acts all coy and naive and tugs right 盛纮’s heartstrings.
For lunch, 王大娘子 uh, tries to be like 林小娘.It’s hilarious because for some reason, coming from her, you just can’t help but laugh and get icky goosebumps. When Master Sheng stops by for lunch, she is doing everything for him, ladling food, recommending the seasonal dishes etc.
[Cathy] You can totally see how he’s like…are why only talking about food? Great! He’s suspicious. Of course 王大娘子 keeps this charade up for like 2 seconds.
They get onto the topic of 如兰 and 盛纮 is not pleased. He thinks she needs some punishment to learn some manners which honestly isn’t false. But 王大娘子 starts bringing up her eldest daughter and her son. Though instead of yelling, she pulls a page from 林小娘’s book and immediately starts crying and falls into her husband’s lap saying that her eldest daughter is currently being bullied at her in-law’s and then tries to turn the conversation on to 如兰. I’m honestly dying laughing because 王大娘子 does not have what it takes to cry on demand. Her actions we see are rather fake. At first her husband tries to console her and is actually trying to have a conversation. She immediately changes the topic back to 如兰 and the conversation turns south. Her husband also becomes frustrated and leaves in a huff.
After he leaves, she immediately stops the tears and drops this amazing line – “Wow, I guess this coquetry act requires natural talent”. Hahahahaha. She’s too straight laced and has too big of a temper for this to work.
王大娘子 has no other option but to seek aid from Grandma Sheng. Grandma Sheng’s in her quarters mixing incense, quite at ease. Of course, she already told her maids to make sure 明兰 is ok. She’s obviously not gonna tell 王大娘子 this.
王大娘子 tries to appeal to grandma sheng to reduce 如兰’s punishment. She again brings up 华兰. Her eldest daughter isn’t doing well at her husband’s house. It’s been several years and she hasn’t birthed a son. Grandma Sheng already has a solution. She has a close friend from her youth Madame He whose husband was an Imperial Doctort. When Madame He comes to visit, she’ll request for 华兰 to come visit and get a check up. As for 如兰 and 明兰, she has another friend from her days in the Palace that she’ll ask to teach proper etiquette for the girls. This will be enough for 盛纮.
王大娘子 cannot contain her glee at this. This is great news for her daughters! She’s genuinely impressed with her mother-in-law’s wits and praises her that if she wasn’t a woman, she should have been a general. The Khitan’s wouldn’t have won the battle of 高粱.
The episode ends with the girls prepping for their lessons with Madame 孔. 顾烶烨 asks to be excused from class to deal with family matters and the young duke 齐衡 wondering why all three daughters of the 盛 family are no longer in class.
That’s it for the recap of episode 6+7. Let’s see what happens with these etiquette lessons!
Now onto our historical analysis!
First and foremost, let’s talk about names for people in these two episodes. A bunch of characters get introduced, people use different names etc.
Let’s talk about Generational Names. In China, clans and families used generational names and character radicals to indicate the generation a person is in. This practice helps keep track of a family member’s generation and heritage. Clan and family elders would have generational poems that future generations would use for each generation. We’ve discussed this in Empresses in the Palace but fun fact, Confucius’s generation were once bestowed by Emperor’s themselves. This is a practice that slowly died out during the 20th century. Some clans and families in recent years are trying to revive this practice.
Depending, a Chinese name would have 3 characters, the surname, the generational name, and given name.
In the context of this story, the generational names are used for the Sheng family and the Gu family. In the Sheng family, they separated the names between males and females. The 盛 generational name for ming lan’s brothers are 长 which could mean long, or longevity. In each of their given names, the names have a wood radical or 木. Let’s focus on the two brothers that 明兰 has in the drama.
2nd brother – 长柏 which literally means long cypress
3rd brother – 长枫 which literally means long maple
In the book, 明兰 has another male cousin from his father’s side who’s name is 长梧 which means long chinese parasol tree and a younger brother 长栋 or long support
You can’t see it in the podcast, but we’ll post it in our podcast notes that in all these names, the 3rd character has the radical of wood.
As for the women in 明兰’s family, the common word is of course 兰 which means orchid. That’s why we have so many 兰’s. 华兰, for the big sister, 墨兰, for the 4th sister, 如兰 for the 5th sister, and 明兰. We’ll be introduced to female cousins who will have the character 兰 in their names. It is somewhat confusing to hear but it makes sense if you’re trying to figure out relations.
For the gu family, they also use generational names. For 顾烶烨’s generation, the generational name used is 烶 which means . The word radical used is 火 or fire.
The eldest – 顾烶煜
The 2nd – 顾烶烨
The 3rd – 顾烶炜
All are basically variations of to burn brightly.
We’ll make sure to keep the characters clear during our analysis but if you get confused, just refer back here!
Next let’s talk about courtesy names or 表字. This is a name that is typically bestowed to men when they come of age. It is typically disyllabic or comprised of two characters. Women also can have courtesy titles but it is more rare as they would just be referred to by their husband’s last name or just by their last name.
When men and women come of age, it was viewed as disrespectful to refer to each other with their given names. If someone has a courtesy name, that will be used instead. The young duke 齐衡 has a courtesy title of 元若. Both 如兰 and 墨兰 constantly call him 元若哥哥 or brother 元若 because that’s his courtesy name. It would be viewed as improper to call him 齐衡. In proper society, I’m guessing the usage of names would be very strict. However, in the show and indeed the book, it seems like the young duke 齐衡 is the only one that is regularly referred to by his courtesy title. 顾烶烨 has a courtesy title 仲怀 but it’s not used often.
We’ll just call the handsome young lord as 齐衡. He also hasn’t yet inherited the dukedom but he’s the only one with that title for the time being so we’ll just call him the young duke.
In the previous episode, I mentioned how in the book all the girls left in the family, 墨兰, 如兰, and 明兰 hadn’t come of age or they hadn’t had their 及笄 ceremony. In episode 6, 墨兰 reveals that they have all indeed had conducted their 及笄之礼 or coming of age ceremony. It is technically called a hair pinning ceremony.
According to the Book of Rites or 礼记, compiled during the 周 dynasty over 2000 years ago, a woman can have her 及笄 ceremony when she is 15 years old.
For the ceremony, a close and/or respected female will gift an elegant hairpin and pin the young woman’s hair up. To the world, the young woman is now of marriageable age. In the drama, we see that all three ladies 墨兰, 如兰, and 明兰 have their hair pinned up but with bangs. That was acceptable for unmarried women.
The customs of the day were very strict on how women could style their hair. Married women had different hairstyles. We’ll discuss this when different characters get married in this show but let’s keep this in mind. Kudos to the show for staying true to history. It’s often that tv dramas fully dispense with traditions like this.
Once a girl has had her hair pinning ceremony, the most important event in her life will now be to find a respectable marriage, the earlier the better. If she delays to heaven forbid, even after 18, she would be considered…old. It’s no wonder why 王大娘子 and 林小娘 are all trying to find suitable husbands. Time is ticking!
In episode 7 – Master Sheng or 盛纮 went to 王大娘子 or Madame Wang’s quarters for lunch. On the table was a Dry-Cured Ham and Tofu with lotus seed stew. Madame Wang claims that the dry-aged ham is actually from 金华. 金华 is in present day 浙江 province.
There are a few legends about this 金华火腿. One is that during the Song Dynasty, when the general 宗泽 won several battles against the Jurchens to the north, the locals gifted ham to the soldiers. They salted the ham to preserve it and the general brought the ham to the capital city. The then prince of Kang 赵构 and the first emperor of the Southern Song Dynasty thoroughly enjoyed the ham and gifted the name of 火腿 which means fire leg as a reference to the bright colors of the meat.
Another legend is that the people of 温州, a city along the eastern coast of china, also in 浙江 province often experienced floods. One year, the people fled during a flood and when they came back, they unearthed some pigs that drowned. The sea saltwater naturally cured the meat.
The earliest historical records of curing ham from 金华 actually date back to the Tang Dynasty so even before the Song Dynasty. It is rumored that the method was transmitted back to Europe by Marco Polo during the 元 dynasty.
Dry Aged Ham from 金华 is still very famous even today. The ham comes from the hind legs of the native two ends black pig. It’s quite pricey on the market. I was lucky enough to try some before in China and it’s quite delicious.
In episode 7 – 王大娘子 praises Grandma Sheng for her wit. She claims if Grandma sheng had been a man, she would have been a general and the Khitan’s wouldn’t have won the battle of gao liang.
The Battle of 高粱 rivered occurred in 979. It was a blowing defeat for the Song Campaign to recapture the 16 prefectures in northern china or 燕云十六州 from the liao dynasty ruled by the Khitans. Emperor 宋太宗 or the second emperor of the Song Dynasty personally led the forces to try and recapture the city of 幽州, or present day Beijing. Unfortunately, the Song forces led a long campaign before reaching the city walls of 幽州 and were roundly defeated by the Liao forces. This battle is extremely important in terms of Song Liao relations and the continued wars between the two empires as it placed the Song Dynasty as the underdogs. 高粱 river is actually in present day Beijing.
Finally – let’s dive a little bit deeper into the character of the young duke 齐衡. He is the sole heir and son of the Duke of Qi and Princess 平宁. We’ll see a ton of his mother in the coming episodes so we’ll discuss her later.
As the sole heir, he is expected to inherit his father’s title of Duke. Nevertheless, he still heads to class every morning and plans to take the civil entrance exams. This aspiration is extremely rare for a member of nobility. When he meets 梁含, 梁含 even says as much. He’s just expecting to inherit a title and have fun. Why study when he doesn’t have to? 墨兰 even praised 齐衡 for expecting to 封妻荫子 or what translates to grant titles to the wives and children based on his own merit. Instead of waiting to inherit titles of his ancestors, he aspires to enter court and serve as a minister in the Empire.
The difference in attitude that 齐衡 has towards his career makes him all more attractive to the ladies of the capital. He truly is the handsome duke of every girl’s dreams and he just has eyes for 明兰.
How will that work out for her?
As for book differences, events are moved around a bit so we won’t dive in for these two episodes but we’ll go into detail in the next few episodes. Same with all of the floral arrangements, tea tasting, and incense mixing we’ve seen.
In the next episodes, the ladies learn the “proper” etiquette that is expected of women.
That’s that for today!