Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are discussing episode 71 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 spoken in mandarin chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or else reach out to us on instagram and twitter! Also please do leave us a review on whatever platform you listen to us to!
As we normally do, we will do a drama episode recap, then go on to chat about culture and history portrayed in the episode which today is quite a lot, and then wrap up with some book differences. Today is going to be a pretty long episode as there’s a ton of history to discuss
In the last episode, Ming Lan was visited by Qi Heng and his wife, Madame Shen to see what they could do to help her. Well, that was initially Qi Heng’s thought but during the conversation, Madame Shen has shown that she is quite capable herself. This is quite the turning point for their relationship because Qi Heng is clearly impressed. After the couple leave Ming Lan’s Cheng Gardens, Qi Heng actually takes Madame Shen out for dinner and is suddenly very attentive towards her. I don’t think he recognizes the shift himself but Madame Shen is over the moon with joy.
Meanwhile, taking Qi Heng and Madame Shen’s words to heart, Ming Lan decides that they should still host a birthday celebration for her son. Now this celebration is the 满月酒 which is the celebration for children after their first month of life.
As Ming Lan works to prepare for the celebration, Qi Heng continues to help Ming Lan uncover what kind of plots are in store for her. As he still has a title in court, he can more easily help investigate on behalf of Ming Lan and the Sheng family. Sure enough, Qi Heng is called to a courtyard where he and several detectives and guards find the body of Bai Da Lang hanging from a rope. Bai Da Lang is Gu Ting Ye’s relative who spent his life trying to take the Bai family fortune from Gu Ting Ye and was also gathered by Madame Qin to make false testimony against Gu Ting Ye in front of the Emperor. While at first glance, the body’s position suggests he hung himself, but eye witnesses recount that he was actually forcibly hung there by men in black that took off over the walls. Qi Heng can only comment that this is a very intricate web that has been spun.
Why is this important? Clearly, Bai Da Lang has been used to make a point in front of the Emperor but then he was disposed of in order to prevent him from blabbing out who all was involved in bringing him into the capital. All signs point to the fact that it was the Empress Dowager’s men that killed Bai Da Lang as loose lips sink ships. She did not want him around to let slip any important detail about their schemes, even though Bai Da Lang had no idea of the full extent with which he was involved in.
And now it’s time for MIng Lan’s son’s celebration! This scene I thought was way too short and should have been much longer. There are a ton of people that return for literally 30 seconds in this scene to show their support for Ming Lan and it’s quite touching. Before we head over to the Cheng Garden’s, there is a brief scene with Qi Heng and his family again. Qi Heng and his wife are visited by his parents who also present Qi Heng with a gift to give to Ming Lan’s son. This is a short but heartwarming scene where Princess Ping Ning seems to finally let her judgement of Ming Lan go as she gifts Ming Lan’s son with jade from her own dowry. That’s an extravagant gift even if the jade itself is small and represents that she places Ming Lan in high enough regard to receive such a gift. Qi Heng is relieved to see this from his mother as it means they have all moved on with that past relationship.
At Cheng Garden’s the tables are set for a festive party but for some reason, it’s currently empty. Mo Lan, Ming Lan’s 4th sister, is the first to arrive and seeing that no guests have arrived yet decides to start mocking Ming Lan. She thinks that no one would deign to come to Ming Lan’s banquet because of what’s happened to her and her husband which is a humiliation that Mo Lan cannot let go.
But, only after a few pointed barbs from Mo Lan, two powerful and connected women arrive to support Ming Lan. They are Madame Zhang and the younger Shen sister. Just by the presence of these two women alone are enough to shut Mo Lan’s mouth because Madame Zhang, as we are familiar with, is the wife of the State Uncle and daughter of a duke herself, and the younger Shen sister is the younger sister of the current Empress. Needless to say, both of these women outrank Mo Lan and Ming Lan for that matter so for them to show up raises the status of this banquet.
Mo Lan still tries to insult Ming Lan in front of Madame Zhang who has none of it and actually orders her staff to drag Mo Lan off. Madame ZHang is a certified badass. Wooo. Mo Lan has no option but to calm down and it’s so funny. The trio of women, Madame Zhang, Mo Lan and the younger Shen sister sit at a table where Madame Zhang pointedly sits next to Mo Lan in order to prevent her from saying or doing anything that would harm Ming Lan. What a good friend. Everyone wants a friend like Madame Zhang. Haha.
Soon after, plenty of people start pouring in for the banquet. We see Yan Ran, Ming Lan’s childhood friend who Gu Ting Ye originally wanted to marry many years ago. Yan Ran married off elsewhere and traveled to the Capital to see Ming Lan. She’s not the only one to visit again. The cohort of relatives from You Yang, the Sheng family home town also arrive, including 淑兰 and 品烂。Remember them? We met them in the mid twenties episodes when Ming Lan went over to visit with Grandma Sheng.
Other guests we see include Qi Heng and Madame Shen, Ru Lan and Hua Lan, Ming Lan’s 5th and oldest sister respectively, as well as Ming Lan’s aunt, Madame Wei. Dan Ju, Ming Lan’s former maid, also returned to wish her former master well.
I’m personally really sad that this scene was so short because it showcased that all of the kind deeds Ming Lan did for her friends and family was recognized in the fact that they traveled all this way to celebrate her son’s first month. It would not have been a secret that her husband is in jail and that she is no longer a marchioness but you will notice that many of the people in attendance are there because they were helped in some way shape or form by Ming Lan which then developed into a strong friendship. That is the case with Madame Zhang and the younger Shen sister, 嫣然，品兰 and 淑兰，and 丹菊. It is a wonderful feeling seeing so many of her friends turn out to support her in the face of possible social retribution for being associated with her. That is what Mo Lan was hinting to earlier.
But the festivities don’t last long as shortly after, we are caught in a big fray. Chang Mo Mo sets Ming Lan’s son down in his crib to sleep and not long afterwards, a figure dressed in all black sneaks into the room, holding a dagger. This figure is intent on killing Ming Lan’s son. But, Shi Tou appears to stop this figure and a fight ensues. After a heated battle where the assassin successfully stabs the bundle in the crib, she is captured and revealed to be 凤仙，Gu Ting Ye’s concubine that was planted by Madame Qin. Who knew she was actually an assassin. Luckily, her plot was foiled as it is revealed the bundle in the crib was just a fake wooden doll.
As Ming Lan explains to Grandma Sheng later that night, the whole purpose of the banquet was to create some chaos on the property to lure out the forces that want to harm Ming Lan and her son. It was expected that because of the banquet, security would be low and there would be some action against Ming Lan. And sure enough, they were able to capture 凤仙 in the act. Now they have new evidence to present to court. Ming Lan informs her grandmother she is going to beat the drum tomorrow in her 诰命 outfit to ask the Emperor to reinvestigate GU Ting Ye’s supposed crimes. Grandma Sheng understands Ming Lan’s view and even brings forth her own witness to help Ming Lan – 康兆儿. She’s the cousin that Ming Lan helped escape from being a concubine for Gu Ting Ye at the bidding of the now deceased Aunt Kang. She came back to help Ming Lan.
What exactly is Ming Lan going to do? Thus far, Gu Ting Ye has not revealed the truth about why Gu Ting Ye killed Aunt Kang or at least the intricacies of Grandma Sheng’s poisoning. Ming Lan is now going to reveal all of this in order to save Gu Ting Ye. That is why she apologizes to Grandma Sheng because Ming Lan is going to ruin the Sheng family’s future with her act but she has to do so in order to save Gu Ting Ye.
And so, the next day, Ming Lan in her conferred title or 诰命 outfit and her select group start banging on the 登闻鼓 outside the imperial palace. By wearing this outfit is already against the rules because she has had her title stripped from her but it is a symbolic gesture that she is fighting against the unjust she and her husband have experienced, With her are 小桃，石头，the captured 凤仙 and 兆儿。
In the main hall of the palace, all of court can hear the drums and a number of officials request the Emperor to do a retrial including Qi Heng. The Emperor, however, is short tempered and erupts at the officials because he does not want to deal with the Gu Family drama any further. He even kicks Qi Heng out of the main hall.
The group is not perturbed whatsoever as Ming Lan continues to beat the drum. If she’s not the one beating the drum, she is kneeling on the ground with her written testimony and evidence in front of the palace gate, loudly shouting the deeds that Aunt Kang did against her family. Problem is, the Emperor does not want to hear her. She kneels outside of the palace for an entire day and night without being called into the palace. All of court walks by to see her kneeling and her group beating the drum and at night, the entire palace hears her as well, from the Emperor to the Empress, to the Empress Dowager and also Concubine Liu.
Ming Lan’s brother, Chang Bai, is also scene beating on the door of the judiciary, yelling that he’s a witness to the crimes Ming Lan is recounting and wants to give his testimony. It’s really sweet because, despite his father’s urging, he remains resolute that he must help his sister overthrow the wrongful conviction of Gu Ting Ye. Once again, he does not care what this might mean for the Sheng family but instead is doing this because he knows it is what’s right. His father, on the other hand, is doggedly running around trying to drag his children back from their outward display of disrespect to the Emperor but to no avail.
After a full day, MIng Lan is still there beating the drums but her body cannot take it anymore and she passes out. Next thing we know, she wakes up in the Empress’s rooms where she has a private audience with her. But it doesn’t seem like her chat with the Empress went well because we soon see her leave the palace on foot with her servants, her father and Madame Zhang escorting her. She is walking with heavy steps and at a slow pace. In the middle of the busy street, she breaks down in tears. She takes off her elaborate headdress while uttering the words 飞鸟尽，良弓藏，狡兔死，走狗烹. Shortly after, she passes out in the streets once again in her despair. Her family rushes her home.
This entire scene is seen by Mo Lan who watches from the balcony of 樊楼。She gloats at Ming Lan’s current predicament but is also shocked to hear Ming Lan utter those words which we will explain later on. Mo Lan’s moment of glee doesn’t last long, however, because shortly after she heads home, Mo Lan discovers that her head maid has been cavorting with her husband behind her back. She catches the two in the act and is absolutely livid. She cannot understand how this maid can betray her like that. But it’s evident that Mo Lan never treated her maids kindly and so she didn’t have much choice but to go with Liang Han.
Mo Lan then directs her ire towards 梁含。She does not understand why he would do this to her. And now, the curtains are lifted between the two as Liang Han stands his ground. He knows exactly how she tricked her way into marrying him and all the unspeakable things she did in order to make it happen. He even knows that she caused his mistress to miscarry by using the same tactics her mother used – sending his mistress heavy and oily foods that caused the unborn child to grow too big and could not be born. It’s exactly what Mistress Lin did to Ming Lan’s mother and led to her death.
At this point, 梁晗 has had enough and grabs the maid’s hand and runs off. Mo Lan screams after him that her feelings are genuine which is why she married him but that trust is gone forever. Mo Lan still doesn’t believe what she’s done is wrong but is utterly shattered at what happened to her. After all, she did everything her mother. Why did it not work?
That’s where we close the episode. It really is reaping what is sown. Mo Lan finally sees the consequences of both her trickery to get into the Liang family and her treatment of her maids. If she had been kind to her maids, she would not have felt this level of betrayal by them. But after all, it’s par for the course for her character.
That was a lot of action for the episode but we also have a LOT of culture and history to discuss today too. So let’s get started!
满月酒 – first up is the one-month banquet!
In Chinese culture, it is customary to host a one month banquet for a newborn baby. Historically, mortality rates were quite high for newborn babies especially in the first 30 days so this one-month banquet was a celebration of life, indicating that the baby survived to now.
The 满月酒 banquet is celebrated with family and friends and presents are exchanged. The banquet here was purposefully kind of hectic. If we recall Madame Zhang’s son’s 满月酒, it was a very grand affair. They typically are. It’s the first time the baby is really presented to the world outside of very close friends.
This one month banquet is still very much a part of Chinese culture today.
金项圈 – golden necklace but it’s more like a collar / choker because it is solid. Take a look a the one they give 团哥 in the episode. It’s a good representation. At the bottom of the collar, there can be additions, like a golden lock or a 如意. These are all represent good luck and longevity. Very apt for gifts for a newborn.
Historically, these 项圈 were bestowed to children in hopes that they would ward off evil spirits. I read an article and the current theory is that this practice first came from minorities within China and then became popularized. They were first worn as statements of status by the nobility. Over the years, they primarily became used as gifts for newborn babies. In the present day, minorities within China still wear these.
These 项圈 are usually made with gold, silver, or copper. Sometimes they are made with jade. Historically, for some local customs, parents would request some coins from neighbors and they would melt the coins with the other ores to create the 项圈. The significance of this would be that the 项圈 is blessed with protection of 100 families so the wearer or baby will also have that protection.
This is the framed embroidery that 余嫣然 gifts to 明兰’s son for the one-month banquet. The translation of the saying is all birds paying homage to the phoenix. I took that from 百科 as it’s quite good. This phrase also has the meaning of peace under a wise ruler. 凤 or phoenix has always represented royalty. Over the years 凤凰 became more of a female representation.
There are references to 百鸟朝凤 in the Song dynasty and the legends trace back all the way to the earliest of Chinese gods and legends.
The emperor says this line when comparing how arrogant Gu TIng Ye is. The line literally just means arrogant or domineering like Huo Guang.
霍光 was a politician during the Western Han dynasty and died around 68 BC. He is an interesting character in that he basically deposed of an emperor who he deemed was not fit to be emperor and searched for a long lost descendant of the formidable Han Wu Di and pushed this descendant, the great grandson of Han Wu Di to the throne. This descendant’s name was 刘病已。霍光 was quintessential in managing the affairs of state for the Han dynasty but ultimately it was not enough to save it from its demise. The key takeaway here though is that this Huo Guang was so powerful that he got rid of an emperor he thought was not fit to rule. That takes some audacity but because Huo Guang was well connected, no one opposed him. That kind of power is what the current Emperor in our drama is trying to avoid in Gu TIng Ye.
礼冠 – yay after several weeks of us putting of discussions about headdresses and female court attire, let’s dive into it! It’s a lot so let’s get comfy!
We’ve seen women at court over the course of the drama wearing their formal headdress. This includes Grandma Wang and Madame Qin. We’ve also seen the Empress wear her formal phoenix headdress too. However, we’ve held off formally discussing them because of course we get to see Ming Lan finally wear her formal court attire too, with headdress and everything so we’ll discuss now. I’ll also be mentioning previous episodes to reference differences between the court attire for the various ladies.
What’s great about these headdresses, is that there are paintings of prominent women, especially Empresses, that historians, costume designers, and myself can reference today to compare between the drama and history. Actually, archeologists have yet to uncover an Empress headdress from the Song Dynasty, but there are contemporary paintings and Empress headdresses from the Ming Dynasty that serve as a great reference.
Right off the bat, we see 明兰’s headdress has 2 wings, one on each side. Those are called 博鬓. The not so great purpose of these wings, with all of the beautiful pearls and jewels dangling off of them, was really to limit the movement of women. The goal was to make sure that the women had the right poise and posture while at court. What do I mean? Women wearing the headdress had to work to make sure no sound was emitted from walking with their headdress. How do you do that? By walking very slow and upright of course. That’s NOT great. I think we’ve talked about this before, the wings on the hats for the men at court? The purpose of those was to deter whispering or having conversations at court to conspire against the Emperor. If you have like a 3 foot hat span, it’s kind of hard for people to hear you.
Back to the ladies. The number of wings represented power and prestige of the woman. This ranged from 1 to 3. Before 明兰 was stripped of her title, she was the wife of a Marquis so wife of the second rank. So she had one. Grandma Wang – the wife of a famous scholar also only had one. However, if we recall in episode 69, Madame Qin had the full 3! So is Madame Qin the most highly ranked? I think so but I’ll discuss a little bit more about this after my next topic.
The next topic here is that we have the very striking image for 明兰’s attire and headdress. Everything is blue, headdress included. Grandma Wang and Madame Qin’s headdresses were gold. Now – 明兰’s headdress is very similar to Empress’s headdresses that are currently viewable in museums, specifically with the striking blue color. What is it made of?
Historically, the technique is called 点翠. It’s a style of Chinese art that features Kingfisher feathers. The 翠 is for 翠鸟 or the Kingfisher bird. The technique first appeared during the Han dynasty, so dating back around 2,000 years. The chinese loved blue and this technique of 点翠 was favored among the female nobility for their hair accessories. It was very expensive to make and honestly, the display of 点翠 in art and what has been preserved till today really show the wealth of China throughout the centuries. 点翠 reached the height of its popularity during the 清 dynasty, especially during the reigns of 雍正 and 乾隆 – so the 18th century. During this time, even wealthy women would wear these to show off status and wealth. For those of you who have watched the RuYi’s love in the palace, you’ll see Ru Yi wearing headdresses with this blue color. The last 点翠 factory closed in 1933 because well, kingfishers were on the brink of extinction. Nowadays, people still make accessories using the technique, but it’s illegal to use actual kingfisher feathers. People use dyed goose feathers or fabrics as replacements. The electric blue was highly favored and the color never faded, so some of these have been preserved for centuries.
Well, how does one make a headdress or hair accessories with feathers? I watched a couple of videos so hopefully I can describe it accurately. One plucks the striking blue feathers from the Kingfisher bird, again, this doesn’t happen today. Then, there’s a base typically made of gold or silver, in which the feather is layered on top of it. Gold or silver is then welded onto the feather with the desired design of the accessory as the edge. Then cut the feather so that one is just left with the gold edges and the blue in the middle. Add some glue and paste on the desired jewels to the middle of it or to the back to create the long hair pin. Definitely take a look at some youtube videos or just marvel at 明兰’s headdress to see the detail and skill that goes into this!
Of note, 明兰’s headdress has birds on it. As she is not the Empress, she could not wear a phoenix headdress or 凤冠. Most likely, the bird is a 翚hui(1)鸟, a legendary colorful pheasant that appears in the book of song.
What was kind of confusing to me with this scene though is I’m not entirely sure how the show prioritized these women. What do I mean by that, Ming Lan is wearing a headdress using the 点翠 technique which is more lavish than using pure gold. However, Grandma Wang’s headdress in episode 68 is even more lavish than 明兰’s but that one’s is made of gold and only has one wing. Madame Qin’s headdress in episode 69 has 3 layers of wings but the centerpiece isn’t as grand as Grandma Wang’s. Eh – I”ll just chalk it up to show choices. However, 明兰’s is definitely the most striking and I think the drama wanted to showcase her outfit and differentiate hers from the others we’ve seen previously.
That was a lot! Ready for more? Credit for this comes from an excellent post from Kiko, who did much of the research. I did a lot of the translation and validated elsewhere but she provided much of the information in one location.
Next, the discussion will be about 霞帔. It’s kind of like a scarf or shawl that women wore for court and it complemented their headdress. It didn’t wrap around but it hung off of the collar bone. We DONT see ming lan wear this in episode 71. Grandma Wang wears it in the beginning of episode 68 when she wears her full court attire to meet the Empress Dowager. Madame Qin also wears hears when she appears at court in episode 69. Although, I can’t really tell if it’s a 霞帔 or just part of the robe itself. I’ll just assume it’s the 霞帔.
The first records of 霞帔 also appear in the han dynasty. Usage again was fomalized during the Song Dynasty. In a portrait of 昭宪（xian4) 太后 , the mother of the first Emperor of the Song Dynasty, one can clearly see both the blue headdress and the 霞帔. The 霞帔 though is sewn together at the bottom and completed with a medallion at the end. The purpose of the medallion was actually to keep the 霞帔 weighted so that it didn’t fly around. Both Grandma Wang and Madame Qin don’t have the medallion so maybe they aren’t wearing a 霞帔 but it could have also been a costume choice so that the two women could actually move around in their scenes. During the Song dynasty, one could only wear the 霞帔 if it was formally gifted by the Emperor. It was only during the Ming Dynasty though that it became custom for women to always wear the headdress with the scarf of 霞帔. Regular women were allowed to wear th headdress and scarf or 凤冠霞帔 only on their wedding day. So you’ll see women in Song Dynasty, Ming Dynasty, and Qing Dynasty dramas wear the headdress and scarf for that special occasion. Ming Lan does for her wedding. We talked about the 凤冠 for episode 40.
We actually talked about this phrase in Empresses in the Palace but we’ll reiterate here as it is important
My translation goes like this – the birds have been shot, so the bow is no longer needed. The wiley hare is dead, so let’s feast on the dog as well.
This is a metaphor for a person who will exploit someone or something until it has lost all value, then he’ll discard that person. This is a rather extreme way of dealing with people. Usually people don’t go to such extremes of discarding or ridding people who are of no value. This phrase certainly has more ominous connotations than simply being something that one does. It’s often used to describe an Emperor’s actions towards his advisors, which is what happens here.
This phrase first appears in 史记 or the Records of the Grand Historian written by the Han Dynasty historian 司马迁 in 90s BC. It appears in genealogy of 越王勾践世家 or House of King Goujian of Yue. The political advisor 范蠡 makes this remark after helping the King Goujian reclaim his throne, only to be ousted from court and forced to resign.
For Ming Lan to utter these words is hugely disrespectful of the imperial family and means that she is ready to cut ties with them at all costs. That is why her father was so upset she said this line and also why Mo Lan was shocked she would make such remarks for all to hear. Let’s also think about WHY she said this. She wanted people to hear. Even 墨兰 of all people, when she overheard this and was utterly stunned that 明兰 would voice this out publicly because this is essentially treason to say such words out loud.
After all the history! I’ll keep book differences very short and sweet. The drama forges it’s completely own path here in episode 71. 明兰 doesn’t host a one month banquet for her son with the purpose of catching an assassin. Fengxian is definitely not an assassin. She is given the choice of marriage to a lower class man or become a concubine for a wealthy man. She chooses the concubine route. Ming Lan doesn’t beat the 登闻鼓, and doesn’t confront the Empress. 墨兰 and her husband in the book actually never have a falling out. He never finds out about her “treachery”. Ming lan in the book just doesnt really care about her and keeps her distance. the show really dials up the drama to get us to hurtle towards the end of the drama. It’s calmer in the drama in the sense that 明兰 has to deal with tough issues but she’s very capable herself and doesn’t rely too much on the aid of others as she does in the drama.
However, one thing that the drama makes clear in this episode and the book does in the last couple of chapters is the power of relations and what it means to attend social events or voice opinions at court. In this episode, there are two scenes that really make it clear now just how embedded frankly 明兰, by extension the Sheng family, and the Gu family are now at court, and where they AREN’T.
The first is of course ming lan’s son’s one-month banquet. We already discussed the attendees but let me reiterate again the status of the attendees.
Madame Zhang – wife of the Empress’s brother-in-law and sole daughter of a Duke in her own right.
Madame Shen – sister of the Empress
Qi Heng – son of a duke
Qi Heng’s wife, Madame Shen – who also comes from a prominent family
These are basically the “outsiders”
Let’s actually then look at Ming Lan’s direct family
华兰 – wife to the son of a count
墨兰 – despite our dislike for her, she is the proper wife to the son of a count
如兰 – unfortunately the weakest link of the sisters, is still married to an official
That in it of itself is already a formidable party. It shows that even though 顾廷烨 is stripped of his titles, 明兰 is not to be trifled with. She is still a force to be reckoned with. I mean, you have the empress’s sister and sons of dukes at her party! That means a lot. News of this banquet will certainly travel throughout the capital so minglan is relatively safe for now. Unfortunately this is also a prime example of why families always wanted an advantageous marriage, exactly for scenes like this. Families built wealth and status off of these marriages. Look at the sheng family. Sheng hong was just a shuchu son. All he had was grandma sheng, quite a formidable woman in her own right, but in only one generation, look at how well his daughters married! They are the ones creating this protective wall for ming lan. Moral of this story? Marriages matter.
In the book, the advantages of marriage actually serve 墨兰 to her benefit. Her father in law died and the eldest son who happened to be shu chu wanted to split the family. No one else wanted that, least of all mo lan because well her husband doesnt have real means of making money and had no role at court. Molans mother in law hosted a banquet in which the female relatives were all invited to deliberate on this topic. Long story short, the wife of the eldest son lost the battle to split the family because she and her husband were no match for the extended relations the rest of women in the liang family had. 明兰, a marchioness in her own right, was only one of several extended relatives at the banquet. Ming Lan and Hua Lan showed up not for any real sisterly affection for 墨兰 but because they couldn’t leave 墨兰 out to dry. No matter what, they needed to represent a united front. Family, marriages, and relations did and do matter.