Welcome Back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture history, through the lens of historical chinese dramas. I am your host today, Karen. Today we are discussing episode 72 of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。Can you believe this! This is the second to last episode of the series.
Here’s the game plan for today’s episode. I will do a drama episode recap But there are so many themes and drama analysis to dissect that we will do at least another episode after the finale to wrap things up. I do feel that today is going to be a lot of plot recap because honestly too many things are happening so I will do my best to explain it but then stay tuned for the next 2 episodes where we flesh out more of our thoughts.
The pacing on this episode is rather challenging and the plot moves at random fast paces so it’s like blink and you miss out on what exactly just happened.
So, we start out the episode with Ming Lan back at the Cheng Gardens after a draining last couple of days. Madame Qin and her maid, Xiang Ma Ma, are mirthlessly pleased that Ming Lan is weak which signals she’s not long for the world. At least for Ming Lan, her close family have arrived to keep watch of her. It’s quite sweet. Her grandmother is there, her 2nd brother 长柏, her father and her stepdaughter, 蓉姐 are all helping watch her and her son. 明兰 advises her father and brother to stay home from court these few days to avoid any unnecessary drama which they agree to. Xiang Mama appears shortly after to request Ming Lan’s presence in front of Madame Qin. The real motive for this visit is to see exactly how weak Ming Lan is with their own eyes. Ming Lan, though, does start coughing a lot more after she arrives and speaks more weakly compared to literally moments before. This 向妈妈 is rather rude to Ming Lan and is promptly cussed out by every other person in the room to get out. Even 蓉姐 is quite stern with her saying the they do not welcome her. 向妈妈 is ultimately chased out of the room by Ming Lan’s father 盛纮 which was absolutely hilarious but effective none the less. Might I dare say that he is now more attentive to his daughter after her direct conversation with him a few episodes back? Perhaps he is now recognizing that he should make up for not helping Ming Lan while she was growing up.
So at this point, there’s nothing much for Ming Lan to do. Ultimately, Gu Ting Ye is going to be exiled after the fall so they can just sit tight. It doesn’t seem like the palace cares for the crimes of Madame Wang or even the death of Aunt Kang, but rather that they just want to get rid of 顾廷烨。
This level of calm is promptly shattered as news travels from the western border that war is breaking out. That night, the Emperor is evaluating next steps with a cohort of trusted advisors including the Duke of Ying, Prime Minister Han and Prince Huan. They were expecting military conflict but just not so soon and they are currently figuring out who best to send to the front lines. Prince Huan suggests sending Gu Ting Ye. He knows the lay of the land and is a brilliant general. Why not send him out?
The next day at court, the support for releasing Gu Ting Ye on the condition that he can provide service to the empire rises. The Emperor pushes back on why it has to be Gu Ting Ye. Is there no one else in the capital that can rise to the occasion? But at this critical juncture of national security, even the Wang family is willing to allow Gu Ting Ye to head off for war. And so, it is decided that Gu Ting Ye would join the army out west where he is to be demoted to a lowly foot soldier, rather than have any military command.
As the army heads out, Ming Lan and 蓉姐 tearfully send him off to who knows what challenges he’ll experience.
But why on earth did the Wang family allow Gu Ting Ye to leave the capital? Luckily we have Madame Qin and 向妈妈 explain this for us while they were at the Gu family shrine. With Gu Ting Ye locked up in prison, he is still ultimately near the Emperor and has numerous friends to help him. But the moment he is sent out to the border, who knows what his personal safety will be like? No one can ensure that he will remain safe so it’s better for him to be sent off than to remain in the capital.
Sure enough, we hear news shortly after that the elite forces that headed out west have all perished. The Emperor is utterly shocked to hear the news and passes out. Ming Lan is also told by her friend, Madame Zhang that Gu Ting Ye’s group of troops have disappeared without a trace. Everyone is devastated to hear the news that they may have been killed in battle.
And now, the stage is set for the final confrontation. In 15 min or so we had Gu Ting Ye sent off to war and also killed. Now, Ming Lan has to deal with the aftermath.
One night, Ming Lan is awoken by her maids that a eunuch from the palace is here with a royal decree. It is hugely important to focus on Ming Lan’s first reaction to hearing this news. SHe first asks if it’s from the Empress. For folks that watched the next episode, this reaction is very telling as she is waiting for news from the Empress. But no, she is told that the eunuch who arrived is a stranger. Ming lan heads to her main hall where the eunuch requests that she head to the palace immediately because the Empress has important matters to discuss. Ming Lan easily sees through the fact that he is not actually a eunuch from the Empress’s palace and has this group detained. She immediately orders her staff to send messages across the capital that there are imposters looking to hold family members hostage at court and to not fall for these tricks.
In case anyone needs an explanation on what might be happening, let’s recall the last coup that happened. In the drama, it’s not really discussed post coup but it’s referred to as 申辰之乱。 Concubine Rong partnered with Prince Yan and gathered up a number of royal relatives and family members of military officials. Those women were then held hostage in the capital to prevent the military officials from sending troops for fear of hurting their family. That’s what is taking place now. But, Ming Lan is prepared. She’s seen this happen before and isn’t afraid.
Soon after, the killings start. Military officials start slaughtering other people and soldiers in the street as a bloody fight erupts in the capital. We are also treated to a scene where a woman is paying off her debt. Ok this was SUPER confusing in the drama because they gave literally no explanation as to what was happening. The woman in this scene is 魏行首。She’s the prostitute who is a close friend of Gu Ting Ye. In this scene, she is giving what is clearly the mother of the brothel all the money she’s gathered in exchange for her deed as a prostitute. Once she has it in her hand, she promptly rips it apart to show that she is a free woman. She, along with a man whom we assume is her lover, then quickly flee off into the night. Just other people are being slaughtered in the street, she had a carriage waiting for her to help take her and her lover to safety. I will touch on this later on in the podcast episode.
With chaos in the streets, the families we care about are seeking shelter or else preparing for battle. Madame ZHang in particular is a total badass as she orders her servants to step up to fight against anyone who dares cross into her property. I mentioned this earlier, but the focus for this round up is MILITARY families. The Sheng family see all the chaos on the streets but with clear guidance from 盛长柏, they are able to avoid attack. This is also because the Sheng family is primarily a scholar family. They hold no military power and are thus no threat to whoever is attacking the Capital. The primary target for all of the chaos though, is at the Cheng gardens where Ming Lan currently is. WIthin her property, she has her own set of troops ready for battle as she is being attacked both from the main entrance and from the back where Xiang Mama let in numerous assassin’s from the Gu Property to do damage to Ming Lan and company.
Fortunately, Ming Lan is prepared. She even has a chair set up so she can command the action. The soldiers outside her house shout that they’ve been told by the Emperor to escort Ming Lan into the palace for safety but as I explained earlier, that is a plot to hold her hostage or kill her. When those soldiers try to rush into the property, they are met with a shower of arrows and are forced to retreat. Meanwhile, the assassin’s that snuck in from the back were also ambushed by Ming Lan’s men who were expecting them. Another bloody fight breaks out in the Cheng gardens.
The main perpetrators of this revolt reveal themselves shortly after. It is concubine liu along with her brother who commands the safety of the imperial palace. They, along with the Empress Dowager, it seems, want to change who is in power. Before the brother and sister pair can rush into the Imperial quarters to force the Emperor to step down, they must receive a decree from the Empress Dowager. Concubine Liu hurriedly heads off to meet the Empress Dowager to get it so they can finally take power.
The fight rages on across the capital and in the Cheng gardens. The soldiers couldn’t break through the doors but are now working to scale over the walls. Unfortunately, another menacing figure has made her way into the property. She is none other than 朱曼娘。She was let into the property by 向妈妈 and she has made her way to where 蓉姐 and 团哥 are currently hiding with 常嬷嬷。Zhu Man Niang who is still full of vengeance is here to kill 团哥, Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye’s son. She first pushes 常嬷嬷 away and even screams at 蓉姐 for protecting 团哥. Honestly, this mother is one of the worst I’ve seen on screen. She goes so far as throwing 蓉姐 down to the ground where she hits her head. That could have been a really bad fall for 蓉姐 but her mother doesn’t care. All she cares about is killing 团哥. In the last moment before she strikes with her dagger, she is knocked down by the MVP 常嬷嬷 who hit 朱曼娘 over the head a few times. She falls to the ground, dead. This was quite difficult to watch because of how crazy 朱曼娘 acted in the scene. She almost killed her own daughter to kill 团哥. In many other tv shows, a fall like the one 蓉姐儿 experienced would instantly kill someone. I held my breath for the entire thing.
Immediately afterwards, Ming Lan and her servants rush over to help the crying 蓉姐 off the ground. Understandably she is upset at seeing her mother killed in front of her but there’s no time to lose. 明兰 must protect these two children. Instead of running, she tells her group to lock them in a hidden chamber. That way, they will be safe.
They make their way over to the hidden chamber and situate the children plus Chang Mo Mo and Shi Tou who remain to make sure they are safe. And in a scene where I tear up literally every time I see it, 蓉姐 cries out for Ming Lan to stay with her. Not only does she try to grab Ming Lan to stay with her, 蓉姐 calls Ming Lan 母亲, the word for mother. 明兰 is shocked to hear this because 蓉姐 has always just called 明兰 大娘子 or Madame. This reflects that 蓉姐 finally sees Ming Lan as her mother. Rong Jie continues to cry out that it’s not safe outside and they should be together as a family. Ming Lan is so touched but says that don’t worry, Mother is here to protect you. Omg…. who wouldn’t cry at this scene. Especially since 蓉姐 just lost her actual mother but that mother did nothing for Rong jie. I feel like 蓉姐 finally recognizes who in her life actually cares about her. And it was certainly not her birth mother. Unfortunately, I do feel that 蓉姐 probably needs some therapy after seeing her mother brutally try to murder her brother and then was ultimately murdered herself.
The episode ends with an absolutely, at least to me, hilarious scene. More fighting across the capital continues to break out with numerous individuals slaughtered. Even the Empress and Emperor are surrounded in the palace. But what’s this? 顾廷烨 and 沈国舅 along with a number of troops are waiting outside the capital! Clearly he didn’t die and is not a foot soldier any more. They see the city burning but are ready to come in as, with a flare that lights up the night sky, 顾廷烨 and company storm into the capital. This is perfect timing as rebel soldiers had rounded up Prime Minister Han and his family outside on the streets. They are being told to head to the palace but Prime Minister Han is resisting. Not allowing this to continue further, the rebel soldiers order the Prime Minister be executed. Just before the soldier strikes, he is shot by Gu Ting Ye and his men who rush by. The entire crowd is in shock that Gu Ting Ye is alive. Isn’t he supposed to be dead? Rebel soldiers were surprised to see his return and also lay down their arms. My reading of this is that maybe those soldiers were lied to about Gu Ting Ye’s death and thus joined the revolt but didn’t actually want to. In any case, Gu Ting Ye and company rush into the capital with the Prime Minister yelling after him of WHAT IS HAPPENING!!!! Importantly though, even the prime minister refers to Gu Ting Ye as Marqui Gu or 顾侯。
Ok – That was the episode recap but let’s go through what happened in the second half of the episode. Ultimately, it’s the Empress Dowager’s attempt to seize power away from the current Emperor. With the military engagement out west, there’s no one left in the capital to protect the Emperor. Thus, the Empress Dowager leveraged Concubine Liu and her brother who has military command of the palace to seize control by force. It is also evident that the Empress Dowager has conspired with Madame Qin in this plot because, and this is important, Madame Qin knew when to let assassins into the residence who didn’t attack her at all and you will have noticed scenes where Madame Qin’s servants were filling large pots with water along the walls of their property. Clearly, she knew that there was going to be fire breaking out in the capital and she was preparing herself for it.
Now let’s chat briefly about Wei Hang Shou, the prostitute. Her connection was never fully explained in the drama which is problematic since it leaves loose ends, but our reading is that she was paid a handsome sum of money for intel. And the intel for whom? The Empress Dowager – are we sure? I thought that wei hang shou was with gu ting ye? https://www.sohu.com/a/461470960_121057337 – check this research out. It makes more sense that she’s a spy for 顾廷烨
We will explain more of this in the next episode as we dissect why Gu Ting Ye was alive but that is the only way it made sense fo r Wei Hang Shou to know exactly when to prepare to escape the brothel. She must have been tipped off or at least was in the know of the revolt that was going to happen. Otherwise, the timing was too perfect.
Lastly, let me discuss again why it was so important to round up the important military families and royal family to the Imperial Palace once again. The book also goes into more details about this. The current plan of course is to install Concubine Liu’s son as Emperor. This means deposing the current Emperor AND killing his son Prince Huan. However, to do so, the Empress Dowager needs to make sure that she controls the military. The news of 顾廷烨’s death was a trigger. The Emperor has lost his strongest military supporters. Believing that the Emperor is severely weakened, the Empress Dowager decided to seize this opportunity to storm the capital. Then she moved to lock up all of the military families. With their wives and children taken hostage, the military generals left alive, who just so happen to wield power the military, will think twice about attacking the capital. Lastly, with all the military generals held at bay, the armies that the Empress Dowager do control will be a great enough threat for the scholar officials to “validate” the legitimacy of the new Emperor (concubine Liu’s son). The scholar officials won’t be happy about it but they’ll do it because well, look at Prime Minister Han. He was about to be killed out on the streets if he didn’t comply. This was a very well thought out plot and it moved VERY swiftly this episode. We’ll discuss more about the aftermath in the next episode but I wanted to discuss the overall plot here to clarify some questions that viewers might have.
Ok – let’s move onto culture. There’s not much today because it was very plot heavy. So let’s talk about the one item we have.
Early in the episode, when the Emperor and his advisors discuss the threats along the border, they never actually specify who or which group they were going to fight. The Emperor mentioned a new ruler that was only 17. I did a check and comparison of the main rival kingdoms during the time of around 1065 to check who it could be. We have the Emperor 耶律洪基 of the Liao Empire to the north. However, he ascended the throne in 1055 and was in his mid 30s during the time of this show. So he’s most likely not the right person.. We also have Emperor 李谅liang4祚qi3 of 西夏国. He was most likely who the Emperor in our show was referencing because he was indeed only around 17-18 in 1065. He became Emperor at the age of 1 in 1048 but the Empress Dowager acted as regent. In 1056, the Empress Dowager was killed and the boy’s uncle served as regent. This uncle plotted to kill him but was exposed and executed in 1061. There were some skirmishes with the Song Dynasty but this Emperor, 李谅liang4祚qi3 focused a lot on expanding diplomatic relations with the powerful neighbors to his east and north. Namely, the Song and Liao Dynasties.
Finally, let’s move onto book similarities and differences. There’s a lot!! The drama makes its way back to and weaves itself again to coincide with much of the book. Which means I can also spend a decent amount to discuss book similarities, differences, and my thoughts on these decisions!
First off, 顾廷烨 was never sent to prison in the books so he never lost his title or status. The Emperor did send him away to the western front to fight against neighboring invaders. In the book, he was also paired with the Duke of Ying but he was sent as part of the vanguard or advanced guard, not as a foot soldier.
Because 顾廷烨 was still a Marquis when he left, the implications for 明兰 were also different. When news traveled that he might have died, the worry for Ming Lan was that there might be additional punishment passed down to the family. As long as 顾廷烨 didn’t commit treason, then, Ming Lan and their children would be relatively safe. At this point in the book, Ming Lan is actually heavily pregnant with their second child. Ming Lan’s son 团哥 would still inherit the title of Marquis. This also meant that Madame Qin wasn’t openly gloating about 顾廷烨’s death because the Marquis title wouldn’t pass to her son. For that to happen, Ming Lan and her son also needed to be killed, which brings us back to the drama in which Madame Qin plotted to kill Ming Lan when 顾廷烨 was supposedly dead.
This brings us to the coup. At the beginning, the events in the book and drama are pretty similar with the fact that a eunuch from the palace was sent to summon 明兰 and she discovered the ruse. In the book, she did send word to other families as a warning against entering the palace and prepared for the attack of her home.
Now here’s where the differences come in. In the book, Ming Lan already hid her son in a very safe location. 蓉姐 wasn’t with her brother. She was instead placed safely with Madame Shao, 顾廷烨’s older brother’s widow and mother to 娴姐儿. This wasn’t because she didn’t care for 蓉姐, but because Ming Lan wanted to split the potential targets. Unfortunately, someone did tattle on 团哥’s location and almost had disastrous consequences. The culprit specifically is one of 明兰’s maids. She spilled the hiding place to one of Ming Lan’s sister-in-law’s maid’s / concubines. This concubine in the book was in league with Madame Qin. The concubine then “persuaded” Madame Shao to take the young girls to the hiding location of 团哥, which then allowed her to lead bandits into the room with the aim of killing 团哥. In the book, the fight was very bloody. 蓉姐儿 came to the rescue but at a pretty big cost to herself. She killed one of the bandits but her hand was slashed. She held off the attackers just enough for Ming Lan’s guards to come to the rescue. Unlike the book, 朱曼娘 doesn’t come to try and kill 团哥.
I think it was fine with how the drama handled this change. 朱曼娘 doesn’t die in the book, she becomes crazy when her son dies at the very end, based on her own actions. The drama allows for a final confrontation between 朱曼娘 and her daughter. 蓉姐 chose her step brother and step mother over her crazy birth mother. In the book, she also makes this choice, but not in as dramatic of a fashion.
There’s a lot more characters in the book, so it makes sense that Ming Lan had to deal with more characters with this coup. The drama refocuses it to the characters we know.
Lastly, in the book, 顾廷烨 doesn’t rush back the same night. Ming Lan deals with everything all on her own AND while heavily pregnant. So i’ll pause here to say 明兰 was a certified badass. Not that she wasn’t in the drama, but she was moreso in the book.