Hello! Welcome to our last podcast discussion of the Story of Ming Lan or 知否知否应是绿肥红瘦。 Thank you all so much for joining us on this journey!
We’re going to chat about some key themes in the drama as well as last thoughts on certain characters and then discuss what we learned through this drama. We’ll end with a little more free form discussion on our favorite characters and aspects of this drama!
The drama had many themes throughout the drama but in my mind, the key theme that kept on popping up over and over again is the phrase 父母之爱子则为之计深远。A parent’s love is to plan far in advance for them. We saw throughout this drama the lengths that parents went to plan for their children and also examples of where parents didn’t do this.
Let me talk about Madame Qin. She is an interesting character because while she did many despicable deeds towards Ming Lan and Gu Ting Ye, she was also a loving mother. Her biggest tragedy was being born in the time she did. As she exclaimed in the roaring fire before she passed, the Gu family destroyed her sister and her in order to save face by marrying the Bai family woman which then destroyed her too. The main culprit in this story is the Gu family’s greed and need to save face. If we recall, the Gu family had no money left to pay debts and needed to marry the likes of the Bai family who were of the merchant class to pay off those debts with the Bai family dowry. In order to marry the Bai family daughter as a proper wife, the original Madame Qin was divorced which caused her to die of illness or a broken heart soon after. After the death of the Bai family daughter, the younger Qin sister was married into the Gu family as well, perhaps as a way to repay for the sins towards the older sister. But, as Madame Qin expressed, she never experienced her husband’s love because he only loved her older sister. Under such tragic circumstances, it is understandable why Madame Qin would hate Gu Ting Ye and want to take the Marquis title for her own son. She feels that the Gu family owes it to her and her son for everything they’ve suffered. Unfortunately, reality never went according to her plan as Gu Ting Ye grew up to be extremely capable while her son had no ambition of being marquis.
Her last act as a mother was to push her son down the well. In doing so, this actually cuts off any doubt that her son was involved in the rebellion or any plot against Gu Ting Ye. This isn’t stated anywhere in the drama, but in doing so, she protected her son. Her son, 顾廷炜, could truthfully say that he didn’t know about the plot against Ming Lan. His older brother 顾廷烨 would still retain relations with him and take him under his wing when Madame Qin died. When she died, I could only feel sadness. She never experienced love in her own life and everything she worked for to get a sense of control went to dust. She loves her son but she couldn’t take it anymore so with her last act, she pushed him away. You could hear Ting Wei’s screams that Gu Ting Ye agreed to let him inherit the title as long as she comes out of the fire but she doesn’t care any more. Say what you will about Madame Qin, in the drama, at least, she did love her son.
Next, let’s talk about 平宁郡主 or Prince Ping Ning. She’s the mother of 齐衡.
She’s a very traditional and haughty woman. She only had one son and believed that honor and propriety was the only path forward for her son. Quite honestly, she raised an upstanding young man. Like we’ve said before, how many noblemen take the imperial entrance exams in their own right and pass? Not many but 齐衡 did. The Princess had every right to be proud of her son and maintain a tight grip on her son. But that also led to the tragedy of 齐衡’s first marriage. 齐衡’s weakness and the Princess’s iron will meant that 齐衡 was never going to marry 明兰. Her son will inherit the dukedom. How can he marry for “love” and a 庶出 daughter at that! I won’t say I agree with the Princess but I get where she’s coming from. In the drama, mother and son come to terms with 齐衡’s new marriage but that took like 2 coups and 齐衡 having to be a widow before all of this growth.
Next up is 曼娘 – she’s probably the worst mother of all of the characters in the show. She didn’t truly love her children and is the opposite of the phrase 父母之爱子则为之计长远. She only viewed them as pawns that she could leverage against 顾廷烨, namely to get him back. In the drama, we don’t see her much with her son because her son dies offscreen. However, based on how she treated 蓉姐儿, we can see that she didn’t care much about her daughter, going so far as to threatening her to kill 明兰 and straight up knocking 蓉姐儿 out in closing episodes. She’s a terrible woman and mother.
Now let’s move onto the 盛 women.
First up is Mistress Lin or 林小娘. This is a woman who loved her children but didn’t teach her children how to behave as more than children of a concubine. What do we mean by this, Mistress Lin spent a lot of time teaching her daughter 墨兰 how to capture the gaze and heart of a man – a.k.a. 梁含 but Mistress Lin didn’t teach 墨兰 much about how to run a proper household.. Let’s see why. 墨兰 spends all of her time battling it out with her husband’s concubines using her mother’s usual tricks of force feeding the pregnant woman with all of the best nutrition, thereby endangering the mother, similar to what 林小娘 did to 明兰’s mother. 墨兰 never gets the respect from her mother-in-law because all 梁含 is doing is spending time with his women, let alone get a job. If 梁含 doesn’t get a job, how will he support his family? Don’t know. A proper wife should be able to guide her husband on the right path and manage a household. Unfortunately, we don’t see 墨兰 doing any of that. Let’s contrast to what 明兰 teaches 蓉姐儿 – accounting and household management! These are lessons that Mistress Lin didn’t know or didn’t view as a priority. Mistress Lin’s idea of “making it” meant marrying 墨兰 into nobility as a proper wife – that’s it. Once 墨兰 achieved that, she of course would then be treated as a proper wife too, surpassing that of Madame Wang. This was wishful thinking. The system was very hierarchical – no matter what, Mistress Lin wouldn’t have been respected as a proper Madame. On the other side, let’s look at how she raised her son 长枫. Yes, she pushed 长枫 to study and pass his exams. However, she also allowed him to go to the brothels and rub shoulders with meet other bureaucrats and officials because she believed that it’ll help him win favor. What did that do for 长枫? Almost get killed
All in all – mom who loved her children. Just not correctly
Let’s talk about Madame Wang! I love this woman because she’s SO hilarious. At least in the drama. She has all the best lines. If you look on Chinese social media, this character is having somewhat of a renaissance because people are making hilarious videos of her.
Madame Wang’s heart is in the right place, especially with her children, she just is easily manipulated. However, if we contrast Madame Wang with Mistress Lin, we’ll see the difference in behavior between a 大娘子 or Wife vs a 小娘 or Concubine. Madame Wang for all of her faults, raised upstanding children.
- The oldest 华兰 is well liked in the capital, although you can say that’s mainly due to Grandma Sheng having a hand in raising 华兰
- 长柏 – focused on his studies and passed his imperial entrance exams
- 如兰 – although not as intelligent as her older sister, still was able to keep a firm grip of her household and married for love!
Madame Wang’s children turned out alright because she steered them in the right direction. As Ming Lan said, Grandma Sheng chose Madame Wang for a daughter-in-law because in the end, Madame Wang was a kind hearted person. Madame Wang might cause a ruckus but there was a reason why she kept losing to Mistress Lin, it’s because when it came down to it, Madame Wang always did the best she could for her family and her children, not herself. She accepted her punishment to be exiled for 10 years when she heard that her son 长柏 would give up his position at court to repent for her sins. Madame Wang’s sister, Madame Kang, totally didn’t do this. So, Madame Wang might not have been the most intelligent, but she was a loving mother.
Finally, we have the MVP – Grandma Sheng.
Woman chose to overcome her own hardships
Raised Ming Lan
Was always the protector for Ming Lan
I think to her credit -> she raised upstanding grandchildren.
Other people who thought about their children:
- Ming Lan’s mother
- Gu Ting Ye’s Grandfather
- Gu Ting Ye’s brother
This drama not only focused on history, it did also make me think about relationships. We learned what it meant to marry up or marry down for both men and women. Grandma Sheng mentioned that it’s important to marry at the same level or 门当户对。 While I don’t think that’s necessary and we see many examples in the drama where that doesn’t happen, recognizing the pitfalls of not marrying to a family of equal status both socially and economically are important factors for long term marital success. We learned how important family relationships through marriage are. [Expand].
For women, it’s important to recognize when to move on as was the case with Ming Lan and Qi Heng but also to recognize when a relationship is not meant to be. If your partner is not going to fight for you in the face of outside pressures, it’s important to look within yourself to see if that relationship is the one you want.
Key Learnings -> History
- Like we said in the last episode, the Song Dynasty often gets sort of a bad rep due to the time period’s lack of military conquest. True, the Dynasty’s footprint might not have matched those of the Tang Dynasty before it nor the Ming and Qing Dynasties after it, the Song Dynasty’s culture and booming economy more than made up for it’s comparatively subdued military prowess. This is NOT to say that the Song Dynasty didn’t engage in military conquests, it’s just that culture and the economy eclipsed it.
- Let’s take a look at that economy. During the early years of the Sony Dynasty so 980 AD, its population was 37M people. By 1124 AD, that population grew to 126M. That was the first time the population surpassed 100M in China. This growth couldn’t have happened without a corresponding explosion in the economy. Even though agriculture still dominated the economy, it was during the Song Dynasty that trade and commerce truly began to flourish. In the south, tea, bamboo, lumber, and paper became top items for trade. The most coveted trading item though was silk. Robust supply chains and trade routes were established to satisfy the growing demands for silk. More and more people specialized in different trades such as porcelain and tea, which we saw much of in the drama. The Song Dynasty also boasted the use of the first paper currency in circulation
Episode 9 and 10
四大雅事 – 斗茶﹑插花﹑挂画, and 品香
These are the ‘’Four Arts of Life’ — tea brewing, flower arranging, painting appreciation and incense burning that were viewed as favored pastimes during the Song Dynasty.
炒 – Stir Fry! Well what is needed for stir fry – well a wok or 锅 and of course oil! The 锅 or woks were made of iron.
东京梦华录 – The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, a travel book, first printed in 1187, which is roughly around 130 years after the events of this show. This book, consisting of 10 volumes, offers a fascinating first hand account of culture during the Song dynasty. It includes descriptions of urban life, restaurants, dishes, nightlife, and trade. The book clearly includes records of stir fry dishes. So we know that by this time in the Song dynasty, stir fry dishes were part of at least high society and culture.
Imperial entrance exam
In the Song dynasty, there are 3 different examinations that a man must go through. They are respectively:
- 乡试 – the country exam
- 省试 – the provincial or metropolitan exam
- 殿试 – the palace exam
Song Dynasty aristocracy
Ways of a woman
Proper etiquette -> women
Episode 23 + 24 – 淑兰
Divorce – 休妻 vs 和离
For a divorce or the more formal term is repudiation where a husband renounces the wife, the wife must have committed one of 7 acts. Chinese word is 休妻 for divorcing a wife. If the wife committed one of these 7 acts, then the husband has every right to divorce his wife.
Separation, however, or 和离 is much milder. 和离 is where the man and woman exit the marriage contract and both sides are equal. This type of more equitable exit to the marriage first appeared in the Tang dynasty and is less ruinous to women than a divorce.
- Grandma Sheng
- Madame Wang
- Chang Mo Mo
- Kong Mo Mo
- Ming Lan
- Grandma Sheng
- Chang Bai
- MIng Lan
- GU TIng Ye
- Madame Zhang
Favorite Actors / Actresses
All right! That wraps up our discussion of the story of Ming Lan. Let us know via email or social media what your thoughts were on the drama! This is a drama that I know I will continue to have on in the background as it’s simply comfort food now and maybe i’ll learn something we’ve missed in our recaps!
Thank you all so much again for joining us on this journey! We have a fun slate ahead of us for our next podcast episodes so please do stay tuned and continue listening to us. It’s been an amazing ride and we look forward to creating additional episodes for you in the future!
The music you heard in this episode is the Chinese Zheng version of the main theme of the show. The sheet music is written by 玉面小嫣然 and played by Karen.
If you have any questions or comments on the show or what was presented in today’s episode, please let us know. Thank you all so much for listening!