Welcome back to Chasing Dramas.
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas – this is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy.
Today we are discussing episodes 24 +25 of The Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese.
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For these episodes, we do a drama episode recap and then go into history and culture discussed in the drama.
In the last episodes we finally found out who was the person that harmed Ying Luo’s beloved sister and killed her. He is the Emperor’s brother, The Prince of He, or 弘昼。弘昼 is an arrogant man who loved playing pranks on people and played with women. Despite Ying Luo’s anger at 弘昼 though, there is not much she can do in terms of revenge because he publicly states in front of the Empress herself and Fu Heng as well as Ying Luo that not only will he consider her deceased sister as his concubine, thus giving her status in his household, he will also help her father gain a post in the Imperial Household Department. This will provide the Wei family with much needed prestige as well.
Faced with these pressures, Ying Luo has no option but to back down and let this main get off scott free. Though, we know YIng Luo. She’s not going to take things so easily.
However, an issue with Fu Heng so publicly helping Ying Luo resolve her matter of her sister is that his actions are very blatant in his attention towards her. Observant individuals, aka everyone, can see that he behaves unusually towards Ying Luo which starts garnering jealousy of at least one person in the palace. We will see more of this in future episodes.
The absurd and unruly behavior from Hong Zhou travels all the way up to the ears of the Empress Dowager who discusses this unruly son with her mother, 裕太妃, a new character in the drama. She is shown to be extremely kind and a devoted follower of buddhist teachings. She has her work cut out for her because her son causes so much drama.
And indeed she does because just after 弘昼 settled his affairs over Ying Luo’s sister, he turns his untowards gaze towards 璎珞. Ugh. What a creep. He doesn’t care that her sister is dead because of him at all or the fact that he raped her and now he wants Ying Luo. The fundamental issue is that 弘昼 thinks he’s above all retribution because he has so much power and authority. After seeing Ying Luo walk around the palace, he thinks that she’s rather pretty, prettier than even her sister so why not. He wants to see what he can get.
That night, he sees Ying Luo walk off with a basket filled to the brim and he decides to stalk her. He swaps clothes with his eunuch and that’s how he’s able to remain in the palace at night when technically he should have left the palace as per palace rules. He follows Ying Luo in the dark to the gardens where she brings out candles that she says she’s using to pray for her deceased sister. They play a rather flrtatious game where Hong Zhou states he has to turn her in because such acts are not allowed in the palace while Ying Luo is rather cozy with her pleas to not do that.
But, this was all a ruse on Ying Luo’s part. She pretended to be flirty with Hong Zhou only to take out a candle with sleep inducing powers. Her goal is to personally enact revenge and kill Hong Zhou for what he did to her sister. Problem is that her actions were too rash this time and Hong Zhou was able to escape into the trees while Ying Luo tried to attack him. He runs off screaming for help and shortly after catches the attention of the Emperor who orders his guards to figure out where the screaming came from. Seeing that she won’t be able to kill him that night, Ying Luo swiftly changes tactics and tears open her clothes. She drowns out his screams for help with screams of her own and runs over to where guards and the Emperor are. In front of the Emperor, she yells that it was 弘昼 that sneaked behind her and wanted to kill her.
Why do I feel like Ying Luo’s intelligence fell for half a second when she was trying to kill Hong Zhou and then instantly came back? I feel like she could have killed him if she wanted to or if the plot allowed. Haha but that’s just me.
Hong Zhou tries to deny Ying Luo’s claims and instead turn it back on her but Ying Luo cries that the palace doors are locked already. Why is he in eunuch’s clothes in the palace this late at night? He must want to do something untoward which is why he’s here. And i mean, yea it looks bad for Hong Zhou because she’s not wrong. The Emperor even turns his suspicious gaze onto Hong Zhou and tells him to shut up when Hong Zhou tries to argue back.
In a surprising move, the Emperor slaps Hong Zhou across the face when he gets up to try to attack Ying Luo. He is dragged off for the Emperor to question them back in his palace. I feel like the drama is moving at a lightning pace because just as Ying Luo is being questioned by the Emperor, the Empress arrives to cover for Ying Luo. The Empress knows just how close of a relationship Hong Zhou and the Emperor have together and steps in to protect YIng Luo. Awwww their relationship is absolutely the best in the palace.
The other person that arrives to protect her charge is 裕太妃, 弘昼‘s mother. She is told about what Hong Zhou did tonight and is appalled. She takes out a whip which she just so happens to have on hand and in front of the Emperor, the Empress and YIng Luo,beats the living daylight out of him. She hit him so hard that he passes out. Mwahahaha. This is fantastic. Even if Ying Luo didn’t kill him, you could tell she was quite pleased with the fact that this guy was beaten to a pulp. To make matters better or worse, depending on your perspective, Hong Zhou is paid a visit by Fu Heng who also threatens him to stay away from Ying Luo. What a bad ass Fu Heng. Hahaah. Yay!!!!
Often times, not always, when there are individuals that behave the way Hong Zhou does, it’s because he’s been spoiled his entire life. In his case, it’s not only by his brother, but it seems also by his mother. After the debacle with Ying Luo, 裕太妃 actually goes to 长春宫 to apologize to 璎珞 for her son’s actions. She doesn’t just apologize, she actually kneels in front of Ying Luo. That’s a huge sign of respect and quite a step for 裕太妃 to take. Yu Tai Fei begs Ying Luo to forgive Hong Zhou but…Ying Luo point blank refuses. I feel like that’s certainly something Ying Luo could have been a little less adamant on at least to Yu Tai Fei’s face.
Trouble finds her immediately as Ying Luo goes to return some medicine to the doctor Ye Tian Shi but finds him bound and gagged on the side. Immediately a eunuch attacks Ying Luo and tries to kill her. She manages to escape and does an impressive dash out of the yard, staving off a number of assassin eunuchs. Luckily, her knight in shining armor, Fu Heng arrives and helps protect her. None of the killers stay alive though so they are left without evidence of who sent them. Except, out of all of the people in the palace who would want to kill Ying Luo, there’s only one person who would want to do it this way. It’s not Hong Zhou who’s currently bedridden due to his injuries and it’s not the Emperor who would not use such tactics to kill Ying Luo.
Instead, we see the Emperor being given a lotus flower pastries that Yu Tai Fei made herself. While very delicate, the Emperor knew immediately that this was a reminder from Yu Tai Fei about Hong Zhou. It turns out that when the Emperor was young and not named crowned prince yet, he was given a plate of lotus flower pastries from his brother the 3rd prince. Before he could take a bite, the 5th prince, Hong Zhou, ran off with the pastry. It’s implied that the pastry was poisoned and caused the 5th prince to subsequently have ill health. This pastry is a reminder that the Emperor owes Hong Zhou his life. Now I guess we get another reason for why the Emperor has turned a blind eye to so many of the atrocities Hong Zhou has done.
We get a brief and funny interlude however as we’re now in summer time. Everyone in the palace is sweltering in the summer heat and looking for ways to cool down. The imperial household department sends over blocks of ice to the respective palaces to help keep the masters cool. Ying Luo, comes up with an interesting tactic. She pretty much creates a refrigerator that uses lead? I think, and allows the cabinet to keep drinks and fruit cold which will help with the heat.
Ummm Ying LUo is most definitely a modern woman who went back in time. Hahaha. It’s just hilarious how many things she’s invented or done that are way ahead of her time.
The Emperor arrives and is quite impressed with the cabinet and instructs a few more be created for the Empress Dowager and others. He does take this opportunity to inform the Empress and also Ying Luo who’s on the side that Hong Zhou is extremely ill. You see that smirk on Ying Luo’s face? But the Emperor sternly states that he will make judgement after Hong Zhou is fully recovered and will not allow anyone overstep their authority before that. Clearly, this was said for Ying Luo to hear him.
Ying Luo, though, immediately gets an opportunity to get back at the Emperor. After learning that the Emperor loves eating cold grapes in the summer, she immediately gifts an extra refrigerator ice cabinet thing to the Emperor. This allows the Emperor to eat tons of grapes while working. But just as he’s wolfing down large quantities of grapes, he starts getting a stomach ache and rushes to the bathroom. Poor eunuchs that have to tend to the Emperor when he’s dealing with an upset stomach. Turns out, this was all Ying Luo’s doing. Well partly. We find out that you’re not supposed to eat too much frozen grapes paired with tea because that will cause diarrhea. And who’s been eating tons of grapes and also drinking tons of tea? The Emperor. So this is Ying Luo’s little trick to get back at him. Hahahaha.
After that interlude, let’s get back to the main conflict. Yu Tai Fei is not as kind as she seems. She is extremely angry at Ying Luo for what she’s done to her precious son. Highly displeased with Ying Luo, she calls Ying Luo to her palace under the guise of helping her create an ice cabinet. At her palace, her guise comes off and she turns lethal. It makes sense since Ying Luo actually placed a bloody hand of one of the assassins in the ice box given to Yu Tai Fei that scared her. Ying Luo is not blind and could tell that it was Yu Tai Fei that ultimately killed her sister and order the attack on her. Behind the facade of being a devoted believer of Buddha, she is as lethal as they come in the palace.
Yu Tai Fei doesn’t deny any of Ying Luo’s claims. She says she did it because she cannot stand these filthy women seducing her son. She then threatens Ying Luo that if she does anything against her or her son again, she will bring down the entire Wei family as well.
This deeply impacts Ying Luo as she now realizes that she cannot enact her true revenge. Back at the Chang Chun Palace, Ying Luo is persuaded to join the other maids in a game. Ying Luo is in no mood for games but joins in, determined to succeed. The game is rather simple. In a bowl of clear water, try to drop a needle into the bowl so that it floats rather than sink. Ying Luo fails repeatedly but continues to try deep into the evening and even after all of the other maids have left.
THe Empress arrives and seeing Ying Luo in her troubled state, tries to console her. She understands that Ying Luo is upset at what befell her sister and also what she’s endured. She urges Ying Luo to learn to be patient. Only until she has the inner strength and when the fates align, should she retaliate. Aww… The Empress is so good. Don’t you wish you had a mentor like her???
The episode ends with Ying Luo taking those words to heart and we transition to the matter between Ying Luo and Fu Heng which we will explore in episode 26.
Let’s actually discuss 叶天士, the physician. He played an important part in saving the 5th Prince so he uh is stuck as an Imperial Doctor.
But, this is a real guy in history!
Ye Tianshi (1667–1747) was a medical scholar and physician who was the major proponent of the “school of warm diseases”. In this drama, he seems to be in his 40s or so but he’s actually supposed to be in his 70s in history.
叶天士 comes from a family of physicians and grew up in present day 苏州 China. He started his apprenticeship under his father at the age of 12 and was lucky enough to study under over a dozen physicians.
Over the course of his career, he was a major proponent of the school of warm diseases that developed during the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was one of the first to diagnose scarlet fever in China and specialized in smallpox. He had many pupils during his lifetime and his teachings were the basis of the Ye School of Medicine. His sons were also physicians but their skill was overshadowed by their father.
He didn’t write much during his lifetime because of his busy schedule so his 3 major works were compiled by his pupils in his later years.
His major work, Wen-re Lun (Discussion of Warm Diseases) was published in 1746. The main takeaway of that work was the manifestations of diseases into four stages: wei (defensive phase), qi (qi-phase), ying (nutrient-phase), and xue (blood-phase). 卫、气、营、血
He is looked upon very favorably by historians. He was an excellent physician in many medical fields including pediatrics, gynecology, internal medicine, and surgery. He sought continued study and was a model for his pupils.
In my research, it doesn’t seem like 叶天士 was an imperial doctor, even for a while. But let’s just say that he was indeed a very influential physician during his time. Oh, in his portraits, he looks to be a much skinnier man with a skinny beard and mustache – so not like this drama portrayal at all.
Next up is ice! We talked about ice in episode 11 of Empresses of the Palace so here’s a refresher and also some additional information.
The usage of ice dates back thousands of years in China. There are records of buying and selling ice all the way back to the 唐dynasty some 1400 years ago. The main clientele for ice was of course, the rich and powerful. Ice vaults were built underground some 4-5 meters deep and straw would be placed on the ground. Depending on where you are, ice would be transported from the north to these vaults. During the winter, ice was mainly cut from frozen lakes. It was important to also have thick blocks of ice as they wouldn’t melt as easily. They then are lowered into the vault and sealed with dirt and more straw. When summer came, people would open the vault for consumption. Because ice was such a luxury item, the rich pre-ordered their ice and came to pick it up once the vault was opened. In the palace, there were special lead and tin containers that could keep the ice frozen for a longer period of time which is what we see in the drama.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the storage and usage of ice became more ubiquitous. In the capital city, there were several vaults dedicated to ice storage. The Ministry of Works was in charge of distribution of ice from the government vaults to government officials. There was essentially a food stamp system.
Now the name 冰鉴 or essentially the ice box was first named way back in the Zhou Dynasty over 2500 years ago. The name can be found in 诗经 or the book of song. They were typically made with wood and lined with tin or lead. The wood used could be rosewood, Cupressus funebris. Sometimes the containers were made with porcelain enamel. There were various styles of ice boxes and the type shown in the drama is one kind. Well – typically it was the ice was placed on top, then there was a second layer on the bottom to keep the fruit and vegetables fresh.
The game the ladies are playing, as discussed in the drama, is called 乞巧. On the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year, all of the women pray to the 织女 star or Vega star for for nimble fingers and luck. Women pray to 织女 because she is the weaver girl star. The phrase is called 乞求智巧 which is shorted to 乞巧. The 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar new year is also known as valentine’s day in China. The women pray to 织女 to have nimble and crafty fingers or 巧手 so that they can marry a nice man.
The festival dates back to the Han Dynasty, some 2000 years ago and has continued till today. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills, in hopes being blessed with good luck. Different regions have different traditions but several staples include attempting to thread needles in different conditions, baking, and crafting various items.
There are records of the festival dating back to the Han Dynasty with women threading seven needles in the moonlight as a symbol of good luck.
In 东京梦华录 The Eastern Capital: A Dream of Splendor, is a memoir written by 孟元老in 1127, it recounts the various pastries and desserts that were made for the QiXi festival. Typical ingredients included oil, flour, honey, and sugar.
During the Song and Yuan Dynasties – the 七夕 or 乞巧 festival was a big festival. There are records stating that it was difficult to travel by carriage during the festival.
The game that the maids play in The Story of Yan Xi Palace is true to history. It was called 丢针儿 or dropping the needle. This was popular during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The purpose was of course to see if the woman was “skillful” or 巧 enough to have the needle float on the water.
In conducting my research – it seems like there was a lot of prep that went into this game, especially the water. The water must be gathered at night and left outside for the duration of the next day. The sunshine will create a small layer at the top of the water that will allow the needle to float. Now I’ve never tried this so I don’t know if that’s true or not. Maybe there’s some mysterious oils that people put in the water to cheat.
Nowadays, there’s a resurgence in the celebration of 七夕 in China although it’s turned mainly into a shopping holiday. Places in china are bringing back traditions though to celebrate this day and they can be quite extravagant.