The Story of Yanxi Palace: Ep 28+29
Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts for today, Karen and Cathy.
Today we are discussing episodes 28+29 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. If you have any questions, please reach out to us!
In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history.
We return to episode 28+ 29 to see the aftermath of YIng luo enacting revenge against Yu Tai Fei who killed YIng LUo’s sister. Despite YIng luo making it seem like Yu Tai Fei died due to the heavens punishing her for lying, the Empress and Emperor are not so easily deceived. They know immediately when they hear that Ying Luo was around that Ying Luo probably had a hand in Yu Tai Fei’s death. To protect YIng Luo, the Empress banishes her to Xing Zhe Ku to do hard labor.
When the Emperor arrives to punish YIng Luo for himself, the Empress actually steps in to protect Ying Luo. That’s where we begin episode 28. The Empress tearfully explains that she wants to protect Ying Luo so that she can be the person that the Empress cannot be. The Emperor does not understand this and so the Empress recounts her first ever visit to the palace as his wife. She was reprimanded by the the Empress for saying one more sentence than her husband. From that moment on, the empress knew that her entire life’s role was to be behind the Emperor. As a wife, she should speak less and be more restrained. Her entire life must revolve around her husband and she must be the best Empress possible. One mistake could spell disaster for the empire.
This surprises the Emperor and to me shows his blindness as a man as well. He says that he never wanted to restrict the Empress and commends her for being the best Empress there is. But that doesn’t matter what he thinks, does it? SHE doesn’t think so. She lost herself in the rules and restrictions that bind her as Empress. She is no longer FU Cha Rong YIn. Instead, she is only the Empress. She can only be lenient, kind and follow rules. She recognizes that’s her fate but for Ying Luo. The Empress appreciates that Ying Luo can be herself in this palace that forces everyone to lose themselves. THat is why she must protect Ying Luo – as a way to protect her former self.
As the Emperor walks out, he pauses and reflects that today he realizes he may have never fully understood his wife.
[Cathy] I want to pause here because I LOVED this monologue from the Empress. It’s so rare in dramas, especially palace dramas for a woman to tell the Emperor exactly how repressive the system was to women back in the day. The Empress was the paragon of virtue but she felt stifled in the palace. It was such a breath of fresh air to have someone say it out loud that hey, it’s not easy being Empress.
Poor Ying luo. She now is working at Xin Zhe Ku or the Department of Hard Labor. It is certainly a big step down from her position with the Empress. We’ll discuss what exactly goes on at Xing Zhe Ku but for now, Ying Luo must work to clean waste barrels in the palace. The worst and lowliest job in the entire palace.
But at Xin ZHe Ku, Ying Luo meets two people. One is Yuan Chun Wang, a eunuch we haven’t seen in quite some time but he was punished and sent here after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is responsible for transporting waste barrels and I guess is a colleague of Ying Luo’s.
The other is Jin Xiu. She’s a maid that was with Ying Luo at the Embroidery Department but was also punished to work at Xin Zhe Ku. Jin Xiu is still mad at Ying Luo for what happened between the two even though this is entirely her fault. Regardless, Ying Luo’s life in the palace now is challenging as she stinks from her work all day and she is bullied nonstop.
The thing is, this Yuan Chun Wang is considered one of the most handsome eunuchs in the palace so all of the other maids in Xin Zhe Ku are interested in him. Jin Xiu is one of them. Uh part of me is like – you ladies know he’s a eunuch right but also, is he that handsome??? I don’t think so. Anyways, Yuan Chun Wang though is extremely cold to all of these maids and doesn’t talk to anyone. He also just ignores YIng Luo when she tries to talk to him.
With Ying Luo settled into her new life, we turn back to the ladies of the palace. Gao Gui Fei is over the moon at hearing that Ying Luo is now at Xin ZHe Ku. Meanwhile, Xian Fei has decided she needs more allies and goes to the funeral for Yu Tai Fei. There, with the help of a jade pendant she kept, she skillfully reminds Hong Zhou, the prince’s brother and son of Yu Tai Fei, that she saved his life many years ago. Apparently, Hong Zhou went out on a solo excursion when he was young and got his money stolen. He happened upon Xian Fei’s family property and it was Xian Fei, with this jade pendant, that gave him food and saved his life. Now, Hong Zhou recognizes who this woman is and will be more willing to help her in the future. He is also still rather upset at his mother for forcing him to play dumb his entire life to make way for his brother.
Meanwhile Fu Heng finds out that Ying Luo has been sent to Xin Zhe Ku and goes to find her in the dead of night. Thinking they’re alone, he reiterates his feelings towards her even though she tries to turn him away. He even vows to wait for her for however long it must take for her to change her mind. I think it’s very sweet – his declarations of love but also rather naive. The various points she makes about why he should back off are actually all valid. He comes from a good family, is accomplished and has a fantastic future ahead of him. He shouldn’t throw it all away just for her. He right now doesn’t care and even refuses her physical advances why she uses to see if that’s all he wants from her. He remains the upstanding gentleman and just gives her a quick kiss on her forehead before leaving her untouched.
Back to Ying Luo’s life doing hard labor, we find out there’s ugly things festering there as well. The head of Xin Zhe Ku, a eunuch himself, has his eyes set on Yuan Chun Wang for his looks and gets rather handsy with him. I’m again shocked that they have these scenes in the show but good for them. Yuan Chun Wang has refused all of his advances even if it means that he must remain doing the most medial and gross work in the palace but at least he won’t be a play toy of this department head.
Yet, these conniving eunuchs have found an opening. Every night, Ying Luo brings food for Yuan Chun Wang. He normally does not touch the food from the hall and instead scrounges for leftover and foul food. THere’s good reason for that. One night, Yuan Chun Wang finally takes a bite of the food Ying Luo brings him, it’s been drugged. As yuan chun wang lies on the floor helpless, this department head sneaks over and tries to overpower Yuan Chun Wang to have him for himself. Uhh… Once again. I’m impressed with this 5 min storyline.
In the knick of time, Ying Luo comes and beats the perpetrator unconscious, thereby protecting Yuan chun wang. THe two then load this person into a carriage and sneaks him out of the palace after taking his name placard. By doing so, this means that he left the palace on his own and would be punished for breaking rules. The implication is that he would not return to the palace.
I’m a little concerned as to whether or not this guy survived because Yuan Chun Wang said he’ll take care of it. Who knows what Yuan Chun Wang actually did.
Regardless, the next day, Yuan Chuen Wang and Ying Luo’s relationship dynamic completely changed. In a change from his prior coldness, Yuan Chun Wang is now quite a jokester with YIng Luo. He opens up to her and shows deep affection for her. I’m honestly kind of confused with his stance of changing so quickly. Like I get he’s grateful to her but then he’s all like, don’t like Fu Heng blah blah blah, like me instead. I just have many question marks over my head as to where this is coming from. Ying Luo rejects his advances but agrees that they will make a pact together and become brother and sister. That way, the two of them will have some support in the palace. Together, they will help each other survive in the palace.
I still think Yuan Chun Wang is just overly creepy and weird but whatever. The only other scene to note is that Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang notice during their shifts, some outsiders. One includes a boy who is crying because his hands have been severely burned for a i’ll simplify it as a iron sparks show. They are preparing for the Empress Dowager’s birthday but the gimmick requires a lot of physical strength which the poor boy does not have yet but they are forced to practice in order to make the show a success. Ying Luo doesn’t have much power to help the poor boy and as Yuan Chun Wang states, it’s a difficult life being in the Forbidden Palace. Only if one makes it to a position of power can he or she make change and help others. For now, al they can do is keep their heads down.
Ying Luo seems rather settled into the palace but that gives the likes of Gao Gui Fei and Xian fei the opportunity to strike back at the Empress. If we recall, the Empress is now pregnant and while she and the Emperor are extremely pleased with this news, Gao Gui Fei is not. Xian Fei uses her skills of manipulation to goad Gao Gui Fei into striking and an evening banquet during the Double Ninth Festival or Chong Yang Jie is the perfect opportunity.
Which annoys me a lot because the Empress even pushes her power as Empress to split between Chun Fei and Xian Fei so they can help her since she is pregnant.
The feast begins and it’s an extravagant sight. I for one love Empress Fu Cha’s hair style this episode. It’s simple but suits her well. For her meal, she is brought up a plate of blood which makes her convulse so she
In episode 28, 高贵妃 or noble consort gao is frustrated from painting some orchid leaves. She goes onto destroy what uh I think were just OK flowers. Like i’m not crying from destroying that painting, haha.
In Chinese culture, the orchid or 兰花 has represented purity. The leaves of the orchid are long and thin, and the flower itself gives a very pleasant aroma. In all, the orchid just gives positive, pleasant, elegant, and virtuous vibes.
The orchid has long been admired by poets, scholars, painters, and musicians in Chinese culture and are commonly mentioned in poems, songs, and paintings. There are plenty of idioms that feature the word 兰 to represent its nature. Some include 兰质蕙心, which usually is referred to a woman who is pure of heart and has an elegant nature. If we recall from Empresses in the Palace, 沈眉庄 was granted the title of 惠妃 in reference to this idiom.
The orchid or 兰花 is known as the gentleman of flowers or 花中君子. Because of its elegance and I would say resiliency, the flower has long been favored by the Chinese as representative of the learned and scholarly -> hence why the gentlemen of flowers.
In Chinese dramas, characters will say – let’s become sworn brothers or even in this episode, 袁春望 said that he’ll become 魏璎珞’s brother. Typically, people will say let’s 结义金兰 – the 兰 is of course the 兰花 or orchid, once again representing the pure and unbending nature of the orchid or the relationship.
In our drama, 高贵妃 quotes Confucius and sneers at 纯妃’s mask of virtue. The first line 芝兰生于幽谷 translates to Orchids are found in valleys. That isn’t exactly the quote from confucius. The line is 且芝兰生于深林，不以无人而不芳，君子修道立德，不谓穷困而改节. This translates to the orchid is found in the deep forest. Even with no person around, the flower is still fragrant. As such, a gentleman should still be noble and virtuous and should not change in spite of poverty.
These lines come from 孔子家语·在厄 or a chapter in the Family Sayings of Confucius. It is a collection of sayings of Confucius which were written as a supplement to the Analects.
The main purpose of course is to say that as a person, he or she (typically a he) should remain steadfast and noble despite outside circumstances such as poverty. Even at the worst of times, a person shouldn’t throw his virtues away.
I find it super interesting because in the drama, 高贵妃 scoffs at this. She goes on to say – sure the gentleman of old wanted to tell the world of their lofty morals and independence but isn’t that in itself a signal for compliments and comparison? I think in her subtext, she’s saying, in the face of true poverty or financial gain, who can TRULY stay resolute in their convictions? No one.
What’s interesting is that she’s also showing her disdain for 纯妃 and the mask of nobility and virtue that 纯妃 puts on. 高贵妃 knows that 纯妃 has an ulterior motive, she just doesn’t know what it is though.
[Cathy] Yea – you know in here, we see that 高贵妃 isn’t uneducated. She just doesn’t bother with it. That is a difference between her and 华妃 in Empresses in the Palace. 华妃 was shown to not be as educated. 高贵妃 is educated maybe not as much as 纯妃 but as she haughtily said in this episode. I don’t care! I just want to sing opera – which, you know, good for her.
Ok – next up! Let’s talk about 辛者库.
In a lot of chinese dramas, a typical punishment is to send a maid or eunuch to 辛者库 to perform hard labor. This makes it seem as though 辛者库 was ONLY for hard labor or for those who committed a crime. But that was not the case.
辛者库 was an organization under the Eight Banners of the Manchu people. A little similar to the 包衣 group that we have mentioned previously. However, while the baoyi group were bond servants, the people in 辛者库 were typically of the slave caste. Those in the 辛者库 caste were organized under the Imperial Household Department or 内务府. The baoyi were of higher rank than the slaves in 辛者库 because the baoyi were ultimately free people.
The ancestor to the qing dynasty, 努尔哈赤, took many Ming Dynasty people and courtiers as war prisoners or slaves during his conquests in the early to mid 17th century. A lot of them were put under the organization or the 辛者库 slave caste and these people made the foundation of 辛者库 . The 辛者库 slave caste was hereditery so people could not easily leave the caste and were bound to it.
Only manchu people from the eight banners and han courtiers who committed a crime were punished to the slave caste of 辛者库 so it wasn’t like any normal crimnal was punished to go there.
As with the bao yi, the people from 辛者库 also served masters of the upper or lower banners. Those in the upper banners had slightly higher statuses and worked in the imperial palace. Those in the lower banners primarily worked for the aristocracy.
The slaves in 辛者库 had a wide array of chorse and tasks such as cleaning, deweeding, chopping wood, sewing etc. Most of the hard labor was completed by the slaves of 辛者库. The servants from the baoyi class often didn’t have to work hard labor.
It kind of sucks to be a slave of the 辛者库 class right? Yes, comparatively to their masters. However, what’s interesting is that the slaves of the 辛者库 class had a lot more power, rights, and privileges, than compared the slaves in the US. Those in 辛者库 had proper residence status. They could get married with people of the non-slave caste. They were permitted to take the civil exams. They could own personal property AND other slaves or maids.
Because I guess they were technically under the Imperial Household Department, they still were I would say a level above typical peasants. They had opportunities for wealth and power. Indeed, several concubines and famous cabinet ministers during the Qing Dynasty came from the 辛者库 class. This goes to my final point. The people of 辛者库 weren’t only women or eunuchs, because well, how do they inherit the status if there are no men! So 辛者库 isn’t necessarily a department but a caste or group of people.
Finally – I want to talk about a word or phrase that 袁春望 mentions after a eunuch tries to sexually assault him. The phrase is 兔爷 or Rabbit Man.
We’ve talked about lesbianism before for this drama. Now let’s turn to homosexuality! 兔爷 is what was colloquially known as a male prostitute. The 兔儿神 was the rabbit god of homosexuality. So if someone in any drama mentions 兔爷, that person is referencing a homosexual relationship.
Based on my surface level research, the phrase was recorded in the late 18th century. So we’re a little bit in the wrong time frame to use this phrase. However, the phrase might have been used before it was written down.
So, according to What the Master Would Not Discuss or 子不语 which was first published in 1788, the legend goes as such. A very young and handsome imperial inspector was sent to Fujian Province in the southern part of China. A local man called 胡天保 was drawn to the inspector due to his beauty and fell in love with him. Wherever the inspector went, 胡天保 would follow. One day, 胡天保 was caught peeping at the inspectors uh bum while the man was in the bathroom. After some interrogation, 胡天保 finally confessed his affections, to which the inspector then sentenced him to death.
After a month, 胡天保’s spirit appeared to a man from his hometown in a dream. He claimed that his punishment was just for peeping but his crime was one of love. The underworld officials laughed at him but were not angry with him. They decided to appoint him the god and safeguarder of homosexual affections. Please erect a shrine under my name.
So after this dream – the man did so. I’m not QUITE sure how the rabbit came into the picture, BUT i think it had been a slang term previously so that’s why the temple is of the Rabbit deity. It became very popular in Fujian and for those seeking homosexual relationships. These temples did become targets for government suppression throughout the centuries but I think there are more modern temples around these days for people to pray to the
Pretty cool right! So – if you see the translation of 兔爷 in any drama, then you’ll know that it’s code for a homosexual relationships!