Episode 33 –
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 33 of The Story of Yanxi Palace. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in Mandarin Chinese. In this podcast episode, we’ll do an episode recap and then move onto history. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out to us!
Episode 32 was all about the death of Gao Gui Fei and now we turn back to the other plot threads surrounding Ying Luo and the Empress find the next series of episodes rather choppy meaning the editing is a little rushed. We’re only discussing one episode today as there is quite a bit of history and culture to get through but also because of the divergent themes, we think it best to slow down a bit rather than rush through various episodes too quickly.
In any case, episode 33 begins with Ying Luo and Yuan Chun Wang together at Xing Zhe Ku. Ying Luo is appreciative of Yuan Chun Wang’s aid in helping her cover up her involvement in the death of Gao Gui Fei. After all, it was ying luo who advised the blacksmith performers to strick against Gao Gui Fei though, as we mentioned last episode, she doesn’t know Xian Fei also helped. To express her gratitude, Ying Luo calls Yuan Chun Wang 哥, much to his excitement. They agree to become brother and sister to help support each other in the palace. But can I say, is it just me or does Yuan Chun Wang seem like a creep. We’ll discuss more of this later but he totally wants ownership over Ying Luo. He just gives off creepy vibes.
We now turn back to the Empress whom we haven’t seen in a while. She is still bedridden from her fall. This drama doesn’t explicitly state this but I’m just going to say that she lost her child. I don’t know why the drama cut that out but maybe they just thought that hey, viewer you should understand that anyone falling from those heights would lose their child. Ying Luo overhears some of the maids at Xing Zhe Ku gossip about the Empress’s health and point out that she’s taken a turn for the worse.
Of course Ying Luo cannot accept that and so, at night, she sneaks off into Chang Chun Palace to see if the Empress really has become sicker. She sneaks through one of the windows when she saw an opening but is greeted by none other than Fu Heng. Ying Luo immediately deduces that he tricked her into coming. He tells her that he struck a deal with Ming Yu to let her in whenever Ming Yu is on duty. That way, Ying Luo can come visit the Empress more easily. It is quite sweet to see Ming yu’s growth because she is willing to help Ying Luo. Unlike Er Qing who only just cares about Fu Heng.
We turn back to the one now pulling all of the strings in the harem. 娴妃 accompanies the Emperor as he hears the edict for 高贵妃’s posthumus title and funeral related rituals. 娴妃 motions to leave but then stumbles on the way out. This prompts the Emperor to call for a doctor. No, she’s not pregnant. That was honestly my first thought. 娴妃 has been working herself too hard to arrange the funeral procession for 高贵妃 despite being injured herself from her burn. But she now also has a severe cough which the imperial doctor reveals can be quite serious. 娴妃 however just waves it off despite her burn injury being rather gruesome. In front of the Emperor, she plays up the understanding and effective consort who must tend to the matters of the funeral. She does not want to disappoint the Empress Dowager or the Emperor. The Emperor is not able to change her mind but 娴妃’s actions left a lasting impression on him. After discussing with the Empress Dowager, they decide that it is time to promote 娴妃 to 娴贵妃 Or Noble Consort. So In the end, it was all worth it for 娴妃. She gets revenge against Gao Gui Fei and she also now has the same title as she did. This is all going according to plan for 娴贵妃 who now has second highest rank in the palace.
One late evening, Ying Luo is blocked from leaving Chang Chun palace because the Emperor arrived to have a heartfelt chat with the Empress where he is able to share some of the thoughts that have been troubling him. He is said that Gao Gui Fei passed away but also sad that he is unable to give her what she wanted – his love. It’s rather an interesting little monologue because we understand the challenges of being Emperor yet also tragedy that befalls all women in the palace. Yes, they have the attention of the Emperor. But it’s just that. He can only give them attention and favor but not love. I think these words impacted the Empress because even though she didn’t wake up, her eyes started moving in her sleep, much to the Emperor’s concern and excitement.
Just as he’s questioning whether or not the Empress thinks he’s too cold and heartless, he hears movement in a nearby cabinet and catches Ying Luo. He is furious that he is there but I honestly think he’s slightly pleased to see her. She tricks him into thinking the Empress is awake before running away just as the Emperor was about to shower all different types of threats against her. But now, at least. The Emperor knows Ying Luo sneaks in to see the Empress.
We have an interlude with 纯妃 who can not accept that 傅恒 is interested in the likes of 魏璎珞. She blocks him in the palace one day and advises him to stay away from the palace and subtly hints that she doesn’t believe the rumors he likes a lowly maid. When he rebuffs her, she returns to her palace to fume. She is extremely upset that 傅恒 forgot about her which for any viewer at this point in the drama, the only logical thought process for us is … uhh what? There has to be more to the story right now. 纯妃 though decides that it is her place to act on behalf of the Empress in order to protect Fu Heng and calls for the aunt who manages 辛者库。
The remainder of the episode revolves around the Emperor’s bad mood following 高贵妃‘s death but also the work that befalls his shoulders as Emperor. We see him through a fit towards 高贵妃’s brother who reported that his father wanted to return to the palace to attend his daughter’s funeral. We find out that not only did 高贵妃 pass away, his two other daughters as well. The Emperor is upset that 高大人 would make this request because this means he is shirking his responsibilities in building levees against floods.
The whole mini plot line with 小高大人 or 高贵妃’s brother in which he begs for forgiveness for his father’s decision to head back to the capital was a surprising throwaway. Why? Because why cast 郑皓原 in the role if he was only going to be in it for like 5 minutes? He was a pretty good actor and one I grew up watching in minor roles. In real life – this character, who was 高贵妃’s younger brother and not from the same mother died a pretty sad death due to corruption charges.
That night, the Emperor heads over to 长春宫 and I feel like he went to expressly find 璎珞。 Seeing that she is making medicine for the Empress, he actually doesn’t berate her but sits down to chat with her. Once again, we hear from him the struggles of being the Emperor. Women in the palace always want something from him which is frustrating when he is trying to steer the ship of the Qing dynasty. He is constantly blown off course by different challenges. He has to worry about the victims of floods. How can he have the time to consider real love that the Empress wants? Ying Luo takes this opportunity to remind him that the Empress does want a true relationship yet she believes he is a good Emperor. To support him, Ying Luo reveals to the Emperor that the Empress even taught the Emperor’s poems to her. Not because the Emperor’s poems are that outstanding, but because the Empress wants to know how the Emperor is thinking at all times. The Emperor appreciates these words but then realizes that Ying Luo said she didn’t think his poems were that good. Hahahaha and she takes her leave.
The Emperor takes her words to heart though, especially where she said that as long as he acted to the best of his ability and continues to solve through single tasks at a time, the citizens of the Empire will undoubtedly see that he IS a good Emperor.
Immediately, he returns to his office and summons court officials. We see just how brilliant the Emperor is as he spouts off tax revenue numbers that even these officials do not have on hand even though they are supposed to manage these affairs. The Emperor decides that it is time to exempt land taxes nationwide. We will see next episode more of the Emperor’s ruling capabilities.
So at the beginning of the episode, 袁春望 is ecstatic that Ying Luo agrees to be his sister and asks that they do a bunch of rituals. But the creepy part is he keeps on bringing up marriage rituals rather than those for becoming siblings. The one for siblings is called 金兰贴 or 金兰普 which became a more established tradition in the Ming and Qing dynasties where individuals that wanted to become brothers or sisters would exchange these cards to establish this relationship.
Previously we talked about 兰花 or orchids. 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.庚帖 on the other hand is only used for marriages where the two parties of the marriage place their birthdates and family information which is exchanged by the two parties.
We are 33 episodes into the drama, almost at the halfway point and we now have more concrete evidence of the actual time jump of the drama. With the death of 高贵妃, we are now roughly in 1745 / 1746.
According to history and as I mentioned in the last podcast episode, 高贵妃 died on Feb 25th 1745. In the drama, the eunuch declares a decree on behalf of the Emperor for 高贵妃’s posthumous title.
The words include 尔皇贵妃高氏，世阀钟祥，坤闺翊政，服习允谐于图史，徽柔早着于宫廷。职佐盘匜yí，诚孝之思倍挚，荣分翚huī翟dí，肃雝yōng之教尤彰。已晋崇阶jie，方颁瑞rui4物。芝检徒增其位号，椒涂遂失其仪型。兹以册宝，谥曰慧贤皇贵妃。
I’ll applaud the screenwriter here. These words come directly from the official decree and edit granting 高贵妃 her posthumous title. The full text is a bit longer but it makes sense that the drama cut it out. Similarly – we don’t see the full funeral ceremony but this is already good enough. Basically it just praises her and her family and confers her with the title. These words are super proper tough – basically I would never use these words in normal day to day speech. Which is to say – hey, good for the eunuch for knowing all of these words because they aren’t easy!
We basically then have a time jump. It’s quite clever what the screenwriters do because by using 娴妃 as the foil against 高贵妃, her rise in the drama coincides with her counterpart’s rise in history. 娴妃 was officially promoted to Noble Consort Xian or 娴贵妃 on December 9th 1745.
In the drama, we see a very simple edict or decree with just a couple of words – 性生婉顺。质赋柔嘉 which means she of obliging temperament and gentle, is conferred the title of Noble Consort Xian. Those 8 words are taken directly from the official edict of her promotion. The difference though is that in the official document, it is actually the Empress Dowager that makes the decree NOT the Emperor. This was standard practice but in the drama, if you look closely at the edict, it says Emperor.
The december date in 1745 was her official promotion date. There’s a whole ceremony that happens for these promotions where they get the official noble consort stamp which we don’t see in the drama. BUT, she was first promoted in history on Feb 23 1745 at the same time that 高贵妃 was promoted to Imperial Noble Consort Gao or 皇贵妃. This is also just 2 days before 高贵妃 in history died. Several other women were also promoted at the same time including 纯妃 to Noble Consort and 愉嫔 who is the mother of the 5th prince and who we haven’t seen for quite a while was promoted to consort.
Alrighty – Next up! We’ll talk about the poem that 魏璎珞 recites in front of the Emperor!
魏璎珞 only recites the first 4 lines of the poem. Here is the full poem.
冬至斋居偶阅旧稿志怀 – Reading old manuscripts in a room during the Winter Solstice
This roughly translates to
The quiet corridors of the long palace halls
I’m in the room with countless work
There isn’t a phrase to describe this scene
But a plum blossom sends in a cold fragrance
Papers accumulate on the desk for review
Old documents and manuscripts need to be reviewed
The midnight tune strikes
I am happy that it is once again the winter solstice
At the end where it is 又喜天心复一阳 ->一阳生 also means 冬至 or the winter solstice, hence the title.
This poem is just one of over 40 thousand, yes 40 thousand poems that the Emperor wrote. Which is why for the life of me, I can’t find when this was actually written. He was a prolific writer but hilariously, most scholars and historians don’t think he was that good, which is why his poems aren’t really well studied. So that joke in the drama of 魏璎珞 saying it’s not because the Emperor’s poems are really outstanding that the Empress learned his poems is true, at least to scholars. His poems AREN’T that great. Haha
Lastly! Let’s talk about politics and money.
In the drama – the Emperor 乾隆 provides a rough amount of 33,950 thousand taels of silver. That’s 33 million taels of silver! as to how much his father left him in the treasury or the department or revenue when he ascended the throne. That in any stretch is a LOT of money! This is also true to history. I did a bit of research and it was roughly around that amount.
In the drama, Emperor 乾隆 decides to forgo taxes for one year in the year 1746. This is also historically accurate but this is the first time he did it. As was mentioned in the drama, in history, 乾隆 very much admired his grandfather and his grandfather Emperor 康熙 did indeed freeze taxes for a year.
Our Emperor though did it a whopping 6 times in his reign! The first time was in 1736 when 乾隆 first ascended the throne. The second is this time in 1746 but it was a more measured approach in that a rolling 6 provinces wouldn’t have to pay taxes. There were 18 provinces so for 3 years, 6 didn’t have to pay but the other 12 did. This at least ensured some government income. The other times this happened were in 1771, 1778, 1791, and 1795. Some were to celebrate special years during his reign. For example – the one in 1791 was to celebrate the Emperor’s 80th birthday so he said you know what – subjects don’t pay taxes!
Not bad right? The Emperor was widely praised for these acts during his lifetime which, I mean makes sense. I would like to not pay taxes some time!
There is a joke though because you know how earlier I said that his father left him with 33 million taels of silver? Well – he definitely didn’t leave that much for his son. He left him less than 20 million taels of silver. Emperor 乾隆 was an extravagant emperor. We’ll talk more about that later in the drama.