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 38+39 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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This podcast episode consists of a drama episode recap, some behind the scenes snippets and contemporary pop culture, and then we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.
Today’s two episodes are probably my least favorite episodes in the entire drama. So much goes so wrong for the Empress that you gotta agree that the world just had it out for her.
I also think the screenwriter just needed to get the plot back to follow history so that’s why we have what we see in these 2 episodes.
We start off back at Fu Heng’s household where his marriage with Er Qing is not going well. She is upset that he has been neglecting her despite his assurances that he will aim to make her his one and only. Her jealousy led Er Qing to act quite harshly when she saw a random maid help clean Fu Heng’s rooms. This led her to think he had taken her in. This poor maid was severely beaten and punished.
Fu Heng arrives to see what happened to the poor girl and she reminds him a lot of Ying Luo. Seeing the sad state she has been subjected to, he allows her to continue cleaning his study. Meanwhile, forbids Er Qing from entering his study.
Er Qing tries to apologize to him but her apology only makes him more upset. As it’s clear she is only sorry for her jealousy, but not for how she treated the poor maid. Like the punishment was quite severe. Er Qing does not see servants or staff as human beings and doesn’t see anything wrong with her level of punishment. This and the fact that she has been networking nonstop which leads to the suspicion of creating factions leads Fu Heng to be disgusted by her character. He storms out after she continues to accuse him of being in love with Ying Luo which he does not deny but turns it around on her poor behavior as to why their relationship has not progressed.
The hateful Er Qing vows to make Fu Heng pay for the pain she’s experienced.
Her tactic? Return to the palace and live with the Empress for a while. This to me honestly makes no sense because Er Qing has her mother’s side of the family to return to. But the Empress is too nice and obliges even though she knows that Er Qing must have done something pretty bad to make Fu Heng that mad at her. And I ultimately think that’s the problem for the Empress. She’s too nice and doesn’t know how to protect herself.
Er Qing returns to the palace and immediately tries to show who’s boss. She orders Ying Luo to clean up her luggage to which Ying Luo offers up alternatives. Er Qing refuses and even slaps Ying Luo across the face to establish who’s the master and who’s the servant. Of course our Ying Luo cannot have that. As Er Qing raises her hand again, Ying Luo stikes back with a slap of her own that actually results in Er Qing on the ground.
[Cathy] YAS Girl! That was SO satisfying
Er Qing yells at Ying Luo for this insubordination but Ying Luo claps back, admonishing for Er Qing for leaving the Empress when she needed her most.
It’s just astonishing how much hatred Er Qing has for Ying Luo and Fu Heng when she was the one to bring most of it upon herself. Ugh. She is the worst.
So the next series of events happen at lightning speed. Chun Fei gives birth to a young boy, the 6th prince named 永琏. This prompts Er Qing to act by gifting the Empress a special medicine that will ensure she gets pregnant. The reason Er Qing gifts this to the Empress is to help put her back into the Empress’s good books. And you know what, shortly after, the Empress gets pregnant.
This is shocking news to Ying Luo who was informed by 叶天士 offscreen, her friendly imperial doctor that the Empress is still relatively weak and not ready to carry a child. If she does carry a child, this could actually have devastating long term impacts to the Empress’s life span. She explains as such angrily to Yuan Chun Wang who actually agrees with the Empress’s choice of becoming pregnant to stabilize her position in the palace. Whereas Ying Luo is like ‘who cares about the Emperor’s favor, I just want the Empress to be healthy”. Hahahahah. Clearly someone has her head on straight.
Fast forward to the Emperor who has a moment of weakness while seeing the 6th prince. He is reminded of Yong Lian, the Empress’s first son who passed away at 9 years old. It is the anniversary of his death and the Emperor gets quite tipsy as he remembers his beloved son. He even sheds a tear over losing him that he didn’t shed when Yong Lian passed away. He then heads over to the Empress’s palace where again, shows his soft side as he drunkenly asks if Yong Lian wants to be his son again.
While this is a heartwarming moment, Er Qing has other plans. We move into episode 39 as Er Qing seizes her opportunity. Seeing that the Emperor is tipsy and resting in a separate part of the palace than the Empress, she sneaks into his rooms dressed as a maid. We can all guess as to what happened. She rushes out the next morning and is spotted by Li Yu who is absolutely stunned to see who spent the night with the Emperor. Er Qing is extremely pleased with herself for having enacted on her plan and promptly announces she is returning home as Fu Heng has returned to Beijing as well. This confuses Ming Yu who sees her leave. She also guesses that the Emperor spent the night with a maid but it is put out of her mind as if this were the case, the maid would have stepped forward for a reward but none has done so.
Time fasts forwards as we head to the Empress giving birth. Wow, time does absolutely fly in these two episodes. Chun Fei had her son and now it’s time for the Empress. The Empress’s birthing process is quite harrowing with it not looking good for her at all. This freaks out Ying Luo because she is scared the Empress would die due to childbirth just like her own mother. But luckily, at the last moment the Empress is able to give birth to a baby boy, the 7th prince. She is alive as well, albeit weak. Ying Luo weeps tears of relief as the Empress remains alive while the rest of the palace is overjoyed with the new prince.
Well, almost anyone.
Chun Fei who was promoted after the birth of the 6th prince is now 纯贵妃. She’s uneasy at hearing that the Empress gave birth and the rumors that it is the Empress’s son that will have a bright future ahead of him. She seems to have put her feelings for Fu Heng to rest and now has fallen into the familiar trope of wanting the Emperor’s favor for herself and competing against the Empress. Especially after the egging on from 娴贵妃 who knows exactly what to say to 纯贵妃 to get her to act. Also side note, her son grew up like 5 years in the last episode. We’ll set this straight in our history discussion.
娴贵妃 though really is the scariest person in the palace. She kills ruthlessly and manipulates people with such ease and with a smile on her face. She most certainly has a smile that never reaches her eyes.
The other big news here is that Er Qing is pregnant. At the Fu Cha household, Fu Heng’s mother is over the moon at the news while Fu Heng does the math in his head. It’s most definitely not his. But Er Qing just looks at him in a sneering manner.
Er Qing in her crazed nature openly shares with Fu Heng exactly who the child is. The Emperor’s. Alone, she cackles maniacally as she reveals that her plan finally came to fruition. She is here to make Fu Heng’s life a living hell. Whenever he sees the Emperor, he’ll be reminded of the fact that his wife’s child is the Emperors. What an absolutely despicable woman. She is absolutely crazy. I have no idea why Fu Heng’s brother is into her.
Time fast forwards to QianLong’s 13th year so we’re now in 1748. It’s new year’s eve and Ying Luo gets news that her father fell from a horse and requires her assistance during his ill state. She at first refuses but then is advised by the Empress that she should go see him. He is Ying Luo’s father after all. The Empress gifts her clear buddhist beads for her trip and Ying Luo heads out. Keep these beads in mind. Those beads will stay with Ying Luo forever.
With Ying Luo gone, tragedy strikes. On this new years eve night, the 7th prince is alone in his room with his nanny. But soon, screams are heard as a fire broke out in the 7th prince’s rooms. The Empress rushes in to save her son and is rescued by Hai Lan Cha only to realize that the baby boy has devastatingly perished in the blaze. The nanny? Killed. All of this evidently was orchestrated by 纯贵妃 who somehow ensured that the water used to quell such instances had frozen over into ice.
And with that, we end episode 39. It really is devastating to see what befalls the Empress though once again, pacing here is lightning fast as she loses yet another son.
Phew – what a roller coaster of 2 episodes! The Empress gets pregnant and then loses her child! 尔晴 betrays her. 纯妃 betrays her too!
Before we talk about history, let’s talk about some behind the scenes information and pop culture from when these 2 episodes aired.
So, in episode 39, we’re missing a couple of crucial scenes around what happened to 尔晴. In the show, it’s not made explicitly clear if 尔晴 slept with the Emperor. All we get is a quick scene of the incriminating bedding being hurriedly carried away by a maid.
However, in a cut scene, all of this is made explicitly clear. 尔晴 is actually seen coldly watching the still sleeping Emperor the morning after. When he wakes up, she completely changes demeanor and behaves as though it was the Emperor who essentially forced himself on her in his drunken state and tries to “commit suicide”. However, the Emperor stops her and the whole “affair” is hushed up. The first part of the scene is cut, the second part where the emperor wakes up and sees her is seen only in flashback episodes later in the drama.
I’ll discuss a little bit more on this night in later episodes because there are more cut scenes or speculated cut scenes that hint at ANOTHER man in the picture.
Well, when these 2 episodes first aired – I remember it caused an ABSOLUTE uproar because these episodes were such a head scratcher. 尔晴 went from a pleasant enough maid to an absolute deranged jealous wife in 2 episodes who conspired to cheat on her husband with the Emperor no less. She went from a fan favorite in the opening couple of episodes to most hated with these 2 episodes. Not even 高贵妃 got the same vitriol that 尔晴 received.
People started giving 尔晴 all sorts of names. Her full name in the drama is called 喜塔腊·尔晴. People gave her the name of 稀巴烂尔晴 instead. That’s absolutely hilarious because 稀巴烂 in Chinese basically means something that’s smashed into a pulp. Basically people wanted to smash 尔晴 into a pulp because of her actions and the general terribleness of that character. Others include 杀千刀的 -> which just means death by a thousand cuts. Why do I feel like all of these names are very violent?
The scene in episode 38 where 魏璎珞 slaps 尔晴 in the face also became a VERY popular meme. Basically whenever someone needs to use a meme to put someone in his / her place, they would use that meme.
The actress for 尔晴, 苏青, was a really good sport for all of this. In an interview discussing that very scene where she was slapped she mentioned how both her and the actress for 魏璎珞, 吴瑾言 where legitimately slapping each other. When 尔晴 first slapped 魏璎珞, she did it so hard that one of 魏璎珞’s earrings went flying. You can see in the scene that one of the earrings goes missing
When 魏璎珞 slapped 尔晴, that force was also real, as in 尔晴 really did fall over because of the force of the slap. That reaction we have in the drama is quite a live reaction but kudos for 苏青 for staying in character. The two actresses definitely took everything in stride though because 苏青 was joking in the interview how she told 吴瑾言 to not worry about this scene and joked with her that since the two sides of her face was lopsided, this will help straighten it out.
The history that we’ll discuss today primarily revolves around the timeline of events that happen because there’s a lot of time compression that occurred in the past few episodes, so I want to ground everyone on where we are in history.
First on the agenda is actually going to be the 6th prince, 永瑢. He is the son of 纯贵妃, who, in the drama has allied herself to 娴贵妃.
永瑢 was born in 1744 as the 6th prince. Contrary to what we have in the drama, 纯贵妃 in history, already had a son, the 3rd prince 永璋, who was born in 1735. We have actually never heard of him in the drama. We’ve only heard of 2nd prince, who was the Empress’s first son, the 4th prince, who is currently being raised by 娴贵妃, the 5th prince, who had a harrowing birth in the first half of the drama, and of course this is the 6th prince. So the motivations for 纯妃 are strictly for drama purposes.
In episode 37, we got the time jump that it was the year 1746. I’m just going to point out that 永瑢 was born in 1744.
The 7th prince, on the other hand, 永琮, WAS born on May 27th 1746. As shown in the drama, the Emperor 乾隆 immediately favored this son. It was evident before he was even born. For example, the Royal family typically goes to 圆明园 or the Old Summer Palace to celebrate the New Year. However, to prevent any undue stress to the Empress, the Emperor ordered all celebrations to be held back in the Forbidden Palace.
On the lunar calendar, the 7th prince was born on April 8th, which is also Buddha’s Birthday, a very auspicious day, and one, where in China, it is the custom to wash a buddha. As 娴贵妃 mentioned in the drama, when the 7th prince was born, it rained heavily, easing the drought in certain parts of the empire. These were all very lucky signs.
Emperor 乾隆 wrote a beautiful poem to convey the happiness of the day. On the following year for 永琮’s first birthday, it rained again. The Emperor wrote another poem expressing his happiness for his son.
As mentioned in the drama, the word 琮 indeed is a strong word. 琮 by itself is the jade goblet that is used during ceremonial rites in the ancestral temples. When you split up the word, the left side is Wang or King, and the right side is 宗 or of the ancestors. Putting the two together means that the Emperor already wanted his son as heir apparent as it means for the boy to continue the line of his ancestors.
There was apparently already another boy named 永琮 in the Aisin Goro family, so the Emperor basically forced the boy to change his name. He even gifted a new name to the boy 永瑺。
History most likely would have gone another way had the boy lived. Unfortunately, that was not the case. In the drama, it kind of makes it seem as though the boy died only a few months after his birth, but he died at about 20 months. He died on the Lunar New Year’s eve on January 28th 1748 so I’ll give kudos to the drama for being historically accurate here. However, his death was caused by smallpox instead of a fire. The fire was simply for dramatic purposes.
Smallpox was the bane of the Manchu Royal family and several prominent members died of smallpox throughout the centuries. Smallpox is actually featured in several Qing Dynasty dramas.
The Emperor was utterly distraught at this news. He passed an imperial edict expressing his sorrow for his son. It is surprising to see what he mentions in this edict
- The Emperor did indeed want him to inherit because he was a legitimate son from the Empress and because he was a smart boy
- The Emperor wasn’t able to grant him a posthumus title of Crown prince, as he did with the Empress’s first son
- But, he will still be buried with rites more extravagant than normal princes
- The Emperor asks he hasn’t done anything wrong to anger the ancestors and the heavens – why are his legitimate sons taken from him? Is it because since the start of the dynasty, all of the emperors were not the legitimate sons. When he want to select a legitimate heir apparent, the heavens won’t grant him this boon?
I think this is a really touching edict from Emperor 乾隆. It shows that he really loved this son and by extension, his wife, the Empress. We really don’t see much of this side in the drama, but when it came to Empress Fucha and her children, the Emperor really went above and beyond normal protocol.
The funeral was extravagant and took over 9 months to officially bury him. Over 10,000 paid their respects to the boy. Several officials who did obey actually were punished by the Emperor.
We will talk about the Empress’s reaction in the next episode as it is intricately linked to her death both in the drama and in real life.
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