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 episode 41 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 and we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.
Episode 41 – This podcast episode is actually going to be quite history heavy as we are in a transition period for the players of the drama. The Empress Fu Cha has tragically passed away and Ying Luo has been banished to Yuan Ming Yuan the summer palace, never to return to The Forbidden Palace. She is joined by her adoptive brother Yuan Chun Wang who makes Ying Luo promise that she must stay with him in Yuan Ming Yuan forever.
That’s all well and good on our main character. But we do have an important scene for military matters with the Emperor. He is holding a private audience with a number of officials and the Emperor is furious. 讷亲 is an imperial general tasked with quelling a rebellion by the Jing Chuan chieftains in modern day Si Chuan province. We’ll get into this later on because this little interlude was historically accurate. 讷亲 had limited military experience and did not perform well on this campaign leading to the Emperor’s ire. I do find it slightly funny that pretty much all the lines the Emperor says to explain the situation are pretty much the summarizing lines from Baidu when reading up on the matter. Haha. I wonder if the screenwriters also did this cursory research to write this scene.
Anyways, the Emperor chastises the entire room of officials before asking which one of them is willing to lead the Qing army to protect the Qing borders.
Fu Heng volunteers for the job.
Back at home, Er Qing is making a huge ruckus because she does not want Fu Heng to go off to war. She states is because she’s worried about his safety but he immediately pushes back and states she’s more worried about her loss of status if she becomes a widow. A quick reminder here is that Er Qing is pregnant with the Emperor’s child. It’s appreciated that Fu Heng point blank tells Er Qing he knows full well how this child came to be. He is aware of the Emperor’s character who would not do such a thing so it’s pretty easy to deduce who plotted this little scheme for the child to come to be. This shuts Er Qing up who can only cry.
Before leaving for war though, Fu Heng makes a mad dash to Yuan Ming Yuan and sneaks a glance at Wei Ying Luo. To which I’m like. WHYYYY. Stop it Fu Heng. It’s not healthy for you!!!
And then we get a montage of time passing relatively peacefully. We’re now in Qian Long’s 15th year of reign or 1750. 2 years have passed since the death of the Empress. One day, the Empress Dowager meets with the Emperor to remind him that since it’s been some time since Empress Fu Cha’s death, it’s time to consider promoting Xian Huang Gui Fei to the position. Per the Empress Dowager, Xian Huang Gui Fei has been managing the Harem admirably since Empress Fu Cha’s death and should be given the honor of being the next Empress. And so, the Emperor agrees.
Our Xian Fei has stepped up and officially becomes Empress. In her full court regalia, she stands in front of a mirror and speaks to her deceased mother that she is finally the Empress. No one can look down upon her any more. Everything she’s done is to live up to her mother’s dying words. At last, she has finally achieved ultimate power.
It’s a pity she’s not the main character of this drama. For those hoping to see what her coronation ceremony may have looked like, head on over to watch Ruyi’s love in the palace – the end of episode 47 has a fantastic representation. That’s a scene where you could tell big $$ was spent to create a more realistic ceremony.
We turn back to Ying Luo in Yuan Ming Yuan. The servants there have been told that this year, the Empress Dowager’s birthday celebrations will be conducted there and for each of them to pay the utmost attention to their task. Soon after, the royal entourage arrives. Apart from the Emperor and Empress dowager, we have the newly coronated Empress, 纯贵妃, 舒嫔, 庆贵人 and 愉妃。 愉妃 we haven’t seen in quite some time. She’s the mother of the 5th prince that 璎珞 helped at the beginning of the drama.
Ying Luo doesn’t care about all of these folks. She only cares about seeing her old friend 明玉 who has these last two years been working under 纯贵妃。But something is off when Ying Luo manages to find Ming Yu alone. Ming Yu is extremely cold towards Ying Luo and even dismisses her. Ming Yu also looks a lot paler than she did previously. At that moment, Chun Gui Fei and Yu Fei arrive. Ying Luo has no other option but to back off when told pointedly by both these consorts that Ming Yu didn’t want to talk to Ying Luo.
But at night, Ying Luo becomes increasingly worried something is amiss. Ming Yu would not behave this way in front of Ying Luo unless something was wrong. Soon after, Ying Luo sneaks out and grabs Ming Yu while she was on duty. Alone, Ying Luo questions Ming Yu as to why she’s so distant only to find that Ming Yu has been injured. She continues to deny anything but does give Ying Luo the warning to watch out for Chun Gui Fei. She is no longer the Chun Fei that they once knew. At this moment, 纯贵妃‘s head maid 玉壶 arrives, disbanding this little meet up. 璎珞 argues with 玉壶 on Ming Yu’s treatment and says she’ll investigate the truth as to why 明玉 is now so scared of Chun Gui Fei. As Ying Luo storms off though, 玉壶 threatens under her breath that 璎珞 has to have a life in order to do any kind of investigation.
Just as these words fall, a couple of eunuchs are seen sneaking into 璎珞’s rooms hoping to silence her forever. But they only find a couple of pillows in Ying Luo’s bed. When they try to leave however, they are caught by Ying Luo, 袁春望 and a head eunuch. This confirms to Ying Luo that the situation at hand isn’t as simple as Ming Yu makes it out to be.
The next day, the Emperor heads to pay his respects to the Empress at 长春仙馆 where Ying Luo has been working these last two years. He notices the flowers and the food placed on the altar. The cake in the center in particular though looks off from what he remembered. Ying Luo arrives and tells him a story that the Empress spoke to her in a dream the night before claiming she wanted this cake. But it was Ming Yu who used to make these dishes so Ying Luo could only try her hand. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as good as it used to.
This little discussion on cake was actually planned by Ying Luo in order to save Ming Yu. And right in the knick of time. At that moment, Ming Yu was being questioned by Chun Gui Fei. Chun Gui Fei thinks Ming Yu sneaked a message to Ying Luo to be careful which is why she’s still alive and two lives were taken. Clearly, she was the one to send those to Eunuchs the night before to kill Ying Luo. But before Ming Yu could be taken away for some kind of punishment, Li Yu arrives from the Emperor and requests Ming Yu make the special cake for the late Empress. Given that this was a request by the Emperor, Chun Gui Fei has no option but to let Ming Yu leave.
In the kitchens, Ying Luo and Ming Yu finally meet. Ying Luo also purposefully injures herself in order to meet her old imperial doctor friend Ye Tian Shi who is here to tend to the Empress Dowager. He looks after Ming Yu and is shocked to find that in her body is a number of silver needles. Through much effort, the Doctor was able to retrieve 8 needles out of Ming Yu’s body that would ultimately kill her. There are a few probably still left in her body he was unable to retrieve. This is a horrifying form of punishment and we will learn in episode 42 exactly what happened to Ming Yu to cause her to be subject to this type of slow torture.
There is a lot of history that’s thrown at us in the early minutes of the episode. I thought these events flowed surprisingly well with the drama because they are all contemporaneous to the events that happened in the drama.
Let’s first talk about Necin.
Necin came from the powerful 钮祜禄 clan. That is the same clan that the current Empress Dowager is from. Or, if you remember towards the end of Empresses in the Palace, the clan that is gifted to 甄嬛. Necin’s lineage is just as aristocratic. His father, grandfather, and great grandfather were all bequeathed the title of duke of the first rank either in life or in death.
He himself was a very favored minister official throughout the reigns of Kangxi, Yong Zheng, and the early years of Qian Long. What’s interesting is that we don’t have any firm evidence of his date and year of birth. In 1727, Necin was already promoted to the title of Duke of the second rank. In 1733, he was promoted to the 军机处 and I’ll translated this to the Grand Council of the Office of Military and Political Affairs. In 1745, he was further promoted to lead the grand council. He became probably the most high ranking official in court. He was known to be an upstanding minister who did not take bribes, which also further contributed to his favor in court.
Unfortunately all of that came crashing down with the Jin Chuan campaigns.
Let me pivot to the Jin Chuan campaigns. There were 2 campaigns in the Jin Chuan region during 乾隆’s reign. Jin Chuan is in present day Sichuan, which is in central China, but the people there are of the 嘉绒藏族 or Jia Rong Tibetan ethnicity. During 乾隆’s reign, the area was ruled by chieftains or 土司. The Greater Jin Chuan was ruled by the Tusi called 莎罗奔. He was trying to rebel against Qing dynasty rule and made a move to unite the different tribes. In 1747, 莎罗奔 attacked the chiefdom of Chakla or 明正土司, surprising the Qing officials in area. They called for reinforcements from Beijing.
In 1747, 乾隆 sent the 张广泗, who was the governor-general of 川陕 in hopes of a quick victory. He arrived in the region in the 4th month of 1747. By the 8th month, 张广泗 finally realized the difficulty in campaign and requested for more aid from the government. 乾隆 then sent Necin to the front lines, believing that since he had been in the Grand Council and was familiar with the Emperor’s plans, he was the best man for the job. Necin arrived in the early months of 1748.
Unfortunately, Necin had no battlefield experience despite coming from a high ranking manchu family that was known for its military prowess. By this point, Necin was also an arrogant and headstrong man who ignored valuable suggestions from his military council. 张广泗 and Necin clashed with each other often on the front line. The combination of lack of experience from Necin and lack of clear leadership from both 张广泗 and Necin resulted in several embarrassing defeats for the Qing troops.
In reports back to the capital, Necin pushed all the blame onto 张广泗. But 乾隆 received contrasting reports from other officials stating that Necin never once left his tent to join on the frontlines. These reports also informed the Emperor on the rifts between 张广泗 and Necin. A fellow minister 岳钟琪 also reported that there was a spy that infiltrated the ranks of 张广泗’s military council, leading to sensitive battleplans being leaked to the rebels. The Emperor, at this point, was completely disappointed by these two and ordered them back to Beijing in the 9th month of 1748.
This was the end for the two men. 张广泗 was arrested obstruction of military plans. Under questioning by the Emperor himself, 张广泗 also pushed all wrongdoings to others. Even after torture, he continued to voice his “innocence” Seeing that 张广泗 felt no remorse, the Emperor passed his sentence. 张广泗 was sentenced to death in the 12th month of that year.
Back to Necin. He was once 乾隆’s most favored official. This campaign destroyed all of that goodwill. Honestly though, I think that the Emperor could have sent someone else to the front lines at first because he knew that Necin had no actual military experience. Anyways, once Necin returned back to the capital, he faced the wrath of the Emperor. 乾隆 gave him his grandfather’s knife to commit death by suicide. Necin died in 1749.
Let’s remind listeners that this was happening all in the backdrop of the death of the 7th prince and Empress’s death as we saw in episode 39 and 40. In history, as with in the drama, the Emperor was dealing with A LOT.
After the deaths of 张广泗 and Necin, well, before that, after the two were summoned back to Beijing, Emperor 乾隆 sent the then only 26 year old 傅恒 to the front lines in the 10th month of 1748. He arrived in the 12th month of that year. It took him less than 3 months to quash the Da Jin Chuan rebellion. I think it was a combination of Fu Heng’s military prowess and honestly 2 years of fighting didn’t help 莎罗奔, the Greater Jin Chuan Chieftan and his people. They were exhausted. 莎罗奔 surrendered several times. Surprisingly, Fu Heng did not execute 莎罗奔. Emperor 乾隆 even allowed him to stay as Chieftan or Tusi.
This was a decisive victory for Fu Heng and Qian Long but also laid the foundation for future rebellions which is the second campaign that happens decades later
The other big event that happens in this drama is of course the crowning of 娴贵妃 as Empress! We barely get to see anything in this drama as it’s just mentioned but we do get to see Charmaine Sheh in her formal court attire!
Here’s the timeline of events.
Empress Fu Cha died in the 4th month of 1748. In the 7th month of that year, Emperor Qian Long, citing an edict from the Empress Dowager, announces his intentions to crown 娴贵妃 as the next Empress. However, because the mourning period for the previous Empress was 27th months, he first promoted 娴贵妃 to 皇贵妃, or the rank of Imperial Noble Consort, which is one step below the Empress. The ceremony was held in the 4th month in 1749. We skip this entire step in the drama.
The imperial edict that we overhear in the drama is actually the edict that promotes her from Imperial Noble Consort to Empress. The drama just cuts out the lines that mention her status as the Imperial Noble Consort. As Imperial Noble Consort, she had several firsts. For example, she was the youngest Imperial Noble Consort of Qian Long’s life, at the age of 31/32. All of her ceremonial attire, allowances, and honors were equivalent to those of the Empress. Prior to her, there was a difference between 皇贵妃 and 皇后.
The now Noble Imperial Consort was finally crowned Empress in 1750 on August 11th at the age of 32.
Finally, let’s discuss the new Empress’s formal ceremonial attire! Unfortunately we don’t even get a full frontal shot of the outfit, all we see is the beautiful crown or 朝冠 and the back of the ceremonial outfit. My biggest recommendation is to go watch episode 47 of Ruyi’s love in the palace for those full body shots. We see from the back that there’s dragons on the robe.
For ceremonial attire, the Empress has a lot to wear. This includes the ceremonial crown, the jacket, the robe, the dress, 金约 which is the item with all the pearls dangling from the crown, 领约, which is the non-pearl necklace or collar that the Empress is wearing, earrings, ceremonial pearls, and the 采帨 which this piece of silk.
The dress is put on first, then the robe, then the jacket or it’s 穿着时朝裙在里，再穿朝袍，外加朝褂
The ceremonial dress is all neatly recorded in a collection that was compiled during the Qing Dynasty that records the formal dress. For example, the ceremonial crown is made of mink or sable skin for the winter and wool for the summer. There’s also long paragraphs on the number of pearls, the tassels, and the types of jewels that need to be added to the crown. The standards that were set during Qian Long’s reign were used all the way up until the end of the Dynasty. The Qing Dynasty ceremonial attire is probably the most difficult and complicated out of all of the dynasties – as we can see briefly in this episode.
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