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 43 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 contemporary commentary, and we’ll move on to discuss culture and history portrayed in these episodes.
In the last episode, Ying Luo has decided that she needs to take revenge against 纯贵妃 who not only harmed 明玉 but is now supsected to have been involved in the 7th prince and ultimately the late Empress’s death. Because Ying Luo is just a lowly maid with no power or connections, the only way to amass power IS by becoming a woman of the EMperor. So, with some clever scheming she successfully gets named Noble Lady Wei after a rockstar performance at the Empress Dowager’s birthday. We no return to the present day where it’s time to see Ying Luo take hold in the palace.
In episode 43, the new Empress assigns Wei Ying Luo to live in 延禧宫 quite a ways away from the palace center. We’ll talk about the palace later in today’s Episode. The Empress is quite happy to see this development because it helps balance out the power of favor in the palace. RIght now, 纯贵妃 has the most favor by the Emperor so it’s good for the new Empress to have someone to take some of that away. Meanwhile 纯贵妃 is already voicing her serious displeasure with Ying Luo. 愉妃, mother of the 5th prince and who has become quite close with 纯贵妃 is uncharacteristically harsh towards 璎珞 as well, saying all manner of degrading things. The two of them have their eyes open on what they can do to bring Ying Luo down.
When the imperial family returns from Yuan Ming Yuan, Ying Luo goes to her new home base. It’s a destitute spot that is in need of a cleaning. The staff she sees include former colleagues 琥珀 and 珍珠 who worked with Ying Luo and Ming Yu back in Chang Chun Palace with the late Empress. While 珍珠 is respectful to Ying Luo, 琥珀 is less so. She thinks that because they all worked together with late Empress, she is able to speak directly at 璎珞 and call her by her first name. She does not respect Ying Luo whatsoever.
This is already a test for YIng Luo who recognizes that she cannot openly punish 琥珀 because that would harm her reputation. It’s also pretty clear that someone purposefully told 琥珀 to serve Ying luo with the direct hope of disrespecting her and causing her to look bad in the palace.
But, Ying Luo tells Ming Yu that she needs to learn patience in the palace. Patience is key to being able to strike that satisfying blow when the time is right.
Now the most important thing Ying Luo needs to do now is to garner the Emperor’s attention. He has neglected seeing her at all since they returned to the forbidden palace. And so, the games begin.
Ying Luo is quite clever in recognizing that she should not go directly to the EMperor and seek him out. Instead, she goes over to the Empress Dowager. There, she is able to bring laughter to 寿康宫 by dressing up and telling fun stories to the aged woman. One day, the Emperor bumps into Ying Luo dressed up as a male storyteller telling her fun stories to the Empress DOwager. He is surprised to see her and tells her to leave for being out of decorum. However, after she leaves though, the Empress Dowager praises Ying Luo for her unique ability to bring a smile to her face.
Ying Luo continues to tell stories every day and every day when she leaves, she is ignored when the Emperor walks by to visit his mother. This goes on for about a month and YIng Luo decides that you know what? Tomorrow, I’m not going to go. She tells Ming Yu to take a day off as she is ahem “sick”.
We next see the Emperor working at his desk and without even looking up from his book, ask his head eunuch 李玉 if he’s asked. 李玉 is like, ask about what? And with a piercing glare from the Emperor, 李玉 chuckles and responds that noble lady 魏 has fallen ill. Sick?…Who asked about her?
Haha. The Emperor clearly has too much pride and ego to want to let go but is still rather worried about ying Luo. After about a second of thought, he decides to get up and go for a walk.
At 延禧宫 Ying Luo is “sick” and 琥珀 has arrived to bring her medicine. But she is extremely disrespectful towards Ying Luo and demeaning towards her. She even tries to take Ying Luo’s medicine from her hands when Ying Luo tries to tell 琥珀 to be more respectful. Unluckily for 琥珀 though, this exchange is overheard by the Emperor who is furious at her disrespect for 魏璎珞. She is ordered to be beaten 80 times and then banished to 行者库. What’s important here is that the Emperor punished 琥珀 because of her disrespect for his concubine. Not necessarily because it’s 魏璎珞. But because of this little show that 璎珞 orchestrated, she’s able to not only capture the attention of the Emperor, but establish authority in her palace with the help of the Emperor.
It’s also interesting to see that Ying Luo purposefully told Hu Po to serve her that night just so the Emperor can see her humiliate Ying Luo.
The next time the Emperor visits the EMperess Dowager and still does not see Ying Luo, it’s clear that Ying Luo has fully captured the Emperor’s attention. Even the Empress Dowager says so, joking that someone has taken the Emperor’s spirit. That night, the Emperor heads over to see Ying Luo and after all this planning, she successfully becomes a woman of the Emperor. Hook line and sinker.
This is just the first step to establishing her foothold in the palace.
With Ying Luo gaining so much attention from the Emperor, the rest of the ladies are sure to be jealous. It’s not surprising because apparently, the Emperor spent the night with her 3 nights in a row. This is unheard of in the palace. Sure enough, at the daily greeting with the Empress, the majority of the ladies in the palace except for Qing Gui Ren and the Empress are chewing out YIng Luo for not following protocol and being too stuck up. She hasn’t even arrived to greet the Empress! That just shows how highly she thinks of herself. This deeply amuses the Empress as Ying Luo arrives shortly after with a glass full of morning dew water she collected. Apparently, Ying Luo arrived before the Empress even woke up that morning to collect dew water for the Empress’s tea. This is a slap in the face to all of the women who just mouthed off at her.
The Empress motions for the ladies to leave. Privately, she finds this whole thing quite hilarious because she relishes in watching other people destroy each other. That way she doesn’t have to dirty her own hands. As for who will be Ying Luo’s next obstacle? It’s going to be 小嘉嫔. She’s the younger sister of the deceased 嘉嫔 and mother of the 4th prince. Outside of 纯贵妃 she is quite favored in the palace but has none of the patience and grace of 璎珞 or 纯贵妃. Instead, she is overtly domineering and aggressive towards Ying Luo when they first meet. And she becomes increasingly angry and distraught as Ying Luo manages to steer the Emperor away from her towards Ying Luo’s own palace, thereby reducing her favor. We will see in the next episodes how Ying Luo squares off against 小嘉嫔。
Today we’ll of course start off with the titular palace that 魏璎珞 now calls home. 延禧宫 or Yanxi Palace!
The palace itself was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty and had the name of 长寿宫. The name changed to 延祺宫 in 1535 and then finally 延禧宫 during the Qing Dynasty in the in 1686 when it was renovated. The name 延禧 is represents -迎福请喜之意 or to welcome in luck and happiness.
It is one of the six main palaces in the eastern part of 紫禁城 or the Forbidden Palace, situated in the northeastern corner of the palace. This wasn’t a very favored Palace because of its rather far location from the Emperor’s main sleeping quarters of 养心殿. Due to the distance to the Emperor, it is thought that mainly lower ranking consorts and concubines lived there. There’s only a short list of women who resided at Yanxi Palace during the Qing Dynasty and all didn’t capture much attention from the Emperors.
In Empresses in the Palace, 安陵容 lived here. We of course now have 魏璎珞 live in this palace. These are of course all fictitious characters.
I was doing some research and it looks like 魏璎珞 probably did live at Yanxi palace but only for a short while. This would most likely be due to her background as a Baoyi and only a lowly Noble Lady at that.
When Wei Ying Luo rose through the ranks, she moved to 储秀宫, which is in the western part of the palace.
Let’s talk about the architecture of this palace.
The architecture and build of this palace was pretty similar to the other 5 palaces nearby, with 2 courtyards. The front courtyard had 5 rooms, with 3 side rooms to the east and west. The inner courtyard also had 5 rooms with 3 side rooms to the east and west. The roofing was all yellow glazed tiles.
The problem with this palace is that it was prone to fires. After it was rebuilt in the 17th century, there were at least 4 notable fires at the palace. The fire in 1845 basically destroyed the whole building, with only the front door still intact. One of Emperor 道光’s concubines, 恬嫔, who was living there, perished in the fire. Emperor Tong Zhi requested a renovation of this palace in 1872 but was denied due to the exorbitant funds that would be needed to renovate it.
In 1909, just 3 years before the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Empress Dowager 隆裕太后 ordered the renovation of the palace and the construction of a 3 story western style building, called a 水殿 or a water palace. The intention was to build a sort of crystal palace that would be constructed with glass as the walls, with metal supports and water that would be redirected from a nearby spring to surround the small palace. Because the palace was so prone to fires, the thought was to build something with water to prevent more fires. It was during this renovation that electricity and heat was also added to the palace.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of government funds and the end of the Empire, it was never completed. However, we can still see the crystal palace today. It’s kind of jarring because it takes up the whole courtyard. You can still see that it isn’t really finished. White marble was instead used for the walls and there’s the awkward metal skeletons for the pagodas at the top of the structure. Nevertheless, it is an interesting example of western influences in China, especially with the architecture.
This specific palace itself in Beijing wasn’t a top tourist destination because of its remote location but due to the wild success and popularity of this drama and Ruyi’s Love in the Palace, many tourists head there today to see the famed 延禧宫. It re-opened after shutting down during COVID so now tourists can go and enjoy this famed palace.
Filming of 延禧 palace took place in 横店 in the southeast part of china, only a few hours away from Shanghai. A Forbidden Palace was essentially recreated at this film lot and is where Empresses in the Palace and the Story of Yanxi Palace was filmed. Nowadays, you can actually tour the sets and people have taken photos of where the characters were during specific scenes. The 延禧宫 in the drama is nothing like the 延禧宫 in Beijing. However, thats’ not a big deal because well, the current YanXi palace in Beijing also doesn’t look anything like it did during 乾隆’s reign!
In this episode, we see 魏璎珞 wearing a completely new wardrobe to match her status as a noble lady.
Let me talk about a couple of the highlights. I will apologize upfront because I’m not a fashion historian so if I butcher some names of clothing types, please give me a pass.
When she first enters 延禧 palace, she is wearing a cloak with a very unique shoulder design. That is called a 云肩披风. We’ve definitely seen other ladies in the Imperial Harem wear a cloak like this but since we now have 魏璎珞 wear these, let’s talk about them.
Well 云肩 translates to cloud shoulder. There’s two ways of wearing this. The first is the type that would be worn over a piece of clothing, as we have with the cloak or how 魏璎珞 wears what looks kind of like a feathered collar later in this episode when she greets the Empress. The second is to have the clouds embroidered as part of the outfit. This is essentially what we see 明玉 have.
云肩 has long roots in 汉 culture that can be seen in paintings dating back as far back as the Tang dynasty so 7th century. They are the first type – which the云肩 is worn on top of the blouse. Then we have the 云肩 that originated around the Yuan dynasty that was sewn onto the blouse. Then finally, we have the more commonly known 云肩 that originated during the end of the Ming dynasty. This is like a shoulder shawl that covers the shoulders. The original purpose was to protect the rest of the blouse from any oils that were used for hair products.
The issue is that 云肩 were typically worn by Han women and the collars that Manchu or 旗 ren wore, were different. If we look at what 纯贵妃 and 舒嫔 are wearing in this episode, they don’t really have any embroidery on their collars, which was more in line with Manchu style. The Empress’s head maid’s embroidery / collar is definitely the most common Manchu style. In which there are the buttons that clasp the dress and the embroidery lines those buttons.
The Yun Jian style that we see most women in the women of drama wear, which in this episode, is 嘉嫔. Didn’t really come into fashion for Manchu women until the end of the 清 dynasty.
I’m reading several articles criticizing the costume designs for most of the women here in the drama when it comes to 云肩 because they wouldn’t have been as prevalent in the imperial harem during this time. It doesn’t mean Manchu women didn’t wear them, it just wasn’t as popular.
However – that doesn’t mean that costume designers didn’t do their research. It’s just that many of the pieces of clothing they recreated were from later in the 清 dynasty. This is especially true for the outfit that 魏璎珞 wears when greeting the Empress and her subsequent encounter with 嘉嫔. This is called a 蓝底绣仙桃团花纹 – Her outfit is what was considered a Manchu & Han mix style because there’s the 云肩 on top of her dress and then you can see the side embroidery for the manchu style underneath.
There’s a painting of Emperor 道光’s Empress wearing this exact same style of clothing. She just lived in the 19th century instead of the 18th.
Another costume that I want to callout is the outfit that 魏璎珞 wears when she first arrives at 延禧宫 and takes off the cloak. It is a beautiful blue piece that we’ll call 群青底绣团花. It’s a lighter shade of blue. I suspect this was an attempt to recreate something similar to a painting that has survived of 魏璎珞’s historical counterpart. The woman in the painting is wearing a similar light shade of blue with flowers embroidered on her shoulders. This painting is among a collection of 清 dynasty paintings and is one of a few that survived to today. Perhaps that’s why a lot of 魏璎珞’s wardrobe as she rises as a concubine is blue? That’s just my speculation.
And lastly – we have some scenes of 魏璎珞’s night gown which is a 黄底绣菊花 or a yellow base with chrysanthemum flowers.
I’ll continue discussing costumes and outfits moving forward. You guys should also spend some time discovering the different styles that each of the ladies wore.
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