The Story of Yanxi Palace – Ep 44: Climbing the Ladder


Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. I’m your host for today Cathy.


Today we are discussing episode 44 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. 


In episode 43, Ying luo and Emperor 乾隆 finally consummated the relationship and she’s gotten quite the favor from the Emperor. Ying Luo continues to play games with the Emperor to solidify her favor with him which he, despite being a little peeved, takes to gladly. 


But, there’s someone who is not pleased at all and that is 小嘉嫔. She is the younger sister of the deceased 嘉嫔 and was one of the most favored women in the palace until Ying Luo came along. To save costs, of course they have the same actress portray the two ladies. 


She forces Ying Luo to kneel for several hours one day because she felt like it and then went off to cry to the Emperor about how rude Ying Luo has been to her. Lies of course, but the EMperor believes her. At least for now. The Emperor, hearing these words and remembering how she used to treat him in Chang Chun Gong, orders that her placard be removed. This signifies that he will no longer see her.


Does Ying Luo care? Nope, not at all. Haha. She’s having a grand old time having a swing put together in her palace. Much to the chagrin of the Emperor who is annoyed that Ying Luo hasn’t come by to explain or beg for forgiveness. It’s really funny because even Li Yu is worried for Ying Luo about how little she cares about the Emperor. Haha. And then…the Emperor hears from the imperial doctor Ye Tian Shi that Ying Luo was forced to kneel and her knees are pretty badly bruised.


Next thing we know, a million gifts are being sent to Ying Luo’s residence from the EMperor. One of them includes a painting by Zhao Meng Fu called the Autumn Colors of Que and Hua Mountains or 鹊华秋色图. Evidently, they’re his apology for his treatment towards Ying Luo but Ying Luo just plays dumb and ignores Li Yu’s explanation of the Emperor’s non-verbal apology. She coughs a few coughs and Ming Yu steps in and says that Ying Luo caught a cold while out on the swings. Ying Luo’s refusal severely pisses off the Emperor who, in his residence, angrily shouts that she’ll never sleep with him again! 


But just as the other women in the palace were snickering at Ying Luo’s rash action, the Emperor gets another surprise. The Emperor, when greeting the Empress Dowager, learns that the painting he had gifted Ying Luo has been then gifted once again to the Empress Dowager. She, not knowing that this was originally in the Emperor’s collection, gifts it back to the Empress Dowager. The Emperor then shortly storms out of the Empress Dowager’s residence, fuming that someone would discard his gift so easily. All of this was witnessed by 纯贵妃 who cannot fathom how Ying Luo could do such a thing.


Yet, it all, turns out, plays right into YIng Luo’s scheme as the Emperor’s next stop is to Yan Xi Gong. He goes there and interrogates Ying Luo as to why she behaves the way she does. He claims he sees right through her little schemes of making him constantly think about her to which she responds – so you know it’s my scheme, then why are you so mad? I thought this scene was hilarious because it took a different turn than I expected. The Emperor drags 魏璎珞 to the bedroom and it looked like he was about to assault her, in which, I was like…no no no, don’t do that. But then as soon as 魏璎珞 starts choking, he’s like ARE YOU OK? I didn’t use any pressure and let’s go! Aw, the Emperor is still a gentleman at heart. 


This little back and forth helps the Emperor reaffirm his affections for Ying Luo and when he leaves Yanxi palace, he decrees that Ying Luo will be promoted from Noble Lady to Imperial Concubine. 贵人 to 嫔 and then given the title of 令。 


Additionally, 小嘉嫔 is grounded for one month in her palace and must copy the Virtues of A Woman 女则 100 times. 


This sudden announcement surprises everyone because this promotion is extremely sudden and in the eyes of many, unwarranted. Being a 嫔 or the rank of Imperial Concubine meant that the woman now runs her own palace. 魏璎珞 will now be able to refer to herself as 本宫 and is no longer a 小主 or a small mistress. The servants and maids in the palace will now refer to her as 娘娘. During the Qing Dynasty, there could be only 6 嫔 and there needed to be a royal decree and proper ceremony to be conferred the title of 嫔. 


It’s no wonder that 纯贵妃 is deeply unhappy at the news. 


The rest of the episode sees the return of 傅恒 after his victory in 金川. He is happy to come home but is quickly reminded of what he comes home to. His wife 尔晴 and her son 福康安. 尔晴 is an absolute piece of work. She blames HIM for locking her up and almost dying during childbirth. Fu Heng rightly retorts with – you made a crazy decision and have to live with the consequences. 尔晴 in retaliation reveals the bombshell that 魏璎珞 is now 令嫔, which stuns 傅恒. He rushes to the Palace to see the truth for himself. Unfortunately, reality really packs a punch when he sees 魏璎珞 carried past him on a palanquin. 


The Emperor promotes him to a duke of the first rank but 傅恒 does not seem overly ecstatic about this honor. Back home, 傅恒 sheds many tears as he reminisces the pull that he felt while on the battlefield to win the war so that he might ask for 魏璎珞’s hand in marriage as a reward. Unfortunately it’s too late for him. 


傅恒 – I feel for you, I really do. It was a touching scene and I think the actor 许凯 does his best work here. It was also a rare scene where a man was able to show heartbreak and tears. We don’t see this too often in dramas. But, as 傅恒’s sister, the Empress, told him years ago, he was going to regret his decision. 魏璎珞 will not turn back to him and she hasn’t. He chose to let go and must face his consequences.  


That was it for the episode recap – let’s move on to history!


In this episode, 魏璎珞 gets promoted from Noble Lady or 贵人 to 嫔 or Imperial Concubine at an astonishing pace. This actually mirrors history! She was first granted the title of Noble Lady on the 23rd day of the first month in 1745. She was then promoted to 令嫔 on the 17th day of the 11th month in the same year. She also had her official promotion ceremony. We’re in like 1750 right now so disregard the year of the events that happen

In the drama, both 愉妃 and 纯贵妃 discuss the origins of the title. 令


It comes from the Book of Songs or 诗经, a compilation of songs and poems that date back over 2500 years ago. The poem comes specifically from 《大雅·卷阿 juàn ā》


The full line in the poem goes like this. “颙yóng颙昂昂,如圭如璋,令闻令望,岂弟君子,四方为纲。”


My translation for the lines go as such – courtiers are respectful, with characters as pure as the jade, with a reputation admired by all. A kind and amiable King, is the role model to all. 


In the drama the focus is on these two lines – 如圭如璋,令闻令望. 


令闻:美好的名声 means a great reputation;令望:有美好的威仪,使人景仰 means a prestige that people look up to。Put together, this phrase means one with a respected and prestigious reputation that others want to imitate   


In the historical compilation of 鸿称通用 which recorded the posthumus titles of Qing Dynasty Emperors, Empresses, and ladies of the Imperial harem, it states that 令 also matches with the Manchu word of mergen which means intelligent and wise. 


These are all very positive traits and really reflect a high praise that Emperor 乾隆 had for the historical counterpart of 魏璎珞. I’ll remind listeners that these titles were not to be made lightly. If you recall in Empresses in the Palace, Emperor 雍正 refused to give 安陵容 the title of 丽 because 丽 was used in 伉俪情深 which was reserved for husband and wife. Since 安陵容 wasn’t his wife, she did not deserve that title. Now, I know that Empresses in the Palace is also a drama and 安陵容 is a fictitious character, but this is another example of why the titles for these women were very important. A woman would be bestowed a title once she reached the rank of IMperial Concubine or 嫔 and could run her own palace. 


Alrighty – next! Let’s talk about the painting that was the subject of anger from the Emperor and some subtle jealousy from 纯贵妃!


鹊华秋色图 赵孟頫

Autumn Colors of Que and Hua Mountains


This is a watercolor painting that was completed by 赵孟頫 in 1295 during the 元 dynasty. He painted this particular work for his friend 周密 when he returned to his hometown of 浙江. 


On the left we have 鹊山 and on the right we have the tall 华不注山 -“不”要读作“福”的音 on the right. As is written in the name, it depicts the autumn colors of the mountains and the valley, with small houses shown closer to 鹊山 to represent the tranquility of the moment. It is a favored painting as it showcases deft skill of the brush, usage of vibrant colors, and overall dashing feel of the work. 


The author – 赵孟頫(1254—1322年)was from 浙江 and a descendent of the founding Emperor of the Song Dynasty – note his last name of 赵 which was the royal last name of the Song Dynasty. During the last years of the Song Dynasty, he was in the military. When the Mongols toppled the empire, he became an official in the Ministry of War. He was skilled in music, poetry, painting, and calligraphy.


The painting was gifted to the author’s friend周密. He then in turn gifted it to a man called 君锡. During the Ming Dynasty, it was col    lected by fame  d scholars such as 文徴明、文彭 and the collector 项元汴. By the time of the 清 dynasty – it was owned by the famous poet 纳兰性德. It was subsequently owned by the royal collection by the time of Emperor 乾隆. It remained in the Forbidden Palace for the remainder of the Qing Dynasty. 


In 1949, when Nationalists evacuated Beijing for Taiwan, they moved several treasures from the Forbidden Palace to Taiwan. This includes this specific painting. 鹊华秋色图 is now found in the National Palace Museum in Taipei


Emperor 乾隆 wrote 4 large characters on the painting – 鹊华秋色, which is reflected in the title. We have clues on who owned the painting at different times because these men loved putting stamps on the painting. None moreso than the Emperor and we’ll talk about this hobby of his in future episodes. 


According to Baike – there’s over 100 seals stamped on the painting. I’m looking at pictures of it and oh boy are there a LOT of seals. Which brings me to a fun little bug. The example that the drama showcases is probably the current version of the painting, and one where I can compare. It’s not going to be the one that existed at the time in 1750. Why do I say this? Because in the shot where they showcase the painting, there’s clearly a seal with the words 太上皇帝 to the top right of the painting. The seal 太上皇帝 was added by 乾隆 but it means retired emperor, so this must have been added after 乾隆 abdicat  ed his throne. There’s no way he would have put stamp on a painting while he was still in his prime. So, because of that – this painting is not “contemporary” to the time period but it is a great replica of the current one that we can still see. 


Lastly – let me talk about the timing of 傅恒’s return. We discussed the timeline for episode 41. He left shortly after the Empress died in 1748. The drama says that he was gone for 3 years. So that puts us in like 1751. In history, he made quick work of the battle of Jin Chuan and returned in 1749. He was promoted to Duke of the First Rank 忠勇公 and gifted 四团龙补服 or 4 dragon badge square. This was a crazy high honor because only the Emperor, Princes, and Tribe Princes could wear this. It meant that in the front, back and 2 shoulders, there were dragons displayed for formal court wear. In the 200 plus years of the Qing Dynasty – this honor was granted only 73 times. Of course, there was still a difference between what the Emperor wore vs the rest, but for non royalty to be allowed to wear dragons was nevertheless an extremely high honor. 


Phew – alright! That was a lot of history. 傅恒 now must face the reality of Imperial Concubine Ling. I totally forgot about 尔晴 for a couple of episodes and now whenever she’s on screen, she’s just the worst. I didn’t talk about 纯贵妃 and the constant hints towards the city of 苏州 but we’ll talk about it in the next couple of episodes. 


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