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 and Karen!
Today we are discussing episode 47+48 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 the history portrayed in this episode.
In the last two episodes, YIng Luo had to deal with the rumors swirling around the palace about her and Fu Heng who recently returned from war that impacted her standing in the eyes of the Emperor. The Emperor knew full well that he was the one to stand in between YIng Luo and Fu Heng and though he didn’t say it, was inwardly upset to hear that 璎珞 and 傅恒 might be having an affair. It all came to a head when Ying Luo set a trap for 小嘉嫔 and to some degree 纯贵妃 who were the primary instigators of the rumors which let the Emperor know that it was primarily 小嘉嫔 who was most interested in causing a scene against YIng Luo. But the problem is, the trap set by Ying LUo involved Fu Heng’s presence which then led the Emperor giving YIng Luo the cold shoulder. Because even though Ying Luo was framed by 小嘉嫔, the sight of her and 傅恒 together was enough to cause the Emperor to be upset.
We turn to episode 47 now. YIng Luo is now feeling the full effects AGAIN if I might add of being “discarded” by the EMperor. She’s not given the food and coal befitting of her station in the palace. 明玉 is upset on her behalf but Ying Luo gives some of her thoughts which I found to be extremely accurate and reflective of what it means to be a woman of the EMperor. She says the Emperor doesn’t care what kind of woman shares his bed as long as she is able to help ease the stress from his work, that’s all that matters. That is why in the palace, all of the individual flowers that were once beautiful will ultimately fade away into forgotten faces. Why would the Emperor want to be with a woman who makes him unhappy?
And i think this little paragraph reflects the true position of women in the palace. They’re not there to be equals to the Emperor. They’re there to help him relieve stress and act as child bearing entities. Sigh.
See, YIng luo would have been left out in the cold and perhaps forgotten if only the people who want her downtrodden just left her alone. But nope. 纯贵妃 shows up hoping to humiliate Ying Luo but actually gives her a great opportunity to resurface back into the Emperor’s line of sight. 纯贵妃 requests for Ying Luo to embroider a Buddhist Bodhisattva portrait for the Empress Dowager in one month. Ming Yu tries to protest in order to protect YIng Luo’s hands which have been damaged from her time at Xin Zhe Ku but Ying Luo accepts the offer.
We get a montage of Ying Luo working tirelessly day in an day out to embroider the portrait while Fu Heng quietly helps Ying luo by using her new eunuch Xiao Quan Zi to give her much needed coal, food and medicine. After a month, the beautiful embroidery is presented to the Empress Dowager.
The Empress Dowager is extremely pleased to see such an intricate work and non-stop compliments the creator of this beautiful piece. 纯贵妃 just states that it’s the ladies of the Embroidery Department who finished the piece and totally glosses over Ying Luo’s contribution. However, the Emperor, who was in attendance for this reveal, spotted with his eagle eyes that the hair for the buddha was sewn with actual hair and a small bloodstain was embroidered into a design on the forehead of the buddha.
The Emperor promptly leaves and his spidey senses tingle as he remembers that “she” was originally from the Embroidery department. No one else in that department would be so meticulous in their work.
He wanders over the training grounds where 傅恒 and 海兰察 are currently sparring. The Emperor immediately jumps in for a furious battle against 傅恒. The fight and discussion becomes heated as 傅恒 point blank raises the fact that if it weren’t for the Emperor’s refusal back in the day, The Emperor’s 令嫔 would most likely be his, 傅恒’s wife, today. He departs with the words that since the Emperor already has 令嫔, the Emperor should treat her better so that he, 傅恒 doesn’t continue to regret why he didn’t persist more in the past. He walks away while the Emperor remembers the late Empress’s words as to why he tore apart this couple.
We get a little interlude with 和亲王 or Prince He who is the Emperor’s brother that we haven’t seen in a while. He has also returned to the palace and holds a hatred against Ying Luo whom he believes, accurately, that YIng lUo killed his mother. He takes this opportunity to humiliate YIng Luo and Ming Yu but is stopped by Fu Heng. After Prince He leaves, Ying Luo hastily turns to leave but not before Fu Heng tells her that he spoke to the Emperor to treat her better in the future.
At night, the Emperor, after thinking about Fu Heng’s words, makes a surprise and stealthy visit to Yan Xi Gong. He personally sees with his own eyes the destitute living situation that Ying Luo is currently subjected to. She has no servants left and her rooms are extremely cold. She has been tasked to embroider more buddhist texts for the Empress Dowager and is doing so by dim candlelight with only Ming Yu accompanying her.
–[Cathy] -> this scene was SO funny to me because the Emperor and Li Yu are literally sneaking into the palace and like avoiding the light. This reminded of this ABC show Galavant where the King and Galavant are drunkenly trying to sneak around the castle. They’re singing a song that goes something like -> “Secret secret, hush hush hush”. I burst out laughing at the scene
Anyways – the Emperor, upon returning to his rooms, is flustered by what he saw and tells Li Yu to give his coal and one of his lamps to Ying Luo. But make sure that she doesn’t know it’s from her. He’s just being stubborn in his care for her but he’s clearly upset that she’s living in such a poor state. The next day, everything that the Interior Household Department had been neglecting to give Ying Luo suddenly appears. She now has food, clothing and coal to help her get through the winter.
The completed embroidered buddhist text is presented to 纯贵妃 who is begrudgingly quite impressed with YIng Luo’s skill. She is none the wiser that her attempt to humiliate YIng Luo was the opportunity Ying Luo needed to reconnect with the Emperor.
And indeed. One night, the Emperor was severely agitated with his work duties and also annoyed that Ying Luo has not come to thank him yet for his gifts. Only for Ying Luo to sneak into his quarters dressed as a eunuch. Her little joke does indeed ease his stress and the two of them are able to move past the rumors and Ying Luo even gets the Emperor to apologize to her for his treatment over the last few months. The Emperor even guarantees that no one will bully YIng Luo again. Ying Luo has now fully recovered the Emperor’s favor.
We now turn to Episode 48 with Fu Heng celebrating in his home with a few drinks. His maid 青莲 asks why he’s so happy and he in turns tells her about how he was helpful in Ying Luo’s plan. Apparently everything she’s done in the last few episodes including being cold shouldered by the Emperor were all part of her plan to further instigate the Emperor’s feelings for her. Fu Heng guessed that Ying Luo was using him the moment she called him back in Chang Chun Gong for the Emperor to see them together. It’s pretty obvious because Ying Luo could have told him to leave. Why call him back? And now she’s back on top stronger than ever. Both Fu Heng and 纯贵妃 in episode 47 uttered the lines of 忍常人不可忍才能得常人不可得 which means being able to endure what most people cannot endure to obtain what others cannot obtain. In this case, the Emperor’s heart. Qing Lian leaves and is seen by 尔晴 who instantly becomes jealous once again that even without Ying Luo, 傅恒 has this maid to talk to and not her.
Back at the palace, the Emperor is thoroughly enjoying time together with Ying Luo. The Emperor teaches YIng Luo to paint and she is entirely a jokester in front of him. I would say she’s very good at 撒娇 which I don’t think there’s a good direct english translation but you could say she’s good at being cute and flirty to grab the Emperor’s attention. She teases the Emperor’s love for stamping paintings with his myriad of stamps and is not afraid to call him uncultured. But instead of being too upset, he is happy with her presence.
–[Cathy] Please note in this episode, that the Emperor and 魏璎珞 are painting orchids, which we’ve discussed are mainly the flowers that represent 纯贵妃. Here though, 魏璎珞 says – I’m going to be the cricket that teases the orchid leaves. That’s pretty heavy foreshadowing of what will happen to 纯贵妃.
The rest of the ladies in the palace are extremely displeased with the full attention that the Emperor has given Ying Luo. None moreso than 纯贵妃. The one night she was able to secure the Emperor’s presence in her palace, the Emperor is distracted by a beautiful sound coming from outside. The Emperor is immediately whisked away by the interesting sound leaving 纯贵妃 alone once again. That is to say, Ying Luo has many tricks up her sleeve to capture the interest of the Emperor.
The person that is most enjoying the turn of events is none other than the new Empress. She knows that 令嫔 is pushing everyone’s buttons but since 令嫔 is not impacting her status as Empress for now, she is happy to watch the show. At one morning’s court greeting, the other ladies are all complaining about YIng Luo. All except for 庆贵人. Surprisingly 纯贵妃 doesn’t let her anger and jealousy show and instead turns to proper imperial harem matters for the Empress to consider. The Empress praises 纯贵妃‘s composure but then smirks at 纯贵妃’s clenched hands as a maid arrives announcing the decree that Ying Luo has been promoted to 令妃 or Consort Ling.
We’ll leave the episode recap there and head onto discuss history for these episodes and leave the last few minutes of this episode for the next podcast episode.
There’s not a lot of history in episode 47, so we’re going to focus most of the discussion to episode 48
We’re gonna briefly talk about 张廷玉. Emperor 乾隆 is very angry with him at the end of episode 47 for daring to request to have is plaque placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙. It is recorded in 1749 that 张廷玉, who was requesting retirement, deeply annoyed the Emperor for requesting the privilege to have his plaque placed in 太庙. It was basically a threat because he said – hey, your father promised this to me. Are you going to honor this? The Emperor begrudgingly agreed but 张廷玉 didn’t personally go to thank the Emperor, which pissed him off even more. The next day, 张廷玉 hurriedly came to personally thank the Emperor but by this point Emperor 乾隆 believed there was a rat who told 张廷玉 of his anger. So then, 张廷玉 basically was striped of his title AND his privilege plaque placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple.
Long story short – 张廷玉 pissed off the the Emperor. It was only after he died in 1755 at the ripe old age of 84 did the Emperor finally agree to have his plaque installed in the ancestral temple.
Garden of Stories is a collection of stories and anecdotes from the pre-Qin period to the Western Han Dynasty compiled and annotated by the Confucian scholar 刘向 in 17 BCE. There were originally 20 scrolls; we only have 5 surviving. It was recompiled in the Song Dynasty to 20 chapters.
Duke Wen of Wei was drinking with his courtiers. He has one of his ministers 公乘不仁 act as judge. If anyone doesn’t finish drinking his cup, then they need to be punished with another drink. Well, the Duke didn’t finish his drink and 公乘不仁 indeed said – Duke, you need to drink another. So the phrase 浮一大白 is to punished with another drink.
In episode 48, 魏璎珞 and the Emperor have finally reconciled and 魏璎珞 makes a big dig at the Emperor for all of his stamps, especially what he stamped on the 鹊华秋色图 Autumn Colors of Que and Hua Mountains. I commented on how there’s like over 100 stamps of seals on the painting and how Emperor Qian Long loved to stamp things and I find it hilarious that 魏璎珞 calls him out on it.
Why? Well because history buffs nowadays call him 章总 or Seal Director because this Emperor just loved to collect 印章 or seals to STAMP things. I’m reading a funny article roasting Emperor 乾隆 on this particular hobby, so much so that they call him the Seal Monster. It was most likely to show – look, I’m scholarly, I’m an intellectual.
His main target for his seals? To the despair of many, priceless paintings and writings. As the Emperor, he could and did collect these paintings and writings for the royal collection. Once he had them in his possession, he would stamp his seal on the painting to show ownership. The funniest thing though, is that he loved to put a seal on the most obvious place of the painting. Sometimes, this red seal basically destroys the integrity of the painting. The author of this article was not at all subtle for his dismissal of Emperor 乾隆’s actions with regards to seals and his destruction of the original works.
I mean, look at the 鹊华秋色图 and the sheer number of red seals stamped on the painting that was shown during that scene. When I talked about that painting for episode 44, even I could make out specific stamps from him.
However, did you notice the number of seals he has on his table? It’s at least like 6. Yep, he loved his seals. There’s a compilation of Emperor Qian Long’s artifacts and just with SEALS, they recorded over 1000. So yea – that’s why they call him 章总 or Seal Director.
乌金砚 – Inkstone or 砚 is what the Chinese used for calligraphy and painting. This is a rare inkstone from the He Bei province near Mei Mountain. As Emperor Qian Long said in the drama, this inkstone is extremely rare. I read in a post that people basically have never seen it in modern times. There’s a compendium that was published in 1943 that describes 乌金砚, but the entry basically just stresses that this particular inkstone is extremely rare and has not been seen. So for 魏璎珞 to just be gifted this inkstone means that the Emperor REALLY adores her.
奇葩 – here’s a phrase that Li Yu uses in episode 48 that listeners should really pay attention to.
I always thought that this was an anachronism because 奇葩 is now used a lot and is used colloquially to describe someone or something as outright weird.
However, that’s not the case! 奇葩 has appeared in the written form since the Han dynasty! Including by the famed Han Dynasty poet 司马相如. In his rhapsody, the Beauty or 美人赋 written in , he has the phrase 奇葩逸丽，淑质艶光 Qípā yì lì, shū zhì yàn guāng or an Exquisite woman who is elegant and graceful and dazzling. This of course means that 奇葩 typically refers to a woman.
It means a rare and peculiar beautiful flower. It typically describes a very unique piece of art or writing or else an interesting person. It is used to describe a person or item that is unconventional and full of personality. This basically describes 魏璎珞 to a T.
水仙子·喻纸鸢 – this is the poem or a folk song that’s found on the kite that Emperor Qian Long picks up. It was written in the Yuan Dynasty – so 13th -> 14th century
Here’s my translation. The threads control all of the movements of the kite. Where it moves, I control. There’s nothing to hold this kite back. A strong wind blows it away, breaking the thread. It flies to the end of the earth. I can’t retrieve it and it’s lost to the wind. Who knows where it has landed?
On the surface, the poem is about a kite. But it actually is about longing for someone. The kite itself represents marriage. There’s another saying in chinese 千里姻缘一线牵 or a thousand mile marriage is connected by a thread. So the kite or marriage is connected by a thread. If it breaks, so does the marriage.
I’m reading on baidu and we could interpret the song as such. The kite is a woman, perhaps even a prostitute who no longer is in that line of business. A man falls in love with her and they become betrothed. The man is very confident in the marriage and doesn’t grab onto the relationship. However, the kite or woman, seemingly with no strings attached, instead turns her attention to another man and leaves without a trace. The string is broken. He is heartbroken. Unable to move on, he wonders what happened to her. Well – regardless if the woman was a prostitute or not, the story is indeed about a man who “lost” his marriage.
This is an interesting song or poem to feature in the drama because here, the roles are reversed. 魏璎珞 is the man flying the kite and the Emperor is the kite. She is confessing to the Emperor that she’s uncertain about his feelings towards her. She can also feel lost and heartbroken if the Emperor decides to turn around and abandon her. The Emperor immediately understood this, which is why he was so happy upon seeing the kite. He finally gets some sort of indication of 魏璎珞’s feelings.
安南 – used to be the name of Vietnam
俄国 – of course is Russia
令妃 – she was promoted to consort in the 5th month of 1748 and had the official ceremony in the 4th month of the next year. This is roughly 2.5 years after her promotion to Imperial Concubine. We now finally have the 令妃 that every knows!
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