Welcome 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 5 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode or else the drama if the episode is light on history.
If you are new to the podcast, welcome! Do check us out on instagram or twitter at Chasing dramas and also visit us on our website at Chasingdramas.com. If you like what you hear or have any feedback, please let us know!
Episode 5 showcases one of the reasons why this drama differentiates itself with other palace dramas in that we’re not subject to our lead character being framed by some bad guys and then having to wait for a random guy, usually the male lead, to save them for no apparent reason. This drama also negates the need for there to be growth on the main characters side before retaliating. I think we’ve seen plenty of dramas where the main female lead is way too nice and doesn’t fight back. Snooze.
So what happens. At the end of episode 4, Ying Luo was called over to Noble Consort Gao or 高贵妃‘s palace because she found out Ying Luo told 愉贵人 about her nefarious poison attempt and 高贵妃 is upset her plot was foiled by some lowly seamstress maid like YIng Luo. Fortunately, Ying Luo was smart enough to hatch a plan which is to show she was mentally ill in front of 高贵妃 which allowed 高贵妃 to reduce her suspicion of Ying Luo and ultimately let her leave. The thing is, poor Ying Luo was subject to eating 7 full bowls of lotus rice balls in order to complete her ruse as a mentally slow individual.
While this seems to have fooled 高贵妃，her ally, 嘉嫔 is not so easily tricked. She recognizes that if 璎珞 is indeed faking this, she must be a powerful adversary because she thought of a plan to save her life during the walk over to 高贵妃’s palace. Not many people can think so quickly on her feet.
Back at the maid’s quarters, 璎珞’s friend, 吉祥 is the only one worried about 璎珞‘s whereabouts while the others, namely 锦绣 and 玲珑 start gossiping that 璎珞 is probably out secretly meeting imperial guards. But these ladies are left speechless when they see 璎珞 return in one piece.
The next day at breakfast after all the other ladies have left, 璎珞 point blank confronts the culprit who spilled the secret to 高贵妃. It wasn’t hard to deduce that it was 玲珑 who told 高贵妃’s maid in order for 高贵妃 to kill 璎珞。 玲珑 immediately goes pale at 璎珞’s accusations and tries to play innocence but 璎珞 is having none of it. She slams out a bowl of the lotus rice balls from last night down on the table to force 玲珑 to eat as a way to teach her a lesson to not snitch on people. This is highly satisfying as 玲珑 tries to refuse but 璎珞 is extremely forceful and shoves a ball into 玲珑‘s mouth to eat. Even as 玲珑 tries to cry out for help, she is rebuffed by 璎珞。璎珞 is an absolute beast in her retaliation and tells 玲珑 that this is a lesson for her to not use such vile tactics if she is jealous of someone. 玲珑 is reduced to crumpling to the ground after eating a couple of the rice balls and ultimately throws it up. I must say, we rarely get to see such a retaliation so early in a drama. Normally we see it towards the end where the female lead has suffered too much and turns “evil” but nope. In this drama, 璎珞 out the gate comes out swinging.
One maid has been subdued at least for now, and another continues to wreak havoc. THis time, it’s 锦绣 with her rumors that 璎珞 is secretly in an amorous relationship with an imperial guard. We mentioned last episode that this is strictly forbidden in the palace which…gets relaxed in later episodes but anyways, for now this is taboo. As we recall, the guard 璎珞 met is 庆锡 who had a fling with 璎珞’s deceased sister and so 璎珞 met with him to get details about what happened. There’s no relationship whatsoever. That doesn’t stop 锦绣 from flaming the rumors to all of the seamstress maids who are willing to listen. 张嬷嬷, who manages the maids, kindly reminds 璎珞 about these rumors and that even though she believes 璎珞 there’s nothing going on, it’s important to figure out next steps.
Shortly after, 璎珞 puts her plan in action. At night, she sneaks out and doesn’t return till morning, only to be followed by 锦绣 who saw her leave. 玲珑 also heard her leave their sleeping quarters. The next day, they head over to share this news with 方姑姑 another auntie who despises 璎珞 and wants to get rid of her. She wants 玲珑 to continue spying on 璎珞 in order to catch her in the act. 玲珑 is a little hesitant after the lesson she was taught by 璎珞 earlier but 锦绣 doesn’t mind. She is more than willing to help 方姑姑 spy on 璎珞。They confirm that the man 璎珞 met previously was 庆锡.
Next, 锦绣 sees 璎珞 actually give something to 庆锡 while he’s on duty before she hurriedly rushes away. 庆锡 is a little surprised to have received a gift but after seeing exactly what she gave him, he’s befuddled to see a rock. Unluckily for him, this scene was also observed by 傅恒 who punishes the guards for interacting with maids. Bad luck for 庆锡 I guess but we don’t know if this was also on purpose by 璎珞。
Three months pass and the good old indicators that 璎珞 might be pregnant pop up. She feels gross during breakfast one day and rushes out to throw up. When 张嬷嬷 comes to measure the maids for new clothes, she remarks that 璎珞’s stomach grew substantially. This all piques 锦绣’s suspicion that 璎珞 might be pregnant. She confirms this as she spies 璎珞 changing clothes one day and her stomach is indeed quite a bit rounder than previous months. 锦绣 immediately tattles to 方姑姑 who then informs the higher ups.
Since this is a serious accusation, all of the seamstresses are brought out to the yard as 璎珞 is interrogated by 吴公公，the eunuch who manages these maids. 方姑姑 has a huge smirk on her face accuses her in front of the group that she has conceived a child. 锦绣 is her witness to this accusation. 璎珞 adamantly refuses such claims and requires there be physical evidence before anyone can make judgement. 吴公公 agrees and has 璎珞 examined by two 嬷嬷 ultimately to see if she is indeed pregnant. 锦绣 and 方姑姑 are both strutting with their belief that they have 璎珞 in a corner. But, 璎珞 returns and the examining 嬷嬷 confirms that 璎珞 is still a virgin. How can she be pregnant?
This stuns 方姑姑 and 锦绣。Her stomach is indeed much bigger, how can she not be pregnant? 张嬷嬷 steps in to explain that ever since 璎珞 ate those lotus rice balls, she’s felt bloated so her stomach right now is just bloated. These two are almost like goldfish out of water, grasping for air as they realize they’ve been duped. 吴公公 at least is very fair and has no patience for the likes of 方姑姑 and 锦绣 who slander others. The two start tearing at each other’s throats, accusing the other of being the main instigator for this whole debacle which shows just how paper thin their alliance was. Each takes an opportunity to beg 璎珞 for forgiveness. But 璎珞 doesn’t have a bleeding heart that other dramas see. She doesn’t give 方姑姑 or 锦绣 a second chance and turns to 吴公公 to dole out punishment befitting of their crime.
吴公公 doesn’t hesitate and orders 锦绣 to be beaten with 20 canes and sent to 行者库 which is essentially a department for heavy labor. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes as, spoiler alert, 璎珞 also gets sent there later on in the drama. 方姑姑 is to be caned 40 times and expelled from the palace.
Afterwards, 璎珞 visits 方姑姑 before she is kicked out and reveals that this was a plan all along. She purposefully snuck out numerous times in order to trick 方姑姑 and 锦绣 into thinking something was going on. And then she also had to create a real enlarged stomach so she went to the ceramic factory and procured some of their material that causes stomach bloating but isn’t harmful. With just that, these two fell for her trap.
The episode ends with 璎珞 finally getting some answers from 方姑姑 about 璎珞’s sister. After rather forceful coaxing, 方姑姑 gives 璎珞 her sister’s belongings and also tells 璎珞 that her sister was expelled from the palace for having done something extremely shameful. Her last words to 璎珞 are to stop investigating her sister’s death because it will only cause her trouble in the future.
And there we have it! Episode 5 was in one word, satisfying. 璎珞 got rid of two of her adversaries in the palace with relative ease but also because they weren’t too intelligent in their plot against 璎珞. It is important to realize that throughout this whole process, 玲珑 didn’t outright provoke 璎珞 but she certainly made hints to 锦绣 and 方姑姑 to lead them down their path.
Up next is history!
We’ll continue on our discussion of fashion today with a focus on shoes!
I hope viewers have noticed that the costumes found in 延禧攻略 differ from what we saw in Empresses in the Palace and the Ruyi’s Love in the Palace. I’ve mentioned before that there are stylistic choices and liberties that all of the dramas take. 延禧攻略 is one that chose to accurately depict or more accurately depict shoes of the women in the Imperial Harem.
The shoes depicted in the show are called 元宝底鞋 or a Sycee Shoe. A sycee or 元宝 is a gold or silver currency that was used in Imperial China. They are often shown in Chinese dramas to showcase vast amounts of wealth. These shoes are a type of 高底鞋 or high top shoe that were worn by Manchu women.
Typically in Qing dynasty dramas, we see the flower pot bottom shoes 盆底鞋. They are also called horse hoof shoes for their shape. These are the shoes we saw worn by the ladies of the harem in Empresses in the Palace. Those were favored by the aristocracy in the late Qing period.
Now, in some articles, I read that servants typically wore the sycee shoes or 元宝底鞋 and the concubines and noble ladies wore the flower pot bottom shoes. In others, it was more of an era situation. This drama chose the latter, as in all of the ladies, whether servants or the Empress herself, wore the sycee style shoes.
For the sycee style shoes, the elevated section were typically made of wood with white cloth. The shoe portion was sewn on top of the wood. These shoes were usually styled with additional adornments such as tassels, embroidery, or jewelry.
Women in the Imperial Palace wore these shoes but for palace maids, it was fine to wear regular cotton or canvas shoes to work. It was more important to wear these shoes during formal events. In Chinese dramas, usually the servants are shown just wearing flat shoes, as is the case in Empresses in the Palace. For this drama, they chose to have all the ladies wear some form of these shoes.
Next let’s talk about palace maids and the whole situation of leaving the palace.
In 1677, which is in the reign of Emperor 康熙 of the Qing Dynasty, the first rules were that palace maids left the palace at the age of 30. In 1723, during the reign of Emperor 雍正, that age was changed to 25 and became the standard.
For any palace maid who reached the age of 25 and had no strikes against her, was given rewards for her service. For the women who served the Empress Dowager, Empress, and high ranking concubines to the level of 嫔 or Concubine, their masters would gift the rewards. I read somewhere as a joke that a gift from the Empress Dowager was enough to buy a nice apartment in the Upper East Side of New York.
If the maid served the lower ranked concubines, there were levels of rewards that were documented. For women who worked in the palace for over 15 years, they were rewarded 30 silver taels. For under 15 years to 10 years, they were rewarded 20 silver taels. For under 10 years of service, they were rewarded 10 silver taels. It’s quite hard to convert the value but I found a helpful article. During the reign of Emperor 乾隆, which is our emperor, the monthly rent of a nice 四合院 or family compound in beijing was around 1 silver tael. The monthly wage was about that much too. With 20 silver taels, you could buy a whole compound. So while 30 silver taels might not seem like a lot because the aristocracy just throws out values like 10 thousand taels, it is nevertheless not a small amount for the palace maids.
Now, if you were punished or expelled from the palace, you wouldn’t receive any awards. That’s what the character here was so bitter about. She was about to leave with probably a lot of money and now nothing.
Once a palace maid leaves the palace, she could not re-enter the palace, she could not share any information, she couldn’t send people to check-in on her previous masters, and she couldn’t really keep ties with the palace eunuchs. Think as though you’ve signed an NDA. Or really, you quit your job from like the CIA and you are sworn to secrecy.
I read in some comments, which, quite frankly, I agree with. The BEST option for these ladies was to reach the age of 25 and leave the palace. They got money and experience. Leave that Imperial Palace and live a cushy life in your mansion! Yes, there are instances of maids “making it” by becoming favored concubines. But that’s like few and far between. However, that’s the point of our story right? 魏璎珞 definitely doesn’t leave the palace at the age of 25.
And that is it for today’s episode! Hope you guys learned something today! Just a couple of notes that I am still figuring out what intro music i want to learn and play for this drama so let me know if you have any thoughts. I do have to spend time learning it. Haha.
If you are looking for a place to watching chinese dramas…
Thank you all so much