Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your host for today Cathy and Karen!
Today we are discussing episode 50 + 51 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 episode, we saw Ying Luo falling off her horse after a riding lesson with the Emperor. This resulted in both of them becoming seriously injured and the Emperor wondering who caused this to happen. We start episode 50 with Wei Ying Luo recovering in bed after her riding incident and it is sweet to see the Emperor look after her an entire night. Hai Lan Cha gives the Emperor a report of his investigations – there’s nothing he can find. But, the Emperor sets a trap and Hai Lan Cha is able to chase a eunuch to 钟粹宫, the residence of 纯贵妃.
Shortly after, the Emperor visits 纯贵妃 and gives her a bone chilling sermon. He essentially states out his suspicions in front of her that he thinks it was she who ultimately caused the horse to panic and cause YIng Luo’s injury. 纯贵妃 to her credit – quickly swears on her life that she had nothing to do with it. If she didn’t, I don’t know how the Emperor would have reacted. I mean he basically didn’t even believe her just then and there. He gives her a stern warning to not act out any further before leaving. Now, do we believe that she’s innocent?
Well of course not! She might not have done the deed, but her it was her loyal ally 愉妃 who ordered the hit. 愉妃 pays 魏璎珞 a visit and at last they have an open discussion. 愉妃 became a pawn for 纯贵妃 in order to survive in the palace and protect her son. In front of Ying Luo she says that she has no choice but to do what she’s doing. She has no status or power in the palace so she has to rely on 纯贵妃。 This angers 璎珞 as she reveals to 愉妃 that 纯贵妃 was the one to cause the late Empress to die and the death of the 7th prince. This conversation was an important one for 愉妃 to clarify her position but also let us know that she’s struggling herself. She returns to her palace where we meet her son the 5th prince. He’s a cute young child who is shown to be quite talented. 愉妃 instructs her son to get the favor of 令妃 aka Ying Luo in order to survive in the palace.
Next we turn to the Empress. We haven’t seen her in a while and unfortunately, it’s not good news. Her father has been apprehended for stealing relief funds for disaster victims. The Emperor is furious. The Empress pleads with the Emperor that it is not possible her father would do such a thing and begs him to retry her fathers case. The Emperor ultimately relents but tries to manage her expectations that the result might not change.
To get some advice, the Emperor goes to speak to his mother, the Empress Dowager. She makes the situation rather plain. Even though, the Empress’s father may be inno cent in corruption and stealing disaster relief funds, it is unfortunately clearly evident that he is incompetent. An official may be loyal but if he is incompetent, then that is almost just as bad as a corrupt official.
But then the reality as to why the Empress Dowager insists that the Empress’s father be killed is that he has to be the scapegoat for the corruption that happened this time. If he doesn’t die, then the Emperor must investigate all higher levels of government to see where the funds ultimately went. This could mean upsetting his royal relatives and the aristocracy who both of them know are probably not clean in this. But if the Emperor upsets these uncles or princes, this could destabilize his Empire.
And finally, the Empress Dowager coldly informs the Emperor that it is precisely because the man in question is the Empress’s close kin that he must be killed. This way, the world will believe that the Emperor is not forgiving in the eyes of the law. At this, however, the Emperor rejects this notion. He leaves stating that he has much to think about, much to the anguish of his mother.
The next string of events happen rather rapidly. The Empress kneels in front of the Emperor’s residence for an entire evening as she begs him to reconsider killing her father. When he comes out after hiding from her for an entire day, he finally agrees to not kill him. She is overjoyed and requests the help of the Emperor’s brother 和亲王 to bring her father some clothes for his journey to exile. He agrees but once in the prison, we see that the Empress’s father has committed suicide.
When the Empress hears the news, she breaks. In front of the Emperor, she asks point blank whether it was he or the EMpress Dowager that killed her father. She knows full well that her father didn’t die so someone must have done it. SHe is extremely upset that her father was the scapegoat and accused the Empress Dowager of protecting her own family who were also implicated in the corruption scandal which is why she was so eager to sentence the Empress’s father. All of these words ultimately broached the Emperor’s bottom line and he storms out.
The Empress is distraught and her maid Zhen Er is left searching for her as she disappears. At night, she is found by Prince He,who had worked tirelessly to help her and her father these last few days, on a palace roof. The same spot where the late Empress jumped off. The Empress gives a crazed speech about how she must amass more power. All of this happened to her because she does not have enough power.
I love these scenes acted by Charmaine Sheh because she can be so nuanced. Here she acts as a heartbroken woman and in the next we see that her crazed behavior were just shows that she put on in order to garner the sympathy of the Emperor and Prince He. She knows that being upset about her father’s death won’t help her. Instead, she had to play up the roles that would cause the Emperor to remember that he owes her and for Prince He to continue helping her. Once again, she is a master of psychology and mental manipulation. It is a pity that her father was incompetent. At least now, we see that the Empress has been pushed further to wanting to seek power.
We round out this storyline by highlighting that the Emperor reveals to YIng Luo later on, or more like she guesses in front of him that the Emperor had actually no intention of allowing the Empress’s father to live. He was going to be sent to exile but most likely killed along the way. Only this time, the Empress Dowager was one step ahead.
We round out episode 51 with two key takeaways. One is 愉妃 brings her son the 5th prince to see Ying Luo in order to build a relationship between the two. And then second is that 袁春望 has decided to come serve Ying Luo at YanXi Gong. He will be the head eunuch in her palace.
At the end of Episode 51, Ying Luo is summoned to 愉妃‘s palace. There, the entire palace is present as it looks like the 5th prince is sick and the main culprit causing his illness, is Ying Luo. We’ll find out more about this in the next episode!
In episode 50, we are introduced to a very cute young boy. This is of course our 5th prince – 永琪 – born 1741 and we’re currently in a murky timeline in 1750s. He should be between like 12-14. 愉妃
In the drama, he shows his mother 愉妃 some of his writings. After taking a look, we see that they all come from the Analects of Confucius or (论语)
The two lines from the Analects all come from the second book 论语·为政 or The practice of government. I like the summary from wikipedia so here’s what it’s about – “political order is best gained through the non-coercive influence of moral self-cultivation rather than through force or excessive government regulation”.
Confucious says: Governing the country with moral principles is similar to the position the North Star holds. All of the other stars will revolve around it.
This line lays out Confucious belief in moral governance. If the leader practices moral governance, then the subjects or citizens will automatically follow you. Morality in political life plays a crucial role and moral education is needed for governing the country. Right off the bat, we see Confucious stating the rule of virtue, not harsh punishment or strict law.
The next line is the following
Confucious says: all of the words and meaning in the three hundred chapters of “The Book of Songs” can be summed up in one phrase – which is “pure thought”.
“思无邪”是《诗经·鲁颂·駉》中的一句话。The phrase 思无邪 which translates to pure thought or innocence comes from the Book of Songs 诗经·鲁颂·駉 jiōng
During the time of Confucious – most of the students didn’t have access to that many books or texts. The book of Songs or 诗经 is one that was more readily available and widely known. So, Confucius himself, a student of the book of song, summarized his knowledge of 诗经 and added it to his sayings. 思无邪 is his conclusion. Pure thought or free from corruption.
I’m not surprised that 永琪 is learning this. 论语 of course is one of the standard texts that men learn and, as a prince, needs to learn how to govern in the future.
Next – we jump to episode 51 where we see a lovely music box that 魏璎珞 has somehow managed to get her hands on and dances the waltz with Ming Yu and the Emperor! I’ll just go ahead and say it that this whole scene is a massive bug and here simply for our enjoyment.
According to my research, the first music box was invented by Swiss watchmaker Antoine Favre-Salomon (30 November 1734 – 17 August 1820) in 1796. He invented a pocket watch with an embedded musical mechanism and it was recognized as the first music box. In chinese, we call it the 八音盒.
We’re currently in the 1750s so it’s still a good 40 years before anything resembling a music box is invented. What we see in the show is definitely a more advanced version and those didn’t come along until well into the 19th century.
As for the waltz! At first I was also going to say that waltzing is an anachronism, in that it wasn’t invented, but a quick search proved me wrong! The waltz was invented in germany and austria way back in the 13th century. By the end of the 18th century, it was accepted by the high class even in the Habsburg court! The reading is quite funny because the religious leaders thought the dance was vulgar and sinful because people had to touch each other and also be in close contact. If that’s what the religious folk thought, I wonder if the french ministers who went to China actually knew this dance. It seems like the French did love the waltz but not sure about those who traveled to the far east.
I am alo 99% sure that Qian Long’s court didn’t dance the waltz but I also find it funny that Emperor Qian Long in this scene was quite jealous and asked Ying Luo if that’s how the French ministers taught her.
This scene was just a fun little interlude and lets not think too much of it.
Lastly – let’s talk about the man that caused all the strife for these two episodes. 讷尔布 – the father of our current empress.
We know very little about the man – not when he was born, not when he died. His family was originally from the Manchu Bordered Blue Banner, but after the promotion of his daughter to Empress, Emperor 乾隆 promoted the hoifa-nala clan to the Manchu Standard Yellow Banner. He inherited a post of a 4th rank 佐领 or officer.
According to 清实录 or the Factual Record of Qing, it states that the father of the Empress, 讷尔布, was posthumously granted the title of Duke of the First Rank. Officials were sent to pray. Tombstones were also built. His wife was also given a 诰命 title of the first rank. His grandson 纳苏肯 inherits the title of Marquis of the first rank
This essentially means that when Consort Xian was promoted to the title of Empress, her father and her brother had already passed, otherwise the title of marquis would not have passed down to the Empress’s nephew.
When the Empress first married the Emperor all the way back in the early 1730s, the information regarding 讷尔布 already stated as Former 佐领. That means he had already retired from this role and was probably of a more senior age, like 60. When Emperor Qian Long ascended the throne and presented gifts to the hoifa-nara clan, 讷尔布 was still alive. However, by the 13th year of Emperor Qian Long’s reign, and a time when the new Empress was about to be promoted, all gifts and titles were bestowed upon the Empress’s nephew, so we can infer that her father had already passed. 讷尔布 did have another daughter who was significantly older than our current Empress.
So – as we can see with the history above, the drama takes many liberties with the story of the hoifa-nara clan. I think this works for the drama overall though, because here it highlights tensions, loyalty, hatred amongst several groups. The Emperor and the Empress. The Empress and the Empress Dowager. The Empress and Prince He, and finally we’ll see in the next episode, The Empress and 纯贵妃