The Story of Yanxi Palace – Ep 52
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 the last few minutes of episode 51, all of episode 52 and the first couple minutes of episode 53 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.
At the end of episode 51, Ying Luo has been summoned to Yong Shou Gong because the 5th prince, Yong Qi is sick. The Emperor, Empress, Chun Gui Fei and Yu Fei are all gathered around Yong Qi. And the group accuses Ying Luo of having poisoned 永琪 which is why he is currently so ill.
Ying Luo is at a little bit of a loss because on one hand, Yu Fei says all manner of nasty things about how she can’t believe that Ying Luo would harm her son while on the other hand, 纯贵妃 urges the Emperor to severely punish Ying Luo.
Can I say – the background music here is on point! It’s very suspenseful and added a lot to the atmosphere.
Fortunately, the Emperor and Empress are both rather hesitant to immediately punish Ying Luo. At that moment, Yuan Chun Wang was also able to run over with the Imperial Doctor Ye Tian Shi. With some pointed questioning by Ying Luo, Ye Tian Shi suggests having the 5th prince throw up everything he ate today in order to better ease his symptoms and investigate what caused his illness.
Despite pushback from 纯贵妃 and 愉妃, the Emperor agrees. 叶天士 comes forth and states that he found several pieces of undigested ginseng. This perplexes him because a child as young as the 5th prince does not need so much ginseng even if it were to cure a cough. By ingesting it, it would actually cause him further illness. The fact that the 5th prince is currently unconscious is most likely due to over consumption of this ginseng rather than bein g poisoned by anything Ying Luo may or may not have given him.
At this point, the imperial doctor tending to the 5th prince before Ye Tian Shi arrived spilled the beans that it was Yu Fei who insisted on giving her son ginseng to consume. This made Yu Fei’s accusation unravel because now it’s been revealed that she was the one to harm her own son in order to wrongly accuse Ying Luo.
Yu Fei pleads for forgiveness that it was her fault for not knowing ginseng was wrong but under questioning and actually it wasn’t much of a questioning, she tells everyone that she was pressured by 纯贵妃 to put on this little show. The ginseng was given by her as well. Which is true. We saw her give Yu Fei the ginseng in episode 49. Yu Fei reiterates multiple times that the mastermind behind today’s events is none other than 纯贵妃。纯贵妃 is utterly distraught at having been exposed and vehemently denies these claims but it’s no use. The Emperor orders that she be detained in her palace and the truth investigated. The same goes for 愉妃.
The investigation duties falls on the Empress who quickly discovers uncovers disturbing revelations as she threatens 纯贵妃‘s head maid 玉壶. This maid is brought in front of Ying Luo and the Emperor who reveals all of the terrible deeds 纯贵妃 has been involved in. It was she who orchestrated the fire and subsequent events that caused the 7th prince’s death. It was she who planned Ying Luo’s fall from the horse. ANd when that didn’t work, it was she who devised the plan to use the 5th prince’s sickness to bring Ying Luo down once and for all. I think it’s impressive how easily this maid spilled the beans TBH.
Upon hearing these words and the corroboration by Ming Yu, the Emperor was rightly furious. He immediately decrees that 纯贵妃 will be demoted to 答应 or second class attendant and will be banished to the cold palace.
Ying Luo breaks a small smile as she hears that the late Empress finally can receive justice against the person who harmed her.
That night, two women have a fantastic conversation. 纯贵妃 now 苏答应 is confined to a lonely room in the cold palace. She is still thinking about 傅恒. But instead of seeing Ying Luo visit her, it’s the Empress that pays her a late night visit. In front of the Empress’s sneers, 苏答应 finally realizes that it was the Empress who manipulated her for so many years to both her and the late Empress’s demise. It was the current Empress that saw through her feelings for Fu Heng, that suggested she have a child to secure her foothold in the palace and then it was the Empress who told her that the late Empress’s child the 7th prince would be the next crown prince thus creating more jealousy on 苏答应’s part. It was the new Empress all along who pushed her, 苏答应 to act and did the Empress’s bidding but then brought her down to her demise. She recognized that the Empress’s hands are entirely clean of everything but it was in fact she who was behind all of these horrific events in the palace.
I absolutely love the Empress’s acting at this point. She has a soft smile on her face that does not reach her eyes as her deeds were exposed. But the smile is most definitely a sneer as she finally breaks loose her anger. She doesn’t hold back in telling 苏答应 that she did this because she thought the late Empress was too fake and hypocritical while she, 苏答应 kept pushing her between the Empress and the late Consort Gao. It was they who pushed her to be who she is today. She is just enacting revenge.
And at long last, in front of the Empress, 苏答应 also shares her true feelings. She hates Fu Heng, and the late Empress. She did so much for them but in the end, she got nothing back in return. She wanted them to pay for this. That’s why she killed the 7th prince. Which I personally think is really sad. She had nothing in the palace but her anger. If she took a step back and wasn’t so easily manipulated by the Empress, she would have had a much better life.
With that, knowing that the Empress is here to kill her, 苏答应 accepts her fate.
Behind the scenes
So in this episode, 纯贵妃 dies. In the drama, we only see the Empress give the order. However, a few seconds were cut of the eunuchs actually going up to strangle 纯贵妃. There’s blooper videos of them filming this scene so we know there was a script for it. Anyways – while 纯贵妃 is getting strangled, she also curses the Empress that she will also meet an ugly end.
The Emperor is notified the next morning that 纯贵妃 or 苏答应 is dead. The weapon? String from a kite was used to strangle her. This immediately forces the Emperor to think that it was Ying Luo who killed 苏答应. News travels to 璎珞 and Ming Yu is worried how this will look against her but she doesn’t mind. There has been something that has been tickling her brain over the last day given the events that happened. Why would Yu Fei’s parting words to her son be to instruct him to turn to Ying Luo? Ying Luo suddenly rushes out.
She and Ming Yu chase after 愉妃 who is currently being escorted out of the palace. She has been ordered by the Empress Dowager to leave the palace to study buddhism. Which essentially means she has been banished from returning to the palace but will remain alive.
Ying Luo requests a quiet moment to speak with Yu Fei. She raises her suspicion that Yu Fei fell too quickly. It was all too simple. That is when Yu Fei reveals that she was only pretending to ally herself with 纯贵妃 in order to bring her down. All of her actions against Ying Luo were entirely an act. This was her way of repaying the kindness the late Empress and Ying Luo shown her in helping save her son’s life. She then sacrificed her life in the palace to ensure that her son, the 5th prince, will be safe in the future. She recognizes that she is not strong enough to raise her son in the palace and therefore will give this important task to Ying Luo.
With one last bow from Yu Fei, she leaves, not to return to the palace. Ying Luo and Ming Yu tear up at seeing the bravery of this woman.
In these few episodes, we say goodbye to two concubines – Noble Consort Chun and Consort Yu. These two diverged on their paths quite spectacularly in these two episodes with being murdered by the Empress and one being essentially exiled. So what really happened?
Noble Consort Chun was known as Lady Su. In the drama, Lady Su’s name is 苏静好, but that’s only for drama purposes. We’ll simply call her Lady Su. She was born on June 13 1713 in Su Zhou to a Han family. She is, I would say, one of the rare women in Qian Long’s harem who came directly from the commoner class. She is the daughter of a Mr. 苏召南. Funnily enough, we don’t have much data on him. Historians speculate that he was either a wealthy merchant or a small-time scholar.
Lady Su most likely entered into the 4th Prince, Hong Li’s harem some time in the late 1720s. She gave birth to the 3rd Prince 永璋 in 1735. We don’t see this prince at all in this drama. 1735 is the same year that Emperor Qian Long ascended the throne after the death of his father.
Lady Su was promoted to the rank of Imperial Concubine or 嫔 at this time. She was gifted the title of 纯 during this promotion. Lady Su was pretty heavily favored by the Emperor during the early years of his reign. Compared to the other women in Qian Long’s harem, she didn’t have strong connections at court nor a powerful banner family, but she was able to nonetheless reach the status of Consort in 1737. Let’s compare – Empress Fu Cha came from a powerful manchu family. Noble Consort Gao had a father and brother at court. Consort Xian or our future Empress also came from the Hoifa-Nara clan. For Lady Su to reach her status was indeed a feat. In 1739, her family was gifted the status of the Standard White Banner and received the treatment of a Han consort rather than a common woman.
She gave birth to the 6th prince 永瑢 in 1743 and in 1745, she was officially promoted to Noble Consort Chun or 纯贵妃. This promotion was actually due to a mass promotion prompted by the death of Imperial Noble Consort Gao or 高贵妃. We saw this in the drama. 高贵妃 was promoted to 皇贵妃 and here, Lady Su was promoted from 纯妃 to 纯贵妃.
In 1745, Lady Su gave birth to a daughter, the Emperor’s 4th daughter. She now had 3 children and was very well established in the Imperial Harem.
In 1748, the Empress Fu Cha died. At that point, there were only 2 women that could feasibly become Empress. It was either Lady Su or else Lady Nala. Lady Su seemed to have the upper hand. She had 2 sons and a daughter while Lady Nala didn’t have any children. Unfortunately, one event turned the tides against her.
During the funeral procession, her son, the 3rd prince 永璋 was roundly criticized by the Emperor for not showing the apt amount of mourning. The Emperor was devastated by the loss of his wife and lashed out at basically everyone who didn’t show a great amount of sorrow during the funeral proceedings. The Emperor went so far as to publicly declare that 永璋 would never have the opportunity to ascend the throne, thus killing all of his future hopes. The Emperor was also very angry at Lady Su for this development and she subsequently lost her claim to the title of Empress. As we see in the drama, that title is given to Lady Nala. I feel like that was kind of an over reaction from the Emperor. The boy was only 13 when the Empress died so if he didn’t show THAT much emotion, I guess I understand.
This whole incident also dealt a pretty big blow to Lady Su and her children. She gradually lost favor in the subsequent years. Even though Lady Su held the title of Noble Consort, she was always going to play second fiddle to the Empress. Even if she didn’t receive the same treatment from the Emperor, the Emperor still respected her in her later years. She was gifted lavish presents for her 40th birthday and accompanied the Emperor when he traveled south in 1757.
For their children, to his credit, the Emperor arranged marriages between the 3rd prince and 4th princess to members of the Fu Cha clan, thus giving them powerful relations. The princess married one of Fu Cha Fu Heng’s sons. However, both of Lady Su’s sons lost the right or ability to lay claim to the throne. In 1759, Emperor Qian Long pushed the 6th prince 永瑢 to inherit the line of 允禧, the 21st son of Emperor Kang Xi. This meant that he was no longer of Qian Long’s line.
It was after this announcement that Lady Su’s health began to decline. Perhaps Qian Long also felt a little guilty for what he did. This is also just my speculation, but he then decided to promote Lady Su to Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 in 1760. She was the second woman to rise to this title, after of course, Lady Gao. Lady Su was promoted to Imperial Noble Consort on the 24th day of the 3rd month but she wasn’t able to enjoy this privilege for long. Less than a month later, Lady Su died on the 19th day of the 4th month at the age of 48. Her 3rd son, 永璋, also died a few months later at the young age of 26. Now, according to health records, she had been on the decline for months so it wasn’t a sudden death for her.
Lady Su was buried not in the same mausoleum as her husband but a different mausoleum. I believe it was because there was basically no more space left. The Imperial one already had Empress Fu Cha and 2 other Imperial Noble Consorts. The Emperor however did order for this other mausoleum to be renovated for Lady Su’s burial.
There is one known painting of her that was sold at auction in 2015 for a whopping 137M HKD or around 170M USD. It was probably painted after her death by the Italian Missionary Giuseppe Castiglione.
All in all – for a woman with no background and of han descent to rise to the rank of Imperial Noble Consort before her death was extremely rare during the Qing Dynasty. She might have been the only one.
The drama of course fictionalized a lot. She was not killed at the hands of Empress Nala and she didn’t secretly love Fu Heng. But hey, that’s what dramas are all about right?
Next – let’s talk about the other woman that we say goodbye to in this drama. This is of course Consort Yu.
We know very little of Consort Yu in the drama. She came from the Mongolian 珂里叶特 clan which is shortened to Hai, so we’ll call her Lady Hai. Her clan comes from the Mongolian Bordered Blue banner and also part of the Baoyi class. So she came from a much lower station than Empress Fu Cha.
She was born June 15 1714 and probably entered into then Prince Hong Li’s harem in the late 1720s. When Qian Long ascended the throne, she was only promoted to the title of 常在 or 1st class female attendant. Compare her to Lady Su who was immediately promoted to Imperial Concubine, two levels above Lady Hai.
She was only promoted to Noble Lady in 1737. In 1741, she gave birth to the 5th Prince 永琪, which is what we saw in the drama. It was only then that she was promoted to Imperial Concubine Yu or 愉嫔. The manchu phrase is nemgiyen, meaning gentle.
In 1745, she was promoted to Consort Yu along with all the other women in the Imperial Harem and that’s honestly where she stayed for the rest of her life. In 1748, Consort 嘉, who we talked about previously was promoted to Noble Consort, so then Lady Hai as Consort Yu became the head of the remaining Consorts, of which there were 2 others. Consort Ling and Consort Shu. But by 1755, she was listed behind the other 2 ladies, with Consort Ling at the top of the list. Consort Yu basically lived out her life in the Imperial Harem and lived to the ripe old age of 79, far outliving her only son 永琪.
永琪 as a character has been made famous by the drama Pearl Princess. Everyone knows who he is. He was an intelligent young man, bright and studious. He could speak Manchurian fluently, mastered all of the gentlemanly arts, and was an upright guy. He was heavily favored by Emperor Qian Long and was a serious contender for the throne. Unfortunately, he contracted what seems like a bone infection and died at the young age of 25.
Lady Hai essentially lived out her days in the palace after the death of her son for another 26 years. We can see that the Emperor didn’t really favor her because her position didn’t change at all during those years. It was only after her death did he grant her a posthumus title of Noble Consort Yu.