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 55 + 56 pt 1 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, Ying Luo found out about the truth of the late Empress Fu Cha’s death in that it was all instigated by the despicable Er Qing. Without much second thought, she straight up just organizes 尔晴‘s death. No one is upset by it, at least not us viewers. Except the Emperor is quite displeased at Ying Luo’s rash actions. Reason being that 尔晴’s death reminded the Emperor of his shameful act in actually sleeping with 尔晴 and fathering a son with her. He hid this fact from the late Empress and he didn’t have much mental capacity to think about this further but now it’s eating him up inside. At least somewhat. He takes a break with a horseback ride out in the forest somewhere with a huge entourage to boot. In front of the imperial guard Hai Lan Cha, he recognizes that 容音 was not capable of being the Empress he needed by her side. Death might have been the best escape for her.
To me this episode really reflects the difficult position the Emperor is in but with the power that he holds, we are reminded of his inherent selfishness. In this introspection, he holds his position as Emperor above all else. Despite his love for 容音 he is still disappointed that she couldn’t live up to the expectations that came with the role of Empress.
[Cathy] I really like how you said – inherent selfishness. I spent this entire episode getting annoyed at the Emperor because his whole excuse was – I am the Emperor, I am SUPPOSED to be heartless. I expect my wife, the Empress to be heartless as well. She was too emotional and unfit to be Empress. I’m like, buddy, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This is exactly why you preferred Empress 富察 in the first place! But at least finally, we have a male character be introspective of the harm he has caused to his wife. We never got that in Empresses in the Palace. The Emperor in that drama was just – I am the center of the sun and screw all of these women, literally.
Ying Luo’s position continued to look precarious as the Emperor neglected to visit her for several days. But it takes a turn for the worse when her trusted friend, the imperial doctor 叶天士, is embroiled in a scandal. Recall a few episodes ago, 叶天士 had noted that various medicine was being wasted in the palace. 袁春望 had volunteered to help sell the leftover ingredients outside the palace and the funds could be used to help procure more medicine in the palace. But, the transactions turned into a black market as extremely valuable medicinal ingredients were being smuggled out of the palace as well. 叶天士 became the fall guy and he was apprehended for participating in this racket.
What is worse though, is that through investigating 叶天士 and his prescriptions for Ying Luo, the Empress discovered an important secret. She requested the Emperor’s presence in hearing what this secret was. Turns out, Ying Luo has been taking a contraceptic tonic ever since she came to the palace. The Emperor storms out of the Empress’s palaces and makes his way over to Ying Luo’s 延禧宫.
In front of Ying Luo, he unleashes his anger at her. He point blank recounts her entire reason for being in the palace. She wanted to take revenge against 纯贵妃 to avenge the late Empress all the way back at the Summer Palace 圆明园. And to do so, she had to become his concubine. She worked her way up the latter and garnered his favor in order to have the power to match and take down 纯贵妃. 璎珞 does not deny any of this and even reiterates herself that now she has enacted her revenge, the Emperor has no value to her anymore. SHe does not need to fawn over him anymore.
The Emperor is furious at hearing this. And finding out she’s using a contraceptive tonic. Because to him, it means that she does not care about him at all. Every woman in the palace wants to have his child and she, the person that he has put so much favor and effort in, is the only person to not want his child. He was being used as a pawn for Ying Luo’s own goals and this is something he cannot take.
Ying Luo pushes back by raising the example of how he continued to use the late Empress Fu Cha even after her death to which he responds that he is the Emperor. The late Empress needed to be useful to him in her full capacity even in death. With that, he calmly but angrily tells Ying Luo, she won’t be needing the medicine anymore and walks out.
The cats out of the bag and at least these two are able to be very clear about each other’s motives. For me, I’m just glad Ying Luo was able to avenge the late Empress before this fall out. The person best able to profit off of this fallout? The Empress Nala. She comes to speak to the Emperor in his anguished state as a calming and loving figure. Just what he needs in this moment of rejection from Ying Luo. Sure enough, the Emperor eats it up and the Empress immediately garners favor.
Ying Luo isn’t fooled with what her position is now in the palace. She recognized that her palace is most likely a cold palace now since she will no longer have the favor of the Emperor. Not only that though she will not fight for favor from the Emperor. She dismisses her servants but a few loyal ones remain which include 珍珠, 小全子, 明玉 and 袁春望。
But before we close out episode 55, Ying Luo drags 袁春望 to greet the Empress. There, the masks come off. 璎珞 respects the Empress for being the person behind the scenes that orchestrated everything without ever getting blood on her own hands. The news about 尔晴’s betrayal? Planted by the Empress. The discovery about Ying Luo’s birth control medicine? Revealed by the Empress. She is indeed a formidable foe. But the other revelation is that 袁春望 had betrayed Ying Luo. Ying Luo recognized this because 袁春望 was the only one to know about her medicine. He must have told the Empress in order to bring about Ying Luo’s downfall.
In episode 56, 袁春望 doesn’t deny this. Instead, he claims that Ying Luo deserves this because she betrayed him first. She left him in 圆明园 when they vowed they will be together there forever. In any case, a new status quo is set. The Empress Na La has eliminated literally every threat to her in the palace and she has the sole favor of the Emperor. 袁春望 for his contribution to the Empress, will be the new head of the Imperial Household Department, a pretty big promotion. Ying Luo in turn, is now out of favor and currently has no prospects of ever reclaiming the Emperor’s attention.
As we can guess and have seen in prior episodes and dramas, a woman in the palace with no favor is at the bottom of the totem pole. Ming Yu is openly bullied by 舒嫔 and humiliated by her. At least 海兰察 was able to step in to protect her but the situation in 延禧宫 don’t look great. Though, Ying Luo, 珍珠 小全子 and Ming Yu basically make up a small family unit that stick together even in their current state.
And what a great guy that 海兰察 is. He reports to the Emperor in his office one day about 傅恒’s current military campaigns. They’re off fighting the Huo Lan tribe who have actually sent an envoy to discuss peace talks. 海兰察 then just raised the words 延禧宫 but was roundly criticized by the Emperor for his impertinence and punished quite harshly. Keep in mind the Huo Lan tribe because they will come into play later on
For Ying Luo’s part, she recognizes that while she doesn’t care for favor right now, the people around her are getting hurt because of her lack of favor. Especially with 舒嫔 humiliating Ming Yu. So, Ying Luo takes a leaf out of 沈眉庄”s book from Empresses in the Palace and turns to the Empress Dowager. Gaining favor and protection from the Empress Dowager is pretty much the only way Ying Luo can survive in the palace. We’ve seen in the past that the Empress Dowager likes Ying Luo greatly and right now, Ying Luo has even decided to write buddhist texts for the Empress Dowager using her own blood as a way to show her devotion and dedication to Buddha. This shocks both 舒嫔 and 庆贵人 who visit the Empress Dowager and find out that Ying Luo has been spending significant time with the Empress Dowager. We’ll wrap up the episode recap here after we see Ying Luo confront 舒嫔 and even slap her across the face as revenge against her actions towards Ming Yu. After all, Ying Luo is still Consort Ling. A higher title than 舒嫔. And, Ying Luo will not allow 舒嫔 to treat Ming Yu with disrespect. I mean, you can take the revenge out of Ying Luo but you cannot take the eye for an eye mentality from her.
Today’s episode was heavy on the plot with all the backstabbing from all sides. We got 魏璎珞 being betrayed by 袁春望. Ugh – he’s such a creep. There’s the Emperor feeling betrayed by 魏璎珞 but then 魏璎珞 rightly pointed out that he was the one who betrayed the Empress. That one I MIGHT give a pass simply because it was 尔晴 who instigated that whole thing.
We only have 2 topics to discuss today on history.
The first is of course 述悲赋. I briefly mentioned this piece when we talked about the Empress’s death in episode 40.
述悲赋 – or my translation as Rhapsody of Grief is a piece that Emperor 乾隆 wrote in remembrance of his wife during the first 100 days of mourning. This means that he wrote the roughly 550 word rhapsody in 1748.
Out of the tens of thousands of poems that Emperor 乾隆 wrote, this one ranks very highly amongst his works for how emotional and raw it is. This was also included in 清史稿 – Draft History of Qing。
In the drama, 魏璎珞 only says 4 lines. 痛一旦之永诀，隔阴阳而莫知。悲莫悲兮生别离，失内位兮孰予随
The first two lines come from the beginning of the Rhapsody while the last to come from the end.
I’ll provide the full lines for both and then translate.
Why is it that the first chapter of Yi Jing, usually translated Book of Changes or Classic of Changes, an ancient Chinese divination text begin with 乾坤 or Heaven and Earth? Why is it that the first chapter of the Book of Songs or 诗经 being with 咏关睢 which is about the meeting between man and woman? That’s because man and wife are the start of everything human. Only the heaven and earth of 乾坤 is comparable. I was married to my wife, the late empress for 22 years. I am in so much pain – one evening, I have forever said goodbye to her. From now on, we are separated by two realms, never to hear from each other.
My heart feels empty, life and death seems but a fleeting moment. I have lost this most virtuous empress. Who will walk with me on this road of life. The years will be the same. Everyday I think of you. I have come back to Chang Chun Palace. The palace is quiet. The phoenix bed is empty. The spring wind has passed but the beauty is no longer here. The Spring flowers and Fall moon have passed. When will the summer sun and winter nights come again?
I quite like all of these lines! We really get a glimpse of the Emperor’s grief at the death of his wife. He essentially compares his marriage to heaven and earth and that no one comes even close to the late Empress.
We’ve talked about this before but the Emperor wrote many poems later in his life reminiscing the virtues of his late wife. In those instances, I kind of feel bad for Empress nala because she literally cannot compete.
However, in this drama, I don’t think she really cares right now. She knows how to play the long game with the Emperor, which leads me to the next poem.
The flowers bloom but the palace doors are tightly shut
There’s two beautiful palace maids sitting together at the veranda enjoying the sight
They have much to talk about and want to share their woes in the palace
But in front of the parrot, no one dares share anything.
In this poem – we have two women in the palace who want to share their woes and thoughts in the palace. Unfortunately they don’t dare say anything because they worry that the parrot will learn something and repeat it.
This poem was written by the tang dynasty poet 朱庆馀yú – now, it isn’t clear when he was born or when died but we do know that he passed his imperial entrance exams as a 进士 in 826 and became a court official. 2 of his poems are recorded in 全唐诗, the largest collection of Tang poetry, containing some 49,000 lyric poems by more than twenty-two hundred poets
The Empress here is VERY clever to have written this poem. I don’t know how she planned it or it was just pure luck that the Emperor found the exact poem, but this particular poem, along with the real parrot immediately had the Emperor thinking, hm – what does the Empress want to say but she can’t? This poem immediately – at least in the mind of the Emperor, changes his picture of Empress nala. Now, Empress nala is a woman who loves her husband but is too shy to really share her feelings with him. The Emperor even states – I thought you were only a woman of responsibility. The Emperor, who was very dejected from hearing that 魏璎珞’s sole purpose in returning to the Palace was for revenge and also his guilt towards the late Empress, turns his attentions towards Empress Nala as a woman.
The two lines 含情欲说宫中事，鹦鹉前头不敢言 give the hint to the emperor that Empress has perhaps woes of love towards him that she has never shared. After this whole scene, he, of course, turns his attentions towards her.
He is such a 大猪蹄子. Gosh – we haven’t used that phrase in a while. 大猪蹄子 means pig feet or a philanderer. Ya, he was just rejected by 魏璎珞 and immediately turns to the embrace of the other ladies in the harem.
Ok! That’s it for today!