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 56 pt2 + 57 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. There’s a LOT to digest in this episode so what we’ll do is primarily focus on plot recap and discussion. Then we’ll save further historical discussion for the next episode.
The big secret.
In the last few episodes, Ying Luo and the Emperor had a massive falling out after the Emperor deduced that the whole reason Ying Luo came back to the palace and became his concubine, did all those things to win his favor, was to enact revenge for the late Empress FuCha. This turned the Emperor’s heart cold and basically left YIng Luo in the Cold Palace. Ying Luo doesn’t fight back because in the end, the two main culprits that led to the Empress’s death – 纯贵妃 and 尔晴 both met their demise. But, despite Ying Luo not caring about her current standing in the palace, she decides she must retain some sort of power in order to protect her staff, particularly Ming Yu from being bullied. So, she turns to the Empress Dowager.
At this point, the Empress Nala is the most powerful woman in the palace. 袁春望 has also betrayed Ying Luo and is now the Head of 内务府 or the Imperial Household Department, reporting directly to Empress Nala. In Episode 56, 袁春望 brutally interrogates the old head of the department 吴书来 for information. I gotta say, I feel pretty bad for 吴书来 because he worked many years to climb his way up the latter only to be halfway cut off from his path. We also don’t know what happens to this guy after this brutal interrogation. I think the worst happens. In any case, 吴书来 did scream out that he had a life saving secret which 袁春望 then investigates.
Seems like the details of this secret have\ been confirmed and pieces of the puzzle are now set in motion. This secret has to do with the Empress Dowager whom the Empress Nala now is greatly displeased with and wants to remove from power. But the crafty Empress is not going to let this come back to her at all. INstead, she leverages the Prince of He, 和亲王, the Emperor’s brother. One day, he comes into the palace to pay his respects to his late mother, 裕太妃。 In her belongings, he happens to find a letter that he recognizes was his mother’s protection against the Empress Dowager.
The Prince immediately presents the letter to his brother, the Emperor. The note says that the 4th prince aka the Emperor’s mother, is a woman from the 钱 family. 钮祜禄氏 aka the Empress Dowager, killed the mother in order to take the son for her own. This note was apparently written by the Emperor’s nanny 温淑夫人 which speaks to its validity.
The Emperor hastily storms over to the Empress Dowager’s residence and point blank questions whether or not he is her son or the son of Madame Qian. Under his questioning, the empress dowager actually admits that he is not her son but the son of Madame Qian, a han woman. The moment the Emperor was born, he was brought over to the current Empress Dowager to raise because of his birth mother’s lowly status. She doesn’t know that the note said mentioned her killing madame Qianbut after the Emperor confirmed that he was indeed not his mother’s child, he apologized and walked away without saying much further. The Empress Dowager at that point recognizes that the note must have contained additional information. After all, why after so many years after the death of the nanny, did this letter just pop up.
The Emperor then heads over to the Empress’s residence hoping to have someone to talk to about this, not knowing that she’s the one who planted the information. She skillfully points out the holes in the Empress Dowager’s story about how or why Madame Qian would ask the Empress Dowager to raise her son when there were plenty of women in the Emperor’s father’s harem that did not have children who were more powerful and favored than the Emrpess Dowager. This causes the Emperor to further believe that yes, it wasn’t Madame 钱 who requested the Empress Dowager raise him but the Empress Dowager killed Madame Qian in order to claim him as her own.
It just so happened that earlier in episode 56, the Emperor was given a painting by a Mr. 钱 where he requested the Emperor write a few lines on the painting as a gift for Mr. 钱‘s aging mother. Turns out, this Mr. 钱 is Madame Qian’s brother. The Emperor is running around everyone clutching the painting thinking there’s some hidden or deeper meaning in the painting and summons this Mr. Qian to see him. The Emperor wants to question him as to the truth about his birth. But, just as he’s hoping to see this Mr. Qian, news travels to the Emperor that he fell off a horse and died.
This infuriates the Emperor and makes it seem like the Empress Dowager killed him to hide the truth. It was all way too convenient. Meanwhile, the Empress Dowager in all the stress of what’s going on, has passed out and fallen ill.
With all the chaos that’s happening, the person who is most pleased with the developments is the Empress. While the Empress Dowager is bedridden, the Empress takes this opportunity to gloat in front of her. The Empress tells the Empress Dowager that her nephew will be killed for being involved in a corruption case and then threatens her with not needing to help the EMperor ever again in the future. The Empress wants the Emperor to hate the Empress Dowager forever for this betrayal. Oh and the death of Mr. Qian? One of the Empress’s works. The Empress Dowager is so upset and infuriated by the Empress’s words that she falls out of bed and cannot even speak due to her anger. Ying Luo rushes to help the Empress Dowager while the Empress smirks and walks out.
Things don’t look good for the Empress Dowager who apparently is suffering from a stroke. Ying Luo requests for her friend 叶天士 to come diagnose the Empress Dowager just in case there was something amiss with the main doctor. Which was a good call because this doctor was controlled by the Empress. 叶天士 gives the Empress Dowager another prescription that would be a better treatment. Meanwhile, in a surprising twist, Ying Luo, who has taken over caring for the Empress Dowager, receives a visit from 庆贵人. She shocks everyone as she brings medicine and prescriptions that could help the Empress Dowager. Having entered the palace all the way back in episode 1, she has always been meek and shy, always under the shadow of 舒嫔. But, as 庆贵人 states herself, she recognizes the limits of her capability but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know right from wrong. She’s hoping that her contributions this time will be remembered in the future.
Wooo – a surprise ally for 璎珞! And Ying Luo takes this kindness in stride and offers to help 庆贵人 become more powerful in the palace.
There is a brief scene that definitely caused me some worry the first time I saw it in this distressing time. A maid gives the Empress Dowager’s head maid medical prescriptions for the Empress Dowager only for the head maid to rip it up. Oh no! What could that mean!
We next turn to the Emperor who absolutely cannot sit still with so many questions and he storms into 寿康宫 again. There, he is greeted by a trembling 庆贵人 who takes this opportunity to tell him of a story. A young farmer’s wife was left to care for her aging in laws after her husband fled due to famine. The wife wanted make a living off of embroidery but the earnings were too meager and the neighbors couldn’t help either so she turned to selling her smile. Using the profits, she was able to care for her in-laws and even bought another young woman. When her husband finally came home, she told him that she is returning his parents unscathed and the other young woman is the new wife she bought for him. With that she kills herself.
The Emperor is confused as to what this story means for him at this moment to which 庆贵人 continued, after the death of this young woman, the local magistrate pronounced her as unchaste and not allowed to be buried with her husband. Her in-laws were furious at this outcome because it was she who aided them while her husband, their son left them. What’s more important? Chastity or Righteousness or Doing the right thing, which one is correct?
She then goes on to recount what happened with the Empress Dowager. During an excursion with the late Emperor 雍正, he and Madame 钱 were targeted by bandits in the mountains. Their group was surrounded and so Madame 钱 switched into Emperor Yong Zheng’s clothing and took off, hoping to buy the Emperor time and safety. After this act, it was rumored that Madame Qian was captured by the bandits and was subject to their humiliation. OTher rumors stated that she threw herself off a cliff in order to protect her chastity. But whatever the truth, neither story would look good for the current Emperor even though Madame 钱 did indeed do the right thing. But too many people would cling on to the fact that she is unchaste and ignore her heroic deeds. That is why the Empress Dowager was so adamant in keeping the Emperor’s true birth a secret.
庆贵人 then follows up saying that the Empress Dowager had requested an old guard come to the capital. He can answer any questions the Emperor may have about what happened.
And so, the next day, the Emperor indeed questions the old man who confirms that Madame Qian was with the Emperor on this excursion. But the bombshell pieces of information include that Madame Qian was alive and returned to the palace and then was ultimately sentenced to die for her humiliation towards the then Emperor Yong Zheng.
The Emperor 乾隆 is furious at these words because it once again shows him the Empress Dowager lied to him. He storms over to 寿康宫 one more time, and this time walking so fast he doesn’t even have the patience to be carried by his servants. Problem is, the Empress Dowager has already left the palace with 璎珞.
The Emperor races after them only to find 庆贵人 waiting for him once again out in the woods. She finishes her story by telling the Emperor that the late Emperor knew just how important it was to ascend the throne as rightfully as possible. When the then Empress Dowager brought the poison to Madame Qian, Madame Qian bowed to her three times and accepted her fate without a word. With this, the Empress Dowager decided to use her life to protect the then 4th prince, aka the Emperor.
After this revelation, the Emperor jumps back on his horse and chases after the Empress Dowager. At her carriage, he begs for forgiveness only to be dismissed by 刘姑姑 without a single word. All the Emperor can do is watch his adoptive mother, the Empress Dowager, head off without forgiving him. In the beginning of episode 58, Ying Luo, in the carriage with the Empress Dowager and Liu Gu Gu has a curious look on her face. She’s a little surprised at when the Empress Dowager recovered enough to take this trip. The Empress Dowager lets out a sly smile and says the right question to ask is when did the Empress Dowager become ill.
Turns out, the Empress Dowager was never sick to begin with. It was Liu Gu Gu who used her own medical expertise to make it seem like the Empress Dowager was sick. This way, the Empress felt comfortable enough to expose her true motives to the supposedly dying Empress Dowager. Additionally, the Emperor will now feel awful for having questioned the Empress Dowager’s motives thereby amplifying his guilt. And why bring Ying Luo? Of course it’s to help her regain favor with the Emperor. The emperor probably guessed it was Ying luo who instructed Qing guiren to tell him those stories but if Ying Luo remained in the palace, the Emperor would be irritated with her. By accompanying the Empress Dowager, the Emperor will have another reason to miss her and calm his anger towards her.
OK – there is a LOT to digest from the episode. At first, the Emperor is furious that his mother lied to him about being his birth mother. And then even more angry at her because it seems like she killed his birth mother in order to gain power. But after the stories 庆贵人 tells him it’s revealed that it probably wasn’t the Empress Dowager who killed Madame Qian on her own volition but because she had to die in order to protect Emperor Qian Long and Emperor Yong Zheng’s reputation. By the end of the episode, the Emperor realized that he had wrongfully accused his adoptive mother, thinking that she was the one to kill his birth mother when in reality, the late Emperor Yong Zheng gave the order. The Empress Dowager was just doing her best to raise him as a son.
In these couple of episodes, we had a brilliant battle of the Empresses! There’s Empress Nala on one side and Empress Dowager Niu Hu Lu on another. Empress Nala got cocky! She believed that she had subdued all of her threats in harem and turned her attention towards the Empress Dowager. What do I mean – Chun Gui Fei died and Wei Ying Luo is out of favor. Empress Nala now wants to seek revenge on the Empress Dowager for her position against her father, which ultimately led to his death.
I 100% believe it was the Empress who planted the letter for 和亲王 to find and she of course was the one to kill 钱正源. She was very confident in believing that she had all the cards and knew how to manipulate the Emperor into despising the Empress Dowager to such a point that the two will be permanently estranged. Little did she know, gloating in front of enemies is never good because she let her guard down when she saw the Empress Dowager ill in bed and let the events slip from her control.
What do I mean? She didn’t know about Qing Gui Ren’s allegiance. She also dismissed Wei Ying Luo as a non entity. She also believed the Empress Dowager was on her deathbed but little did she know that all of these women played a part in telling the story that the Empress Dowager wanted the Emperor to hear.
The old guard that came back to tell the “truth”? The Empress Dowager probably paid him off to tell that story which caused the Emperor to chase after the Empress Dowager. There’s no way Qing Gui Ren would have let slip such an important witness without the Empress Dowager’s approval. Once the Emperor raced to catch the Empress Dowager, who was there again to complete the story? Qing Gui Ren. This was all secretly approved by the Empress Dowager. The Emperor heard a story that he fully believes.
In the end, the most cunning person in the palace truly is the Empress Dowager. Plenty of ppl still call her 嬛嬛 ala 甄嬛传 for being the big boss in the palace. And that extremely sly smile to Ying Luo’s question of just how Madam Qian died reveals all you need to know about this woman in the palace. She has everything under her control.
This story of Lady Qian will come back at the end but let’s leave it for now.
There’s a ton of history in these 2 episodes with a lot of rumors flying around and murky history, so without further ado, let’s begin!
The first topic is going to be on the man 钱正源. He is the court official who sent a painting to Emperor 乾隆 as a request to write a couple of words for his elderly mother. We then find out he’s the brother of Emperor Qian Long’s mother and that he suddenly dies on his way to Beijing. Who killed him? It is heavily implied that it’s the Empress.
We’ll focus on the story of 钱正源 first. He is based off another historical figure called 钱陈群. He was born in 1686 in the city of Jiaxing. His father died when he was young so it was left to his mother to raise two young boys to adulthood.
He passed his imperial entrance exams in 1721 and served the courts of three Emperors, 康熙, 雍正, and 乾隆, serving posts as 顺天学政, basically the overseer to the Imperial entrance for Beijing and in the Ministry of Justice.
In 1736, 钱陈群 requested to be relieved of his post due to the death of his mother but he still held the post of 顺天学政. He returned to court and was appointed to the ministry of justice in 1742.
He requested retirement in 1752 due to his poor health, which was granted.
He was a very gifted poet and quickly became favored by Emperor 乾隆 and acted as a close advisor. So close that for 4 of the 6 trips that Emperor 乾隆 had to go south, 钱陈群 was summoned along for the trip AND the Emperor stayed at the 钱 residence while in 嘉兴.
钱陈群 died in 1774 at the ripe old age of 88, so not randomly in an attack as we saw in episode 57.
Let’s turn our attention to his mother. His mother was called 陈书 and was a female painter. She was left widowed with 2 young boys and in-laws to care for, so she spent her days selling paintings and embroidery to get buy. Her hard work paid off as both of her sons passed their imperial entrance exams and became well respected officials. Towards the end of her life, she gifted one of her paintings 夜纺授经图 – or night embroidery to teach to Emperor 乾隆. He was very touched by the painting and wrote a poem on it and highlighted this as a reminder for the other ministers at court. There are a few of her paintings that can be seen today in the Jiaxing Museum. I think that’s pretty cool and definitely deserves some accolades for her accomplishments.
So listeners -> there’s no 钱正源, only 钱陈群
Next – let’s dive into the whole mystery that is 乾隆’s birth and who this mysterious Lady Qian is. For this drama, the screenwriter decided to tie Lady Qian to the 嘉兴 钱 clan but in reality there’s no relation between the two.
However, out of all the Qing Dynasty Emperors, for some reason 乾隆 has had the MOST number of rumors surrounding his true mother. I’ll first start with rumors, then what’s written in history, and then some VERY interesting contrasting documents.
Here’s 3 rumors that have floated around with no real historical basis but live on in folklore.
- 乾隆是雍亲王府侍妾的儿子。- Qian Long is the son of a lowly maid.
In the 承德 district of Hebei province, there was a poor family with a young daughter who sold wine and food for a living. When the young girl was 13 / 14, she snuck herself into the caravan of carriages for the Imperial Selection. She was then subsequently sent to the then Prince of Yong’s residence as a lowly maid. Lucky or unlucky for her, the Prince of Yong fell ill and this young girl took care of him. After he got better, he slept with her and then that’s how she got pregnant with Qian Long.
This rumor doesn’t hold much water because the selection process was extremely strict. There’s little chance that a random girl who wasn’t trained to be a maid was able to join the caravan
- 乾隆是热河行宫宫女的儿子。QIan Long was the son of a palace maid at the 热河 summer palace.
In my mind, this one is really random. The Prince of Yong was out hunting with his father the EMperor 康熙 at Re He, an area to the northeast of beijing. They shot a sika deer and drank the deer blood. Apparently deer blood is um a strong aphrodisiac, so the Prince of Yong quickly bedded an ugly han maid who subsequently had 乾隆. This rumor also doesn’t make much sense because Emperor QIan Long was born on the 13th day of the 8th month but hunting occured around the 5th month so the timing doesn’t really work.
Honestly – I don’t even know how these rumors take hold.
- 乾隆是浙江海宁陈世倌guān的儿子。One more rumor – Qian Long is actually the son of 陈世倌.
This 陈世倌 became a Jin Shi during Kang Xi’s reign, by the time of Emperor Qian Long, he already rose to the post of the Minister of Works. Rumor is, the two families had a child on the same day but the Prince of Yong had a daughter while the Chen family had a son. So the then Prince of Yong swapped the children.
This is also a rumor because well, the Prince of Yong wasn’t really wanting for sons. He could always have more. There’s also little reason to swap children. This was also debunked by historians. However, this rumor, out of all the 3 above, this last one, qian long being the son of 陈世倌 is one that likes to be picked up by authors to write their own stories. For example – the Wu xia author Jin Yong went with this rumor and set the story that 乾隆 was the twin brother of the main character 陈家洛.
Once again, these are all rumors but rumors on qian long’s mom.
As we saw from 甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace – 熹妃 was Emperor Qian Long’s mother.
According to historical records – Lady 钮钴禄, 熹妃 started as a 格格 with the Prince of Yong. After he ascended the throne, she rose to 熹妃 or Consort Xi and then Noble Consort Xi and then finally Empress Dowager. Xi Fei was the one who gave birth to the future Emperor 乾隆.
This is recorded in 清世宗宪皇帝实录, a historical document that was written and compiled during Emperor Qian Long’s reign of his father’s reign.
In 清史稿·后妃传 Draft History of Qing – the history of the concubines, it basically states the same. Note the last name is 钮钴禄. This draft history was compiled shortly after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.
These all seem pretty airtight right? On the surface, yes. This is also what is widely accepted as fact and the official records.
But what’s interesting, is that the question right now isn’t whether 熹妃 was Emperor Qian Long’s mother. That, we can all agree on. Just toss away all you know from Empresses in the Palace and even what we saw in this drama because you know storytelling.
The actual question right now is whether 熹妃 was from the 钮钴禄 clan OR from the 钱 clan.
Why? Because there’s interesting records before Emperor Qian Long’s time that tell a slightly different story.
The first compilation is called 永宪录 Yǒng xiàn lù which was written by 萧奭 xiāo shì during the Qing Dynasty and chronicles history of the Kang Xi and early Yong Zheng reigns. This compilation though isn’t regarded as actual history. The one piece that catches our eye is that in here – he wrote that 钱氏 or Lady Qian became Xi Fei. Interesting – where does this Lady Qian come from? I also don’t know exactly when this 永宪录 Yǒng xiàn lù so this doesn’t quite help our case. However, let’s look at the next piece of evidence.
In another compilation 雍正朝汉文谕旨汇编 – which translates to the A Compilation of Chinese Edicts of Yongzheng’s Reign – it has on the 14th day of the second month of Emperor Yong Zheng’s first year, as per the Empress’s Dowager’s edict, promote 格格钱氏封为熹妃 or in english promote Lady Qian to Consort Xi.
This compilation seems to have a bit more weight because this was just direct translations. However, since this is the Chinese translation, there are also the corresponding Manchu words. People have compared the two and the Chinese character is 钱 but the corresponding Manchu words mean 钮钴禄, so this adds more to the mystery and why there’s no consensus.
In the article I’m reading, the author says that possibly, Emperor Qian Long could have removed all records of this lady qian and swapped her to the more well known 钮钴禄 clan so that he had more standing in history books. It definitely sounds better to have a mother from a Manchu clan than from an unknown Han family. The problem is, subsequent historical records only have 钮钴禄 as Qian Long’s mother. We know basically nothing about this Lady Qian if she did exist.
So this is very different from our current drama situation where Qian Long’s mother is Lady Qian and the current empress dowager from the 钮钴禄 clan. From a historical conundrum perspective, the question once again is whether the Empress Dowager is either Lady Qian or Lady 钮钴禄.
This is a tough one – the official record is that Qian Long’s mother is from the 钮钴禄 clan. I’m inclined to go with the former that Qian Long’s mother was from the 钮钴禄 clan because it would be difficult for a Han woman with no relations to survive the Imperial harem. However, many online think that it was Lady Qian due to the earlier historical records.
So what do you think? Do you believe the Empress Dowager is Lady Qian or Lady 钮钴禄
There’s more to this story, drama wise that we’ll discuss towards the end of the drama.