The Story of Yanxi Palace – Ep 59+60pt1


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 59 + pt 1 of ep 60 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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In the last episode, YIng Luo is warned of a new adversary in the palace by Fu Heng who has returned from war. This new woman, Chen Bi, has completely captured all of the Emperor’s attention and favor. Ying Luo returns to the palace immediately in order to see how she can preserve her standing in the palace because if she didn’t return, she may be forgotten by the Emperor. After returning to the palace, Ying Luo agrees to work with the Empress in bringing down Chen Bi.


The beginning of episode 59 is a lot of plot exposition with discussion of politics. Fu Heng is chatting with the Emperor who agrees to give Zhang Ting Yu a spot in the ancestral temple given he has recently passed. The Emperor also tells Fu Heng to bring his son Fu Kang An into the palace to study with the princes, a great honor. But most importantly, the Emperor asks about Fu Heng’s visit to the Empress Dowager. Fu Heng doesn’t shy away from the fact that he actually saw Ying Luo instead and told her about the new Concubine Shun in the palace and it was this information that drove her to return to the Forbidden Palace.



And finally, after 3 years, the Emperor sees Ying Luo in Yanxi Palace and after some back and forth discussion, the Emperor actually agrees to stay over in Yanxi Palace! But in separate rooms. Ying Luo tries her hardest to get his attention but he for once has the upper hand if you will. The next morning, the Emperor ditches her and heads to 丽景轩 to have breakfast with Concubine Shun which actually causes Ying Luo to be rather jealous. 


Since Ying Luo has returned to the palace, she pays a visit to the Emrpess for the normal morning court greeting. There, we also see 舒妃 who has been promoted to consort and also 嘉妃 who was also promoted. I totally forgot she was around and thought she had just disappeared in the palace. Anyways, the two consorts plus the Empress basically created, as Ying Luo called it, a bad women’s club as they just all conspired to bring Concubine Shun down. 



After all of that talk about this mysterious and beautiful 顺嫔, we at last meet her. 沉璧 played by 张嘉倪 is currently learning how to walk in the pot bottom flowered shows with Ying Luo overseeing her training. This beautiful young woman is not at all perturbed by Ying Luo’s cold mannerisms. Instead, she finds Ying Luo rather endearing because after all, a woman who is cold in front of you is much better than a woman who is feigning kindness. We are presented with a scene where 顺嫔 feeds a black kitty some food which is done to reflect her kind hearted nature. As of now, we see 沉璧 as a gentle, kind and beautiful young woman who is perhaps unfairly the object of the palace’s ire. Ying Luo also has a bleeding heart for this woman because she recognizes that 沉璧 may not be as harmful as other women make her out to be. 


A perfect opportunity presents itself to attack 顺嫔 and that is the memorial of the Empress Dowager’s daughter, Princess 和安. It will be a grand affair in the palace and all of the women in the palace are working tirelessly to put together an event that will be respectful for the Empress Dowager. Ying Luo recognizes that this is the Empress’s opportunity to strike and so right before the activities begin on this day, Ying Luo drags 顺嫔 to the side but we don’t know exactly what happens. 



The ladies of the palace are kneeling behind the Empress Dowager who is very sincerely praying for her daughter while a shaman is conducting her prayers as well. The Empress and other ladies present their buddhist sutras as tribute for the deceased Princess. When 顺嫔 finally arrived, she placed her text on the table but suddenly the pot with tributary buddhist flowers burst into flame. This shocks the Empress Dowager who becomes distraught that something this terrible would happen for her princess He An.


The shaman immediately jumps forward and claims that it was 顺嫔 who caused this havoc and that she is an inauspicious woman, a bad omen. The Empress Dowager at first wanted to seize 顺嫔 but she cries out that she is innocent. The Empress Dowager takes a closer look at 顺嫔 and immediately takes her to her rooms for further questioning, shocking all the other women in the palace who do not understand why 顺嫔 would be let off so easily. The Empress Dowager questions 顺嫔 on when her birthday is and then summons 璎珞。 Apparently, when the Empress Dowager’s daughter He An is sick and dying, the Empress Dowager prayed to temples everywhere hoping to save her. A respected monk said that if in this life they don’t meet, the Empress Dowager might still meet her daughter in another life as long as the Empress Dowager places a mark on her daughter. And so she left 2 needle pricks under He Ans lip. And guess what, Shun Pin has the exact same pricks under her lip as well. And their birthdays? Are the exact same. The Empress Dowager is adamant that Shun Pin is her daughter reincarnated and is why she is willing to let her go.  



The Emperor arrives shortly after and takes Shun Pin with him. He is not fooled by what happened and Shun Pin readily reveals that it was 璎珞 who saved her. 璎珞 pricked her skin to leave those marks and told her these things to say to the Empress Dowager in order to save her life. The Emperor isn’t mad at either of these ladies for the turn of events. Instead, he also helps give some more information to 顺嫔 to better round out her lie in front of the Empress Dowager in the future. 顺嫔 is pleased to hear this but she acutely points out that the Emperor is helping her primarily because he wants to help Ying luo. 顺嫔 can tell that in his heart, the Emperor has extremely strong feelings for ying Luo and not necessarily for her but 顺嫔 is willing to help the Emperor and Ying luo due to their kindness towards her. On first watch – I was like, wow, what a nice woman. Now though – not to spoil too much. But man, every single woman who is able to survive in the Imperial Harem? No joke. Keep her actions in this episode in mind because they will contribute to a lot of future pain.


Meanwhile, Ying Luo has to contend with the ire of the Empress. She is not happy at all that 顺嫔 was not eliminated and upset at Ying Luo’s interference. Ying Luo though, is not fooled because once 顺嫔 is taken down, the Empress’s next target is her. She’s just preemptively protecting herself right now. The Empress warns Ying Luo that she will regret this decision. Ugh – and boy does she. But regardless, it seems like Ying Luo and 沉璧 or 顺嫔 are now on the same side. The Empress Dowager has been successfully tricked by the two of them and both are relatively safe in the palace. 



We’re finally introduced to 顺嫔 who is portrayed by the lovely 张嘉倪! The now 35 year old actress rose to fame in the 2007 drama 又见一帘幽梦 or A Dream’s Link as the lead actress 紫菱, starring alongside our Empress in this drama 秦岚. She’s known as another 琼女郎 because the drama A Dream’s link is a remake of one of 琼瑶’s books and dramas. 琼瑶 is the famed taiwanese writer and screenwriter who had megahits such as Pearl Princess back in the 1990s. 秦岚 herself is a 琼女郎 as she was tapped by 琼瑶 to act as 知画 in Pearl Princess 3. Unfortunately in this drama, the two actresses never had a scene together.


张嘉倪 didn’t achieve superstar status but she has decent name recognition due to her affiliation with 琼瑶. She also went through a rocky time last year with crazy rumors swirling around her husband. 


We’ll continue to discuss this character but I want you listeners to keep in mind that apparently a lot of her scenes were cut for the final version. The original drama was apparently 90 episodes and a lot of what was cut was from her scenes, which is why people say that it’s quite choppy. 


There’s not much history with these two episodes.


At the beginning of episode 59, the Emperor discuss the Zamburak guns that 傅恒 brought back from front lines. Zamburak means wasp in persian and were small swivel guns that were mounted on and fired from camels. The Dzungar Khanate heavily used these types of guns during Dzungar-Qing wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. These Zamburak guns were known to the Qing for decades so it’s not as though Emperor Qian Long hadn’t seen these before. In fact, by the time of Emperor Yong Zheng, he had the military manufacture Zamburak-like guns for the army.


Ok – quickly on to the next topic of Zhang Ting Yu.


We talked about him back in episode 47. 张廷玉 was a courtier who served Emperor Yong Zheng faithfully. 张廷玉 pissed off the Emperor Qian Long. It was only after he died in 1755 at the ripe old age of 84 did the Emperor finally agree to have his plaque installed in the ancestral temple.



In these two episodes, the deceased Princess 和安 is the catalyst for either the Empress Dowager’s wrath or love. Unfortunately, Princess 和安 is completely fictional with no historical basis. The Empress Dowager had only one son and no daughters.


There’s one major bug though in the drama with regards to this princess. It’s actually about the painting. In the painting, we see a woman with a 旗头 that is a rather pronounced black headdress. Unfortunately that style didn’t become popular until the end of the Qing Dynasty. If you look at photos of Empress Dowager Cixi, she wore the 旗头s that are similar to this painting. I thought that it was a very weird miss from the set designers to pick that particular painting because we never see any of the ladies in the Imperial Harem with that type of headdress.



However, continuing on this topic – let’s turn our attention to Manchu Shamanism or 萨满. Shamanism was the dominant religion of the Manchu people and of the jurchen people before the manchu. The religion is animistic and polytheistic and was once very popular among many nomadic peoples. Traditions and culture were passed down orally


The religious activities of Shamanism mainly include sacrificial activities related to nature worship, totem worship and ancestor worship. Manchu shamanism also worshiped crows, dogs, willows, and ancestors.


The shaman of the village or clan had several roles. This included healing diseases from members of the clan, calculating good and bad luck for various major events within the clan, and presiding over various sacrificial ceremonies. Oftentimes, the shaman was a woman. For various religious ceremonies, these shamans typically wore a feathered cap, an apron, a mask and held various instruments, such as waist bells, bronze mirrors,knives, and drums. All kinds of instruments were engraved with patterns of various gods, especially the colorful shaman masks. Since Manchu shaman masks are religious items, they are handed down and treasured.


In the Qing Dynasty, there were two places where shaman sacrifices were held in the palace, one was in the Kunning Palace, and the other was in the Tangzi in the southeast corner of the imperial city. In the palace, there were 2 lead female shamans and additional 10 women shamans to perform the rituals. At Kunning Palace sacrificial offerings include grand sacrificial offerings, four-season offerings, monthly offerings, and daily offerings. There’s even morning sacrifices and evening sacrifices in the daily sacrifices. 



In 1741, Emperor Qian Long commissioned a standardization of Manchu folk religious rites due to his belief that Manchu traditions were slowly eroding amongst the Manchu bannermen. The “Manchu Sacrificial Ritual to the Gods and Heaven” was published in Manchu in 1747 and in Chinese 钦定满洲祭神祭天典礼 in 1780.

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