Welcome back to Chasing Dramas. This is the podcast that discusses Chinese culture and history through historical Chinese dramas. We are your hosts, Karen and Cathy. Today we are chatting about the second part of episode 60 and episode 61 of the Story of Yanxi Palace or Yanxi Gong Lue. This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in mandarin Chinese.
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In the second part of episode 60 and into 61, we see the beautiful, intelligent but also mysterious 沉璧 aka 顺嫔 slowly reveal her devious nature. But I’m not going to lie, I feel like the primary conflict in these episodes was a little contrived. What do I mean? 明玉 in the middle of episode 60 starts feeling immense pain in her chest. She tries to play it off as probably walking too quickly but it does seem to be a bother.
My main question is, why does this pain have to be highlighted now? Right when, as we see in the next scene, Hai Lan Cha proposes to Ming Yu. He and Ying Luo have worked together to already put together a bride price for Ming Yu so they can marry when Ming Yu reaches the age she is allowed to leave the palace which will be in a few months. This is super cute and I am extremely happy for them but the stupid needle that 纯贵妃 ordered to be placed in 明玉’s body years ago now is starting to wreak havoc on her. The remaining needle in her body will take her life at any moment. This pain plus the fact that she doesn’t want to leave Ying Luo all on her own in the palace means that she, despite having agreed to marry 海兰察 and loving him all the same, begs Ying Luo to cancel the wedding. She wants to stay with 璎珞 in the palace.
I have a major problem with this storyline because of all the people she tells the truth to, she tells her concerns to 顺嫔 who arrives to check in on Ming Yu. She sees Ming Yu clutching her chest in pain and Ming Yu just tells her exactly what the problem is. She might die at any moment and there’s no cure for the needle in her body. Like, dude, Communication! Why tell 顺嫔 whom you barely know as opposed to Ying Luo? I know you want to protect Ying Luo but come on! And I also understand that she doesn’t want to marry Hai Lan Cha because she is worried he’ll be a widow with her passing at any random moment. Again, COME ON!
Through all of this, 顺嫔 starts to act like a 蛇蝎美人 which directly translates to a scorpion, snakelike beauty for they are devious and conniving. In front of the Emperor, she is happy to sing praises about Ying Luo and is rather eager in helping the Emperor check in on Ying Luo’s feelings for him which is rather odd for any woman who claims they truly love their husband to help him find out if his love loves him back right? 顺嫔 also sneaks into Ying Luo’s rooms one night and they have a heart to heart in bed. She helps advise Ying Luo that she needs to be more open to people that way others can help. But 顺嫔 also tells Ying Luo that 明玉 is not truly an equal to Ying Luo. The underlying connotation is that she, 顺嫔 is more aligned with YIng Luo. All of these actions are blaring red flags for Ying Luo because Shun Pin is just too gosh darn nice to YIng Luo but she can’t put a finger on 顺嫔’s motives just yet. There are also a few scenes or cuts where 顺嫔s gaze turns more “evil” as if she’s plotting something which is paired nicely with some more ominous music.
The next couple of scenes are rather all over the place. We see that the Empress Dowager is not entirely pleased with YIng Luo after they have returned to the palace given everything that’s happened with He An princess. The Empress Dowager is wary of Ying Luo’s involvement. Elsewhere, we see that the Prince of He continues to be a bright spot for the Empress Nala as she places too much pressure on her son, the 12th prince, who is just a boy. The Prince of He sent a gift for the 12th prince and a letter to Empress Nala after hearing that the 12th prince has been rambunctious and unwieldy, stating that it’s fine for boys to act this way at his age. It doesn’t mean he’s not smart.
We also do meet Fu Heng’s son, 福康安 whom we have talked about more in depth in prior episodes. On this day, 傅恒 is picking up his son from his studies in the palace since the Emperor did allow 福康安 to study with the other princes. This boy is extremely mischievous and it’s utterly adorable. 顺嫔 arrives to save 福康安 from acting out further against his father and they have a chat with 傅恒. She purposefully drops her handkerchief which has an interesting embroidery pattern on it that catches the eye of Fu Heng. The pattern reminds him deeply of the pattern that YIng Luo embroidered for him on his fragrance pouch but he doesn’t follow up, at least for now.
Later in the imperial gardens, he meets 顺嫔 again and they have a more prolonged conversation. In my opinion, her words in this conversation certainly crossed boundaries. She made plenty of assumptions about Fu Heng’s life and also almost goaded him into acting more rashly because he is always so reserved. But, she emphasizes that it was Fu Heng who saved her life on the way to the palace. That is a day she will always remember. This line is extremely important.
Regardless of how uncomfortable 顺嫔 made him, Fu Heng does finally ask her about the pattern on her handkerchief which she doesn’t deny was inspired by Ying Luo. When pressed as to why he is so interested in this pattern, Fu Heng comes up with an excuse that the design is rather unique for women which is why he paid more attention to it before taking his leave. In a flashback scene, was see Fu Heng saving 顺嫔 from her fall on a cliff. He lost the pouch ying luo gave him and he frantically went to search for it which means that 顺嫔 most likely saw how important that pouch was to Fu Heng.
We turn back now to Ming Yu and Ying Luo. They had a lovely heart to heart as to why Ying Luo is so adamant in wanting to see Ming Yu married which reemphasized their relationship. Ming Yu looked beautiful in her wedding outfit. But, on the day she was supposed to leave the palace, Ying Luo finds Ming Yu dead on her bed, still in her wedding outfit with a pair of scissors as her tool. Ying Luo is absolutely distraught. Poor Hai Lan Cha. He’s equally if not more distraught that the love of his life is now gone.
The Emperor summoned the Imperial Doctor 叶天士 who tells him and 海兰察 about the silver needle in Ming Yu’s body that had no recourse. I feel so bad for Hai Lan Cha who receives another blow with this news since he now blames himself for pushing Ming Yu into taking this course of action to protect him.
Ying Luo meanwhile has fallen into depression. One day, she disappears when 顺嫔 tries to speak with her. She informs 傅恒 who was able to easily find 璎珞 in Chang Chun Gong. He tries to console her while also keeping a respectful distance as she cries over her impact on MIng Yu. But unfortunately this scene is overseen by the Emperor who storms away furious that perhaps his worst suspicions have come true. All the while, 顺嫔 has a coy smile on her face while the recent events unfold.
Boo – it’s with a heavy heart that we lost another fan favorite character 明玉. With regards to the drama, I also think they took the most liberty with the age of 明玉. It’s late 1750s with the Emperor in his 20th year of his reign. Ming Yu has been with the Empress Fucha since before he was crowned. So unless Ming Yu was like 5 when she entered into the Empress’s service, then the timeline doesn’t work. Let’s not think too much about this timeline because you know, plot purposes.
We also say goodbye to a character who quickly became a fan favorite after her initial disagreements with 魏璎珞. Ming Yu was fondly known as 明玉小可爱 or Cute little Ming Yu and fans were SO devastated when she died. Everyone was like – can i please have at least 1 HE couple? HE in chinese is Happy Ending. But nope, this is another BE couple.
I do think that this was a rather sudden development because it felt like all easy dandy and then in the span of 2 episodes, Ming Yu was gone.
The actress for Ming Yu 姜梓新 has gone on to act in several dramas post The Story of Yan xi gong lue but mainly in supporting roles. She was also in her early 20s when this drama first came out so she still has a long career ahead of her.
There’s really not much written in history about her so instead, let’s discuss her fiance and upstanding guy 海兰察.
多拉尔·海兰察 was a member Manchu Bordered Yellow Banner, but more importantly also a member of the Evenks ethnic group, which is an ethnic group that is recognized both in modern day Russia and China. In history, they were referred to as the 索伦 people, which is why in the drama, every calls him Sir Suo Lun or Suo lun Da Ren. 海兰察 himself hailed from the Heilongjiang area in the northeast of China.
He was a famed general, participating in over 60 battles in his life. In 1755, participated in the Dzungar-Qing war as a member of the Evenks cavalry. He performed extremely well during that war, capturing 巴雅尔, one of the Dzungar commanders. He was rewarded for his service and granted the privilege to become an Imperial Guard in the Forbidden city. He was also granted the title of 巴图鲁, a title bestowed to those who fought bravely on the battlefield
There was a time when Emperor Qian Long went hunting and found himself cornered by tigers or wolves. I’m reading accounts with different animals. But, they all wrote that Hai Lan Cha saved the Emperor during the hunt, furthering his favor with the Emperor.
In 1767, he participated in the campaigns in Burma as part of the vanguard. Fu Heng was also a commander during this campaign but he fell ill. It was Hai Lan Cha who led the troops to several crucial victories.
In 1771, he participated in the second of the Jin Chuan campaigns and became the deputy commander of the Mongolian Bordered White Banner troops. In the subsequent five years, the Qing troops seized forts and key passes, finally ending the war in 1776. Hai Lan Cha was promoted to commander of the mongolian standard red banner troops. He was granted the title of Marquis of the First Rank.
In 1781 and 1784, 海兰察 led troops to suppress revolts in gansu province. In 1787, under the leadership of Fu Kang An, he also played a critical role in the suppression of the Taiwan rebellion. In 1791, he once again joined Fu Kang An in what is now modern day Nepal to fight against the Gurkhas in the Sino-Nepalese War. He was victorious in several battles and granted the title of Duke of the 1st rank.
He died in 1793. Unfortunately we don’t when he was born but if I had to guess, it probably was some time between 1735 and 1740 because if he participated in the Dzungar campaign in 1755, anything younger than that probably would have been too young. If we put his birth year around 1735, that means that he died at a respectable age of 62.
Now in history, that would mean that Fu Heng was at least 10+ years older than 海兰察. Since Hai Lan Cha didn’t come from an aristocratic family, he didn’t have much connection with Fu Heng. Although Hai Lan Cha served under and with Fu Heng and his son Fu Kang An in many campaigns.
In history, he was not the upstanding gentleman that we see in the drama. By all accounts, he was a rather rough and brash man, who preferred the battlefield. He did have some interesting tastes though. Apparently, he was a okay with eating bugs on campaigns including crickets, scorpians, and spiders. This apparently freaked a couple of his fellow soldiers out.
He was highly favored by Emperor Qian Long. Later in life 海兰察 suffered from old wounds and the Emperor specifically granted a carriage for him to attend to court. This was a privilege that was not lightly granted, especially for members of the military.
Now onto his personal life. His wife wasn’t recorded in history. In an article, I read that he did prefer fuller women and did ask Consort Ling to gift a fuller woman to him. However, I wasn’t able to find other sources to corroborate the ask of Consort Ling, but it does seem true that he preferred plumper women. He did have 2 sons and at least 2 daughters because we do have records of his son-in-laws. His eldest son inherited his father’s title when hai lan cha died in 1793 but he himself died in 1799 after a skirmish.
Next up in history is a brief discussion on 韩希孟.
She was a Ming Dynasty seamstress who was the originator of the dragonfly pattern that was of much interest in episode 61.
韩希孟 lived during the reigns of emperors Wan li and Chong Zhen, so late 16th and early 17th centuries. She was the wife of 顾寿潜 and lived in what is now modern day shanghai. She was skilled in painting flowers and embroidery, especially the embroidery of famous paintings.
She is most celebrated for her embroideries of Song and Yuan dynasty paintings. Because she was the wife of 顾寿潜 and lived in a beautiful garden, her embroideries were called 顾绣.
Her husband, Gu Shouqian, once studied under Dong Qichang 董其昌, a famous calligrapher and painter in the Ming Dynasty. They supported each other to further develop techniques for needlework and adding rich colors and textures of feathers, hemp, and velvet with silk threads.
In 1634, 韩希孟 collected several Song and Yuan Dynasty paintings and traced 8 of them. For those 8, she then used different sewing techniques to sew the paintings as embroidery. For each of the embroideries, the Ming Dynasty painter 董其昌 wrote a corresponding poem. These, including the dragonfly embroidery, are currently housed in the palace museum in beijing. You can search for photos of the original – it’s quite lovely and so impressive that these are embroidery. If you don’t look closely, I thought they were legitimately just paintings.
Lunar and Solar Eclipses
There was a short mention of a Lunar eclipse towards the end of episode 60. So I’d thought lets dig into the history of Lunar and solar eclipses. The Chinese have recorded eclipses dating back more than 3000 years. Even in the book of song or 诗经, which was comprised of works dating back to the 11 – 7th centuries BCE, there’s a song about eclipses.
In Imperial china, the Emperor represented the heavens. If the sun or moon became dark, then it represented a bad omen. The occurrence of a solar eclipse meant that the emperor behaved immorally, while the occurrence of a lunar eclipse meant that there was a loss of order. The Emperor must take steps to repent and change his ways or else he would be punished by the heavens.
By the late Ming Dynasty and the early qing dynasty, with the introduction of several Western sciences, the Chinese were able to more easily predict the occurrence of eclipses. So much so that in 1675, there were clear guidelines set by court on what needed to be done to prepare for the eclipse. Solar eclipses were more important than lunar eclipses. They needed to perform 救护 rituals or saving rituals. That meant that everyone at court needed to wear muted colors, perform rituals, and avoid certain palaces. These customs continued all the way to the end of the Qing Dynasty.