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. We’re back from our trip to asia and here with episode 63 and and part 1 of episode 64 of the Story of Yanxi Palace or 延禧攻略。Well I say part 1 but it’s really like ⅔ of episode 64.
This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in mandarin Chinese.
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These are two extremely exciting and satisfying episodes in the drama that I’ve rewatched a million times so I’m glad we are finally here to talk about it!
Ying Luo has hit rock bottom and she’s being abused in her palace by Yuan Chun Wang with little water and food. The Empress Nala is quite pleased with this development and is circling in for the kill while the Emperor is fine with ignoring Ying Luo, not recognizing the seriousness of her situation.
Now, it is time for 顺嫔 to enact the next step of her plan. She heads to 延禧 palace and tearfully justifies all of her current actions right now as simply wanting to help Ying Luo. She needed to push 璎珞 to the brink in order for her to take that next step towards a better life. 顺嫔 wants to repay 傅恒 for saving her life and realizing that he still loves 璎珞, she thinks that helping 璎珞 escape the palace so that she can be happy with 傅恒 will be the best way to repay him. 顺嫔 is tearful in her justification of her actions and implores her to leave and never come back.
顺嫔 also makes another pit stop in front of 傅恒 and confirms to him that 璎珞 actually accepted her offer and tells him that August 10th will be the perfect day to whisk Ying Luo away. 傅恒 was on his way to see the Emperor, probably to reveal 顺嫔’s plot but with this new information, decides to not say anything to the Emperor. Meanwhile, the Emperor orders Hai Lan Cha who is still distraught over Ming Yu’s death to head off to the front lines and do some tasks for him.
The last piece of the scheme for 顺嫔 is to prepare the Emperor. One day, 顺嫔 is showcasing her dancing skills to the Emperor once again and feigns injury. Then, she tearfully confesses she has something to share with the Emperor. We don’t know exactly what that is, only to hear the Emperor smash his tea ware and storm off. We can probably guess 顺嫔 shared the possibility of 傅恒 taking 璎珞 away with him to the Emperor.
But before we turn to August 10th, we do get a scene where Ying Luo is sick in bed and her eunuch, Xiao Quan Zi, who was seen betraying her last episode, sneak some type of meat jerky into her bedside while loudly saying a number of nasty things to her. Ying Luo lets out a small smile at the food which gives us a hint of what’s to come.
The morning of August 10th, the staff in the palace are up early preparing for the Empress Dowager’s trip to a nearby temple. Shun Pin tells Ying Luo about an empty water tank that will be her way of escaping out of the palace. We see the water tank be loaded up and taken towards the gate and out of the palace.
At this moment, Shun Pin heads over to the Emperor’s residence and begs him to let Ying Luo go while he clenches his fist. After a few moments of thought, he orders that the Shen Wu Gate be closed. In front of the Emperor, Shun Pin makes this event seem like it was all Ying Luo and Fu Heng’s plan and she’s only there trying to help Ying Luo. She pleads and pleads to the Emperor to not kill Ying Luo but he doesn’t say anything. This is such a masterful stroke of manipulation on Shun Pin’s part.
The Emperor and Shun Pin along with many servants head over to where the water tanks were confiscated, awaiting inspection. The Emperor marches over to the water tank but hesitates from uncovering the tarp, clearly worried about what truth he might uncover while Shun Pin is almost overjoyed with glee that her plan is working.
But after the Emperor orders Li Yu to open the water tank, out pops none other than 小全子, Ying Luo’s eunuch. The Emperor immediately catches on that this was some type of trick while 顺嫔’s face turns from glee to anger as she realizes her plan failed.
She’s not willing to lose just yet. 顺嫔 doesn’t lose composure for a second after 璎珞 arrives to defend herself. 顺嫔 calmly tries to pin the actions again on 璎珞 and play the victim that she was just trying to help 璎珞.
At this point, 傅恒 arrives with a eunuch as well. 顺嫔 immediately proclaims that she was not lying since 傅恒 must have come from the Xi Zhi Gate in order to pick 璎珞 up. But he promptly turns to the eunuch who tells the audience 傅恒 was at another gate, Shen Wu Gate.
顺嫔 changes tact in a blink of an eye, changing the story to make it so that 璎珞 and 傅恒 set her up so that she would be the fall guy in front of the Emperor once their plan was revealed. She accused 璎珞 of harming her but at this point, the game was up. Everyone there could see that this was a scheme set up by 顺嫔 in order to harm 璎珞 and 傅恒。
The big question though was why would 顺嫔 want to harm 傅恒, the man who saved her life?
The Emperor had an answer to that question. He immediately summons the information that 海兰察 helped investigate. Apparently, this 顺嫔 was not truly the daughter of Ai Bi Da, the man who gifted 顺嫔 to Emperor. Instead, this 顺嫔 or 沉璧 was just a beautiful chess piece that Ai Bi Da discovered and did not want to waste, thus he sent 沉璧 in the stead of his actual daughter. 沉璧 was actually previously married and also had a child.
This shocks both Ying Luo and Fu Heng, but there’s more. 顺嫔 absolutely hated 傅恒 for saving her life because she wanted to just end it and not enter palace. But because 傅恒 did this extra deed, she was forced to come to the palace and serve a man she doesn’t love. Poor Ying Luo. She was caught in the crossfire of 顺嫔‘s desire for revenge. Ying Luo didn’t do anything to 顺嫔 but because she is 傅恒’s love and a concubine of the Emperor, she is the perfect candidate to create chaos in the Qing empire. Honestly, i’m sorry Ying Luo. You got caught in the cross fire. But GEEZ BRING BACK MY MING YU!!!!
Seeing that the truth is revealed, 顺嫔 no longer keeps her mask on anymore and lets out a derisive laugh. She then turns towards the Emperor and in h er anger, pulls out on of her hair accessories and tries to stab the Emperor, only for 傅恒 to block the blow and 顺嫔 is easily subdued afterwards. The Emperor subtly thanks 傅恒 and summons 璎珞 to his palace for further questioning.
Alone, these two master manipulators finally have it out with a hilarious conversation. They question each other on when they knew that 顺嫔 was problematic and why they would just let the events unfold with her. 璎珞 evidently saw through the fact that the Emperor was only treating 顺嫔 so well as a way to test her feelings for him and see if she would get jealous. The Emperor was also worried that 璎珞 would actually leave him for 傅恒. It’s a really cute conversation because clearly, the Emperor lost this game as Ying Luo saw through it.
Fortunately for Ying Luo that the two were able to make up because at this moment, the Empress Dowager summons Ying Luo. She is worried about 顺嫔 because she still thinks 顺嫔 is her daughter reincarnated. But Ying Luo had to break the news to the Empress Dowager that no, she is not really the Empress Dowager’s daughter. THis pisses off the Empress dowager royally that Ying Luo would just trick her like that and TBH i agree with the Empress Dowager but the Emperor arrives and steps in to save Ying Luo. Under all the pressure, Ying Luo also passes out. When she comes to, the Imperial Doctor informs the Emperor that Ying Luo is PREGNANT! Yay!
This saves Ying Luo’s life because the Empress Dowager cannot kill her or harm her now but that doesn’t mean she’s not extremely disappointed. Regardless, Ying Luo and the Emperor are now made up because, as Ying Luo says, only a woman would want to carry the child of the one she loves. So, these two scheming individuals finally clear the air in that they do care for each other.
With Ying Luo now securely back on top and also pregnant, she does take the opportunity to have one last conversation with Chen Bi. This scene is perhaps one of the best acted scenes in the drama and certainly by Zhang Jia Ni, the actress for Chen Bi. She plays the crazed beautiful woman to perfection. Her palace is to be boarded up and she will essentially live out her life in the cold palace. In this conversation, Chen Bi finally tells Ying Luo about her tragic life. She was forcefully taken selected by Ai Bi Da to be gifted to the Emperor. Her son’s life was used as blackmail to force her to comply. Sadly, her young son died trying to save her and she was left to come to the palace after Fu Heng saved her life. It’s a tragic story hearing what Chen Bi went through and the realization that we feel after hearing that she doesn’t have a husband, only a son sent chills through me. As she states, having a beautiful face isn’t always a good thing. So we can only guess what type of life she lived with her beauty before she entered the palace. She was just a gift that was given around.
The rest of the episode is extremely satisfying as Ying Luo regains her status in the palace and is able to basically stick it to her enemies. 袁春望 is severely punished by the Emperor and even taken away right in front of the Empress because he was abusing not only Ying Luo, but also the Emperor’s child. This shocks 袁春望 and the Empress Nala that Ying Luo could be pregnant but that’s the truth! 袁春望 is taken away and beaten quite badly. The cherry on top there is that 小全子 is able to gloat in front of 袁春望 that this was all a ploy by Ying Luo. But Ying Luo does save 袁春望’s life as a way to say that the two are finally even. The injured yuanchun wang has no where to go but back to the Empress Nala to serve her.
As for the Empress Nala? She proactively seeks out Ying Luo at Yanxi Palace for a frank conversation. She wants Ying Luo to know that no matter how favored she is, there is only one Empress of the Qing Empire and it is her, Empress Nala. Ying Luo takes this in stride as she has no desire to fight for the title of Empress. Instead, she is quite happy to remain a favored Consort as she will have more freedoms. Our discussion will end here with Ying Luo and the Empress Nala making a pact that they will leave each other alone and not harm any children in the palace and with that agreement secured, the palace enjoys many years of peace.
It only took 6 episodes for 顺嫔 to enter into our orbit and then not quite so gracefully disappear. That felt really quick but despite being here for only a few episodes, this character definitely made her mark.
We say goodbye to this character who very nearly outwitted 魏璎珞, but who was she in real life?
The character of 顺嫔 in this drama is actually based off of 2 women.
The first is 顺贵人 from the manchu 钮祜禄 clan and the second is 容妃 from the Uyghui minority. Let’s start off with 顺贵人, as with the many other women, we don’t have her fully name, so I’ll just refer to her as Lady 钮祜禄
Lady 钮祜禄 was born in 1749 from the manchu bordered yellow banner clan. She was the daughter of 爱必达 and grandniece of Empress 孝昭仁, the second Empress of Emperor 康熙.
She entered the palace at the age of 19 as part of the selection process in the 31st year of Emperor 乾隆’s reign, so 1766. She was a full 37 years younger than the Emperor and the Emperor at this point was already in his mid 50s. I’m just gonna skip over that age difference.
She was given the title of 常贵人 at the level of 贵人 or noble lady. She must have gained favor from the Emperor because only two years later in 1768, she was promoted to the title of 顺嫔 or 嫔. 顺 in Manchu means victory or obedient.
However, she stayed at that position for a number of years. It wasn’t until 1776, a full 8 years later was she promoted to the title of Consort. She didn’t have her official promotion ceremony until 3 years later though due to the death of the Empress Dowager. However, by the time she had her ceremony, she was essentially one of the most powerful women in the harem because many of the women we’re familiar with in this drama such as Consort Ling and Empress Nala had already passed away at that point. There are records of the gifts she received during her extravagant 40th birthday and where she lived in the palace.
However, in 1788, something mysterious happened. No one really knows what because we only really have the historical record of her being demoted first down to a 嫔 or Imperial Concubine and then shortly after, down even further to a noble lady in the same year. The reason for her demotion down to now 顺贵人 is unknown.
She died shortly after in 1790 due to sickness at the age of 41. There’s only a handful of women during 乾隆’s reign who were demoted and she was one of them. It’s very a much a mystery of WHY she was demoted but one can speculate that she must have made a grave mistake or deeply angered the Emperor for this to have happened.
In the drama, our 顺嫔 was abducted by 爱必达 in hopes of gaining regaining favor with the Emperor after the disastrous campaigns led by his brother 讷亲. We discussed 讷亲 in episode 41. He was the general who lost several battles during the first Jin Chuan campaigns and was sentenced to death by the Emperor in 1749 due to his failures. But in history, NeCin was Shun Pin’s uncle.
Next – let’s talk about the very famous Consort Rong or Rong Fei!
Born in 1734, she came from the Khoja or 和卓 clan. She was muslim and belonged to the Uyghar minority from present day Xinjiang in China but back then people called that area 回疆. She is known as lady he zhuo with the name 法蒂玛 but in Hui folklore, she was known as 伊帕尔罕 or Consort Xiang. We’ll call her lady He Zhuo.
Her story into the palace is greatly connected to the Revolt of the Altishahr Khojas. We talked about the revolt in episodes 48 and 49. Lady He Zhuo’s brother, Turdu, led a resistance against the Altishahr Khojas. The revolt ended in 1759 with the Qing Dynasty being victorious.
In 1760, Emperor Qianlong invited the He Zhuo households including Turdu who contributed to the war to Beijing. The Emperor invited them to live in Beijing and bring their families along with them. It was during this time that Lady He Zhuo entered the palace. She was the only Uygher woman in Emperor Qian Long’s harem and perhaps one of the most famous in Chinese folklore.
She entered the palace at the age of 26 or 27, depending on how you view the calendar. In a time where women as young as 13 and 14 could enter the harem, this is pretty old. There are rumors that she probably was previously married before she entered Emperor Qian Long’s palace. Perhaps even the discarded wife of Khwāja-i Jahān [zh] (also known as Hojijan, Huojizhan), one of the two main Khoja’s that led the revolt.
This union was definitely viewed as a political alliance but she was very favored by Emperor Qian Long. When she entered the palace, she held the title of 和贵人 or Noble Lady. the very next year, she was promoted to Imperial Concubine and granted the title of 容 when means accommodating.
There are stories that when she entered the palace, the lychee trees that were brought from the southern parts of the empire miraculously all bore fruit. Lady He Zhuo was subsequently viewed as auspicious and lucky in the imperial harem and garnered much favor from the Empress Dowager.
She was promoted to 容妃 or the level of consort in 1768 at the age of 34.
When the Emperor and his whole retinue traveled to inspect the southern regions of the empire, he also brought lady he zhou with him. There was a ton of other people yes, but he also made exceptions for her to include cuisines and dishes from her homeland during the trip.
The Emperor built a mosque for her at the New Summer Palace and built a 方外观 at the Old Summer Palace that was decorated with European – style paintings and contained tablets with Arabic inscribed in them.
I’m trying to find historical corroboration but I believe the Emperor also built 宝月楼 or a tower that was in the style of Hui culture. I don’t think it was for her specifically because it was built before she arrived but turned into something for her to remind her of home. That building no longer exists but is now the Xinhua Gate. It turned into the front gate of the president back in 1913 and is now the front gate of Zhong Nan Hai, the compound that houses the Chinese central government.
There are records that for her 40th and 50th birthdays, the Emperor gifted her lavish gifts as well, including double elephant silver crystal earrings, countless jade and agate gifts too.
She died in 1788 at the age of 54.
容妃 is the basis for so many folktales about this mythical 香妃. Viewers of Pearl Princess are no strangers to her. The story goes that Emperor Qianlong had a consort who was stunningly beautiful and had a fragrance that followed her everywhere. 香 means fragrant which is why she was named 香妃. These stories originated late in the 19th century and really made the rounds in Chinese folklore in the early 20th centuries. This one folktale has definitely persisted well into the 21st century due to dramas such as Pearl Princess. However, we do have more historical confirmation that Xiang Fei was fictitious and based off of 容妃.
As you can see from the two historical counterparts above, the character of 沉壁 or 顺嫔 is a combination of the two. I feel like we got the early history of 容妃 mixed with the later years of 顺妃.
We kept mentioning several scenes were potentially cut with regards to 顺嫔’s character. We don’t have any scripts to corroborate the additional scenes but there are plenty of promotional photos that came out before the drama aired of 张嘉倪 wearing these resplendent yet kind of ambiguous tribal robes and costumes. Even the screenwriter and producer Yu Zheng said that much of 顺嫔’s character was cut so that the drama can air. In the baike for this character, the entry has 顺嫔 schemed against Xiao Jia Pin, resulting in her losing favor once again. Maybe that’s why we never saw this character again?
Remember in episode 58 when 魏璎珞 returns to the palace and gets a glimpse of the Emperor and 顺嫔 but we don’t actually see 顺嫔? I wouldn’t be surprised if in the scene 顺嫔 was dancing in these tribal robes for the Emperor, we just don’t see it in the final cut.
There’s one leaked photo where 顺嫔 was wearing the tribal robe and was sitting on the Emperor’s lap while the two were on a palanquin. That was a huge exception for 顺嫔 to have the privilege to do so.
In the drama, we only see 顺嫔 wear Manchu palace robes and not any of her own tribal wear. There’s some rumors that the censors a) didn’t approve of the tribal wear costume because it wasn’t historically accurate and b) didn’t want to spark any unnecessary tensions with minority groups because 顺嫔 is ultimately a bad character in this drama. So, the result is a 顺嫔 who only wears Manchu palace robes in the drama.