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 discussing the last ⅓ of episode 64 and all of episode 65 of the story of yanxi palace.
This podcast is in english with proper nouns and certain phrases spoken in mandarin Chinese.
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So we’re headed into the final conflicts in the drama as we’re only a few episodes away from the finale. We left off the last podcast episode with Chen Bi being banished to the cold palace, Ying Luo pregnant and returned to favor with the Emperor and Ying Luo and the Empress Nala established a pact to leave each other and children alone in the palace. There’s quite a bit of history to cover today as we get our bearings with all of the princes that now become the main focus of the drama.
Now we fast forward several years to the 30th year of Emperor Qian Long’s reign which places us in about 1765 where the Emperor is about 55.
We are presented with a scene where the Emperor’s sons, the young princes, are in the training grounds and practicing archery. We now get to meet the 4th prince, the 5th prince and the 12th prince. In this scene alone, we get to see that the 5th prince is quite a capable archer and exceeds in most other subjects while the 4th prince has a big temper and not as capable. The 12th prince, younger of course than his older brothers, recognizes he may not be as talented or skilled as his older brother, the 5th prince, but understands that being hard working is still important.
These time jump episodes are just full of plot exposition to get us up to speed on what’s been happening in the palace and basically a who’s who in terms of the princes we care about. At Empress Nala’s residence, 袁春望 tells us that the 4th prince is hot tempered, which we saw, the 8th prince likes the earthly pleasures of flesh and drink while the 11th prince is rather stingy, thus none of them are favored by the Emperor. The 6th prince has been moved to be part of another family so the only two princes left in the palace that are favored by the Emperor are the 5th prince and the 12th prince. One raised by Ying Luo after his birth mother Yu Fei is out of the picture, and one birthed by the Empress. In this instance, the biggest instigator is not the Empress. No, she’s actually trying to keep the pact that she made with Ying Luo. Instead, its Yuan Chun Wang who is no longer able to sit still and is trying to inception into the Empress’s mind that she needs to act against the 5th prince in order to promote her son, the 12th prince.
Next up, we finally see the now older YIng Luo and Emperor. Except Ying Luo still loves joking around. She hears that the 5th prince is coming to see her and knowing he’ll admonish her for eating iced foods that aren’t good for her, hides in a nearby box, hoping he’ll leave soon. Problem is, the 5th prince stays and the Emperor arrives shortly after as well. The Emperor takes one glance at the box and the half eaten grapes and knows she’s probably hiding in the box. But instead, he insists that he and the 5th prince play around of Chinese go ON the box no less. Finally, after the first round and the Emperor says they should play a second round does YIng Luo yell out from the box, in desperate need of fresh air. It’s a funny little scene that shows us that the 5th prince deeply cares for his adoptive mother while Ying Luo is less careful about herself. Additionally, the Emperor and Ying Luo have certainly mellowed out and become a more understanding couple.
After the 5th prince leaves, we learn that Ying Luo had another son that died and has most of her children raised by others. Whether it’s’ the Empress Dowager or even Qing Fei, just not herself. The 15th prince, her one son in particular, is raised by Qing Fei. While the Empress Nala and Yuan Chun Wang earlier suggested this was all Ying Luo’s plot to secure her standing in the palace, the Emperor says he knows Ying luo is trying to protect them in case she is unable to survive long enough to raise them. Quite a different viewpoint and story.
In episode 64, ying luo told the Empress she had no desire to fight for that title because it’s too tiresome and we see that reflected constantly in episode 65. In front of the Emperor another day, she is able to joke with him about a painting that Fu Heng sent over and try to convince him that the new painting is a fake one. Both the Emperor and Ying Luo know they’re conning each other and they just let it happen as their chemistry and understanding has reached that very seamless level. Meanwhile, the Empress has become much more insecure about her age and capabilities. She’s worried about her beauty and youth and is trying everything to stay young. This has caused her temper to become much more elevated than before as she is jealous of the younger women in the palace.
The thing is, while the Empress Nala is more focused on her youth, the eunuch Yuan Chun Wang is making a big ruckus trying to goad Empress Nala into focusing more on her son’s future. He wants her to strike Ying Luo’s sons. He gets quite a scolding from the Empress for his impertinence but he doesn’t mind whatsoever. He turns immediately to the Prince of He for help instead. He says all these nice things to the Prince of He about how he’s the only one in the palace who cares for the Empress Nala which I’m like dude, you’re crossing so many boundaries but whatever.
The Prince of He takes Yuan Chun Wang’s constant badgering words to heart and in one scene with the Emperor where they’re overseeing examinations, the Prince of He becomes rather agitated with the Emperor and implies that the Emperor doesn’t trust him. The Emperor’s face immediately hardens and the Prince of He recognizes he overstepped a boundary. He fails to pipe up any more comments when the Emperor sternly gives him the opportunity but you can tell the aura of the room has shifted dramatically. The episode ends with the Emperor visiting the Empress Nala in her palace only to see her eating rather gross foods in order to retain her youth. He doesn’t comment on this while the Empress Nala starts pressing the Emperor to force the 15th prince to start taking classes. Something that Ying Luo has been pushing back on due to his young age. The episode ends with the Emperor leaving Empress Nala with a thinly veiled excuse, clearly not wanting to further this conversation any longer.
We skipped a lot of time here so let’s move on to discussing the Emperor’s children.
The last time we spoke about Emperor 乾隆’s children – this was still in the 1750s. We’re now in the 1760s and he’s had several more children but pay attention to the mother of these children.
In 1756 – Empress Nala gave birth to the 13th prince 永璟 but he died young in 1757. This is the prince that 袁春望 was talking about. In 1757, 令妃 gave birth to 永璐, the 14th prince who died when he was only 3, in 1760, which is why we won’t see him in the drama.
In 1759, 令妃 was promoted to Noble Consort
In 1760, 令贵妃 gave birth to 永琰 the 15th prince. She then gave birth to a 16th prince but there are no records of him simply because he died too young. Then in 1766, 令贵妃 gave birth to the 17th prince 永璘. That is it for the Emperor’s sons – so 17, but from 1757 onwards, all of the Emperor’s sons were borne to 令贵妃, showing just how much favor she had.
But that’s not it! Let’s look at his daughters.
In 1756, 令妃 gave birth to the 7th Princess. This child was the couples first child and 令妃 was already almost 30. In 1758, 忻贵妃, who we never really met in the drama gave birth to the 8th princess but she died young at the age of 10. Then in 1758 令妃 gave birth to the 9th princess. And finally nearly 2 decades later, another woman 惇妃 gave birth to the 10th princess.
Phew – that’s a lot of children! But let’s take a look, from 1756 all the way to 1766, 令妃 gave birth to 6, yes 6 children! 4 boys and 2 girls. In the drama, they only said 令妃 had 4 children even though the year is 1765. She should have had 5 by now and will have one more in 1766. 令妃 is one of only less than a handful of women in the Qing Dynasty to have had this many children. Once again, what I find fascinating is that she only started having children near the age of 30 in 1765, she’s almost 40 but still had much favor from the Emperor.
The drama really picked a great time to end the time jump because the players are set for the end game.
I’m going to now walk through, as 袁春望 did for several of the princes, where we stand with the battle for the throne amongst the princes.
In 1765, of the EMperor’s sons, only the 4th prince, 5th prince, 6th prince, 8th prince, 11th prince, 12th prince, and 15th prince were still alive. Yes, that’s 7 princes to choose from, but as was mentioned in the drama the 6th prince, who was the son of 纯贵妃 was out of contention. The 4th prince was also out of contention because both of them inherited titles of other imperial relations so they could not inherit the throne. The 8th prince and 11th princes did not behave as a future emperor would, such as favoring the arts instead of warfare etc. The 5th prince was 24 at the time and had a lot of favor with the Emperor. The 12th prince was the legitimate son from the Empress and the 15th prince, who was barely 5, was the son of 令贵妃. So, as was mentioned in the drama, it was really up to these 3 princes.
This will set up nicely a lot of the events that will occur in these last episodes.
Ok – let’s turn to the one painting that was discussed today!
富春山居图 Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by the Yuan Dynasty Chinese painter Huang Gongwang 黄公望 (1269–1354).
This painting is one of the 10 major Chinese paintings, showing how important it is to Chinese culture. The painting itself was completed between 1348 and 1350, however I read that from conception, it probably took more like 7 years.
Unfortunately,the painting was burnt into two pieces in 1650.
The original painting was drawn on six sheets of paper. They were then framed together to form a long scroll of about 700 centimeters. The painter did not necessarily conceive the structure according to the size, length and width of each piece of paper. I won’t comment on the skill of the painting because I am no artist but let’s just say that it has vastly influenced painters in the centuries since its creation.
黄公望 was a local official for many years but, at the age of 45 was wrongfully imprisoned due to a lawsuit incurred by his boss. After that episode, 黄公望 resigned from his post and decided to travel throughout the land. He joined the Quanzhen Sect which was a daoist sect, which advocated the integration of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Through his wanderings, he became interested in the rivers and mountains and wanted to capture the beautiful scenery. He really only became a painter at the age of 50. It was during one of his travels to the 富春 river in Zhe Jiang did he get the inspiration to create a painting to capture the beauty with the output being 富春山居图.
The journey this specific painting to survive to today is quite fascinating. Upon its completion, 黄公望 gifted it to to a fellow daoist priest in his sect in 1350. The painting was acquired at some point by the famous Ming Dynasty painter Shen Zhou in the latter half of the 15th century. Shen Zhou sent the painting to an unnamed calligrapher to write a poem. However, the son of this calligrapher stole the painting and sold it. Distraught at the loss of this masterpiece, Shen Zhou painted a copy of the painting himself from memory. This imitation has, funnily enough, become one of the most well-known and acclaimed imitation. One of Shen Zhou’s friends was able to buy it back at a high price and then Shen Zhou himself wrote the story of its loss and retrieval on the painting.
Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, the painting fell into the possession of 董其昌, one of the most famous Ming Dynasty painters. By the early Qing, the painting was in the hands of 吴洪 . He loved the painting dearly and in his will, wished that this painting and another one (copy of the Thousand Character Classic by Master Zhiyong (智永法师) be burned after his death so that he could enjoy it in the afterlife. In 1650, he died, and his family first burned the Thousand Character Classic. They started to burn this painting Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains but at the final moment, a family member pulled the painting from the painting, saving it. Unfortunately the painting was already split in two from the fire. The front section suffered minor damage but the second section required much restoration. The two paintings were subsequently hidden from history for about a century as they were purchased by various collectors.
Then in 1746, EMperor Qian Long bought the second section with 2000 taels of silver. This is the funny part and basically what we saw in the drama! Earlier in 1745, he also received another version of the painting. He, as we saw in the drama, dismissed the real piece and mistakenly announced that the fake to be the real one. Apparently, the one he received a year earlier was a very good imitation but merchants essentially forged parts of the painting to claim it as the real piece. It was essentially the debate the the Emperor had with Ying Luo in the drama.
The Emperor nonetheless kept both in the royal collection. Apparently none of the ministers at court dared to correct the emperor. It was only in 1816 when emperor Jia Qing ordered a review of these collections did the mistake get corrected. The first half of the painting fell to the hands of collectors and was known during world war 2. In 1956, the owner agreed to sell the painting to the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou which is where it is now.
The second half is kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. I don’t believe we saw it while we were there.