Can’t believe that we are in the end game for the drama! Kind of crazy to think we’re wrapping up this 70 episode drama soon! For today, we’re going to be discussing episode 69, next week 70 and then wrap up with some final thoughts.
In the last episode, we saw that the Emperor and many individuals in the palace are headed out of Beijing for a southern expedition, touring the sights of Yang Zhou, Hang Zhou and Su Zhou among many others.
As a reminder of where we are. The eunuch Yuan Chun Wang has everyone in the palace placed exactly where he wants them to be, especially the Empress and the Prince of He who Yuan Chun Wang has managed to push into a corner. Both the Empress and the Prince of He feel that this southern expedition is their time to strike. Kill the Emperor and have the Empress’s son, the 12th prince take over as Emperor. Then, the Empress will rule supreme as the Empress Dowager and the Prince of He. Well, he’ll also enjoy much more power as well.
To make this plan a possible reality, the Prince of He has secured the responsibility of overseeing the security detail for this trip. And for the Empress? She just gets to be the Empress. Her primary motivation for wanting this regime change is her fear of losing her power. She thinks that her son is unfavored (true) and that she will no longer have power since Ying Luo will become the Imperial Noble Consort (untrue). This last piece was information twisted by Yuan Chun Wang.
In a final nail in the coffin for the Empress’s resolve in taking action is the Emperor’s unwillingness to listen to her while on this Southern trip. This day, there are beautiful dancers taking the stage on the magnificent imperial boats. This women are essentially prostitutes for the Emperor to enjoy. The Empress sees them and is quite disapproving so she does her best to try to persuade the Emperor to switch the programming to something less gauche. The Emperor just ignores her. Soon after though, Ying Luo arrives and sees the scene. But rather than forcefully persuade the Emperor, Ying Luo manages to make jokes about how she totally understands why the Emperor wants to have these lovely ladies dance for him because if she were a man, she would totally do the same thing. Then she starts joking that she should get a couple of handsome eunuchs in her palace to make her day easier once they return. The other concubines jump in with their jokes while the Emperor recognizes the ridiculousness of his actions in addition to Ying Luos. So, by half-heartedly telling off Ying Luo for being ridiculous, he orders the dancers to retreat. THere. Mission accomplished. This for me was totally about knowing the audience but it pisses off the Empress quite a bit because she again sees how little she is valued and excuses herself immediately,
In a storage room somewhere on one of the boats, the Prince of He and the Empress agree to move on with their plan.
At this point, 2 major conflicts happen. The 5th prince joined the trip in order to seek medical treatment from Ye Tian Shi who has left the employ of the palace and is now in Southern China. We see him now finally taking a look at the 5th prince’s damaged leg to see if there is a way to save it and his life. He decides to use a special type of treatment where an insect will be able to eat away the dead skin. But just as the insects placed onto the 5th prince’s leg, Ye Tian Shi cries out that this is not the usual insect he uses! It is something else entirely! Ying Luo sees that the insects are attacking the 5th prince and jumps in to grab one of them with her hands only to be attacked herself. She screams for help as the 5th prince also cries out in pain.
However, no one is able to hear their cries as shortly after, the Emperor and the Prince of He who were playing chess in the main boat, hear screams that the Emrpess Dowager’s boat is on fire. The Emperor and the Prince of He rush over with the Emperor actually jumping into the flames of his mother’s boat to try to save her while the Prince of He and his group of guards hold back, not willing to take another step forward in the fire.
At this moment, a group of rebels appear from under water and start attacking guards on the boat. It’s chaos as eunuchs and guards are trying to quell the flames but then also working to fend off the attacking rebels.
Massive chaos reigns on the boat as there is fighting and flames everywhere. Two people, the Prince of He and Yuan Chun Wang are absolutely relishing in the events of the evening but I would say for completely different reasons.
After a long evening of fighting and danger, the day breaks. The Empress Nala who refused to escape is greeted by the Prince of He on the main dragon boat who announces that all the rebels have been eliminated and the fire extinguished. Unfortunately, the flames were too great and he sent teams out to search for the bodies of the Emperor and Empress Dowager. As for the 5th prince and Ying Luo? Both of them have disappeared as well.
There are a few people distraught at the news, like SHu Fei and Qing Fei, but the Empress? She is stone faced this entire exchange while the Prince of He has a swagger about him. When Yuan Chun Wang pipes up to enquire what the next steps are given the events of last night, the Prince of He steps forward to the head of the room hoping to take the lead. But before he can even utter a word, clanking sounds are heard as the steps in the boat disappear, revealing a hidden passageway. The Emperor and Empress Dowager slowly make their way out of the passageway, entirely unharmed.
I actually burst out laughing at the Prince of He’s expression here. His eyes are as big as saucers in shock. The same with Yuan Chun Wang who cannot believe that his plans have gone awry.
The Prince of He kneels, shaking with shock and asks how the Emperor managed to escape. The Emperor reveals that Fu Heng was the one to build many secret passageways in the boats for protection purposes. But more importantly, he tells the Prince of He, Hong Zhou, to stop the act. This entire time, the Emperor has been fully aware of what the Prince of He was planning. Those dancers sent on the boats? Enticed by the Prince of He to local ministers and officials. How easy and understandable would it be for an Emperor, who only cared about hedonistic pleasures, to tragically die in a fire. No one would bat an eye or be sad about it. Who gave the imperial boat’s security measures away? Those rebels the Prince of He were fighting? Probably just assassins he paid and trained himself. All of this was done in order to help raise the new Emperor.
The Prince of He slumps to the ground, defeated that his plans were entirely discovered. But at this moment, the Emperor turns his ire to the Empress. Of all the people on the burning boat, only the Empress had a small escape boat planned. She vehemently denies any involvement in these matters and even turns around and backstabs the Prince of He, revealing she was the one to actually tell the nearby HangZhou officials to come protect the Emperor. She didn’t escape the boat last night. How could she have been involved with the Prince of He?
Watching this scene more closely now, the Empress’s words actually make quite a bit of sense and she certainly knew how to protect herself in case there was a large fallout like we saw here. Except, she didn’t realize that while she backstabs the Prince of He, Yuan Chun Wang jumps out and does the same thing. Yuan Chun Wang suddenly kneels to the ground and loudly proclaims that the Empress and the Prince of He have a private relationship and planned to eliminate the Empress Dowager and the Emperor on this expedition.
This shocks everyone, most importantly the Empress but Yuan Chun Wang says he has evidence. The Prince of He is carrying something of the Empress’s. Sure enough, after a search, one of the Empress’s jade pendants was found on the Prince of He’s person. Except the empress definitely has no knowledge of this. This was stolen by her head maid zhen er who gave it to Yuan Chun Wang, thinking it would help the Empress and the 12th prince.
We’ll leave the episode recap there as the Empress hears that Ying Luo has also arrived on the boat. She is full of despair over seeing how little her husband cares for her and the betrayal of the people close to her.
First and foremost, we discussed Emperor Qian Long’s Southern inspection tours. I’ll dive in a little bit more. For each of Emperor Qian Long’s inspection tours, he had 2500 people in his entourage, the same number in horses, 400 mule carriages,and 800 camels. The estimated cost for his 6 tours is around 20 million taels of silver! That’s insane. To put it in perspective, during his reign, the population of the Qing dynasty was 300m people with an annual revenue of around 50M taels of silver. Granted – 20m taels of silver for 6 trips across multiple decades might soften the blow, but nevertheless, these trips were an extravagant expense.
This is his 4th and for these next two episodes, we don’t really get any sense of the actual imperial ships or junks. So I’d like to describe them here. Emperor Qian Long’s southern inspection tours served many purposes and one of them was pleasure. That meant his ship or junk, I’ll use junk from now on, was huge and lavish.
According to one article, his junk spanned 10.8 meters / 33 feet, had a width of 3.2 m / 10 feet, and a height of 7.5 meter or 24 feet. There was a large banner with a dragon that stood proudly on top of the junk. This might seem kind of small but the purpose of these junks were to travel through the canals and rivers. These were junks for pleasure, not cargo.
He employed 3600 burlaks or boat pullers to pull these boats along the waterways. In the drama, the interiors and exteriors that we see make the ships seem MUCH larger than they most likely were.
If you are interested, definitely go watch Ruyi’s Love in the Palace or even Pearl Princess 3 because those boats are much more historically accurate.
There’s a term that is used during the beginning of episode 69 that is very peculiar. 扬州瘦马. If you translate it directly, it means ThinHorses from 扬州.
The actual meaning is much more nefarious – it means prostitutes from 扬州. However, not just any prostitutes.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, merchants from the Yang Zhou area became extremely wealthy due to the salt trade and wanted young women as their concubines. And so, a whole business sprang to satisfy these “needs”.
Human traffickers and slavers would buy young girls from poor families, train them in the arts of singing, dancing, playing instruments, playing go etc, and then sell them for a high price to these wealthy merchants.
The practice is somewhat similar to how one would buy a young horse and then train the horse to adulthood and sell for a high price. Add to the fact that all of these women were very thin as that was the beauty standard, hence why in history they were called 瘦马 or thin horses.
瘦马 is a very derogatory term for women and represents the utter disregard that men and merchants had towards women, punishing and torturing them, just as a they would towards a weak or thin horse.
This whole business made people who engaged in the trade extremely wealthy. When the traffickers bought the young girls, they might have paid only like 50 guan but when the young girls, now young women, were sold to the merchants, these traffickers or brothel owners, as that’s most often where the young girls ended up, would earn hundreds if not thousands of taels of silver! It’s hard for me to find the equivalent in dollars but let’s just say that the profit was considerable.
In the beginning 扬州 was the area that really condoned this practice, hence 扬州瘦马, but it wasn’t before long before the rest of the empire indulged in this practice.
扬州瘦马 sounds much better than prostitute or slave but they’re basically the same thing.
Now with this context, hopefully it makes more sense as to why the Empress was so adamant to try and persuade the Emperor against having these ladies on the ship. If the Emperor was seen to favor these ladies, a) one of them might end up being a concubine and that would greatly sully the Emperor’s reputation BECAUSE these women’s backgrounds were so low and b) the Empress would indeed be scolded by the Empress Dowager for not stopping the Emperor from partaking in these pleasures. So lose lose for the Empress. Eh – let’s not go there as to how unfair this was cause you know the whole buying and selling women for profit…
Let’s now give our final farewells to several characters from a historical perspective. Yes, we might see them in the next episode, but there’s so much to discuss that we thought we’ll just share the information for these characters
The young and bright 5th prince, suffered a devastating injury in the drama and the treatment for him went awry. We don’t see him again in this drama.
In history – the young man unfortunately died at the age of 25 in April of 1766 after suffering from a bone infection/ There are records that he was already suffering from the infection in January.
He left behind one son and daughter. This 5th prince 永琪 was perhaps the one prince that was the big “what if” if he had survived. He was an intelligent man, skilled in all the gentlemanly arts, and had a bright future. Perhaps if he did live, then the next emperor would have been him.
I’m going to briefly touch up on the historical ending for 和亲王. He never committed treason, that was just for the drama. In history, this prince tried REALLY hard to show to his brother that he had no lust for power. All he wanted to do was just chill out! He died in 1770, so a few years after the events of this drama. When he died, the Emperor wrote quite a few moving words about his brother and even granted him a posthumus title of 恭 or reverent. If the Prince of He really did commit treason, Emperor Qian Long would not have granted this title
Next up – let’s discuss 舒妃
She was born in 1728 to the famous 叶赫那拉氏 from the Manchu bordered yellow banner. Her great grandfather was the famous minister 纳兰性德. She entered the palace in 1741 and was granted the title of noble lady. 6 days later she was promoted to Imperial Consort with the title of 舒.
In 1748, she was promoted to Consort at the same time as 令妃. We don’t REALLY get to see this in the drama but 舒妃 receive a lot of favor from the Emperor otherwise she wouldn’t have gotten promoted to Consort without children. She gave birth to the 10th prince in 1751 when she was 24, but the boy died young, at the age of 3. She never had other children.
The Emperor ordered the 10th prince be buried in the same grounds as the Empress Fucha’s children, once again demonstrating the favor that she had. Whats interesting is that she never got promoted to Noble Consort, perhaps because she didn’t have surviving children.
舒妃 died in 1777.
Next up – 庆嫔. She has been a relatively meek character in the drama.
Born in 1724, she was a han woman who grew up in 苏州. Historians just refer to her as Lady Lu as that was her last name. We’ll refer to her as such too. It is unclear when she entered into the palace, but some time before 1748 because she was already a 2nd class female attended as was known as 陆常在. She was promoted to Noble lady in that year.
In 1751, she was promoted to Imperial Concubine or 嫔 and granted the title of 庆 – the corresponding word in Manchu meant 庆 blessed or lucky whereas in Chinese, the word 庆 means celebrate. Apparently, she really focused on gaining favor with the Empress Dowager and that definitely paid off for her
In 1757, her family was allowed to join the bordered yellow banner. In 1759, she was promoted to Consort. The 15th Prince 颙琰 was born in 1760 to 魏璎珞 and it was 庆妃 who was gifted the task to raise the young boy. The Empress Dowager raised 魏璎珞’s daughters and as 庆妃 was very close to the Empress dowager, was granted this task.
庆妃 herself never had children but she did an excellent job raising the young boy and fulfilled the role of the adoptive mother. Because of this, the Empress Dowager and Emperor treated her very kindly and even promoted her to Noble Consort in 1768. So she was known as 庆贵妃.
She died in 1774 at the age of 51. When Emperor 乾隆 died and the 15th prince ascended the throne, he posthumously promoted his adoptive mother to Imperial Noble consort. So we know her today as 庆恭皇贵妃. For a woman who never had children and quite honestly never really won favor with the Emperor, she really won by raising the future emperor.