We’re finally at the last episode for this drama the Story of Yanxi Palace!!!!! There is a LOT of history and plot discussion that we want to cover so let’s get started! Always saving the best for last eh?
We start episode 70 in a massive confrontation. We’re on the dragon boat during this southern inspection tour of the Emperor’s with the Emperor and Empress Dowager turning up miraculously after being presumed dead in a fire. Turns out, Fu Heng, who is currently leading the troops in war in Myanmar right now, built in many secret passageways in the boats to ensure the safety of the Emperor and Empress Dowager. The Emperor reveals he knows that the fire and supposed assassination attempts by rebels were all orchestrated by the Prince of He who wanted to overthrow the Emperor. As for the Empress Nala, the Emperor also turns his ire to her as he believes she was involved in order to make her son the next Emperor.
And here we are. The Empress, disheveled from the craziness of the night before, finally lets out her feelings as she realizes that her servants have betrayed her and her husband doesn’t believe her. In front of everyone, she questions the Emperor whether or not he realizes just how much she cares for him. She is angry at the Emperor for believing in a woman like Ying Luo who does not actually love him and ignoring someone like her who does.
Just as you’re about to agree and empathize with her, the Emperor points out that she was able to order about the local Hangzhou officials which means there’s no way she only cares about him. And that’s when we remember, ooooh right, she suffered from seeing her father be killed since she had little power and therefore she cares about power above all else. She doesn’t deny any of this and actually spills the beans that she amassed a ton of intel on many court officials that she could then use as leverage. All of them fear her. Her ultimate goal? Is that once the Emperor passes, she will be the next 孝庄文皇后- a powerful Empress Dowager who aided Emperor KangXi for much of his youth. So you see, while the Empress does love the Emperor, she also loves power just as much if not more. And we know that she’s done plenty of nasty things to other people in the palace so it’s not like she’s only rainbows and sunshine.
Unfortunately, both the Empress Dowager and the Emperor are not impressed. The Emperor doesn’t even call her by Empress anymore, just NaLa 氏。 By this point, the Empress had already grabbed a dagger from one of the imperial guards and is pointing this dagger outwards, towards the Emperor. A clear sign of disrespect. She falls to the ground, completely dismayed with hatred towards the Emperor. And rather than injuring anyone, she grabs a tuft of her hair and slices it off. We will explain more of the significances for this act but as Shu Fei explains already, manchu people never cut their hair unless this is for major mourning periods and is again, another sign of disrespect towards the Emperor adn Empress Dowager. She essentially is telling the world that she is done with the Emperor and her role as Empress.
After this crazed action, the Empress is dragged off. The Prince of He is also escorted out to await punishment. As for Zhen Er, the Empress’s head maid, she grabs the dagger the Empress dropped and tries to attack Yuan chun wang for betraying the Empress. It’s also an act of revenge for her because Yuan Chun Wang pretended to have feelings for her, Zhen Er for the last decade plus years. But, who is Yuan CHun Wang. He is easily able to overpower Zhen Er and actually turns around and stab Zhen Er himself.
And now, another revelation is made. At first, Yuan Chun Wang begs for forgiveness from the Emperor and states he is willing to give up all the information he knows about the Empress only for Ying luo to begin laughing on the side. She reveals that she recently sent people to check Yuan Chun Wang’s background at 太行山 given everything that has happened recently and after remembering the story that yuan Chun Wang told her all those years ago.
At the words of 太行 mountain, the Empress Dowager immediately sits up and promptly requests that unnecessary individuals give them privacy. Clearly, she knows something is amiss here. After most people excuse themselves, Ying Luo reveals that this relates back to the story from many years ago that the Empress Dowager shared.
When the late Emperor Yong Zheng, or the current Emperor’s father, was on the run and Madame Qian, the Emperor’s birth mother had to distract the attacking rebels, a farming family took in the Emperor. Yuan Chun Wang is the son of the Emperor and a female farmer that took in the Emperor.
Yuan Chun Wang is rather calm to Ying Luo’s revelations and simply just says that he has no idea what Ying Luo is talking about but Ying Luo states that she has evidence. The implication here is that Yuan Chun Wang is a half brother of the Emperor. However, due to unfortunate events of Yuan Chun Wang’s youth, he was sent to the palace as a eunuch. The reason why he instigated the Prince of He to commit treason and pushed the Empress to misunderstand is to ultimately slay the Emperor and Empress Dowager. Then, he will immediately turn around and betray the Empress and Prince of He. At that point, everyone who hated him in the palace will successfully disappear.
Not only these people, he wanted to kill Yong Qi who we saw in the last episode was attacked by poisonous insects that Ying Luo then pushed away but was bitten by. Yuan Chun Wang held a years long hatred for Ying Luo for backing out of her promise to stay with him forever in Yuan Ming Yuan. She left him and went back to the palace and so he must take his revenge. He cannot have that since he, someone with the blood of the 爱新觉罗 clan in his veins, has been left to do the dirtiest and most menial work in the palace while his brothers and relatives enjoyed a lavish life.
At this moment, the Empress Dowager actually pipes up and calmly says that the Emperor never had this illegitimate child. Yuan Chun Wang is adamant that this is the truth. He has evidence! There is a prince’s robe at his maternal grandfather’s place which is evidence that it was the Emperor who was there!
The Empress Dowager smiles softly, and here there are actually quite a few inaccuracies in the Youtube translations I’m seeing so here’s what actually happened. She explains that Madame Qian exchanged clothes with her husband the Prince of Yong and wore his robes to lure the bandits away. Such a precious piece of garment, how would the bandits let her go? One can only imagine who took the opportunity to defile the farmer girl with that robe outfit instead.
With this, Yuan Chun Wang’s whole world is shattered because if this were true, then no, he is not actually related to the imperial family. He believed a lie in his youth that led him to Beijing and set him on this path to becoming a eunuch. Upon hearing these words, Yuan Chun Wang is left to babble as he falls, completely unable to comprehend these simple words because it means that everything he has done was completely for naught. He immediately goes insane at the thought of realizing what he believed his entire life, the hatred that he held, was entirely misguided.
But before the Emperor can have him dragged off and killed, the Empress Dowager jumps in and asks the Emperor for forgiveness. It’s a rather sudden change and surprises everyone as to why she would do this. The Empress Dowager doesn’t elaborate further, only that she wants the Emperor to listen to her. He complies and Yuan CHun Wang then is just dragged off with no threat to his life.
Let’s take a moment to discuss Yuan Chun Wang’s storyline here because it is a little confusing. Yuan Chun Wang believes that he is the son of the Emperor Yong Zheng which is why he went to Beijing only to be made a eunuch and his life altered forever to be a servant rather than a normal man. The Emperor Dowager, however, states that he is not related to the Emperor or Yong Zheng in any way. Why? Because it was Madame Qian who wore the invaluable Prince’s robes. So for the robes to be at Yuan Chun Wang’s grandfather’s house must mean that it was not Yong Zheng then who slept with the farming woman to produce Yuan Chun Wang. The implication is that Madame Qian might have been killed or somehow had those robes taken from her after she lured away the bandits. The bandits took those robes, maybe pretended to be the Prince of Yong we don’t know but then defiled/slept with the farming woman. That’s how Yuan Chun Wang came to be. If this were the true turn of events, then Yuan Chun Wang is NOT a child of the late Emperor Yong Zheng, but instead, the child of just some bandit and that farming woman.
THIS is why this revelation is so damaging to Yuan Chun Wang. He believed his entire life he was a member of nobility and that life just played games with him so he ended up the way he did. But he wanted to take revenge for his misfortunes.
However, why did the Empress Dowager then prevent the Emperor from killing Yuan Chun Wang? Why did she step in to keep him alive no matter what? There are many theories out there as to what the truth is so let’s talk about them. There isn’t really an answer because we are never given one in the drama so you can decide which one you want to believe.
One theory is that Yuan Chun Wang is indeed the Emperor’s brother and this story is true, but the Empress Dowager cannot have Yuan Chun Wang, a eunuch, exist in the Emperor’s orbit and thus made this lie. But given that he is technically a prince, does not kill him.
There is another theory out there and one I’m leaning more towards is that remember why Madame Qian had to be “killed” after she lured those bandits away in the exchanged Prince’s clothes? It’s because she had a sullied reputation. It was presumed that she was “humiliated” by those bandits and despite saving the Emperor’s life, she could not be allowed to stay in the palace with such a bad reputation.
The theory is that the reason the Prince’s robes were left at Yuan CHun Wang’s grandfather’s place is that Yuan Chun Wang is actually the child of the Empress Dowager, who in reality is Madame Qian. Yuan Chun Wang is possibly a child who was the product of rape she suffered at the hands of the bandits while she was in possession of the Prince’s robes. She probably left the robes with a farming family who helped raise this child of hers that she did not want and could not take back with her to the palace. Why would Madame Qian be allowed to return to the palace after suffering this type of humiliation? Well, she did just save the Emperor’s life so this is a way to keep her alive just under a new alias of 钮祜禄氏。
If this were true, then it is not a lie that Yuan Chun Wang has no 爱新觉罗 blood in him but he would still technically be the Emperor’s half-brother. And therefore, it would make sense why the Empress Dowager would not want to kill Yuan Chun Wang and just let him be. He is her child that she cannot admit to.
There are a few other theories out there of course, many predicated on whether or not you believe the Empress Dowager IS Madame Qian or not. Let us know what YOU think is the truth here about Yuan Chun Wang’s actual heritage.
WIth all of these conflicts resolved, the main priority now is tending to Ying Luo who has been severely poisoned by Yuan Chun Wang’s insect.
Back in the palace, things don’t look good for Ying Luo who somehow managed to survive the long journey back to Beijing from Hang Zhou. Ying Luo is extremely weak and coughing up blood everywhere with doctors not being able to find a good cure for this poison. She is delirious from the poison and dreams of a man walking away from her.
She wakes up presumably many days later only to see Hai Lan Cha. He brings news that their troops have defeated the Myanmar army who are now engaging in peace talks. Ying Luo is relieved to hear this since it means that Fu Heng has succeeded in his campaign and is asking about him. Evidently it was he who was able to find an antidote for Ying Luo, thus saving her life. However, when Ying Luo asks where Fu Heng is, Hai Lan Cha tearfully reveals that while trying to procure the sacred herbs used for the antidote, Fu Heng himself was poisoned by the miasma in the grounds. In his weakened state he still insisted on leading the army to victory despite Hai Lan Cha’s repeated requests. Fu Heng’s body has already been returned to the palace.
With these words, Ying Luo is in utter disbelief. Tears immediately stream from her eyes as she digests the truth. As the beautiful and heartwrenching melody of 雪落下的声音 plays, Hai Lan Cha shares the final question from Fu Heng to ying Luo. He says that Ying Luo, he spent his entire life protecting her. He’s tired now. In the next life, can they change and she protect him instead?
Ying Luo doesn’t respond in that moment but when everyone leaves and she is alone, tears still streaming from her eyes, she says yes, I will.
With that, the handsome gentleman that is Fu Heng, says goodbye, having spent his entire life loving Ying Luo. How many people shed tears after hearing that Fu Heng passed away in order to save both the woman he loves and the country he loves? I most certainly did!
After we collect ourselves from those tears, it is time to round out the episode and the drama. Ying Luo pays a final visit to the Empress Nala who has had all power and privileges of an Empress stripped from her. She does still get all the food worthy of an Empress though sent to her every day. On this final visit from Ying Luo, the Empress Nala and the audience get a couple of additional answers. Why on earth would Ying Luo save Empress Nala’s life at this crucial moment? Well, apparently it’s to repay Empress Nala’s kindness when Ying Luo was a maid in 辛者库 and fell desperately ill. It was Empress Nala who called for a doctor to care for Ying Luo and saved her life. That debt is now repaid. As for why Ying Luo allowed Yuan Chun Wang to continue with his plans, particularly of goading the Prince of He to act so rashly? We are reminded that 24 years ago, the Prince of He was the one who raped Ying Luo’s sister and caused her death. Of course Ying Luo wants the Prince of He to receive his just punishment. The only way to ensure this would happen is to let him revolt against the Emperor. Only such a crime, as was actually stated many episodes ago I think by Fu Heng, would the Emperor consider seriously punishing the Prince of He.
Wow that was such a throwback and I almost totally forgot about this piece of hatred that Ying Luo holds against the Prince of He. At least now, she got her revenge.
Finally, the dust settles. The Empress is confined to her palace for the remainder of her life, powerless. The Prince of He is sentenced to death or given poison in prison to then be shipped back to his manor where it will be announced that he died from illness. As for Yuan Chun Wang? He is left to live out his life, by order of the Empress Dowager, except he is now insane back where he spent much of his career, cleaning waste buckets in the palace.
As for Ying Luo? She is promoted to the role of 皇贵妃 or Imperial Noble Consort, the most powerful woman in the palace and the Qing dynasty. The drama closes with the Emperor and Ying Luo joking around as they enjoy each other’s company for what seems like years to come.
Yay!!! That was a long plot recap but we are done! Our 3rd 70+ episode drama! But hold your horses as there is still a TON of history to discuss about what happened in this episode. I’m glad we shifted some things around otherwise this will go on forever.
I’ve been bursting to talk about the final chapter of Empress Nala’s life so here we are
She ascended the role of Empress in 1750 and held up her duties by having 2 sons, the 12th and 13th prince in 1752 and 1756. The 13th prince died young so she only had the 12th prince to rely on.
In 1765, Empress Nala joined the Emperor and his entourage on the 4th southern inspection tour. Everything was quiet for the first part of the trip. Indeed, the Emperor even celebrated the Empress’s birthday while on the trip.
All of that changed when the dragon boat reached the city of HangZhou, similar to what we see in the drama. On the morning of the 18th day of the leap 2nd month of 1765, the Emperor still gifted food to the Empress. This was customary as a way to show respect and love to the harem. The Empress received food first and then it was the rest of the harem.
However, by dinner time, the first name that received food gifts from the Emperor was Noble Consort Ling. After that, the Empress received no food gifts and her name was actually covered by additional yellow paper to essentially remove her name on the records of food portions.
Essentially, on the same day, the Emperor ordered his son-in-law to escort the Empress back to Beijing via waterways. No one really knew what happened at the time. In a secret missive that was sent to Empress Nala’s nephew about two weeks later, the Emperor wrote that Empress suddenly decided that she wanted to become a female buddhist monk or Bhikkhunī. She even cut her hair! As Empress, this was unacceptable.
Much like what we saw in the drama, cutting one’s hair at the time was a sign of extreme disrespect. There’s the saying of 满人不断发 or Manchu’s don’t cut hair. They only did it during deep mourning. For her to do so, basically meant that she was cursing the Emperor AND Empress Dowager an early death, because as Empress, who else would she be mourning? Just those two.
We’ll never know exactly why the Empress decided to cut her hair. Was it to spite the Emperor or did she really want to become a Buddhist monk? We won’t really know.
Anyways, on the trip back, the Emperor must have been feeling a little perplexed. Why would the Empress do such a thing? He ordered that all officials give her the full respect that an Empress deserved and even promoted her nephew! However, the Empress remained cold. This royally pissed off the Emperor. The Emperor ordered that, after she returned back to the Forbidden Palace, a head eunuch was to interrogate the Empress’s palace maids as to why there was a lapse in the Empress’s care. The Emperor then swapped out all of the Empress’s servants for new people and essentially had her under surveillance. The Emperor even had all of the Empress’s belongings searched to check if there were any evil spirits about.
But it looked like the Empress was determined to either leave the Emperor or something because the Emperor went through many lengths to strip the Empress of her power and family without actually demoting her Empress status.
When the Emperor returned to Beijing, he immediately confiscated the 4 written edicts that bestowed her titles and the accompanying gifts. Those were for when she became Consort,Noble Consort, Imperial Noble Consort, and Empress. Even though she still held the title of Empress, she was essentially left with the bare minimum. She only had 2 maids, which was provided to 2nd class female attendants or 答应, one of the lowest ranks in the harem.
The Emperor, who had previously promoted the Empress’s nephew demoted him and then demoted her whole clan from the bordered blue banner to become bannerless as part of the 公中佐领. When the Empress first received this type of treatment, there were court officials who stood by her side and tried to make a case for her to the Emperor. He dismissed all of these cases and even punished them by basically banishing them to XinJiang.
This all occurred between 1765 and 1766. Empress Nala died in 1766 at the age of 48. When the Empress died, the Emperor was out hunting near his summer residence at the Mulan Hunting grounds. When he heard, the Emperor basically shrugged this off, didn’t return to Beijing, ordered his son, the 12th prince to manage his mother’s funeral affairs, AND, get this, outright ordered that she NOT be buried as was accorded to an Empress, but of an Imperial Noble Consort.
Let’s pause for a second on this. The Emperor, who has so far, been rather praiseful of the women in his harem, went so far as to say, you know what, no, this woman who is my second Empress, I’m not going to even bury her as an Empress. She’s going to just be an Imperial Noble Consort in death.
Empress Nala’s funeral was quite a sad affair. Only her son the 12th prince and future daughter in law took part in the mourning. None of the other princesses, court officials, and court wives attended. She wasn’t even buried with the Emperor with the honor of an Empress! She was unceremoniously buried in the SAME funeral chamber as 纯惠皇贵妃, who, in our drama was Chun Fei. No one could even pray to her. There was no memorial tablet, literally nothing about her after she was buried.
There was a contemporary minister official who spoke up on the injustice of this and guess what the EMperor did, he banished the minister to XinJiang again. To add even more insult to injury, the 12th prince, well, he never recovered from his mother’s falling out with his father. He essentially wasted away for a few years and died in 1776 at the young age of 25. He left behind no children and wasn’t even bestowed a title until after Emperor Qian Long died.
We can see that the Emperor at this point despised Empress Nala. She was purged from the records and there are no surviving paintings of her, unlike the other ladies in Qian Long’s harem. She was not given a posthumous title so people just refer to her as 继后 or the Step Empress.
In the years after Empress Nala’s death, Emperor Qian Long received reports from minor officials about the general population’s view on his actions towards Empress Nala. Apparently, one official wrote that the reason why Empress Nala cut her hair was to stop the Emperor from bringing a concubine from Hang zhou back to the imperial city. He couldn’t remember exactly where he heard this because it’s been years since the events but there were many people talk about this. There were other reports state that the Emperor was a philandering scoundrel who discarded his wife in favor of other women. The Emperor was enraged at these reports but he couldn’t deny that his reputation was tarnished. That’s when he finally wrote an edict in the late 1770s that the Empress cut her hair with complete disregard to custom and that she died due to illness. He then states that he, the Emperor, did nothing wrong by her.
I’m gonna just roll my eyes at that.
Well – that was a long explanation on the legacy and mystery of Empress Nala or shall we say the Step Empress. She has had interesting portrayals in pop culture. The most famous three depictions are Pearl Princess, Ru Yi Love in the Palace, and this one the Story of Yanxi Palace.
In all three, towards the end of her life, she was portrayed as the tragic figure who pushed the Emperor’s buttons so far that any residual feelings that the Emperor had for Empress were destroyed. The Emperor utterly destroyed Empress Nala in death. In comparing the three portrayals, Ruyi’s love in the palace is the most tragic and we see a lot more of the aftermath . In that drama, the Emperor is so hurt by the fact that his wife ultimately decided to not love him anymore that he did this almost as an act to “free” her from the confines of the palace, which is totally BS again. It’s rare we see such an overt show of hatred from an Emperor and this is one certain example.
At the same time – what’s interesting is that this could also be one big tarnish on the Emperor’s reputation. For a man who prided himself in being great at everything, how he handled this relationship was decidedly not good. For these actions, in the 200+ years since his death, there have been countless stories, rumors, and media portrayals of a rather cold hearted, philandering Emperor. We don’t know what really happened between the two but this mystery continues to intrigue us.
I personally do not agree on this take for the Story of Yanxi Palace that Empress Nala went so far as to commit treason