Welcome 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 episodes 8+9 of the story of yanxi palace or 延禧攻略。This podcast is in English with proper nouns and certain phrases in Mandarin Chinese. For these podcast episodes, we first do a drama episode recap and then discuss the culture and history portrayed in the episode
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Episodes 8-9 have 2.5 story lines. I am going to move around the plot threads in the episodes for a more cohesive recap. I will say that the pacing of these few episodes are a little jumbled with the various threads.
On one hand, Ying Luo has successfully made her way to the Empress’s palace of Chang Chun Gong. Her primary motiviation for going is to get closer to Fu Heng, the Empress’s brother, in order to discover more about why her sister would have his jade pendant when she died. Ying Luo suspects that Fu Heng might have something to do with her sister’s death and needs more evidence.
After arriving at Chang Chun Gong, she does successfully pique the interest of Fu Heng once she pretends to drop his jade pendant. He seeks her out and confirms that the pendant is his which only further raises the suspicion that Fu Heng was the one to harm her sister. But before Ying Luo can think too much on it, she is dragged back to reality that as the new maid in the palace, she’s going to have a difficult time integrating.
The Empress has two close maids, one is Er Qing, the other is Ming Yu. Ming Yu is much easier to anger and she let’s it be known that she does not like the new Ying Luo. She complains to the Empress about Ying Luo and leads the other maids of the palace in bullying Ying Luo as well. But the supposed laziness of Ying Luo doesn’t last long as it is seen that she was the only maid to help protect the Empress’s beloved flowers one thunderstorming night. From then on, it was evident that while Ying Luo doesn’t like being bullied and has a sharp tongue, she is a hard worker and thoughtful of others.
Luckily she established that rather quickly because soon after, Gao Gui Fei arrives with Jia Ping to cause some chaos. She is furious that Ying Luo tricked her previously and is annoyed that Ying Luo has made her way to the Empress’s palace. At Chang Chun Gong, Gao Gui Fei attempts to have Ying Luo’s tongue cut out which, excuse me, why does a eunuch just randomly have a dagger at the ready for this type of corporeal punishment? Aren’t weapons banned in the palace? Whatever. Not going to think too much about that. Fortunately for Ying Luo, the Empress appears and imposes her authority over Gao Gui Fei. She is not to punish any of Chang CHun Gong’s maids. Gao Gui Fei does not realy have any standing as she really cannot harm one of the Empress’s maids. After experiencing this rebuttal, Gao Gui Fei returns to her palace with Jia Pin in fury. Jia Pin though, turns Gao Gui Fei to the more urgent matter at hand which is what to do about Yu Gui Ren’s pregnancy. They can’t have her successfully birth a child now can they?
One day, when Ying Luo goes to visit 愉贵人, she just so happens to see that the palace is empty of any servants and the door is shut. But Ying Luo does hear muffled screams. She bursts into the room only to find a eunuch trying to strangle 愉贵人. On the floor though is oddly a number of paper money and fire pit for 愉贵人 to burn money. Ying Luo immediately jumps into action, first smashing a vase onto the eunuch’s head to gain his attention. A heated struggle ensues where the eunuch and Ying Luo try to subdue each other. While Ying Luo successfully does so, she rushes out of the palace to cry for help, only to realize that 高贵妃 has arrived. This was clearly a plot by 高贵妃 to kill 愉贵人. Ying Luo barricades herself in the palace while Gao Gui Fei’s men try to push their way through the door. In a last ditch attempt, she fuels the flames in the room such that the smoke will attract someone’s attention for help.
Just in the knick of time, Fu Heng arrives with men to help put out the flames as 高贵妃’s eunuchs also managed to break through the door and were about to strangle 璎珞 as well. I will give props to 高贵妃 for her quick thinking because she turned it around on 璎珞 and said it was she who wanted to kill Yu Gui Ren and 高贵妃 herself is here to kill the murderer. 傅恒 at least pauses because he recognizes 璎珞. A stalemate ensues where 高贵妃 insists that 璎珞 arrived to kill 愉贵人 while 璎珞 insists that she was here to save 愉贵人. The offending eunuch who was severely injured by 璎珞 wakes up and shockingly confesses that it was the Empress who instructed he kill 愉贵人. At this point, the Empress also arrives to visit 愉贵人 only to arrive under false accusations. 高贵人 insists that the Empress and 璎珞 came here to kill 愉贵人 and should be investigated. Unfortunately, the eunuch takes poison before they are able to get any more information out of him. However, Ying Luo doesn’t take this too easily and pokes a bunch of holes into 高贵妃‘s accusations. Why would Ying Luo arrive if th eEmpress already sent a killer. Why would the eunuch have so many injuries from Ying Luo. Why doesn’t she have any weapon to kill Yu Gui Ren? And also why does 高贵妃 have so many eunuchs with her as well? Gao Gui Fei does not have any satisfactory answers to this and is forced to apologize to the Empress for her false and unfounded accusations. With this, the saga closes and 愉贵人 is taken for inspection by an imperial doctor. Thankfully, her and her child are safe.
[DISCUSS] – I feel like this episode was a waking call for the Empress to start playing the mindgames of the Imperial harem. She is like the complete opposite of the Empress from Empresses in the Palace – she’s wayy to nice and has nothing to respond to when 高贵妃 just starts accusing her of murder.
The injured 璎珞 is given some medicine by 傅恒 who seeks her out afterwards. His guard around her is slowly falling and he actually lets out a smile in her presence. I would say it’s a rather muted but heartwarming smirk which 璎珞 remarks on. Yet, when 璎珞 asks about whether or not he knows a woman named 阿满 he quickly denies this, befuddling 璎珞 even further.
Back at the Empress’s palace, they go over the events of the day. They surmise that it must have been 高贵妃 who ordered that eunuch to kill 愉贵人 and to make it look like she hung herself. 高贵妃 arrived so promptly because she wanted to see 愉贵人 die. What kind of person does that? But the Empress does not want to escalate to the Emperor. For one, the witness has died so they have no evidence left about what happened. The other is that 愉贵人 was secretly morning the death of her friend, 怡嫔。 This is strictly forbidden in the palace which if exposed, could lead to bigger consequences for 愉贵人.
This saga ends with 高贵妃 admitting defeat for now but still keeping her sights on 愉贵人. In the meantime, we are introduced to her beloved pet dog who enjoys more authority than many servants. This dog will be the main character in the upcoming episodes.
The other conflict at hand is political. The purpose? To turn the kind hearted and conflict avoidant 娴妃 into someone who must learn to play the game in the imperial palace.
At the end of episode 8, the Emperor calls in two of his trusted court ministers, 鄂尔泰 and 张廷玉。 We’ll talk about them more in depth later on in this episode. I do like this scene not for the political intrigue per se but because 聂远 the actor does a great job portraying the wrath of the young calculating Emperor. The aura and presence depicted on screen allows the viewer to believe that yes, this could be what an Emperor was like back in the day. The Emperor is not happy. He has discovered that these two powerful and trusted advisors are embroiled in a corruption scandal. But more than that, they have started creating political factions – something that the Emperor fundamentally despises. The Emperor gives a stern warning to 鄂尔泰 and 张廷玉 that this cannot continue further. As for the corruption scandal? Anyone involved is to be executed. 鄂善
Problem is, 娴妃’s younger good-for-nothing brother, participated in bribing 鄂善, the man primarily implicated in this scandal. He is going to be tried as part of this scheme. Yet despite her mother’s pleading, 娴妃 does not want to beg the Emperor for forgiveness. She knows that the Emperor is trying to set an example and if she pleads for her brother, it will be viewed extremely poorly by both the Emperor and by the public.
Chun Fei also arrives to suggest that 娴妃 ask the Empress for help. After all, if the Empress says something to the Emperor, there might be more hope than if 娴妃 asked herself. But 娴妃 tries to stick to her morals. She does not want wealth or riches but only to live without guilt. She also recognizes that by asking for help from the Empress means that she will fall under the Empress’s camp which she does not want to do. At this point, 娴妃 wants, to the best of her ability to remain neutral in the Palace. But what do you guys think? Is this something that she’ll be able to do? She seems extremely idealistic in what she believes life will be like later in the palace.
Next up! On to history!
There’s a lot of ministers names being thrown around in this episode so let’s talk about a few of them.
First up is 张廷玉. Born in 1672年10月29日－1755年5月19日. He was a Han minister who rose through the ranks and held positions at court during the reigns of 3 emperors. Kang Xi, Yong Zheng, and Qiang Long. If you recall in Empresses in the Palace, the Emperor 雍正 references this guy 张廷玉 quite a bit. He was one of the first members of Emperor Yong Zheng’s Grand Council. When Emperor Yong Zheng died, 张廷玉 was already appointed as a Grand Councillor and indeed became Chief Grand Councillor in 1731-1732. In 1739, he was put in charge of comipiling the History of Ming or 明史. It includes 332 volumes and covers the history of the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644. His relationship with emperor Qian Long did deteriorate in the 1740s and 1750s including a whole fiasco about his retirement. Nevertheless, Emperor 乾隆 did agree to his father’s orders and had 张廷玉’s plaque placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙. 张廷玉 is the only Han officer to receive this honor during the 清 dynasty. Having a plaque in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙 is a big deal because it meant that even the Emperor had to pray to him when he died. We did talk about this in one of our Story of Ming Lan episodes. Madame Wang’s entire family believes they are still hot stuff BECAUSE her father had a plaque in the Imperial Ancestral Temple.
鄂尔泰 or Ortai（1680  —1745年）is a Manchu official from the Bordered Blue Banner. Like 张廷玉, he held positions at court during the reigns of 3 emperors. Kang Xi, Yong Zheng, and Qiang Long. During the reign of Yong Zheng, he primarily governed the southwest regions of China, including modern day 云南 and 贵州. He also put down several Miao uprisings during his time as Viceroy. Miao is another ethnic group from that region.
During the early years in the reign of Qian Long, he became chief grand councillor until his death in 1745. He also had a plaque placed in the Imperial Ancestral Temple or 太庙.
He and 张廷玉 were rivals at court, especially during the early years of Qian Long’s regin with each leading their own ethnic factions. 鄂尔泰 led the Manchus and 张廷玉 led the 汉 Chinese. Apparently, they were at court together for 10+ years, and sometimes would just not talk to each other.
One of his sons was embroiled in a corruption scandal that came to light. This son was ordered death by suicide when he was found guilty and died in 1749.
Early in episode 9, Charmaine’s character 娴妃 is struggling to write a letter back home. On the sheet of paper is a reminder to her family that the law must be adhered to, even if it ultimately ends in tragedy for the nala clan.
The letter kind of combines two anecdotes together but the drama only shares one. The first one is pretty minor. Oh – a fun little bug that I picked up. The handwriting on the paper that 娴妃 “finishes” writing and the one that 纯妃 unravels to read is different. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just want to pat myself in the back a bit because I’m pretty happy that I can tell the difference these days.
Back to the anecdote. The first one is not really an anecdote but a line. So in the drama – the first line is 法者，非一人之法. The Law, is not one person’s law. This is very similar to a writing by 唐太宗 or Emperor 太宗 of the 唐 dynasty who lived from 598 to 649 AD. He wrote 法者非朕一人之法，乃天下之法也, which translates to The Law isn’t just my law, meaning the Emperor’s law. It’s the law of the people. What the Emperor means is that the Emperor is not above the law and that everyone must adhere to the laws that have been set forth. The line 法者，非一人之法 is written in the drama which is very close to 法者非朕一人之法 which was written by the emperor.
Next is the anecdote about King Zhuang of Chu who lived roughly from 613–591 BC during the Spring and Autumn period which was around 770 to 476 BCE. His personal name was Xiong Lü (Chinese: 熊旅; pinyin: Xióng Lǚ) but we know him by his posthumous title was King Zhuang. So in Chinese it would be 楚庄王.
The anecdote that 纯妃 recounts the story of the Law of the Mao Gate which was written by the Han Fei Zi. He was a Chinese philosopher and statesman who lived roughly from 280 BC to 233 BC during the Warring States period. He was also a prince of the state of Han.
茅门之法 – The law of the Mao Gate. The story is written in prose by Hang Fei Zi and the story is similar to what was told by Consort Chun or 纯妃. The law was written so that no horse drawn carriage could not touch the puddles of water on the ground in front of the Mao gate. Kind of weird law but hey. The punishment was death to the carriage driver and destruction of the carriage. The Crown Prince’s carriage drove right through the water and his poor carriage driver was killed. Angered, the Crown Prince went to his father King Zhuang of Chu to have the official who carried out the law to be executed. His father, the King responded, those who obey the law, respect their ancestors and the kingdom are loyal to the kingdom. How can I kill a man who obeys the law? Those who disobey the law, disrespect the kingdom. This means that the subject is above the king who passed these laws. The king has lost power. If all the subjects were to fight against every law, then the power of the king’s position will be greatly threatened. The kingdom will be threatened. What will I leave for my heirs? After the Crown Prince heard this from his father, he quickly left the palace and stayed outside, kneeling to the north, and asked to be executed.
In the drama 娴妃 realizes that her brother was in the wrong. She thought that there was nothing that she could really do about it. In her own way of arrogance and aloofness – she allowed her brother to die. This will haunt her in the future. Look I agree that bribery is a big offense and yes that law must be upheld but mayyybee she could have fought for it like a little bit?
That is it for today’s podcast episode. We are chugging along now that Ying Luo is in Chang Chun Palace.
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