The Story of Yanxi Palace – Final Thoughts

Today, we’re wrapping up our discussion of The Story of Yanxi Palace!  We did the plot recap last week and also did some history. Today we’ll close out with highlighting some more history for key characters in the drama we haven’t had a chance to talk about yet, have a fun discussion about where the cast is now after this blockbuster hit and any miscellaneous things we want!. 

Let’s turn to the two men in Wei Ying Luo’s life! We’ll discuss Fu Heng first

[cathy]

Ah – our poor 傅恒, we didn’t even see him die on screen so let’s give him a proper goodbye. The scenes leading up to his death with him going off to war are tied to real historical activity.  In 1765, skirmishes along the Qing and Burmese or Myanmar border were enough of an excuse for the then Governor of Gui Zhou 刘藻 to order an invasion into the city of Kengtung. Emperor Qianlong supported this decision, launching the Sino-Burmese War and the first campaign. The Qing Empire believed that this would be a quick victory. However, with Burma being located in Southeast Asia, with a hot climate and high humidity, warfare proved extremely difficult for the Qing armies. 

 

The Qing Armies had outdated maps, were not acclimated to the climate, and often caught diseases that decimated the troops. Between 1765 and 1768, the Qing launched 3 invasions into Burma but were roundly defeated. Countless generals and leaders died in battle on both sides. In 1769, Emperor Qian Long finally sent Fu Heng to essentially clean up this mess. Fu Heng arrived at the front in the 4th month of 1769 to take over the 60,0000 strong force. Even though Fu Heng learned from the mistakes of his predecessors, the Burmese campaign was still extremely tough and dangerous. He ordered attacks on the Burmese fortress Kaungton but the Burmese were able to stand their ground for over 4 weeks. The timing of the attack was still during the monsoon season. The long weeks at the front lines proved devastating for the Qing army. Many fell ill and they began to die in large numbers. In Chinese, they succumbed to what was called 瘴疠 Lì or Miasma, which is now just disease.

 

Fun Fact, miasma, which was the belief that “Bad air” or “poisonous air” lead to illness and death was a belief that was very prevalent in Chinese history.

 

Another interesting tidbit – I went on the wikipedia rabbit hole about this war. The difference in perspectives is quite fascinating. Wikipedia paints the ending of the war as a sound defeat of the Qing army while Baike has it as the Burmese first offered a truce after the long stalemate but Fu Heng wanted to keep fighting and was essentially held back by his subordinate officers. Not saying which is right or wrong, just that it’s quite interesting on how history is written or at least wikipedia. 

 

[Karen]

Back to 傅恒 – Fu Heng, unfortunately also fell ill during this invasion. The Burmese had the Qing armies cornered but ultimately agreed on a truce. The Qing armies lost ⅓ of their force, but the Burmese also suffered heavy casualties. Emperor Qian Long was shocked to hear of Fu Heng’s illness and ordered him to return to the capital immediately. He begrudgingly agreed to a truce. Fu Heng returned with the armies in 1770 to the city of Tian Jing right to the east of Beijing where he was personally greeted by the Emperor. Unfortunately for Fu Heng, he was too far gone with his illness, which now we know was malaria. Fu Heng died in 1770 at the age of 49.

 

After his death, Emperor Qian Long personally went to his funeral and granted him the posthumous title of 文忠 which roughly translates to culturally loyal. In 1796, Emperor Jia Qing granted him the posthumus title of 郡王 which was a Prince of the 2nd rank and allowed to have his memorial tablet enshrined in the Imperial Ancestral Tablet. 

 

His legacy was twofold, one of military prowess and the other of scholarly achievements. We’ve discussed at length his participation and contribution to the victories for the Qing Dynasty in the Jin Chuan campaigns, the Dzungar campaigns, as well as briefly mentioning here the Sino-Burmese campaigns. As to written works, he participated in the compilation, writing, and editing of several notable works including analyses of the book of changes, the spring and autumn period, and the governing structure of the xinjiang area.

 

Fu Heng died in 1770, so for drama purposes, they REALLY sped up the timeline because we’re still in 1765. He wasn’t even supposed to be Burma until 1769. Also, the distance between Burma and Beijing is thousands of miles away. How did news of Ying Luo’s poisoning reach him and he was able to find this magical flower and save her? Was she in a coma for like a months on end? Haha, I’m just being nitpicky but yea, that timeline totally didn’t work.

 

He left behind 4 sons and 2 daughters, one of which was the very famous 福康安. We talked about him in previous episodes. Fu heng’s burial ground is in the city of Tian Jing. 

—-

 

[Cathy]

Next – we’ll do a quick recap of Emperor Qian Long, Wei Ying Luo’s husband, ‘s remaining years post 1765. The reason why i say quick is because he lived a long long life and there’s a ton to discuss. We’d be here for like days on end if we wanted to focus on Emperor Qian long. There’s also a ton of dramas out there depicting his life and story so we really don’t need to focus on him.

 

Emperor Qian Long – a quick recap on his history. 爱新觉罗弘历 – 25 September 1711 – 7 February 1799, the 6th emperor of the Qing dynasty. One of the longest reigning monarchs in history and longest lived. He actually stepped down from throne and abdicated his position to his son in order to not rule longer than his grandfather, Kang Xi, in 1796 after 60 years on the throne. 

 

The Empire, under his reign, really peaked during the 1760s and 70s and began its downward trajectory during the later years of his reign in the 1790s. During the 1760s, industries such as agriculture, handicrafts, and business all greatly expanded. The amount of farmland increased, contributing to an increase in population, and to an expanded economy. When Emperor Qian Long first ascended the throne, the population of the Qing was 140M. By the end of his reign in 1795, that number doubled to close to 300M. It took all of Europe another century to reach that population growth.  The treasury maintained around 60-70M taels of silver which was around double the annual tax revenue of the Empire. 

 

During this time, plants and vegetables from both the new world and old world such as corn and yams became widely grown, contributing to the population increase. Cotton was also widely grown leading to an increase in trade. Emperor Qian Long heavily focused on the arts and culture and collected countless treasures from throughout the Empire. We’ve seen much of that in this drama.  

 

[Karen]

One of his greatest achievements is the completion of 四库全书 or Imperial Collection of Four which began in 1772 and completed in 1792. It is the largest collection of Chinese history, with over 36 thousand volumes and close to 1B characters in the collection. The collection covered topics such as the confucian classics but also history, folklore, poems, medical writings, anthologies, sciences etc. This was a monumental achievement but also very much politically motivated because this was a way of censorship as the histories focused on praising the Qing regimes while belittling the Ming Dynasty rulers who were han people. 

 

Militarily, the Qing engaged in several more wars under Qian Long’s rule. In 1771, there was another revolt in Da Xiao Jin Chuan. He crushed a rebellion in taiwan in 1787. There was as campaign in Dai Viet. There were two campaigns against the Gurkhas of Nepal in the late 1780s and early 1790s. 

 

Emperor Qian Long did usher in another golden age for the Qing Dynasty but signs of decay were evident during this later years. His military campaigns and extravagant southern inspection tours cost the government millions of taels of silver. During his later years, corruption was rampant across the empire causing many revolts from peasants. I also want to remind listeners of the years that he came to power 1735 – 1795. During this time, the empires of the west were vastly increasing their power and influence but they still wanted the Chinese goods and silver. I don’t want to comment too much on this but the late 18th century is really a turning point for the global order for the 19th and early 20th centuries. The golden age of Emperor Qian Long’s reign really did not prepare China for the future.

 

The Emperor had 17 sons and 10 daughters. In 1773, the Emperor was 62, he was faced with selecting an heir. At this point, he only had 7 living sons and only a few were eligible, so chose the 15th prince, son of Consort Ling. He put 永琰’s name in a secret edict and hid it behind the 正大光明 plaque in 1773. This didn’t change for the next 33 years. In 1796, Emperor Qian Long officially abdicated the throne to his son. He died in 1799. 

 

 

[Cathy]

Alrighty – that’s enough about the men! Let’s close out the history with our leading lady 魏璎珞. . 魏璎珞 as a name is just created for the show. We’ll just use 魏璎珞 because everyone’s familiar with that name. In history, she’s known as Lady Wei Jia. Unfortunately because she is a woman, we just don’t really get as much history as the gentlemen. 

 

We spent quite a bit of time discussing Wei Ying Luo’s history as she enters the palace as a concubine in our discussion of episode 42. I’ll do a small recap 魏璎珞 was born in 1727年10月23日 in 北京, China into the Han Chinese Booi Aha of the Plain Yellow Banner by birth. Her family was promoted or 抬旗 into that banner after she became consort. Putting timelines in perspective, she’s 16 years 乾隆’s junior and entered into the palace at some point under what is called the 小选 or the small selection.The small selection is for women from the Booi Aha to enter into service in the Palace as maids for the various palaces. During the 小选, she must have caught the eye of the Emperor. In history, 魏璎珞 becomes a Noble Lady or 贵人 in 1745 or the 10th year of 乾隆’s reign. That makes her around 17 or 18. As we mentioned in episode 44, 魏璎珞 quickly gets promoted to 嫔 or Imperial Concubine in the same year, 1745. In 1748, she is promoted to Consort as 令妃. There were only 4 women who were allowed the consort title at any given one time. She reached that high rank barely at the age of 21. What’s interesting is that despite her rank as Consort, she didn’t have any children at that point. This all changed in 1756. In a span of 10 years, she gave birth to 6 children showing just how much Emperor Qian Long favored her. We talked about her children previously, but let’s put all of them together.

 

  1. 7th princess – 1756
  2. 14th prince – 1757
  3. 9th princess – 1758
  4. 15th prince – 1760
  5. 16th prince – 1762
  6. 17th prince – 1766

 

What’s interesting is that she had the 17th prince around 40 and honestly, she had children late for that time. We’ve talked about this too, both her and Empress Nala had children int their late 20s, which seemed like an outlier.

 

[Karen]

Unfortunately the 14th and 16th princes all died young. However, that does mean that she had 4 children live to adulthood. I’ll caveat that neither of her daughters lived past 25, so it was only her sons that lived to the 19th century.

 

魏璎珞 was promoted to Noble Consort in 1759. After the events of the Step Empress during the 4th Southern Inspection Tour, 魏璎珞 was promoted to Imperial Noble Consort or 皇贵妃 to fulfill the role of Empress without actually being empress. 

 

In the snippets that we have from Emperor Qian Long, we see that he praised 魏璎珞 as being a gentle and considerate woman who also upheld the virtues of being a wife. This is very different from what we see in the drama but hey, it’s a drama.

 

魏璎珞 was very favored by the Emperor. She accompanied him to all the Southern inspection tours where she was able. The times she missed were due to pregnancy. Emperor Qian Long also thoroughly favored the 17th prince and had him join on many hunting trips and summer trips. 

 

There are several surviving paintings of 令妃 or 魏璎珞, including ones by the italian missionary Giuseppe Castiglione. In the painting, you can see quite a bit of what we have costume-wise for the ladies in the drama, including the 3 earrings and the dragons for the blouse. There’s another painting by the italian missionary that depicts the Emperor, his court, and ladies in his harem while at the Mulan Hunting grounds. The scene itself is set in 1760. 

 

[Cathy]

魏璎珞 died in 1775 due to illness at the age of 49. On the day she died, the Emperor gave her the posthumus title of 令懿皇贵妃. The funeral, in stark contrast to Empress nala’s funeral, was an extravagant affair with many princes and princesses attending the funeral. 

 

In 1795, when the Emperor abdicated, he granted her the posthumous title of 孝仪纯皇后 or Empress Xiao Yi Chun

 

Here’s a fascinating story about her tomb. In 1928, grave robbers used explosives to open and rob Emperor Qian Long’s tomb. The last Emperor Pu Yi ordered repairs of the tombs. They were shocked with what they found. There were 6 total remains found. 5 which were already just skeletons but surprisingly 令妃 corpse was found well preserved! Almost as if you could still see her face! It seems like when she was buried, her casket was very well sealed and the embalming of her corpse was so well done that it shocked those who found her corpse 150+ years later. 

 

In drama depictions, we normally see 令妃 as the gentle, calm, and serene woman. 魏璎珞 is a completely different take but hey! It worked well with audiences.

 

[Karen]

We spent all of our time in last week’s episode discussing the history of Empress Nala or the Step Empress. Let’s close out the history portion with our remaining characters! 

 

We won’t discuss the Empress Dowager this episode because, quite frankly, she was the main character for our Empresses in the Palace series. Just a quick recap, this woman had an usually long lifespan, living all the way to the age of 84, dying in 1777.

 

 

We say goodbye to this drama now. Let’s look at the impact for the cast.

 

Yu Zheng – 于正 is the producer of this drama and he’s had many hits over the years but he’s also been mired with controversy with dramas being accused of plagiarizing other dramas or books or scripts. When this drama came out, it was certainly a big win for him that no one can deny.

 

In terms of the cast, I would say the people that reaped the most benefit from this drama were 许凯 the actor who played 傅恒 and 秦岚 the actress for Empress 富察。 For the handsome 许凯, this was actually one of the first dramas he acted in at a relatively young age, 22 or so. It most certainly put him on the map as a new it guy, worthy of propping up. He has since been in a number of big productions such as 骊歌行 or Court Lady with 李一桐,Ancient Love Poetry (千古玦尘  with 周冬雨, She and Her Perfect Husband 爱的二八定律 with Yang Mi. He also has a number of big productions in post production that are waiting to air including 仙剑奇侠传6 with Esther Yu,and 雪鹰领主 Snow Eagle Lord with 古力娜扎. That is to say, being in The Story of Yanxi Palace was like hitting the jackpot for him and he is taking full advantage of it. 

 

[Cathy]

Qin Lan, we’ve mentioned that we’ve watched her in dramas for the last 20 years and she still looks fantastic. This drama helped her regain relevance in the Chinese entertainment circle where prior, she had leading roles but not necessarily huge hits. Part of it was because people did not like her characters from her 2 most famous dramas from the 2000s. But her turn as 富察容音 completely changed people’s perception of her and erased the negative memories of her prior roles. We mentioned in our intro to the drama episode that she has been able to take on leading roles in various capacities despite being older aka in her 40s but hey, she still looks amazing and I always enjoy her on screen presence. We last saw her on screen in The Ingenious One not in a lead role though but I still highly enjoyed it.

 

Now who has NOT been able to maximize the benefits from headlining The Story of Yanxi Palace is actually the lead, 吴谨言。She definitely hit the lottery after being a part of Yu Zheng’s agency and headlining this drama because she suddenly became an overnight sensation with 延禧攻略. She had lead roles left and right and had a slew of jobs looking to her to headline. But, none of them performed particularly well and her acting was actually ridiculed since then for being too over the top and she’s been unable to capture that old spark and ratings hit. 

 

What we do know is that there is a 2 year gap in her acting output. In Chinese, it’s called 进组 or just being a part of a drama production. Everything we’ve seen in the last 2 years such as Royal Feast were filmed much earlier. Its unclear exactly what happened. She did run afoul of  CCTV by somehow missing an interview and being disrespectful of the reporters time which she was then publicly called out for. That is speculated to have caused her to be blacklisted from major productions and drama opportunities, thus the big gap. Though fo course, just speculation.  She’s been on reality tv shows like sisters who make waves season 3 last year but there were plenty of ladies on that show that still had other acting jobs during the same time. What this means is that she will not have a steady stream of output for the near future that will remind people of her presence.  She only recently joined the cast of a web drama 墨雨云间 that started filming in April and with a cast of relatively unknown people, I’m looking at the cast and they’re literally a decade younger than her. Who knows, this may be her way of trying to get back into the limelight at any cost so we’ll see if she can recapture that star power.

 

As for some other members of the cast? Nie Yuan and Charmaine Sheh have had steady careers and this essentially helped them maintain that stage presence. For some other women though, being a part of this drama was a lifeline for them. I know that 王媛可 who played 纯妃 had said in prior interviews that the entertainment circle is especially cruel to women over 30 and she had to work very hard to land the role that is now highly remembered. The sad reality is that they will never reach A list status but if they can continue to get steady work, that’s a silver lining.

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