Hello and welcome to Chasing Dramas! The podcast that discusses Chinese history and culture through Chinese TV dramas. This is Cathy, and this is Karen. Today we are discussing episode 13 of 后宫甄嬛传, Empresses in the Palace. Thanks to all of you who are joining us and listening to us on this podcast, we really appreciate all of your support! If you are just joining us, and don’t know what this drama is about, we recommend checking out the intro to the drama episode first to get more information on the background of the show and the main characters.
In the last episode, we learned some happy news from 沈眉庄! She’s pregnant! That’s exactly what she needs to have a foothold within the 后宫, or imperial harem.
The Emperor 雍正 and the Empress 皇后 are discussing the happy news. The Emperor wants to promote 沈眉庄 to the next rank of 嫔. They conclude that they’ll wait until the child is born but 雍正 will give 沈眉庄 a special title of 惠, which means: virtuous. Which describes 沈眉庄 perfectly. And again, as a refresher, getting this additional title is a special privilege. Not everyone gets a title.
In the meanwhile, 沈眉庄 and 甄嬛 are discussing the wonderful news. 沈眉庄 is finally thinking ahead about her future and her stability within the Imperial Palace. With her pregnant, 甄嬛 is at a disadvantage all by herself at 圆明园 the Summer Palace. She requests for 安陵容 to join them. She acknowledges that you need someone like 安陵容, whom 沈眉庄 called ruthless in earlier episodes, around just in case.
甄嬛 goes and picks up 安陵容. Again, she’s in a janky little carriage – way different from when the rest of the party arrived at the Summer Palace. 安陵容’s heard the news of 沈眉庄’s pregnancy and she’s excited for her. They go to greet the Emperor 雍正 but they spot 四阿哥 the 4th Prince waiting to see his father. The poor kid, he hasn’t yet seen him despite the fact that the Emperor’s been there for at least a few weeks.
甄嬛 and 安陵容 head back to their palace but are stopped by none other than the 4th Prince 四阿哥. This is the first time 甄嬛 speaks to him. 甄嬛 asks 安陵容 to go ahead without her and the 4th prince tells his governess to leave him so that they can chat alone. 四阿哥 asks 甄嬛 if his father doesn’t like him. 甄嬛 of course, doesn’t tell him the truth and gives him some words of encouragement. She’s surprised that he chose to talk to her. He answers it’s not an easy feat to because a favored concubine, there must be something about her. To that 甄嬛 says – instead of admiring someone, why don’t you become someone other people admire? She takes him to eat some desserts. This conversation was seen by 敬嫔, another concubine in the palace – is that good or bad?
The rest of the episode focuses on Princess 温仪’s 1st birthday celebration. As a reminder, 温仪 is 曹贵人’s daughter and 曹贵人 is team 华妃, the main antagonist of the show。All of 后宫 is in attendance and we also see some Princes (brothers to the Emperor) making an appearance. 安陵容 acts as our conduit to ask 甄嬛 about the attendees.
We have the 5th prince and his concubine. The 10th Prince 敦亲王 and his wife – he’s the son of 康熙‘s Empress’s sister – basically very powerful and someone 雍正 needs to be wary of. The 17th Prince 果郡王 is missing but we also have the 21st Prince 慎贝勒。
There’s a surprise appearance at this banquet. 端妃. She’s the mysterious consort that is always sick and hasn’t made an appearance yet thus far in the show. She has the rank of consort which is the same as 华妃 and you see 华妃’s very unhappy face when 端妃 walks in. You can tell that 端妃 is an older woman in the imperial harem and It’s still pretty obvious that 端妃 is ill, she can barely keep her head up. To celebrate 温仪’s birthday, 端妃 gifts 温仪 a necklace from her own dowry – which is a very extravagant gift.
The festivities resume but 甄嬛 excuses herself to go outside. It’s a bit stuffy in the banquet hall. She and 流珠 walk to a nearby pond to cool off. Who’s watching? None other than 果郡王 the 17th Prince. She takes her socks and shoes off to cool off and play around a little bit with 流珠. Unfortunately 甄嬛 almost falls in the pond and is rescued at the last second by the 17th Prince.
The 17th Prince 果郡王 makes a rather bold comment about 甄嬛’s exposed feet. This is Imperial China – that is flirting to the max. In imperial china, you do not expose any part of your body to the other sex. It is very improper. 甄嬛 is understandably very annoyed and is hastily trying to cover her feet – she tells 流珠 to greet 果郡王. He’s surprised – how does she know? Well – who else has a flute, drinks imported wine, and can be so impertinent?
甄嬛 hurriedly leaves and cautions 流珠 to never speak of this encounter. Remember – this is the first time that the two actually meet but 甄嬛 already got into deep trouble last episode by just having an association with 果郡王 with the emperor. If the emperor finds out that the two of them have met, and that 果郡王, or the 17th prince has seen her feet, who knows what the emperor will think. This is a life or death matter.
Just as 甄嬛 is about to return to the banquet, she runs into 敬嫔. The Imperial Concubine who saw 甄嬛 earlier with the 4th Prince 四阿哥。敬嫔 requests 甄嬛 for a chat where 敬嫔 gives 甄嬛 the history about 四阿哥. This is a friendly reminder – stay alive in 后宫. Don’t mess with things you don’t understand or don’t have any benefit to you. 敬嫔 is coming from a good place which is nice. She’s giving some sage advice to 甄嬛, which not many people have done as of yet. We’ll just have to see if 甄嬛 takes the hint.
They return to the banquet and 曹贵人 has offered a new idea for entertainment for the attendees. She will “randomly” pick from a pile of activities and the concubines will perform for the crowd instead. Fun…right? First up is the Empress 皇后. She writes the word Birthday for the princess – very fitting. 端妃 gets a feeling that something isn’t quite right and takes her cue to leave. She has the perfect excuse – she’s sick!
Who’s up next? 曹贵人 just so happens to pick 甄嬛 to dance …惊鸿舞. The music instantly changes – what’s happening? There’s just too much to the legend of 惊鸿舞 and the political undercurrents! The emperor has a muted reaction. We’ll dive into it this episode. 甄嬛 changes into a 汉 style dress to prepare for the dance. 沈眉庄 accompanies her on the 古琴 and 安陵容 sings the vocals. The dance is just fine at first, people aren’t all that impressed. Suddenly, a flute accompaniment breathes new life into the dance. It elevates the entire performance and everyone, including the grumpy 10th Prince 敦亲王, is thoroughly impressed. At the conclusion, the Emperor 雍正 is speechless utterly in awe of how beautiful the dance was. How many more surprises does she have? He is once again smitten with her, much to the chagrin of the other concubines.
The episode ends with 甄嬛 sitting next to the Emperor and 华妃 making a fuss about a “headache” because of course, they were hoping to make zhen huan look bad, but instead, she is out on top with this surprise.
Time for our analysis! The majority of our time will be spent on the banquet, who’s there, who does what, and why!
The first thing we want to discuss is the nobility prince rankings. This is the first time that we have different Imperial Princess on screen actually interacting! It does get a little confusing even for us, so we’ll try to do our best to provide some clarification.
At the banquet we are introduced to several Imperial Princes and they are all the younger brothers of our Emperor 雍正。 Now, there is a distinction here – princes can mean sons of the current emperor or brothers to the current emperor. It is no different than, for example, the British monarchy where Queen Elizabeth’s son is a Prince – Prince Charles, and his son is also a Prince.
Anyways, at the festivities, there’s 恒亲王 胤祺 – the 5th Prince, 敦亲王胤䄉 – the 10th Prince, 果郡王 允礼 – the 17th Prince who shows up later, and finally 慎贝勒 允禧 the 21st Prince. Again, these are the brothers of the current Emperor. The emperor himself is the 4th prince.
This seems to be quite a smattering of different princes. You may ask, where are the other brothers? Well, you’ll recall we mentioned this in previous episodes. The father of these princes and the emperor had 20+ sons, but there was a famous coup called 九子夺嫡 where 9 sons split into factions to try to get the throne. The people here at the table are either allies of the emperor to help get him to the throne, or else too young or otherwise not a threat to him. The 21st prince is an example of that. He’s very young in this scene. The other princes like the 8th prince, the 14th prince and the 9th prince… well. They’re either dead or in exile. If you are interested in watching dramas about this time period, I recommend 步步惊心 and 宫锁心玉. Both came out in the early 2000s and were hugely popular at that time.
In the Qing dynasty – there are 4 ranks as a son of the Emperor. As mentioned before in a previous episode, every prince is also called an 阿哥 which is the general term for a son of the emperor, but you have formal titles as well.
和硕亲王 – Prince of the First Rank” or “Prince of the Blood”. This is the rank for 恒亲王 and 敦亲王.
多罗郡王 – “Prince of the Second Rank” or “Prince of a Commandery”. This is the rank for 果郡王
多罗贝勒 – “Prince of the Third Rank”, “Venerable Prince”, or “Noble Lord”
固山贝子 – “Prince of the Fourth Rank”, “Banner Prince” or “Banner Lord”
Let’s go a little bit into linguistics. The word 王 also means King. It’s also a very popular Chinese last name. Here, 王 in 亲王 means Prince. Before first Dynasty, you had Kings and you would refer to them as 王. But Emperor or 皇 trumps all so 皇 is bigger than 王. In Chinese, we would still call Queen Elizabeth as 王 and not 皇。
As a prince, you gain titles mainly through the military or else other services for imperial court.
As direct sons of Emperors, these men enjoyed the Eight Privileges or 八分。This was a practice that was retained from the early days of the Dynasty.
So what are the privileges?
These privileges were red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, heated carriages, purple cushions, gemstone mandarin hat crests, two-eyed peacock feathers on mandarin hats, use of leather whips to clear the path, and employment of eunuchs. [oooo fancy! – Karen]
Peacock feathers, however, were prohibited for princes above the rank of beizi and direct imperial clansmen. The “Eight Privileges” entitled the prince to participate in state councils and share the spoils of war. However, the prince was also bound to reside in the capital and render service to the imperial court.
If you are granted the Eight Privileges, the title your male descendents inherit will be downgraded for 4 generations after which the title will not be downgraded, unless of course, you have contributed service and you get appointed higher ranking titles. So for example, I am a 亲王，my son will automatically be a title of 郡王. He will not inherit my title of 亲王 unless there is a special reason. This goes down my line until 贝子 for my great-grandchild.
If you don’t have the Eight Privileges, then the titles will continue to downgrade until it reaches 奉恩将军 – General by Grace. There were 12 Iron cap princely families which were bestowed on to the sons of early Emperors of the Qing Dynasties. This means the heir will always inherit a 亲王 title or Prince of the First Rank. What’s also a little bit different in the Qing Dynasty is that they bestowed Prince titles to Mongolian princes. This again underscores the alliance between the Manchu and Mongolians
As we’ve seen, princes are not born equal. The 10th Prince was the most high born son of the previous Emperor 康熙, more so than 雍正。In history, he was actually not on team 雍正. He did not enjoy the title of 亲王 but only 郡王, so the same as the 17th prince 果郡王。He was on the 8th Prince’s team and according to history, he will be banished pretty soon and won’t be freed until after the death of 雍正。
Enough history – let’s talk about the dance!
惊鸿舞 – 惊鸿舞 this dance is so well known because of this drama. The 3 words, separately mean Surprised Goose Dance. Jing means surprising or amazing, Hong in this context is a bird, and Wu means dance. This name of this dance has its roots back to the Tang dynasty, about 1000 years before this.
So many people have seen this drama and seen this dance that the choreography is now iconic. The costume too is really well known. A few fun facts about this dance that I’ve been dying to discuss and share. In interviews with the cast about this show, 孙俪, the actress who plays 甄嬛 shared that she slept weird the night before this shoot this dance and so she couldn’t actually turn her head. Have you had that sensation? In any case, in her interviews, she says that she was in a lot of pain during the day of shooting because of her neck and couldn’t really turn her head which was difficult because if you see in the show, she’s doing lots of spins. Kudos to her for still dancing and making the dance look beautiful.
The other fun fact is that the dance was actually choreographed by none other than the actor who plays the imperial doctor, 温实初。The actor’s name is 张晓龙. Interestingly, 张晓龙 is also the etiquette instructor for this drama. All of the curtseying and bowing were taught by him, but his background is actually in dance! He studied dance at the Beijing Film Academy and he was the only to actually choreograph this dance for the show. Talk about impressive talent! It’s funny because even the other day I was watching a clip of a show he’s on now and he performed a snippet of this dance.
Well – why is this dance such a hot potato? Let’s dig in a little deeper.
曹贵人 had the idea to let the concubines perform. If this was just in 后宫, fine, not a big deal because the only “man” enjoying this was the Emperor. But there are other males here – all the princes. Performers during this time were considered very low class and this puts 甄嬛 at a severe disadvantage. Indeed the 10th Prince, 敦亲王 makes a snide comment saying “Brother, you can’t tell me your concubines are even worse than my own dancers?”. The Emperor loses face if his concubines cannot live up their reputation. This portion is about “Saving Face”.
The other reason is a bit more nuanced. 齐妃, another consort, and even 皇后 say that this dance was made famous by the previous Empress 纯元. She amazed the audience with this dance. How can anyone compete? They outright say it. If 甄嬛 does an imitation, then it belittles 纯元皇后’s spirit. If she does a poor job, she loses the Emperor’s face. She’s in a lose lose situation. She needs to balance both the Imperial Court and the Imperial Harem but at the same time she can’t come up short. What can she do?
Again at the beginning, 甄嬛 is not doing well. Everyone agrees it’s ok. It’s only when the 17th prince 果郡王 comes in with the flute accompaniment does the dance get elevated to something more. To be fair, this isn’t the most difficult dance out there but let’s give some props to 孙俪, the actress here. She actually did train as a professional performer and dancer with the Shanghai military.
At the end of the dance, the 10th prince actually says some pretty demeaning stuff about the performance to which the 17th prince states that jing hong wu originated from 梅妃。Who is this? There’s a whole backstory for this. We’ll discuss in the next episode.
Thank you so much for listening. Hope you enjoyed this episode as much as we enjoyed discussing it! As always, if you have any questions/comments, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.