Welcome back to Chasing Dramas! This is the podcast that explores Chinese history and culture through historical Chinese dramas. This is Karen, and this is Cathy
Today, we are discussing episode 17 and 18 of Hou Gong Zhen Huan Zhuan, Empresses in the Palace. I feel like we’ve established quite a bit of the characters, motivations and background that it makes more sense to combine these episodes. And although, we love talking about this drama, we also recognize that at the pace we’re going, it’ll take us years to complete. So hopefully this will help us pick up the pace a bit so that we can also move onto other dramas we wish to discuss!
Let’s get started with episode 17!
浣碧, 甄嬛’s half sister/maid is parading around the gardens wearing the clothes that 安陵容 gifted 甄嬛. Unfortunately she’s spotted by 安陵容 and of course 安陵容 is irked that 浣碧, a maid, is wearing something that she gifted 甄嬛.
浣碧 brings some water chestnuts sweets for 甄嬛 and also 木薯粉 [tapioca] cassava powder to make for dessert. This comes into play later in the episode.
甄嬛 is at the Empress 皇后’s place and we find out that 甄嬛 is frightened of cats.
It is 七夕, the 7th day of 7th month on the Lunar Calendar. For those of you who don’t know, it’s essentially Chinese Valentine’s day. There’s the usual performances for the holiday. What a difference from Princess 温宜’s birthday celebration only a few episodes ago! 沈眉庄 is not invited and 安陵容 has come into favor! This time, 甄嬛 is not the object of jealousy but 安陵容. She has also been promoted to 常在.
甄嬛 excuses herself to go for a walk to clear her head. She and 瑾溪 wander over to 桐花台, where 甄嬛 runs into none other than the 17th Prince 果郡王 允礼。They talk about quite a range of topics, from flowers, to his mother, to love. 17th Prince 允礼 gives 甄嬛 some much needed clarity about 安陵容‘s new found favor. 甄嬛 needs to recognize that it’s 后宫, she can’t get too emotional. It’s much safer to share favor from the Emperor and it’s much better when the ladies who share favor are on your team.
甄嬛 returns to the banquet but the festivities are quickly disrupted by the news that Princess 温宜 is sick.
We get a brief scene of the sickly 端妃. In this scene, 端妃 foreshadows so much about the rest of the series that I didn’t catch earlier. She comments that 安陵容’s voice sounds like 黄鹂 which is a Black-naped oriole. She reveals that she absolutely hates 华妃 and was forced to drink saffron that caused her and the decline of her overall health. She wants revenge and there is only one person in 后宫 who can help her do it.
The next morning, everyone goes to 华妃’s palace to take a look at the princess. She won’t settle down which is highly suspicious. The Imperial doctors inspect her food and conclude that there’s something wrong with the water chestnut soup. An imperial taste tester confirms that some tapioca powder was mixed into the water chestnut soup.
tapioca is fine as a power but the root is poisonous. As a powder, it’s fine for adults but harmful to children. This looks like a ploy to poison the princess! 华妃 immediately chimes in to agree – they must find the mastermind! The eunuchs from the Imperial Kitchens answer that only 莞贵人’s maid requested for the cassava powder 4 days ago. Uh oh! 华妃 then summons 2 other maids who declare that they saw 甄嬛 walk towards 华妃’s palace during the 七夕 festivities.
It’s a one-two punch and now both 华妃 and 曹贵人 because accusing 甄嬛 of her wickedness. The Emperor 皇上 asks if anyone else can be her alibi. 甄嬛 cannot mention anything about meeting the 17th Prince, because as we’ve mentioned before, it is pretty much forbidden for these two to meet. They need to keep a distance otherwise, 甄嬛 could be further punished. She’s also actually protecting the 17th prince because if they’re found out to have spent time together, he could also be in trouble. With no alibi, the Emperor has no choice but to “ground” her until further they get to the bottom of this. 华妃 is looking mighty smug. All seems lost for 甄嬛 but then dang dang dang dang – 端妃 swoops in to save the day. She says 甄嬛 was with her that evening!
华妃 tries everything to poke holes in this alibi. It doesn’t help that the Emperor is pre-disposed to believing 甄嬛. The entire thing is called off when the maids cannot definitely confirm that they saw 甄嬛 walk into 华妃’s palace. The Emperor walks away in a huff, the maids are punished to 80 slaps in the face, 甄嬛 walks away free and 华妃 is seething that 甄嬛 walked away free.
Away from 华妃’s palace, 端妃 catches up to 甄嬛 to have a chat with her. She says some pretty obvious things about how 甄嬛 needs to be more careful and how she can’t save her another time. There are some subtle hints she drops though! We need to bookmark what she says here as we get to future episodes! She says – 曹贵人’s shouldn’t have had this child. It isn’t the right time. What does this mean?? At first 端妃 says 曹贵人 had a difficult pregnancy and she almost lost the child but there’s definitely more to that.
The episode ends with 华妃 berating 曹贵人 for this failed plot. It is quite sad that 曹贵人 is reduced to using her own daughter as a pawn for 华妃.
Onto episode 18!
The Empress 皇后 informs the Emperor 皇上 that 华妃 found the culprit. It was a lowly chef that got the water chestnut and [tapioca] cassava mixed up. What should they do? At this point, everyone in that room knows what happened. 皇后 wants to set an example and give a warning to 华妃 but 皇上 decides to just let it be. 华妃’s brother just sent word that he was successful on the battlefield. The Emperor can’t punish 华妃 or else things might get dicey out on the western front. The poor chef is sentenced to death and that’s that.
Moving on, we see 皇上 looking at reports and 曹贵人 comes to visit him with a plate of 莲子 or lotus seeds. We’ll discuss this more because I think it’s quite a touching scene and focuses on word play. The end result of 曹贵人 bringing this plate of 莲子, or lotus seeds is that she is able to take back her daughter from the care of 华妃。
皇上 is ultimately annoyed at 华妃 but, as we’ve discussed numerous times before, he has to appease her and spends the night with her because her brother is on the front lines defending the empire so he can’t punish her. But, he balances his time out with breakfast at 甄嬛’s place the next morning.
The 2 are eating breakfast and he’s very happy because there’s good news from the front lines. There’s discussion of whether or not 华妃 should have her power restored but 甄嬛 is able to suggest otherwise. We’ve spoken before about how 后宫 is not supposed to discuss politics of 前朝 but that always depends on the emperor. He’s fine with it and waves off the discussion.
The best part of this episode is that here, as the emperor is wrapping up eating breakfast with 甄嬛, he notices 浣碧. She’s added more hair decorations, and paired her clothing in a jarring and perhaps gaudy way. (Pink and green is not a good combination). he says as much，clearly indicating he has no interest in her, which causes her to run out crying. She’s not a fan favorite because, if you couldn’t tell by now, she’s trying to get the attention of the emperor. She thinks that because she’s 甄嬛’s sister, she should be able to also become a concubine. She thinks she’s better than 安陵容. If you look back at previous episodes starting back even in episode 7 or 8, there were definitely snippets here and there where 皇上 did notice 浣碧 for how similar she looks to 甄嬛 (which makes sense since they’re sisters). Because of that she is starting to think very highly of herself.
甄嬛 is also understandably upset that her own sister is trying to undermine her and surmises that a lot of her recent troubles were due to a mole from her palace. She concludes that it has to be 浣碧. She probably was sharing confidential information with 曹贵人 and 华妃 that has been used to harm her.
I think it’s actually a little sad though because 华妃 is starting to get an inkling or a feeling that some of her favoritism by the emperor is due to her brother but her maid is able to convince her that the emperor likes her for her. We as the audience know differently. The irony is quite high.
Given that 甄嬛 suspects 浣碧 and 曹贵人 are conspiring against her, she decides to take action and visits 曹贵人, giving her all sorts of gifts, tho the most important one is a box of perfume that is very expensive. This scene in my opinion, is quite exhausting to watch, because they’re basically saying a whole lot of nothing. It’s exhausting to listen to so I’m sure it’s exhausting trying to play this game of pretending to be nice but ultimately hiding daggers behind everything. 曹贵人 throws everything away but keeps the expensive box of perfume.
Two lines that are important to remember – we hear that 皇后 does not like using perfume. THIS IS KEY. We’ve heard this in a previous episode before where 皇后 tells a servant to not use 檀木perfume and instead use fresh fruits and flowers to clear the air.
The other, people to focus on 荣华富贵 won’t have a good future.
The end of the episode is quite fun – 甄嬛 sets up a trap to lure out not only 华妃 but also 浣碧。甄嬛 lets slip that she’s going to visit 沈眉庄 which is strictly forbidden because she’s still under house arrest. So we’ll see what happens in the next episode!
We’ve explained already that flowers are a very important theme throughout Chinese culture and this drama. In Episode 17, we discuss another 2 flowers – 夕颜.
牵牛花 or Japanese morning glory is the flower that 甄嬛 and the 17th prince 果郡王 允礼 discuss in their evening encounter. Here the 17th Prince discusses the other name of the flower as 夕颜 – night beauty.
There’s a bug here – 牵牛花’s other name is actually 朝颜 which means morning beauty. The flower that should be used is 葫芦花 or Tropical White Morning Glory. That’s what the author actually wrote in the book. However, the crew couldn’t find any of the white flowers, so they used the purple ones instead. So let’s just pretend that it’s 夕颜 – it’s this name that’s important.
The name of 夕颜 actually comes from the Japanese book The Tales of Genji. The story goes that 夕颜 or Lady of the Evening Faces was a beautiful womzhenhuanan. She came from a respectful family but she fell on hard times after her parents died. She caught 1 the eye of young Genji and they had an affair. She dies at the young age of 19 after she is possessed by a spirit. The flower 夕颜 has the reputation of being a 薄命 or unfortunate flower because of its short life. 甄嬛 and the 17th Prince have a pretty deep conversation about this and what it means to live in 后宫. This is a drama, something will definitely happen between the two of them. There is good chemistry!
At least he looks better than 皇上. The flower of 夕颜 will come up again later in the series so keep that in mind.
莲子 – In episode 18, 曹贵人 brings a plate of 莲子 to 皇上 to eat and there is quite an interesting discussion. 莲子, or lotus seeds, are very common in Chinese medicine and cuisine. You add it primarily in soups or congee, or at least, that’s how we’ve eaten them growing up, and are also very popular as a paste in different types of pastries such as mooncakes. They are little white oval shapes generally and actually taste quite bitter. At least I personally don’t like eating them. Whenever they are in soup, I just eat around them.
In this scene, 曹贵人 brings this plate of lotus seeds which is then used to discuss her daughter, 温宜 who, is still in the poor care of 华妃. She mentions that she removed the 莲心 or the core of the lotus seed which is the most bitter. The emperor is very smart and he knows what she is talking about – her 怜子之心。 莲子 can mean lotus seed, but change the first word to another 怜, and it means pity, sympathy or tender love. Here, he’s talking about 曹贵人’s motherly love for her daughter. Another play on words is that 苦 can mean bitter in terms of flavoring, but also the same word is used to mean difficulty or hardship as in 辛苦. The discussion of this lotus seeds is a metaphor for the hardship she feels as a mother trying to care for her daughter who is suffering at the hands of 华妃。
皇上 next brings up 万历皇帝 and his concubine, 景妃 who used her children as bait in order to gain favor of the emperor. There isn’t a whole lot of consequence to this story other than it sets historical precedence for some of the terrible things that 华妃 in this current time has done. 万历 was an emperor from the previous dynasty, the 明dynasty and has a poor reputation. He loved his drink and his women and didn’t do a whole lot of governing。
I think that’s pretty much all we wanted to discuss for these 2 episodes. We’ll see how 华妃 reacts to the trap that 甄嬛 has set for her next! 甄嬛 is more on the offensive now instead of the defensive which is great.
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 email@example.com. We look forward to having you with us in the next episode.