[Karen]

Welcome back to Chasing dramas! Here, we talk about Chinese dramas and also the history behind the drama. I’m Karen and Cathy!  We are currently discussing episode 26 of 后宫甄嬛传 or Empresses in the Palace. If you are new to the podcast and the drama, we recommend listening to the Intro To The Drama episode to get your bearings and what this drama is about. You can always watch this drama on YouTube, just search Empresses in the Palace and it’ll pop up. There are English subtitles available

This episode to me was REALLY confusing the first few times I watched it. It’s funny to a degree and heartbreaking as well.

Last episode, we had a lot of chaos where there was a miscarriage but surprisingly discovered that our main character 甄嬛 is two months pregnant. This pregnancy is quite the surprise and is causing a lot of anxiety and stress in the imperial harem. People who were happy about the miscarriage are now upset to hear there is another pregnancy. 

Continuing on the conversation from the last episode, the empress dowager and the empress are still discussing the miscarriage. 太后, the empress dowager, basically says, nothing more can be done about the miscarriage but nothing can happen to this pregnancy because it’s 菀贵人。It’s clear that 太后 cares more about 菀贵人,甄嬛 than the other concubine 富察贵人。I guess that’s generally a lesson on being a good person because 富察贵人 was really quite the snooty and pretentious person. Now this tragedy has befallen her, and no one really cares.

 

[Cathy to interject]

I don’t think so…I think it’s more like there can’t be two miscarriages. That would be too obvious, no?

 

[Karen]

I am highlighting here that 太后 is essentially threatening 皇后 and saying that nothing better happen to 甄嬛’s kid. But of course, this is the Imperial Harem, they can’t say such direct things but the message was abundantly clear.

皇后 agrees but we shall see what happens. The acting here is great because 皇后 is not being aggressive or defensive. Instead, she’s being really passive and agreeing to everything the dowager says. 

She closes the conversation by pointing out that our lovely 华妃 has requested to see a doctor from outside the imperial palace. Clearly this is a reputation issue for the imperial family. The empress dowager ultimately says it’s fine but at the end, requests that if this external doctor is a good one, she would like her own head maid to get a chance to see the doctor as well. Pretty innocent and simple right? She’s being a good master and wants her maid to get a check up. No big deal.

 

[Cathy]

With the news of 2 pregnancies so close together, the person that is most upset in the imperial harem is none other than 华妃。 She is sitting in her palace and utterly heartbroken that it seems like everyone in the palace can become pregnant except for her. She stuffs her face with as many pickles as possible and when she starts throwing up, she exclaims! Look, I’m pregnant. It’s really quite sad because you know she really wants to have a child. 蒋欣 – the actress does such a good job here.

In her fit of rage, 华妃 storms into the palace of none other than the sickly 端妃。 It’s 26 episodes in and we finally understand what happened to 端妃 and why she is so sick. 端妃 is one of the oldest serving concubines in the harem. Since we were first introduced to her, she has been very frail – even if you look back in episode 2 when the new ladies were being introduced to the palace.

The reason she is so frail is because 4 years ago, it would seem that 华妃’s miscarriage was caused by 端妃. 华妃 drank a bowl of medicine that 端妃 gave her. Her pregnancy was 6 months along and it was clear she was going to have a baby boy but right after drinking this medicine from 端妃, she had a miscarriage and lost her child. 华妃 was devastated and in her hatred, turned around and forced 端妃 to drink saffron (藏红花). In TV magic, the amount of saffron she drank meant that she would never be able to have children.

 

[Karen]

We talked about 麝香 or musk pods as one of the most commonly used ways to induce a miscarriage. Saffron or 藏红花 is another. Saffron does have some harmful properties for pregnant women but there’s little evidence that it’ll make a female infertile.

 

[Cathy]

From that point on, 端妃 has been frail and bedridden. Because of this action, 端妃 absolutely hates 华妃. In her mind, she never actually did anything to hurt 华妃. She didn’t know how or why 华妃 had the miscarriage, it wasn’t by her hand but 华妃 won’t believe it. 华妃 firmly believes that 端妃 caused her miscarriage because she was the one who brought her the bowl of medicine which was actually supposed to help her pregnancy. 华妃’s revenge was that 端妃 unfortunately will never be able to have children, which in 端妃”s eyes, is worse than death. She will never have any type of support in the palace and basically her value as a woman is gone. The whole point of being a woman in the palace is to produce children and 华妃 took that ability from her.

 

[Karen] 

The two women hate each other. The reason why 端妃 has been helping 甄嬛, our main character, is clear now after so many episodes. 端妃 hopes 甄嬛 will help defeat 华妃 because she cannot do it herself.

Because 华妃 is so powerful, she has been able to restrict pretty much everything for 端妃。 端妃 can’t have fresh food, can’t have lots of servants, can’t get laundry done externally, has limited access to medicine – pretty much everything that should be given to her as a consort of her rank, has been stripped because 华妃 hates her. That’s honestly terrible. And as we found out in the conversation, every time there’s a pregnancy announcement, or whenever 华妃 is upset, she’ll come over and verbally and physically abuse 端妃。

The interesting piece here is that 皇上 believes that 端妃 didn’t do anything wrong. The ultimate reason why 端妃 is still alive is because 华妃 cannot outright kill 端妃 or else 皇上 will be mad. The emperor and empress dowager seem to have made it clear that 端妃 is not to be touched. Otherwise, 华妃 most definitely would have killed 端妃 long ago. Why is this? That’s odd. But I also can’t imagine that 皇上 doesn’t know that 端妃 is suffering but he seems to be fine with it. There’s just a lot of oddities going on here. The acting of the two ladies in the scene here is phenomenal. Especially 蒋欣,the actress for 华妃, you see how much she hates 端妃 but is also so sad that she lost a child. You end up kind of pitying her because yes, she does scary stuff, but a lot of it originates from her sadness of having lost a child she desperately wants.

 

[Cathy]

To try to fix this situation, 华妃 has asked her brother to invite a doctor he knows (so outside of the imperial harem) to see if there’s any way to help her become pregnant. 

Well the old doctor comes to the imperial palace and is being escorted by the Empress’s main eunuch. NOW HERE it is quite confusing. On the face of it, nothing seems to really be happening so let’s take a look at how things are progressing.

Before they go to see 华妃, the doctor makes a stop at the Department of Imperial Doctors. The director of the doctors meets with this new dude and is really nice and even gives this doctor all of 华妃’s medical notes. That’s pretty nice of him no? The director says that 华妃 is of course adored by the Emperor so their department always pays careful attention to her and has had at least 20 top tier doctors take a look at 华妃 so she’s in good hands. Well the new guy is like “great!” and goes off to see 华妃。

 

[Karen]

华妃, being 华妃, of course gives the doctor money and then threatens him with his life if he does a bad job of looking after her. But the doctor says that she is fine. There are so many doctors who have attended to her and they all say she’s fine. She’s not terribly impacted by her previous miscarriage and therefore, as long as she tries not to be over eager, should still be able to bear children. 华妃 is ecstatic to hear this and offers the doctor more money. 

As the doctor is being escorted out by a eunuch, he is sweating profusely. That’s odd right? The eunuch then asks whether or not the doctor can take a look at the Empress Dowager’s maid since he’s in town. He, of course acquiesces and goes to see this woman. 

This interaction is EXTREMELY important. The doctor checks the maid’s pulse and says there is nothing wrong with her. She is completely healthy. But the maid insists that other doctors in the imperial palace said she is very sick and needs to spend quite a bit of time to recover. She then goes on to say that if someone is not sick but everyone else says she is sick and only you, say she’s healthy, what will people think of you? On the flip side, what if someone IS sick and everyone keeps on saying she’s healthy but you are the only one to truthfully say she’s sick, what will people think of you? He jokes and says that people will think I’m crazy! The maid then responds, exactly. Your entire reputation will be ruined if you tell the truth. He then asks, what happens if another doctor tells the truth. The maid says that that will never happen. The imperial doctors will all have the same response. This doctor thinks for a bit and says, ok, I will also have the same response.

Ummmm ok so what just happened? This scene and a scene from the previous episode require spoilers to discuss. We’ll talk about it at the end of the episode if it’s confusing. Again on the face of it, it’s like ok fine, but as with all things in the palace, the true motives are much more nefarious.

 

[Cathy]

The rest of the episode is rather simple. The emperor who has been absent for all of this drama, finally returns to the imperial palace and immediately checks in on 甄嬛。 He’s super worried about her and excited about their first child together. He wants to spend all his time with 甄嬛 and is even willing to neglect 皇后 on the day that is dedicated to her. I think we’ve mentioned before but every 1st and 15th of the month is when the emperor is supposed to see the empress. This day is the 15th but he decides to blow 皇后 off for 甄嬛。 皇后 is really saddened by this and cries alone at night. 甄嬛 at least urges 皇上, the emperor, to go see the empress for food the next day if he won’t go spend the night.

The next big event on the docket is the 册封 and 晋封 ceremonies. These are the promotion ceremonies for both 甄嬛 and 敬嫔. 甄嬛 is currently a 贵人 or Noble Lady. 敬嫔 with the rank of 嫔 is a Concubine. They each are promoted up one level. 甄嬛 to 莞嫔 and 敬嫔 to 敬妃. Concubine and Consort respectively. 

In preparation for the ceremony, 太后, the Empress Dowager, gifts a familiar hairpin to 甄嬛. It’s the same one she gifted 沈眉庄 all the way back. It’s the same one that got damaged when the Emperor learned of 沈眉庄’s fake pregnancy. 

 

[discuss]

 

[Karen] 

甄嬛 is back at her palace marveling at all of the medicinal ointments and creams that have been gifted to help with her recovery. 安陵容 arrives with another gift. She has her own family cream made with very valuable ingredients to help with the scar from the cat. There’s powdered pearl, peach flowers, honey, fish bone collagen and even white otter marrow? Dang – that’s extremely valuable. We’ll discuss more about this in the spoiler section.

It also doesn’t look as though 淳儿, the young bubbly girl, will last too long. 华妃 is extremely annoyed at her.

The episode ends with 甄嬛 and 敬嫔 at the ceremony. I think it’s quite a simple ceremony – they left a lot of things out. There are documents, seals, and rituals that need to be adhered to. We’ll dive deeper into the 册封 ceremonies in later episodes.

 

[Cathy]

Let’s start with our analysis!

The first is the promotion of our ladies 甄嬛 and 敬嫔。 This is actually quite an honor for both of these ladies. There are only 4妃 or Consorts designations and 6 嫔 or Concubine designations. There’s a reason why 华妃 was so pissed off in the last episode. We now have 4 Consorts – 华妃, the sickly 端妃, 齐妃 who is the 3rd prince’s mother, and now 敬妃。I don’t think we have any other 嫔’s or Concubines now. As a Concubine, you now run your own palace. You can refer to yourself as 本宫 – in third person. It basically means – owner of a palace. Servants will no longer call you a 小主 or little master. They will refer to you with the proper name of 娘娘, basically the equivalent of your ladyship/your highness depending on your rank.

Next I want to talk about our bedridden 端妃. She is this mysterious character that keeps popping up at random times. Let’s add some things together. Yes, it was a very sad scene between her and 华妃. She is a tragic character BUT we see subtle glimpses of her intelligence in this episode and the previous episode. In this episode – 端妃 is able to even threaten 华妃 with 富察贵人’s miscarriage and 甄嬛’s injuries. She points out – you’re scared. You need the emperor’s favor. If he suspects you, you’re done. That’s true. 端妃 knows though, that 华妃 didn’t do it! She went to 甄嬛’s quarters just now to relay her suspicions of foul play but NOT from 华妃. I don’t 甄嬛 thought to this point just as yet but it looks like 端妃 knows. 华妃 straight up denies she did anything and we as the audience knows she didn’t do it. The fact that 端妃 knows this though, makes a very compelling case for how she’s able to survive in the Imperial Harem despite her illnesses.

 

人彘就是把四肢剁掉,挖出眼睛,用注入耳朵,使其失聪(熏聋),用喑药灌进喉咙,割去舌头,破坏声带,使其不能言语,然后扔到厕所里,有的还要割去鼻子,剃光头发,剃尽眉发(不只是把眉毛和头发剃光,还包括眼睫毛),然后抹一种药,破坏毛囊,使毛囊脱落后不再生长,永不再长毛发,然后一根根拔掉,有的嫌累,就一起拔掉。如果有皮掉下来,或者在行刑中就死了,刽子手就会被人嗤之以鼻,甚至丢掉饭碗。也有在行刑过程中就死了的,没死的就被放在厕所里做成了人彘。最出名的是汉朝的吕太后戚夫人做成了人彘,还安排了专人“照顾”,然后丢弃在茅厕中任其痛苦死去,割掉耳朵,甚至把脸划花。这是吕后发明用来对付戚夫人的一种非常残忍酷刑之一。

 

皇后

 

That’s it for this episode – episode 22. Thank you all so much for joining us and we look forward to having you with us in the next one. If you have comments or questions, please let us know and reach out to us at chasingdramaspodcast@gmail.com!